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Posted October 8, 2013
Upon this rock
In Good Pope, Bad Pope, Mike Aquilina explains the development of the papacy through stories of popes from the first century to the present. He makes the point that the Church enjoys the protection of Christ. Understanding of Catholic doctrine is advanced under the “good” popes and remains uncompromised under the “bad.” The dozen popes he has chosen for the book illustrate this point.
The first six begin with Peter the Apostle, of course, and run through Vigilius, who reigned from 537 to 555 and according to Aquilina, saved the faith despite being greedy, ill-tempered, and devious. The second half of the book features popes from Benedict IX (1032 to 1045) through John Paul II (1978 to 2005). Two “bad” popes from that period are Benedict IX and Alexander VI—he’s the one who was central to the TV series “The Borgias.” Aquilina says Alexander had too little interest in theology to teach heresy. Benedict IX is unique for two major reasons: he was elected pope three different times, and he sold the papacy. Besides all that, he favored what Aquilina calls “orgies and dissipation” over theology.
Aquilina, who has been publishing articles and books on Catholicism for more than 30 years, presents his material in an imminently readable style. He uses real and imagined dialogue and informal words and phrases such as slippery characters, gung ho, washout, sneaky, hated his guts, and goof-up. He describes the Rome of Alexander VI as far worse than Dodge City at its meanest.