The Catholic Church through the Ages: A History

The Catholic Church through the Ages: A History

While there are some excellent church histories available, The Catholic Church through the Ages is the most readable, concise, and, in my opinion, accurate volume I’ve found.

This is a very balanced presentation in contrast to some others that are so pro-Catholic that they present a skewed version of events. Perhaps this is because author Father John Vidmar draws from the work of renowned Catholic historian Christopher Dawson (1889-1970). Araceli Duque writing in an article titled, “The Vision of Christopher Dawson, “ says:

Christopher H. Dawson has been called "the greatest English-speaking Catholic historian of the twentieth century." Despite this, most of his books have been out of print for decades now, and graduate students today are ignorant of his work.

A gifted, eloquent and prolific writer, Dawson wrote more than twenty books and numerous articles on the nature of Christian culture. This topic concerned him so deeply that he considered it his vocation to explore the cultural role of religion, the relationship between Christianity and world cultures, and the specific history and institutions of the Christian religion. As a result of this vast research, he emphasized the need to recover the spiritual tradition at the root of the Western European history. (Duque, “The Vision of Christopher Dawson,” accessed at, March 28, 2016) 

Since most people lack time or commitment to read Christopher Dawson’s works, Father Vidmar has given us a worthy substitute that will likely reach a much broader audience. Following Dawson’s example, Vidmar divides his presentation into six sections representing six ages of the church from about 30 AD to the present. Although it has a 2005 copyright, treatment of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI is brief.

Like Dawson, Vidmar strives to help his audience understand how things came about, and even why things are the way they are today. He does this by going beyond the surface of events to look at the personalities and historical currents, the clashes and conflicts that produced significant changes.

This is a surprisingly comprehensive history for a volume this size—about 350 pages. While there are a few black-and-white illustrations, this is not a heavily illustrated book. Even though it is very readable, it has the hallmarks of an academic work: footnotes (as chapter endnotes) and annotated recommended reading lists as well as an index and selected bibliography. In fact, I discovered it listed as the text for a University of Dayton Church History course.

Over the past few years, I have had a number of people ask for a recommendation of a good Catholic church history that isn’t a multi-volume work , and I am pleased to now have a very worthy book to recommend.

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