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Popes and the Papacy: A History

This course is designed to illuminate for both Catholics and non-Catholics the remarkable institution known as the "Petrine Office."
Popes and the Papacy: A History is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 114.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Two millennia of history in twenty-four doses. What amazes me the most about this course is Prof. Noble’s memory. From his rapid-fire delivery and movements about the set, he was not assisted by a teleprompter. The lectures are fusillades of dates, names and stories. We found it essential to read the course guidebook before taking in each lecture. Still, it’s interesting material. More illustrations, especially maps to explain the shifting boundaries of nations and states would have been helpful. Our favorite lecture? From the guidebook, Lecture Six --The Age of Iron. “John VIII was brutally murdered in 882 (the first pope to be assassinated). Nine months after his death (in 896), Formosus (r. 891-896) was subjected to a macabre ritual. His body was disinterred, dressed in papal garments, and “tried” by his enemies, who predictably found him guilty and flung his corpse into the Tiber. The author of this deed, Stephen VI, was eventually arrested by Formosus's supporters, jailed, and strangled.” Also appreciated was a brief showing of a fine painting. Jean-Paul Laurens, Le Pape Formose et Étienne VI (“Pope Formosus and Stephen VI”, 1870). BTW, we watched this in October –Halloween. HWF & ISF, Mesa AZ
Date published: 2023-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Loved it, and I'm not even Catholic! I've had other lectures form Dr. Noble, and this one was taken largely on his excellence in teaching. Besides, I lived in Rome when John Paul was pope, so I figured I'd learn some history. Noble wove history with religion with "the dirt" like a Raphael tapestry, going from wide paint strokes to tiny dots. He destroyed myths, gave histories of the famous and obscure, as well as the Avignon Papacy of the Middle Ages, and put some perspective on the history of Europe, etc through the eyes of the Papacy. Solo Gloria Dei!
Date published: 2022-07-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Difficult Task, Mixed Result I fully expected to be writing a three-star review, but I give a nod to Professor Noble's complex chore of covering this sprawling subject with reasonable, if uneven, depth. First, I find Professor Noble to be among the better Great Courses professors at making one forget that he is reading from a teleprompter, as his delivery is smooth and sometimes even spontaneous. The giveaway here is that he often speaks rapidly enough, especially when glossing over the dates of the Pontificates, that I need the Course Guide in front of me to keep up with him. Moreover, when he recites the contents of a document, whether it be an Encyclical or otherwise, he appears to do so from "memory." We know that no professor would (or could) manage this at a live lecture. In addition, some facts that many, including Professor Noble, believe to be true are not so. For example, when he addresses the construction of the current St. Peter's Basilica, after Julius II had pulled down the former structure, he states that the formidable dome was the work of Michelangelo. It was not. Rather, it was designed by Giacomo Della Porta. My rating is as it is despite what I see as a myopic take on recent Papal history, not least the Pontificate of Pius XII (which he dismisses as "troubled"). Let the good Professor think what he wants, but I hardly think he would have endorsed this Pontiff as "a tireless worker on behalf of the oppressed, not least the Jews" had he the benefit of viewing the Vatican Archives of this Pontificate, only truly opened within the past few years. In addition, I would commend to all who are interested the work of Brown University Professor David Kertzer, who has attempted to set history right on this subject.
Date published: 2022-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Amazing Lecturer Professor Noble seems to have total recall of his subject. His memory is positively and astonishingly photographic. In four years of college and after forty some Great Courses I've never seen a teacher who was so thoroughly gifted in this regard. I'm not sure I'd like to take his exams. I attended twelve years of Catholic education with a healthy dose of Jesuit teachers from the late '50s on. Church history was heavily stressed. Dr. Noble's lectures helped to fill in the gaps that were left by my earlier experience. All of the lectures were interesting but I found the later ones beginning with Benedict XIV positively riveting.
Date published: 2021-11-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from popes and the papacy A bit less interesting and exciting than I expected.....the was no on-line version available to be put into my video library with this course....
Date published: 2021-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent survey of the papacy Excellent balanced survey of the papacy, from its origins in Antiquity through the Middle Ages and to the modern era. As Prof. Noble points out, the Papacy is a mirror of Western Civilization; to teach this course effectively, one also needs a strong knowledge of the historical and intellectual cross-currents spanning two millennia. Noble does well in this regard.
Date published: 2021-08-17
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting. . . but My interest in the popes & the papacy is for historical, not religious reasons. Professor Noble is clearly very knowledgeable & enthusiastic, and the subject is never less than interesting. The material, however, is dense with information, and the pace is brisk. This isn't a casual listen, but requires a modest degree of serious attention. My one complaint, which is not trivial, is that the occasional word gets swallowed or passed over quickly. I've been watching the lectures on DVD and they would be benefit greatly from having subtitles or closed-captioning, neither of which is available on these discs. That's my principal reason for not giving this a higher score.
Date published: 2021-08-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dr Noble was articulate but not knowledgeable Dr Noble was not knowledgeable of Papal history. Made it very disappointing to see truth so distorted
Date published: 2021-08-03
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This course is designed to illuminate for both Catholics and non-Catholics the remarkable institution known as the "Petrine Office." It is taught by Professor Thomas F. X. Noble, director of the Medieval Institute and professor of history at the University of Notre Dame—who has spent more than 30 years immersed in the subject. The insights and wisdom he has gathered along the way make Popes and the Papacy: A History a course that satisfies on every level.


Thomas F. X. Noble

One great scholar said that history was a process of challenge and response. Surely we must ask what challenges remain.


University of Notre Dame

Dr. Thomas F. X. Noble is Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He earned his B.A. in History from Ohio University and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Medieval History from Michigan State University. Professor Noble has held fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and research grants from the American Philosophical Society. In 2008 he received the Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in Teaching from Notre Dame. In 1999 he was awarded the Alumni Distinguished Professor Award and a David Harrison III Award for outstanding undergraduate advising, both from the University of Virginia. Professor Noble is the author, coauthor, or editor of 10 books and has published more than 40 articles, chapters, and essays. His coauthored textbook, Western Civilization: The Continuing Experiment, is in its 5th edition. His research has concentrated on late antiquity and the early Middle Ages, focusing on the history of the city of Rome, the history of the papacy, and the age of Charlemagne.

By This Professor

What Is Papal History? When Did It Begin?

01: What Is Papal History? When Did It Begin?

This lecture introduces four definitions of papal history (as an idea, an institution, a series of biographies, and a vantage point for the history of Western civilization) and examines the evidence for the beginnings of the story.

30 min
The Rise of the Petrine Idea

02: The Rise of the Petrine Idea

Papal history changed dramatically in the period between about 300 and 500 A.D., and we catch our first glimpse of an impressive institutional structure coming into being, refining itself, and assuming new and weighty responsibilities.

30 min
Popes, Byzantines, and Barbarians

03: Popes, Byzantines, and Barbarians

As Roman authority around Rome disappeared, the popes had to deal with new situations, eventually reorienting their focus from the Mediterranean world to Western Europe in a period that also witnessed the pontificate of Gregory I, known as Gregory the Great, one of the most remarkable of Peter's successors.

31 min
The Popes in the Age of Charlemagne

04: The Popes in the Age of Charlemagne

The popes loosened their ties to Constantinople and turned to the Franks for protection (an effective collaboration that nonetheless planted the seeds for contention).

31 min
Rome, the Popes, and the Papal Government

05: Rome, the Popes, and the Papal Government

In addition to addressing some basic questions about how a man became pope, what the various roles were, and what structures were in place to assist him, this lecture also introduces many features of papal life and work still present today, albeit sometimes in changed form.

31 min
The “Age of Iron”

06: The “Age of Iron”

With the decline of effective Carolingian power in Italy, the papacy sank into depths perhaps unmatched in its long history (a period often referred to as the "Pornocracy").

31 min
The Investiture Controversy

07: The Investiture Controversy

Although "Lay Investiture," the practice whereby a layman invests a cleric with his office, has given its name to a controversial era, the dispute encompassed much more.

31 min
The Papal Monarchy—Institutions

08: The Papal Monarchy—Institutions

This first of two lectures on the "papal monarchy" focuses largely on the pope within the Church but also looks at new ways the papacy influenced the contemporary world.

31 min
The Papal Monarchy—Politics

09: The Papal Monarchy—Politics

Despite the end of the Investiture Controversy, quarrels persisted between the popes and Europe's rulers. This second lecture on the papal monarchy examines some of the great battles of the day.

31 min
The Popes at Avignon

10: The Popes at Avignon

The struggle between Philip IV of France and Pope Boniface VIII did not resolve fundamental issues, and the lingering dispute found the papacy's "temporary" residence at Avignon lasting 69 years.

30 min
The Great Schism

11: The Great Schism

This lecture examines the greatest crisis in papal history (the period from 1378 to 1417) when a series of two, and sometimes three, men claimed simultaneously to be the legitimate pope, dealing severe blows to both the papacy's prestige and the monarchical theory of Church government.

30 min
The Renaissance Papacy—Politics

12: The Renaissance Papacy—Politics

In this first of two lectures on the Renaissance, we look at the place of the popes in the public culture, war, diplomacy, and government of the 15th-century world.

31 min
The Renaissance Papacy—Culture

13: The Renaissance Papacy—Culture

This second lecture on the Renaissance looks at the papacy's involvement in the intellectual, cultural, and educational movement that began to flourish in Florence in the last decades of the 14th century.

31 min
The Challenge of Reform—Protestantism

14: The Challenge of Reform—Protestantism

Calls for "Reform" were as old as the Christian Church itself. This lecture examines the reaction of the Renaissance popes to the voices constantly being raised for moral, spiritual, and institutional reform.

31 min
Catholic Reform and Counter Reform

15: Catholic Reform and Counter Reform

The 15th century has been viewed as a time of intense reform within the Catholic Church and as a Counter Reformation designed to stop the spread of Protestantism and to win back Protestants. Both views have merit.

31 min
Absolutism, Enlightenment, and Revolution

16: Absolutism, Enlightenment, and Revolution

The diplomatic situation in Europe in the early 17th century effectively halted the Counter Reformation on the Continent. Indeed, over the next two centuries the papacy's very survival occasionally came into question.

30 min
Pius IX—Prisoner of the Vatican

17: Pius IX—Prisoner of the Vatican

We look at the often controversial papacy of Pius IX, whose 32-year reign was the longest of all the popes and whose pontificate coincided with tremendous military, political, ideological, and cultural turmoil.

31 min
The Challenge of Modernism

18: The Challenge of Modernism

After the long pontificate of Pius IX, it was clear that the pope's place in the world and in the Church would be forever different.

30 min
The Troubled Pontificate of Pius XII

19: The Troubled Pontificate of Pius XII

This lecture looks at the fascinating pontificate of a brilliant but austere man who assumed the role of pope with unmatched experience, but whose reign eventually became shrouded by controversy.

30 min
The Age of Vatican II

20: The Age of Vatican II

Declining to be merely an elderly placeholder, John XXIII succeeded Pius XII and summoned the Second Vatican Council. We examine his life and career and the council that has continued to be a controversial topic for 40 years.

31 min
The Transitional Pontificate of Paul VI

21: The Transitional Pontificate of Paul VI

Shy and bookish, kind but aloof, Paul VI was described by his close friend and confidante, John XXIII, as "a little like Hamlet." We examine the tangled legacy of a pope who attracted the criticism of progressives and conservatives alike.

30 min
The Vatican and What It Does

22: The Vatican and What It Does

This lecture provides some useful nuts-and-bolts information and some interesting sidelights on the people and structures that make up the Vatican, dispelling some of the aura of mystery and intrigue that surrounds it.

30 min
John Paul II—“The Great”?

23: John Paul II—“The Great”?

This lecture examines the life and pontificate of the first non-Italian elected since 1522. A towering figure on the world stage, he was controversial to some, respected by all, and loved by many.

30 min
Benedict XVI, the Future, and the Past

24: Benedict XVI, the Future, and the Past

This lecture looks at the background and early pontificate of the new pope, attempts to assess where he might lead the world's one billion Catholics, and concludes the course with a few reflections on the place of the pope in the 21st century.

32 min