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5 Classics Every Catholic Should Read

The Basilica is thrilled to announce the launch of a new blog series called the Basilica Book Club, where we highlight reading picks around a unifying theme. In this inaugural post, we discuss five iconic works of literature every Catholic should read – from the writings of philosophical giants St. Augustine and St. Aquinas, to beloved mystic reflections like The Dark Night of the Soul.

Augustine's Confessions1. Saint Augustine’s Confessions

“You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness.”

By some accounts, Augustine’s Confessions is considered the first autobiography of the West, and is perhaps the “most widely read book of Christian antiquity.”

In this new translation, the brilliant and impassioned descriptions of Augustine’s colorful early life are conveyed to the English reader with accuracy and art. Augustine tells us of his struggles against sin, his rare ascent from a humble Algerian farm to the edges of the imperial court of Milan, and his renunciation of secular ambition and marriage as he recovered the faith.

This translation, which includes an introduction and notes by Henry Chadwick, has been called “a masterpiece beyond clarification,” and “a work of high art.”

A Shorter Summa 2. A Shorter Summa

It was in 1266 that the great philosopher Thomas Aquinas first began writing Summa Theologica, his magnum opus. The first systematic treatment of Catholic doctrine, the work demonstrated the coherent logic of Christian thinking, relying on arguments from reason to prove spiritual truths such as the existence and characteristics of God.

Aquinas’ Summa Theologica is timeless, and particularly relevant today because of his synthesis of faith and reason, revelation and philosophy, and the Biblical and the classical Greco-Roman heritages. However, at about 1.8 million words in length, the full Summa presents a daunting task to any interested in reading it.

That’s why Dr. Peter Kreeft wrote A Shorter Summa, a shortened version of his much larger Summa of the Summa, which in turn was a shortened version of Summa Theologica. Here, the Summa is selected, excerpted, arranged, introduced, and explained in footnotes by Kreeft. This little book is designed for beginners, either for classroom use or individually, and contains the most famous and influential passages of St. Thomas’ philosophy with copious aids to understanding them.

Story of A Soul3. Story of a Soul

When Thérèse of Lisieux began recording her childhood memories, she had hardly entered her twenties. The endeavor was undertaken at the behest of her sisters in the Lisieux Carmel, and continued for two and a half years before she tragically succumbed to tuberculosis in 1897, at the age of 24. Though her life was brief, her legacy would live on in these memoirs, called Story of a Soul. The first edition of the work was published in 1898, and in the years that followed, was translated into dozens of languages and sold millions of copies.

Now, Thérèse’s passion for the themes of confidence and love, of the “little way” and more can be read with their original expressive spontaneity in this acclaimed translation from Father John Clarke, which was first published in 1975, and is now accepted as the standard throughout the English-speaking world. Prepared for the centenary of the Saint’s death, this edition includes a select bibliography of recent works in English on Thérèse, along with a new referencing system now widely used in studies of her doctrine. Strengthen your own devotion in this classic work describing the path to sanctity and offering practical guidelines for holy living, with reflections from Thérèse’s own experience.

Dark Night of the Soul4. Dark Night of the Soul

After being arrested for his ascetic reforms during the Spanish Inquisition, St. John of the Cross was made prisoner in Toledo for eight long months. During his imprisonment, he was kept in solitary confinement, barely receiving enough food to stay alive, and suffering merciless torture. While many would find their souls withering in such conditions, John poured himself into a poem called The Dark Night of the Soul. Today, this iconic work remains a classic of mystical literature.

In The Dark Night of the Soul, St. John of the Cross takes us on a journey into ourselves, a journey of knowledge and self-understanding, that encompasses our failings and imperfections. The book shows us how we can embrace sadness and grief, and by seeking God, experience renewal. He describes the “arid and dark night of contemplation” which leads us to “the knowledge of oneself and of one’s misery.” True knowledge of our self and of our condition shows how far we must go to find God, who our restless hearts incessantly seek.

The Dark Night of the Soul describes how first the senses, and then the spirit undergo a series of purgation, which aids in bringing it closer to God, and eventually preparing it for union with Him. For after the dark night, comes the joy of mystical union with God.

The Interior Castle

5. The Interior Castle

This classic work by the Carmelite nun St. Teresa of Avila presents a remarkable description of spiritual life as a journey through what she called “The Interior Castle.” She sees the soul as a magnificent castle full of rooms which each lead deeper into the heart of the castle to the seat of the King. However, she laments that most people give all their attention to the outer wall of the castle – the body – ignoring the beauty of the soul within.

Teresa gives practical advice regarding the early struggles and the temptations to turn back which beset the beginner. She describes each of the seven mansions and urges us forward to love and serve the Divine Majesty, imparting her absolute conviction that progress toward God through prayer is worth vastly more than all the treasures of this earth.

Teresa’s writing style is peculiar, yet poignant. By modern standards it would be described as “stream-of-consciousness” style, bereft of any edits or revision. Translated from The Autograph of St. Teresa of Jesus by the Benedictines of Stanbrook, this edition includes notes and an introduction by the Very Rev. Fr. Benedict Zimmerman, O.C.D.


*Book descriptions adapted in part from their respective publishers

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