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Publisher's Summary

How did the Catholic Church become one of the most influential institutions in the world - a force capable of moving armies, inspiring saints, and shaping the lives of a billion members?

Explore these and other questions as you follow the development of this important institution in 36 informative, fascinating lectures. With Professor Cook by your side, you'll step into the world of the early church, witness the spread of Christendom, and learn about the origins of fundamental church institutions.

Your journey begins in the early years of the church, when Jesus's disciples developed the first communities of faith. You'll get a chance to delve into crucial ancient church documents and gain an intriguing glimpse into the lives of these early believers. From there, you'll trace the development and spread of this nascent religion throughout the world, covering crucial developments including the conversion of the Roman Empire to Catholicism, the schism between the Roman faith and the Greek Orthodox Church, and the Reformation.

As you delve into this fascinating saga, you'll quickly see that the Catholic Church actually takes many forms. You'll trace the many variations of worship and belief that evolved as Christianity spread all over the Mediterranean, and you'll witness how Catholic practice and faith have been transformed by the cultures and peoples it has touched. Professor Cook brings an unparalleled intellectual rigor to his presentation, balanced by a deep appreciation of the church's legacy and impact. Join him on this epic journey through Catholic history, and experience how this small gathering of faithful became one of the most powerful forces on the world stage - the "one holy catholic and apostolic Church."

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2009 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2009 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The Catholic Church: A History

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beyond an eye opener

I'm listening again, nothing that is in the lectures was frivolous. The stories and tidbits were story telling gold. I was raised atheist, a bit anti Christian since we are a Christian majority country. But wow I want to be Catholic and share in the dynamic and dysfunctional family.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2019-01-18

Great presentation of a selective history

Our lecturer, an Episcopal convert to Catholicism, presents an abbreviated and somewhat selective history of Catholicism. I was disappointed with the light gloss given to the early days and subsequent centuries of the church. Clearly, it is assumed the listener was raised a Christian, or is very familiar with the faith. Some of the first disappointing moments: a skeptical view of the historicity of the Gospels, barely any mention of early Church Father's writings or extra-scriptural sources on the early church, and the argument that there is strong evidence the early church greatly varied in its essential doctrines from place to place. This sets up his framework for the argument of a church somewhat feeling it's way through history, often blundering quite badly on its way towards Vatican 2, which our narrator sees as the light at the end of a long tunnel. Much of the lectures focus on the middle ages, Protestant Reformation, and modern era, and there are some insights to be gained. Perhaps one of the most frustrating lectures focuses on Papal Infallibility: there is barely any attempt to trace the ancient origins of the belief; the casual listener is going to think the church basically invented the concept in the Middle Ages and cherry-picked some Scripture verses to support it.
The best treatments are often of the various monastic orders in the church. He spends some time on many of them.
I suppose at best one could indeed only claim for this to be "a history". It is by no means an undisputed view on church history. Some sections feel downright intellectually dishonest.
It's entertaining and simplistic, with a decent amount of anecdotes and humor. But an honest, scholarly attempt to provide a broad history of the Catholic Church this is not.

24 people found this helpful

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  • P. Kerlin
  • 2014-01-21

Thorough history presented in a compelling manner

Would you consider the audio edition of The Catholic Church: A History to be better than the print version?

As a college level course, the material presented is both thorough and interesting. I am on my second listening of the course because there is just such a wealth of information provided.

What other book might you compare The Catholic Church: A History to and why?

I love Father Robert Barron's Catholicism series and this course was a great addition to the material Father Barron presented. Obviously this course is a history while Barron's is not intended to be. Professor Cook was able to explain a lot of the "why" behind the evolution of the church while Father Barron continually showed its beauty. For those who really want to know about the Catholic church, this is a great asset.

Have you listened to any of Professor William R. Cook’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have watched and listened to Professor Cook's course on The Great Cathedrals. He is a compelling and enthusiastic lecturer who presents material in a straight forward manner. I thought this course was quite good as an audiobook, while the course on cathedrals obviously needed the visual information. I plan on purchasing other courses by Dr. Cook.

Any additional comments?

One need not be Catholic to enjoy this thorough history. Professor Cook knows his material and presents it in an enthusiastic and compelling manner.

28 people found this helpful

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  • BrandiC7
  • 2015-04-03

Wonderful! I learned so much!

I learned so much about my faith! I want to listen to it again! Wonderful!

9 people found this helpful

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  • Raven19
  • 2014-03-20

Great listen, really loved the professor

Where does The Catholic Church: A History rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

In the lecture category its in the top 5

What other book might you compare The Catholic Church: A History to and why?

This is the first theological history I've listened to, but the other great courses options are the most similar

Have you listened to any of Professor William R. Cook’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not but he was really great

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

There were many instances that I was just really impressed or inspired.

Any additional comments?

I'm not Catholic (I'm actually a Mormon) and just wanted to learn more about the Catholic church to help me better understand European history but the lecture was very easy to follow, I don't think I ever felt lost or confused and not only do I have a clearer picture of European history, I also have a greater appreciation of the similarities between our two religions and I feel motivated to listen to lectures on other religions.

18 people found this helpful

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  • vicki
  • 2015-07-16

Great job

As a catholic who knows their history, it was great to see a truthful look at our faith and church. Great job

11 people found this helpful

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  • Lucas kurtzleben
  • 2017-04-18

Pay attention

The author is a genius at this stuff, no doubt. But unless you are on his level of knowledge about these things it is nearly impossible to follow along. An incredible amount of facts and information to follow along with and it's difficult to follow that.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Tommy D'Angelo
  • 2019-01-09

Stellar Presentation Skills and Great Content

I wasn't sure what to expect going in. I had been somewhat unimpressed by other courses that covered the history of Christianity ("Late Antiquity: Crisis and Transformation" and "The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation") and selected this course due to my interest primarily in medieval history in general vs. the church itself and figured I'd only be really interested in lectures 8, 12, 15, 16, 17, and 21.

That's not what I will remember most about this course. Instead it will serve as the definitive history of Christianity/the Catholic Church in my mind.

This course has a lot going for it: great content and a great teacher. Can't ask for much more.

It had great historical narrative on the history of the Catholic church from the first followers of Jesus (communities who wrote the Gospels) to the megachurch of 1 Billion in the 21st century.

The professor has stellar presentation skills: he brings a lot of enthusiasm and good “story telling” to his lectures making it easy for a listener to get engaged and then hooked. I would love to see him deliver a speech or take one of his courses in person. Can't give a better compliment than that.

He does not hide or downplay his Catholicism but I truly feel it did not impact his ability to provide an unbiased objective perspective/insight and present a course based in history vs. religion. It was actually refreshing to hear from someone on this side of the faith...it feels like a lot of courses are taught by historians with a slightly negative viewpoint of Christianity. While the Catholic Church deserves a lot of the negative press it has received concerning recent scandals, it also deserves better press for some of the great blessings it produces. The professor does an excellent job of highlighting both.

For me the highlights were lectures 10 (spread of Christianity in the ancient world), 12 (the church in Charlemagne's time), and 14-16 (church in the High Middle Ages).

Considering I took this course within weeks of having listened to "Popes and the Papacy: A History" from Professor Noble, I was kind of "Poped-out" and would’ve preferred a little less time on the Popes and using that time to cover the spread of Christianity in the Americas, Africa, and Asia in a little more depth. But that's more of a "me" problem. Substantial coverage of Papal history is expected in any course on the history of Catholicism.

This course was well worth my time and I think would be for most of the Great Courses' customers. I would certainly recommend it if you have any interest in the history of Christianity whether you're Catholic or not.

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  • Tim R. Prussic
  • 2016-05-23

good stuff: too much an apology

I learned plenty listening to this fine historian. Really, there's a lot to recommend these lectures. Negatively, the lectures come across as too much of an 'insiders' Catholic history. also, seems a little triumphalistic in the Vatican II and John Paul II and modern ecumenism, but maybe (as a contemporary Roman Catholic)that's what he should be.

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  • Juan More Media
  • 2015-07-07

Concise History of the Universal Church

What made the experience of listening to The Catholic Church: A History the most enjoyable?

The Catholic Church A History is by one of the professors of Dante's Comedy, clearly Catholic. He goes through the primitive church up till the Schism with Orthodoxy and the Reform, and all the way up till modern American Catholicism. The professor knows his stuff very well and shares it well. The course shows the validity of the claim that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ founded, although it's not an apologetics course but rather focuses on what happened, how, and why.

Any additional comments?

The very first lecture of the course is a MUST for anyone who wishes to know about Christianity and the role that the Catholic Church has had in the world. Though it has been a center for controversy, it's also a strong force of good to the world, so anyone who wishes to be objective when discussing religion, should listen to at least the first lecture.

7 people found this helpful

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  • Bob Bortolin
  • 2017-01-16

Great book to listen to multiple times

Very interesting series of lectures. A lot of information is presented very quickly, and this makes multiple listenings almost a must. The professor is obviously very knowledgeable and his presentation keeps you engaged.

2 people found this helpful