The Irony of Modern Catholic History

How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform


By George Weigel

Formats and Prices




$24.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 17, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A powerful new interpretation of Catholicism’s dramatic encounter with modernity, by one of America’s leading intellectuals

Throughout much of the nineteenth century, both secular and Catholic leaders assumed that the Church and the modern world were locked in a battle to the death. The triumph of modernity would not only finish the Church as a consequential player in world history; it would also lead to the death of religious conviction. But today, the Catholic Church is far more vital and consequential than it was 150 years ago. Ironically, in confronting modernity, the Catholic Church rediscovered its evangelical essence. In the process, Catholicism developed intellectual tools capable of rescuing the imperiled modern project.

A richly rendered, deeply learned, and powerfully argued account of two centuries of profound change in the church and the world, The Irony of Modern Catholic History reveals how Catholicism offers twenty-first century essential truths for our survival and flourishing.


Explore book giveaways, sneak peeks, deals, and more.

Tap here to learn more.

Act One

Against Modernity

A Problematic Patrimony

THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN Catholicism and modernity is such a complex business that it’s often useful analytically to subdivide it along different lines of inquiry: the Church’s relationship to the demise of the traditional political order and the rise of new forms of government (including, but not limited to, democracy); the Church’s relationship to the passing of the traditional cultural order (the displacement of metaphysics at the center of Western intellectual life and the rise of the scientific method as the dominant paradigm of knowledge); the Church’s relationship to the transformation of traditional society into new forms of community (including new forms of economic life).

But however the question is parsed, one determinative factor remains a constant. The often tense, even violent, relationship between Catholicism and modernity in the first eight decades of the nineteenth century was bound up with the fact that the pope was the absolute monarch of a Class C European power, the Papal States, whose territory covered a swath of central Italy from south of Rome to just south of Venice. That was the mega-issue.

Cultural and intellectual modernity certainly challenged the then regnant forms of Catholic intellectual life. The modern “social question” posed by the Industrial Revolution and the rise of an urban proletariat eventually compelled a new Catholic appraisal of modern economic life and its impacts on society. But it was the challenge of political modernity that was immediate and urgent for the two principal players in the first act of this drama, Pope Gregory XVI (1832–1846) and Pope Pius IX (1846–1878). As they saw it, the papacy was inextricably bound to the pope’s temporal sovereignty over the Papal States; to challenge that sovereignty threatened the very existence of the papacy; and by threatening the papacy as they understood it, political modernity threatened the Catholic Church as they understood it. This bottom-line conviction, which seems odd to a twenty-first-century mind, takes a bit of explaining.

The Holy See—the juridical embodiment of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome as universal pastor of the Catholic Church—had been recognized for centuries as having legal, and thus diplomatic, personality. Long before the modern nation-state existed, the Holy See exchanged embassies and other forms of diplomatic representation with other sovereign actors: kings, and so forth. As subsequent history proved, the Holy See could exercise its unique form of sovereignty—and thus the pope could maintain the independence from all earthly sovereignties essential for his mission and ministry—from a tiny parcel of land. That was not how Gregory XVI and Pius IX saw things, however. The complex history of the Papal States is a fascinating story in its own right, involving such piquant characters as “the Warrior Pope,” Julius II, patron (and bane) of Michelangelo. But it need not detain us here. The key point to grasp is that both Gregory XVI and Pius IX saw in political modernity—meaning representative, constitutional government and limited executive authority—a profound threat: first to papal authority within the Papal States, and later to the existence of the Papal States themselves. And to their minds, that threat was fraught with dire implications for the entire Catholic Church.

THERE WERE OTHER issues and events in play here, and they revolved around that complicated affair known as the Enlightenment. The Catholic Church of the nineteenth century (and the first half of the twentieth, for that matter) paid very little attention to the Anglosphere, and to the ways in which the English and Scottish Enlightenments created forms of political modernity quite different from those that were born from the French or Continental Enlightenment. From the point of view of Gregory XVI and Pius IX, which is what concerns us in Act One of this drama, “the Enlightenment” primarily meant the radical skepticism of Voltaire and other influential thinkers, which meant the French Revolution, which meant the “Civil Constitution of the Clergy,” which meant the complete subordination of the Church to the French regime, which meant the Terror, the suppression of the monarchist Catholic revolt in the Vendée, the martyrdoms memorialized in Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites, and all the rest of that bloody business.

Nor was the Church’s experience in France unique. For throughout continental Europe, the formation of the modern nation-state was typically undertaken against the Catholic Church. Two examples were the Italian Risorgimento, a deeply anticlerical affair, and the Bismarckian Kulturkampf, an attack on the Church that went (iron-fisted) hand-in-glove with the Iron Chancellor’s assembly of the Second Reich and his early management of the new imperial Germany. As if that were not enough, there was the Catholic experience of “enlightened” monarchy in the Hapsburg lands (where Emperor Joseph understood the Church as a “department of [the] police”); there were recurrent anticlerical agitations in Spain and Portugal; and the 1834 Articles of Baden tried to separate Swiss Catholics from the authority of Rome. As post-Enlightenment Europe oscillated between revolution and restoration, until a measure of stability was established after the Franco-Prussian War of 1869–1870, the Catholic Church remained firmly in the crosshairs of European governments of various ideological stripes.

Europe in the nineteenth century also experienced the beginning of a secularization process that would eventually overwhelm most of the western portion of the continent in the twentieth century and early twenty-first. The nineteenth-century process involved a kaleidoscope of social and intellectual changes and their effects, ranging from the dismantling of the old political regimes to the emergence of an urban proletariat to the conceptual revolutions underway in science, history, and philosophy. This was also the period in which the phenomenon that Henri de Lubac dubbed “atheistic humanism” emerged to dismiss the God of the Bible as a tyrannical shackler of human freedom and a severe obstacle to humanity’s maturation. In the minds of many, if not all, senior Catholic leaders, though, the decline of religious practice in nineteenth-century Europe came down to two factors: Enlightenment thought and the Industrial Revolution. The former, coupled with the triumph of the scientific method as the model of all true knowledge, resulted in what Max Weber would describe as a disenchantment of the world and a contempt for religious belief among elites; the latter uprooted millions from the rural environments their families had known for centuries and from the pieties that had given meaning to life in peasant societies. Like Matthew Arnold, institutional Catholicism’s nineteenth-century leaders heard the retreat of the “Sea of Faith” and its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar”; they, too, felt themselves on a “darkling plain / swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight / where ignorant armies clash by night.” And for most of the first eight decades of the nineteenth century, the men at the tiller of the Barque of Peter had little or no idea what to do about all that, except to resist it and say, time and again, “No.”

ABOVE ALL, HOWEVER, and always lurking in the background, there was the threat to the Papal States, which Gregory XVI and Pius IX thought a threat to the very existence of the Catholic Church. Their fear now seems to us overwrought: Why should these men imagine that being sovereign rulers over a chunk of the middle of Italy was essential to their functioning as universal pastors of the Catholic Church? But from their point of view, their sovereignty of the Papal States was bedrock, for it touched what they believed was their religious obligation before God as well as their political position in Italy, Europe, and indeed around the world. That conviction should always be kept in mind as essential background to the story that follows in this first act of the drama: the story of Catholicism’s rejection of so much of the modern project in the mid-nineteenth century, and the often frustrated attempts by some Catholic reformers to find a path beyond intransigent rejectionism.

That story begins, as so much of modern history does, with the French Revolution.


Le Déluge

CATHOLICISM IN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY Europe was in a weak position to resist, or even temper, le déluge foreseen by the Sun King, Louis XIV: the historical tsunami of the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the struggle to remake Europe after 1815.

The popes of the day were not corrupt men, as several of their Renaissance predecessors had been. Some were pious and ascetical; others were great patrons of scholarship and the arts, rebuilding Rome through their benefactions. But with the exception of the scholarly Benedict XIV (1740–1758), who corresponded with Voltaire, they were not equipped by training, experience, or inclination to comprehend, much less engage, Enlightenment thought.

Throughout Europe, the spiritual and moral authority of the Church was eroding, thanks in part to a vast array of riches and privileges—and the suspicion, fostered by the Church’s Enlightenment critics, that the entire ecclesiastical enterprise was propped up by an untoward alliance between altar and throne. Many clergy did little or no pastoral work, yet lived well off ancient benefices. Monastic life was often more a comfortable sinecure than an ascetic vocation. There were exceptions to this clerical decadence and corruption, but the hard fact remained that the Catholic Church was closely identified with the privileges of the old regimes in the ancient states where Catholicism predominated.

Moreover, Catholic intellectual life had become desultory at precisely the moment when Europe began to cross that fiery brook on the far side of which lay religious-conviction-as-personal-decision rather than cultural inheritance. The Church had also lost the sharp, mission-driven evangelical edge that characterized the best parts of Counter-Reformation Catholicism in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The fiasco of the Chinese Rites controversy, in which an imaginative approach to the evangelization of a non-European culture—the transposition of traditional Chinese religious practices into a Christian key—was squashed in 1704 by Roman bullheadedness, demonstrated just how dulled the Church leadership’s imagination had become.

These weaknesses are one reason why the French Revolution and its aftermath shook European Catholicism, which then accounted for well over one-half of the world Church, to its foundations. Within a few tumultuous and bloody years, France, Europe’s largest Catholic country, was at war with itself, and its new revolutionary leadership was at war with the Church. When the armies of France sought to extend the revolution (and French hegemony) throughout Europe, the Catholic position in Germany, the Netherlands, and the Italian Peninsula was gravely compromised.

In its first decade or so, revolutionary France sought to make the Catholic Church a ward and instrument of the state, after failing to eradicate the Church in the Revolution’s most violent early periods. As would be the case with twentieth-century totalitarianisms, the proto-totalitarians of the guillotine first sought to destroy monastic life: seizing monasteries and convents; forbidding anyone from taking the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience that defined consecrated life; and dissolving all religious orders and communities not involved in educating the young or caring for the sick—those aspects of consecrated life the new French state deemed useful. Finally, in August 1792, even the “useful” communities were dissolved by legislative fiat.

The parish clergy and the normal religious life of the people were not spared. At the same time as all consecrated life was shut down, the French Assembly ordered the sale of whatever Church administrative properties remained in ecclesiastical hands, forbade the wearing of religious habits in public, banned religious processions in Paris—and shortly afterward ordered that all priests loyal to Rome be deported. A few weeks later, in September 1792, the three hundred priests and three bishops who had been languishing in Parisian prisons were massacred. Several thousand priests risked their lives to remain in France and minister to their flocks, but more than thirty thousand fled. Those who remained had to function without any institutional support.

After the “Thermidor” period had cooled the bloodiest revolutionary ardor, the situation eased a bit and some clergy returned from exile. But the French Church was now divided between those who had submitted to the demands of the revolutionary regime and those who had resisted or fled. The “eldest daughter of the Church” was in critical condition, which had an effect throughout Europe, given the influence that this largest of local Churches in Europe had exercised. And as revolutionary France sought to extend its power (and, theoretically, its ideals) throughout the continent by force of arms, the issue of the Papal States and the pope’s temporal sovereignty came into play yet again.

GIOVANNI ANGELO BRASCHI, whom history would know as Pope Pius VI, was not the man to deal with this crisis, the greatest the Catholic Church had faced since the cataclysm of the sixteenth-century Reformations.

Born into the minor nobility in 1717, he was elected pope in 1775: a compromise candidate after a conclave that lasted four and a half months and was dominated by the question of what should be done about the suppression of the Jesuits by his predecessor, Clement XIV. Pius VI was a handsome man (and vain of it) who devoted time and resources to his building programs, including the Trevi Fountain and a colossal new sacristy for St. Peter’s. His twenty-four-year-long pontificate was marked by conflicts with Joseph II of Austria: the Emperor sought to subordinate the Church to the enlightened, autocratic state; the Pope futilely tried to persuade him to reverse the policy. Bishops in Germany and Italy declared their independence from the papacy, and Pius seemed incapable of responding with anything more than documents condemning their ideas. Something of his barnacle-encrusted cast of mind (and that of those who served him in Rome) can be gleaned from the tack taken by the Holy See when a bishop had to be appointed in the newborn United States. Inquiries were made to Benjamin Franklin, then the U.S. ambassador in Paris: What did the American government have to say about this? Nothing, Franklin replied, to the papal representative’s astonishment.

Pius VI’s initial attitude toward the upheavals that began in France with the storming of the Bastille was cautious. But when the clergy were compelled in 1791 to take an oath of allegiance to the new revolutionary regime, he suspended the priests and bishops who complied with the directive from their functions, then doubled down by condemning, retrospectively, the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen; as a result, the French Church was split in two. Pius VI’s struggle with the Revolution came to a brutal end when Napoleon, in the name of the French Directory, invaded the Papal States in 1796, forcing the Pope to sign an abject surrender of most of his territories. After a French general was killed during a Roman riot, the Directory ordered the seizure of the remainder of the Papal States, and in February 1798 the French general Louis Berthier proclaimed the Roman Republic. Pius, gravely ill, was eventually kidnapped by French troops. After a painful journey from Florence to Turin and across the Alps into France, he was imprisoned in a fortress in Valence, where he died on August 29, 1799—and was left unburied for months before his embalmed remains were interred in a grave marked “Citizen Braschi.”

The heroic way he faced his kidnapping and exile somewhat mitigated the extravagances, vanities, and failures of the first two decades of his pontificate. And Pius VI left behind a surprise for those who imagined that, with his death and burial in exile, the papacy had been consigned to the dustbin of history. For in 1797 and 1798, knowing that a conclave in Rome would likely be impossible while the city was under French occupation, he had made provisions for an emergency situation: the senior cardinal who survived him should convene a conclave, in a safe place of that cardinal’s choosing, to elect his successor.


Lost Opportunity

ON CHRISTMAS DAY, 1797, the bishop of Imola in the Cisalpine Republic (one of the new French protectorates that included parts of the Papal States) preached a remarkable sermon. Democracy and the Gospel were not incompatible, taught Cardinal Luigi Barnabà Chiaramonte, a Benedictine monk and former theology professor; God favored no particular form of government, and there was no reason why a Catholic couldn’t be a loyal citizen of a democracy. But democratic self-governance required a virtuous citizenry, and the deepest meaning of freedom and equality could be learned from Christ and the Gospel. This same Cardinal Chiaramonte used stationery inscribed with an interesting variant on the motto of revolutionary France: “Liberty, Equality, and Peace in Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Napoleon Bonaparte pronounced himself happy with the cardinal’s Christmas sermon: “The Citizen Cardinal of Imola,” he remarked, “preaches like a Jacobin.” Cardinal Chiaramonte was no Jacobin, and Napoleon would soon enough turn on the man he had praised. But Chiaramonte was open-minded and able, and had Napoleon been less an aggressor, the drama of Catholicism-and-modernity might have taken a different course.

THE CONCLAVE TO elect a successor to Pius VI was held in Venice, with the roiling politics of revolutionary Europe foremost in the thirty-five cardinal-electors’ minds. Fourteen weeks of deadlock were exacerbated by several European powers exercising their long-claimed right of tacit or overt veto in papal elections (a practice that continued throughout the nineteenth century and was only abolished after the conclave of 1903). Finally, a compromise was arranged, and, with one dissenting vote (his own), the unanimous choice fell on Cardinal Chiaramonte. Taking the name Pius VII, he quickly appointed as his secretary of state the man who had organized the conclave, Ercole Consalvi. It was an inspired choice. Consalvi, a conservative reformer who would likely have found himself in considerable agreement with Edmund Burke about the sane management of political modernity, combined intelligence and devotion to the Holy See with diplomatic flexibility and a shrewdness in reading political situations. He was named cardinal in August 1800 (although, curiously enough, Consalvi was never ordained priest or bishop, and was only ordained a deacon in December 1801).

The new pontificate’s first order of business was to try to settle the Church’s affairs in France, and Cardinal Consalvi was dispatched to Paris to negotiate a concordat with Napoleon, a virtual dictator by this time. Once, when the aggressive French leader asked Consalvi if it were not true that “all Italians are thieves and liars,” the papal ambassador is said to have stopped the bully in his tracks with a brilliant pun on Napoleon’s surname: No, he replied, “soltanto la buona parte [just the greater part].” Napoleon was impressed, describing the mild-mannered Consalvi as “a lion in sheep’s clothes.”

The negotiation was difficult, but the resulting Concordat of 1801 had something in it for both parties. Pius VII recognized the Republic as the legitimate government of France, while the Republic, maintaining its commitment to no Church establishment, nevertheless acknowledged Catholicism as the religion of the majority of the French people. The French Church was reorganized: Napoleon essentially abandoned the “Constituent Church” that had formed in opposition to Rome, and Pius VII requested the resignations of the Old Regime bishops, so that the entire French episcopate could be re-created. Concessions were made to the government in the appointment of bishops, but the bishops could only be invested in their offices, and thus function, by authority of the pope. The laity were once again permitted to make financial gifts to the Church, and the state agreed to pay the salaries of bishops and priests as partial compensation for the nationalization of Church properties. The Concordat dramatically and paradoxically strengthened papal authority over French Catholicism, which had long chafed under the Roman bridle and had not infrequently toyed with schemes of a national Church that came to be known, wherever they appeared, as “Gallicanism.”

But within nine months, Napoleon tightened state control over the Church by unilaterally appending implementing articles to the Concordat, and the relationship between Napoleon and Pius deteriorated from there—despite the Pope’s willingness to travel to France to participate in Napoleon’s coronation as emperor (during which Napoleon famously refused to be crowned by the Pope, but took the crowns from the altar to crown himself and the Empress Josephine). The new emperor evidently expected Pius VII to act as a kind of court chaplain, blessing his military adventures. When Pius declined the role, French troops once again occupied Rome, and Napoleon annexed the remainder of the Papal States. After excommunicating “the robbers of Peter’s patrimony,” Pius was arrested and held incommunicado in Savona, in northern Italy, before being transferred as a prisoner to Fontainebleau, outside Paris. There, in poor health and under intense pressure, he signed an abject “Concordat of Fontainebleau” in which, among other things, he implicitly surrendered his sovereignty over the Papal States. Within two months, however, he rallied and renounced what he had signed. A year later, in March 1814, Napoleon, who was in serious trouble on the battlefield, released Pius, who reentered Rome. When Napoleon escaped his exile on Elba the following year, Pius fled to Genoa before returning, at last and for good, to the Vatican in June 1815—a week before what the Duke of Wellington called that “damned near-run thing,” the Battle of Waterloo, ended Napoleon’s sanguinary career.

AT THE CONGRESS of Vienna, which redrew the political map of Europe in 1814–1815, Cardinal Consalvi deftly negotiated the restoration of virtually the entire Papal States. In the aftermath of that diplomatic triumph, he and Pius VII instituted internal reforms while they sought to rebuild the Church in those parts of Europe shattered by revolutionary upheaval and the Napoleonic Wars. Pius’s suffering in captivity had drawn widespread sympathy, and his generosity in offering Roman refuge to Napoleon’s relatives after the French emperor’s fall enhanced his reputation as a man of courage and decency. Insofar as he and Consalvi were able, they tried to “fit” the papacy into the post–ancien régime world, although they were opposed by both Catholic proponents of full-blown restoration and secularists who could only imagine the Church as the enemy of progress. The papacy was held in low regard at the time of Pius VII’s election in 1800. When he died in 1823, the Office of Peter was beginning to seem like a moral authority supported by popular sentiment and respect.

Yet the pontificate of Pius VII remains something of a “What if?” Given the position Cardinal Chiaramonte had taken at Christmas 1797, his election as pope might have resulted in a new Catholic engagement with political modernity. But Napoleon’s determination to bring the Church to heel, which led to his brutal persecution of the Pope, prevented that outcome—and suggested to some influential Roman prelates the impossibility of any Catholic rapprochement with the new regimes. After the Congress of Vienna brought a measure of order to a traumatized Europe, the stage was set for a papal alignment with the forces of restoration. Those forces seemed to Pius VII’s two successors, Leo XII (1823–1829) and Pius VIII (1829–1830), to be the guarantors of political stability, as well as of the pope’s own position as a sovereign-among-sovereigns.


Missionary and Reactionary

THE CONCLAVE OF 1830 was another drawn-out business. After more than seven weeks of failure and a political veto cast by Spain, the electors finally settled on Cardinal Bartolomeo Alberto Cappellari, who had taken the religious name “Mauro” on entering the strictest of Benedictine orders, the Camaldolese, in 1783, when he was eighteen. The election of the man who chose the regnal name Gregory XVI was supported by the zelanti (zealots), those cardinals who wanted religious reform coupled with a rejection of liberal politics. That Cappellari was also the preferred candidate of the Austrian proponent of postrevolutionary restoration, Klemens von Metternich, suggested the tack he would take toward political modernity during his papacy.

Pope Gregory’s sixteen-year pontificate included initiatives that might not be immediately expected from someone whose politics were unashamedly reactionary. He supported the reform of religious orders and the creation of new ones. He condemned slavery and the slave trade. His artistic and archaeological interests helped revivify ancient Rome and make it accessible to both scholars and visitors, and he created new museums devoted to Etruscan and Egyptian art in the Vatican.

He was also a strong proponent of Catholic missionary activity, having served as prefect of the Vatican’s missionary agency, Propaganda Fide, for four years prior to his election. Gregory XVI created seventy new dioceses and vicariates apostolic (mission territories preparing to be fully erected dioceses) all over the world and named some two hundred bishops for the missions. Most boldly, given the attitudes (and politics) of the day, he insisted on the development of a native clergy in mission territories, where the colonial powers had long been accustomed to maintaining control of the Church through importing clergy from the “old country.” He also defied the Spanish and Portuguese governments in the matter of appointing bishops within their colonial territories, challenging both imperial power and racism.

AT THE HEIGHT of Pius VI’s travails in 1799, Fra Mauro Cappellari had published a tome whose title signaled the claims he would later press as pope: The Triumph of the Holy See and the Church Against the Attacks of the Innovators


  • "As with all Weigel's writing, this story is well told-richly illustrated with lively anecdotes, cogent summaries of complex ideas, and revealing quotations."—National Review
  • "Weigel advances a bold but credible interpretation of almost 200 years of ecclesiastical history, tracing the Church's engagement with modernity from the 19th century through today.... Weigel's ideas are certainly worth serious examination. Highly recommended."—National Catholic Register
  • "A fascinating look at the Catholic Church's encounter with modernity...Weigel is at once highly intellectual and thoroughly accessible as a writer as well as balanced and opinionated...A must-read book for Catholics and devotees of religious history."—Kirkus (starred review)
  • "George Weigel is the most interesting and authoritative American scholar and analyst of the Roman Catholic Church...[His] book is intended to refute the common notion that Catholicism has resisted modernity consistently and mostly ineffectively and has suffered as a consequence of its stubborn refusal to 'change with the times.' The truth, Weigel shows, is much more complicated than that."—New York Journal of Books
  • "[An] important new work...St. Teresa of Avila had it right when she said that 'God writes straight with crooked lines.' George Weigel's The Irony of Modern Catholic History traces those crooked lines in modern church history."—Washington Times
  • "A comprehensive interpretation of the history of the Catholic Church's encounter with modernity...This story is well told."—First Things
  • "Weigel ranks among the leading Christian public intellectuals of the past four decades. Stylistically, The Irony of Modern Catholic History is a pleasure to read. But the easy style disguises the fact that it's also an exercise in superb historical scholarship, from the reactionary Pope Gregory XVI in the mid-19th century, through the Modernist crisis and Vatican II, to the present."—Crisis Magazine
  • "Compelling...Weigel has a great eye for facts that raise eyebrows and provoke reflection...[He] is also a high-calibre phrasemaker."—Catholic Herald (UK)
  • "Weigel ranks among the leading Christian public intellectuals of the past four decades. Stylistically, The Irony of Modern Catholic History is a pleasure to read. But the easy style disguises the fact that it's also an exercise in superb historical scholarship, from the reactionary Pope Gregory XVI in the mid-19th century, through the Modernist crisis and Vatican II, to the present."—Catholic Philly
  • "This deeply learned and crisply written book reaffirms George Weigel's status as the preeminent American Catholic intellectual of our time. Weigel recasts recent history to show how we owe much of what is best and most noble in modernity to Catholicism and why, even in this season of ecclesial despair, Catholics have sound reasons to be hopeful."—Sohrab Ahmari, author of From Fire, By Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith
  • "Weigel has an eye for a good story. Whether discussing the affairs of popes and princes, of conclaves and concordats, he seems always to come up with a telling anecdote or witty utterance to brighten the historical account. For a lively and informative overview from the 18th century to the present, The Irony of Modern Catholic History is the book to read."—Robert Louis Wilken, William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity at the University of Virginia
  • "George Weigel is deeply learned and passionately engaged -- one of the important intellectual assets of the 21st century Catholic Church. His book is fascinating and visionary."—Lance Morrow
  • "George Weigel's sweeping account of 150 years of Catholic history challenges the long-held assumption made by traditionalists, progressives, many historians, and mainstream media that secular modernity has always been the prime mover, forcing the Church to either resist or accommodate it. In reframing the narrative with the church as the creative protagonist in this drama, Weigel describes how the encounter with modernity led to the renewal of the church's gospel-centered mission in its third millennium, and suggests that the church might redirect -- indeed, redeem--the modern project itself."—Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, University of Notre Dame
  • "The Irony of Modern Catholic History advances a bold new interpretation of the Church and modernity with characteristic authority, deep erudition, and literary panache. It is the latest reminder among many that George Weigel is unrivaled not only as a Catholic intellectual, but as an intellectual, period."—Mary Eberstadt, senior research fellow, Faith and Reason Institute, and author of Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics

On Sale
Sep 17, 2019
Page Count
336 pages
Basic Books

George Weigel

About the Author

George Weigel is a distinguished senior fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center. The first volume of his biography of Pope John Paul II, Witness to Hope, was a New York Times bestseller, and his writing appears in a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal. He lives in North Bethesda, Maryland.

Learn more about this author