I’m trying to decide between becoming either Catholic or Orthodox. I was wondering if you have any book recommendations on a solid defense of the Catholic doctrine of Papal Supremacy (preferably from a historian).
I would also appreciate any Church History books from a non-Christian writer, so that I can see a neutral perspective on the history of Christianity. (I mean, he/she may have a non-Christian bias, but at least he/she does not have an agenda for promoting any one Church over another.)
You will be hard pressed to find a non-Christian writer on the papal primacy. The only people who are interested in it are generally only the people with an axe to grind. The best I can offer is a list of the following books, book chapters, and articles which are from historians and patristic studies experts from all sides of the aisle:
1.) Noble, Thomas F. X. “The Christian Church as an Institution.” In The Cambridge History of Christianity, 3: Early Medieval Christianities, c. 600 - c. 1100. Edited by Thomas Noble and Julia Smith. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
2.) Noble, Thomas F. X. “Michele Maccarrone on the Medieval Papacy.” Catholic Historical Review 80, no. 3 (1994): 518-533.
3.) Noble, Thomas F. X. “Morbidity and Vitality in the History of the Early Medieval Papacy.” The Catholic Historical Review 81, no. 4 (Oct. 1995), 505-540.
4.) Noble, Thomas F. X. The Republic of St. Peter: The Birth of the Papal State, 680-825. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1984.
5.) Dvornik, Francis. Byzantium and the Roman Primacy. New York: Fordham University Press, 1966. Corrected edition, 1979.
6.) Gallagher, Clarence. “Diversity in Unity: Approaches to Church Order in Rome and Byzantium.” Ecclesiastical Law Journal: The Journal of the Ecclesiastical Law Society 6, no. 30 (2002): 208-238.
7.) Herrin, Judith. “The Pentarchy: Theory and Reality in the Ninth Century.” In Cristianità d’Occidente e cristianità d’Oriente (secoli VI-XI) : 24-30 aprile 2003. Spoleto, Italy: Settimane di studio della Fondazione Centro italiano di studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 2004. 591-628.
8.) Noble, Thomas F. X. “The Intellectual Culture of the Early Medieval Papacy.” Roma nell’Alto Medioevo, 27 aprile - 1 maggio 2000. Spoleto, Italy: Settimane di studio della Fondazione Centro italiano di studi sull’Alto Medioevo, 48. 2001. 179-213.
9.) Meyendorff, John. Imperial Unity and Christian Division: The Church, 450-680 A.D. Crestwood, NY: St. Valdimir’s Seminary Press, 1992.
10.) Runciman, Steven. The Eastern Schism: A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches during the XIth and XIIth Cenuturies. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1955.
11.) Grant, Ken. “A Divine Mandate: Pope Gregory VII’s Defense of Papal Authority.” In Authorities in the Middle Ages: Influence, Legitimacy, and Power in Medieval Society. Edited by Sini Kangas et al. 2013. 39-54. ISBN 978-3-11-029449-1
12.) Eldevik, John. Episcopal Power and Ecclesiastical Reform in the German Empire: Tithes, Lordship, and Community, 950-1150. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.
I realize this is a lot, but considering that your dilemma is no small matter, it does not hurt to be too informed. Most of these works, of course, cover the Middle Ages. I do not know the religious affiliation of Thomas Noble, Judith Herrin, Clarence Gallagher, Ken Grant, Steven Runciman, or John Eldevik. They seem to keep such personal matters out of their work. Gallagher though is a theologian of some sort I imagine. Francis Dvornik was a Catholic priest. His work is good, but it is clear that he does have an agenda. John Meyendorff was an Orthodox theologian, who wrote a lot on church history and patristics. I picked his book precisely because Thomas Noble said it was good and recommended it in one of his footnotes.
Steven Runciman is dead, but he was a highly respected Mediterranean historian for his time. Thomas Noble is a Carolingian historian who tends to focus on papal Rome during the Early Middle Ages. Judith Herrin is now retired, but she is probably one of the most respected Byzantine historians in the field right now. Ken Grant and John Eldevik are historians. I can testify to the quality of John Eldevik’s work, but it is daunting despite its relatively short length.
I’ve listed these in the order I think you should read them. #1 is fairly easy to read. #2 is essentially a book review and summary of a history that is written only in Italian sadly. #3 is the most important thing to read before going any further down the list. You must not skip it. Although it is 20 years old, Noble gives you a basic summary of all the historical work regarding the papacy. His concerns about it, and vision for expanding the work are very much applicable to this day. It will help you understand the rest of what you read. John Eldevik’s book will be the most difficult for you to read probably, which is why it is last. It also covers the latest time frame on this list. All the books and articles here basically cover the fourth century AD to 1200 AD. I focused on this period, because sadly we have very few sources that can illuminate much on the Roman primacy. They can be interpreted either way because they are so vague. The Late Antique Period, the Early Middle Ages, and the High Middle Ages are the places where you are most likely to find your answer.
P.S. Despite some of these works being in foreign language essay collections, all of them are written in English.