Essays in Theology

Beginning Oct. 27: Read Richard McBrien every Monday


Beginning Oct. 27: Read Richard McBrien every Monday on

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Distinguished Notre Dame University theologian and author, Fr. Richard McBrien, is joining the line up of NCR web columnists. A new column from Fr. McBrien's longrunning syndicated column, Essays in Theology, will be posted to every Monday morning.

McBrien's column has appeared in NCR's print edition over the years, but we could never run all of them. Now we can on the web. NCR editor's welcomes Fr. McBrien to our web site.

Pius XII and the Political Scene


October 9th is the 50th anniversary of the death of Pope Pius XII. Although his memory has been shrouded in controversy over his actions, or lack thereof, during the Second World War and specifically during the Holocaust, he is also remembered for his many encyclicals and messages that laid the groundwork for future developments within the Catholic Church.

His encyclicals on the Mystical Body of Christ and the renewal of Biblical studies, both published in 1943, provided inspiration for a more biblically-based ecclesiology and for a scientifically critical study of Sacred Scripture, both of which had a major influence on the Second Vatican Council, convened two decades later by his successor, John XXIII.

In 1947 Pius XII issued yet another encyclical on liturgical renewal, followed almost a decade later by his full-scale reform of the Holy Week liturgies. Both of these also fed into Vatican II, which promoted the active participation of the laity in the Church’s worship.

Earlier, in 1944, with the war still raging, the pope issued a Christmas message on democracy and the need for a lasting peace.

Two Anniversaries


This coming Sunday, September 28th, is the thirtieth anniversary of Pope John Paul I’s death. Two days later we shall be marking the sixty-fifth anniversary of Pope Pius XII’s historic encyclical on biblical studies, Divino Afflante Spiritu (“Inspired by the Divine Spirit”).

John Paul I was the first pope in the entire history of the Church to take a double name. He also left his mark in history by being the first pope in more than a thousand years to refuse to be crowned like an emperor, with the triple tiara. (What follows is drawn largely from my book, Lives of the Popes.)

Although John Paul I was only pope for thirty-three days, his was not the shortest pontificate in history. There were at least ten other popes who served for thirty-two days or less, the shortest being Urban VII, whose pontificate in 1590 lasted only twelve days.

The conclave that gathered on August 26, 1978, twenty days after the death of Paul VI, was the largest conclave in the history of the Church: 111 cardinal-electors. But it required only four ballots, all on that day, to establish a winner: Cardinal Albino Luciani, Patriarch of Venice.


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In This Issue

June 16-29, 2017