Book about Catholicism?
October 18, 2009 5:45 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a book about Catholicism? No, other than the Bible.

I would like to learn more about Catholicism. Any book recommendations? Topics could include the Catholic church's positions on things, the history of the Catholic church, the organization of the church and its leadership, really anything is fair game. Thanks!
posted by teragram to Religion & Philosophy (31 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce is about rebellion against the Catholic Church, at least in part...
posted by dfriedman at 5:56 PM on October 18, 2009

I really, really enjoyed Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes. It's highly readable, given the tangled and obscure eras and events, but it never lacks substance.
posted by Banky_Edwards at 5:59 PM on October 18, 2009

Most of my Catholic friends in middle school were instructed more with the Catholic Catechism than the Bible in CCD, I thought. It is official doctrine and teachings outside of the Bible as they relate to the church.
posted by Tchad at 6:03 PM on October 18, 2009

The Seven Story Mountain, by Thomas Merton. He coverted and became a Trappist monk.
Luckily his vows of silence didn't prevent him from writing.

Also, The Age of Reformation, by E. Harris Harbison, for where it all came apart, first time around.
posted by emhutchinson at 6:03 PM on October 18, 2009

The Baltimore Catechism.
posted by katopotato at 6:07 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Bad Popes is a great book. As its name implies, it's about bad popes. The kind of popes that cause Catholics to argue that their existence proves that the Catholic Church is a divine institution, because no mere institution of mankind could possibly survive being ruled by such a horrible person (and I'm not kidding - this is an actual argument put forth about one of the popes who is documented in the book).

It's a really good read.
posted by Flunkie at 6:08 PM on October 18, 2009

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce is about rebellion against the Catholic Church, at least in part...

Give me a break. This clearly doesn't respond to the OP's criteria.
posted by Dasein at 6:13 PM on October 18, 2009

Growing up Catholic is a very funny, and surprisingly accurate description of what it's like to experience an American Catholic childhood.
posted by deadmessenger at 6:22 PM on October 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Catholic Church has the answer by Paul Whitcomb, ISBN 0-89555-282-5
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:22 PM on October 18, 2009

If you're looking for a basic historical introduction, Gerald O'Collins' and Mario Farrugia's Catholicism: The Story of Catholic Christianity seems to be on target.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:26 PM on October 18, 2009

The Cloister Walk is good in that it's written from the point of view of someone who is part of a Benedictine community, but who is not Catholic herself. It's set up as a diary that follows the liturgical year and hits a lot of topics central to the Catholic church.
posted by corey flood at 6:41 PM on October 18, 2009

Mistress of the Vatican: The True Story of Olimpia Maidalchini: The Secret Female Pope by Eleanor Herman is a book I read a few months ago and found it interesting.
posted by GlowWyrm at 6:59 PM on October 18, 2009

I read Catholicism for Dummies a few years ago and it was excellent. Its authors are Catholic.
posted by neuron at 7:33 PM on October 18, 2009

The Name of the Rose is a great book that provides a lot of info about old-timey monastic life and 14th century theological disputes over poverty

I don't know about any of the others, but I've read Benedict's first two papal encyclicals, and they're surprisingly approachable.
posted by gsteff at 7:37 PM on October 18, 2009

The Life of Christ by Fulton Sheen is a good read and would give you the Catholic perspective on, well, the life of Christ based on Catholic theology.
posted by nowoutside at 7:41 PM on October 18, 2009

My catechesis was with Christ Among Us

You might find some old anthologies of "convert stories" in the public library. I used to love those when I was receiving instruction.

I also loved the out of print American Catholic Catalog. Try Amazon used or try eBay.
posted by jgirl at 7:46 PM on October 18, 2009

If "fair game" includes novels, wonderful older novel is In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden. It is about a worldly, been-around-the-block senior woman executive in the British government (AIUI as an American) who joins a Benedictine community at the age of 42.

Again, it is wonderful. Amazon used or eBay are places to look, as are used book stores. When I see it, I buy it to give to people, not in a proselyting way, but because it's just so damn good. It's the sort of book you keep forever and read every year or so, at least.
posted by jgirl at 7:54 PM on October 18, 2009

... a wonderful older novel ...
posted by jgirl at 7:55 PM on October 18, 2009

A People Adrift
posted by mlis at 8:26 PM on October 18, 2009

Seconding In This House of Brede, which is an amazing book that taught me a great deal about Catholicism pre-Vatican II but still in the modern era (it's um, 1950s ish Britain? ish).

Rumer Godden also wrote several other books on Catholicism, so if you're looking to widen your view of Catholicism she's a great resource if an unconventional one.
posted by librarylis at 8:30 PM on October 18, 2009

Books about Catholicism are different from books about being Catholic. I'd say that the penny catechism actually falls into the latter category, as source material for those of my parents' pre-Vatican II generation who had the text knocked into them by nuns with paddles.

For an institutional take on the institution as it stood a century ago, you could do a lot worse than browsing the old Catholic Encylopedia. However, you'd probably want to do that in context with one of the narrative histories, to appreciate why it was considered useful to create such a thing, particularly for an American readership.
posted by holgate at 8:56 PM on October 18, 2009

For a good look at contemporary American Catholic spirituality, I'd recommend My Life with the Saints.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:58 PM on October 18, 2009

Caryl Rivers' Aphrodite at Midcentury and James Carroll's (ex-priest, not the one who just died) nonfiction.
posted by brujita at 9:34 PM on October 18, 2009

Watch out for Diarmaid MacCulloch's new book, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, billed as 'the definitive history of Christianity for our time', just published in the UK to rave reviews and coming out in the US early next year.

James M. O'Toole, The Faithful: A History of Catholics in America, is probably the best and most up-to-date general history of American Catholicism. From a British perspective I also enjoyed Dennis Sewell, Catholics: Britain's Largest Minority (not published in the US, but you can easily find a cheap secondhand copy on Amazon). I also have a lot of admiration for Eamon Duffy's collection of essays, Faith of our Fathers, which is written with a deep understanding of the history of the Catholic Church as well as being honest about the Church's failings.

For a good introduction to what Catholics believe, try Timothy Radcliffe, What is the Point of Being a Christian? and Why Go To Church? which are accessible and informative without being overly dogmatic.
posted by verstegan at 2:55 AM on October 19, 2009

If you're not afraid of a little academic rigour, historical perspective and genuine enthusiasm, try Why the Church? by Luigi Giussani.

It's designed to explain from non-Christian and Protestant perspectives, as well as the Catholic-Orthodox perspective exactly what the point of the Church is in today's world.

You could do worse than to read the other two books which lead up to this one too, The Religious Sense (about why the religious "instinct" or intelligence is as unavoidable for humanity as the desire for happiness) and At the Origin of the Christian Claim (about how a particular man in documented history claimed to be the ultimate fulfilment of said intelligence and affection, i.e. God).

These are not easy-1-2-3 books, nor do they pull any punches for Christian or non-beleiver, but they do have a lot of interesting references and surprising amounts of ironic humour.
posted by KMH at 3:52 AM on October 19, 2009

PS I am currently re-reading WTC? for the 3rd time (it's not an easy book!) and would be happy to read-along with anyone who wants to MeMail me :D
posted by KMH at 3:53 AM on October 19, 2009

Wow, thanks everyone, this is great. I am going to puruse these answers a bit more and will decide what I should read first. I'd welcome any additional answers, keep them coming!
posted by teragram at 7:48 AM on October 19, 2009

Why Do Catholics Do That?
posted by candyland at 10:17 AM on October 19, 2009

The Catholic Way by Bishop Donald Wuerl was pretty influential for me.
posted by spirit72 at 10:58 AM on October 19, 2009

The book, "Surprised by Truth" is the one I recommend. I did a free correspondence study course with this book and it was a very enjoyable experience. I highly recommend doing a free corrrespondence course as well.
posted by VC Drake at 11:28 AM on October 19, 2009

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