Close Notification

Your cart does not contain any items

The Irony of Modern Catholic History

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

George Weigel



In stock
Ready to ship


Basic Books
26 November 2019
In The Irony of Modern Catholic History, acclaimed Catholic scholar George Weigel offers a bold reinterpretation of the Church's history since the nineteenth century, completely overturning conventional wisdom about the relationship between Catholicism and modernity.

For 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 secular modernity-democracy, liberalism, mass education, religious freedom-would finish the Church as a consequential player in world history, and it would lead inevitably lead to the death of religious conviction. But today the Catholic Church is far more vital, and far more consequential, than it was 150 years ago, when Pope Pius IX retreated into the Vatican, forced to surrender the Italian lands the popes had ruled for centuries. And even in today's modern world, secularism is the exception, not the rule.

In The Irony of Modern Catholic History, Weigel reveals how the encounter with modernity, rather than killing Catholicism, ultimately made the Church more coherent and less defensive. While previous histories of Catholicism posit modernity as the sole protagonist and Catholicism as a reactive force, Weigel asserts that Catholicism was a protagonist in this drama in its own right. He introduces readers to a remarkable cast of churchmen, intellectuals, and public figures whose actions drive both Catholicism and modernity forward - from the revolutionary Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) to the still-disputed work of the Second Vatican Council to the close collaboration of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. Weigel highlights two great ironies: the first is that modernity has led Catholicism to rediscover its own evangelical or missionary essence. And the second is that Catholicism, long derided as the antithesis of the modern project, has developed intellectual tools that can help rescue modernity from deconstructing itself into an incoherence today.

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 ultimately reveals how Catholicism offers the twenty-first century truths-about the inherent dignity and value of every human being, about our moral obligations and responsibilities-essential for our survival and flourishing.
By:   George Weigel
Imprint:   Basic Books
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 240mm,  Width: 158mm,  Spine: 32mm
Weight:   540g
ISBN:   9780465094332
ISBN 10:   0465094333
Pages:   336
Publication Date:   26 November 2019
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

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

Reviews for The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform

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) 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 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 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 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

See Also