The Catholic Church: A History

Course No. 6640
Professor William R. Cook, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Geneseo
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Course No. 6640
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Course Overview

The Catholic Church. It began as a small band of supporters following the teachings of an itinerant preacher in an outpost of the Roman Empire. From there, the church expanded both its size and its importance in the grand scheme of Western history. Consider that the Catholic Church

  • steered Western civilization through historical events such as the fall of the Roman Empire, the Dark Ages, the Crusades, and the Reformation;
  • influenced the political ideas and actions of powerful leaders in a variety of European nations;
  • made deep contributions to the Western philosophical tradition through the works of religious philosophers such as St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas;
  • funded and inspired the creation of fantastic works of religious art and literature, such as northern Europe's Gothic cathedrals, Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, and Dante's Divine Comedy;
  • and much more.

Today, the church is the oldest continuously active organization on Earth and one of the most influential institutions in the world—a force capable of moving armies, inspiring saints, and shaping the lives of a billion members.

But how did this powerful institution develop out of the early church community—a loosely associated group of disciples who were inspired by the life and teachings of Jesus? Why do today's Catholics worship the way they do? How has this institution influenced world history far beyond the walls of its churches and monasteries?

In The Catholic Church: A History, you'll explore these and other questions as you follow the development of this important institution in 36 informative, fascinating lectures. With noted historian and Professor William R. Cook as your guide, you'll step into the world of the early church, hear tales of the martyrdom of the first Christian saints, witness the spread of Christendom across Europe, and learn about the origins of fundamental church institutions.

For Catholics, it's an enlightening and inspirational tale that deepens the meaning of faith. But the story is equally compelling for those outside the church. The history of the Catholic Church informs all Christian faiths, providing fascinating insights into the origins and development of a wide array of practices and beliefs.

The course also provides a unique and illuminating perspective on world history and politics as viewed through the lens of Catholic history. Throughout the course, Professor Cook delineates how broader historical events affected the development of the church, as well as how the church itself influenced the movement of history. Indeed, no understanding of Western civilization is complete without an understanding of this remarkable institution.

The Church from Ancient Times to Modern Days

Your journey begins as you travel back to the first years of the church, when Jesus's disciples and their many followers developed communities of faith where their beliefs flourished. Guided by Professor Cook, you delve into crucial early church documents, such as the letters of Paul, and gain an intriguing glimpse into the lives of these early believers.

From there, you'll witness the development and spread of this nascent religion into the far reaches of the Roman Empire and throughout the world. This comprehensive survey is an epic story that covers crucial developments in church history:

  • The formation and eventual unification of the early church
  • The conversion of the Roman Empire to Catholicism
  • The schism between the Roman faith and the Greek Orthodox Church
  • The flowering of monasteries across Europe
  • The Reformation, in which theologians such as Martin Luther and John Calvin questioned and eventually broke with the Catholic Church
  • The spread of Catholicism outside Europe by missionaries who accompanied explorers in the New World

As you explore this rich history, you also examine the place of the Catholic Church on the world stage. From the impact of the Christian Crusades on the development of international banking to the momentous struggles between monarchs of Europe and the medieval popes to the reforms of Vatican II, you see how the Catholic Church has played an integral role in world events, both shaping and responding to large-scale trends and developments.

The Many Faces of Catholicism

As you delve into this fascinating saga, you quickly see that the Catholic Church—"one holy catholic and apostolic Church," as it is called in the Nicene Creed, a key doctrine of the faith—actually takes many forms.

Beginning in the early centuries of the church, you trace the many variations of worship and belief that evolved as Christianity spread all over the Mediterranean. You encounter the Ebionites, who retained their Jewish customs and incorporated them into their Christian observances, as well as the Marcionites, who completely rejected Judaism and embraced an offshoot faith that replaced monotheism with a belief in twin gods of good and evil.

As church history progresses, you see how these and other forms of Christianity came into conflict again and again about the true faith, leading to the many councils and decrees that sought to unify the faith. You learn, for example, about how one of the fundamental beliefs of Catholicism—the idea that Jesus is both human and divine—was once a hotly debated topic, leading in the 4th and 5th centuries to councils that established beliefs that are the foundation of the church today.

You also witness how Catholic practice and faith have been transformed by the cultures and peoples it has touched. For example, you see how

  • missionaries made Christianity more acceptable to Germanic tribes in early medieval Europe by adapting local practices, such as the use of holy water, and by rechristening pagan holidays as Catholic saints' days;
  • the early Irish church had little contact with the rest of Europe, and so it developed its own practices, including a different date for Easter and a deeper emphasis on monasticism;
  • Christianity persisted in Japan despite widespread persecution, and these "secret" Japanese Christians developed their own canonical texts drawn from dimly recalled biblical stories, hymns, and liturgical practices blended with elements of Japanese culture and Buddhism.

Surprising Insights into the Catholic Church

As you review this fascinating history, you gain new insights into Catholicism and learn things about the Catholic Church you never expected—even if you're a lifelong member.

For example, you see how today's Catholic Church includes alternative forms of worship found in the often overlooked Eastern Catholic churches of eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and India. You learn how these churches—while fully in communion with Rome—practice the faith in ways that are often surprising to mainstream Catholics, including the option of marriage for clergy and widely varying practices for presenting and sharing the bread and wine for communion.

You explore how today's Catholic Church differs from the faith of the original apostles and trace how the accepted doctrines of today's church were the result of long, passionate, and theologically complex debates.

Along the way, you encounter surprising facts and intriguing stories that bring this history to vivid life. For example, did you know:

  • The first Christians were all Jews, and there were debates as to whether Gentile followers had to convert to Judaism.
  • For the first centuries of the church, there was no single, accepted text for Christianity. Different communities adopted and often produced their own versions of scripture. It wasn't until A.D. 367 that the list of books we know as the New Testament was first recorded.
  • In the year 1046, there were three competing popes, each claiming authority over the church, and from 1309 to 1378, the pope resided not in Rome but in Avignon, France.
  • Although most people think of the early centuries of the church as a time of martyrdom, it has been estimated that the 20th century has seen more Catholic martyrs than any other century.

A Unique Perspective on Western History

In telling the story of the Catholic Church, Professor Cook offers more than simply a history of an important institution. Through his comprehensive approach and insightful analysis, Professor Cook deepens your understanding of the flow of events in the history of Western civilization as it was shaped by this one supremely influential organization.

With his expertise in European history generally, and especially in the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Reformation, Professor Cook offers a perspective that is informative and objective. A noted scholar and historian, he brings an unparalleled intellectual rigor to his presentation, balanced by a deep appreciation of the church's legacy and impact.

As you join him on this epic journey through Catholic history, you'll experience how this small gathering of faithful grew and changed in about three centuries to become one of the most powerful forces on the world stage—the "one holy catholic and apostolic Church."

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36 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    From Jesus to the Creation of the Church
    In the earliest days of the Christian faith, there was no church—no single institution or practice to guide the followers of Jesus. Step into the world of the early church and investigate the roots of Christianity as found in ancient Jewish traditions and the gospel. x
  • 2
    The First Christian Institutions
    In the first centuries A.D., the followers of Christ evolved from a loose band of disciples into tight-knit communities of worship. Catch a glimpse of these communities in some of the earliest Christian documents, including the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul. x
  • 3
    Christianities in the Early Church
    Christianity quickly spread all over the Mediterranean region in the first few centuries. Learn how believers adapted the practice of their faith to create a great diversity of worship in the early church. x
  • 4
    Persecution and Saints
    As the Christian church grew and spread, it quickly caught the attention of the Roman emperor, who viewed the faithful as a threat to imperial authority and Roman culture. Learn about the widespread persecution of Christians that followed and led to a new class of Christian heroes, the martyred saints. x
  • 5
    Peace between Empire and Church
    In A.D. 312, Christianity gained a powerful ally when the Roman emperor Constantine adopted the faith of Jesus as his own. See how this shift affected Christian believers as the church went from being a persecuted minority to a privileged minority. x
  • 6
    Institutional and Doctrinal Developments
    Freed from Roman persecution, the church underwent an institutional revolution, developing an organizational structure and unified doctrine still recognizable into today's Catholic Church. Examine the origin and impact of these changes, from the development of a church hierarchy to the establishment of orthodox beliefs. x
  • 7
    Latin Theology, Including Augustine
    As Christianity became the chief religion of Rome, Latin overtook Greek in the West as the premiere language of the faith. Examine the rich developments of Latin church theology, from the earliest thinkers to the most important father of Christian theology, Augustine. x
  • 8
    Popes and Bishops in the Early Middle Ages
    Christian society was thrown into turmoil by the fall of Roman authority as civic structures collapsed and citizens were left prey to marauding bands of Germanic tribes. Learn how the church provided leadership in the chaos that followed, ultimately consolidating power for its chief officials, the pope and the bishops. x
  • 9
    Monasticism—Benedict and His Rule
    Starting in the 3rd century, some Christians began to seek a way to live more like Christ by dedicating themselves to a life of poverty and contemplation. Trace the development of this movement and examine the preeminent form of monasticism in the West. x
  • 10
    Evangelizing Northern and Eastern Europe
    While Christianity first took root in the Roman Empire, it eventually spread to the rest of Europe. Trace this expansion and survey the variations in worship that developed throughout the regions of modern-day Ireland, Iceland, Scandinavia, and Germany. x
  • 11
    The Germanization of Christianity
    Christianity changed the lives of its believers, but how did these new believers affect the shape of the faith? Here, investigate the many ways that Germanic culture left its mark on Christianity in ways that affect adherents of the faith to this day. x
  • 12
    Charlemagne and the Church in Feudal Times
    During the tumultuous Middle Ages, Charlemagne undertook the political, cultural, and religious unification of most of western Europe. Examine how these efforts ultimately collapsed but led to a major development: the establishment of the Papal States. x
  • 13
    Monks and Hermits—New Forms of Monasticism
    By the end of the 10th century, corruption and political unrest plagued the Catholic Church, leading to deep and lasting reforms in monastic practice. Learn about these reforms and the new monastic orders—the Carthusians and Cistercians—that were established in response. x
  • 14
    Papal Reform and Church-State Controversies
    The 11th century was a period of unsettlement, resulting in the tumultuous schism between the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches. Investigate the causes and effects of this split as well as a reformation of the papacy known as the Gregorian Reform. x
  • 15
    Crusade, Heresy, Inquisition
    At the end of the 11th century, the church confronted two major challenges to its authority: the rise of Islam and the development of alternative heretical Christian doctrines. Learn how the church responded to these challenges through the Crusades and the Papal Inquisition. x
  • 16
    The Papacy—Innocent III to Boniface VIII
    The 13th century saw the rise of the papal monarchy as the church increasingly sought secular authority over lands in the Italian peninsula and beyond. Here, probe the complex political maneuvers that contributed to this move toward secular power and the ultimate collapse of the papal monarchy. x
  • 17
    Francis, Dominic, and the Mendicants
    With the rapid growth of cities in the 12th and 13th centuries, the church needed to respond to the problems and issues facing its urban followers. Learn how these answers were provided by new monastic orders established by two key figures: Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzman. x
  • 18
    Flowering of Church Art in the Middle Ages
    The 12th and 13th centuries also saw the rise of new expression through great works of religious art. Trace the development of church art from the gorgeous illustrated manuscripts of the early Middle Ages to the Gothic cathedrals, stained-glass windows, and painted frescoes of the high Middle Ages. x
  • 19
    Scholastic Thought
    Around the year 1000, a new kind of Christian scholarship and writing developed out of the study of logic. Learn about this new form of thought, called scholastic theology, and examine the works of some of its greatest practitioners, including Thomas Aquinas. x
  • 20
    Medieval Mysticism
    Although the Middle Ages is often associated with scholarly theologians such as Thomas Aquinas, it was also an era of the flowering of a more affective and contemplative body of Christian experience. Examine this trend in the lives of mystical writers, including Hildegard of Bingen, Bonaventure, and Thomas à Kempis. x
  • 21
    The Great Schism and the Conciliar Age
    The 14th century saw many tumultuous changes, including the transfer of the papacy to Avignon in France that led to a schism between the factions of the competing popes. Trace the struggles during this period and examine the efforts to reunify the church. x
  • 22
    The Renaissance Church
    The 15th century was a period of both artistic inspiration and political upheaval for the papacy. Explore some of the period's greatest achievements—such as the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—as well as its political debacles, including Pope Julius II's infamous deployment of troops against other Catholic Christians. x
  • 23
    Luther, Calvin, and the Reformation
    Riding the crest of the Renaissance was the Reformation, with its call for the rejection of corruption within the church and inferior levels of pastoral care. Examine the impact of two key figures of the Reformation, Martin Luther and John Calvin. x
  • 24
    Catholic Responses—The Council of Trent
    How did the Catholic Church respond to the protests of reformers like Luther and Calvin? Was the church's Counter-Reformation a new movement, or were there reform movements prior to the Reformation? Explore these questions and investigate the church's official response to the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent. x
  • 25
    The Jesuits
    With the establishment of the Society of Jesus in 1540, Ignatius Loyola sparked a new missionary zeal in the church that had an enormous impact. Learn about the origins of this influential order and see how the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola still touches the lives of Catholics today. x
  • 26
    Catholicism in Asia and the New World
    As European explorers embarked on journeys to new territories, they took with them Christian missionaries dedicated to spreading their faith beyond the boundaries of Christendom. In this lecture, follow the path of Catholicism into Latin America, Africa, and Asia. x
  • 27
    American Catholicism
    Since 1521, when mass was first said in what is now Florida, Catholicism has been a constant force in American life. Take a tour of more than 400 years of Catholicism in America, from its early days in Spanish missions and French colonies to canonization of the first U.S.-born saint. x
  • 28
    The Church in the Age of Reason
    During the 17th and 18th centuries, the Catholic Church faced increasing challenges to its authority from military and political conflicts to the rise of a new emphasis on science and Humanism. Explore these complications and the church's response in this lecture. x
  • 29
    Pius IX and Papal Infallibility
    In the wake of several centuries of unrest and challenges, the church formed a key doctrine designed to help consolidate its authority: the doctrine of papal infallibility. Learn about the conditions that led up to this declaration. x
  • 30
    Leo XIII and the Modern World
    With the ascent of Leo XIII, the church began to grapple with modern problems, as seen in this pope's landmark encyclical on the problem of labor and industrialization, Rerum Novarum. Explore the achievements of this influential church leader and his successors—Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII. x
  • 31
    The Eastern Catholic Churches
    Modern Catholicism includes a wide array of practices. Examine the great variety of these different forms of worship, together called the Eastern Catholic Churches, found mainly in eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and India. x
  • 32
    The Second Vatican Council
    Between 1962 and 1965, the bishops of the Catholic Church held a historic series of meetings called the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II. Study the achievements of this groundbreaking council and consider the ways it has changed life and worship for modern Catholics. x
  • 33
    The Catholic Church Looks Outward
    Since Vatican II, the Catholic Church has adopted a new stance of cooperation with other religions and has sought ways to reach out to those of other faiths. Examine this trend toward greater ecumenicalism in the church. x
  • 34
    The Challenges of New Theologies
    In addition to reforming liturgical practice, Vatican II also opened up a dialogue about Catholic theology to incorporate new points of view appropriate for the modern world. Explore these "new theologies," including the liberation theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez and Leonardo Boff. x
  • 35
    John Paul II and the 21st-Century Church
    With the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II in 1978, the Catholic Church saw the rise of a remarkable and unforgettable leader. Review the career of this "rock star pope" and examine how his life and legacy continue to touch the lives of Catholics the world over. x
  • 36
    One? Holy? Catholic? Apostolic?
    Each Sunday at mass, Catholics recite the Nicene Creed, which includes the words: "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church." In this final lecture, take a look at today's church and examine the ways in which it fulfills and fails this pledge to unify the adherents of this 2,000-year-old faith. x

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Your professor

William R. Cook

About Your Professor

William R. Cook, Ph.D.
State University of New York, Geneseo
Dr. William R. Cook is the Distinguished Teaching Professor of History at the State University of New York at Geneseo, where he has taught since 1970. He earned his bachelor's degree cum laude from Wabash College and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa there. He was then awarded Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Lehman fellowships to study medieval history at Cornell University, where he earned his Ph.D. Professor Cook teaches courses...
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The Catholic Church: A History is rated 4.5 out of 5 by 118.
Rated 4 out of 5 by from History of the Church (and Popes) This is the fourth course I’ve taken from Dr. Cook and I have enjoyed all of them, although I was a bit lukewarm to the one about St. Francis (it was informative, I just decided that the subject was not so much for me). OTOH, I quite liked the course on St. Augustine’s Confessions and gave full marks to his course on Machiavelli. That Professor Cook lectures as an academic, looking at the good, bad and ugly of the Church’s history is not surprising. However many of the reviews felt that he was not sufficiently critical of the Church’s failings and should have spent more time emphasizing its low points. To be sure, Professor Cook is not only a practicing Catholic, but uses his knowledge of the Church as one, to good end in his lectures. While I don’t think that any professor has to be a Catholic to teach this course, his occasional descriptions of attending mass in various places is both interesting and is used by him to highlight one of his points: the diversity of the Church. And for me, I never felt that his religion overcame his academic historicity. His lecture style is dynamic and his obvious interest in the subject comes through clearly. He uses notes, rather than reading from a script, but this does not result in pauses and non-word connectives in his delivery. My only criticism is when he checks his notes by bending down very close to his notes, before resuming his talk. Other than that, the only distraction is trying to figure out what color combinations he will use with his next tie and shirt—clearly a sartorial statement of some kind. From a content perspective, I thought a bit too often, the history of the Church was a bit too tied to individual Popes, TTC company has a course on that subject. Otherwise I can only applaud the content of the course and its delivery. While the course structure is largely chronological, there are occasional lectures devoted to topics, such as the Inquisition or some of the Mendicant Orders. I’d have liked a bit more analysis of some of the later Church’s activities, such as Vatican II, but otherwise not much was missing, considering that the course and individual lectures do need to come to an end. The emphasis Dr. Cook put on the non-Western Church was a welcome relief from many Euro-Centric histories. I took the course on video, and enjoyed some of the visuals, but I suspect one would not miss much with the audio version.
Date published: 2019-10-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellant! I have watched 6 lectures so far and found them to be Fascinating and informative, MUCH more than I thought! And the Professor is Outstanding!
Date published: 2019-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The lecturer is a devout catholic & passionate about the Catholic Church but does not try & whitewash that it has some very troubling history. Growing up in a very “no frills” version of Christianity, the Catholic Church always seemed to be quite strange & mysterious with all its pageantry. It was interesting to get the background & arguments surrounding the development of the catholic traditions.I enjoyed the course, but it is for a specific subset of potential learners. However, if you are curious about the Catholic Church it is well worth the time. I purchased the video version, but I think the audio only version would be fine.
Date published: 2019-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent information and good presentation Going to Rome in a month and wanted some history on the Catholic Church.
Date published: 2019-03-26
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Limited in Applicability This course is very limited in scope and consequently is probably limited in its applicability only to practicing Catholics and advanced comparative religion specialists. (Here, I use the term “Catholic” to mean what some would call “Roman Catholic”.) Despite its very narrow scope it is also unusually long, comprising 36 lectures instead of the more common 24 lectures. It does address the history of the church (at the title implies) but it does so from the perspective of an insider to the Catholic church. For instance, the Protestant Reformation is considered from the perspective of what it meant to the Catholic church. Dr. Cook says that the Protestant Reformation was a threat to “the church”, implying that Protestants are not part of “the church”. Dr. Cook is a practicing Catholic scholar speaking to other practicing Catholics. This is particularly evident in the last third or so of the course where, for example, he speaks of the pope as the “holy father”, which reflects an insider Catholic perspective rather than an outsider scholarly perspective. Further, he uses terminology familiar only to Christians without explaining what those terms mean. I pause here to emphasize here what I emphasize in other reviews – being an insider or biased (as all people are) does not make the lectures meaningless but it does affect how listeners interpret them. To understand a subject requires understanding an insider’s perspective, which is what is provided here. However, the listener should not expect balanced truth. I give the course three stars not based on quality but its very limited scope. I used the audio version of this course. Although there were a few lectures on arts where the video version would have been beneficial, the audio version was acceptable.
Date published: 2019-01-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Stellar Presentation Skills and Great Content I wasn't sure what to expect going in. I had been somewhat unimpressed by other courses that covered the history of Christianity ("Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation" and "The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation") and selected this course due to my interest primarily in medieval history in general vs. the church itself and figured I'd only be really interested in lectures 8, 12, 15, 16, 17, and 21. That's not what I will remember most about this course. Instead it will serve as the definitive history of Christianity/the Catholic Church in my mind. This course has a lot going for it: great content and a great teacher. Can't ask for much more. It had great historical narrative on the history of the Catholic church from the first followers of Jesus (communities who wrote the Gospels) to the megachurch of 1 Billion in the 21st century. The professor has stellar presentation skills: he brings a lot of enthusiasm and good “story telling” to his lectures making it easy for a listener to get engaged and then hooked. He has a knack for adding new thought-provoking insight in most every lecture even if it is but a line or two. I learned a lot and he provided much insight to ponder. I would love to see him deliver a speech or take one of his courses in person. Can't give a better compliment than that. He does not hide or downplay his Catholicism but I truly feel it did not impact his ability to provide an unbiased objective perspective/insight and present a course based in history vs. religion. It was actually refreshing to hear from someone on this side of the feels like a lot of courses are taught by historians with a slightly negative viewpoint of Christianity. While the Catholic Church deserves a lot of the negative press it has received concerning recent scandals, it also deserves better press for some of the great blessings it produces. The professor does an excellent job of highlighting both. For me the highlights were lectures 10 (spread of Christianity in the ancient world), 12 (the church in Charlemagne's time), and 14-16 (church in the High Middle Ages). Considering I took this course within weeks of having listened to "Popes and the Papacy: A History" from Professor Noble, I was kind of "Poped-out" and would’ve preferred a little less time on the Popes and using that time to cover the spread of Christianity in the Americas, Africa, and Asia in a little more depth. But that's more of a "me" problem. Substantial coverage of Papal history is expected in any course on the history of Catholicism. This course was well worth my time and I think would be for most of the Great Courses' customers. I would certainly recommend it if you have any interest in the history of Christianity whether you're Catholic or not.
Date published: 2019-01-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Catholic Church a history ii I am almost finished listening to all 36 lectures and the course was well presented and a great learning experience. I am a reader of European history and when I relate my knowledge of history of Europe I get confused or disappointed. In all my readings including the life of Charles V, the Holy roman emperor, In my various readings the role of Spain in the critical years before and during the reformation was always highlighted as the center. The course makes no mention that Charles V lived and reign from Castillo, it refers to the Holy Roman Emperor as the conqueror of Naples, the ruler of the Netherlands and failed to mention the years of fighting between France and Spain in which the control of Italy and the Pope were at stake. No mention of the defeat of the French in their invasion of Italy by the Spanish armies. The historic perspective of the course in those crucial years is summarized by mentioning the word Spain just a few times. The course mentions that the Jesuit were active ion several countries which are named but Spain is not even mentioned. The course lecture on the global expansion dedicates 15 minutes to Latin America and the rest to Asia and Africa. Latin America has by far a much bigger impact on the Church, the development of the Church in Africa was driven by the colonial history of different European countries in that continent. I liked the course and recommended, my lengthy observation relates to my historical readings and how they relate to the Curch
Date published: 2018-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor Cook is the real deal I´m just about finished with my 2nd go round with this course, first was several years ago. The professor shoots straight, he´s erudite and unlike many others out there in Academiaville, he´s not wagged by the far-left dog that has infected so many other professors in our universities. I just ordered his course on Machiavelli and am looking forward to that one. Thanks to Professor Cook for this strong course.
Date published: 2018-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A “great course!” I have about 100 Great Courses courses and have personal experience with the great courses and those that are less so. This course is at the top of my list of great courses! What I particularly appreciate about the course, as someone previously with zero knowledge in the subject, is Professor Cook takes a straightforward, traditional, factual approach rather than the overly imaginative, story-telling approach of others which out of frustration necessitated the return of their courses. For example, Professor Cook takes the time to explain the very meaning of the terms “Catholic” and “Church” as different from “catholic” and “church” For someone like myself with no prior knowledge, this distinction was important. This course was an absolute joy to listen to and I’m Jewish, so, I also appreciate that Professor Cook emphasizes the Jewish origin of Christianity and, indeed, Jesus’s Jewish faith. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in the history of the Catholic Church.
Date published: 2018-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another great course from Dr. Cook! Many thanks for an excellent overview of the Catholic Church. Great content, great delivery, great spirit.
Date published: 2018-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I have viewed only about a quarter so-far, but I have liked it a lot. Cook is dynamic in his presentation and has a knack for emphasizing particularly interesting or little-known points rather than just reciting dates and names. As a lifelong Catholic who spent 19 years in Catholic schools, I am still learning a lot. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2018-04-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Couldn't listen to this! I was looking forward to thsi comprehensive history of the Catholic Church, but I quit before the first disk was finished. Prof. Cook is very knowledgeable and seems like a nice guy, but he DECLAIMED at me, full volume, EMPHASIZING EVERY WORD. Is this "great teaching"? Talk TO me, not AT me, please!
Date published: 2018-03-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Vivid and Interesting Survey of Catholic History As a latecomer to the Catholic Church I was never exposed to its history beyond a cursory knowledge of Martin Luther. The course neither lingers to long on a particular topic nor skips over important events in Catholic history. The professor is a good storyteller and tells the story of the Church enthusiastically. Well worth the investment of time and the price of the course.
Date published: 2017-11-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Presentation The presenter was very clear, concise, and knowledgeable! I enjoyed every lecture and learned a lot! I highly recommend the presenter and this course!
Date published: 2017-10-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Instructor As I went through this series of lectures, I could not wait to get to the next one. Professor Cook is interesting, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable. I connected with his approach immediately and it kept me riveted for the entire 36 lectures. I am looking forward to taking the full course all over again, likely more than once!
Date published: 2017-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear and well organized Unlike some other Great Courses lecturers, the professor makes his point clearly once and then moves on, instead of restating it. Consequently he offers more content than many do. He made the topic interesting enough so that I really looked forward to the next lecture.
Date published: 2017-07-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This journey by itself and especially combined with the world history of economics helped me make sense of western history. Of course finding out how Christianity got to where it is was enlightening. The professor's knowledge was impressive and his enthusiasm added to my enjoyment.
Date published: 2017-06-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great history Bought this a few weeks ago so haven't completed course yet but instructor great as well as visuals. Great to refresh your knowledge or if not Catholic, to give a good platform for evaluation.
Date published: 2017-05-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Informative This is a good overview of the Catholic Church for the average person.
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Inspiring Dr. Cook is an inspired lecturer who not only knows but loves the material he is presenting, and it shows.
Date published: 2017-04-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from The Great and Not So Great Courses While there are some great histories in the Great Courses, this isn't one of them. There is something missing in "The Catholic Church: A History". As an example, in "Turning Points in Middle Eastern History", Eamonn Gearon gives sharp details of events; who, what, when, and where. Then he adds commentary. It's a powerful combination. In "The Catholic Church: A History", there is just commentary. Without specific events one feels ungrounded. The lectures seem to wander and bounce all over the place without purpose or direction. This is particularly noticeable in the early lectures. To make matters worse Professor Cook hits you over the head emphasizing rather obvious points. The course get's better as get into later chapters, but still leaves a lot to be desired.
Date published: 2017-04-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Catholic Church It was exactly what I wanted and fulfilled what I wanted to learn about the formation of the Catholic Church. It also helped with background to the beginnings of the Christian Religion and definitely went through the whole history of the Catholic Church.
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from terrific about mid-way thru this.......extremely easy to understand and set up so well as it progresses thru the centuries....
Date published: 2017-03-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Good Introduction It goes without saying that the scope of this course was vast. The Catholic Church has been in existence for two thousand years, and it is quite an undertaking to describe it in thirty-six lectures. He approaches the material from the perspective of a historian. There is little discussion of dogma or of differences with other Christian churches. For example, while he discusses the Reformation as a historical event, he spends little time on the doctrinal differences among the Catholics and the Reformers. Professor Cook covers the material well and in an organized, coherent fashion. He clearly identifies himself as a practicing Catholic, and his approach is that of someone committed to his church but whose eyes are open to its problems as well as its blessings. My major frustration with the course was Professor Cook’s inability to speak in sentences uninterrupted by needless qualifiers such as “sort of,” “kind of,” and “if you will.” Clearly this is simply a part of his manner of speech, much like teenagers who cannot complete a sentence without saying “you know.” It is disappointing that someone who has made his living speaking publicly for decades has been unable to overcome this quirk. It is quite distracting and sometimes results in nonsensical statements such as when he said Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae “sort of” prohibited use of birth control by Catholics. In the same discussion he said most visits of a pope to the US are met by headlines proclaiming American Catholics are in revolt over birth control. “In fact,” he said, as if he were correcting this impression, studies have shown that use of birth control by Catholics is about the same as that of the general population. But that would seem to confirm the hypothetical headline, not refute it. Birth control is widely used in America, and if Catholics use it to the same degree as non-Catholics, then they clearly are defying the pope and the Church. I realize that it was impossible for him to cover everything in the history of Catholicism, but I will mention one area where I wish he had spent a little more time. He simply mentioned in passing that the French Revolution was strongly anti-clerical and therefore anti-Catholic. But he did not spend any time at all exploring why this should be. I realize his time is limited, but the French Revolution was a pivotal event in world history, and its relation to the Church was a very important part of its outworking. This would seem to be an item deserving more attention. I am not a historian but simply a layman interested in Western history. I did not find much in this course that I did not already know, and for that reason, I doubt I will listen to this course again. Nevertheless, for someone interested in a good introduction to the history of Roman Catholicism, it would be worthwhile.
Date published: 2017-01-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Catholic Church: A History Excellent presentation method and content depth for early Catholic Christianity as well as into the Modern era. The course could have used some more in-depth presentations on development in the 20th century
Date published: 2017-01-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really knowing the Catholic Church!! The best overall presentation on the Roman Catholic Church I've researched. It is helpful in conversations with persons of Christian Faith.
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Enjoyable review of Catholic Church history. What could easily have been a dry series of lectures was quite enjoyable and informative due to the presenter's excellent knowledge base as well as his energetic and highly demonstrative delivery. I learned a lot of interesting history and enjoyed it in the process. I recommend.
Date published: 2016-12-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Seed This was a wonderful and comprehensive course on a very long & complicated history. The RCC is a very important element of Western history and should be studied by anybody who is a student of history. This will stimulate further study. William Cook is a very concise and engaging teacher. I have several of his courses and love 'em all.
Date published: 2016-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good review of 2000 years of church history Another 5-star performance by Prof. Cook. If you are already an expert in the history of the Catholic Church you may not get much from this course. But if you are not well versed in the history of the church this is a great course. In reading some of the other reviews I'm compelled to state the obvious: You can not stuff 2000 years of history into 18 hours and cover every detail of every controversy. There are other GC courses that cover various aspect of Christianity . This course is one that fits into the total curriculum quite well.
Date published: 2016-10-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Professor I think that I have purchased every course by Professor William R. Cook. He is that good. His lectures are totally captivating and informative. In this course he is completely honest about some of the negative aspects of the history of the Catholic Church as well as the positive, all in exquisite detail. His insights are illuminating and worth experiencing through this course.
Date published: 2016-10-03
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