Pope Idol: New book by Eamon Duffy asks ‘Who was the most influential Pope?’

Which popes have had the greatest impact on history? In his new book Ten Popes Who Shook the World the renowned historian Eamon Duffy selects ten profoundly influential popes, from St. Peter to John Paul II, and explores their amazing lives and accomplishments.

The Bishops of Rome have been Christianity’s most powerful leaders for nearly two millennia, and their influence has extended far beyond the purely spiritual. The popes have played a central role in the history of Europe and the wider world, not only shouldering the spiritual burdens of their ancient office, but also in contending with – and sometimes precipitating – the cultural and political crises of their times.

Listeners of BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme this morning will have heard historian Eamon Duffy  and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor discuss what makes a good Pope. Duffy is one of Britain’s foremost experts on the history of Christianity and his new book Ten Popes Who Shook the World (based on Duffy’s Radio 4 programme of the same name) is the definitive guide to the influence of these pivotal religious figures.

The book begins with St Peter, the Rock upon whom the Catholic Church was built, and follows with Leo the Great (fifth century), Gregory the Great (sixth century), Gregory VII (eleventh century), Innocent III (thirteenth century), Paul III (sixteenth century), and Pius IX (nineteenth century). Among twentieth-century popes, Duffy examines the lives and contributions of Pius XII, who was elected on the eve of the Second World War, the kindly John XXIII, who captured the world’s imagination, and John Paul II, the first non-Italian pope in 450 years.

Each of these ten extraordinary individuals, Duffy shows, shaped their own worlds, and in the process, helped to create ours. Each of these ten, Duffy shows, was an extraordinary individual who helped shape the world we know today.

Ten Popes Who Shook the World is available now from Yale University Press.

More by Eamon Duffy

Eamon Duffy is professor of the history of Christianity, Cambridge University, and fellow and former president of Magdalene College. He is the author of many prizewinning books, all available from Yale University Press (see below).

In 2002 Duffy won the Hawthornden Prize for literature for his book The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village. He lives in Cambridge, UK.

Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor

Fires of Faith

Fires of Faith: Catholic England Under Mary Tudor

The reign of Mary Tudor has been remembered as an era of sterile repression, when a reactionary monarch launched a doomed attempt to reimpose Catholicism on an unwilling nation. Above all, the burning alive of more than 280 men and women for their religious beliefs seared the rule of ‘Bloody Mary’ into the protestant imagination as an alien aberration in the onward and upward march of the English-speaking people.

In this controversial reassessment, Eamon Duffy argues that Mary’s regime was neither inept nor backward looking. Led by the queen’s cousin, Cardinal Reginald Pole, Mary’s church dramatically reversed the religious revolution imposed under the child king Edward VI. Inspired by the values of the European Counter-Reformation, the cardinal and the queen reinstated the papacy and launched an effective propaganda campaign through pulpit and press. Even the most notorious aspect of the regime, the burnings, proved devastatingly effective. Only the death of the childless queen and her cardinal on the same day in November 1558 brought the protestant Elizabeth to the throne, thereby changing the course of English history. More

The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England,1400-1580

The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580

The Stripping of the Altars

This profoundly influential book re-examines events leading up to the Reformation in England and illuminates our understanding of the period. A prize-winning account, it recreates lay people’s experience of the religion of the pre-Reformation church showing that late-medieval Catholicism was neither decadent nor decayed, but was a strong and vigorous tradition, and that the Reformation represented a violent rupture from a popular and theologically respectable religious system. For this edition, Duffy has written a substantial new introduction, including a discussion of the Lollards and reflecting on recent developments in Reformation studies. More

The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village

The Voices of Morebath

The Voices of Morebath

This book takes us inside the mind and heart of Morebath, a remote and tiny sheep-farming village where 33 families worked the difficult land on the southern edge of Exmoor. The bulk of Morebath’s conventional archives have long since vanished. But from 1520 to 1574, through nearly all the drama of the English Reformation, Morebath’s only priest, Sir Christopher Trychay, kept the parish accounts on behalf of the churchwardens. Through his eyes we catch a rare glimpse of the life and pre-reformation piety of a 16th-century English village. The book also offers a window into a rural world in crisis as the Reformation progressed. Its church bells confiscated and silenced, Morebath shared in the punishment imposed on all the towns and villages of Devon and Cornwall. Morebath’s priest, garrulous to the end of his days, describes a rural world irrevocably altered, and enables us to hear the voices of his villagers after 400 years of silence. More

Click here to see all titles by Eamon Duffy

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