A volume in the series Encyclopedia of World Religions under the general editorship of J. Gordon Melton, this work is a true tour de force. In less than 700 pages Frank Flinn, a professor at Washington University in Saint Louis, has packed literally all you need to know and then some about the Roman Catholic Church, both historically and theologically. The qualities expected in an encyclopedia of this kind are accuracy, comprehensiveness, and accessibility, and the book meets all these three criteria well.
The book opens with a brief overview of Catholic Christianity, followed by a helpful chronology and a list of popes and antipopes. It then offers in alphabetical order information on both the historical and theological developments in the Catholic Church. There are helpful black-and-white illustrations accompanying the text.
One of the most valued qualities of the book is its up-to-dateness. There are, for example, entries on Pope Benedict XVI, Sedevacantism, and the pedophilia crisis in the American Catholic Church. It also provides a wide range of entries on not only systematic theology but also ethics and moral theology. On the latter, it may be noted that though there is no separate entry on homosexuality, the theme is discussed in the entries on sexuality and related matters. Another useful feature of the book is its thorough index.
Encyclopedia of Catholicism is certainly one of the best one-volume introductions to Roman Catholicism as a global religion (in this respect it supersedes the slightly outdated encyclopedia edited by Richard McBrien). Its approximately 800 entries on the definitive events, prominent figures, and major organizations of the Catholic Church give a clear sense of the church as a vigorous and growing religious institution as well as of its manifold challenges. Flinn sums up the future of the Catholic Church when he writes: “The future will prove very different for Catholicism as the preponderant number of Catholics has shifted from the Northern Hemisphere to Latin America, Africa, and Asia” (xxii).
The book will serve very well in an undergraduate course on the Catholic Church, and of course, it should be on the shelf of any self-respecting library.