Ten Popes Who Shook the World
van Liere, Frans, The Historian
Ten Popes Who Shook the World. By Eamon Duffy. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011. Pp. 151. $25.00.)
The history of the papacy often attracts those whose historical acumen is secondary to their ideological agenda. It is refreshing to see a book that combines scholarly integrity with faith and a conviction that these ten men were, indeed, among the shepherds that Christ appointed to feed his sheep, without either idealization or condemnation. To write a history of the papacy in under 150 pages is a courageous act. Eamon Duffy's Ten Popes who Shook the World originated as a series of lectures given for the BBC Radio in 2007. When making a selection as rigorous as this one (ten pontiffs from a list of over 260), one is prone to encounter critics who maintain that this or that pope should have been included.
Yet, with this selection, Duffy highlights not only those popes who stood out for their personal achievement but also those whose pontificate represents a period of significant development in the history of the Catholic Church. The list includes Saint Peter, Leo the Great, Gregory the Great, Gregory VII, Innocent III, Paul III, Pius IX, Pius XII, John XXIII, and John Paul II. Duffy succeeds in capturing the importance of each pope in resounding one-liners: Leo the Great "invented the papacy as we know it," and Gregory the Great is the aristocratic Roman monk who "unwittingly invented Europe" (47, 57). Under the aegis of Gregory VII, an "overbearing autocratic pope, human freedom took one small, uncertain step forward," and Innocent III, in his meeting with Francis of Assisi, "was no saint, bur he knew a saint when he met one," and "just for once, absolute power had been wielded to make room for visionaries" (69, 79). …