General and Miscellaneous The Catholic Church through the Ages. A History. By John Vidmar, O.P. (New York and Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2005. Pp. viii, 360. $18.95 paperback.)
At the outset the author notes the obvious difficulty of achieving balance in doing a one-volume history of the Church. He says one either adopts a breezy approach loosely combining broad topics or includes so much detail that the reader gives up. However, he aims to produce an outline of the history of the Church that combines substance with readability.
As to readability, I would say he has certainly succeeded though it does get a little breezy at times. He displays a fine talent for clearly and succinctly summing up a period, and he excels in his characterizations of leading figures. His depiction of Pope Paul III is a good example (p. 233). Moreover, he includes many well chosen illustrations.
In attempting to achieve substance he divides the main periods of church history into six ages following a schema of Christopher Dawson. It provides a good framework in keeping the myriad facts in some kind of order. Within each age he treats the material topically rather than following a strict chronological order, though this can at times be confusing as when he treats Modernism before Vatican Council I.
The book, of course, includes many broad all-encompassing statements. But one expects as much in a book that covers 2000 years in 360 pages though I would quarrel with more than a few of them. But they do provoke thought. For instance, in view of the many literary antecedents of the Enlightenment it is interesting to read, "Two great books heralded the Enlightenment," viz. …