The Global History of Catholicism edited by James Hagerty, the Lord Brennan Educational Trust/Rowan Publishing
How did a tiny Middle Eastern sect become the largest and most vibrant faith in the world? This is one of the fascinating questions that The Global History of Catholicism sets out to answer. As Eamon Duffy notes in his introduction, Catholics make up a sixth of the world’s population, and are spread over every landmass on earth – but how, and why, did this come to be?
The book begins, fittingly enough, with Jesus, and looks at how this Jewish preacher became the Messianic leader of a new religion. The first chapter focuses squarely on Jesus and his teachings – the core tenets that make up Catholicism. Taking in theology and history, this chapter goes on to address the various debates about the nature of Jesus and the Trinity.
We are then taken on a whistle-stop tour of what Catholics believe – the Eucharist, the religious year, prayer, and the Nicene Creed. Everything is laid out in a logical manner and explained in clear, precise prose.
Next up is a brief history of the Catholic Church, focusing at first on Constantine and his conversion, then the slow accretion of ritual and infrastructure that laid the ground for the Church we know today. We go by way of the Patristic Fathers and Augustine to the Middle Ages, the rise of Islam, Charlemagne, the Crusades and finally, to the Reformation and beyond.
The writing is crisp, the history scintillating. There are gorgeously designed fold-out maps and a very useful timeline of major events in Christian history.
The second half of the book focuses on practice – there are instructive chapters on liturgy, church architecture, laity and women in the Church. We are then thrust back into history with some illuminative material on the early saints, great popes, monasticism and mission, all illustrated with a wonderful array of images.
The book, which is not being sold but will be provided free to educational establishments around the world, concludes with an appraisal of the Catholic Church today, its role in social teaching and in the Middle East.