Monday 20 August 2018

Paul VI - Anthony Symondson - CTS Biographies

Paul VI
CTS Biographies
Anthony Symondson
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860825323
eISBN 9781784693824
ASIN B073H111T3

I have now read nearly a dozen books in the CTS Biographies series from the Catholic Truth Society. The ones that have really grabbed my attention currently are the biographies of popes. First I read the one on Pius XII, and then Benedict XVI both by Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky and both were excellent reads. And now I have read this one and also picked up the three other biographies of Popes by CTS I could find.

With his upcoming canonization I renewed interest in the man, his life, his work, and his papacy of Pope Paul VI, the man born Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897 and who died in 1978. Paul VI was the Pope when I was born, and the first Pope I remember passing away. I remember in grade school the announcement that he had passed, and following the election as part of current events. Looking back on the man things always end up circling back to his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, 'Of Human Life'. And in fact the introduction of this book begins with these words:

"On 25th July 1968 Pope Paul VI promulgated the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, 'Of Human Life'. Many regard this document as the most prophetic of his encyclicals for the way that it foretold the consequences of taking the conception of life lightly and the diminution this would have on human society. Pope Benedict XVI declared at a conference in Rome marking the fortieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae that, 'The truth of Humanae Vitae does not change; rather, in the light of the new scientific findings, its teaching becomes ever more up-to-date and induces reflection on its intrinsic value.'

This anniversary provides an opportunity to look at the life and achievement of Giovanni Battista Montini (1897-1978) who reigned as Paul VI from 1963 until 1978. Peter Hebblethwaite, Pope Paul's English biographer (to whose work this study is deeply indebted) described him as the 'first modern Pope' and that is an accurate description. Battista Montini was consistently a man of his time and the theological discourse, political controversies and social development of the twentieth century - locally in Italy, more widely in Europe, the United States and the emerging nations of the Third World - engaged his time and attention as a Vatican diplomat in the department of the Secretary of State and later as Pope."

And as I write this review 10 years after this book was first published there ia much renewed interest and scholarship around Paul IV and specifically Humanae Vitae. The chapters in this introductory book to Paul VI are:

A simple funeral
Diplomatic career
Archbishop of Milan
The Second Vatican Council
Steering the Church in troubled times
Final years and legacy

A previous biographer coined the title for Paul VI as the first modern pope, And it has been maintained. Paul was the first modern pope to travel and he traveled extensively. He travelled to the Holy Land, the United States, and even India. During his pontificate the Papacy went from being a leader of the Catholicism, to playing a role of universal significance. There are many who do not appreciate Paul and his legacy, and many others who do. This book gives us keen insight into the man who would become pope. Paul, often portrayed as shy or cold in manner was actually a man moved deeply about spiritual and physical needs of mankind. In the book we are told:

"Pope John's observation on Paul's likeness to Hamlet preyed on his mind a little. Others accused him of being Quixotic. He did not keep a diary but wrote personal memoranda in a fine script. In 1975, when he was seventy-eight, beginning to weary, and was seen by the world to be pessimistic and querulous, he made the following note:

 What is my state of mind? Am I Hamlet? Or Don Quixote? On the left? On the right? I don't feel I have been properly understood. I have two dominant feelings: Superabundo gaudio. I am filled with comfort. With all our affliction, I am overjoyed (2 Co 7:4).

From the heading of this note we know that the two dominant feelings in his mind were certainty and joy (Certezza e Gioia). In Italian culture Hamlet is the symbol of indecisiveness. 'To be or not to be' is the only Shakespearian quotation known in Italy. Don Quixote tilts at imaginary windmills. Many thought that Paul's analysis of late-twentieth-century problems was faulty -that is the substance of the Don Quixote charge. For either he was attacking the wrong targets, or he was prophetic in the strict sense that he correctly diagnosed the present and prepared for the future. Thirty years after his death many consider that his analysis of the present and anticipation of the future was prescient."

Paul struggled his who life and especially during his pontificate to find the balance between openness and fidelity. In the book we are told:

"Years later the Argentinian bishops petitioned Pope John Paul II to consider the beatification of Paul VI. His later Jesuit confessor, Paulo Dezza, recognised that, since Paul's death, an ever-growing esteem and admiration for him had developed that superseded the dismissive attitudes of the last painful years of his pontificate."

And that is what I feel most people will come away from this book with, a greater appreciation, esteem and admiration of the man that we will soon call Saint Pope Paul VI. This book is a great read and another excellent book from CTS.

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2018 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

Other CTS Biographies of Popes:
Pius XII - Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky
Paul VI - Anthony Symondson
John XXIII The Universal Parish Priest - Josephine Robinson

John Paul I - Stephen Dean
John Paul II The Road to Sainthood - Jim Gallagher
Benedict XVI - Helena Scott and Ethel Tolansky
Pope Francis - Dushan Croos

Other books by or about Pope Paul VI:
Love's True Meaning The Message of Humanae Vitae 50 Years On - Fr Anthony Doe
Paul VI - Anthony Symondson- CTS Biographies
Wisdom from Pope Paul VI - Mary Leonora Wilson FSP
Saint Pope Paul VI  - Matthew Bunson


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