THE CATHOLIC GREAT BOOKS SET ™
2,000 Years of Collected Wisdom
There are, of course, various lists of Catholic books, and numerous collections and anthologies of Catholic literature and spirituality, and even three sets of Catholic encyclopedias. There are numerous collections of hagiography – “Lives of the Saints”and the collection par excellance of such, the four contemporary lives of Christ–the Gospels. There are various sets of spiritual writings, such as the excellent Paulist Press “Classics of Western Spirituality;” Minge’s extensive collection of Patristic texts and writings of the Church Fathers and Doctors, and numerous multi-volume theology sets and extensive ecclesiastical history sets.
However, to the best of our knowledge, there was no specific set of great, Catholic books, or “Catholic Great Books” – however one wishes to arrange the adjectives (the operative words in this case being first “Catholic” and secondarily “Great”) – similar in organization and arrangement to the “Great Books” sets such as have been published by Britannica, Harvard Press, or the various publishing houses which offered competing, but largely secular, collections.
It seems fair to say that – apart from the obvious commercial considerations – the more significant great-books-set publishers sought to offer readers what the editors believed to be the most significant, influential, enduring and masterful works ever produced, in the major fields of human inquiry and interest. Most of the sets sought a broad consensus of learned opinion in formulating their lists, both because they wanted a broad appeal and market, and because no one’s list ever entirely agrees with that of anyone else. Inevitably there enters a personal, subjective element in the formulation of a list of “great books” – de gustibus non disputandum est.
Catholics, now numbering well over a billion three hundred million human beings, write and have written books in all fields of human activity, inquiry and interest. So what do we mean when we say “Catholic” great books. There can, of course, be different answers to this question. The one we prefer is Catholic in several senses of the word: of having a broad and enduring appeal to Catholic readers; containing a Catholic world-view, sense and spirit; being authentically Catholic (hence neither Protestant, Orthodox nor heterodox); being written either by Catholics, or, in a few cases, by men or women already Catholic in spirit when they wrote, who later converted to Catholicism (such as some of the works of Richard Crashaw, John Henry Newman or Mortimer Adler); being influential in Catholic intellectual or moral life; reflecting truth, goodness and beauty, in the sense understood by Catholics particularly the Transcendant – The Brothers Karamotsov comes to mind here in the fictional genre even though Doestoyevsky was Orthodox (and his Grand Inquisitor can be misunderstood to be an attack on the Roman Church rather than on the Russian Procurator