An “agnostic Protestant” may not necessarily be the best choice to write a history of the papacy.
(Page 2 of 2)
Predictably enough, Norwich hews to the standard line of criticism of the Catholic Church on the punishment of Galileo and on the reaction to the Holocaust; he pays no attention to the work of other historians who have challenged the liberal orthodoxy on those points. As he moves into the modern era, he shamelessly describes Church leaders as “bigots” when they uphold the perennial teachings of the Christian Church on issues that have become controversial in the past few generations.
AT TIMES, the author’s liberal bias is almost comical. For example, he argues that in his encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII “paralyzed contemporary scholarship and categorically condemned any new or original Christian thinking.” That sort of line is best written in crayon. And it doesn’t help that Norwich follows up with a quote from the leftist Jesuit icon Daniel Berrigan, who claims that Pius XII presided over a “big Stalinist purge” in the Catholic Church.
When he is not dealing with subjects beyond his ken, Norwich can be an engaging writer. Yet even at his best he has a tendency to stretch too far for an arresting comparison. For instance, he writes that Attila the Hun was “more feared, perhaps, than any other single man—with the possible exception of Napoleon Bonaparte—before or since.” One notes the fascination with Napoleon again. But is it possible to overlook Hitler and Stalin?
Or consider his description of the Emperor Constantine: “…with the exceptions of Jesus Christ, the Prophet Mohammed, and the Buddha, he was to be perhaps the most influential man who ever lived.” If we confine ourselves simply to religious leaders, what about Moses and Confucius? And if we enlarge the field to include all men of influence, as the author’s words suggest, there might be countless other contenders. Norwich argues that Constantine is uniquely influential because he had enormous impact in both the political and religious spheres. True enough. Well, as long as we’re on the subject of Roman pontiffs, what about Pope John Paul II. It is truly astonishing that after spending 450 pages totting up the Vatican’s political wins and losses, Norwich says absolutely nothing about the dominant role that the late Polish pontiff played in the fall of the Soviet empire. He mentions that when Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope, there was a widespread belief that the Bulgarian secret service was involved; he never explains why a Soviet satellite would have found it convenient to arrange for this pope’s death. Once again the author’s blind spot shows here. The Soviet leadership understood why a strong Roman pontiff was a threat, just as Marcus Aurelius did. Norwich doesn’t.
In the last few pages of the book, Norwich attempts to show that Pope Benedict XVI has been maladroit in his handling of controversial issues. But the author stumbles badly himself, with a series of blatant factual errors, culminating when he says, speaking of the sex-abuse crisis: “The storm first broke in Ireland…” Since that scandal had already been aired in American headlines for more than a decade, it is difficult to understand how Norwich could have made such a blunder. It’s possible that he was just anxious to be done with this book. So was I.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?