Saturday 29 January 2022

A History of the Papacy - Father Nicholas Schofield - CTS Concise Histories

A History of the Papacy 
Father Nicholas Schofield
Catholic Truth Society
ISBN 9781860826726
CTS Booklet H510

Over the last several years, I have read over 250 volumes from the CTS. I have read books from many series, and many authors. I have read several books that are part of the CTS Devotions and Prayer Series. I have read many in the CTS Biographies including biographies from the Saints of the Isles Series, and the Great Saints Series. This is the third book by Father Nicholas Schofield that I have read and it is also the third in the CTS Concise Histories Series.

The description of the booklet is:

“Over its 2000-year history, the papacy has lived the full range of human experience, including war, murder and exile. The Popes themselves have at times been men of vison and zeal – true saints – and at other times scheming politicians and great sinners; yet the institution founded by Christ himself has survived. This extraordinary booklet surveys the changing role of the Supreme Pontiff, giving an overview of the many ways it has affected the spiritual and temporal history of the world, starting with the Galilean fisherman right up to Pope Benedict XVI.”

About the series we are informed that:

“CTS Concise Histories reveal the truth behind some of the most important and controversial events in the Church’s history.”

The chapters in the book are:

From Christ to Charlemagne
The Medieval Papacy
Exile and the Great Schism
Reformation and Revolution
The Modern Papacy

About the author we are informed that:

“Fr Nicholas Schofield is a Parish Priest and Archivist of the Archdiocese of Westminster. He has co-written ‘The English Cardinals’ and ‘The English Vicars Apostolic’ and writes a history column for ‘The Catholic Times.”

A few of the passages I highlighted my first time through this volume were:

“The papacy had not yet developed the bureaucratic structures of later centuries. However, there is little doubt that Christians recognised the bishop of Rome as having a unique authority. St Clement I (c.91 – C.101) wrote a famous letter to the church in Corinth around 95, the first surviving example of the bishop of Rome intervening in affairs beyond his own city.”

“Constantine’s conversion also added a new dimension that would dominate subsequent centuries – the relationship between Church and State, between Pope and Emperor. The potential for conflict became immediately apparent when Constantine took upon it himself to call a Council at Nicaea to examine the teachings of Arius, who denied Christ’s Divinity.”

“For several years two popes were present in Rome, one at the Lateran (Liberius), the other on the Via Aurelia (Felix), each claiming to have imperial sanction as bishop of Rome.”

“Relations between Constantinople and Rome were often strained not only by political disagreements but theological controversies. In reality, the pope had a great deal of freedom but it was felt that imperial support was needed against the Lombards, who not only threatened Rome but subscribed to the heresy of Arianism.”

“Referring to himself as servus servorum Dei (servant of the servants of God), Pope Gregory did much to reorganize the lands belonging to the papacy (the ‘patrimony of Peter’), tighten church discipline and liturgical practice and, like St Leo the Great, prevent Rome from being sacked, this time by King Agilulf the Lombard (593). Familiar with the ways of the East, he asserted the Roman primacy in his dealings with the Emperor and, like his predecessor Pelagius II (579-90), criticised the Patriarch of Constantinople’s adoption of the title ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’.”

“Moreover, when English monks such as St Boniface helped bring the Gospel to Germany and other parts of northern Europe, they took with them this love for Peter.”

“The high point of the medieval papacy was undoubtedly the reign of Innocent III (1198-1216). A Roman nobleman and lawyer, he was only thirty-eight at his election and had been made a cardinal by his uncle, Clement III (1187-91). Trained in law, he combined genuine piety and zeal with a sharp intellect and understanding of human affairs. Innocent not only claimed supreme spiritual and temporal authority, like most medieval popes, he actually exercised it.”

And the volume concludes with these words:

“Such is the mystery of the Church, that a Divine institution is administered by sinners. Despite the current obsession with ‘celebrity’, the importance of the pope lies in the office rather than the person. Even the ‘bad popes’ have safeguarded the deposit of faith and encouraged the mission of the Church.

Along with the bishops, the popes defend the truth of the Gospel and constantly teaches us in the face of indifference, secularism, doubt, and scepticism that we encounter in the modern world. We need Peter today just as much as the first followers of Christ. And so let us pray:

Lord Jesus, shelter our Holy Father the Pope under the protection of Thy Sacred Heart. Be Thou his light, his strength and his consolation.”

Therefore I challenge you to be praying for the pope, bishops, cardinals, and all priests. And to learn about the popes and the history of the papacy, use this book to start then branch out.

This is an excellent book in a great series. It is perfect for dipping your toes. But I have a feeling you will come away from this book with two or three Popes that you want to learn more about or some writings from Popes that you will want to pursue. It is well written, engaging, and honest. It does not sanitize the history. It is fairly balanced. The only drawback is that Father Schofield covered so much in such a limited space. I feel he could have written a concise history on each of the periods the chapters in the volume cover. That being said it is still a great little read! 

Note: This book is part of a series of reviews: 2022 Catholic Reading Plan! For other reviews of books from the Catholic Truth Society click here.

For reviews of other books in the CTS Concise Histories series click here.

Books by Nicholas Schofield:
The English Cardinals
Saints of the Roman Calendar
A Brief History of English Catholicism
The English Vicars Apostolic (1688-1850)
Roman Miscellany
History of the Papacy
William Lockhart
A History of the Papacy 

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