Kevin Schmeising, director of Catholic History.net and Institute Advisory Board Member, provides a review.
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The challenges of writing a one-volume history of the Catholic Church are many. There are problems of selection (being comprehensive is impossible); of balance (don't hide the warts, but don't focus excessively on them); and of style (an approach that satisfies the professional historian won't satisfy the average reader). Fr. John Vidmar's volume is, overall, the best text that I've found, and it is especially well-suited to the beginning student of the subject. I have confirmed this impression many times over by using it in Catholic adult education classes, to uniformly positive reviews.
Vidmar does not ignore embarrassing or deplorable events in the Catholic Church's past, but he does perform the crucial task of placing all such blemishes in the proper historical context. A survey of this kind must emphasize certain themes to the neglect of others, and Vidmar focuses on controversial episodes such as the crusades and the Church’s relationship with Nazism, a decision that makes sense in a book directed at a popular audience. One of the longest and most thorough discussions concerns the latter topic, a natural area of interest in light of the recurring (and unjust) charges against Pope Pius XII. Other subjects that receive a relatively large amount of attention include the Reformation and the French Revolution.
Where important figures, episodes, or movements do not fit into the main narrative, there are helpful sidebars, photos, and captions. The result is a surprisingly broad, if not terribly deep, coverage of the major points in Church history in a little more than 300 pages.
One minor drawback is that the book was published in 2005 and has not been updated. The pontificate of John Paul II is given short shrift, and there is no discussion of the clergy abuse scandal. Still, it is arguably less important to deal with these matters because they are fresh in the memory of most adult Catholics.
I don't agree with every line of the text, but that is inevitable. Vidmar writes with historical sensitivity, yet never falls into the error of relativism. He defends the Church where necessary, but never veers into triumphalism. His treatments are concise but rarely simplistic. His writing is always accessible, a remarkable achievement for a subject as massive and complex as this. Anyone searching for a brief, trustworthy introduction to the history of the Church need look no further.