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a history of Europe through the Papacy
on 23 August 2012
This is almost as much a history of the last 2000 years, particularly of Europe, as it is a history of the Papacy. John Julius Norwich has taken a chronological approach to this work, starting with St Peter, and proceeding through each Pope, and anti - pope, to the present day papacy of Benedict XVI. Whilst enjoyable and informative reading, this book made it rather clear to me how much of European history is vague or unknown to me, and has definitely prompted further reading for the future. Inevitably in a book of just over 450 pages, each Pope and each period only receives a few pages at the most. For example the period of the French Revolution, and the advent of Napoleon, both with enormous implications for Catholicism and for the Popes of the time, is covered in just 10 pages.
There were of course, all kinds of Popes - over 280 to date - and they are nearly all described in these pages - some were concerned primarily with the spiritual, some were much more interested in temporal power and diplomacy. Some were treated abominably, or as puppets, by the Kings, Emperors and Princess of the day, some were held in reverence and awe. Norwich does not have a particular axe to grind and from my limited knowledge of European history it appears that he is being fair throughout - generally sympathetic to Catholisism, and admiring of many individual popes, whilst not failing to criticise those whose actions weakened the Roman Catholic Church's moral or political standing.
This is a an interesting book, which for me at least, will open up further lines of study - just ordered a book on the italian Renaissance as a result.