Top critical review
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Great on the details, not so much on the big picture
on 7 May 2011
This book is what its subtitle claims: a history of the Papacy. Collins clearly knows his subject in enormous detail, and I would imagine anyone doing historical study or research on any topic involving the Papacy would benefit from reading the book. It is quite compelling for the lay reader, too, to see such colourful characters and incredible (mostly appalling) events paraded in front of your eyes as the centuries pass, though there was a lot I didn't understand, as the author assumes a fairly detailed background knowledge of European history, and I don't really know my Lombards from my Lotharingians.
But I'm only giving this book three stars because it never steps back and address what for me, as a (non-Catholic) Christian and a non-historian, are the really interesting questions. What has made the Papacy such a durable institution, and how has it continued in some sense to support and nurture the undeniably genuine spirituality of the Catholic Church (St Francis, St Ignatius, St Teresa, St John of the Cross, ...) over 2000 years despite the quite dreadful corruption, violence and hypocrisy displayed by (it seems to me) a majority of those who have held the post? How can the men at the head of an institution allegedly founded and guided by the Prince of Peace, for whom "he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword", have presided over the Crusades, the burning of witches, the extermination of the Cathars? Such important questions are never addressed; Collins shows you the trees in sharp focus, but not the wood.