Pontiffs: Popes Who Shaped History

Article excerpt

Pontiffs:Popes Who Shaped History. By John Jay Hughes. (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division. 1994. Pp. 320. $16.95 paperback.)

This book is intended to let the reader know that, while popes may be "infallible," they are not above making mistakes. In one readable volume, Father Hughes manages to include most of the major events in the past twenty centuries which concerned the Roman Catholic Church. He conveys a considerable amount of interesting and reliable historical information, gleaned from the best secondary sources. His method is to select eleven key popes-Peter, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Gregory VII, Innocent III, Boniface VIII, Leo X, Pius V Pius VII, Leo XIII, and John XXIII-and use their pontificates as a focus for discussion about events and issues which surrounded them in some way. The author wisely does not limit himself to the eleven popes involved, but casts his net far and wide. The chapter on Pius VII, for example, carries on into a treatment of Pius IX and Vatican Council I. In addition, Father Hughes also makes frequent (and delightful) excursions into parenthetical material, such as his description of the various ranks within the College of Cardinals. There is humor in this book, as when Cardinal Spellman is quoted on the election of John XXIII, saying, "He is no pope; he should be selling bananas." The average lay Catholic, at whom this book is obviously intended, can learn much factual information from and be entertained by this book.

Unfortunately, the very thing that seems to have motivated Father Hughes to write the book-a naive belief on the part of "fundamentalist" Catholics that popes can do no wrong or can never display human tendencies-so preoccupies the author that he overstates his case. …