A Catholicism Reading List

I noticed from some recent featured blogs on Protestantish – AKA Revelife – that a lot of people hold strong misconceptions about the Catholic church.  Now, I’m not Catholic, but I want others to be not Catholic for the right reasons.  (Please notice my tongue firmly in cheek for that statement.)

So without more introduction, here is an introductory reading list to the Roman Catholic church.

  • Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  This is a concise version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, official in every capacity.  It is a summary of every scope of the church’s official teaching, in a simple question-and-answer format.  You can find it at any bookstore, and it’s really very affordable.
  • Catholic Christianity by Peter Kreeft.  Largely based around the 1992 edition of the Catechism, this is a basic interpretation, grounding and common-sense defense of Catholic doctrine.  As the title implies, one of Kreeft’s overriding goals is to show the catholicity of Catholic belief; that Catholics are, in fact, Christian.
  • Summa contra Gentiles by Thomas Aquinas.  This is one of the earlier of Aquinas treatises, and helps illuminate this central Catholic theologian’s thought, and Catholic thought itself, by contrast to the heresies that Aquinas ably refutes in this series of proofs.
  • The Catholic Church and Conversion by G. K. Chesterton.  Chesterton rarely managed to write on the same topic for any length of time (and you have to measure length for Chesterton in minutes, not months), but this work comes closest to actually answering the question, “Why did you convert to Catholicism?”  Of course, in usual Chestertonian style, he had a lot more to say about why he was no longer a Protestant than about why he chose the Catholic church.
  • Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton.  Merton’s first book examines the shape of his early life, and the way his French Catholic upbringing led him to accept a call to Cistercian monasticism.
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  Frank McCourt was an Irish-Catholic immigrant to America, and this Pulitzer-prize winning memoir was the first volume of his story.  Set entirely in the old country, McCourt tells about the religious prejudices and occultisms of his family and nun-run school, including a laugh-out-loud hilarious rendition of his being sick after his first communion, and his grandmother forcing him to go to confession (“How long since your last confession?”  “Two hours, father.”), not only to confess the sin of vomiting the body and blood of Christ, but to ask whether it was water or holy water they needed to use to clean the mess.
  • Constantine’s Sword by James Caroll.  Caroll, a former Catholic priest, argues in this book that the Catholic Church has from its inception been guilty of antisemitism, and goes so far as to lay the ultimate blame for the Holocaust at the Church’s feet.  The book details the church’s relationship with Jews and Jewish groups down through history.
  • Rethinking Christ and Culture: A post-Christendom perspective by Craig A. Carter.  Though not specifically about the Catholic church, this rebuttal to Neibuhr’s Christ and Culture challenges Roman Catholicism for its Christendom mindset at every point.  In so doing, Carter gives a thorough Mennonite perspective on Catholicism.

So there’s my rather limited list.  A non-Catholic Catholic reading list for non-Catholics, or (perhaps) for fledgling Catholics.  If you’re Catholic, or simply more knowledgeable than I am (which is likely), then help me out.

What books did I leave out that anyone should read to get to know the Catholic church better?  Which books better express the heart of Catholicity?

So please, add, detract, discuss.  But read.


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