Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Catholic Company Book Review: We Have a Pope

We Have a Pope by Stephen K. Ray and R. Dennis Walters

I selected this book for two reasons. First, I was hoping to learn how the papacy is supported by Scripture. Second, I have recently been wondering how to describe to the children what the pope does all day and thought this book might give some insights.

This is a small 32 page pamphlet, something that could be easy to share with someone interested in Catholicism and the papacy in particular.

While the authors provide a section entitled "What Does the Pope Do?", I didn't find much to help when talking with the kids. The pope teaches, governs and sanctifies, which is certainly accurate, but it doesn't help me tell a six year old what he does every day. (I didn't really expect to find much of help on this particular question in the book. I'm really looking for a nice children's book on the topic. Kansas Dad tells me it probably wouldn't be that interesting for kids, but I keep looking for one anyway. Anyone want to write and illustrate one for me?)

It does indeed give Scriptural references on almost every page. These could be very useful when talking with someone who may question the legitimacy of the papacy. I think there is a great deal of information that could be useful in supporting the papacy.

This book also accurately describes the papacy today. There's a lot of great information on the pope's role in the church. The section on papal infallibility seemed to address a lot of common concerns from non-Catholic Christians on that topic. It can be a very tough doctrine to explain.

However...there's no description of the development of the tradition of papal authority. In fact, the authors give the distinct impression the bishop of Rome was given the sole place of honor from the very beginning:
The early popes recognized the authority that came to them from Peter, but did the rest of the Church recognize it as well?
In a word--yes.
Yet multiple patriarchs were viewed as authorities in the early church, often consulted on questions of doctrine. From the book it seems like no one in the Church ever questioned the primacy of Rome's bishop, which is just one example of many times in the book where the historical discussions of the role of the pope are ignored. I would be concerned that someone convinced by this book might later be shocked to learn the truth of the disagreements in the early church, perhaps even feel as if they were deliberately misled. Even a sentence or two saying the doctrine developed over time would be helpful.

In another way, too, the book misses out on one of the glories of the Catholic Church, that for two thousand years, men and women have been praying, writing, talking, and thoughtfully grappling with the best way for the Church to be Christ's Church. Through all that time, with many brilliant and holy people contributing to a discussion guided by the Holy Spirit, the role of the pope developed to what it is today. That tale could be a beautiful one, and one that 32 pages would probably be inadequate to tell, but there's not even a hint of it here. (The same authors have a longer book called The Papacy Learning Guide, which might address this very topic among others. I haven't had the opportunity to read it.)

I think this booklet could be a useful tool for a Catholic looking to learn more about the papacy and am glad to have so many scriptural references for our church's beliefs. I would be careful about sharing it with an evangelical Christian in the hopes of encouraging interest in converting to Catholicism without being willing to look to more detailed sources on the development of doctrine.

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program.* I have not received any payment for this review, but I did receive a free copy of the book We Have a Pope. Learn more about joining the reviewer program here.

* Special thanks to Kansas Dad for his assistance with this review. I hope the good folks at The Catholic Company don't mind that I had help with my homework.

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