The Oxford Dictionary of Popes

The Oxford Dictionary of Popes

The Oxford Dictionary of Popes

The Oxford Dictionary of Popes

Synopsis

Since World War II and especially since the election of Pope John XXIII in 1958, the papacy--the oldest of all Western institutions--has attracted steadily growing interest from non-Christians as well as Christians. Written for people of every religious allegiance and none, J.N.D. Kelly's biographical dictionary presents a wealth of information about the papacy and the astonishing succession of churchmen who have loomed large on the world scene for almost two thousand years. It contains concise accounts not only of all the officially recognized popes from St. Peter to John Paul II, but also of all their irregularly elected rivals, the so-called antipopes. It also includes an appendix which records the once generally accepted, but long since discarded, legend that at some date in the ninth, tenth, or eleventh century a female pope called Joan existed. The Dictionary provides an entry for each pope and antipope which covers--except where (as in the early centuries) information is unavailable--his family and social background and pre-papal career, as well as his activities in office. Each entry has a separate select bibliography, usually including references to the primary source for the pope's life and his official acts. Arranged chronologically, the volume places each pope in the proper historical context and offers, in effect, a continuous history of the papacy. Based on careful research, but eminently readable, this reference work reveals an extraordinarily diverse group of men who have designated themselves as St. Peter's successors, and records their varying involvement in great power politics, personal or family aggrandizement, patronage of the arts, theological controversy, or spiritual leadership. It presents a graphic and moving picture of the fluctuating fortunes of the Christian Church centered in Rome, sometimes submerged by secular forces, but at other times, staging a spectacular revival and confronting the world (as today) with a daunting challenge.

Excerpt

This book has been written to fill a gap of which I have been increasingly conscious for a great many years. My interest in the papacy came alive in the mid-thirties when, as part of my first piece of academic research, I began exploring the obscure emergence of one-man episcopacy at Rome. It steadily grew as the years went by, reaching a personal high point in March 1966, when I accompanied the archbishop of Canterbury (Michael Ramsey) on his historic visit to Pope Paul VI. Throughout this whole span I have been disconcerted by the fact that, while there are full-dress biographies of a number of popes (fewer in fact than one would expect) and massive surveys of the papacy at particular epochs, it is almost impossible to come across a one-volume handbook in English containing systematic, concise accounts of all those who have been, or claimed to be, popes. There seems to be a real need for such a papal Who's Who, not least in view of the extraordinary popular attention the papacy has increasingly attracted since at any rate the election of Pope John XXIII; and I therefore decided, perhaps rashly, to attempt to supply one.

My aim has been to provide summary biographies not only of the officially recognized popes but also (a novel feature, I believe) of those who have been classified, rightly or wrongly, as antipopes. The list of pontiffs and, with minor discrepancies, the dating of their reigns are in general agreement with the 1984 edition of Annuario Pontificio. I have endeavoured, where information is available, to include details of each pope's family background and pre-papal career as well as of his activities in office. Each entry is furnished with a bibliography which, while necessarily cut to the minimum, normally includes references to primary sources as well as to specialized and more general studies. My original plan was to arrange the popes, as is the habit of dictionary-makers, alphabetically, but the arguments of friends persuaded me that a chronological order would be more helpful, enabling readers to view each pope in his historical context; at the same time, the alphabetical list of popes and antipopes at the beginning makes quick reference to an individual just as easy.

I should like to think that the work, despite the high degree of compression inevitable, may prove useful to scholars as well as general readers. Covering such a vast field, it cannot lay claim to much originality, although I hope I have thrown fresh light on a few popes and presented some others in perhaps novel perspectives; my consistent object has been to portray them all with cool but not unsympathetic detachment. My reading over the past few years has been voluminous, multifarious, and exhilarating; while I could not mention all the scholars to whom I have been indebted, I must make an exception of Franz Xaver Seppelt . . .

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