Monday, 22 August 2011

The Popes: A History by John Julius Norwich

Popes, popes, popes!  More popes than you can shake a stick at.  They're all here, from Peter (who was almost certainly never a pope) to Benedict XVI  (who gets a bit of a pasting on paedo priests) and all the assorted bigots, psychos, doddering fools, sickly wimps, nepotistic bastards and occasional good eggs in between.

Here are some of the best bits:
  • The 9th century Pope Formosus being put on trial for heresy - seven months after he died.  And yes, they actually dug up his body and put it in the dock.  He failed to clear his name.  
  • Rome being so disease ridden, violent and generally horrible in the Middle Ages that the papacy moved to Avignon in France for the best part of a century.  
  • The Papal Schism, which saw rival popes in Avignon and Rome.  Cardinals from both sides attempted to fix the problem by electing a third pope.  It didn't work.
  • Pope Julius III in the 16th century, who after being elected immediately made his 17 year old boyfriend a cardinal.  Classy
  • Various Borgias, Medicis and other scumbags during the Renaissance, who had a great time and at least made Rome a bit prettier.
  • The Jesuits being kicked out of pretty much every Catholic country in Europe in the 18th century for winding everyone up the wrong way.
  • Napoleon treating more than one pope as a Corsican peasant treats his donkey.
  • Pius XII turning the blindest of eyes to the Holocaust.  Not that he condoned it exactly, but he was never a massive fan of the Jews.
  • The recent absurd growth in canonisations (Pius XII's is in the post.)  By 2068, we will all be saints.
This is a first rate history covering the best part of twenty centuries at breakneck speed, and it's always entertaining.  A couple of things struck me when reading it - firstly, European history (when compared to British history) is insanely complicated.  I'm still not entirely sure what the hell the Holy Roman Empire was, but I'm pretty sure it was stupid.  And I learned that Catholic countries appear to hate the pope even more than protestant ones.  Especially France.

In the end, the Catholic Church doesn't really come out of this book smelling of roses.  And yet, I know if my sanity finally does snap and I start thinking there's a God, there's nowhere else I'd turn.  If I ever become a protestant, kill me.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You really do love your Popes though...