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The Catholic Church: A History  By  cover art

The Catholic Church: A History

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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    2 out of 5 stars

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.

29 people found this helpful

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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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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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Great job

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

12 people found this helpful

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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.

11 people found this helpful

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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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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.

8 people found this helpful

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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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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.

5 people found this helpful

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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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  • Joe
  • 06-09-15

Comprehensive and informative

I really enjoyed this product but professor cook's insistence on saying that Saint John paul ii apologised for the crusades in the last few lectures bugged me a little, he apologised to God on the 2000 year of the church for anything members of the church might have done wrong in her history he didn't specifically mention any event person or crime in particular, at least that was my understanding of it. Having said that I recommend this lecture course it covers everything but I'd read some other stuff on the crusades

4 people found this helpful

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  • Ed
  • 01-10-15

Biased history

Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

This was apologetics as much as than history. The professor's own faith created a bias that was both unwelcome and illuminating. I understand better how the catholic church self edits its own history and identity from the extraordinarily tendentious narrative that I experienced in this course. It was also full of interesting information and has left me wanting to read further.

Would you be willing to try another book from The Great Courses? Why or why not?

Yes absolutely. Leaving aside my criticisms of this particular course I have been listening to a number of titles around the themes of church and ancient history and found them to be a superb opportunity to access in depth information about subjects rarely presented to the public

Did The Catholic Church: A History inspire you to do anything?

Yes. It prompted me to turn to a lecture series on Socrates Plato and Aristotle whose input into church history and teaching was something Professor Cook explained well.

Any additional comments?

I listened to these lectures having finished a couple of audible titles concerning early church history, late antiquity and the early middle ages. This was a natural progression. I recommend some prior knowledge of church history before listening to this.

3 people found this helpful

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  • IFS
  • 09-24-20

Interesting

I found this very interesting. It is presented through the eyes of a catholic but it is detailed account of the Church history with the more negative aspects discussed alongside the virtues. The presenter is obviously a expert in his field and though it doesn’t necessarily always follow a chronological order, the planning of the course does make sense to me. I’m not sure that it is for those who only having a passing interest, but if, like me, you find this sort of topic interesting enough to consider purchasing such a comprehensive course, I’d recommend it. I certainly learnt things.

1 person found this helpful

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  • ben
  • 03-11-20

interesting whistle stop tour

Cook keeps things palatable whilst detailing thousands of years of history. his knowledge of the church, it's teachings and it's history, go far beyond what he covers, and its clear that this is the case in how he discusses everything.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Nicholas Miller
  • 07-31-19

The Catholic Church from a Catholic perspective

A well crafted, measured view of the Catholic Church, transparently from the Catholic perspective. It does address many of the darker sides of its history (not all - doesn't go into depth on Opus Dei, the paedophile scandals or negative interpretations of the Jesuits) but gives an overall positive (bordering on proselytizing) interpretation of Catholicism. Any historical work his its interpretation and biases - this one is just more transparent and still definitely worth listening.

1 person found this helpful

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  • LM C
  • 03-16-19

A must listen!

The amount of information packed into each lecture was top notch. What a great listen!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Stephen Callaghan
  • 05-28-18

Brilliant and informative!

A wonderfully detailed overview of the Catholic Church's history. Learned a lot. Would listen again.

1 person found this helpful

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  • MMM
  • 11-29-22

Awesome fairly brief tour through Catholic history

I've really enjoyed this course. The lecturer is very good at communicating information. He's a charismatic man.

The content is of a high standard and pretty much every crucial thing seems to be addressed at least briefly.

As a great lover of Catholic history I wish there was a course twice or three times as long as this one because there is much more that could be focused on for each lecture.

Notwithstanding, it's a very stimulating series of lectures.

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  • Jason Hill
  • 08-27-22

Enthralling from beginning to end.

Ambitious in scale and hugely informative. William R. Cook also manages to write and speak fluently and emphatically enough to hold the attention for the full 19 hours. Left me wanting to dive in deeper. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Tone
  • 08-21-22

Too vast Too thin

a great lecturer but unfortunately he's struggling to cram 2000 years of history and doctrinal theology and the evolution of the Catholic church into a set of 30 minute sessions.

the result is so superficial that you only gain a headline or so on each topic. For example; The inquisition is brushed over in a mere sentence and mixed up with the Crusades which is also sped through so fast that nothing of substance can be learnt.

Some politically correct fencing around Islam also evident, which appears to be a theme across many great courses lectures.

It's about as useful as just reading the contents page of a book on Catholicism.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-13-16

Fascinating and well presented

What a fascinating and well presented set of lectures. I loved learning more about history/church history/Catholic church history.. The professor is a lively and engaging presenter. Thanks

2 people found this helpful

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  • Sarah Cook
  • 04-02-22

Excellent

This is the second Great Course I've listened to by Professor Cook (no relation!) and he is definitely one of my favourite lecturers in this series. His knowledge base is impressively broad whilst still being detailed, his courses are fascinating, and as a lecturer he is the perfect balance of academic and engaging. Academically he is objective and fair and passionate. Highly recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mike Munsie
  • 10-23-18

biased, apologetic history of the Catholic Church

I wanted an unbiased and honest history of the Catholic Church without the spin provided in this course

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-17-22

Apologetics for the Catholic Church

William R. Cook does not separate his belief from this course. There us very little unbiased analysis, and he regularly states things as thought they are fact without acknowledging or referencing much more rigorous broader arguments and research. It is essentially a course in apologetics fot the Catholic Church. Very disappointing.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-04-22

Highly recommended

Highly knowledgeable professor, entertaining content, and briskly sequenced. I was looking for a general overview of Church history and this absolutely delivered.