The Long Line In White

Pope Francis! 

The name echoes in the news. He rode in Fiat 500s during his visit to New York to Philadelphia. He met with actress Eva Longoria, is said to have a lot in common with singer John Legend,  has his own pop album, Wake Up! and has been dubbed the Tech world’s  secret weapon. So much energy and reverence is attached to those two words. Wyatt North Publishing’s three-volume series A History of the Popes helped me understand why.

Most people throughout the world hold the figure of every leader of the Roman Catholic Church in great esteem. This is done so much so, at times, the people forget that a man exists beneath the white cassock and zuchetto that symbolize the office. The Wyatt North history places the man who sits on the throne of Peter today in broad context. The easily readable text is worthy of exploration because those who indulge its depths will learn a lot about the real nature of the popes who have filled the long white line.

“The history of the men who have held this position is fraught with villainous and heroic actions,” the Introduction to the series asserts. Translation – the stories are told in a direct, yet concise manner. The authors did not waste time with sentimental or maudlin details, which is one of the books’ strengths. As the Introduction also promises, the works allow the reader to become acutely aware of how the papacy has “left a profound impact on the development of civilization as we know it, both in the East and the West.”

The book’s treatment of the condemnation of the scholar Origen Adamantius of Alexandria, Egypt, shows that trend in stark detail. The writer, who died in 245 AD is highlighted in story of Pope St. Anastatius I, who reigned from November 399 until he died in 401. The text says Origen “was one of the greatest theologians in the third century,” despite his theories about salvation were once labeled as “unCatholic.” The pope said he taught that “God would save all angels and men.” Modern scholars say that the writer only posed the idea as a speculation.

Even so, the Wyatt North text’s narrative is not as directly dreary as in Brenda Ralph Lewis’ A Dark History: The Popes: Vice, Murder, and Corruption in the Vatican (2011). That said, the pace of the text is less breezy a read than Jesuit Father John W. O’Malley’s A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present (2011).

A History of the Popes offers stories to attract readers who seek a broad range of interests – action, adventure, piety, bravery, sacrifice, political intrigue, and spirituality. It also provides details that might fascinate readers who never paid much attention to the office. For example, I did not realize that most early popes were declared saints upon their deaths. That made Pope Francis’ 2014 decision to canonize of the late popes John Paul II  and John XXIII seem less extraordinary.





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