For some people the pope and the papacy are a source of great curiosity, whether their underlying views of the guy who wears white and lives in the Vatican (and those who work with him) be positive or negative.
Christopher Bellitto’s book is a new addition to Paulist Press’s “101 Questions & Answers On…” series. An assistant professor of history at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, Bellitto has written books about Catholic Church history and been interviewed on various television networks about the Catholic Church. As a professor and Church history expert, he uses the questions he has been asked over the years about the pope and the papacy as the main source for his 101 questions, then providing factual and entertaining answers. He covers the history of the papacy, good and bad, from St. Peter to today; the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ, which makes it holy, but the Church is also made up of sinful human beings who fail at times.
Bellitto divides the book into three parts, opening with a prologue examining if St. Peter was really the first pope. He shows from where in the Bible Catholics draw their belief that St. Peter was called to be the leader of the Apostles. He discusses who created the papacy and answers common objections from Protestants that Jesus did not intend for the successors of St. Peter to be the leader of the Church.
Part one focuses on the historical, covering the early church period (ca. 50-800), the medieval and reformation church period (ca. 800-1600), and the early modern and modern church period (ca. 1600-present). This section will appeal to those interested in Church history.
Part two is about the power and symbols, cardinals and conclaves. Bellitto’s coverage of papal authority examines the good and the bad (or mistakes) made by various popes. He makes mention that Pope John Paul II, during the Holy Year 2000, apologized for the mistakes made by the Church and its leaders in the past. He presents what a cardinal is and the history of cardinals, followed by an examination of what happens when a pope dies. He presents the history of the election or selection of a new pope and how the process has changed and developed over the years. Touching on the issue of the supposed worldliness of the Vatican, because it owns many pieces of art, several buildings and more, Bellitto argues that although the Catholic Church is seen as rich (which he says is true to a certain extent), much of that wealth the Church holds in stewardship. Bellitto also explores such questions as why the pope wears certain clothes, why he changes his name, why popes once wore a triple crown, and more.
The concluding section covers all kinds of things connected with the papacy, whether factually or fictional, such as the legend of Pope Joan. Who was the oldest or youngest pope? Has a son ever succeeded a father as pope? Which popes have been given the title “the great”? How many popes are saints?
Bellitto’s epilogue is the 101st question, which deals with the good and the bad of the papacy, followed by a list of the popes and the anti-popes (those who were not really popes), endnotes, and a short bibliography. Although there are no illustrations in this book, the front cover bears a famous image of Jesus giving St. Peter the keys to bind and to loose, as presented in Matthew’s Gospel. This book is highly recommended to those interested in the history of the popes and the papacy, Church history, or who are curious about things papal.
Dr. Christopher M. Bellitto is the author of The Church, the Councils, and Reform (June 2008), Church History 101 (2008), Ten Ways the Church has Changed (2006), General Councils (2002), Renewing Christianity (2001), Nicholas De Clamanges (2001), and co-authored Reforming the Church before Modernity (2005), Introducing Nicholas of Cusa (2004), and Nicholas of Cusa and his Age (2002). He has written articles for various magazines and journals and appears on CNN, MSNBC, The News Hour, and various newspapers including The New York Times, the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, and others.