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Cambridge to publish a history of the papacy

Cambridge University Press has commissioned a history of the papacy that will provide a truly comprehensive and cross-disciplinary overview of its development and its role in shaping world history.

The Cambridge History of the Papacy will encompass four volumes, providing the depth, breadth, and wide-ranging perspective required to capture the fundamental features of one of the world’s most influential institutions from its origins to the present.

Volume 1: The Popes and the Papacy examines the invention and continual reinvention of the institution over time as it faced new challenges to its influence. Volume 2: The Pope and the Church addresses the formation of the papal institution and its governance. Volume 3: Diplomacy and Global Affairs expands to focus on the papacy in the wider currents of politics and society around the globe and Volume 4: Society and Culture is framed around the question of mutual influence between the institution and wider world.

Leading the international editorial team will be J. Rollo-Koster, Professor of Medieval History at the University of Rhode Island, and R. A. Ventresca, Professor of History at King's University College, Western University.

“This new Cambridge History will trace all aspects of the papacy, systematically, from its origins to the present day and will evaluate its role in the lives of Catholics and non-Catholics alike,” publisher Beatrice Rehl said. “More than a synthesis of existing research, this four-volume project will also pose new questions that are going to establish a research agenda for the next generation.”

“It was essential for me that The Cambridge History of the Papacy be unique and modern in its historiography, even as it, of course, acknowledges its predecessors,” Rollo-Koster said. “It is in essence very difficult to disentangle the church’s history from its politics, in the past and in the present. Still, the church is no longer the dominant force in the West that it was, let’s say, in the Middle Ages. To a large extent its successes and crises are highly visible. So, every institution has a history and sometimes, to state a cliché, knowing that history offers grounds to understand the present. The four volumes are organized thematically, above all, but also chronologically, to help track evolutions. The geography of Christianity has also changed. So, while our volumes needed to recognize its earliest sites (Middle East and Europe) it also needs to go where its ‘history’ is today: Africa, North America, Latin America, etc.

“Once the scope of the volumes was defined, the composition of the team who would supervise and move the project forward became easy: we went by chronology!” she continued. “We have two early medievalists: Melodie Eichbauer (USA), an expert on legal history and canon law, and Iben Fonnesberg-Schmidt (DK) who researches papal communications. Joining them are myself (USA), a late medievalist with a specialty on the Avignon papacy and the Great Western Schism; Miles Pattenden (UK) an early modernist who studies papal elections and the Counter-Reformation; and Robert Ventresca (CA), who writes on Pius XII and the modern period. Like the church our team is international.”

“It goes without saying that, as one of the world's oldest-surviving institutions – with a long, complex, and often controversial history – the papacy is more relevant than ever to the lives of a billion-plus Catholics around the world, and is also a deeply influential actor in contemporary global affairs,” Ventresca said. “Yet it remains arguably one of the least-understood and most easily misunderstood institutions; hence the importance of a truly comprehensive history of the papacy that offers contemporary readers, and future generations of scholars and students, an authoritative, original account of its structural development as an institution. I can't think of another work that brings together such a diverse, global team of editors and expert contributors under the umbrella of one monumental publication.”

The Cambridge History of the Papacy is expected to publish in 2022.

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