Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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May 2007 — Vol. XIII, no. 5


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1) Book reviews:

a) Bishop George Bell. A portrait in letters
b) Protestants in East Germany
c) Munro, Hitler's Bavarian Antagonist
d) Theologie und Vergangenheitsbewältigung

2) Book chapter: Mensing, A Lutheran pastor's resistance
3) Archive Note: The Vatican archives
4) Journal article, Coppa, Papal biographies

1) Book reviews:

a) Peter Raina, Bishop George Bell. The greatest Churchman. A portrait in Letters, London: Churches together in Britain and Ireland 2006, 377 pp. ISBN 085169 332 6

It is now generally acknowledged that Bishop George Bell of Chichester was one of the foremost protagonists of the Church of England in the first half of the last century. His leadership in the Ecumenical Movement, resulting in the establishment of the World Council of Churches, his championing of the anti-Nazi forces in the German Evangelical Church, his sympathetic assistance to refugees, interned aliens and pacifists, his resolute calls for moderation in war aims or the practice of aerial bombing, were all notable achievements. They led to the recognition that here was a churchman who rightly insisted that the policies of governments should be brought to the bar of moral conscience, and that the Church should take a leading role in raising public and political ethical issues.

Unfortunately Bell died shortly after leaving office in 1958, and so never wrote his autobiography. But he left behind a meticulously arranged archive. consisting of the thousands of letters he wrote or received during his long life of ministry in the church. His authorized biographer, Canon Ronald Jasper, used many of these letters but rarely quoted them in full. His well-received account appeared in 1967, but has never been republished. Forty years later, Peter Raina, who is obviously a great admirer of Bell's character and witness, has now compiled a further selection of Bell's letters, both in print and facsimile, which provide a closer picture of the bishop's activities, all the more since we are given the full texts to read. Necessarily his choice has to be limited. Principally he covers Bell's involvement with the German Evangelical Church after the rise of Hitler, his contacts with German representatives during the war, and his struggle with the British government over war aims and the proposed treatment of Germany after victory was achieved.

In these endeavours, Bell's main contacts were with a Swiss church leader, Alfons Koechlin, and with two Germans, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his brother-in-law, Gerhard Leibholz, a lawyer, who was forced into exile and came to England with Bell's help in 1938. These three men's letters provide Bell with information and advice about the German church, and about the political scene, which was of the utmost value to Bell in the formation of his own views, and in the preparation of his numerous and outspoken speeches and public utterances.

Peter Raina does not tell us that many of the letters he quotes have already been published before. In fact, the very extensive correspondence between Bell and Koechlin for the period 1933-1954 was first published in German by a Swiss publisher in 1969, while his exchanges with Leibholz - although all written in English - are to be found, translated into German, in the book An der Schwelle zum gespaltenen Europa. Der Briefwechsel zwischen George Bell und Gerhard Leibholz (1939-1951), which appeared in Berlin in 1974. Bonhoeffer's letters to the bishop and his replies are included in full in Bonhoeffer's collected works, of which the relevant volume in English translation will appear shortly.

Raina's selection of Bell's letters is accompanied by an excellent commentary, filling in the history principally of the German Church Struggle. Bell's concern was aroused early on by the machination of the so-called "German Christian" party seeking to impose its pro-Nazi views on the whole church, and by the suppression of alternative opinions. Already in June 1933 Bell was writing to the Times to express his concern and alarm - the first of many such missives. Since Bell also held the chairmanship of the Universal Christian Council for Life and Work, he felt an obligation to his international partners to alert them to the dangers of these German developments. Bonhoeffer was at this point a close and valued advisor. Both he and Koechlin gave Bell suggestions as to how he could use his position to good effect. By discreet interventions with the political authorities, Bell was able to achieve some modification of the repressive actions taken against the dissenting pastors in the German Evangelical Church.

The outbreak of hostilities in 1939 of course greatly distressed Bell. His hopes that Germany's nationalist passions, as aroused by Adolf Hitler, would not lead to another disastrous war, were now proved illusory. But he became equally concerned lest the same passions might lead in Britain to a climate of hatred of everything German. His letters reflect his valiant campaign to draw a distinction between the Nazi regime and the German people. He went on believing that the "good Germans" were only being intimidated by their evil Nazi masters. He was therefore enormously encouraged by his final meeting with Bonhoeffer in Sweden in May 1942. when he was give the details about the German resistance movement, and about the proposal to overthrow Hitler and his entourage. He hoped that he could get the British government to issue a statement of war aims which would encourage these resistance plotters. But Churchill and Eden refused. And the subsequent failure of the 20 July 1944 conspiracy, and the execution of so many of those taking part, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was a profound grief.

The facsimile reproduction of letters to and from Bell gives this volume an attractive immediacy. Raina's selection and interpretation is sound, though not novel. But at a time when other issues threaten to supersede the events of two generations ago, it is certainly most helpful to have this compilation to show us how Bishop Bell played a significant, responsible and highly valued part in the public life of the Church of England during his long career.


b) Protestants in East Germany (This review appeared first in The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Vol 58 no.1, 2007)

Christliche Frauen in der DDR. Alltagsdokumente einer Diktatur in Interviews. By Sonja Ackermann. Pp. 376. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2005. ?19.80. 3 374 02325 8.

Gratwanderungen einer Freikirche im totalitären Regime. Die Gemeinschaft der Siebenten-Tags-Adventisten in der DDR von 1945 bis 1990. By Manfred B÷ttcher. (Friedensauer Schriftenreihe Reihe B Gesellschaftswissenschaften, Band 9). Pp. 220. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2006. £25.50. 3 631 54797 8; 0947 2339.

Der Protestantismus im Osten Deutschlands (1945-1999). By Rudolf Mau. (Kirchengeschichte in Einzeldarstellungen IV/3). Pp. 248 incl. 2 maps. Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2005. ?28. 3 374 02319 3.

The three books reviewed here all deal with the experience of Christians in eastern German dictatorship from 1945 to the implosion of the German Democratic Republic in 1990. The book by Sonja Ackermann may well appeal to adherents of oral history. It is a study based upon 97 interviews carried out with Christian women between 1999 and 2001. Excerpts from these interviews (taken from four typescript volumes being held by the Archiv der Kommission für Zeitgeschichte in Bonn) are presented systematically, not chronologically. There are virtually no dates, place names or personal names in the text. The focus appears to be on life in the early phase of the GDR and, in particular, on the Christian experience in schools and the Communist youth organisations. There are sections dealing with workplace experiences, parental perspectives, elections and conscientious objectors. In each chapter a number of quotes are presented, then paraphrased and commented upon. For slow learners the main points are summarised again at the end of each chapter. A good many quotes are repeated verbatim elsewhere in the text (though not necessarily with the same punctuation). As a result this reviewer found the book a rather tedious read. The book purports to be a 'history of resistance' to a dictatorial system of government, yet the author's definition of 'resistance' is rather weak. Many of the interviewees record how their complaints and petitions to the authorities actually led to the rescinding of allegedly anti-Christian decisions - for example, excellent pupils being told they would not be able to take their Abitur. In a surprising number of cases parental protests seem to have brought about changes. As a result the anecdotes provide some interesting glimpses at the unofficial side of life in the GDR and, if anything, cast doubt on the 'totalitarian' nature of East German socialism. For every girl who was kept back from joining the Young Pioneers or from taking part in the youth dedication rite, there were ninety-nine children whose future studies and careers were not jeopardised by such 'resistance' to state policy. Indeed, from the evidence Ankermann presents, it is clear that not a few church-going teachers and headmasters were zealous collaborators of the regime. There remains the question of the historical value of the anonymous and subjective recollection of events that took place thirty, forty or even fifty years prior to an interview. It was not Ankermann's goal to verify any of the accounts she analyses.

Equally subjective in the treatment of events if Manfred B÷ttcher's study of the balancing acts forced upon one section of the Christian population: Seventh Day Adventists. His book is not really a scholarly history, but rather a personal account of life as a free churchman seeking to come to terms with government by atheists. Bttcher, president of the Seventh Day Adventist community in the GDR from 1969 until 1982 and then director of its seminary in Friedensau, has written a poorly structured book. At least he warns the reader in his introduction that repetition could not be avoided. A chronological table provides some clarity about historical developments. Whereas Ackermann provides very little background information on the GDR for the reader, B÷ttcher errs in providing too much. Where detail would have been welcome (on Adventist theology, the history of Adventism in Germany, particularly with regard to Church-State issues) B÷ttcher either fails to deliver or relegates material to a footnote. It is unfortunate that only a handful of archival sources have been exploited by the author. The tone is often apologetic and at times devotional, even propagandistic. B÷ttcher is bold enough to proclaim that the Adventist free church had never been guilty (as had, say, the mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches) of accommodating itself too easily to, let alone currying favour with the regime. Yet he has to admit that the East German security services managed to infiltrate their ranks. B÷ttcher makes it clear that, as a matter of principle, Adventists did not consider resistance or even criticism of government policy to be amongst their God-given tasks.

This was not the position taken by the institutional embodiments of mainstream Protestantism in the GDR. For those without the energy to plough through the three volumes penned by Gerhard Besier on Der SED-Staat und die Kirche there is now an excellent alternative. Rudolf Mau, professor emeritus at the Humboldt University in Berlin, has produced an eminently readable survey of Church-State relations during the post-war period. The emphasis throughout is on the church institutions and, in particular, the leadership elites. Neither evangelical sub-groups nor inter-denominational organisations are Mau's concern. Free Churches are only mentioned in passing (those interested in that subject can consult the volume written by Karl Heinz Voigt in the same series). Within these confines Mau analyses the forty-year struggle for allegiance, from the government-supported campaigns in the 1950s to propagate "scientific atheism" to the "Protestant revolution" of 1989, when churchmen became honest brokers between a regime in decline and a population increasingly impatient with the absence of basic freedoms and rights. The role into which East German Protestantism was manoeuvred in the 1980s certainly made the institutions temporarily more relevant and attractive to various groups with a political agenda, but it was soon recognised that the witness of the churches had been seriously compromised by collaboration with the East German intelligence services. The majority of the population in the east of Germany had long had no ecclesiastical affiliation or even interest in religious matters. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the institutions analysed by Mau failed to generate the necessary spiritual power to alter that state of affairs.

Nicholas Railton, University of Ulster

c) Gregory Munro, Hitler's Bavarian Antagonist. Georg Moenius and the Allgemeine Rundschau of Munich, 1929-1933. Lewiston/Queenston/Lampeter: Edwin Mellen Press 2006. ISBN -13: 978-0-7734-5735-5. 510 pp.

The historiography of the German resistance movement against Nazism over the past sixty years has been mired in complexity and controversy. The failure of its efforts to prevent the Nazi wars of aggression or to impede the subsequent mass murders of millions of their fellow citizens, makes for sombre reassessments. Religious factors, whether individually or institutionally, are highly ambiguous. The record of the churches' complicity or even collaboration is undeniable. Only a handful of German churchmen and women declared their unequivocal opposition to the unbridled nationalism and racism of the Nazi regime, and many of them paid a heavy penalty for doing so. They were often vilified during their lifetimes, and forgotten afterwards.

Among them must be numbered Georg Moenius, a priest of the Bamberg diocese and editor of the outspokenly critical weekly newspaper, the Allgemeine Rundschau, for the brief period of 1929 to 1933. Gregory Munro's careful study of this largely unknown anti-Nazi combatant is therefore a welcome addition to our knowledge, all the more since most histories of the resistance movement only begin in 1933. But the point is very well taken that the previous decade of the 1920s was the more pivotal. Had adequate barriers against Nazi extremism been erected at the time, the results might well have been very different. So this analysis of the public attitudes, particularly amongst Catholics, in these crucial years is significant in showing how easily Germans were seduced by Nazi propaganda, and how the counter-efforts proved ineffective. Munro shows how Moenius undertook a veritable crusade, using his newspaper as a vehicle to attack the noxious heresies and virulent racist policies of the Nazis. It was a vain if valiant endeavour. Only a few weeks after the Nazi take-over of power Moenius was forced into precipitate flight from Munich and had to spend long years in exile. It is small wonder that until now his achievements have been overlooked.

Moenius was born in 1890 and was in training for the priesthood throughout the traumatic years of the Great War 1914-1918. But even if he did not share the fate of so many of his contemporaries, he was clearly affected by the traumatic climate which forced reconsideraion of so many established verities and institutions. According to Munro, Moenius had an extremely petulant and headstrong character, though endowed with fervent idealism. This factor was undoubtedly encouraged by his friendship with Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster, a leading champion of Christian ethics in the political sphere, who taught at Munich during Moenius' university years. F.W.Foerster was to have a significant impact on Moenius' career, and like him was also forced into exile.

With this temperament, and at such a revolutionary time, it is not surprising that Moenius' period of service as a junior cleric in rural parishes was of short duration. He soon enough expressed his dissatisfation with the politically reactionary and even obscurantist views of his superiors, and sought new paths of service in the literary field.

Moenius' opportunity came in 1929 when he acquired the part-ownership of the reputable Catholic weekly in Munich, and at once set out to make it a vital contributor to the lively debates over Germany's present and future policies. Together with a group of Catholic intellectuals and journalists, and much influenced by Foerster's ideas on federalism and pacifism, the Allgemeine Rundschau became a hard-hitting combative newspaper, whose editor was ready to charge into the fray of debate and resolutely defended his ideals.
In essence, almost all of Germany's intellectuals in the 1920s were engaged in a similar search. The previous political structures and habits of mind had been discredited by the loss of the war. In the years of disillusionment and frustration after 1918, new images, new ideologies, new patterns of political behaviour struggled to gain widespread support. Weekly newspapers of the Allgemeine Rundschau's sort were one of the chief vehicles for this undertaking, as they were in other countries. Moenius' originality lay in his determination to rethink the whole basis of received German national opinion.

In particular, Moenius led the way in seeking to combat the popular interpretation of German history, for at least the past one hundred years. He sought to show that the unification of Germany, under the Prussian Hohenzollern dynasty, as led by Bismarck and justified by Protestant theologians and historians, had been a ghastly error. Indeed the imposition of a Prussian hegemony over all of Germany, and its encouragement of the vices of authoritarianism and military aggression, were directly responsible, so Moenius claimed, for the disasters of the Great War. Furthermore, the Protestant character of this rule had changed the place and cultural power of Catholicism. Catholics had been reduced to second-class citizens, attacked in the Kulturkampf as Reichsfeinde, and their
ideas for Germany's future disregarded and despised. Now was the time to challenge the whole idea of the historical mission of Lutheranism, as intertwined with the destiny of Germany. In its place Moenius sought to set up a new idea of the Reich, asserting the need for a peacefully-oriented Germanic nation with a genuine federal constitution. This would assist in the rejuvenation of Europe under the core of its intrinsic culture - an attachment to the Universal Church, to the Roman legacy of the Papacy. and to other nations under the imprint of the somewhat hazy idea of Romanitas. It was a religious and romantic dynamic which offered new life for both Germany and Catholicism.

The Allgemeine Rundschau's indefatigable and uncompromising feud against the Borussian view of German history soon spread to other aspects of the practical politics of the day. Its fervent support of Catholic ideals left no room for co-operating with Protestant elements, who, in turn, with a few exceptions, were captivated by their desire to synthesize with popular nationalism as a means of restoring German Protestantism's shattered credibility Indeed the more German Protestants became a conduit for radical conservatism and všlkisch ideologies, the more bitterly they were attacked by Moenius and his associates.

The unique religious and cultural mission of western Christianity in its Catholic form, which had reached its maturity in the High Middle Ages, was a constant theme of the Allgemeine Rundschau. Such a force could offer a vital spiritual foundation for Germany's much needed reconstruction. The somewhat mystical overtones and admiration for bygone examples was reinforced by a belief that such an ideal needed to be defended against the forces of militaristic aggression and extremism, which Moenius and his associates saw as being derived over the centuries from the wastelands of northern Europe.

Central among such forces was National Socialism. Moenius rightly regarded Nazism as the deadly enemy of Roman Catholicism, but paradoxically argued that Hitler, despite his Austrian origins, had sold out to Prussia and its military tradition. In Moenius' view, Hitler's categories of racist and všlkisch thought followed in the line Luther-Fichte-Hegel-Bismarck. "He had to have a Protestant with an anti-Roman passion like Rosenberg as his court philosopher". Nazism was an instrument of vengeful Prussianism against the more civilized tradition of Catholic Bavaria.

But the mood of the late 1920s, and the Nazis' electoral victory of 1930, particularly in Munich, made Moenius' struggle more problematic. The articles in the Allgemeine Rundschau became more strident as the crisis worsened. Moenius sought to warn his fellow Catholics not to be tempted by these exponents of contemporary militarism and racism, with their pursuit of a German supremacy through Lebensraum. The Allgemeine Rundschau launched an unremitting critique of both the Nazi Party and its ideology. Rosenberg's Myth of the Twentieth Century was denounced as a pagan attack on Catholicism. Catholics should not be fooled by the Nazi Party's claim to be supporting "positive Christianity". Germans should recognize that Nazism was driven by an anti-Roman, anti-liberal, anti-Judaic and anti-Christian ethos, incorporating the principal destructive strands of a creed based on Blood and Soil. The dangers of any accommodation with such radical extremism were regularly stressed in the weekly's pages.

Such attempts aroused much hostility. But so did the journal's advocacy of a universal peace, based on the renunciation of national power politics. In particular, the campaign led by Moenius and Foerster to have Germans acknowledge their guilt in causing the Great War, and their condemnation of the German invasion of Belgium, were resented by many conservatives. They thereby lost much support from the ranks of German Catholicism. Such a head-on attack on the view that Germany had been dragged into the war by her enemies' nefarious tactics, and that the invasion of Belgium was a strategic necessity, was a risky undertaking. Moenius probably did not want to acknowledge that such views had become almost universal among all sections of conservative opinion, or the extent to which this was a necessary alibi for their subsequent participation in the bloodletting of the war. Indeed, in many cases, this was the only consolation adopted for the terrible losses suffered. To challenge this widespread feeling of self-justification could open up drastic wounds and memories which Germans had spent ten years or more in trying to suppress. But it was part of Moenius and Foerster's ideology that only such repentance could clear the air in Germany's relations with other nations. Without such a stance the poison of international rivalries would be continued and remain unresolved. But this counsel seemed to be wildly unrealistic, and only fell on deaf ears amongst the majority of Germans, including Catholics. (Munro could have made the point that the same phenomenon re-occurred after the second war, when German conservatives were equally reluctant to heed those prophetic voices calling for national repentance and self-scourging.)

Moves were then made to curb Moenius' influence, through both political and ecclesiastical channels. The weekly's controversial stances were becoming problematical at a time of recurrent political crises. The Nazis' success in projecting an image of political stability and the promise of restoring Germany's economic and national greatness, outweighed the resolute warnings the Allgemeine Rundschau provided. Too many people who should have known better took no steps to prevent the installation of an avowedly dictatorial regime.

The Nazi seizure of power in January 1933 led soon enough to the suppression of all critical journalism. In March Moenius fled from Munich in disguise and was eventually deprived of his German citizenship, and suffered the confiscation of his property. He was not to return from exile until 1948, but was unable to resume his career in either the church or in journalism. The Allgemeine Rundschau struggled along for a few more months, during which a Reich Concordat was concluded between the Vatican and the new Nazi government. Once it was ratified, there was no further need for discretion, and the Allgemeine Rundschau was forced to cease publication. Moenius' direst predictions now became true, but the leaders of German Catholicism indulged in much wishful thinking and failed to heed his warnings.

Munro's service is to place this combative priest and his controversial journal in their wider setting by outlining the intellectual milieu of the time, and by describing the debates over Germany's identity, its political structures and the war guilt question, which so much engaged the public attention of the day. Moenius' career can only be judged a failure. But Munro rightly points out that the ideas he propagated, especially the need to overcome and abandon the national obsession with Machtpolitik, were to find a much more receptive climate after Germany's second defeat. The debt of post-1945 West German Catholicism to Moenius and his associates is rarely mentioned, but Munro successfully makes the case that it should now be fittingly acknowledged.


d) As a counterpart to the book reviewed here in the March issue, Mit Blick auf die Täter,
we draw attention to a similar compilation of essays dealing mainly with the Catholic church's response to the issue of coming to terms with the Nazi past: Theologie und Vergangenheitsbewältigung, (Paderborn: Schöningh 2005) edited by Lucia Scherzberg, includes several valuable contributions analysing the Catholic theologians' reactions to Nazism, both during the Nazi years and afterwards. Antonia Leugers is highly critical of the German Catholic bishops of the time, while Keith Spicer recounts the sad story of a fanatical pro-Nazi priest and his fervent admiration of the Führer. Lucia Schezberg herself gives a first-rate description of the pro-Nazi stances adopted by leading Catholic theologians, which certainly cannot be excused by the claim that they were intimidated by Gestapo pressures. Rather these men claimed to be leading the church in affirming the new dispensation brought on by Hitler, and as such saw themselves as the leading edge of reform. Hitler's own alleged "theology" is analysed by Rainer Bucher, pointing out that his adoption of a religious vocabulary was not just a matter of political opportunism. Rather Hitler's views of "Providence" were a genuine part of his belief system, which also extended to the idea that he had a divine call to fulfill his mission to rejuvenate Germany by eliminating the Jews and thereby to cure the world of its defects, With the help of this idea of God, Hitler could find a universal legitimation for his aggressive racial policies. His deification of the German Volk as having the supreme value over all aspects of life, and demanding a total faith from each individual, were constituent components of this "theology". Rainer Kampling follows with an examination of Catholic attitudes after 1945 towards Judaism, as found in the speeches of Romano Guardini, the highly influential theologian of the 1950s. Here much was said about Guilt and Responsibility, but little about just who were the guilty or responsible actors. To be sure, this lack of concretization ran parallel in other academic disciplines, but this hardly excuses the shortcomings of these theologians. Norbert Reck, who also contributed to Krondorfer's book reviewed in our March issue, is perhaps overly judgmental about the proponents of post-Holocaust theology in Germany, Moltmann, S÷lle and Metz. Whatever their personal shortcomings, they did at least play a significant role in gaining acceptance for the ideas propounded at the Second Vatican Council, and in ensuring that the evil shadows of Nazi racism were banished from the German churches. On the other hand these essays raise interesting questions about Nazism as a modernizing force, and the readiness of some theologians to believe this was a more attractive option than dying in the last ditch of conservative and seemingly outdated positions.


2) Indvidual articles in collected essays can easily get lost, especially if the tome is weighty. But, for our readers, here is one that should be noted:

Bjorn Mensing, "Nicht nur ein priesterliches, sondern auch ein prophetisches Amt". Von der fränkischen Kanzel ins KZ Dachau. Das "vergessene" Zeugnis von Pfarrer Wolfgang Niederstrasser. in Frömmigkeit - Theologie- Frömmigkeitstheologie. Contributions to European Church History, ed. G.Litz et al., Leiden and Boston: Brill 2005, pp. 763 - 779.

This is a short but well-deserved tribute to a young country Evangelical pastor whose ethical and theological rectitude led him to adopt a highly critical attitude towards Nazi church policy. After various stiff warnings, he took refuge by joining the army in occupied Norway, but was pursued there by the wheels of Nazi "justice". Early in 1945 he was transferred to the Gestapo's hands, and as late as 12 April 1945 was sent to Dachau. There he was ordered to join a forced march away from the approaching Allied forces. Luckily he survived and returned to his former parish. Here was a staunchly uncompromising supporter of the Confessing Church. But there is no mention of any sympathetic word or action on behalf of the Jews.

3) Archive note: Further opening of the Vatican archives.

Pope Benedict XVI has authorized the further opening of the Vatican archives, principally the Vatican Secret archives and the archives of the Second Section of the Secretariat of State, for the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922-1939). . This complements the previous opening of the papers relating to Germany for the same period. Material contained in these archives should shed new light on such topics as the Catholic Church's relations to Fascism, Nazism, Communism, the Civil War in Spain and the persecution of the church in Mexico.

4 ) Journal articles:

Frank J,Coppa, The Contemporary Papacy from Paul VI to Benedict XVI. A bibliographical essay. in Catholic Historical Review, Vol. 92 no 4, October 2006 pp 597 - 608. This is an excellently comprehensive and valuable guide to the numerous biographies of the three popes covered.

With every good wish,
John Conway