Popes and the Papacy: A History

Course No. 6672
Professor Thomas F. X. Noble, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
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Course Overview

The papacy is the oldest continuously functioning institution in the world. Developed c. A.D. 30 when Jesus invested his disciple Peter with the authority to create a church, the Bishops of Rome grew their organization from a small flock of persecuted worshipers to a religion that counts one-sixth of the world's population as members.

Over the last 2,000 years, the papacy has had an enormous influence on the world stage in religious, geopolitical, legal, social, artistic, and cultural matters. Today, more than a billion Roman Catholics throughout the world look to the pope for guidance and leadership.

Yet in spite of the papacy's enormous influence, how much do you really know about this ancient and powerful institution?

  • How exactly are popes chosen?
  • What kinds of men have been included among those who have borne the title?
  • What happened during the Great Schism and the decades of the Avignon Popes?
  • Is the Catholic Church really as wealthy as has been claimed?
  • What was the influence of the some three dozen antipopes who have laid claim to the papal office?
  • Was there really a female pope?
  • Why has the papacy proved so durable throughout history?

These and many other questions are answered in Popes and the Papacy: A History, a course designed to illuminate for Catholics and non-Catholics alike this remarkable institution. Taught by Professor Thomas F. X. Noble, a scholar and instructor who has spent more than 30 years engaged in scholarly studies of popes and the papacy, these 24 lectures give you priceless insights into the dramatic history of the papal office and the lives of the men who represented it.

Explore Four Unique Histories

"To study the history of the papacy is actually to follow four histories at once," notes Professor Noble at the start of the course. Throughout Popes and the Papacy, you follow four critical strands of papal history over the course of 2,000 years.

  • The History of the "Petrine" Idea: Taking its name from Peter, supposedly the first pope, the Petrine Office is how we talk about the theories behind the study of how and why the Catholic Church is organized as it is (what theologians call ecclesiology.)
  • The History of an Institution: The Catholic Church has one pope at a time (albeit sometimes there have been two or more men claiming to be the legitimate pope!), but the papacy is an institution that transcends time. We are familiar with separating presidents from the presidency; so too will you learn to distinguish popes from the papacy.
  • The History of Popes and Antipopes: You also follow the serial biography of 265 popes—some holy, some wicked, some efficient, some incompetent, some learned, some simple, some visionary, some narrow-minded—and the more than 30 antipopes from 217 to 1447.
  • The History of Western Civilization: In some ways, the history of the papacy is a mirror of the history of Western civilization; at every great moment in history, the popes were there as participants, promoters, or critics. Viewing Western civilization through a papal lens provides you with unique perspectives on historical events like the fall of the Roman Empire, the Renaissance, World War II, and the collapse of Communism.

Encounter History's Great Popes

In Popes and the Papacy, you discover the stories of the numerous men who defined the papacy, starting with its founder, Peter, and traveling through the current pope, Benedict XVI, elected in April of 2005. While some popes were remarkable, interesting, impressive, and memorable, others were regrettable. Others still were forgettable.

Professor Noble, the Robert M. Conway Director of the Medieval Institute and Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame, offers thoughts on why particular popes attract our attention and key insights into the legacies of their leadership.

  • Pope Gregory I, or Gregory the Great (r. 590–604) is the first pope about whom a great deal is known. In 596, he launched the reconversion of England.
  • Pope Sylvester II (r. 999–1003) was the first French pope and took the name Sylvester to symbolize the ideal of papal-imperial cooperation between Pope Sylvester I and Emperor Constantine.
  • Pope Julius II, (r. 1503–1513) personally led his troops into battle in an effort to enlarge the Papal States, yet this warrior-pope's contributions to the Renaissance included commissioning Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and hiring famed architect Donato Bramante to design St. Peter's Basilica.
  • Pope Pius X (r. 1903–1914), though he condemned the emerging ideas of Modernism, was also the greatest reformer of his age who instituted numerous changes in the Catholic Church, including the reinstitution of traditional church music.

In addition to these and other papal leaders, you'll ponder issues central to their rule, including whether recent history's criticism of Pope Pius XII's actions with respect to the Holocaust were justified, what made Pope John Paul II such a towering figure on the world stage, and what history can expect from the rule of the current pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.

Look inside the Vatican's Doors

According to Professor Noble, the Vatican—the governing center of the Roman Catholic faith—is a pretty mysterious place. Nevertheless, he says that "today we can describe the Vatican in a lot more detail than was possible in the past ... we just know a lot more about what happens and who does what."

Popes and the Papacy takes you inside the Vatican's doors and provides you with fresh views on the institution's people, ideas, traditions, and routines. You discover the important roles played by organizations like the Curia and the Secretariat of State. You also investigate the mechanisms by which the Church not only ministers to its worldwide flock but also deals with the practical realities of its own administration.

Enjoy a Wealth of Extraordinary Stories

The rich subject matter of Popes and the Papacy, spanning over 2,000 years of human civilization, provides you with a wealth of extraordinary stories that reflect the dramatic history of this important institution. Throughout the lectures, you:

  • Learn that when Pope Paul II instituted the first printing press in Rome in the 15th century, the resulting unemployment among the abbreviatori (the scribes who had previously produced copies of papal documents by hand) was so great that it resulted in a short-lived plot against the pope's life
  • Enjoy a glimpse into the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), whose history has been far different from the peaceful one many people might associate with their teaching role
  • Discover why cardinals electing a new pope are actually locked in until their work is completed, a tradition that dates back to the 13th-century attempt to choose a successor to Clement IV

Stories like these—along with the wisdom of Professor Noble's 30 years of immersion in the subject—give every lecture of Popes and the Papacy a level of fascination that promises to educate, enlighten, and entertain you.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    What Is Papal History? When Did It Begin?
    This lecture introduces four definitions of papal history—as an idea, an institution, a series of biographies, and a vantage point for the history of Western civilization—and examines the evidence for the beginnings of the story. x
  • 2
    The Rise of the Petrine Idea
    Papal history changed dramatically in the period between about 300 and 500 A.D., and we catch our first glimpse of an impressive institutional structure coming into being, refining itself, and assuming new and weighty responsibilities. x
  • 3
    Popes, Byzantines, and Barbarians
    As Roman authority around Rome disappeared, the popes had to deal with new situations, eventually reorienting their focus from the Mediterranean world to Western Europe in a period that also witnessed the pontificate of Gregory I, known as Gregory the Great, one of the most remarkable of Peter's successors. x
  • 4
    The Popes in the Age of Charlemagne
    In this period, the popes loosened their historical ties to Constantinople and turned to the Franks for protection—an effective collaboration that nonetheless planted the seeds for contention in later centuries over the boundaries between royal and priestly power. x
  • 5
    Rome, the Popes, and the Papal Government
    In addition to addressing some basic questions about how a man became pope, what the various roles were, and what structures were in place to assist him, this lecture also introduces many features of papal life and work still present today, albeit sometimes in changed form. x
  • 6
    The “Age of Iron”
    With the decline of effective Carolingian power in Italy, the papacy sank into depths perhaps unmatched in its long history—a period often referred to by later Protestant writers as the "Pornocracy." x
  • 7
    The Investiture Controversy
    Although "Lay Investiture"—the practice whereby a layman invests a cleric with his office—has given its name to a controversial era, the dispute encompassed much more, as rulers and clergy disagreed over who stood "next to God." x
  • 8
    The Papal Monarchy—Institutions
    This first of two lectures on the "papal monarchy" looks at the papacy as an institution, focusing largely on the pope within the Church but also looking at new ways the papacy influenced the contemporary world. x
  • 9
    The Papal Monarchy—Politics
    Despite the end of the Investiture Controversy, quarrels persisted between the popes and Europe's rulers. This second lecture on the papal monarchy examines some of the great battles of the day. x
  • 10
    The Popes at Avignon
    The struggle between Philip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII did not resolve fundamental issues, and the lingering dispute found the papacy's "temporary" residence at Avignon lasting 69 years. x
  • 11
    The Great Schism
    This lecture examines the greatest crisis in papal history—the period from 1378 to 1417—when a series of two, and sometimes three, men claimed simultaneously to be the legitimate pope, dealing severe blows to both the papacy's prestige and the monarchical theory of Church government. x
  • 12
    The Renaissance Papacy—Politics
    In this first of two lectures on the Renaissance, we look at the place of the popes in the public culture, war, diplomacy, and government of the 15th-century world. x
  • 13
    The Renaissance Papacy—Culture
    This second lecture on the Renaissance looks at the papacy's involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and educational movement that began to flourish in Florence in the last decades of the 14th century. x
  • 14
    The Challenge of Reform—Protestantism
    Calls for "Reform" were as old as the Christian Church itself. This lecture examines the reaction of the Renaissance popes to the voices constantly being raised for moral, spiritual, and institutional reform. x
  • 15
    Catholic Reform and Counter Reform
    The 15th century has been viewed as a time of intense reform within the Catholic Church and as a Counter Reformation designed to stop the spread of Protestantism and to win back Protestants. Both views have merit. x
  • 16
    Absolutism, Enlightenment, and Revolution
    The diplomatic situation in Europe in the early 17th century effectively halted the Counter Reformation on the Continent. Indeed, over the next two centuries the papacy's very survival occasionally came into question. x
  • 17
    Pius IX—Prisoner of the Vatican
    We look at the often controversial papacy of Pius IX, whose 32-year reign was the longest of all the popes and whose pontificate coincided with tremendous military, political, ideological, and cultural turmoil. x
  • 18
    The Challenge of Modernism
    After the long pontificate of Pius IX, it was clear that the pope's place in the world and in the Church would be forever different. x
  • 19
    The Troubled Pontificate of Pius XII
    This lecture looks at the fascinating pontificate of a brilliant but austere man who assumed the role of pope with unmatched experience, but whose reign eventually became shrouded by controversy. x
  • 20
    The Age of Vatican II
    Declining to be merely an elderly placeholder, John XXIII succeeded Pius XII and summoned the Second Vatican Council. We examine his life and career and the council that has continued to be a controversial topic for 40 years. x
  • 21
    The Transitional Pontificate of Paul VI
    Shy and bookish, kind but aloof, Paul VI was described by his close friend and confidante, John XXIII, as "a little like Hamlet." We examine the tangled legacy of a pope who attracted the criticism of progressives and conservatives alike. x
  • 22
    The Vatican and What It Does
    This lecture provides some useful nuts-and-bolts information and some interesting sidelights on the people and structures that make up the Vatican, dispelling some of the aura of mystery and intrigue that surrounds it. x
  • 23
    John Paul II—“The Great”?
    This lecture examines the life and pontificate of the first non-Italian elected since 1522. A towering figure on the world stage, he was controversial to some, respected by all, and loved by many. x
  • 24
    Benedict XVI, the Future, and the Past
    This lecture looks at the background and early pontificate of the new pope, attempts to assess where he might lead the world's one billion Catholics, and concludes the course with a few reflections on the place of the pope in the 21st century. x

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Your professor

Thomas F. X. Noble

About Your Professor

Thomas F. X. Noble, Ph.D.
University of Notre Dame
Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his B.A. in History from Ohio University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History from Michigan State University. Professor Noble has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and research grants from the American Philosophical Society. In 2008 he received the Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in...
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Reviews

Popes and the Papacy: A History is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 97.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Political History, Not Religion Make no mistake -- this is a HISTORY course, and more specifically a POLITICAL history course. That is, the focus of the course is the ebb and flow of power exerted by the institution of the Papacy over two millenia. This is a story with three intertwined plot lines: the Pope's power and influence over the secular princes and states of Europe and the world; the Pope's power and influence within the Catholic Church itself; and the strengths and weaknesses of the individuals who became successors of Peter -- and wielded that power and influence. From the inauspicious beginnings of the Vicar of Christ as leader of a rag-tag, oppressed cult, he (sorry, no Pope Joan) became in effect the sovereign of the western world in the "Christendom" of the Middle Ages. A thousand years later, he is sovereign of 100 acres in the middle of Rome, but the spiritual leader of more than a billion people. The story is fascinating and well-told. The only real problem I had with the course is - it's too short. Two thousand years and 265 Popes is far too large a scope for a 24-lecture course, though Professor Noble makes the most of that limited time. Perhaps the Teaching Company will come out with some follow-up courses exploring some of the intriguing details and personalities that Professor Noble hints at but there simply was not enough time for in this course. I've come to very much enjoy Professor Noble's history courses, including his manner and presentation. Not only does Professor Noble know his stuff, but he imparts that knowledge in a very conversational style, as if you are sitting at the dinner table with him (at least that it what it feels like with the audio version).
Date published: 2012-10-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Fell below my expectations... Dr Noble states in the first lecture that this course is "the history of an institution, a serial biography of 265 men". Some reviewers consider the professor, a Roman Catholic, to be an apologist, and indeed he did go to great pains to defend Pope Pius XII's record during World War II. It was noticeable, also, that he skipped quickly over the popes' involvement in the Crusades and in destroying the Knights Templar. Dr Noble shows that he is deeply and enthusiastically wired into his subject matter, as he narrates at a very brisk pace indeed to cover this wide-ranging course in only 12 hours. He has a raspy voice with an unusual speaking manner including continual spurts of irritating high pitch as well as "trail-offs". May I say that I greatly enjoyed this lecturer's jibe against lawyers (say no more). For me lecture five (Rome, the Popes, and the Papal Government) was a highlight: details of how the early popes were chosen and the hierarchical structure of the church. In considering Peter, the first pope, Dr Noble did not discuss the petros vs petra situation in the gospel of Matthew "you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." ~~ an inexcusable omission I felt, for this quotation is absolutely critical: it is the entire basis for the authority of the papacy. I must add that I objected to Dr Noble's dismissing as "utterly rubbish" the theory that Pope John Paul I was murdered (in 1978): while he may indeed have died a perfectly natural death, there is substantial serious evidence to present the case that he was killed. The lecture on Pius IX who called the first Vatican Council was important and well-presented; I also enjoyed the lectures on John XXIII and John Paul II. This course was recorded in 2005 so there is little on Benedict XVI. Overall, the opportunity should have been taken to incorporate many more images to illustrate various points; I do, of course, appreciate that audio (CD) courses are popular, but I opt for DVD sets.
Date published: 2012-09-17
Rated 1 out of 5 by from an apologist Professor Hobbs is an apologist for the popes and the church. I had hoped to learn about both the good and the bad, but no, the negatives are either left out or whitewashed. For example, the Inqusition is mentioned only as an office of the church - like the Popes had no part in the Inqusiton's actions. What a watse of time and money. Very disappointing.
Date published: 2012-06-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Popes and the Papacy Anytime I read a negative review on a subject such as the Papacy that has been written by a Catholic priest I know that this will be a course that I will find interesting. There is no anti Catholic judgement being made here. When I read that a course on the Papacy is not taught from the "Catholic" side as in this particular review I have to ask the question "How can Historical fact as one version and the "Catholic" version be different from one another? There can be only one truth. I, for one, would like to see a little more sunshine penetrate the Vatican's archives.
Date published: 2012-05-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Light on little known subject It is an interesting course and gives information on a little known subject. I really would have liked to give the course 4.5 stars, but it is not permitted.
Date published: 2012-02-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Non-Catholic modernist perspective of teaching Prof. Noble gives the facts and timeline of the history of papacy, with some stories of the immorality of some popes, which I have no problem with speaking about. As a Catholic priest I would say he lacks a Catholic perspective in this course, despite the fact that he teaches at a Catholic university. Further, that he has a certain bias from a classical Liberal perspective. Others criticize this see Alasdair MacIntyre I believe history should be seen as the chronology of the rejection or acceptance of God's grace in time. You can accept this or reject, but you should now Prof. Noble has his own perspective on teaching, which is not simple neutral. Prof. Noble seems to see history as based on social political forces as understood in the modern liberal perspective. Basically, that everything is controlled by politics, economic factors and material realities. This is especially apparent in his coverage of Blessed Pius IX and St. Pius X who he depicts as mixed figures whose teachings about the errors of the modernism were out of touch with changes in the modern world. These condemnations of philosophical premises he seems to completely misunderstand because he reads them through the lens of liberal-modern perspective. This perspective assumes that the liberal-democratic models is simply correct and questioning of this is akin to a heresy. Prof. Noble does not focus on whether each pope was following the law of God and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. So, don't be fooled this course could be taught at the University of Virginia or Notre Dame with little difference. So just know what you are getting when you listen to this course; it is not a Catholic presentation.
Date published: 2011-11-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An engaging romp through Rome (and Avignon) The word "romp" came to mind to describe Prof. Noble's course because a romp is usually seen as entertaining -- and I found this course quite entertaining. But romp sometimes means not serious, and that's not true of this course -- it's serious history. I've previously taken and given highest marks to Noble's TC courses on Western Civilization and Late Antiquity. I bought his course on the Papacy based on those experiences, and I was very happy with this course. I find Noble to be an excellent lecturer, who clearly relishes the material and presents it with passion. I find the Popes and the Papacy interesting on many levels. It is a history of the world's longest-functioning institution, which is a great story in itself. The Roman Catholic church is intimately tied into the history of Europe for the last 1900 years, and seeing it through the lens of the Church is a different perspective. And, people being people, the stories of the 265 Popes so far include examples of nobility and depravity, genius and incompetence, piety and perversion, famous and forgotten. I enjoyed Prof. Noble's seamless interweaving of the history of the Church itself, the evolution of its theology, the major political events of the time, and the deep profiles of the most influential Popes.
Date published: 2011-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I liked it but needed the DVD I got the audio version, and liked this course very much. But I had to stop about half way through it. I had gotten the audio only version, and while I liked the lecture, I found I wanted a visual aspect when I am doing the courses. So I stopped about half way and intend on buying this course once it is on sale. But I liked the presentation and I enjoyed the material. I guess I just like a visual component when I do my learning. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2011-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful Survey on the Papacy Prof. Noble's course on the Papacy is a wonderful lecture series on the history of this well-known yet misunderstood institution. In only 24 lectures, Noble goes through 2,000 years of history to get to the Papacy as we know it today. With that being said, the course could have been longer but the details were superb! He certainly slows down when he gets to the modern Papacy. He spends one lecture on the Papacy from around 700-1000 for instance and one whole lecture each of the following popes: Pius IX, Pius XII, Paul VI and John Paul II. The course does become easier to follow when he gets to the modern period because he can focus more time on individual popes rather than focusing on a bunch of them in one lecture. Being a professor at Notre Dame, I kind of expected him to be a little impartial but I don't think he deserves the bad marks he gets from some reviewers for not being objective enough. I am a Protestant and I thought the course was handled wonderfully! Noble also has an engaging warm personality and his voice reminds me of Casey Kasem weirdly enough. I would recommend this course after listening to Prof. Cook's History of the Catholic Church.
Date published: 2011-05-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from You Are Peter And Upon This Rock.... Unfortunately not all of the occupants of Peter's chair have shown the rock-solid stability and firmness implied by their illustrious predecessor's divinely granted name, as we learn in this solidly organized and well-delivered series of lectures on papal history. I thought for awhile about the adjective that best describes Noble's speaking style and decided on "chipper." He's more interested than I am in the details of papal ceremonial, vesture, and bureaucracy, but that's no big deal. Overall, this course provides an informative and entertaining survey of this extraordinarily durable institution. Strict adherents to papal infallibility will discover some inconvenient facts in these lectures -- for instance, the heretic Pope Honorius's condemnation for advocating monothelitism. If popes are protected by the Holy Ghost from doctrinal error, then what do we make of this? One wonders what doctrinal questions other popes might have gotten wrong. Noble claims that the Great Schism represented the papacy's gravest crisis. Perhaps, but the Reformation might outweigh it. So too might the Church hierarchy's mismanagement of the current abuse scandal, the consequences of which for the Church's image are magnified by our 21st-century's global instantaneous communications.
Date published: 2011-03-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My best listen ever! Professor F. X. Noble is, by far, the best lecturer I have heard. His energy and total enjoyment of the topic comes right through my speakers. He obviously knows his subject matter and, I assume, works from very structured notes. But most important to me is that he makes the popes and the era come alive in my mind. I am curious about the early Christian faith which happens to be the history of the Catholic religion and these lectures allows me to better understand the history that the popes directly and indirectly affected. This is a great listen and I'm thinking that I should have purchased the video. Seeing the professor in action would probably have increased my enjoyment. Great topic, great presentation and great lectures, I'll be looking for this guy in future purchases.
Date published: 2010-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A fascinating course I am not a catholic but even a cursory reading of history makes obvious the importance of the Roman Catholic Church and its popes in the history of western civilization. That is why I bought this course. I found it very informative and very enjoyable. Just about everything I'd hoped for. The course contains a good blend of history and personality. It is not, in my opinion, just a collection of trivial stories, but is a coherent, broad, story of the development of the church and the papacy. It also explained, as I'd hoped, the development and current structure and operation of the papacy. There was much of that I had never heard and had wondered about, at least a little. Dr. Noble is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic expert on his subject. It was apparent to me that he is not entirely unbiased. But that neither surprised or bothered me very much. I would much rather listen to an enthusiastic, positive speaker than someone who just takes potshots. Besides, there was plenty of the story that was so bad and so embarrassing that nobody could be forever positive, and that made it more interesting. I did however feel that when he entered the 20th century the professor became a bit more defensive. Answering a criticism with "that's just nonsense" sounds more like an apologist than a historian. Finally, I saw all the same elements of style and mannerisms that other reviewers have noted. None of them bothered me a bit. I think they simply represent an effort to produce a more varied, interesting and alive presentation. I think Dr. Noble uses multiple teleprompters in his presentation better than anybody I've ever seen. All in all, I think this is an excellent course.
Date published: 2010-10-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from On how to bend history God cannot change history, only historians can. So the saying goes. Professor Noble's course on the popes is packed with an enormous volume (hence the three stars) of... selected and reinterpreted (misinterpreted?) information (reason for no additional two stars). If you are looking for an impartial history on the popes, this course is not for you.
Date published: 2010-08-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from trivia I admit I relistened to this course some 2-3 years later to refresh my knowledge of papal trivia. There is a lot of interesting information in this course but poorly organized. The emphasis is on trivia: who was the best in something , who was the only one who did this, etc. The course would be a lot more valuable if the presenter reviewed all the popes chronologcally and added a short review of the historical background. The commentary should be more objective and less sensational. The presenter has a very irritating mannerism: his voice rises and falls making it difficult to catch the last words in the sentence; to make it worse, he talks with a high speed and slurs the names and Latin words making them incomprehensible
Date published: 2010-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Seeing the Holy See The Holy See is the authority, jurisdiction, and governmental functions of the papacy and if you add to these the holy and unholy behaviors of the long line of St Peter's successors - you get Dr Noble's fascinating course. However, this is not an entry level TC course. It really helps - at least for me - to have a working knowledge of the western civilization that molded and was molded by those men ( and perhaps, one woman if you believe in Pope Joan) who wore the pope's mitre. While today the pope's role and relevancy have becomed marginalized, once upon a time popes aggressively competed with secular rulers for power and riches. The role of the papcy in the fragmentation of The Holy Roman Empire shows how at one time the pope could change history. It is a fascinating history that leads from a 12th century pope who could intimidate The Holy Roman Emperor into kneeling in the snow at Conossa in 1077 for three days seeking forgiveness to a 21st century pope who is seeking forgiveness for pedophilia in 2010! If you need a primer, the TC has many including the lineup of medieval history courses and Dr Noble's excellent course on Western Civilization from Sumer to the Renaisance. If you are interested in the unfolding of western history, western thought, or how the West went from one holy and apostolic church to innumerable christian denominations this is the course for you. Professor Noble points out that the papacy is the longest survivng western institution and if it isn't what it once was, it is still worth learning about. Finally, you don't have to take the course all in one bite. It is an excellent supplement to the TC's many history courses - listening to Dr N's lecture Pope Gregory VII when you are muddling your way through the middle Middle Ages is very helpful.
Date published: 2010-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Money Well Spent This is an unslanted overview of papal history that keeps you playing the lessons nonstop (if it was a book, it'd be a page turner). Thomas Noble is an engaging speaker who built a sound framework within which to grasp the push and shove of papal history. I've played his lessons over and over again -- each time picking up something new -- and have beaten up the course notes that follow me everywhere (from the gym to the mountaintop). I've been doing this for two years, while reading diverse books on papal and Church history (to include his Republic of St Peter...get it, you'll like it). My informal studies in papal history started in 1978 with the death of Paul VI and have continued since. Unlike some posters here who felt otherwise, I never felt he was towing a party line. Noble spoke matter-of-factly: he did his touch and go and then moved on. He didn't whitewash anything but said enough to upset extremists at both ends: triumphalist Catholics will take offense when he said Julius III was a pederast and that Sylvester II wanted to study from Muslim scholars, while anti-Catholics may dismiss his statement that Voltaire respected Benedict XIV. But most of us are in the middle, each with his/her own learning (and perhaps teaching style). We all know Noble can't satisfy everyone, anymore than we each can. Those who don't like this product have a legitimate complaint that I simply can't connect with. Still, this superb product has a shortcoming...it wasn't long enough. Tom, it's time to produce another TeachCo series on the papacy. It'll prepare some of us for your classroom, even if we must travel too far to get there.
Date published: 2010-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating. Professor Noble is one-of-a-kind. Those who have done any of his other courses will know what I mean. His lectures are packed-full of information, which, frankly, anyone could do. What makes him a great lecturer is his ability to keep your interest. I was eager to hear what he said next. This course would make an ideal combo with Professor Cooke's History of the Catholic Church. Buy the course !.
Date published: 2010-04-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, Exciting and Entertaining This is my first course by Prof. Noble. To be honest his other courses just have no interest to me. Well, I have a feeling that he might just spark that interest in me. He is clear, easy to follow, has a fun sense of humor and has fun anecdotes throughout the course. I have read the previous reviews and I disagree. He DOES address the "bad" popes, the ones who were corrupt. I feel as though he takes a very historical approach. There is no judgment, no "sided" commentary. This is a great course for anyone interested in the Catholic Church, ancient history, western civilization, Rome, European history, and religion.
Date published: 2010-04-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Popes and the Papacy Quite honestly the single most disappointing course I've listened to in all my time as a customer. I am an avid fan of the teaching company and this is probably my 10th course that I've purchased. Most are great, some are OK, but this was certainly the least valuable and informative, based on the title of the course. I expected to learn about the Popes and their effect on the Roman Catholic faith, their theological perspective, their interpretation of the catholic bible and its teachings and what I got was a history lesson of Rome, Vatican City and how the surrounding geographies affected the lives of the Popes. Professor Noble continually referred to some of the Popes as pious men, but never defined what pious meant….truly a tremendous oversight. Professor Noble is a gifted lecturer, but the course was so un-enriching that I would suggest that fellow students take a history course on Italy through the ages before I would recommend this course.
Date published: 2010-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Introduction to the Institution This is an introduction to the institution of the papacy that, in the process, must mention something about popes along the way. In that sense, the course was both important and successful. I don't see how one can understand Western culture without an introduction like this into the papacy. Be aware that this course is presented from a Catholic perspective. As a Protestant myself, I found this useful and attractive because it broadened my perspective. I would agree that the course is too shallow in dealing with the Crusades, the Reformation, and the corruption during the Middle Ages. If understanding the papacy is important to understanding Western culture (as I've already suggested), then understanding these particular episodes is particularly understanding current events; unfortunately, Dr. Noble shortchanges these subjects.
Date published: 2009-12-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History buff or Catholic worshiper READ Of all of the courses I have purchased or reviewed, this one is at the top. Professor Noble is both informative and engaging. I am a convert to the Catholic faith and found this history of the Papacy enlightening. On a trip to the US, my brother in law (a Catholic Priest in the Philippines) was so impressed, he asked if he could take it back with him for his parishioners. If I can recommend this to a friend, I could not refuse to share it with a parish of particularly poor farmers. Maybe I will get it back some day, or maybe I'll just buy another one. I wish even SOME of my college professors had been half as good as Prof. Noble,.
Date published: 2009-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This is the first course I took by Dr. Noble, and I was thoroughly drawn into the subject and found it interesting all the way to the end. I like Dr. Noble's style, and the way he presents his material. He took a very complex subject and made sense of it, in logical order, and took the time to explain the context of these popes and why they acted as they did. Because I am not Catholic, I appreciated all the more Dr. Noble's attention to the way the church works and how it influenced the popes and how they influenced the church. I highly recommend this excellent course.
Date published: 2009-11-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Need to keep it in Perspective First this is a very academically presented course and very well done for that part of it. The content is clearly laid out and Noble gives a well-rounded overview of the papacy, its place within the Catholic Church and how it functions. This is NOT meant to be a play by play or a full biography of all 266 popes. There is NO way you could do that in any course. There were simply be too much information so for those other reviewers who were disappointed that it didn't do that, well go buy yourself the volume set of Lives of the Popes or something. Secondly, on a more critical note, Noble does whitewash certain events especially as it gets closer to the 20th century. (I would say from Pius IX on up he starts being careful). For those of you who don't take the hint when you are watching the series, he gives more than enough indication why any Catholic teaching at a Catholic institution like Notre Dame would have to be careful what they cover. For the negative aspects of the modern papacy you will have to go elsewhere. If Noble wants to keep his job he can't talk about them. For example - John Paul I may not have died a natural death but nobody teaching at a Catholic Institution who doesn't want to get censured or excommunicated is going to shout that from the roof tops. We simply don't have evidence enough and we never will to prove it. Another example - JPII: Noble mentions nothing about the priest child abuse scandal crisis which hit during his papacy and probably was the major crisis of his papacy. NOTHING is mentioned about it. As to Pius XII and the Holocaust - I think Noble is right. Pius is being unfairly vilified but you have to do some outside research on the situation and the people who originally accused Pius XII to know that. Noble mentions there is no justifiable evidence but he doesn't go into what that is because he doesn't have time in the lecture. If you look, like I did, into the various characters involved, you will get why Pius is probably not guilty of what he was accused of. Just keep in mind that overall, Professor Noble can talk about certain things but given his position he cannot talk about EVERYTHING. Non-Catholics need to understand that (most Catholics should already understand that). If you want to investigate further on certain people and events, you will have to do that on your own. This is an overview course - keep that in mind. Tangents and more info you can pursue on your own and I would recommend that you do. However, overall, he does give a very good overview for Catholics (as most don't know Church History or any kind of ecclesiology whatsoever about their own church) and non-Catholics about the Papacy, the beliefs surrounding it, how it developed over time as an institution in relation to world events as well as within itself, and a very basic bio of a few important popes along the way. If you are just after to get a Big Picture view and an overall understanding to operate from this was done very well. And Noble gives info about certain events that if you want to investigate further you can. And also - the visuals are not THAT many throughout the course that you couldn't listen to this but there is enough writing on the screen to catch some of the Latin stuff that if you are taking notes, watching the DVD would be preferable.
Date published: 2009-09-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A useful overview I enjoyed the lectures thoroughly, Dr. Noble is an engaging and informed presenter; the reason I only gave the course four stars overall was a disagreement with the emphasis of the course. I felt that the Medieval period was not given as much emphasis as it should have received; this is, of course, a bit of a personal quibble. I would definitely recommend the course to anyone with interest in the subject, and look forward to trying other courses by Dr. Noble.
Date published: 2009-08-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful I thoroughly enjoyed this course presented by Professor Noble. Throughout the program he presents both the positives as well as the negatives in the papacy. I enjoyed his presenting the papcy in its historic setting.
Date published: 2009-07-22
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I am returning course Only once before have I returned a course, and it was for similar reasons. We buy these courses to be educated, not to hear someone who has a stake in his subject matter spout off in a slanted manner. I was hoping to learn of the Papacy's position in the world and wanted some objective view of the individual popes. Instead I found that the 'good' popes were 'wonderful', the 'bad' popes 'had a few problems'--there was no balance. In addition, any negative influence the papacy caused was skimmed over or neglected. This includes the papacy's role in the Reformation, the rise of Lutheranism and the selling of indulgences,the role the papacy played in WW II and other crucial areas. For a good treatment of the popes of the Renaissance, get the Teaching Company's course: "The Renaissance." Don't waste your money on this one. And based on what I see of the "was this helpful" comments, I feel sure you will see that this review "was not helpful" to at least 70% of those who read it. Who do you think puts in those "Helpful" votes? Check it out. If you see the 5 star reviews here have one vote against them, that is my vote. The 3 star reviews, even the best ones, all show "unhelpful" votes. No coincidence.
Date published: 2009-06-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from 2 speakers for 1: turn the volume way up In my opinion, this is a very academic course which makes it borderline interesting. You also should be prepared to understand that because of the lack of historical records you learn nothing about popes during certain early and seemingly critical periods. Unfortunately, what is most memorable about the course are the strange speech patterns of the professor. He lectures in a manner that may necessitate turning the volume to a very high level. He talks in a rather high but normal voice then to make some insightful points he will lower his voice appreciably and seemingly turn his head to the side and his comments become nearly inaudible at a normal volume level. It is as though 2 people are teaching the course. One gives you the straight history; the other, gives you the inside story and observations, but both at radically different volume levels. I found it very distracting as though the speaker was making side comments to a few people standing to his side. If you learn anything from this course that is memorable is that the popes were human beings and throughout history they represent the good, bad and evil of a cross section of mankind.
Date published: 2009-05-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good, but... I enjoyed this course immensely. Naturally, the subject matter may be a bit controversial so I’d like to disclose where I’m coming from. I’m a former Catholic and agnostic. I am not affiliated with any religion whatsoever. Noble certainly portrays an overall favorable picture of the papacy that remains objective, but barely. However, he’s an outstanding and engaging lecturer and his knowledge and scholarship of the subject are absolutely first class. If you’re not or have never been Catholic, Noble does go into a bit of detail describing the terminology and hierarchy of the Catholic church. However, given the time restraints and that this is a course on History, not Ecclesiology, it may come across as odd and befuddling to those not already familiar. Popes and Papacy does a superb job surveying the history and influence of the institution and men who have served in it for over 2,000 years. Regardless of your religious affiliation, some fluency of this subject is fundamental to understanding why, where, how and what Western Civilization is. As is common with The Teaching Company, the Professor is probably the course’s strongest point.
Date published: 2009-04-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Minority Report I thought this was an excellent introduction to the history of the papacy. Unlike some other readers, I found Professor Noble's analysis to be excellent and fair. As a Catholic, I often found his criticism to be searing and I did not find him whitewashing anyone. The controversy about Pius XII was handled in a balanced manner, although I think the possibility of foul play in the case of John Paul I was dismissed a little quickly. I recommend these lectures to anyone interested in an enjoyable introduction to a most complicated subject
Date published: 2009-04-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This was an excellent overview. There have been some criticism that Prof. Noble skips over some areas the reviewers would like to be more detailed. You will note that most criticism is due to Prof. Noble not being more critical of the church or skipping over areas that were not high points in the church's history. I think that speaks more to the reviewer's desire than Prof. Noble's. Obviously, with only 24 lectures covering 2000+ years of history, there is going to be some areas that are not covered in detail. This could easily have been a 48 lecture series where all these issues were covered in more detail. Even at that length, however, much would still need to be skimmed through. I enjoyed this very much and have listened to it several times.
Date published: 2009-03-11
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