Course Description

450.731 - History of the Papacy: Pope Francis in Context

This course will cover the history of the papacy from Late Antiquity until the present day. It will pay particular attention to the growth of the papacy as an institution, its ideological expression, and the historical roots of today's Pope. The acclaimed historian, Thomas F.X. Noble, has noted that the papacy is the "world's oldest continuously functioning institution." Its longevity alone has prompted curiosity and interest, inspired scholarly works and attracted popular attention; to many, it has been the model of tradition for two millennia. But upon closer inspection, another story, one of transformation, also emerges. The approach of most papal histories, beginning with the Liber Pontificalis in the sixth century up to and including many twentieth-century accounts, is to weave a seamless narrative. These histories attempt to reinforce the notion that the papacy was (and still is) moving inexorably toward some preordained end. Most historians today disagree with this approach, and prefer to acknowledge far more contingency: the papacy as an institution has witnessed periods of monumental transformation over its 2000-year history. This course will highlight these developments, place them within their proper historical context, and demonstrate that perhaps no institution has witnessed more change and continuity than the papacy. This course satisfies the interdisciplinary core requirement. (available online)