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The Catholic Church: A History cover art

The Catholic Church: A History

Written by: William R. Cook,The Great Courses
Narrated by: William R. Cook
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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.

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Great experience

It’s indeed a great course. I loved it a lot. Though I don’t agree absolutely on the conclusion he arrived at (is church catholic?) part to be specific, I really enjoyed it and recommend this course to anyone interested in Roman Catholic history.

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In depth explanation of church history and teaching

This was a very in depth explanation of Catholic teaching and history. It covers all the phases of development and makes sense of modern developments like Vatican I and II.

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Excellent and accessible

I’ve listened to over a dozen audiobooks on Christian history, and this is easily one of the best. The scholarship is excellent but also presented in an accessible way, and the lecturer is animated and engaging. Highly recommended.

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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.

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38 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.

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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.

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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

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  • Mikkel Lodahl
  • 2013-10-04

Rambling at the sentence and structural level

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Most of my time listening to this book was not well spent, since there is a lack of overall structure to the lectures. Little stories and tidbits of information were pointed out to be important without ever being given a context as to why they were important.

For example, an entire lecture is devoted to the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church and it is continually pointed out by Professor Cook that it is very important for catholics to think of them. But only at the end a context is sketched out as to why, and yet it makes very little sense. In another of the late lectures the consequences of Vatican II are adressed, but again they are merely labeled important and the listener is left hanging.I feel that a lot of this wasted time is due to the fact that Professor Cook is clearly speaking to people like himself rather than to the average listener. That is to say, he is speaking to an American Catholic who knows quite a bit about the religious institution he belongs to and can himself provide the context. More about this below.

Thus, this lecture series seems more like a commentary on the history of the Catholic Church rather than an overview, which disappointed me quite a lot.However, there were a couple of interesting little pieces of information that sparked my curiosity and the parts of Church history that I already knew a good deal about and could provide my own context for were fairly well brushed up.

What didn’t you like about Professor William R. Cook’s performance?

There are two parts to Professor Cook's performance that I'd like to comment on: one is his use of dynamic voice and the other is his use of perspective in language.

Professor Cook clearly attempts to provide dynamism at the sentence level of his lecturing by putting the emphasis on different words throughout the sentence, making pauses and in general avoiding the monotone droning that cliché associates with lecturing. In this he succeeds, but unfortunately he does so at the cost of understanding. It is apparently randomised which words the professor chooses to put extra emphasis on, which often confuses the meaning. One could argue that this should keep the listener on his or her toes - but then it is at best a cheap trick.

What it does produce - at least in this listener - is a weariness of the rambling nature of Professor Cook's lecturing style. Coupled with the very clear perspectivism that I mention above - that of an American Catholic with a more than average involvement in his faith - the lectures were at times so idiosyncratic that I tuned out. There is only so many times one can endure alienation by the constant use of the pronoun "we" to indicate both speaker and audience as members of the Catholic faith.

I have nothing against a clear and internal perspective in lectures about institutions - but these lectures were presented as being for the general public, and it seems that Professor Cook is not really aware of the alienation he creates with his language.

To clarify: I am not offended, but it did put me off many times during the listening.

It is also worth mntioning that Professor Cook's voice is very "wet-sounding", although I adjusted to this very quickly. I would, however, recommend that you hear a sample before buying simply to check out this aspect.

Could you see The Catholic Church: A History being made into a movie or a TV series? Who should the stars be?

I could not see a TV series based on this. There is too little narratuve structure, since the lectures bascally just detail a series of things that happen and are underlined as important without ever giving the proper context.

Any additional comments?

I listened all the way through, which may be weird when seen in concert with my comments above. I kept hoping for a betterment when the series got to the time I knew little of in Church history (Dark Ages and post-renaissance) but alas it was not forthcoming.

As mentioned, enough little tidbits of weird information was spread throughout to keep me at it, but in the end I cannot possibly recommend this lecture series.

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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!

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9 people found this helpful

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  • mzlizzie
  • 2015-06-24

Strengthens my Catholic Faith

I am Catholic and this book was very enlightening, making me more firm in my belief in the Catholic Church. I especially liked his point about how quick people are to criticize the Church or leave the Church because of a pedophile priest but don't think about the fact that they are also leaving Mother Teresa, St Francis and all those like them. He also clearly explains how the Church is present for each age and that it is truly holy, catholic and apostolic.

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8 people found this helpful

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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.

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  • Byron Doneen
  • 2014-09-05

Not up to the Great Courses Standard

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

These lectures, while they seem to cover the vital issues and periods, are somewhat non-scholarly. For example, various reforms are mentioned, but what problems the reforms attempted to remedy are merely inferred. Unfortunately, these lapses are at the heart of what divides contemporary catholics, such as priestly celibacy. Secondly, the tone adopted by the lecturer seems to be more suitable for politician attempting to persuade an audience, rather than educating it. In a word, "too preachy".

Has The Catholic Church: A History turned you off from other books in this genre?

Far from it--contributions by Profs Ehrman and the lectures on the ancient religions of the Stone and Bronze ages ( I have forgotten the author's name) were exciting in both content and delivery.

If you could play editor, what scene or scenes would you have cut from The Catholic Church: A History?

I may be biased by a long life as a university lecturer, but this just does not meet the typical detached and sympathetic manner expected. The tone is one in which fundamentalist preachers seek donations.

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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.

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5 people found this helpful