Saturday, April 12, 2008

Five best: works about the lives of popes

Jay Scott Newman, a Catholic priest and canon lawyer, is pastor of St. Mary's Church in Greenville, S.C. He picked the five best "works about the lives of popes" for the Wall Street Journal.

Number One on his list:
The Oxford Dictionary of Popes
By J.N.D. Kelly
Oxford, 1986

Not counting pretenders and anti-popes, the Roman Catholic Church numbers the present bishop of Rome, Benedict XVI, as the 265th Pastor of the Universal Church. J.N.D. Kelly's dictionary is the indispensable reference to every pope from Simon Peter to John Paul II, describing each man and the times in which he lived. Kelly (1909-97), who was a priest in the Church of England and one of the 20th century's greatest scholars of Christian history, accompanied Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury to Rome in 1966 for an epochal meeting with Pope Paul VI. This visit awakened in Kelly the desire to provide (as he puts it in the dictionary's preface) "a one-volume handbook in English containing systematic, concise accounts of all those who have been, or claimed to be, popes." Kelly succeeded brilliantly, and given that there are still no reliable biographies of even recent popes (like Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI), Kelly's work remains the lodestar for those seeking to understand the papacy.
Read about the other titles on Newman's list.

--Marshal Zeringue