Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Books You Should Read: The Essentials

In this day and age it is hard to determine what Catholic books to read. This is my personal list of essentials. I have broken the books down into categories to make it easier to find what area of study that you are interested in. I believe that these books are written by theologians, historians and philosophers that you can trust. After you have digested the basics on this list you will know more about your faith than most, and will be able to defend it with ease. These works are not your modern run of the mill one stop shops for all things Catholic that line the Catholic bookstores these days. The Catholic faith is simply to rich for that. I will update this list as I have time. I want to be able to give at least a brief explanation of each book.  I have added 3 letter codes to make it easier to decide what books you may want to buy first. (B) Beginner, (I) Intermediate, (A) Advanced.

The Basics

1. The Catechism of the Council of Trent- (B) This is a must have to understand the fundamentals of the Catholic faith. It is well written and easy to understand. I would supplement this with the New Catechism, since there are some new issues involving bioethics that are not covered in the old Catechism. These two sources alone contain more valuable information than all of the pop-apologist's work combined.You can also read it online.
2. Apologetics and Catholic Doctrine- (B) This is a great book first penned back in 1918. It was written by Archbishop Michael Sheehan and it covers all the basics of the Catholic faith in more detail. It also follows the traditional scholastic method of teaching, yet it is simple to comprehend. It starts out covering the arguments for the existence of God, to Christ and the Church, and proceeds on to explain the Divine Essence of God, grace, the Sacraments, and Scripture. The work is well documented for further research.
3. The Summa Theologica- (I) In my opinion, if you are a Catholic and you do not have this work, you are really missing out. It is available online for free. You can get it for your E-reader for a few bucks, and if you want a hard copy, you can probably hunt and find it online for under 50 bucks. This work is indispensable for learning all of the arguments concerning the basics of the Catholic faith.

I would recommend two books to go along with the Summa, which is Jean-Pierre Torrell's work titled, 'Aquinas's Summa: Background, Structure and Reception', (B) and Msgr. Paul J. Glenn's 'Tour of the Summa' (B).

General Apologetics 
1. The History of Heresies- (B) This 600 plus page book is a must have for anyone interested in how the Church combated heresies over the last 2000 years. It is written by Saint Alphonsus Liguori and it covers every major heresy since the first century and them some.

Biblical Studies
1. Cornelius Lapide Bible Commentary- (B) This is my favorite New Testament Bible commentary. Yes, it is quite expensive to acquire your own 4 volume hardback on the Gospels, but the good news is the entire version is available online for free. It is packed full of commentary which sometimes devotes many pages to a few verses. It was also written back near the time of the Protestant revolt, so it is an excellent source for refuting the Protestant heresies.
2. Haydock Bible Commentary- (B) This is always a nice source to have around. Although it is not as extensive as I would like it to be, it can be helpful to round out your Biblical Studies. If you are not up for spending a ton of cash, you can use it online, which is what I do most of the time, even though I have a hard copy.
3. The Navarre Bible Commentary- (B) This is probably the best modern Catholic Commentary around at this point.  It is produced by Scepter Press and is a decent source for modern Scripture scholarship. It is expensive to obtain the whole set so you may want to piece it together as you go. I have several volumes, but not the entire set. Until someone produces something better, this is in my opinion the best around.
4. Letter and Spirit Series- (A) Once you have taken the time to study the basics, I think that this series is worth owning. Although I am not a huge fan of Scott Hahn's work, this journal has its uses. There are many authors contributing to this journal, some are better than others. All of the articles are penned by scholars, but I must warn that they span the spectrum, so you will have to discern as you read. Nonetheless, there is a ton of good information to be found for those who want to be informed on modern Scripture scholarship. This is not for the novice, but for those who are well grounded in the faith.
5. Saint Thomas Aquinas- (I) Get online and use Saint Thomas's commentaries to help you understand Scripture more fully. You cannot go wrong with any of the Angelic Doctor's work. You can also get hard copies if you search Amazon.

Liturgical Studies
1. You Shall Worship One God- (B) This 155 page book recently reprinted by Saint Benedict Press is a great starting point for understanding the Mass. It was written by a Dominican priest, Father Marie-Dominique Philippe. He begins by examining sacrifice in the Old Testament and then moves on to Christ's sacrifice. The work puts God at the center of worship, where He should be.
2. The Mass- (B) This work was printed in 1924 and is now printed by Angelus Press. This takes you through the Latin Mass from beginning to end, part by part, giving you a detailed explanation. There are nice black and white illustrations throughout and it clocks in at 375 pages.
3. Sursum Corda- (B) This is a nice compendium of documents and articles on the Latin Mass from the Council of Trent to Pope Benedict XVI's Moto Proprio. Some of the content can be found online, but for the price, it is well worth having.
4. The Byzantine Slav Liturgy of St John Chrysostom- (I) Every Catholic should have some understanding of the Eastern Catholic Churches, and this book covers the history and the composition of the most widely used Eastern Liturgy, that of Saint John Chrysostom. It is a huge book, weighing in at over 800 pages. You may have to search the Orthodox bookstore websites to find it at a decent price.
5. Turning Towards the Lord- (B) This books takes a look at liturgical worship orientation, and how it has been understood throughout Church history. It also looks at the architecture of churches in order to illustrate the theology behind the orientation of the priest and the people at Mass.
6. The Mass of All Time- (B) This is a wonderful work on the Mass by Archbishop Lefebvre. In the first 170 pages he gives a beautiful explanation of the entire Mass, part by part. If you are easily scandalized you may want to skip his criticism of the Novus Ordo Mass which spans the last 130 pages. It is interesting however that many of the problems he addresses have been recognized by Pope Benedict XVI. One criticism he had was how the altar cross had been moved or done away with after the Novus Ordo was implemented. Notice where the Pope now has his altar cross.
7. The Church's Year- (B) This nice hardback reprint is a treasure. It explains all of the major feasts of the Church for the Old Mass. Of course, it can largely be applied to the new one as well. This helps you dig into the Church's liturgical life.

Church History
1. Warren H. Carroll's History Series- (B) One of the best series on Catholic Church history is Warren H. Carroll's work, released in 5 volumes, all able to be purchased individually. There is not much in the way of solid Church history these days, and this is an extensive line of work. This is the place to start for Church history. It will keep you busy for quite awhile. I also recommend his other books like his work on Isabel of Spain (B).
2. Light of The East- (B) This is a nice small book written by a priest in the Eparchy of St. Josaphat in Parma Ohio. It gives a brief history and explanation of the practices of the Eastern Catholic Churches. At the back of the book there are 10 pages of charts that gives a nice cross examination of the different Rites of the Catholic Church. This book goes along well with the compact 100 page history book on the history of Eastern Catholicism titled, 'To The Ends of the Earth' (B).
3. The Forgotten- (I) This book focuses on the history of the Catholic Church in Russia from Lenin through Stalin, although it does go through quite a bit on the period of the Czars as well. The book is full of information on this long forgotten period of Catholic persecution. The book is extensively noted for further research.
4.  A Short History of Thomism- (B) No collection is complete without Romanus Cessario's book on the history of Thomism. There is a dire need to put classical Thomism back on the map. This gives you a little background as to how the different schools of Thomism came to be, and how important the writings and thought of Saint Thomas are in the eyes of the Church. 

1. Mother of the Saviour- (I) Garrigou Lagrange is one the best theologians of the past century, and this work is one the best on explaining all of the dogmas and doctrines concerning The Blessed Mother of God. It is dense reading for sure, but a little bit of effort goes a long way here.
2. Liturgical Illuminations- (I) This book is a doctoral dissertation that clocks in at over 700 pages. At 25 bucks its a steal. It is worth having for the vast amount of information and source material it provides regarding the Eastern Feasts of the Mother of God. This is where you can really make strides in being able to defend the Catholic faith. The liturgical practices of the Church throughout history prove its doctrines are authentic. Although I could have put this book in the liturgical section, it probably serves better under Mariology.
3. The Mary Series Vol I and II by Luigi S.M. Gambero (B)- This nice two volume series is perfect for getting familiar with how the Church Fathers and other Saints of the Church viewed the Blessed Mother. Each book is over 400 pages and are both reasonable at only 15 bucks each on Amazon.

1. The Catholic University Patristic Series- (B) If you are going to buy hard copies of the Church Fathers then I recommend going with Catholic University translations. Otherwise you can use New Advent online. This will give you access to complete writings of the Fathers, which is what you need in order to understand them in context.
2. The Greek Fathers- (B) Adrian Fortescue's book on the Greek Fathers is good to get a historical background to some of the early Greek Fathers. This will help to put their writings into historical perspective.
3. Jurgens 3 Volume Series- (B) Let me say first off that this set should not be used to cut and paste quotes  when you are writing papers on Church history. What it is very useful for is looking up subjects so that you can find where the Church Fathers refer to a particular subject matter. You can then use it to go look up the entire passage in context of the complete writing on the internet, or in your hard copies of the Church Fathers. It is a useful reference tool.

Moral Theology
1. Right and Reason- (B) This reprinted book was the standard used in seminaries for a time to teach moral theology. It is a solid Thomistic approach to the subject, and I think it is the best book to start off with to get a handle on the basic principles used in this field of theology. You will have a hard time with the following books unless you understand basic terminology and principles. The natural law is also explained, which is crucial in understanding moral theology.
2. Introduction to Moral Theology- (I) This is a good book by Romanus Cessario which applies the same classical Thomistic approach, but it is a more modern text that uses modern encyclicals to further explain moral theology. It is also written in a more narrative style, not so much in a textbook format that Right and Reason is composed.
3. The Teleological Grammar of the Moral Act- (A) Dr. Steven A. Long is one of the best Thomistic theologians around. Any of his books are worth owning. This small book is packed with information and it lays out the principles to critically examine complex moral acts. This book is a tool that will be referred to time and time again.
4. Wisdom, Law and Virtue- (A) This is 680 plus pages of scholarly essays written by Father Lawrence Dewan,O.P. The book covers a variety of topics concerning moral theology in 27 essays. This work will keep you busy for awhile. Yes it is a bit pricy, but again, you are investing in your soul!
5. The First Grace- (I) Russell Hittinger is a great author to read if you want to examine the natural law. He approaches it from a classical Thomistic line of thought. This book is a great read, and I found myself underlining through the entire book as I read through it in just a few sittings. A great bargain at 13 bucks on Amazon.
6. A Critique of the New Natural Law Theory- (I) Russell Hittinger's book is an important one in understanding how the modernists have corrupted many in their understanding of the Natural Law. Hittinger tears down the New Natural Law theorists like Germain Grisez. This book exposes where the moral theology in the Church today is being corrupted.

1. Introduction to Philosophy- (B) This is a great book which was originally published back in the 50s for beginners who wanted to understand the realist philosophy that the Church has regarded as being crucial for proper thinking over the centuries, which was brought to perfection by Saint Thomas Aquinas. This book covers all of the basics and will equip you to understand the thinking of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
2. Praeambula Fidei- (I) This is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand the importance of Thomism in Catholic thinking. The great Ralph McInerny penned this gem as a response to the modern line of thinking which has clouded the minds of Catholic theologians and philosophers in recent years. Read this review by Fr. Romanus Cessario for more information on this must have work.

1. Denzinger's Sources of Catholic Dogma- (B) This is a handy reference guide which will give you the documents and pronouncements made by the Church over the centuries regarding Catholic Dogmas. I recommend buying a hard copy for ease of use, but you can find it online for free. It is just harder to navigate back and forth searching for texts and so forth online.
2. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma- This 560 page encyclopedia of sorts is a nice companion to Denzinger's.

I will start off with these book recommendations. I will continue to add on to it so check back often.


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KnotWilbur said...

I wanted to thank you. I will be making purchases, starting with the beginner books. Might I make a couple suggestions? Some of these can be found at the various free Catholic e-book sites. I've begun populating my nookcolor as I find them. Also, for my work phone, I've found a good resource you may wish to investigate, called iPieta. For 2.99, I feel like I found treasure. It's given me more use of the phone than it's original usage as a phone, although that, too, has added to the list of books I must buy. Either way, please, continue. I'm sure that I;m not the only one who wants to educate theirselves, as well as enjoying your blog.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Thanks for the kind words. There is a tone of stuff that you can find on the Internet Archive website, which has many out of print Catholic books that can drop don to your Nook Color, which I also use. Hopefully in the future I will add a list of those at the bottom of this post. Check back, I will try and add more books as I get some time.

Tyler Patrick said...

I found your blog today and have read through about 20 of your posts including this one. They are all excellent! I am a protestant who is most likely going to become Catholic. I have become very frustrated with all of the "pop" apologetics of both protestants and Catholics. Your call to return to the theologians and great thinkers of the church I think is key, and you have done well to move your blog in that direction. I pray that God will bless you as you continue to seek Him with your intellect and blog.

Matthew Bellisario said...

Hi Tyler, thanks for stopping by. I am glad that you are considering the Catholic faith. Have you gone to any Catholic parishes in your area? Where are you from? Keep me posted on your progress. If I can help out in any let me know. May God bless and keep you!