On November 23, 1958, Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, the son of peasant Italian farmers, became Pope John XXIII. Widely expected to be a transitional pope, John surprised the Church hierarchy and the world by convoking an ambitious ecumenical council—the first such council in more than a century—to bring the Catholic Church into the modern era. "I want to throw open the windows of the Church," he said, "so that we can see out and the people can see in." Broken into four sessions and held over four years, the Second Vatican Council ("a new Pentecost," according to John) breathed new life into the Church and its pastoral mission, knocking down the centuries-old wall between the Church hierarchy and the laity and repositioning the Church as a universal instrument of hope, justice, and compassion for people of all faiths.
Fifty years after he convened the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII remains one of the most beloved and remarkable fi gures in the history of the Catholic Church. Affectionately known as Il Buono Papa, or the Good Pope, John is remembered today by Catholics and non-Catholics alike as an enduring symbol of peace, ecumenicalism, and Christian spirituality. In The Good Pope, Greg Tobin recounts John's remarkable story, from his impoverished childhood in Bergamo, Italy, and his successful tenure as a papal ambassador in war-torn Europe to his surprise ascendancy to the throne of St. Peter. In the process, he traces John's legacy as the spiritual father of the modern Church and explains why the Good Pope and his great council are as vital, vibrant, and important to Catholicism as ever before. Meticulously researched and engaging, The Good Pope captures the heart, soul, and spirit of the man who ushered in a new era of religion in the twentieth century.
With the 50th anniversary of Vatican Council II just around the corner, now seems an appropriate time to re-examine the council and the figures who led it. (Indeed, with the Year of Faith, the Holy Father has invited us to do just that.) So it was with great interest that I read The Good Pope: The Making of a Saint and the Remaking of the Church -- The Story of John XXIII and Vatican II by Greg Tobin.Unfortunately, anyone looking for a thorough treatment of either Bl. John XXIII or Vatican Council II will be disappointed in The Good Pope. Mr. Tobin has an almost myopic interest in the political, eschewing the theological or spiritual significance of either John XXIII or the council, and his book is the poorer for it.Anyone unfamiliar with the "Good Pope" will find some interesting information and anecdotes. Tobin does a good job of portraying Angelo's humble beginnings and steady rise through the Church's ranks, focusing on his diplomatic appointments in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, and France. Yet of all these instances in the pope's life it was the account of John XXIII's passing that I found especially moving. Surrounded by family and staff, the pope endured great pain in his final days, the result of the stomach cancer which took his life. Speaking to those present before receiving the Last Rites he was heard to say"The secret of my ministry is that crucifix you see opposite my bed. It's there so that I can see it in my first waking moments and before going to sleep. It's there, also, so that I can talk to it during the long evening hours. Look at it, see it as I see it. Those open arms have been the program of my pontificate: they say that Christ died for all, for all. No one is excluded from his love, from his forgiveness..."Unfortunately this probing of John's spirituality comes only at the end of his life. While providing a good overview of some of the pope's encyclicals, Mr. Tobin picks and chooses only those with a focus on political or social issues. I would have enjoyed seeing a treatment of Paenitentiam Agere (John XXIII's encyclical on penance) or Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia (on St. Jean Vianny and the priesthood). Looking at these lesser-known encyclicals would have helped fill in some of the gaps of John's faith.This focus on the political extends to the chapters on Vatican Council II; Mr. Tobin seems less interested with the results of the council than with the maneuverings of the various personalities and factions at the council. (I don't recall any direct quotes from the council documents, but plenty from diaries and interviews of those in attendance.) This leaves the impression that the council was less about the end results than about the feelings and intrigues of its participants. This does little to help readers understand the council's impact on the life of the Church and subsequent reforms.Another major shortcoming is the lack of direct reference to Mr. Tobin's sources. While a list of sources is provided at the end of the book, no inline citations or footnotes are provided. An especially egregious example is on page 236, in which an unidentified source claims that progressive forces at the council "correctly deduced that John wanted a wholesale reform." This unattributed assertion is not backed with any evidence and serves only to bolster Mr. Tobin's own conclusions.The Good Pope is, ultimately, less than the sum of its parts, failing as both biography and history. While it contains some interesting tidbits, in the end I can't say that I understand either John XXIII or Vatican Council II any better. Given the wide selection of books about the council and the Good Pope, I cannot recommend this title to anyone wanting more than a political view of either.Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from TLC Book Tours.read more
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I stopped reading this book after 50 pages because I cannot stand the manner in which Tobin writes it. This has nothing to do with his facts or content but rather the book's tone. I could not bear anymore. I knew this going in because I've read another of his books but thought maybe it was just that book. It was not.read more
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