Eamon DUFFY, Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (Fourth Edition). New Haven: Yale University, 2014, pp 513. $23.00pb. ISBN-13: 978-0-30020612-8. Reviewed by Robert P. MARKO, Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, MI 49506.
This fourth edition of Eamon Duffy's popular yet scholarly 1997 history of the papacy carries us through the reign of Benedict XVI and the beginning of that of Francis. The magnificently illustrated first 1997 edition received its title from an accompanying six part RTE TV series shown in the United States in 1998. As in previous editions, Duffy's work divides the papacy into six large periods with each chapter increasing in length. The first period, 33-461, "Upon this Rock," begins with Peter, who as Paul was martyred at Rome and Duffy notes that certainly by 180 continuity between pope and apostle is assumed. The chapter ends with the assertive Leo the Great whose famous Tome reputedly was greeted by the Chalcedon Fathers with "Peter has spoken to Leo." "Between Two Empires," chapter two, considers how the orientation of the papacy moves from the East and turns to the West and concludes with a marvelous Duffy. anecdote. That is, King Cnut of England comes to pilgrimage to Rome to seek patronage. John XIX was pope who, as not atypical behavior in notorious period, bribed his way to the chair. For Cnut, and for Duffy, as seen here and in his other works, it was the office that counted not the ability or moral character of its holder.
Chapter three, "Set Above Nations," begins with papal reform and, in particular Gregory VII, and Duffy fittingly notes that, unlike subsequent historical readings of seeing this era as a simple conflict of church and state, but as more complex. Not unlike Byzantine symphonia with which the West is contrasted, Gregory and his age took for granted that that we live in only one world subject to God. Reform is followed by papal monarchy, power, schism and Duffy's interesting, using Aquinas, interpretation of conciliarism. The fourth chapter considers both the Renaissance and Reformation periods. Duffy emphasizes Nicholas V here rather than the Borgia Alexander VI for the former speaks more of the papacy in this period than the fascinating scandalous latter. The treatment of Paul III, who appointed able cardinals in this tumultuous period will pique the reader's interest. This fascinating period ends with the suppression of the Jesuits under Clement XIV which Duffy notes, even given the new political order. is "the papacy most shameful hour." (246)
Chapters 5 and 6 receive 165 pages of text. "The Pope and the People," five, covers the period 1774 to 1903, from Pius VI to the death of Leo XIII as the papacy confronted revolution and Ultramontanism triumphed. For Duffy, Pio Nono may have called Vatican I but Leo benefited from it for here was "UItramontanism with a Liberal Face." Cardinal Pecci, in Duffy's fascinating portrait, almost waited to be pope, standing by Vatican I and the Syllabus of Errors but without the shrill. The final chapter, "the Oracles of God," covers the period from 1903 or Pius X to Pope Francis in 2014. The front cover of this edition features Francis' moving Holy Thursday foot washing in 2013 at a juvenile detention center that included two women and two Muslims.
The 2001 and 2006 editions complete the period of John Paul II but this edition takes us through Benedict and the early Francis. In less than 30 pages, Duffy presents us with one of the most nuanced and balanced brief portraits, that I have seen, of Ratzinger as pope, taking the mild mannered professor through his papacy to crisis and resignation. Duffy clearly contrasts Benedict with John Paul II for they were “radically different kinds of men.” (393) Less charismatic, apocalyptic, and prone to "finger wagging," Benedict was a pope of "dynamic fidelity" − ecclesial continuity and fidelity to tradition. In this section one finds Duffy's critique of Wojtyla's preoccupation with Polish Catholicism, such as making Thomas Sunday, one of Divine Mercy, and reading his own life, as in the attack by Ali Agca as revelatory of the Third Secret of Fatima. Except primarily for Benedict's overtures toward Lefebvrists, the Anglican Ordinariate, and few other policies, one finds here a rather positive appreciation of the pope as he is lauded for his encyclicals and visits to the United States and England. Francis had just become pope a year before this publication but here one find a affirmative brief introduction to the "pope of the poor."
The text concludes with three appendices − chronological listing of popes through Benedict (minus end date); a very fine glossary of terms, including items such as "apocrisiary" unknown to many outside of the Byzantine East and England; and "How a new pope is made." Intentionally not weighed down by foot or end notes, 8 pages of notes follow with a concluding bibliographical essay that includes some early biographies and thoughts of Francis.
To be sure, Duffy is not the only recent history of the papacy. The late Richard McBrien wrote one in more a dictionary format many years ago; John O'Malley offers a more recent marvelous shorter history published in 2010. Nonetheless, the present work here which some may dismiss as too dense is highly recommended. I have been a Duffy fan since his Stripping of the Altars the ground breaking key for understanding the English Reformation. Using his Faith of Our Fathers for a decade in my basic Catholicism class, his balanced, marvelous anecdotes and classic quotations found here also make this a basic source for understanding the history of the popes. The first beautifully illustrated edition of Saints and Sinners was a 16th year birthday gift to one of my sons and while this book lacks that splendor it contains 16 pages of superb color photos on glossy paper.
While not a professional theologian or sociologist of Catholicism, the committed author is fortunately not overly reticent in either discipline. Duffy presents us with a positive appreciation of the office of Peter for it seems to him to be "on balance a force for human good and largeness of spirit." (xiii) His initial 1997 preface that begins this latest edition describes his read of the saintly, sinful and most often mixed holders of the Petrine Office: "For Roman Catholics, of course (of whom I am one) the story of the popes is a crucial dimension of the story of the providential care of God for humankind in history, the necessary and (on the whole) proper development of powers and responsibilities implicit in the nature of the Church itself." (xii)