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Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy

The story of the power of the Papacy – and how it has waxed and waned over the centuries.

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Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, by John Julius Norwich, Random House, 522 pp.

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In Matthew 16 (18-19) Jesus says to his first disciple, Simon Peter, “….you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”

After Jesus's death it must have become apparent to Peter that it was absolutely necessary for him to transfer his ministry to Rome – the Imperial capital of the world. And once in Rome he would take up the position of head of the Christian church. Well, we don’t know exactly how or when (or even if) Peter arrived in Rome but we assume that he did and after having been given some office similar to the Bishop of Rome, he was killed in about 64AD. Peter was never actually a “Pope,” as the title did not exist until adopted by Siricius (584-399), but for almost 2,000 years he has been considered the first Pope.

Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy is the story of the Popes – by whatever title – as they have supposedly passed from Peter in an unbroken line of Apostolic Succession. It is the story of all the Popes which poses a problem for the reader, as it must have been for the author, because so many of the Popes, particularly the earlier ones, were downright dull, stupid, and uninteresting or else we simply know nothing about them.

The author of "Absolute Monarchs" is John Julius Norwich, a productive and respected British author whose specialty is the history of the Mediterranean world during the first millennium AD. Norwich was the son of a titled Conservative British politician and diplomat, Duff Cooper. Consequently, his heir Norwich is also a lord – the Second Viscount Norwich.

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