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 No. 6672
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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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  • 168-page printed course guidebook
  • Suggested readings
  • Questions to consider
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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 5 out of 5 by from Great Course! I bought the video course several years back, and just bought the audio course for the car. Professor Noble brings 2,000 years of history to life, and more than once I've sat in the car at my destination just to finish a lecture. This course works well in audio format since I really don't need to see a picture of a Pope to follow the lecture.
Date published: 2017-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very interesting lecturer I guess I could charge that the series is outdated, since it begins by welcoming Benedict to the papacy and predates Pope Francis. However, I guess it takes longer than 8 years for a course covering 2000 years of history to become outdated. I am choosing to respond mostly because I think the professor has been maligned unfairly in some other reviews for not pushing the political viewpoints of some of the reviewers in modern times, particularly during World War II. I am a happy Baptist who has no support for papal infallibility or several other Catholic doctrines, but I bought this course for the history lesson. The history lesson was ably and interestingly presented, and I learned a lot.
Date published: 2017-08-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from would like more visual effects on the DVD Most of your DVDs feature art work from the time considered or photos of the current site. Very few on this program
Date published: 2017-06-21
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Lacks Balance Professor Noble seems to gloss over the deplorable behavior of many individuals in the "Petrine Line" that became pope, while extolling the virtues of others he considers to have been successful at shoring up the institutional Vatican structure. He observes that many popes acted in ways that were not much different than other leaders that reigned during the period in which they had power. Admittedly, he does acknowledge that one might have expected them to have behaved differently than secular leaders. However, in Lecture 22 titled "The Vatican and What it Does" he strangely introduces the question about 'what would Christ have thought' and seems to give an approving nod. I would not blame Professor Nobel's lack of balance and candor on the fact that he teaches at Notre Dame. If you are interested in a more thorough and evenhanded assessment of the Popes there is a book by a former, now deceased, Notre Dame Professor and Catholic theologian by the name of Richard McBrien titled "Lives of the Popes." That book is much more informative and provides a balance this lecture series lacks. It is striking that after examining both the recommended readings suggested by Professor Nobel and the bibliography included in the course guidebook, there was no mention of Professor McBrien or his book "Lives of the Popes" and that is truly unfortunate.
Date published: 2017-06-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Succinct survey of two thousand years of history Dr. Noble provides a thorough survey of two thousand years of history - no easy feat. I teach a high school level elective in Church History and found Dr. Noble's lectures incredibly helpful in refreshing me and providing me with new perspectives. Non-Catholics need not fear this either as he presents the material with no bias. Great purchase.
Date published: 2017-06-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Sanitary History Compared to other histories that recount the history of the Catholic Church, this course cannot be called a whitewash, but it certainly has been sanitized. He glosses quickly over the venal, worldly--and even murderous--behavior of popes. This is not surprising considering where he teaches. I don't think Notre Dame would like to hear complaints from any offended Catholics. He also misinterprets thesis (and even the title) of John Cornwell's book "Hitler's Pope". The point of the book (and the title) was not Pius XII's supposed indifference in the face of the Holocaust. (Though Noble does completely excuse it--another gloss.) It was Cardinal Pacelli's concordat with Hitler that required the German Catholic political party (or parties) to vote to empower the Hitler regime and then dissolve themselves that required close examination.
Date published: 2017-05-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The professor was very knowledgeable and presented well. The only drawback was that he presented so much material it was difficult at times to retain the major theme is some of his presentations.
Date published: 2017-04-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great presentation! I've really enjoyed watching this. It's jam packed with information, but told in such an entertaining and interesting way that I was riveted.
Date published: 2017-03-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation of interesting content. A really good learning buy!
Date published: 2017-02-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History & Brief Bios: Not Religion audio download version This is the first course I've taken from Professor Noble. I was initially skeptical taking a course about the Popes from a professor at Notre Dame. but my prejudice was unwarranted. The title of the course is absolutely correct. Dr. Noble traces the history of the Papacy, not a history of the Catholic Church or Christianity. Along the way, he includes short and medium length biographical notes of many key and/or interesting Popes. We are treated to the anti-Popes, multiple popes, the Avignon Popes and more. Professor Noble does not shy from (nor to be sure does the Church) of many of the more unsavory aspects of the Papacy nor of individual Popes. Often in discussing the Papacy or individuals who have held the office, he nicely balances the conflicting good, bad and indifferent that must arise from any individual or any important post of power. Most interesting and refreshing views of complex persons and institutions. Clearly Professor Noble as some favorites, especially in the modern era, but for me this is not bias, but rather the result of a close examination of the very many facets of individuals over time and how they affected history, the Church and society. Well done and presented. Recommended
Date published: 2016-12-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening! Grew up Catholic so knew generally about the Popes but this goes into such depth on the how and why they are the symbol of the church. Explains a lot of our traditions and how the office of pope has changed over the centuries. I knew of the anti-popes but didn't understand why they existed. The course relates the progression of the church as related to the power and responsibilities of the pope and how he came to possess his power.
Date published: 2016-10-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Presentation I wasn't really interested in a presentation on the Papacy, but thought I would give it a try in the audio format. I am glad I did. Professor Noble does a wonderful job presenting one of the most critical institutions of Western Civilization. He is clear, effortlessly conversant with the source materials, and has a keen eye for what is most important in the material. Wonderful course.
Date published: 2016-10-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Erudite, energetic, entertaining. I'm astonished to find my Great Courses collection approaching 60 courses. Downloaded to my phone, they are my constant companion sitting in the prolonged commute from the Houston suburbs into Houston proper. (A fact that brings no end of amusement to my children, who find it ridiculous enough to share with their friends.) One of the very first courses acquired, primarily for my (wretched and thankless) kids, was "Foundations of Western Civilization," taught by Thomas F.X. Noble. Alas, it is a DVD course. It's not much good for the commute (it can be done, but don't do it!), but of the several courses from that series watched, all were interesting and energetically delivered. I recently ordered Popes & the Papacy, and, having learned my lesson long ago, got the audio download. Professor Noble is just as engaging in this course as in Western Civilization. Here's an actual passage, transcribed: "The popes themselves took a rather aggressive posture with respect to conciliarism. What they really wanted to do was quash it. They wanted to quash it in two distinct respects. They wanted to quash conciliar theory, and reestablish a more monarchical, a more hierarchical kind of theory as the central operating ecclesiology of the church, and they wanted to quash the particular effects of the councils." Reading those few sentences, it's hard not to imagine oneself nodding off while sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. If the language were any drier, we might mistake this for the excellent course on the Pharaohs. (Certainly there are a few Great Courses that, while doubtless great, are decidedly NOT suitable for driving.) Not so with Professor Noble! He calmly but enthusiastically delivers generous helpings of such succinct points of the historical development of the church (as in the example), or of the evolution of history in general, liberally leavened with insightful anecdotes about various fascinating characters. Although the success of the course is largely a function of his skillful distillation of the material--2000 years of history, condensed to 12 hours of lecture--the key seems to be his enthusiastic presentation. He reconfirms the wisdom of the Great Courses' philosophy of choosing great professors, those recognized by their students as outstanding. I'm not enough of a historian to provide any meaningful critique of the content or theme of Professor Noble's course. From my perspective as a conservative (and Protestant) layman, it doesn't seem to push any particular political or religious agenda, at least not through the late 19th century. His treatment of the 20th century, and Vatican II, may require a reevaluation. But even if that's the case, and even if you only enjoy the first 15 or 18 lectures, it's a bargain in education AND entertainment. I heartily recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-09-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Popes and Papacy: A History I love this teacher's animated presentation and the way he breaks things down into very understandable nuggets that a listener can remember. This course is NOT about religion, it is about history which makes it all the more compelling. He speaks right to the listener in such a way that he is having a conversation and I love it!! I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2016-07-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Real History Prof. Noble is outstanding! Not a note, nor a glimpse at a teleprompter, but he follows the handout almost verbatim -- with a bit of occasional humor when appropriate. Great presentation. I did wish at times for perhaps an inset (a little split screen) with the names and dates of the popes from the era we were discussing. Peadar
Date published: 2016-06-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good introduction...Pope Joan? Audio download Wow...some folks really get into reviewing these courses. This review is for those considering buying these lectures, so all the rest of you can just go out for coffee. Dr Noble is a very good lecturer, well-prepared and obviously has had much classroom practice. The course is a survey...an overview...of the history of the papacy. It does not get into a thorough review of the individual popes or their actions...no details are presented, but some very good references are provided for you to investigate more deeply. No one...and by that I mean NO ONE...can cover the histories of 265 individuals, within the context of their times in a 12 hour set of lectures. We, as the student or audience, have the responsibility to dig a little deeper. Dr Noble sets this up beautifully, (complementing other lectures by Drs Daileader, Harl, Hoak, Wallace, and even Ehrman, just to name a few), engaging these Catholic religious leaders of their times to the ongoing history of their particular age . If taken out of context, they, and the events of the time, lose their historic meaning. As the lectures progressed (lectures about Pious XII, John XXIII and John Paul II) the details of papal involvement becomes thicker and a bit detailed and interpretative...interesting because they happened within my lifetime...but somewhat out of place when compared to the earlier papacies. What papal nuances presented here have been lost about those popes of the earlier days? And what about Pope Joan? Only briefly mentioned in the lectures, the mere mention of a female pope raises all sorts of Dan Brownian conspiracy thoughts...Mary as the Holy Grail, and Pope Joan as the Holy Father? While no truth is assigned to this Pope Joan myth, it does cause the imagination to wander...is there a secret papal male confirmation ritual? Is there any truth to: "Duos habet et bene pendentes" as has been alleged? Recommended as an introduction to the popes, if you are, indeed, blessed with a sale and a coupon.
Date published: 2016-02-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing in comparison to Late Antiquity Having listened to and enjoyed Noble's 2008 course Late Antiquity, Crisis and Transformation, I was looking forward to this course. But I was very disappointed with the quality of this one. I use these courses to distract me when I am exercising or doing other mundane tasks, and therefore I want to both learn something and be entertained, and this has to work with audio, given the type of exercise involved. Your criteria may differ from mine, as I see many people did like this course, but basically, I ask myself these questions: 1. Do I look forward to listening to or watching the next episode? The ultimate assessment criterion for asking for a refund was reached this morning: after listening to 9 lectures, the thought of listening to another lecture was too depressing to face and I decided to move on to another course. What a relief! 2. Do I feel I learned something interesting or useful from each episode? I probably did learn something from each of these lectures, but it was tedious work, getting past the wandering, out of focus presentation. I got the impression that this course was developed as a sort of side-bar to his main interest, as a form of entertainment for his live audience. Unfortunately, it was just not entertaining, or informative, enough to keep my attention. 3. Would I recommend this to a friend? Definitely not. I bought this – and another course by Professor Noble, which I have not yet listened to – after listening to and enjoying his course on Late Antiquity. Given the high quality of that one, I thought there was little risk that this course on the papacy would not be good. I was sadly mistaken. I would recommend the course on Antiquity, but I definitely would not recommend this to a friend or colleague, whose opinion I value. 4. Do I find the speaker’s lecturing style compelling and interesting? Not this time. While listening to this one, I was happy to let my mind wander off on to almost any other mundane topic, because I was frustrated frequently at not being able to follow his rather sloppy train of analysis, but not interested enough to go back to listen again. When a course is really good, my mind will wander occasionally, but I often rewind, and listen again, so I don’t miss anything. I did this with Late Antiquity, and many other courses, but not with this one. 5. Would I buy another course from this lecturer, without hesitation? No, not now. I bought this one (and another) after a good experience with Professor Noble’s course on Late Antiquity, but I will be very careful with future purchases. The money is not the issue, because the Teaching Company has provided quick refunds on roughly 10% of the 100 + purchases I have made here. The real issue is the opportunity cost: I could be listening to more compelling, better organized and presented courses.
Date published: 2016-01-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent course I think Professor Noble is in the same class as Daniel Robinson - my highest compliment for one of these courses. His voice is easy to listen to, and never boring. I did the audio only version of the course. I would guess that the video does offer more, but I have no complaints about audio only. In fairness I must confess that I am an unbeliever who finds Catholicism fascinating, so I was prejudiced in a positive way from the start. If you want a course that beats up Christianity, this is not it - try one of the Bart Ehrman items for that.
Date published: 2015-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Learning Experience I enjoyed learning about the popes and the papacy very much. I found Dr. Noble to be very informative and enjoyable to listen to. I was sorry to see the course end and of course am intrigued with what he might add to the course now that it is 10 years since it was first published.
Date published: 2015-08-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is a superb course! This course answers the question: What is papal history? Professor Noble says that this history is comprised of four histories: 1. the history of an idea (i.e. ecclesiology or the theory of church government); 2. the history of an institution, the Catholic Church; 3. the serial biography of 265 men; 4: a mirror of Western civilization itself. The material is presented clearly and competently. Professor Noble's familiarity with his subject gives his delivery easy grace and complete command, qualities which engage the listener. The integration of several strands of events was enormously helpful to me. Professor Noble saved me years of study and provided me with materials for further inquiry. Listening to him also elicited not a few insights and realizations about religion, human beings, and the modern world. The value delivered in this course exceeded by far the cost of the course. Many thanks to Professor Noble for his outstanding work.
Date published: 2015-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable An light-hearted and enjoyable history nugget, especially for those with a Roman Catholic background.
Date published: 2015-01-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Expansive Content but not wasy to follow This course covers a huge scope of history: from Peter the Apostle (first century CE) to the latest pope in the 21st century. Professor Noble starts with the Peter the Apostle who is considered in many respects to be the father of the papal concept. Next, he goes through the establishment of the formal papal structure that developed in the late Roman Empire, or period of late antiquity starting with Constantine and continuing with his successors, really until the fall of the Western Roman Empire. At this stage, the Catholic Church is having a hard time holding on to its land property in Italy, due to attacks by the Lombard tribes in North Italy. The Church loosens its ties with Byzantium, which is beginning to grow its own strand of Christianity, and to focus more on Western Europe. It is Charlemagne that subdues the Lombards and provides the Catholic Church the security that it needs in order to govern the ecclesiastic structure of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church becomes a sort of “state” with a lot of land property that has to be administered, and this takes up a lot of the energies of the popes. Charlemagne becomes a patron of the church, and he is crowned holy Roman Emperor by the pope for his trouble in 800 CE – a position that has been vacant since 476 CE with the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Professor Noble speaks at length about the constant power struggles between the secular and Papal authorities, erupting into open conflict with the discommunication of several holy Roman German emperors in the Early middle ages. This friction between the authorities is a matter of profound importance all through the middle ages. It would be hard and probably fruitless to list all that is covered – suffice it to say that it is huge in scope… but some of the other main topics are the Papal schism with the Eastern Orthodox Church of the 10th century and the Papal Schism of the 14th century; the coping with Luther’s reformation, and all of the early and late modern Papal history. The problem in the course is that it focuses on the Papacy. Of course the course should be focusing on the Papacy – this is the subject after all; but it is hard to understand the history of the Papacy without understanding the history of what is going on in the backdrop - which is general scene in Western Europe. One has to constantly be making the connection between this backdrop and the Papacy. Good knowledge of the general European history is critical if one wants to make sense of this course – it does not stand on its own at all and it is challenging to constantly make the connection even for those who do have it. This is my second course with Professor Noble, the first being “Late antiquity: crisis and transformation”. I enjoyed his lecturing style and found it to be entertaining and easy to follow in general. As I have said, it was very difficult at times to tie together the general happenings of historical events in Europe to what was going on in the Papacy, but I think this is more a challenge of this topic than an issue with Professor Noble’s teaching style. To summarize – the course is interesting and holds a huge scope of history but you have to be prepared and know your general European history very well to make good sense of it.
Date published: 2014-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, Balanced, Insightful, and Well-Done This is an excellent, if brief, overview of popes and the papacy, highly recommended for any with an interest in the history of religion. Professor Noble is a fine teacher, and this course is in the same league as his other TGC offerings, all of which are outstanding and well worth watching. He is clear, eloquent, well-organized, and deeply caring about his subject. It is especially worth emphasizing, since the professor is a Roman Catholic (or at least so I assume) lecturing on a major aspect of Roman Catholicism, that I (as a non-religious type) found his presentation to be almost entirely fair and balanced, explicitly detailing the often dramatic failings of his subjects as well as their positive aspects. And he at no point comes even close to proselytizing for his religion - this is history, not theology. The only partial exception comes with his discussion of the most recent popes, when his personal biases, especially his admiration for John Paul II, threatens to overwhelm his objectivity. He also provides a detailed and passionate apology (in the religious sense) of the papacy's sometimes controversial activities during World War II. But again, to me as a religious outsider, this seemed well within acceptable and expected bounds, and both sides of the controversies are given a fair hearing. Given that this course was produced at the beginning of the reign of the 265th pope, it obviously could be nowhere close to complete. But the major figures, and the most pivotal as well as important intellectual, religious, and political events, receive a consistently fascinating telling. Of course, it would be very helpful to have at least a basic understanding of European history before taking the course, since so much depends on background knowledge which can only be mentioned briefly. This is not the sort of topic that will appeal to everyone with a historical bent. But it has my highest recommendation for all with an interest in religious history or in Christianity.
Date published: 2014-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating History This turned out to be an excellent course -- it could so easily have been just a chronology -- and the lecturer was also quite good. I was glad to get some background one what we know (and what we don't know) about the papacy's early years and I found the section on the "Iron Years" of the late first millennium to be especially interesting.
Date published: 2014-05-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Long Unsatisfying Row to Hoe Most of the sessions were either about the background of selected popes or the fights for the papacy. I would have liked some information about the issues that the popes dealt with and how they changed the religion. After all, wasn't that what they were there for? It wasn't until the last few lessons that the professor talked about what the pope actually does, but that pertained to the 20th and 21st centuries. The course made short shrift of the crusades and Christian anti Semitism.
Date published: 2014-04-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Hard to Follow; Too Much Trivia I received this series as a gift, along with The Catholic Church: A History. While there was considerable overlap between the two, I would definitely recommend The Catholic Church History over this one. It is much better organized and does a much better job of giving you a perspective of how the Church (and the popes) impacted Western Civilization. Dr. Noble gets down into way too much detail and trivia about the organization of the early papal offices, how popes were elected, and how the papacy functioned in the governance of Rome. You really don't get a feel for the personalities and styles of more than a very few individual popes. Other reviewers have said that he is too much of an apologist or he is too reluctant to talk about the sins of the Church. Whatever! I presume people are mature enough to make up their own minds (as they all seem to have done# about what kind of job the Church has done over the years. I was more interested in how at least some of the individual popes carried out their office, in what ways they demonstrated their spirituality, and how they moved #or didn't move) the Church forward, but didn't get it. In this series you get the sense that most of the popes were just along for the ride through the historical development of Europe, and if they did anything, it was almost exclusively for the secular development of their world.
Date published: 2013-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This was the second time I listened to the course (the first time was following the election of Pope Benedict). I found it interesting and valuable on both occasions. For the most part, this course is presented in a chronolological fashion, with a few lectures dealing with themes through a historical period. This has its good and bad points (for example, in one lecture he was discussing the papacy around the time of Napoleon in the early 1800s, followed by comments concerning the papacy in the late 1600s). It is essential to have a timeline in front of you to make following these "themes" a little easier. I actually used a modified timeline that was published by the Chicago Tribune in March, 2013 (at the time of the election of Pope Francis). Such a timeline listing all of the popes and antipopes was invaluable to follow along during the lectures. Again, highly recommended course, by an excellent lecturer.
Date published: 2013-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from right amount of data Very well selected material, I specially liked the treatment of the very early period of Christianity as well as the specific topic of Pius XII.
Date published: 2013-01-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting but often myopic This course did not live up to my expectations, perhaps because my expectations are so demanding. 24 lectures is not easy for 2,000 years of history, and if Prof. Noble had included all the little tidbits I gleaned from the book Absolute Monarchs, it would have required at least 36 lectures. However, if it could have been done better in 36 lectures, it should have been. Prof. Noble glosses over many, many instances of Papal ineptness and intrigue, and paints whole eras with the same brush: the Popes were in some cases lamentable but in all cases were devout and very devoted to the office. About the Renaissance Pope Alexander, he mentions as part of a longer sentence that "there were rumors of [deleted due to TTC rules, but you get the idea] in the Vatican" -- yet that was the defining dynamic of Alexander's Papacy. I feel that Prof. Noble's overly sunny exposition of the Papacy is colored by his own personal religious affiliation. That said, I'm sure if I were to put out 24 lectures on the Papacy, my atheism would doubtless influence my choice of emphasis. But I did not choose to do such a lecture, and perhaps Prof. Noble should not have, as well.
Date published: 2013-01-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the very best courses! Dr. Noble is an excellent lecturer who reveals an image of the Papacy that is amazing. While it's called "A history", the lectures are presented more as a series of intriguing stories that leave the listener wanting much more. The clear, logical, and detail rich discussion allows you to step into the world of the Papacy and see real Popes dealing with important issues -- warts and all. The historical facts and dates are smoothly integrated into the discussion without the confusing detailed data that often frequents a history, Having gone through many courses, this is clearly one of the best.
Date published: 2012-11-30
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