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COURSE NAME: "The Popes of Rome: History of the Catholic Church"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Summer Session II 2019

INSTRUCTOR: Michael Pettinger
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MTWTH 1:30-3:20 PM

The history of the Catholic church is essentially intertwined with the history of Western Civilization over the past 2,000 years. The aspirations and struggles of Christendom constitute the fabric of the Christian tradition as it unfolds throughout time. This course represents an historical survey of the Church from its primitive beginnings in Jerusalem (c. 33 A.D.) to the Pontificate of John Paul II (1920-2005). The development of the course will trace the major events, ideas and people that went into the shaping of the Western Church, without ignoring the fundamental importance and influence of the doctrine of Jesus Christ regarding the institution he founded.


On March 13, 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was chosen by the College of Cardinals as the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the first non-European pope in almost 1,300 years, and the first member of the Order of Jesus to be elected. Taking the name Francis, he elicited both excitement and anxiety among Catholics. He condemned a global economy that neglects the needs of the poor, drew attention to the urgent challenge of global climate change, and promised a thorough reformation of Church bureaucracy and a more collegial style of governance. Six years into his pontificate, Francis’s impact on the Church and the world is still unclear. His efforts to rethink the Church’s discipline regarding divorce and remarriage met with welcome by some bishops and intense by others. In a number of nations, including the US, continuing revelations regarding sexual abuse committed by clergy and efforts to conceal its extent have created a crisis of confidence among many of the faithful. At least one bishop has called for Francis' resignation.

All of this raises a number of important questions. How much impact can a pope have on the lives of Catholics and non-believers at the beginning of the third millennium? What are the limits of his authority in the spiritual and civil spheres? And just how constrained is any individual pope by the decisions and actions of his predecessors, and how free to innovate in response to changing circumstances?

To try to answer these questions, this course will attempt the impossible task of telling the story of the Roman Papacy. Story is at the heart of papal claims to authority. The Popes claim to represent an unbroken tradition that can be traced back through the apostles Peter and Paul to Jesus Christ. But in order to tell the story of that tradition, from the leaders of a semi-legal religious community in Rome to the accession of Francis, we will have to confront gaps and misrepresentations in the historical evidence, dubious claims to sanctity, slanderous attacks on papal morals, competing claims to the papal throne, astonishing generosity and bare-faced greed, outrageous beauty and orgiastic indulgence, heroic self-sacrifice and cold-blooded murder. At times epic, at other times farce, it is a story that challenges belief and defies the incredulous. 


By the end of this course, students will:

·      work together to write their own history of the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church.

·      in doing so, they will learn the basics of using primary texts as evidence for historical reconstruction; making connections between different pieces of evidence, noting places where that evidence seems faulty, incomplete, or contradictory; posing critical questions; and noting the ways in which the past and present inform each other. 

Book TitleAuthorPublisherISBN numberLibrary Call NumberComments
Keepers of the Keys of Heaven: A History of the Papacy Roger CollinsBasic Books978-0465061822  

Two site-visit reports Each report will be 1000-1500 words long. Details to be discussed in class.10% each report x 2 = 20% of the final grade
Midterm examination Short essay and ID format that will ask for both detailed knowledge on specific topics and synthesis of material from different periods.20% of the final grade
Final examination Short essay and ID format, longer than the midterm exam, that will ask for both detailed knowledge on specific topics and synthesis of material from different periods. This exam will include material from the part of the course preceding the midterm20% of the final grade
Attendance and participation This will be evaluated on preparation and the student’s engagement with the other members of the class. Attendance at all class sessions is mandatory and absence without a valid excuse will result in a lower final grade. Use of laptops, cellphones, and other digital devices is prohibited except when needed for in-class work or when necessary to accommodate a disability. (Requests for such accommodation should be addressed to the Pamela Harris, the Associate Dean of Students.)20% of the final grade
History of the PapacyStudents will work together to construct an online history of the Papacy. Details to be discussed in class.20% of the final grade

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.


Attendance at all class sessions is mandatory and absence without a valid excuse will result in a lower final grade. Use of laptops, cellphones, and other digital devices is prohibited except when needed for in-class work or when necessary to accommodate a disability. (Requests for such accommodation should be addressed to the Pamela Harris, the Associate Dean of Students.)

You cannot make-up a major exam (midterm or final) without the permission of the Dean’s Office. The Dean’s Office will grant such permission only when the absence was caused by a serious impediment, such as a documented illness, hospitalization or death in the immediate family (in which you must attend the funeral) or other situations of similar gravity. Absences due to other meaningful conflicts, such as job interviews, family celebrations, travel difficulties, student misunderstandings or personal convenience, will not be excused. Students who will be absent from a major exam must notify the Dean’s Office prior to that exam. Absences from class due to the observance of a religious holiday will normally be excused. Individual students who will have to miss class to observe a religious holiday should notify the instructor by the end of the Add/Drop period to make prior arrangements for making up any work that will be missed. The final exam period runs until ____________
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.



The following is a schedule of lecture titles with topics that will be touched upon. It is subject to revision, so please be in touch and stay informed.

1.    July 8: Introduction and Searching for Origins: Peter, Paul, Christ

2.    July 9: The Search for Origins: Peter, Paul, Christ

3.    July 10: An Out-Law Church: Fabian, Cornelius, and Stephen I

4.    July 11: When the Emperor Becomes Christian: Sylvester I

5.    July 15: Gregory I

6.    July 16: Turning Westward: Leo III and Nicholas I

7.    July 17: Cadavers and Whores: Stephen VI and John XII

8.    July 18: Popes Reforming and Crusading: Gregory VII and Urban II

9.    July 22: “More than Human, Less than God”: Innocent III (FIRST SITE VISIT REPORT DUE!)

10. July 23: Avignon and Babylon: Boniface VIII, Clement V, and Clement VI

11. July 24: The Papacy Splintered: Urban VI and Gregory XII

12. July 25: MIDPOINT EXAM

13. July 29: Patrons of the Arts and War: Pius II, Alexander VI, and Julius II (Second Site Visit Due!)

14. July 30: Reformed and Unrecognizable: Leo X, Paul III, and Pius V

15. July 31: The Papacy in an Expanding Universe: Urban VIII, Clement XI, and Pius VII

16. Aug 1: The Prince Without a Country: Pius IX and Leo XIII

17. Aug 5: The Problem of Modernism: Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI (Third Site Visit Due!)

18. Aug 6: Wars Hot and Cold: Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI

19. Aug 7: Pilgrim and Scholar: John Paul II and Benedict XVI

20. Aug 8: From Now On: Francis