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Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan


Eight Popes and the Crisis Of Modernity
by Russell Shaw
Ignatius Press

This is a great read and it reminds us that the twentieth century was the century of some extraordinary popes. The author gives each of the popes more than a pass grade.

To begin with my favourite pope: Pius X. The author acknowledges that the Modernist heresy that he had to deal with was a real danger to the faith. The author is not sure how effective the anti-Modernist oath that priests had to take following the condemnation of Modernism was. It must have surely been effective as Modernism was suppressed during his pontificate. The author is right to point out that some anti-Modernist enthusiasts were excessive in the way they dealt with perfectly orthodox theologians. The Biblical scholar Marie-Joseph Lagrange comes to mind, an orthodox theologian who was suspected of Modernism. It would have been appropriate for the author to mention that Pius himself was more balanced in his judgment when the great Italian saint, Don Orione, was denounced as a Modernist, Pope Pius made him a Vicar General after meeting him.

The chapter on Pius XII is very good. The author provides us with a useful summary of why this pope is not "Hitler's Pope." Perhaps a less cautious pope might have more forthrightly denounced Nazism? But would the final results have been better? As the author notes, when the Dutch bishops denounced Nazism, all that happened was an increase in atrocities. What might have happened had the supreme head of the Church himself condemned Nazism? It goes without saying that Pius in fact did a great deal to warn the world about Nazi atrocities. And he saved many, many Jewish lives by his personal effort. He also very clearly condemned Communism, and history has proved him right in doing so.

Pope Paul VI is rightly praised as the hero of Humanae Vitae. The author also states that "on the far right of the Catholic spectrum", people were troubled by his reforms. If he is referring to the liturgical reforms, then you really don't have to be on the "far right" to be troubled. Also, given that previous popes had been criticized, it would surely have been right to point to the more troubling aspects of the pontificate of Paul VI: his inability to manage widespread dissent after the Second Vatican Council, for example.
John Paul II is also rightly praised for many reasons: his encyclicals, his superb Veritatis Splendor, which is becoming increasingly more relevant with time. It might have been appropriate to mention some of the negative aspects of his pontificate as well: his selection of bishops and his handling of the sex abuse crisis, for example.

In less than 150 pages, the author has given us a very helpful overview of the eight popes of the twentieth century.


Copyright ; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2020

Version: 23rd October 2020



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