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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Book Review

The Bad Popes
E.R. Chamberlin

Writing a review on a book from 1969 may seem a bit odd, but the book itself is a bit of an oddity. I saw it at my local Barnes & Noble on sale for a paltry $6.98. I had never before purchased a book based solely on its title. But like any red-blooded Protestant, I was smitten by the promise of papal misconduct.

Barnes & Noble saw fit to reprint Chamberlin's tome under their own imprint in 1993. There must have been some health scare with JPII around that time, since my clearance copy was clearly the last of the "Hey, what can we sell with 'Pope' in the name" books from the JPII deathwatch and subsequent conclave. But my impulse buy proved to be a good one.

Chamberlin does scholarly justice to his subject and does not merely repeat old slanders. He debunks old tales like the female Pope ("Pope Joan") and is sure to reveal the ulterior motives of those who vehemently hated pontiffs simply because they lost out in conclave or on the battlefield. What is left is more than enough to turn the stomach.

As I read, I came to the conclusion that there were far too many father & son Popes. What also became apparent is that the selling of indulgences was a very late development in the Church's love of money. The selling of cardinal's hats and the papacy itself predates this final outrage by hundreds of years. The catalogue of abuses is lengthy and sordid, but Chamberlin chalks it all up to a love for temporal power on the part of the clergy. I got the impression that Chamberlin is a Catholic, as he dismissed Luther as "schizophrenic." He also gave some space to speculating about how the Reformation could have been averted with a little house-cleaning by the Church. With his lack of sympathy for the Reformation apparent, his history is all the more damning.

Serendipitously, I also had the opportunity (or obligation) this week to listen to one of John MacArthur's sermons on the Roman church. He attacked infant baptism and vestments in his sweeping indictment of Rome. Such category confusions give offence to his brothers from liturgical Reformed Churches and are not likely to persuade his Catholic friends. Nor is his lengthy rehashing of the paedophilia scandal. Evangelical sex scandals are plentiful enough. Rather than using any stick to beat Rome with, we should be using the right one: the faith delivered to all the saints. The solution to error is reproof. A heretic in a coat and a tie is still a heretic. We must remember that salvation is God's alone to bestow, not the Church's, much less any mortal man, robed or not.

Category: Between the Covers


  • There was a whole Pope table at B&N for a while. I was able to pick up a "Poping For Dummies Absolution Kit" for $19.99. I lucked out because our pet fish "Rex", passed on soon after and I was able to confer eternal blessings on him before I flushed.

    By Blogger Garet Pahl, at 10:54 PM  

  • Amen about the part on MacArthur. I have deep and wide respect for him, but he really does use anything to take a shot at Rome.

    It's not helpful when real problems like marian doctrines and the value of works are by a long shot bad enough.

    By Blogger centuri0n, at 7:45 AM  

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