“Timeless: A History of the Catholic Church” by Steve Weidenkopf. Our Sunday Visitor (Huntington, Indiana, 2019). 573 pp, $19.95.
By Brian T. Olszewski
When a book has more than 500 pages, more than 1,000 footnotes and a 10-page bibliography, it would be a disservice to call it an introduction. Consider “Timeless” the equivalent of at least a two-semester college overview course in Catholic Church history that touches upon key movements, events and people.
Throughout the text, author Steve Weidenkopf educates readers about the multiple “isms” that the church has confronted at various times in its life, e.g., Donatism, Arianism, Nestorianism, modernism, etc. While each of the “isms” is a study unto itself, the author provides enough explanation for readers to grasp the significance of each movement.
Those possessing some familiarity about the Crusades, the Inquisitions — Roman and Spanish — and the multiple councils that met to settle disputes within the church will appreciate the attention Weidenkopf gives to each. He not only provides the what, but he explains the why.
“Timeless” is filled with saints and heroes (St. Boniface and St. John Paul II), sinners and villains (Julian the Apostate and Queen Elizabeth I), common folk and royalty (King Louis IX). Noteworthy is that Weidenkopf does not sanitize the martyrdom of the named and unnamed Catholics who were killed rather than abandoning their faith. In describing the tortures they suffered, followed by being “hanged, drawn and quartered,” the author provides readers with a reality check of what is involved in martyrdom.
Do not expect a quick read. Digesting names, dates and events deserves and requires time and attention if one is to grasp the church’s massive history. Some parts might need to be reread — not because they are poorly written, but because they contain so much material.
Obviously, one cannot detail in one book, even one of this length, everything and everyone in Catholicism’s history. However, “Timeless” provides a solid foundation, an education really, that is an interest-whetting text for all who wish to learn church history and, equally important, delve into parts of it or all of it.
If there is one shortcoming in an otherwise excellent volume, it is that no mention is made of the clergy sexual abuse crisis that is a significant part of the universal church’s history. Since Weidenkopf writes about the future of the church, the effect of the clergy sexual abuse crisis and how it will be addressed should have been noted.
Nonetheless, this is an important book for Catholics. In the introduction, the author states that “learning church history from an authentic Catholic perspective should produce a deeper personal identity with the church.” “Timeless” provides readers with that opportunity for learning.
Brian T. Olszewski is the editor of The Catholic Virginian, newspaper of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia.