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 110.
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Recommended with a Caveat Although the title of this course is “A History of the Catholic Church,” the instructor often does not identify when he is making a historical claim versus making a theological claim. The problem of conflating historical data and theological claims and/or church tradition is evident at the very outset of Cook’s first lecture, wherein he emphatically states that Saint Peter “ indeed went to Rome, died in Rome, and is, in fact, buried at the Vatican.” This may be fine to as a belief stemming from later Catholic tradition, but as a matter of the historical record, I assume Cook knows that no accounts exist, from Peter’s own generation---in the Bible or otherwise---of Peter having been to Rome, having died in Rome or of being buried in Rome or under the Vatican. If the Church had physical evidence of Peter’s whereabouts, these would no doubt be on display as the greatest relics in all of Christendom. It makes no difference to me whether Peter made it to Rome and is buried there. It is not an anti-Catholic position. But as a learner, I want to understand when I’m hearing history versus theology or tradition. Professor Cook seems comfortable with current scholarly notions pertaining to biblical textual criticism, and comments that the Catholic Church isn’t terribly concerned (as say evangelicals are), with whether the exact points of data in the bible are all accurate. Yet one great exception to this relaxed attitude toward the biblical inerrancy issue stands out. It is the famous Matthew 16:18 quote that Cook highlights, in which Jesus is reported to have said “…you are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church…” a statement reported in only one Gospel. There do seem to be occasional errors of fact as well. For instance, Cook makes note of the Spanish-American war as America’s first war fought against a predominantly Catholic nation. But, in fact, the Mexican-American war fought six decades earlier would seem to have rights to that claim. I would like to have learned more about the origin and reasons for the Catholic Church’s roughly one thousand year-old insistence that its priests stay single and live a life of celibacy. As an outsider, I find it baffling, and this would seem to be especially relevant given the ongoing waves of scandal pertaining to pedophile priests and their flocks of victims, a topic given a nod by Professor Cook, but covered rather scantily here. Even with these criticisms, the course was still useful for understanding the structure and institutions of the Catholic Church and their importance.
Date published: 2011-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Content & Delivery This is a tremendous course (one of the best I've had from the Teaching Company over the last 15 years). The lectures were well-structured and skillfully delivered. I found Professor Cook, a practicing Catholic, to be a knowledgeable and trustworthy guide on this topic. I appreciated that he resisted the urge to turn his lectures into an advocacy piece and that he made no attempt to gloss over some of the unlovely chapters in the church's history. For those reasons, I trusted his scholarship.
Date published: 2011-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of the Catholic Church This is an outstanding course. It is well presented by an extremely knowledgeable professor. I will listen to the course a second time and will subscribe to other courses offered by Professor Cook. Well done.
Date published: 2011-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Balanced account I found this to be a very balanced account of Catholicism. Did not whitewash the corrupt popes or the secularization of the Church, which caused a great deal of harm. Also did not zip by some of the abuses by early missionaries. Did give credit for the overall successes of the Church and its many saints. Well prepared and presented.
Date published: 2011-05-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful presentation The material presented is insightful, thought-provoking and stimulating. I would recommend this course to anyone who wants a good overview of Catholic Church History
Date published: 2011-05-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very worthwhile I enjoyed this course very much, the professor's breadth of knowledge is outstanding and his fluid delivery of so much information is remarkable. Thank you professor Cook.
Date published: 2011-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from So much I didn't know This course is presented with great enthusiasm which makes it fun to listen to. The content is well researched and and thorough. This isn't presented in "religious sense" but more of a historical sense but without taking away from the religion. Well done.
Date published: 2011-03-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An extremely enjoyable and educational experience I am very pleased and impressed with this course. It is one of the best if not the best of the numerous courses I have purchased from the Teaching Company. It is very obvious that Dr. Cook knows and understands this subject as well as the entire historical period. The depth and breadth of his expertise allows him to provide perspective and context that helps to bring a richness to the subject. On top of it all his joy and passion for the subject is infectious and makes the lectures fun to watch. It's like a great book. I have a hard time stopping the DVD! Great Job!
Date published: 2011-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent, well-presented overview PROS: I am one of the many Catholics with a reasonably good (?) understanding of (and appreciation for) the complexities of Catholic thought and salvation history, but who has been putting off reading about Church secular history until it became, well, less boring. This proved an ideal opportunity to correct this, and it enriched my understanding. The instructor's elocution and summaries were excellent, he did not bog you down with minor details in this overview course, and he related issues that were important at the time to the overall evolution of institutional history. I learned much (for instance, the Church has weathered many crises in the past and almost seems to have a foot in the grave for much of its history). CONS: If you want a detailed history of each specific segment, you may not be satisfied by this (or any) overview approach -- the instructor focuses on a brief overview of each section, and will invariably leave out some of your favorite subjects (such as the interactions of the church with science). If you do not want a general history, or if you want history with a specific doctrinal approach, you may want to look elsewhere. SUMMARY: I found this course a fascinating, enriching, insightful, and well presented overview, and a sound use of time.
Date published: 2011-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Exceptional! A comprehensive and fascinating review of the history of the Catholic church. Thoughtful and objective. Presented in a lively fashion by someone who clearly is passionate and insightful. I'm ashamed to admit I call myself Catholic and didn't know a fraction of the history of my Church. Don't do the same!
Date published: 2011-01-06
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Much Overlap with 'Lives of Great Christians' I listened to this course after I completed another TTC course "Lives of Great Christians" by the same Professor. I must say that: (1) There are much overlap between the two courses' contents (early Christian period, emperor Constantine, the conversion of Ireland by St Patrick, Middle Ages, St Francis of Assisi, Protestant revolution (Martin Luther)). Only toward the end (the last third) does this course provide substantively new materials. (2) As a result of the above, and the fact that the same Professor delivered both courses, I got bored in the middle of this course and actually stopped listening to it for some time. (3) If I had not listened to the other course, I may have given this course 4 stars (instead of 3). (4) I also feel that this course focused too much on people and events (i.e., too dry). I wish Professor Cook also covered more details on the 'ideas' / beliefs behind the Catholic Church (e.g., Thomas Aquinas' philosophies, ideas/practices (contributions) from various Catholic saints). (5) Having said the above, Professor Cook is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic presenter, and it is indeed a challenge to present 2,000 years worth of information and insights in 36 lectures. (6) As I've purchased the DVD version, I wish there were more pictures and videos - e.g., when talking about Pope John Paul II being shot, perhaps Professor Cook could show a video or a newspaper article (or something visual) of that event.
Date published: 2010-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course! This was my first course and I loved it! Professor Cook was an excellent instructor. As a coverted Catholic, I enjoyed learning about the history of the Catholic Church. I played each CD twice and read the chapters in the course guidebook at least twice before moving on to the next session. There was a LOT of information to absorb! I'll admit that by lecture 30 I was getting a bit tired but Professor Cook ended the last few lectures with an intersting and introspective look at where the Catholic Church had been and where it was going in the future. I've ordered two more shorter courses (12 lectures) and on DVD to see which medium I like better.
Date published: 2010-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Awesome !! Dr Cook has a great presentation style that kept me entertained. His quick wit combined with his thorough knowledge of Catholicism engaged me like no other course. I purchased the transcript books as well, and i enjoyed learning about my faith from this remarkable speaker. With material that could have been dry and boring, Dr Cook made it all exciting. His style was perfect for me, and I was able to retain facts and information due to his superb teaching ability. You won't be disappointed in this course if you want to learn about the History of Catholicism !!
Date published: 2010-10-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Course- but some caveats I enjoyed Professor Cook’s lectures and would recommend them. Particularly strong was the tremendous detail. However, I think that the lectures fell short in some areas: 1. The lecturer clearly considers himself a ‘progressive’ in terms of church policies. This tainted virtually all of the lectures regarding the modern period. I would have appreciated a little explication (even if only half-hearted) of more conservative doctrinal positions. 2. While passing reference is made to the philosophies of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, and their importance is stressed, less than 5 minutes of the approximately 18 hours of lectures is devoted to a specific analysis of their ideas. Since they are the intellectual foundation of much, if not most, church doctrine this seems like a tremendous shortcoming. In fact, more time is spent detailing the ideas of heretics than these two foundational thinkers in both the history of western philosophy and the Catholic Church. Additionally, some discussion, even a few minutes, of the ideas of modern Catholic thinkers, such as Thomas Merton, would have been helpful.
Date published: 2010-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Didn't want the end of the course to come Professor Cook covered 2,000+ years of history in great detail but with great insight to the "humanity" of what was happening to the people of the church. His love of St. Francis is obvious and his presentation of this great saint provides very interesting details of his life and his influence on the church and the world. Professor Cook doesn't "hide" the ugliness of certain periods of the church but he's quick to counter that with the great achievements of the church and her people. Professor Cook did a great job in taking a potentially "dry" subject and bringing it to life with great knowledge and enthusiasm. I would highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2010-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, Balanced History; Minimal Theology This is a very fair, balanced presentation of the history of Catholicism. Prof. Cook is unabashadly a passionate and committed Catholic, yet is able to present the bad and the ugly as well as the good of his subject. (This is in contrast to several other religion courses given by believers, which are ruined by the professors' biases. In contrast to a few earlier reviewers, I found no such unwarranted bias here.) The course is a well-organized and superbly presented survey of two millenia of history, an outstanding introduction, but necessarily lacking depth. Also lacking is any detailed theology, so look elsewhere if that is your interest. My only negative is that, while I had no problem with Prof. Cook's presenting the course as a Catholic, he sometimes spoke as if he assumed his listeners were Catholic, or at least Christian, as well. This was off-putting, and should have been caught by the TC editors. This is minor, however. Highly recommended. (Also superb is Prof. Cook's course on Francis of Assisi.)
Date published: 2010-08-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A useful introduction to a major topic The Catholic church has been a major player in history since the time of Constantine and some knowledge of it is essential for any student of history. This course does the job in providing that knowledge. The Professor is a devoted Catholic and he manages to gloss over the brutal treatment that the Catholics used to mete out to their opponents. I suspect that this is because he is clearly uncomfortable with this aspect of his faith. Still, he could have gone into more detail as to why it was so essential to actually torture and burn these heretics. I also found it a bit strange when he failed to mention the widely held belief that the first St. Catherine didn't actually exist. As a non-Christian I was a little bit uncomfortable with the lectures on the early Church (I am not exactly sure why) but I found the later lectures much more satisfying. Overall I enjoyed this course and gained a great deal of insight into the subject matter. If it were possible to award half stars then I would give it 4.5.
Date published: 2010-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from HIs Best Course Yet I am a long-time fan of Prof. Cook. I think this is his best course yet. He tackles a massive subject—the history of the Catholic Church—and brings to it insights and context from a variety of sources that he is uniquely fitted to discuss. He is enthusiastic and keeps the pace moving forward at all times. He draws on his career as a Medieval historian and his own research and previous TTC courses on Dante, St. Augustine, Alexis de Toqueville, and Francis of Assisi for illustrations of his points and themes. He also draws on his own experience as a practicing and well-traveled Catholic to discuss important points of Catholic theology and the surprising (to me, at least) degree of diversity that exists within the Catholic church. My only criticism of the course was the lecture on the new “Theologies”—in particular, the so-called “Liberation Theology” based in part on Marxian thought--that he appears to believe are welcome additions to the Catholic Church. Based on what he shared about “Liberation Theology” in that lecture, it was hard to see how those ideas could properly be labeled as “Theology,” rather than political positions the Church should support, much less welcomed as “wonderful” additions to the Church. That “hiccup” aside, this is an excellent course that will greatly enrich your understanding of the history, development, and perennial challenges of the Catholic Church.
Date published: 2010-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Coverage of a Complex History Professor Cook does an outstanding job organizing and presenting this fascinating account of Church history, from ancient times to modern days. The course strikes an appropriate balance of breadth and depth. Professor Cook masterfully guides the listener through a great amount of detail, while always focusing on the context and significance of the events under discussion. The course exceeded my expectations and I have definitely increased my knowledge and understanding of Church history because of it.
Date published: 2010-06-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This Is Definitely Worthwhile I have given only a few of the Great Courses low ratings--2 stars for Allitt's course on The American Image; and 2 stars for Strogatz's course on Chaos--and I gave reasons to avoid them. In contrast, I hope you WILL hear this coure, The Catholic Church, which (overall) is a fine course: It is an important history that intersects with the history of many nations and events; the presentation is frank and enthusiastic; and the scholarship is fine. Indeed, Professor Cook's 20-minute discussion of the Crusades is especially excellent, as is his (longer) treatment of the Reformation. Such lectures, in themselves, justify having this course--and there is, of course, much more of interest here. Why only 3 stars? Two reasons: Several of the lectures were not very interesting (to me). And Professor Cook speaks so fast that I had to replay many lectures four or five times before I could absorb what he was saying. I am serious about my reservations here, but I'm also serious about my overall recommendation. If you are interested in world history, you should hear this course--though, unfortunately, you might need to repeat it several times to absorb it. (I listened on CD and detected no need to have it on DVD.)
Date published: 2010-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Loaded with interesting information. Prof. Cook provides insights into the beginnings of Christianity and Catholicism with clarity and an occasional bit of humor. I learned more listening to this course about the Church than I have in 50 years as a Catholic.
Date published: 2010-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course Professor Cook is my favorite lecturer. I have listened to more than 20 courses. He is an unusual speaker and I mean this in a very positive way. I really enjoy his style and unique delivery and learned so much from this course. Professor Cook does a great job of explaining the cultures and beliefs of the Germanic tribes so you get an understanding of the practical problems to be considered when converting them to Roman Christianity. So much of current Christian tradition is rooted in this conversion process. Highly recommend this course .
Date published: 2010-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course for other Christians too I enjoyed Professor Cook's course on the Lives of Great Christians, and I knew this course would be a great learning tool on the Catholic Church and its history. I expected it to have a slight slant towards Catholicism since he is Catholic, but I found him fairly balanced (just like the Great Christians course) and many people have already commented that he doesn't gloss over the Catholic Church's shortcomings. I also like how he defines capital c Catholic as in Roman Catholics and lower case c catholic for the universial Christian church. As an evangelical Protestant, I found this course refreshing as a way of learning about the history of Christianity from an uppercase C Catholic's perspective. Even if we cannot come to complete agreement on doctrinal issues, we can come to listen and respect one another as fellow Christians. Professor Cook is an organized and efficient speaker, which makes his lectures easy to follow. I find him very approachable and great to listen to. I do confess that he sounds a bit like Lou Holtz when he talks. I have highly recommended this course to other people and consider it a fabulous way of learning about the history of the Catholic Church.
Date published: 2010-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course ! Prof. Cook does a great job of covering highlights and low points in the 2000 year history of the Church - good balanced presentations of the main church splits and the reasons why. Good information for Catholics, Orthodox, non-Catholic, and non-Christian people who are interested in understanding the church's journey through history... I really enjoyed the series - I think you will too.
Date published: 2010-04-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Cook's a Winner I am neither Catholic, nor have I been exposed to Catholic teachings or education. So as an outsider, I found the course to be both informative and well-presented. Professor Cook is an odd-ball, in the nicest possible way. His lecture style is somewhat unusual, but not off-putting. I have done all his earlier TC courses, and can recommend them all to you. I have no problem with him being Catholic-- I don't want a Buddhist or an atheist teaching this course--- subjective subjects like religion don't benefit from disinterested or uninterested referees. However, as a word to the wise, should Professor Cook ever offer a course on color coordination of apparel, take my advice and pass it by ! ...
Date published: 2010-04-21
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not his best effort While a good course, it is not up to Dr. Cooks other efforts. The first 30 lectures are excellent, but the overall course dropped off in my opinion as he paid far too much attention to some more recent history. His lecture on Pope John Paul was seemed more of a cheerleading for Beatification than a true history of his Papacy, one in which some of the greatest scandals in church history occurred. But those first 24-30 lectures are truly outstanding, even though he could have done a tad bit more on the causes of the Reformation. To me there were major events that could have been given more lecture time, but nonetheless it was a fine history of the Catholic Church up until about Vatican I, after that it got a bit preachy and theologically centered and lost its way. Good product, but those last 6 lectures brought down the entire course.
Date published: 2010-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyed it ! I disagree with some of my "TC Brethen" who believe the course is by a Catholic for Catholics. I am not Catholic, and yet found these lectures to be informative and reasonably well-balanced, considering how subjective Religion can be. Professor Cook does at times point a finger at the Church in general and certain popes in particular. Of course he is a believer and an active member of the Church. For this type of course that is what the doctor ordered. I don't want an atheist or a Buddhist giving these lectures ! Faith is the only discipline where proof is not required. So to the critics I say 'Calm down and enjoy these lectures for what they are'.
Date published: 2010-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Not exactly unbiased, but well done I work at a Roman Catholic institution, and I am an Anglican, so I purchased this to better understand the perspective of my colleagues. At first, I have to admit, I was taken aback by Professor Cook's obvious Roman Catholic bias. I am much more used to faculty who go out of their way to be objective. Then I realized that for my purposes, this was an optimal approach: an avowed Roman Catholic explaining the Roman Catholic church from a Roman Catholic perspective. And I have to admit his biases made the course run much more smoothly than other religion courses I have taken. When he talks about the Cathars, for example, the emphasis is on why their teachings were incompatible with doctrine, and therefore why they had to be reined in. The methods used were not so much glossed over as mentioned in passing as perhaps over-enthusiastic. His delivery was enthusiastic and his enthusiasm was catching. This was probably most obvious when he spoke of John Paul II. I have to admit I had forgotten those heady days of the 60s and 70s when there was real hope that the church could become catholic, as well as Catholic. He did however, point out in no uncertain terms the manifest errors the Church has made in its persecution of Jews and its under-reaction to the holocaust. All-in-all, if you don't mind his obvious and admitted bias, this is an excellent way to find out what Roman Catholics think.
Date published: 2010-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well balanced history of the Catholic Church The professor has done an excellent job of pulling together a comprehensive history of the Catholic Church, which is very enlightening to watch. He does a fine job of consolidating the often conflicting goals of a Church history (which often does not brook a description of negative issues) and an historian's adherence to truth. Cook, a Catholic, is clearly chagrined at numerous events in Church history (such as the excesses of the Crusades, discrimination, the martyrdom of John Huss, and poor past relations with other religious groups.) Nonetheless, he faces these head on and handles them in a forthright manner. The two strong points of the course are his consistent emphasis on the personalities of the significant players in church history and his extensive discussion of the church in the Twentieth century, the importance of Vatican II, and subsequent efforts by the most recent popes to reach out to other religious and ethnic groups. He is clearly very sympathetic to the ideas of Hans Kung and Church reform, and warmly recommends Kung's history of the Church. I would say that Cook's lectures provide a strong complement to Kung's book. Whereas Kung focuses on more detailed theological issues, Cook lays emphasis on ongoing social and historical issues, and how the Church has responded to those over the centuries. His scholarship is impeccable. His deep love of and reverence for the subject is tangible. I'm looking forward to watching his course on Saint Francis, the subject of most of his scholarly research. I heartily recommend this course both to people who are unfamiliar with Church history and to those who have studied it. His point of view is enlightening and thought-provoking to both groups.
Date published: 2010-02-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation While Professor Cook's assumptions of our catholicity may be somewhat jarring, I must say that otherwise it is an excellent broad overview-style course on the Catholic church. Bringing up significant information. While there is some noticeable bias, the professor is careful to note this. The only time I felt his proffessionality was truly tested was on the discussions concerning John Paul II. Of more concern is the fact that the course is largely redundant to the "History of the Popes and the Papacy" course, while there is SOME difference in content, it is not particularly great, and If you have bought one of them, I would suggest that the other is skippable. Otherwise it is an excellent course, and Prof. Cook is a compelling and enthusiastic narrator.
Date published: 2010-02-02
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