Catholicism is not just a “belief system” but a whole culture to be lived, a culture universal in time and range, an inexhaustible store of rich human living and reflecting, immensely creative and leavening among all other world cultures. For more than a decade, Ralph McInerny and I have been trying to find a publisher for a vital series of books that illuminate this cultural heritage. Tens of millions of Catholics do not know their own intellectual and artistic heritage and those who want to remedy the situation have pitifully little guidance. We believe this is a series that ought to be found in every Catholic home, school, and university library. We have finally found a publisher, Transaction Press, and preparing the first twenty volumes. Each volume will have a fresh introduction to help readers learn about the author, the setting, and the importance of the work. The series will be especially helpful for young people just beginning their intellectual inquiries, and for older adults who somehow missed out on these treasures.
Some might object to titles we are already choosing; others might wish to suggest others not here on our initial lists. Obviously, other editors might choose titles quite different from our choices. However, Ralph and I have experimented with many lists, taken titles off, putting other titles on. The decisions weren’t easy but we used the following criteria in making our choices:
(1) Each volume should bring pleasure, and in a fairly direct and clear way. Every user of the series should get a taste of some of the more difficult classics-but no so much as to turn them against the whole series. On the whole, the series must be accessible and inviting.
(2) Every short sequence in the series ought to include a variety of literary form-biography, fiction, poetry, philosophy-as well as providing a variety of experiences-some questioning of Catholic beliefs, some nourishment for the soul, and practical hints about how to deepen one’s mind and one’s faith.
(3) Those who use the series should feel they have been amply rewarded by the reading and that they have taken yet one more step in understanding the depth and breadth of the traditions of their Church’s history.
The following is a tentative list of the first twenty choices (we plan on expanding it to fifty) of our “Catholic Family Classics.” Please help us to amend it, and to strengthen it by helping us select competing alternatives. What books or selections would you include? Who would you want to see edit each volume and which authors should write the introductions?
We will gladly consider volunteers. The pay will not be great, but the service to Catholic history will be immeasurable. Please contact us at www.michaelnovak.net.
Catholic Family Classics - The First Twenty Selections
- Kristin Lavransdatter, Sigrid Undset
- The Best of Charles Peguy (God Speaks, Night, Mysticism & Politics)
- Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
- The Inferno, Dante Aligheiri
- Integral Humanism, Jacques Maritain
- The Making of Europe, Christopher Dawson
- The Best of John Henry Newman (selections from The Idea of the University, Essay on the Development of Doctrine, and The Grammar of Assent)
- The Best Catholic Mystery Writers, edited by Ralph McInerny
- The Best of St. Augustine (selections from The Confessions, On the Trinity, On Time, The Two Cities)
- The Best of Thomas Aquinas (selections from his Hymns, On Prudence, On Love and Charity, On the Bodily Senses and Imagination, On Beauty, On Law, on Reason and Faith, and Commentaries on Scripture)
- The Best of St. Teresa of Avila
- The Greatest Catholic Poems, edited by Dana Gioia
- The Best of Georges Bernanos
- The Best of St. Therese of Lisieux
- The Best of G.K Chesterton
- The Best of Gabriel Marcel
- The Best of Alexis de Tocqueville (Religion and Democracy, Liberty and Equality, the French Revolution, Voluntary Associations, et al.)
- Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
- The Best Catholic Short Stories, edited by Joseph Bottum
- The Best of Lord Acton (Notes on the First Vatican Council, On the History of Liberty)
Published in First Things Online March 27, 2009