The 13 Examples of Pride Carved into the Floor of Purgatory

"The Proud" by Gustave Dore.
“The Proud” by Gustave Dore.

Listers, pride is the first sin to be purged in Dante’s literary work the Purgatorio. The purgation of pride represents the first ledge of purgatory. There are seven ledges – one for each of the seven deadly vices. Dante orders them according to their proximity to charity; thus, the ledge of pride is at the bottom of Mount Purgatory while lust is the uppermost ledge. On the ledge of pride, “the wall of the cliff that rises to one side of the ledge is adorned with carvings in white marble, all of them offering examples of the virtue of humility. The first example is the scene of the Annunciation. The second carving represents David, who has put aside his kingly splendor to dance in humility before the Lord. The third shows the Emperor Trajan halting his mighty array of warriors on horseback to listen to a poor widow’s plea for justice. As the Pilgrim stands marveling at these august humilities, Virgil directs his attention to a group of souls that is moving toward them. These are the Proud, who, beating their breasts, make their way around the ledge under the crushing weight of tremendous slabs of stone that they carry on their backs.”1

The massive stones force the prideful souls to face the ground as they make their way around the ledge. As they are hunched over, they contemplate examples of pride carved into the ground. As they purge the sin of pride and the weight of the stone lessens, their necks are able to lift enough to see the examples of humility carved into the walls. Regarding the carvings in the floor, Dante explains, “As they leave the souls of the Proud, Virgil calls the Pilgrim’s attention to a series of carvings in the bed of rock beneath their feet. These are the examples of the vice of Pride, of the haughty who have been brought low. Depicted in the carvings are Satan, the giant Briareus, Nimrod, Niobe, Saul, Arachne, Rehoboam, the slaying of Eriphyle by her son Alcmeon, Sennacherib’s murder by his sons, the slaughter of Cyrus by Tomyris, the destruction of Holofernes and the rout of the Assyrians, and finally the fall of Troy.”2


The Reliefs of Pride Carved into the Floor

“The reliefs cut into the floor present thirteen examples of the sin of Pride and the disastrous consequences that it entails. The first twelve tercets (in Italian) begin respectively with the letters UUUU. 0000. MMMM. forming an acrostic, which is resumed in the three lines of the thirteenth tercet: uom (the Italian word for “man”). Dante’s obvious message here is that Pride is a sin so common and so basic as to be practically synonymous with man. The thirteen examples, beginning with Lucifer’s fall, cover a wide range of material taken (almost) alternately from a biblical and a classical source. The final climactic example, the fall of Troy, represents the destruction of not merely a powerful individual but a powerful state, a civilization.”3


1. Satan

Dante describes the relief depicting the fall of Satan: “I saw, on one side, him who was supposed / to be the noblest creature of creation, / plunge swift as lightning from the height of Heaven.”4


2. Briareus the Giant

“Briareus, also called Aegaeon, in Greek mythology, one of three 100-armed, 50-headed Hecatoncheires (from the Greek words for “hundred” and “hands”), the sons of the deities Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth). Homer (Iliad, Book I, line 396) says the gods called him Briareus; mortals called him Aegaeon (lines 403–404). In Homer and Hesiod, Briareus and his brothers successfully aided Zeus, the king of the gods, against the attack by the Titans. The Hellenistic poet Callimachus (Hymn to Delos) made Briareus an opponent of Zeus and one of the assailants of Olympus, who, after his defeat, was buried under Mount Etna. Still another tradition made him a giant of the sea, an enemy of Poseidon (the god of the sea), and the inventor of warships.”5 Dante pulls from the second of the three traditions, which places Briareus against Zeus or Jupiter. Out of pride, he challenged Jupiter and was slain by a lightning bolt.6


3. Nimrod

"Nimrod & His Horn," Gustave Dore. Inferno.
“Nimrod & His Horn,” Gustave Dore. Inferno.

“Nimrod… [the] king of Shinar, was, according to the Book of Genesis and Books of Chronicles, the son of Cush, the great-grandson of Noah. The Bible states that he was “a mighty hunter before the Lord [and] …. began to be mighty in the earth.” Extra-biblical traditions associating him with the Tower of Babel led to his reputation as a king who was rebellious against God… Nimrod is considered the leader of those who built the Tower of Babel in the land of Shinar, the Bible states this in (Gen 10:10) The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.”7 “In the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (written 1308–21), Nimrod is a figure in the Inferno. Nimrod is portrayed as a giant (which was common in the Medieval period) and is found with the other giants Ephialtes, Antaeus, Briareus, Tityos, Typhon and the other unnamed giants chained up on the outskirts of Hell’s Circle of Treachery. His only line is “Raphèl maí amèche zabí almi”, an unintelligible statement which serves to accuse himself.”8


4. Niobe

An example from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Niobe is “the daughter of Tantalus and Dione, and the wife of Amphion, King of Thebes. Proud of her sevens sons and seven daughters, Niobe boasted her superiority over Latona, who had but two, Apollo and Diana. Apollo then killed the seven sons with his bow. Diana killed the seven daughters, and Niobe was turned to stone, though tears continued to fall from her marble cheeks. Dante’s version of the story comes from Ovid.9


5. Saul

Another biblical example of pride, Saul, “son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin and first king of Israel. He was deposed by [the prophet] Samuel for having disobeyed God’s command by sparing a life and allowing booty to be taken. Defeated by the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, Saul killed himself with his own sword to avoid capture.10


6. Arachne

Another example of pride from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Arachne is “the daughter of Idmon of Colophon, who challenged Minerva to a weaving contest. She produced a beautiful cloth on which the love-adventures of the gods were woven, and Minerva, unable to find fault with it, ripped it to shreds. Arachne hanged herself, but Minerva loosened the rope, turning it into a web and Arachne herself into a spider.” (Ovid, Metam. VI, 1-145; Musa, cmt. 43, p. 134.))


7. Rehoboam

Another biblical example from Israel’s royal history, Rehoboam is the “son of Solomon, who succeeded his father as king of Israel. He refused to lighten the taxes imposed on his people and sent Adoram to collect them. Ten of the tribes revolted, Adoram was stoned to death, and Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem.”11


8. Alcmeon

“The son of Amphiaraus the Soothsayer and Eriphyle. Foreseeing that he would die during the expedition against Thebes, Amphiaraus concealed himself. But Polynices bribed Eriphyle with the golden necklace of Harmonia to reveal her husband’s hiding place, and Amphiaraus was constrained to go to war, where he met his fate. Before he went, however, he asked his son for revenge, and Alcmeon accordingly slew his mother for her betrayal.” Amphiaraus is mentioned in Dante’s Inferno.12


9. The Murder of Sennacherib

“King of Assyria from 705 to 681 B.C., Sennacherib arrogantly made war upon King Hezekiah of Judah and the Israelites. Although outnumbered, the Israelites, with the intervention of an angel of the Lord, annihilated the Assyrian host. Sennacherib escaped the debacle but was later murdered by his two sons while praying to his false gods.”13


10. The Slaughter of Cyrus by Tomyris

“Tomyris (or Thamyris), the queen of the Massagetae (a Scythian people), sought revenge for the treacherous murder of her son at the hands of Cyrus (560-529 B.C.), emperor of the Persians. She defeated his army and Cyrus was killed in battle. Not satisfied, however, she decapitated him and threw his head into a vessel of human blood, urging him to drink his fill!”14


11. The Destruction of Holofernes

“The general of the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians. He attacked Bethulia, a city of the Israelites, and proudly mocked their God. Judith, a beautiful widow, delivered the Israelites by going to Holofernes’ tent at night under the pretense of sleeping with him. Instead, with grim resolve, she cut off his head. The Assyrians, seeing the head of their general mounted on the wall in the morning, fled in terror.”15


12. The Rout of the Assyrians

The episode of Judith assassinating Holofernes, the general of the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, appears to serve as two separate examples. The first is the pride of Holofernes and the second is the pride of the Assyrians collectively.


13. The Fall of Troy

“In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans (Greeks) after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta… the end of the war came with one final plan. Odysseus devised a new ruse—a giant hollow wooden horse, an animal that was sacred to the Trojans. It was built by Epeius and guided by Athena, from the wood of a cornel tree grove sacred to Apollo, with the inscription: The Greeks dedicate this thank-offering to Athena for their return home. The hollow horse was filled with soldiers[149] led by Odysseus. The rest of the army burned the camp and sailed for Tenedos. When the Trojans discovered that the Greeks were gone, believing the war was over, they “joyfully dragged the horse inside the city”, while they debated what to do with it. Some thought they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others thought they should burn it, while others said they ought to dedicate it to Athena. The Achaeans entered the city and killed the sleeping population. A great massacre followed which continued into the day.

Blood ran in torrents, drenched was all the earth,
As Trojans and their alien helpers died.
Here were men lying quelled by bitter death
All up and down the city in their blood.

The Trojans, fueled with desperation, fought back fiercely, despite being disorganized and leaderless. With the fighting at its height, some donned fallen enemies’ attire and launched surprise counterattacks in the chaotic street fighting. Other defenders hurled down roof tiles and anything else heavy down on the rampaging attackers. The outlook was grim though, and eventually the remaining defenders were destroyed along with the whole city.”16

  1. Purgatory, trans. Musa, opening of Canto X. []
  2. Id., opening of Canto XII. []
  3. Musa, Canto XII, cmts. 25-63. []
  4. Canto XII; cf. Book X of Paradise Lost. []
  5. Greek Mythology Encyclopedia. []
  6. Musa, cmt. 28, p. 133. []
  7. Nimrod Wiki. []
  8. Id., cf. “The giant who Built the Tower of Babel on the plain of Shinar. (Gen. 10:10) (Cf. Inf. XXXI, 77-78; Par. XXVI, 126.” – Also, to view more of Gustave Dore’s work on the Divine Comedy, please visit The World of Dante. []
  9. Metam. VI, 182-312, Musa, cmt. 39, p. 134. []
  10. See, I. Sam. 15:3-11; 31:4-5; Musa, cmt. 40, p. 134. []
  11. I Kings 12:18; Musa, cmt. 46, p. 134. []
  12. See Inf. XX, 34; Musa, cmt. 50, 134. []
  13. Musa, cmt. 52; citing II Kings 19:36-37 and Isa. 37:37-38. []
  14. Musa, cmt. 55-6. []
  15. Musa, cmt. 59. []
  16. The Trojan War, Wikipedia. []

Ante-Purgatory: The 3 Ways Those Who Repent Late in Life are Punished in Dante’s Purgatorio

At this death there ensured a struggled between the powers of good and evil for his soul; since he had uttered the name of Mary with his dying breath and shed a tear of true repentance, the heavily faction prevailed and bore his soul off to Paradise.



1. The Excommunicated

In Canto III, Dante and Virgil encounter those souls who were excommunicated. The reason, however, these souls are in purgatory and not hell is because they repented at the very end of their life. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the repentant excommunicants are actually not in purgatory proper – they are in ante-purgatory or that which comes before purgatory. Virgil and the Pilgrim Dante meet a soul named Manfred. The soul explains that the souls of excommunicants who repent late in life must wait in ante-purgatory thirty times as long as they waited to repent on earth. The wait can, however, be shorted by intercessory prayer. Manfred explains his situation in a very beautiful section of verses:

Horrible was the nature of my sins,
but boundless mercy stretches out its arms
to any man who comes in search of it,


The church’s curse is not the final word
for Everlasting Love may still return,
if hope reveals the slightest hint of green.

True, he who dies scorning the Holy Church,
although he turns repentant at life’s end,
must stay outside, a wanderer on this bank,

for thirty time as long as he has lived
in his presumptuousness-although good prayers
may shorten the duration of his term.

The reason waiting in ante-purgatory is a punishment is because the souls cannot begin their purgation, and it is their purgation that makes them fit to enter into the beatific bliss of heaven. It is possible that Dante has the souls wait “thirty times as long” as they lived in their presumptuous state due to “a provision in Canon Law that calls for a thirty-day period of grace before the ban of excommunication goes into effect.”1


2. The Indolent

After climbing through an arduous gap in the mountain, Dante the Pilgrim is told that Mount Purgatory actually becomes easier to climb the higher you go.2 As they continue their ascent, Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil meet the “indolent souls” who constitute the second class of the “Late Repentants” in ante-purgatory. The indolent souls are lazy. Though they were not excommunicated as the first class of Late Repentants, the indolent souls simply waited until their end of their life to repent. They are punished by having to wait outside purgatory proper for as many years as they waited to repent on earth. An indolent soul named Belacqua explains:

Before I start, the heavens must revolve
as many times as while I was alive,
for I put off repenting till the end.

Prayers could, of course, make my time shorter here:
prayers form a heart that lives in grace–the rest
are worthless, for they go unheard in Heaven!”

Note that Dante again includes the benefit of intercessory prayer when speaking of the punishment of these souls. With the indolent, the concept of praying for the poor souls in purgatory is explained in further detail and includes that those prayers must come from an individual on earth who is in a state of grace.3


3. The Unshriven: Violent Deaths

As Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil continue on their ascent, they discover a group of souls chanting Miserere. The souls are the third and final class of the Late Repentants. They are those “who died a violent death but managed to repent in the final moments.”4

We are all souls who met a violent death,
and we were sinners to our final hour;
but then the light of Heaven lit our minds,

and penitent and pardoning, we left
that life at peace with God, Who left our hearts
with longing for the holy sight of Him.”

Here they encounter the soul named Buonconte of Montefeltro. Buonconte’s story is notable: “At this death there ensured a struggled between the powers of good and evil for his soul; since he had uttered the name of Mary with his dying breath and shed a tear of true repentance, the heavenly faction prevailed and bore his soul off to Paradise. But a demon took possession of his corpse and played havoc with it: he conjured up a storm and sent the mortal remains plummeting down the raging and swollen river channels.”5 He states:

I made my way, my throat on open wound,
fleeing on foot, and bloodying the plain.

There I went blind. I could no longer speak,
but as I died, I murmured Mary’s name,
and there I fell and left my empty flesh.

The unshriven or unabsolved begin the theme of each group in purgatory having its own prayer. The unshriven sing the Miserere, which is King David’s famous Psalm 50 asking for forgiveness.6 The unshriven souls request that Dante and others pray for them.7 Continuing the theme of intercessory prayer, Dante asks Virgil about the “power of prayer to affect the will of Heaven.”8 Virgil states, “high justice would in no way be debased / if ardent love should cancel instantly / the debt these penitents must satisfy.”9 In contrast, however, Virgil submits there are “those whose sins could not be urged by prayer / because their prayers had no access to God.”10


The Gate of Purgatory

"The Portals of Purgatory" by Gustave Dore.
“The Portals of Purgatory” by Gustave Dore.

While still in ante-purgatory, Virgil and Dante the Pilgrim continue to the Valley of the Princes where the “Negligent Rulers” dwell.11 The rulers are singing the Salve Regina. Though not late repentants, the rulers continue a theme of negligence seen in the excommunicants, the indolent, and the unshriven. After a few other encounters, Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil arrive at the Gate of Purgatory. Three steps lead up to the gate. The first is a marble step “polished to the glaze of a looking glass.”12 The second is a black step, “rough and crumbling, fire-corroded stone.”13 And the third and final step – upon which the Gate of Purgatory sat – was “red as the blood that spurts out from a vein.”14 According to Musa, “the three steps are generally taken t0 represent the three stages of repentance: the first step, which is white and mirror-like, stands for self-examination; the second, black, rough step stands for sorrow for sin, or contrition; the third, flaming-red step signifies satisfaction of the sinner’s debt, or penance.”15 On the threshold of the Gate of Purgatory sits an angel clothed in an ash gray robe holding a sword. When Dante approaches, the angel traces seven “P’s” on his forehead. In Latin, the word for sin is peccatum, which foreshadows the seven capital vices that will be purged in purgatory. The angel even warns Dante to be sure to “wash away” the wounds on his journey. The angel then takes keys given to him by St. Peter – one gold and one silver – and opens the Gate of Purgatory. As the gate opens, Dante can hear Te Deum Laudamus being sung.

  1. Purgatory, Trans. Musa, 39 n. 139. []
  2. See Canto IV, line 88-90. []
  3. See Purgatory, 48, n. 133-35. []
  4. Purgatory, 49. []
  5. Purgatory, Canto V, 49. []
  6. Psalm 50 – DR. []
  7. Canto VI, 25-37. []
  8. Purgatory, 57. []
  9. Canto VI, 37-19. []
  10. Canto VI, 41-2. []
  11. Canto VII. []
  12. Canto IX, 94-5. []
  13. Id. 98. []
  14. Id. 102. []
  15. Purgatory, 105. []

Purgatory: 8 Maps of Dante’s Purgatorio

"The Portals of Purgatory" by Gustave Dore.
“The Portals of Purgatory” by Gustave Dore.

Listers, “The “Divina Commedia” is an allegory of human life, in the form of a vision of the world beyond the grave, written avowedly with the object of converting a corrupt society to righteousness: “to remove those living in this life from the state of misery, and lead them to the state of felicity”. It is composed of a hundred cantos, written in the measure known as terza rima, with its normally hendecasyllabic lines and closely linked rhymes, which Dante so modified from the popular poetry of his day that it may be regarded as his own invention. He is relating, nearly twenty years after the event, a vision which was granted to him (for his own salvation when leading a sinful life) during the year of jubilee, 1300, in which for seven days (beginning on the morning of Good Friday) he passed through hell, purgatory, and paradise, spoke with the souls in each realm, and heard what the Providence of God had in store for himself and to world. The framework of the poem presents the dual scheme of the “De Monarchiâ” transfigured. Virgil, representing human philosophy acting in accordance with the moral and intellectual virtues, guides Dante by the light of natural reason from the dark wood of alienation from God (where the beasts of lust pride, and avarice drive man back from ascending the Mountain of the Lord), through hell and purgatory to the earthly paradise, the state of temporal felicity, when spiritual liberty has been regained by the purgatorial pains. Beatrice, representing Divine philosophy illuminated by revelation, leads him thence, up through the nine moving heavens of intellectual preparation, into the true paradise, the spaceless and timeless empyrean, in which the blessedness of eternal life is found in the fruition of the sight of God. There her place is taken by St. Bernard, type of the loving contemplation in which the eternal life of the soul consists, who commends him to the Blessed Virgin, at whose intercession he obtains a foretaste of the Beatific Vision, the poem closing with all powers of knowing and loving fulfilled and consumed in the union of the understanding with the Divine Essence, the will made one with the Divine Will, “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars”.1

“The “Purgatorio”, perhaps the most artistically perfect of the three canticles, owes less to the beauty of the separate episodes. Dante’s conception of purgatory as a lofty mountain, rising out of the ocean in the southern hemisphere, and leading up to the Garden of Eden, the necessary preparation for winning back the earthly paradise, and with it all the prerogatives lost by man at the fall of Adam, seems peculiar to him; nor do we find elsewhere the purifying process carried on beneath the sun and stars, with the beauty of transfigured nature only eclipsed by the splendour of the angelic custodians of the seven terraces. The meeting with Beatrice on the banks of Lethe, with Dante’s personal confession of an unworthy past, completes the story of the “Vita Nuova” after the bitter experiences and disillusions of a lifetime. The essence of Dante’s philosophy is that all virtues and all vices proceed from love. The “Purgatorio” shows how love is to be set in order, the “Paradiso” shows how it is rendered perfect in successive stages of illumination, until it attains to union with the Divine Love.”2


Maps of Mount Purgatorio

Mount Purgatory 1

Mount Purgatory 2

Mount Purgatory 4

Mount Purgatory 5

Mount Purgatory 6

Mount Purgatory 8

Mount Purgatory 3

Mount Purgatory 7


Bonus: Maps of Dante’s Universe

Dante Universe 3

Dante Universe 1

Dante Universe 4

Dante Universe 2

  1. Catholic Encyclopedia: Dante Alighieri. []
  2. Id. []

Great Books: 31 Political Works Recommended by Faithful Catholic Colleges

Listers, certain “Great Books” have shaped the course of the Western world. Mortimer J. Adler, a Roman Catholic philosopher and professor, presented three criterion for a book to be considered “great,” he stated:

  1. The book has contemporary significance: that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times.
  2. The book is inexhaustible: it can be read again and again with benefit.
  3. The book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.1

While over one hundred universities and colleges in the United States and Canada have some form of a Great Books program, SPL has relied on three to compile this list: Thomas Aquinas College, the University of Dallas, and Ave Maria University. Thomas Aquinas College (“TAC”) – whose entire four year liberal arts program is a Great Books only program – explains the purpose of the Great Books tradition:

Yet the great books are not the objects of study at the College. Students here do not read these works — Homer, Shakespeare, Plato, Euclid, St. Augustine, Descartes, Newton, and so many others — as outstanding examples of the creativity of the human spirit (though that they certainly are). Nor do they read them to become more familiar with Western culture and civilization (valuable though that is). Rather, Thomas Aquinas College students read the great books because, more than any other works, when studied under the light of the teaching Church, they can open up the truth about reality.2

Reading the Great Books of the Western tradition imports an insight into our modern culture that is completely unparalleled. Advocacy of the great books, however, suffers from a fatal flaw. For example, a Roman Catholic and a secular humanist may both agree Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes should be included as a great work; however, they would differ significantly on why that book is great. Was it a great contribution to the West? – or was it a great mistake? Notice in their statement on the Great Books, TAC states, “when studied under the light of Church teaching.” Many of the “great” books are incredibly anti-Catholic. Some times they are explicitly anti-Catholic, like Hobbes mocking the scholastics and transubstantiation. Often times they present a theory and praxis that has led to today’s crisis of modernity.3 In fact, the entirety of modernity may be said to have started as a rejection. Consequently, a Catholic institution that recommends the Great Books, but does not present them through the lens of Truth, Jesus Christ, may in fact be undercutting its own commitment to the Church.4 The what to study is just as important as how to study it.

The following list is drawn from faithful Catholic institutions that present the Great Books under the Truth of the Church. TAC is a four year liberal arts college that centers its entire eduction on a Great Books program.5 The University of Dallas (“UD”) offers a very unique Great Books Program. The University offers doctoral degrees in Literature, Philosophy, and Politics, but places all of these students together for the beginning of their studies; thus, they have a Great Books core curriculum for when their students are together, and then they have a Great Books program tailored for each individual program.6 The graduate theology department of Ave Maria University (“AMU”) has found a unique way to present the Great Books. Instead of having a flat list, AMU presents them within the “Dialogue of the Ancients & Moderns,” which orders the books to show the interrelation. For example, the dialogue approach will list several works that build off each other, and then offer a “clarification by contrast” by listing the works that took a different path.  In other words, the dialogue of Ancients & Moderns method attempts to adopt a pedagogical prudence into the very listing of the works themselves.

The following is a synthesis of the lists from all three Catholic institutions. The footnotes indicate not only the source of each recommended reading, but also which institution recommended the linked translation. Following the example of AMU, the list is divided into “ancients” and “moderns,” but is otherwise simply presented as a flat list. The list is geared toward Catholic thinkers in the United States, since it recommends certain core U.S. political documents. Finally, only the UD Politics Phd program is tailored specifically to politics. The political contributions of TAC & AMU are pulled from their general Great Books lists. For those seeking Catholic commentary on how to understand these Great Works, please note the footnotes for suggested works that could serve as primers not only to the individual suggested works but also to Catholic political thought overall.7


The Great Books


The Ancients

1. The Holy Bible8

2. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War.9

3. Plato, The Republic.10

4. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.11

5. Aristotle, Politics.12

6. Plutarch, Parallel Lives.13

7. Augustine, Confessions.14

8. Augustine, City of God.15

9. Thomas Aquinas, Selections of the Summa Theologica.16

10. Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship.17


The Moderns

11. Machiavelli, The Prince.18

12. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.19

13. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government20

14. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, First and Second Discourses.21

15. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract.22

16. Articles of Confederation.23

17. Declaration of Independence.24

18. United States Constitution of 1787.25

19. Virginia (1776) and Massachusetts (1780) Declarations of Rights.26

20. Northwest Ordinance of 178727

21. The Federalist Papers28

22. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.29

23. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.30

24. Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals31

25. Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto32

26. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America33

27. Abraham Lincoln, Various Texts.34

28. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates35

29. John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action36

30. Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”37

31. Leo Strauss, Selections indicating his approach to political philosophy.38

  1. Mortimer List taken from Wikipedia, citing Adler, Mortimer J. “Selecting Works for the 1990 Edition of the Great Books of the Western World,” page 142. []
  2. TAC Website, The Great Books. []
  3. See 4 Steps to Understand the Crisis of Modernity. []
  4. See, Against Great Books by Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen on First Things. []
  5. TAC Great Books List. []
  6. UD Great Books: Core Curriculum & Other Curriculums. []
  7. Catholic Political Thought: For those seeking an introduction to Catholic political thought, see 6 Books for Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought. []
  8. The Bible is not a “political” text per se, but it arguably colors almost all thought in the West. Whether a Great Books list focuses on politics or literature, the Bible remains a must-read text. AMU suggests an emphasis on Genesis, Exodus 1-15, 19-14, Deut. 5-11, 28-30, Hosea, Jeremiah, Amos, Isaiah, Job; in the New Testament, Matthew, John, Galations, Ephesians. UD PhD core curriculum recommends a focus on the following biblical texts: Genesis, Exodus, Job, Psalms (1, 2, 22, 23, 29, 37, 47, 51, 53, 73, 95, 110, 130, 146-150), Isaiah, Matthew, John, Romans, Corinthians I and II, Revelation; TAC lists the entire Bible on their syllabus. []
  9. The linked edition is recommended by TAC; Recommended by UD Phd Politics. []
  10. The linked Allan Bloom edition is recommended by TAC and also the preferred edition of AMU; Recommended by UD Phd Core Curriculum. []
  11. Recommended by TAC, AMU, and the UD PhD Core Curriculum. TAC recommends the Oxford edition of Nicomachean Ethics. A common edition at AMU is the linked Irwin translation. []
  12. Recommended by TAC, AMU, and UD Phd Politics; the Lord’s translation is widely regarded as the best English translation (explicitly recommended by TAC & AMU. SPL has a list of Aristotelian definitions – taken from the Lord trans. – that may be helpful, along with numerous lists tagged under Aristotle. []
  13. TAC recommends the edition linked and an emphasis on the following: Lycurgus, Pericles, Aristides, Alcibiades, Marcellus, Caius Marius, Sylla, Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Marcus Brutus, Comparison of Dion and Brutus; UD Phd Politics recommends: Theseus, Romulus; Lycurgus, Numa; Alcibiades, Coriolanus; Alexander, Caesar. []
  14. Recommended TAC, AMU, and UD Phd Core Curriculum. AMU heavily recommended the linked Frank Sheed translation. []
  15. The linked Cambridged edition recommended by TAC; UD Phd Politics; AMU suggestions Book XIX. []
  16. UD Phd Core Curriculum recommends Summa Theologiae I, 1-5 (Questions on Theology and God) II.1, 90-110, 112-113 (Questions on Law and Grace); the UD Phd Politics Curriculum recommends St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Treatise on Law,” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, Questions 90-101, 104-108); TAC recommends similar corresponding Summa selections; SPL has written extensively on St. Thomas Aquinas, especially on his Treatise on Law and virtue, see Aquinas’ Catechesis on the Virtues and Aquinas’ Guide to Natural Law. []
  17. Recommended by both the UD PhD Politics and TAC. []
  18. The Mansfield translation recommended by TAC; Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU. SPL offers: 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli. []
  19. The Hackett Classic edition recommended by TAC; Recommended by the UD Phd Politics & AMU. SPL offers: A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes: 12 Things You Should Know. []
  20. University of Dallas Phd Politics curriculum recommends: all of the Second Treatise, plus the following selections from the First Treatise: ch. 1, sec. 1-3; ch. 2, sec. 6, 7, 9, 14; ch. 4, sec. 21-27, 33, 39, 42, 43; ch. 5, sec. 44-45, 47; ch. 6, sec. 53-54, 56-59, 61; ch. 9, sec. 86-100; ch. 11, sec. 106; TAC recommends the Hackett Classic edition of the Second Treatise on Government; recommended by AMU. []
  21. Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU. []
  22. Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU; the linked Hackett Classics anthology edition recommended by TAC. []
  23. Recommended by TAC. []
  24. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics and TAC. []
  25. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics and TAC. []
  26. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics. []
  27. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics. []
  28. TAC recommends the linked Modern Classics Library edition, and the UD Phd Politics curriculum recommends, No. 6, 9, 10, 15, 48, 49, 51, 57, 62, 70, 78. []
  29. Linked edition recommended by TAC. []
  30. Recommended by the UD PhD Core Curriculum. []
  31. Linked Hackett Classics edition recommended by TAC; recommended by the UD Phd Politics. []
  32. TAC recommends the linked text; The UD PhD Politics also emphasizes: (The Marx-Engels Reader, 469-500); Engels’ Eulogy (681-82); Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (683-717); “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction” (53-65); Theses on Feuerbach (143-45); “On the Jewish Question” (26-52); “1844 Manuscripts” (70-93); German Ideology (146-200); Address of the Central Committee (501-511); on non-violent revolution and “Critique of the Gotha Program” (522-541); AMU recommends the Manifesto and Theses on FeuerbachGerman Ideology. []
  33. TAC and UD recommend Mansfield edition, linked; UD PhD Politics emphasizes “appropriate selections showing his approach to the topic.” For example: Introduction (pp. 3-15), vol 1, pt 1, ch 2-5 (27-93), vol 1, pt 2, ch 5-6 (187-235), vol 1, pt 2, ch 9 (264-302), vol 2, pt 2, ch 1-8 (479-503), vol 2, pt 3, ch 8-12 (558-576), vol 2, pt 4, ch 1-3 and 6-8 (639-645, 661-676) (page numbers are from the Mansfield translation. []
  34. The UD PhD Politics recommends: Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), Speech on Dred Scott (1857), First and Second Inaugural Addresses, Address to Congress on July 4, 1861, Gettysburg Address. []
  35. TAC recommends the linked Douglas edition; The UD PhD Politics recommends the Robert W. Johannsen edition, (New York: Oxford, 1965); UD particularly recommends the selections showing the views of both Lincoln and Douglas. For example, 14-36, 78-79, 86-92, 145-49, 162-63, 195-200, 206-226, 229-39, 242-44. []
  36. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics. []
  37. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics, while the Core Curriculum recommends the entirety of Being and Time. []
  38. The UD PhD Politics recommends, for example, What is Political Philosophy, Chapter 1, 2, 3, and 9; or, Natural Right and History: Introduction, chapters 1 and 4, and one of the modern subchapters. Along with AMU, SPL highly recommends the essay The Three Waves of Modernity in his Introduction to Political Philosophy. SPL has written a summary list entitled 4 Steps to Understanding the Crisis of Modernity. []

The Crusades: 3 Books Worth Reading

Listers, the following works have been chosen as excellent introductory texts to the Crusades. All three works come heavily recommended by Catholic professors and priests as superior primers on what is arguably one of the most misunderstood events in human history. All three title are available online – click the title or cover photo for link – and the blurbs and author biographies are taken verbatim from the publisher’s information.


1. The Glory of the Crusades

The Glory of the CrusadesHow can the Crusades be called glorious? Our modern mindset says they were ugly wars of greed and religious intolerance a big reason why Christians and Muslims today can’t coexist peacefully. Historian Steve Weidenkopf challenges this received narrative with The Glory of the Crusades. Drawing on the latest and most authentic medieval scholarship, he presents a compelling case for understanding the Crusades as they were when they happened: armed pilgrimages driven by a holy zeal to recover conquered Christian lands. Without whitewashing their failures and even crimes, he debunks the numerous myths about the Crusades that our secular culture uses as clubs to attack the Church. In place of these myths he offers men and women of faith and valor who pledged their lives for the honor of Christ s holy places. With a storyteller s gift, Weidenkopf relates the Crusades many dramas their heroes and villains, battles and sieges, intrigues and coincidences offering a vivid and engrossing account of events that, though centuries old, have profoundly affected the course of our world to the present day.

About the Author
Steve Weidenkopf is a Lecturer of Church History at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College in Alexandria, Virginia. He has given numerous presentations and seminars on Church History, marriage and family life, human sexuality, and theology throughout the country.He served as the Director of the Office of Marriage & Family Life for the Archdiocese of Denver (2001 – 2004) and as an advisor to Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap. and was an instructor at the Our Lady of the New Advent Catechetical Institute. Steve is a member of the Society for the Study of the Crusades and the Latin East – an international academic group dedicated to the field of crusading history and is also a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Prof. Weidenkopf has also written a series of articles for Catholic Answers. The articles address the most common misconceptions about the Crusades and how to refute them.1


2. The New Concise History of the Crusades

The New Concise History of the CrusadesHow have the crusades contributed to Islamist rage and terrorism today? Were the crusades the Christian equivalent of modern jihad? In this sweeping yet crisp history, Thomas F. Madden offers a brilliant and compelling narrative of the crusades and their contemporary relevance. With a cry of “God wills it!” medieval knights ushered in a new era in European history. Across Europe a wave of pious enthusiasm led many thousands to leave their homes, family, and friends to march to distant lands in a great struggle for Christ. Yet the crusades were more than simply a holy war. They represent a synthesis of attitudes and values that were uniquely medieval—so medieval, in fact, that the crusading movement is rarely understood today. Placing all the major crusades within the medieval social, economic, religious, and intellectual environments that gave birth to the movement and nurtured it for centuries, Madden brings the distant medieval world vividly to life. From Palestine and Europe’s farthest reaches, each crusade is recounted in a clear, concise narrative. The author gives special attention as well to the crusades’ effects on the Islamic world and the Christian Byzantine East.

About the Author
Thomas F. Madden is professor and chair of the Department of History at Saint Louis University. A widely recognized expert on the Crusades and Christian-Muslim conflict, he has written and spoken widely on the topic in such venues as the New York Times, National Public Radio, and PBS. He is the author of A Concise History of the Crusades, which was a Washington Post Book World Rave selection, Enrico Dandolo and the Rise of Venice and The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, a History Book Club selection. He is the editor of Crusades: The Illustrated History and The Crusades: The Essential Readings. He resides in St. Louis, Missouri.


3. The Crusades: The World’s Debate

The Crusades BellocBelloc shows that the Crusades were a titanic struggle between Christian civilization and “the Turk,” savage Mongols who had embraced Islam. He explains the practical reasons why the Crusaders initially succeeded and why they ultimately failed then he predicts the re-emergence of Islam, since Christendom failed to destroy it in the 12th century. Makes history come alive and gives a rare, true appreciation of Christendom and of our Catholic forefathers!

About the Author
Hilaire Belloc was born at St. Cloud, France, in 1870. He and his family moved to England upon his father s death, where he took first-class honors in history at Balliol College in Oxford, graduating in 1895. It has been stated that his desire was to rewrite the Catholic history of both France and England. He wrote hundreds of books on the subjects of history, economics, and military science, as well as novels and poetry. His works include The Great Heresies, Europe and the Faith, Survivals and New Arrivals, The Path to Rome, Characters of the Reformation, and How the Reformation Happened.


Other Recommended Reading Lists:

  1. Catholic Answer articles on the Crusades. []

6 Books on Islam by Catholic Scholar Robert Spencer

Opus Dei Father C.J. McCloskey, a Church historian and research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, referred to Robert Spencer as “perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country.”

Spencer ProfileListers, Opus Dei Father C.J. McCloskey, a Church historian and research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, referred to Robert Spencer as “perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country.”1 According to his website, Jihad Watch, “Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and the author of twelve books, including two New York Times bestsellers, The Truth About Muhammad and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (both Regnery). His latest books are Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins (ISI) and Not Peace But A Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity and Islam (Catholic Answers).”

“Spencer has led seminars on Islam and jihad for the United States Central Command, United States Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the U.S. intelligence community.”2 Jihad Watch – a site from which SPL often shares otherwise unreported accounts of Islamic terrorism – answers the question Why Jihad Watch? by stating, “Because non-Muslims in the West, as well as in India, China, Russia, and the world over, are facing a concerted effort by Islamic jihadists, the motives and goals of whom are largely ignored by the Western media, to destroy their societies and impose Islamic law upon them — and to commit violence to that end even while their overall goal remains out of reach. That effort goes under the general rubric of jihad.”3 Robert Spencer is also available on Twitter at the handle @JihadWatchRS.4


Robert Spencer 2
“Robert Spencer is a careful observer of Islam and a courageous voice on behalf of Christians…” – Scott Hahn, Fr. Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville


1. Not Peace but a Sword: The Great Chasm between Christianity and Islam

Not Peace but a SwordIslam…Is it a religion of peace?…Are Muslims an easy ally in the fight against global secularization and the culture of death?…Are their beliefs really so different than our own? Some Christians view Islam as a sister religion, a branch of the same Abrahamic tree—lacking the fullness of revelation but nonetheless a religion of peace. Others are more critical of Islamic teachings but still see Muslims as valuable partners in the global fight against secularization and the Culture of Death.

In Not Peace but a Sword, Robert Spencer argues they’re both wrong—and warns Christians against the danger of thinking that Islam is an easy ally. Many Christian groups, including the Catholic Church, do recognize whatever is good and true in Islam, and their leaders rightly pursue peaceful accord and common ground with all religions. Spencer argues, however, that real peace can come only from truth. Where there is falsehood in Islamic doctrine, morals, and practice, papering over the truth actually hurts the cause of peace.

And so Spencer, the New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen books dealing with Islam and the West, shines the light of truth on areas where Christians and Muslims don’t just quibble over small details but fundamentally disagree, including:

  • The character of God, Jesus, and divine revelation
  • The nature of truth and the source of moral law
  • Religious freedom and other basic human rights
  • Life issues, marriage, and sexual morality
  • The rights and dignity of women

He demonstrates how these differences are not academic but real-world. They are critical and drive Muslim behavior toward Christians and others. If we fail to open our eyes to these differences, we do so at our peril. He demonstrates how these differences are not academic but real-world. They are critical and drive Muslim behavior toward Christians and others. If we fail to open our eyes to these differences, we do so at our peril.

“Robert Spencer is a careful observer of Islam and a courageous voice on behalf of Christians. In Not Peace But a Sword he shows us how to take Islam seriously without falling into alarmism, hatred, or bigotry, and provides a needed corrective to media disinformation.”
Scott Hahn, Fr. Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville

“A great many Catholics know only a Disney-fied version of Islam, and still cling to the dangerous illusion that Muslims and Christians share much in common. But as Robert Spencer ably demonstrates, beneath the surface similarities lies a deep and possibly unbridgeable gulf. This is must reading not only for Catholics but for all Christians.”
William Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West

Robert Spencer carefully examines the challenge posed to Christianity by an increasingly militant Islam. His case is calm, lucid, accurate, and uncompromising in its presentation of the facts of history. He provides an honest and unflinching account of the roots of Christian/Muslim tensions, a robust defense of Jesus Christ and Christianity in response to Muslim claims, and a sobering wake-up call to all Christians.
Patrick Madrid, author of Envoy for Christ: 25 Years as a Catholic Apologist and host of the Right Here, Right Now radio show


2. Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins

Did Muhammed Exist 2Are jihadists dying for a fiction? Everything you thought you knew about Islam is about to change. Did Muhammad exist? It is a question that few have thought—or dared—to ask. Virtually everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, takes for granted that the prophet of Islam lived and led in seventh-century Arabia.
But this widely accepted story begins to crumble on close examination, as Robert Spencer shows in his eye-opening new book.

In his blockbuster bestseller The Truth about Muhammad, Spencer revealed the shocking contents of the earliest Islamic biographical material about the prophet of Islam. Now, in Did Muhammad Exist?, he uncovers that material’s surprisingly shaky historical foundations. Spencer meticulously examines historical records, archaeological findings, and pioneering new scholarship to reconstruct what we can know about Muhammad, the Qur’an, and the early days of Islam. The evidence he presents challenges the most fundamental assumptions about Islam’s origins.

Did Muhammad Exist? reveals:

  • How the earliest biographical material about Muhammad dates from at least 125 years after his reported death
  • How six decades passed before the Arabian conquerors—or the people they conquered—even mentioned Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Islam
  • The startling evidence that the Qur’an was constructed from existing materials—including pre-Islamic Christian texts
  • How even Muslim scholars acknowledge that countless reports of Muhammad’s deeds were fabricated
  • Why a famous mosque inscription may refer not to Muhammad but, astonishingly, to Jesus
  • How the oldest records referring to a man named Muhammad bear little resemblance to the now-standard Islamic account of the life of the prophet
  • The many indications that Arabian leaders fashioned Islam for political reasons

Far from an anti-Islamic polemic, Did Muhammad Exist? is a sober but unflinching look at the origins of one of the world’s major religions. While Judaism and Christianity have been subjected to searching historical criticism for more than two centuries, Islam has never received the same treatment on any significant scale. The real story of Muhammad and early Islam has long remained in the shadows. Robert Spencer brings it into the light at long last.

“[Spencer] has engaged in concerted detective work of a scholarly nature. His book is no polemic. It is a serious quest for facts. . . . Well-written and moves right along.”
Washington Times

“Robert Spencer has displayed brilliant scholarship and fierce courage in his previous books. In this one he perseveres and confronts with deep erudition the most topical problem of our century.”
Bat Ye’or, author of The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam


3. Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics: 100 Questions and Answers

Inside IslamInside Islam: A Guide for Catholics utilizes a popular question-and-answer format so that all Catholics – both the theological novice and the well-catechized – can learn the basics of Islam. Co-authors Robert Spencer and Daniel Ali, a convert from Islam, give you a solid understanding of Islam’s unique teachings including:

  • The Islamic view of God
  • The role of Jesus in Islamic theology
  • Islam’s controversial theology of jihad, or “holy war”
  • Why Islam’s strong beliefs are so attractive to secularized Western societies
  • The role of women in Islam

Inside Islam is an essential resource for anyone who wants to know more about this historic religion from the Middle East. After reading this book, you will have a better understanding of the issues discussed every day in the news.5


4. The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran

Complete Infidels Guide to the Koran 2The Koran: It may be the most controversial book in the world. Some see it as a paean to peace, others call it a violent mandate for worldwide Islamic supremacy. How can one book lead to such dramatically different conclusions? New York Times bestselling author Robert Spencer reveals the truth in The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran: not many Westerners know what’s in the Koran, since so few have actually read it — even among the legions of politicians, diplomats, analysts, and editorial writers who vehemently insist that the Koran preaches tolerance.

Now, Spencer unveils the mysteries lying behind this powerful book, guiding readers through the controversies surrounding the Koran’s origins and its most contentious passages. Stripping out the obsolete debates, Spencer focuses on the Koran’s decrees toward Jews, Christians, and other Infidels, explaining how they were viewed in Muhammad’s time, what they’ve supposedly done wrong, and most important, what the Koran has in store for them.

“Meticulous, comprehensive, indispensable. `I read the Koran so you don’t have to,’ Spencer writes–but even for those of us who have read the Koran, this is a richly illuminating work.”
Bruce Bawer, author of Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom and While Europe Slept

“Governing officials and media spokesmen may ignore Spencer’s warnings, but they do so at their own risk, because Islamic jihadists are not ignoring what’s in the Koran, and are working to destroy our freedoms in obedience to Koranic dictates. In illuminating for Westerners exactly what the Koran teaches, Spencer has performed a valuable service in the defense of Western civilization against the Islamic jihad.”
Geert Wilders, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Party for Freedom (PVV), the Netherlands

“Unlike most of today’s self-styled experts, Robert Spencer won’t tell you that `slay the idolaters wherever you find them’ really means `love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ In The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, Spencer shows once again that he is America’s most informed, fearless, and compelling voice on modern jihadism, insisting that we come to grips with the words behind the ideology that fuels international terror.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, senior fellow at the National Review Institute and author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad


5. Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs

Stealth Jihad 2Does America face a jihadist threat that’s even bigger than terrorism?

While our homeland security efforts are focused on preventing terrorist attacks, another jihadist threat is growing right here in America–in plain sight.

In Stealth Jihad, Islam expert and New York Times bestselling author Robert Spencer blows the whistle on a long-term plot by Islamic jihadists to undermine the United States. This effort aims not to bring America to its knees through attacks with guns or bombs, but to subvert the country from within–by gradually Islamizing America. The ultimate goal, the stealth jihadists themselves declare, is nothing less than the adoption of Islamic law in the United States.

Describing the disturbing ease with which stealth jihadists have already become ensconced in the American political and media landscapes, Spencer exposes the full modus operandi of the movement as revealed in a stunning document unveiled in a recent terrorism funding trial. In this unsettling book, he explains:

  • Which Islamic fundamentalist organization is behind the stealth jihad
  • How stealth jihadists have reinvented themselves as mainstream civil rights activists–despite their many past declarations of Islamic supremacism
  • How stealth jihadists played a key role in formulating U.S. government guidelines for the War on Terror
  • How insistence on “accommodating” Islamic cultural and religious practices in America is part of a calculated strategy to achieve a dangerous larger agenda
  • The effort by stealth jihadists to whitewash the teaching of Islam in schools
  • What can be done to defeat the stealth jihad and preserve America’s liberty

America, Spencer demonstrates, is all but oblivious to a new kind of threat presented by a loosely organized movement whose activists are well funded, highly motivated, and relentless in pursuit of their agenda. This book is a wake-up call for a country so focused on foreign threats that it has left itself vulnerable to a growing danger much closer to home.


6. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)

Politically Incorrect Guide IslamBack Cover: Everything (well, almost everything) you know about Islam and the Crusades is wrong because most textbooks and popular history books are written by left-wing academics and Islamic apologists who justify their contemporary political agendas with contrived historical “facts.” But fear not: Robert Spencer (author of the bestseller Islam Unveiled) refutes the popular myths in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Spencer reveals facts that you won’t be taught in school and will never hear on the evening news, supplies a revealing list of “Books You Must Not Read” (as far as the PC left is concerned), and takes you on a fast-paced politically incorrect tour of Islamic teaching and Crusades history that will give you all the information you need to understand the true nature of the global conflict America faces today.

“A clarion call for the defense of the West before it is too late.” – Ibn Warraq, author

“A much-needed antidote to the poisonous propaganda that compromises our current battle against jihadist murder.” – Bruce Thornton, historian

“An enormous amount of well-researched material. Throws the ball back into the camp of Arabist historians.” – Walid Phares, terror analyst

“Assails, with much erudition, the taboos imposed by the Politically Correct League.” – Bat Ye’or, historian

“The courageous Robert Spencer busts myths and tells truths about jihadists that no one else will tell.” – Michelle Malkin, bestselling author and columnist


A complete list of Robert’s Spencers work is available on the Amazon Author’s Page. Please take the time to visit Jihad Watch and to follow @JihadWatchRS on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all book descriptions and reviews were taken from Amazon.

  1. Fr. McCloskey: The Christian-Muslim Gulf, National Catholic Register []
  2. Robert Spencer: Read his full bio and an interview on Jihad Watch []
  3. Jihad Watch: Read more about why you should read Jihad Watch []
  4. A Caution: On his Twitter account, Robert Spencer tends to retweet some of the vulgarities Muslims tweet at him and retweet many of their threats. While the purpose is most probably to reveal what is being said to him, it can make for a very brutal or vulgar statement appearing in your Twitter feed. []
  5. Ascension Press Review []

12 of the Best GK Chesterton Quotes

“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.”

Listers, whether the topic was angels or cheese the extraordinary mind of GK Chesterton always had a witticism to share. SPL has frequently commented on the British author and shared his quotes on Facebook and Twitter. The following quotes are the ones that have garnered the best response from the listers on social media. Those unfamiliar with the colossal and unique mind of GK Chesterton will want to pick up his famous work Orthodoxy and his classic The Everlasting Man. Enjoy.



“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”


“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”


“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”


“There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.”


“Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference which is an elegant name for ignorance.”


“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”


“The word “good” has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.”


“It [feminism] is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”


“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly.”


“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”


“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”


“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.”


Listers, did we miss your favorite? Feel free to add more GK Chesterton quotes in the comments below and be sure to check out our other lists of quotes.

3 Thoughts on God in Tolkien’s Middle-Earth

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament.”

Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament… There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death: by the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste (or foretaste) of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.

The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.

Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children – from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn – open necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to communion with them (and pray for them). It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people. It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand – after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.1

Listers, as you may have guessed by this point, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was not only a magnificent writer but also a devout Catholic. This influence shines through his works, although not in the direct way often employed by other writers. He simply sought to tell great stories, stories that his readers would enjoy. For him, a great story is one that does not require conscious suspension of disbelief; instead, it is the responsibility of the author to guide the reader into the story smoothly. In particular, it is essential that the rules governing the secondary world that the author subcreates2 are believable and consistent. For Tolkien, this meant that his subcreated world must be consistent with the Truth. Naturally, various physical details differ from our familiar world, but the underlying philosophy is very much the same. As such, his work can provide unique insights into some of the mysteries of faith, a few examples of which I present here. Note that Tolkien does not achieve these insights through the use of allegory, which he professed to ‘cordially dislike’.3 Rather than parallelling Biblical stories, Tolkien tells new stories that are rooted in Christian principles and thus naturally develop many of the same concepts. In this list, I will briefly introduce a few of these ideas and leave the reader to explore both the further detail that can be enjoyed and the numerous other images that Tolkien has given us.


John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

1. Free will and fate

If you lack time to read anything else by Tolkien, read the first part of The Silmarillion, the Ainulindalë. In it, Tolkien describes, in gorgeous almost-poetic prose, the story of Creation as a collaborative music directed by God but left to the freedom of His creatures. It begins with Ilúvatar, God, proposing a theme to his creations, the Ainur, angelic beings similar to the classical gods but different in their submission to and creation by the One:

Then Ilúvatar said to them: “Of the theme that I have declared to you, I will now that ye make in harmony together a Great Music. And since I have kindled you with the Flame Imperishable, ye shall show forth your powers in adorning this theme, each with his own thoughts and devices, if he will. But I will sit and hearken, and be glad that through you great beauty has been wakened into song.”

Then the voices of the Ainur, like unto harps and lutes, and pipes and trumpets, and viols and organs, and like unto countless choirs singing with words, began to fashion the theme of Ilúvatar to a great music; and a sound arose of endless interchanging melodies woven in harmony that passed beyond hearing into the depths and into the heights, and the places of the dwelling of Ilúvatar were filled to overflowing, and the music and the echo of the music went out into the Void, and it was not void.4

The Ainulindalë goes on to treat the specifics of the theme designed by Ilúvatar and its interpretation by the Ainur, but we can already discern one of the core ideas that Tolkien addresses in The Silmarillion: the interaction between free will and fate. Ilúvatar’s theme is later seen to greatly influence the playing out of history; indeed, wisdom in Middle-Earth is closely tied to one’s knowledge of this Music. However, even in its conception it is left up to the freedom of the Ainur: Ilúvatar does not command a performance, but rather requests that each being contribute, ‘if he will’.5 And so they do, each one working his own personality and thoughts into the theme, developing what will become the sky, the seas, the mountains, and the trees. Nonetheless, each is working within the bounds of the theme of Ilúvatar. Tolkien thus introduces a concept that will remain throughout his works: one can be under the guidance of a fate outside oneself and yet act freely.


2. The problem of evil

This emphasis on freedom is most evident in the way that Melkor, one of the Valar, the highest of the Ainur, exercises his freedom: he rebels from the proposed theme and seeks to dominate with his own will. Melkor thus introduces evil, but he does not go unchallenged. Instead, Ilúvatar stands and introduces a new theme, one of his own design, into the ongoing music:

Then Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that he smiled; and he lifted up his left hand, and a new theme began amid the storm… But the discord of Melkor rose in uproar and contended with it… Then again Ilúvatar arose, and the Ainur perceived that his countenance was stern; and he lifted up his right hand, and behold! a third theme grew among the confusion…4

And the discord grows, until Ilúvatar rises and puts an end to the Music. He then addresses the Ainur:

Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.4

Tolkien here presents a traditional explanation of the problem of evil: evil is a result of misused freedom, but even evil cannot escape the great plan of God; indeed, it increases all the more the magnificence of His plan. Naturally, though, evil is not part of the plan from the beginning: rather, evil results from Melkor’s discord, but Ilúvatar takes his ‘most triumphant notes’ and weaves them into his own theme.4 Tolkien even suggests that this interaction is core to who Ilúvatar is: Ilúvatar does not state that he allows Melkor to continue in order to make an example of him, or to teach him a lesson, but rather to show that ‘I am Ilúvatar’. It is part of Ilúvatar’s very nature to allow his creation to make full use of their freedom; indeed, having given freedom, taking it away would devalue the majesty of his creation, and thus of himself. However, evil notwithstanding, ‘I am Ilúvatar’, and it is also part of his nature to govern all that is, and so the freedom of his creatures ‘redoundeth only to [his] great glory’.6

However, Tolkien knows that all of this explanation, while logical, is hard to accept in the face of our world, and he acknowledges this here: even the godlike Ainur ‘did not yet comprehend the words that were said to them’.4 Throughout all of his writing, he is sensitive to the very real suffering of his characters, never making light of their trials with a trite comment about the power of Ilúvatar. Rather, he treats them and their confusion about evil with the dignity that it deserves, but alternates this treatment with a wider view of the events of the world that reminds the reader that all is ultimately ordered for the good, whether or not we understand this now. Indeed, this wide view provides an (admittedly faint) undercurrent of hope through even the saddest tales of The Silmarillion: even Túrin eventually greets the Gift of Men and passes beyond the struggles of the world. Naturally, given the huge breadth of the problem of evil, there is much more to address here, and Tolkien continues to explore this idea in the rest of his work.


3. Spiritual imagery

Although complex philosophical thoughts are powerful and important, sometimes Tolkien’s words strike deeply but simply into the heart of a confusing topic, opening it to the light of understanding. One such is a description of the Ainur:

And this habitation might seem a little thing to those who consider only the majesty of the Ainur, and not their terrible sharpness; as who should take the whole field of Arda for the foundation of a pillar and so raise it until the cone of its summit were more bitter than a needle; or who consider only the immeasurable vastness of the World, which still the Ainur are shaping, and not the minute precision to which they shape all things therein.4

We have all heard that God can govern both the entirety of the universe and each individual electron, but here Tolkien takes that thought and precedes it with an illustration that raises it to the level of grandeur that it truly should evoke: God can govern both the entirety of the universe and each individual electron!

Another beautiful image touches on the issue of free will in relation to obedience. Aulë, one of the Valar, grows impatient waiting for the arrival of the Children of Ilúvatar, that is, Elves and Men, and undertakes the creation of his own children, who will become the Dwarves. However, he is not Ilúvatar, and he cannot give true life to his creation:

[T]hou hast from me as a gift thy own being only, and no more; and therefore the creatures of thy hand and mind can live only by that being, moving when thou thinkest to move them, and if thy thought be elsewhere, standing idle.7

Aulë immediately sees his error and repents:

I did not desire such lordship… But what shall I do now, so that thou be not angry with me for ever? As a child to his father, I offer to thee these things, the work of the hands which thou hast made. Do with them what thou wilt. But should I not rather destroy the work of my presumption?… Then Aulë took up a great hammer to smite the Dwarves; and he wept. But Ilúvatar had compassion upon Aulë and his desire, because of his humility; and the Dwarves shrank from the hammer and were afraid…7

And Ilúvatar explains that he has granted the Dwarves being of their own, or else they could not have shrunk from the command of their maker. Tolkien here illustrates in a powerful manner the multifaceted connexions among freedom, obedience, and love.

Listers, this is but a sampling of the great value that can be found by one who delves the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien, but even this value pales in comparison to the simple pleasure of enjoying a well-written tale. I would encourage you to take the time to explore Tolkien’s world more thoroughly; you will not regret it.


Ben VanBerkum has been obsessed with Tolkien’s work for as long as he can remember; this may or may not be because he has repressed the memory of those days in which he did not know Middle-Earth. He is pursuing a B.S. in Physics at Stanford University and hopes to enter the Dominican Order.





  1. J.R.R. Tolkien to Michael Tolkien, his son, from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, nos. 43 and 250. There are many more such reflections contained within Tolkien’s published letters; you can use the index entry under Tolkien, Catholicism to explore further. 
  2. cf. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”. 
  3. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, Foreword. 
  4. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, “Ainulindalë”. 
  5. The Silmarillion Seminar produced by Prof. Corey Olsen and some of his students has been very helpful in highlighting details I might otherwise have missed. I highly encourage you to check out his work if you’re at all interested in spending extra time with Tolkien. 
  6. Tolkien, The Book of Lost Tales, Part One, “The Music of the Ainur”. 
  7. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, “Of Aulë and Yavanna”. 

Forest of Suicides: 6 Comments on Dante’s Punishment for the Self-Violent

Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil.

Listers, for a study of Dante’s Divine Comedy Volume One: The Inferno we turn to the translation and commentary crafted by Mark Musa. Musa’s translation is marked by a clear and understandable translation that allows the story to unfold and escape being bogged down in rhetorical flourishing, cf. Wordsworth’s translation. The commentary that accompanies each canto explains the Inferno’s rich symbolism as a medieval Dante would have intended it. Moreover, those familiar with the Inferno will know it is ripe with historical figures and local Italian politics that have no other significance nowadays than being mentioned in Dante’s magnus opus. Musa’s commentary provides a reliable guide through the esoteric Italian political landscape in order to appreciate the brilliant commentary on humanity and sin within the Inferno.1

Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. Allegorically, the Divine Comedy represents the journey of the soul towards God, with the Inferno describing the recognition and rejection of sin.

The Centaurs patrolling the boiling-blood river of Phlegethon.

1. The Circle of Violence

Ring One: Violence Against Others
The 7th Circle of Hell is Violence. Violence is broken into three distinct rings with corresponding sins: violence against others, violence against the self, and violence against God. Those suffering the just punishment for violence against others wade in a river of boiling blood and fire. Each individual’s body is submerged in the boiling river of blood – the Phlegethon – according to the intensity of their violence sins. The river is patrolled by centaurs that shoot arrows at those who rise in the river above their allotted level.

Ring Three: Violence Against God
The third ring is those who were violent against God and nature. The ring is composed of burning sands with fiery rain and those who justly occupy this desert are blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers. The blasphemers are made to lie down in the hellish sands, the sodomites are in a constant state of running in packs, and the usurers are made to sit.

Between these two rings lies the ring of those who have done violence to themselves.

In order for the shade-tree to speak, Dante must break off a branch.

2. The Fate of Suicides

The moment that the violent soul departs
the body it has torn itself away from
Minos sends it down to the seventh hold

It drops to the wood, not in a place allotted,
but anywhere that fortune tosses it.
there, like a grain of spelt, it germinate.

The primary occupants of the ring of violence to the self are suicides. Since the suicides have “denied the God-given sanctity of their bodies on earth,” they are deemed unfit for human form. At the gates of hell stands King Minos who judges to what level of hell the damned should be condemned. Since they tore themselves away from their body through violence, Minos discards their souls into the Forest of Suicides and the soul grows into an anguished and gnarled tree or bush. Notice the placement of the soul is haphazard and disordered – “anywhere that fortune tosses it” – analogous to how the Suicides treated their bodies.2


3. The Harpies

The souls of the Suicides endure further pain and torment due to the harpies that inhabit the forest. A harpy is a creature with a bloated bird-like body with the head of a woman. These harpies nest in the forest, “rend the branches of the trees,” and feast on their leaves. The pain this causes to the trees and shrubs is immense and it is only when they suffer this pain can the Suicides make a sound and make their suffering known.3


4. Unique Punishment on Judgement Day

Like the rest, we shall return to claim our bodies,
but never again to wear them – wrong it is
for a man to have again what he once cast off.

We shall drag them here and, all along the mournful
forest, our bodies shall hand forever more,
each one on a thorn of its own alien shade.

All the shades of Hell will be called before God for the Final Judgement. At this time the soul will be united back with the body except for those who committed suicide. For those who acted violently against themselves, they will bring their body back to hell with them and have it adorn their branches. As the condemned suicide shade states, “wrong it is for a man to have again what he once cast off.”4 Suffering in an inhuman form, the shade will be forced to contemplate the body in front of him that he violated.

The Profligates – The Violently Prodigal.

5. The Other Suffering Souls

Suicides are not the only shades that inhabit the ring of violence against the self. The other group is the Profligates “who did violence to their earthly goods by not valuing them as they should have, just as the Suicides did not value their bodies.” These are those who squandered their property and lives to a violent level. As Dante is speaking with a Suicide – he must break off a branch before it can speak – he sees two shades running through the forest:

Behind these two the wood was overrun
by packs of black bitches ravenous and ready,
like hunting dogs just broken from their chains;

they sank their fangs in that poor wretch who hid,
they ripped him open piece by piece, and then
ran off with mouthfuls of his wretched limbs

The Profligates run through the forest crashing through trees and shrubs whilst they are being chased by a pack of vicious black dogs. The pain here is multifaceted as the Profligates suffer the pain and fear of running through densely packed forest and ultimately being torn apart by hounds, while the chase itself causes excruciated pain for the trees and shrubs that are broken and trampled.5


6. The Black Hounds

Much ink has been spilt trying to explain the significance of the black hounds and they have been labeled as “conscience, poverty, ruin and death, remorse, [and] creditors.” However, it is important to note that violence is the theme of the Seventh Circle and the Profligates are distinguished from the shades of Spendthrifts and Misers due to their waste reaching violent depths. Keeping with the motif of the ring, the hounds “probably represent that violent force which drove the Profligates to their end: they seem to be the dramatization of the act of violence itself.” One of the Profligates is identified by Dante as Giacomo da Sant’Andrea and “is reported to have set on fire several houses on his estate” just for the pleasure of watching them burn.6

  1. Dorothy L. Sayers “Hell” quote via Source []
  2.  Divine Comedy Volume One: The Inferno by Mark Musa, p. 193 []
  3. 193 []
  4. 193 []
  5. 193 []
  6. 194 []

“Who is the Catholic Writer in America?” and 10 Other Questions with Tuscany Press

In a world where the Catholic perspective of life is seen as illegitimate or wrong, Tuscany Press is providing a means in which the Catholic writer who is “anonymously toiling” to have an opportunity to be read and seen.

Listers, recently I have discovered a new outlet of Catholic media that is fighting against the current crisis of Catholic authorship. In a world where the Catholic perspective of life is seen as illegitimate or wrong, Tuscany Press is providing a means in which the Catholic writer who is “anonymously toiling” to have an opportunity to be read and seen. When I received word that Tuscany Press existed I immediately scrambled to their website and discovered that they have great potential to help Catholic writers produce quality and faith-filled or “Christ-haunted” stories that share their perspective to the world. I have recently had the pleasure of having a conversation with Peter Mongeau who is the founder and publisher of Tuscany Press and Christus Publishing. He shared with me some of his insights about the real state of Catholic authorship. He shared with me the amazing opportunity they are now giving Catholic writers, as well the major project they working on right now called the Tuscany Literary Prize. Now on to the interview:

1. Tell us about Tuscany Press.

I was a coordinator in Catholic book club in our parish, and we were always looking to read Catholic fiction. But, we really couldn’t find contemporary Catholic fiction. We could find Catholic fiction, but we had to go back to the mid-twentieth century with Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy or even further back to the early twentieth century with Tolkien and Chesterton. I have a Catholic spirituality publishing house called Christus Publishing, and I was looking to expand it. I knew there had to be some good Catholic fiction out there and we were looking for it, but we couldn’t find any stories that were contemporary. I talked to publishing executives. I talked to literary agents. I talked to writers and other small publishing houses. Basically anybody in and out of the Catholic publishing world. When I did the analysis of the publishing world, I realized that there was no publishing house that was dedicated solely to Catholic fiction. And so, we decided in the springtime to start Tuscany Press. We also noticed that there wasn’t a prize for Catholic fiction. I said “Well, we should create one. Because there needs to be some sort of recognition for great Catholic writers.” So that’s when the Tuscany prize started as well

2. Why Contemporary Catholic Fiction?

When we started Tuscany Press, we want to reaffirm our perspective of the world, but we also want to help evangelize our culture. Tuscany press is devoted to great Catholic writers. We have a great responsibility to encourage them and help them write fiction that is infused with our Catholic worldview. As Catholics we know we live in a world with a living God. Our stories should reflect that reality, that fact, that we live in a world with the living God and that his grace breaks into this reality in which we live. Our stories should reflect these facts. That is how we came about creating Tuscany Press and the Tuscany Prize. I don’t think the fiction publishing world appreciates the Catholic perspective. It once did, but I don’t think it appreciates it today […] There are some good to great Catholic writers out there waiting and wanting to be published, and they have not been able to be published. So Tuscany Press is there for them and for all of us to find these stories.

3. You said that you were seeking out good quality Catholic literature. What makes Catholic literature “good”?

There are three things, generally speaking, that make literature good: 1. Is it well written? How much editing does this need? Has the author spent time and energy looking over how they have written the story? Have they taken care to create strong structure, character development, and themes? 2. Is the story interesting? There are some well written bus schedules, but they aren’t going to get published. There are also good stories that aren’t well written. Another question to consider is: Does it capture the imagination of the reader? 3. Is it filled with the presence of God? The Catholic writer knows that world is filled with the presence of God. It is not a truncated view of the world, but an expanded view of the world. It is a view that encompasses everything including the transcending God. That is what makes Catholic fiction so special. It’s not a narrow focus, it includes God, the presence of grace and how it operates in nature […] This can happen either subtly, symbolically or deliberately.

4. Who is the Catholic writer?

There seems to be three different types of Catholic writers out there in general: 1. There is a group of writers who are over the age of 60. They have a totally different experience than most Catholics in America. 2. Then, there is this lost generation in their early 30s to 60s. These Catholic writers were lost in lieu of their culture. 3. Then, there are the young 30s and younger. These Catholic writers feel the most under-siege culturally. They live in a younger culture that does not espouse many Catholic ideals. The literature coming from these people are sharp-edged and jagged, which reflects what it’s like to be a young Catholic trying to live in this world. The Catholic Church has such a various mix of writers, which has been such a fantastic surprise for us.

5. Is there a chance that the Catholic writer can effect the contemporary world of literature right now?

Absolutely! The Catholic writer can definitely effect the contemporary world around them. The experience of most Catholics today in the world is so different. They know that there is a living God, but the state of current fiction is devoid of this fact. These themes hardly ever show up in contemporary fiction. The Catholic writer can bring these themes back to the world of literature. We know as Catholics that we have restless hearts, so it will speak to the restless hearts. Today’s secular world is a world that is fragmented and meaningless to most Catholics. It’s a world that looks upon the people around and doesn’t see the workings of God. The Catholic fiction writer can tell stories and show where grace appears.

6. Catholic writers have this great gift to give the world, but it seems that it is almost impossible for the Catholic writer to break through into the secular arena. What kind of difficulty does the Catholic writer have then?

The publishing world does not appreciate the Catholic perspective. I hope that Catholic fiction writer can find a home at Tuscany Press. That is my goal. However, I also believe that Catholic writer should go to any and all publishers. I don’t believe that they should limit themselves, but I do want them to know that they have home at Tuscany Press. We hope that we can provide a home for them. It will be difficult to break into the secular publishing houses, but if we can prove (and I think Tusacany Press will) that Catholic fiction has a place not only in the marketplace but in the world of culture, then the secular publishers will turn back to the Catholic writers.

7. What happens if a person claims that a book is too Catholic?

My personal response is that no book is ever “too Catholic.” These books are not going to be about good Catholics doing good things, because that is not necessarily good literature. It’s unrealistic, and people cannot relate to them. We are are fallible creatures, and our stories contain fallible creatures.

8. So, some of the content of the books will be gritty?

I don’t know. We have recieved some gritty manuscripts. We have received some not-so gritty manuscripts. We have received fantasy manuscripts. We have received some murder-mystery manuscripts. We have received manuscripts across all genres. We will choose the best though. I will tell you the short stories are great. I am excited about the short stories. The book that wins the prize will be what we consider be the best manuscript, but it might be from a genre that some people might not expect. It could be historical fiction or contemporary fiction. It could be a murder mystery or it could be a fantasy. We have received all types. We won’t know what will be published specifically until we get all the manuscripts in. We had some submissions from some very rural areas in America. Also some of our submissions are from some big cities. East coast. West coast. Mid-America. It is coming from all over.

9. Do you have a date set for your next novel to be printed? Or are you still looking for more manuscripts?

Well, we have the Tuscany prize. The Tuscany prize will end September 30. Our goal will be that we publish the Tuscany prize winners by the Christmas season. We hope to launch some in the spring who are not Tuscany prize winners but who are worthy of being published. Then we plan on launching the Tuscany prize again in 2013 and to have that deadline set around May 31st.

10. What are the future plans for Tuscany Press?

Not only are people looking for contemporary Catholic fiction, but we have discovered that parents are desperate for good Catholic young adult fiction. They are desperate for it. They want their children to read, and they want their children to read good Catholic books. The young adult fiction out there is so desperate, its so awful, and we have discovered that Catholic world, actually the entire Christian world, is looking for good young adult Catholic fiction. We are going to be doing Catholic young adult fiction and we will probably expand the Tuscany prize to include a young adult fiction in 2013. We trying to satisfy the need for contemporary Catholic but also the need for contemporary young adult Catholic fiction.

11. What would encourage the our Listers do?

I want to encourage people to send in their short stories, their novels, and novellas.

The Tuscany Prize, which is Tuscany Press’s first major project, is still going on. Peter Mongeau asked St. Peter’s List to encourage all Catholic writers who perhaps have a short story, novella, or novel sitting on their desks to submit it to the Tuscany Prize by September 30th. However, if you are still working on something that is not finished, you can participate in their next prize next year as well. For more information you can check out the Tuscany Press website at All I can say is I am extremely anxious and excited to see what will come from Tuscany Press. I am thankful Tuscany’s mission, and I pray that they get lots of success in their endeavor to assist the real starving artists in the world, Catholic writers.

Saint Francis de Sales, Patron Saint of all writers, pray for us!

6 Catholic Poems that Testify to God’s Love

Poetry is an excellent tool of praise and acknowledgement of all that God has given us. Perhaps not as simple nor as easily entertaining as prose would be, poetry has an added facet that is not as evident in prose.

Listers, the Catholic Church has a vast reservoir of beautiful poetry that testifies to God’s love for Creation and us. Poetry is an excellent tool of praise and acknowledgement of all that God has given us. Perhaps not as simple nor as easily entertaining as prose would be, poetry has an added facet that is not as evident in prose.

The beautiful aspect of poetry that sets it apart from prose is the added rhythm creating another layer of description that goes beyond words. For example, in the poem “The Hound of Heaven” I can almost hear the pounding of footfalls against the pavement. It as if with each step a word from the poem is pounded out against the ground. This rhythm creates a sense of urgency that one would feel in a footrace against God. I would argue that if Francis Thompson’s vision of “The Hound of Heaven” was depicted in prose, it would not have given the readers as much of an emotional impact at the prospect of being pursued by God and finally succumbing to His liberating love.

I have selected six poems by Catholic poets and writers who speak and write about God’s gracious gift of his love for His people. My advice is to read them purposefully and aloud to get the full effect. There are far more poems that are probably greater than these, but I selected some of my favorites (“A Child My Choice” is my particular favorite). Some are just excerpts because some of the poems are very long. For those you want to read the poems in total, you can click on the titles which are linked to the a page with the completed poem. If you are interested in more poems by Catholic or at least “Christ-haunted” poets, I would recommend the book Flowers of Heaven compiled by Joseph Pearce.

Now on to the poems (be prepared to be pursued by love and captured by God’s glory):

1.An Excerpt from the “The Hound of Heaven”

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days:
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine way
Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I him from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat — and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet–
“All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”
–Francis Thompson

2. “A Child My Choice”¹

Let folly praise what fancy loves, I praise and loves that Child
Whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand
no deed defiled.
I praise him most, I love him best, all praise and love is his,
While him I love, in him I live, and cannot live amiss.
Love’s sweetest mark, laud’s highest theme, man’s most desired light,
To love him life, to leave him death, to live in him delight.
He mine by gift, I his by debt, thus each to other due,
First friend he was, best friend he is, all times will try him true.
Though young, yet wise; though small, yet strong; though man,
yet God he is:
As wise he knows; as strong he can; as God he loves to bliss.
His knowledge rules; his strength defends; his love doth cherish all;
His birth our Joy; his life out light; his death our end of thrall.
Alas, he weeps, he sighs, he pants, yet do his Angels sing;
Out of his tears, his sighs and throbs, doth bud a joyful spring.
Almighty babe, whose tender arms can force all foes to fly,
Correct my faults, protect my life, direct me when I die.
–St. Robert Southwell

3. An Excerpt from “The Battle of Lepanto”

The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that swat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
–G.K. Chesterton

4. “The Golden Prison”

Weep not for me, when I am gone,
Nor spend thy faithful breath
In grieving o’er the spot or hour
Of all-enshrouding death;

Nor waste in idle praise thy love
On deeds of head or hand,
Which live within the living Book,
Or else are writ in sand;

But let it be thy best of prayers,
That I may find the grace
To reach the holy house of toll,
The frontier penance-place, —

To reach that golden palace bright,
Where souls elect abide,
Waiting their certain call to Heaven,
With Angels at their side;

Where hate, not pride, not fear torments
The transitory guest,
But in the willing agony
He plunges, and is blest.

And as the fainting patriarch gain’d
His needful halt mid-way,
And then refresh’d pursued his path,
Where up the mount it lay,

So pray, that, rescued from the storm
of heaven’s eternal ire,
I may lie down, then rise again,
Safe, and yet saved by fire.
–Blessed John Henry Newman

5. “Pied Beauty”

Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
for rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
–Gerard Manley Hopkins

6. An Excerpt from “The Quarry”²

He wasn’t alone. His muscles grew into the flesh of the crowd,
energy their pulse, as long as they held a hammer,
as long as his feet felt the ground.
And a stone smashed his temples
and cut through his heart’s chamber.
They took his body, and walked in a silent line.
Toil still lingered about him, a sense of wrong.
They wore gray blouses, boots ankle deep in mud.
In this they showed the end.
How violently his time halted: the points on the
low voltage dials
jerked, then dropped to zero again.
White stone now within him, eating into his being,
taking over enough of him to turn him into stone.
Who will lift up that stone, unfurl his thoughts again
under cracked temples? So plaster cracks on the wall.
They laid him down, his back on a sheet of gravel.
His wife came, worn out with worry; his son returned
from school.
Should his anger now flow into the anger of others?
It was maturing in him through his own truth and love.
Should he be used by those who come after,
deprived of substance, unique and deeply his own?
The stones on the move again, a wagon bruising the flowers.
Again the electric current cuts deep into the walls.
But the man has taken with him the world’s inner structure,
where greater the anger, the higher the explosion of love.
–Blessed John Paul II

St. Robert of Southwell, Pray for us!

¹This particular poem I dedicate to all of God’s children who left this world too soon.
²I couldn’t find of the full text of this poem in total, so there is no link to the entire poem.

Beyond Here Be Dragons: 17 Questions with Catholic Author David Athey

Seeing books as a means of entertainment or escape is the common misconception of many people because they fail to acknowledge that a book can be very dangerous (sometimes they are dangerous in a good way and other times dangerous in a bad way).

Listers, seeing books as a means of entertainment or escape is the common misconception of many people because they fail to acknowledge that a book can be very dangerous (sometimes they are dangerous in a good way and other times dangerous in a bad way). All books, no matter if it is either light bubblegum fiction or some great masterpiece, have the potential to leave a lasting impression on the minds and hearts of its readers. For example, I realized this the first time I read the The Silver Chair when I was young girl. I ended up bursting into tears because I began to doubt my own existence, thinking that it was a possible that I was part of someone else’s dream (Clearly I was a gullible child). Having the power to leave such ideas, sensations, fears, and passions on their audience, authors, therefore, have a lot of power.

 It follows, then, that it is the audience’s responsibility for their own sake to know who they are allowing to make a mark on their minds. Discernment is essential. I am not saying that they should boycott every single book that has the potential of leading them astray because then they wouldn’t read anything at all. I believe, however, it is necessary to be vigilant in knowing at least in some part what they are getting into and whether they can handle it or not. A great way to do that is by acquainting themselves with who the author is of any particular book they are reading.

As I have recommended to you all, Listers, the book Christopher (a very dangerous book in all the right ways), I feel that it is incumbent upon me to give a little information about the author, David Athey. He graciously has allowed us to interview him.

David teaches creative writing at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He also happens to be an unabashed Catholic poet and author. He has written and published loads of poems including “Celestialness“, which can be found in my favorite literary journal, Dappled Things. He has also written  two novels, Danny Gospel and Christopher. He has a cool website ( that offers daily writing tips, reasons to love the Church, and mystical quotes. You can also view his writing resume on the website as well.

Now on to the interview:


#1 How would you describe yourself?

A quirky writer and professor who drives a black pickup that smells like dark-roast coffee.


#2 What inspires your work?

As far as I can tell, a combination of God, nature (including human nature) and coffee.


#3 Your novel, Christopher, shows the impact great literature makes on a person’s soul. What is your opinion of the state of modern literature, Catholic, secular, or otherwise?

We have a treasure chest of great works (The Canon of Western Literature) that we can enjoy for the rest of our lives. And many great books were written in the 20th century that should end up in that treasure chest. One thinks of the stories of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Flannery O’Connor, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, J.F. Powers, Walker Percy, etc…. There may be some writers today that will rise to that level—I’ve had a few genius students in my classroom—and so I am hopeful about the state of contemporary literature. However, while we wait for the next Flannery O’Connor to arise (it might take a thousand years) we need to support the writers of today who are crafting excellent stories.


#4 How do you think Catholic literature can be improved?

Catholic writers have their metaphysics right, and that is crucial to the making of the highest art. Along with that, the trick is to master the various techniques of fiction so that our stories are enlightening, unique, and entertaining.


#5 What do you mean by “mastering the various techniques of fiction”?

Christian writers need to spend less time feeling inspired and more time sweating over the details of setting, character development, plot, dialogue, and overall creativity. There are dozens of good books about the craft of fiction writing. My favorite is The Art of Fiction by John Gardner.


#6 Can you give us an example of how modern literature has frequent bouts of flawed metaphysics? How do they get it wrong?

They seem to get it wrong in every way. Look at the New York Times list of bestselling novels. It is rare to find anything that reflects the fact that God has visited this earth, founded a Church, and is with us until the end. Again, we’re not asking for sermons, but merely a sense of reality as taught by the Incarnation.


#7 What other reasons are there to supporting good Catholic writers? 

I don’t think there are many patrons out there, willing to donate money to writers because they believe in a certain vision. However, if we can write stories that enlighten and entertain, I believe the audience for that is enormous. The best thing a person can do for a writer, after buying and enjoying a book, is to shout it from the rooftops. And I think rooftops today are blogs. God bless the bloggers. They have the power to change the culture.


#8 Do you think it is necessary or even possible for an author to separate himself from work? In other words, can and should he separate his religious inclinations from his work?

I don’t understand how a person can be a Christian in every area of his life, but not when it comes to writing. That doesn’t mean every story needs to be a catechism, but there should be a sense in every story of correct metaphysics. I live in sunny Florida, one of the darkest places on earth when it comes to sin and crime. Authors are free to write about those sins and crimes, and yet I think we are obligated to include, somehow, the fact that God is here, the Church is here, and millions of people are trying to love God and neighbor. Some artists seem to think that holding up a mirror to the world means showing only the shadows. That is not the whole picture. A mirror to the world will include beauty, grace, and glory.


#9 The chapters in Christopher are very short compared to the average book. Why did you choose this approach to writing Christopher?

The short chapters are like snapshots, or stepping stones, or perhaps poems that all add up to a partial interpretation of a spiritual journey. We live in a fragmented time, and yet, with eyes to see, we can visualize connections along the path.


#10 What specifically inspired you to write Christopher?

The landscape was the first character in the story. The area around Duluth, Minnesota, always inspires me to write. And so my wife and I went on adventures one summer, including going on a harbor cruise, climbing rocky trails, washing clothes in a laundromat that doubled as a bird sanctuary, etc… and I simply gave many of my experiences to Christopher, yet in a way that became his own. I must say, however, that Christopher was not his original name. Through the many drafts, he went from David to Augustine to Dylan to Christopher.


#11 You also write poetry. What do you think of the present state of poetry?

As in any form of the arts, there is good and bad in contemporary poetry. I still enjoy reading through various literary journals, seeing what people are doing with syllables and images. Many of the poems should have been merely confessed (to an actual priest) instead of confessed and written. Like the rest of modern society, the shocking is taking precedence over the sublime. And yet I am always impressed by the work of my students. They’ve read the Bible, and I show them Hopkins and the other masters, and so they have a real passion for the sublime. We publish a literary journal at Palm Beach Atlantic University (Living Waters Review) that is as good, I believe, as any campus journal in the country.


#12 Do you have any favorite journals besides Living Waters Review? Can you give us a couple examples?

Image has earned its due respect through the years, but I think Dappled Things is just as strong. I like how Dappled Things is overtly Christian while maintaining the highest artistic standards. The poems and stories are theological without being preachy.


#13 What role does or should the Catholic Church have in the improvement of secular and Catholic art, literature, and music?

The Church should spend less time condemning bad books and more time promoting good books. Who is that guy on TV who is always yelling at people about anti-Catholic art? He needs to show as much enthusiasm for good art. I really believe that is how the culture can be transformed: by simply putting your money where your heart is. Do you love the True, the Good, and the Beautiful? Then buy books that promote those ideals. And shout your positive reviews from the housetops. That way, the books will get made into TV shows and movies, and we all know the power of TV and film, especially on the minds and souls of young people. I think we need about ten thousand Christian writers, making great poems, songs, novels, scripts, internet content, everything. And then the culture will have more light. I don’t think we can take over the arts and the media, but we can certainly infuse a good amount of truth and beauty.


#14 What are your top five favorite books?

What a great and terrible question. I think my answer would change every day of the week, but here is my answer today. And to make it easier, I’m going with five novels, and not in any order.1

Don Quixote by Cervantes
The Second Coming by Walker Percy
All Hallows’ Eve by Charles Williams
Staggerford by Jon Hassler
The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky


#15 Is there another novel coming?

I have two more finished, and a third that is nearly complete. I’m looking for a literary agent who is willing to work with a quirky writer and professor who drives a black pickup that smells like dark-roast coffee.


#16 Who is your favorite theologian of all time? Why?

One of the things I love about Catholicism is that we can have someone as logical as St. Thomas Aquinas and someone as creative as St. Hildegard of Bingen both considered Doctors of the Church. Some days I love the rational theologians, and some days I love the mystics. St. Augustine is perhaps my favorite theologian, but ask me again tomorrow.


#17 Who is your favorite Saint? Why?

Today it’s St. Philip Neri. I love how he took God so seriously that he played the fool and won people over with creative charm.

St. Philip Neri, pray for us

  1. Favorite Books: Links to David Athey’s top favorite books are provided by St. Peter’s List and may not reflect Athey’s choice of translation or edition. []

Et Vidit Deus Quod Esset Bonum: 5 Reasons to Read the New Novel “Christopher”

Listers, the crisis of contemporary literature can only be alleviated by the united effort of the Catholic community. One of my proposed remedies to this grievous situation is by encouraging (nay, beseeching) Catholic media outlets like blogs, television, and radio to give Catholic writers and artists the exposure they deserve. Today I am going to put my money where my mouth is. I am going to review a novel I recently finished called Christopher by Catholic writer, David Athey. This is book is an example of the artistic and literary potential that Catholic Church has within its pews. I hope that SPL will become a place where authors like David Athey have an opportunity to exhibit their work. Now on to my analysis of his most recent book Christopher.

#1 Realistic Plot

Christopher follows the life of a boy named Christopher Lagorio who lives in Minnesota on the shores of Lake Superior. Through his spiritually tumultuous journey from prepubescence to adulthood, he encounters three different young ladies who somehow impact his fledgling spiritual formation. With each girl he discovers some new and different aspect about God that sets him on mission for self-discovery and fulfillment. Although this may sound like the typical coming-of-age novel, the plot is bent on maintaining the gritty realism of prepubescence while attempting not to coddle or rationalize poor decisions and bad behavior. Christopher weaves a genuinely realistic tale of faith mixed with lifelike characters, worshipful imagery, glimpses of the Devil, and visions of the Divine without sacrificing the honesty of the hard truths and lessons of life.

#2 Lifelike Characters

One the main elements that makes a story real is if the characters develop in natural way, which is what annoys me about much of contemporary literature, secular or otherwise. Why should we care about a character if there is either nothing much to change or if the character hasn’t a bit of redeeming qualities whatsoever? There are many books in which I honestly hoped that such-and-such character would just be swallowed up by the earth because they were either too good or too bad (I fully acknowledge the wickedness of this thought). In Christopher, many of characters are likable and yet mysteriously flawed. As you read, you desire to understand what motivated them to do a particular set of actions. Just when you think you got one character pegged they do something subtly and yet naturally unexpected. In other words, the characters are wonderfully human, which is refreshingly odd for contemporary Christian fiction.

#3 Worshipful Imagery

In addition to excellent character development, the exquisite and intricate descriptions of Christopher‘s world is certainly a delight to read. The setting is particularly breathtaking. It is centered around the northeast corner of Minnesota near Duluth, which is on the shore of Lake Superior. David Athey’s familiarity of the native landscape is certainly brought to the forefront. The idyllic imagery brings forth the whimsy and wonder of God’s creation in full detail. Christopher is a celebration of God’s creation with all the emphasis on beauty, glory, and grace.

#4 Glimpses of the Devil

Unlike the many modern Judeo-Christian novels, Christopher is a honest portrayal of a teenager who has questions in which answers are hard to find and even harder to accept. The story starts around the age when Christopher can branch out from the beliefs of his upbringing and begin forming his own conclusions about life, love, and faith. None of these three main issues are in my opinion really well depicted in most contemporary Christian literature; however, David Athey manages to describe the contest between God and the Devil for the attention of our young people rather well. He manages not to gloss over the struggles of teenage development for the sake of propriety but addresses the issue directly and in no uncertain terms. The realism may make the more squeamish readers a little hot around the collar with the outright honesty of the hormonal battle between chastity and instant gratification; however, I do not believe that this is a fault, rather I firmly believe that the explicit acknowledgement of the main peril that teens grapple with is what sets this book apart from the rest. Quite simply its acknowledgement of the devil using God’s great gift of sexuality against creation is something that Christian readers need to hear. Sometimes glimpses of the devil is all we need to flee to comforting arms of the Divine. With its heartbreaking realism, Christopher certainly will challenge you with its stark honesty that is uncharacteristic to the average contemporary Catholic novel (I recommend that only high school aged persons or older should read this book).

#5 Visions of the Divine

David Athey has managed to depict the twisted handiwork of the devil; however, that isn’t what makes my favorite part of the book (fortunately for my soul). What makes this story so outrageously beautiful is the constant presence of God in His Creation, His people, and His Sacraments. Throughout this book, God’s presence is certainly evident on every page. While at first this may sound like it would be a bit preachy to a non-Catholic, it is in truth not. God is presented in a different way than the average Christian novel. Instead of having the main character constantly talking about their certainty in “Buddy Jesus” without having an ounce of doubt, in Christopher God is present in spite of overwhelming trials. His presence is subtle and yet deeply moving. The book reminded me time again of what an amazing God we have who makes himself available to us in different ways throughout the stages in our lives. It reminded me of our Catholic belief that God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. Christopher captivated my imagination with the visions of the Divine. Obviously, I highly recommend this book and encourage you all to check it out when you get the chance.

Et vidit Deus quod esset bonum!!

*Athey, David. Christopher. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2011 **If you don’t recall or if you haven’t read my thoughts on this Catholic community’s role, you can read my recent list entitled “The Crisis of Contemporary Catholic Culture: 4 Reasons Why You Should Care.

5 Quotes from St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s “The Story of a Soul”

“Somehow a celibate little nun who died at the age of 24 was teaching me to be a kinder wife, a more patient mother, and, most of all, a more faithful Christian.”

Listers, many people often say that writings by many saints who were monks and nuns are hard to apply outside of the consecrated life. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, monks and nuns perhaps have more time to sit in active prayer than those who are called to the married life, but that does not mean that the spiritual advice they give is inapplicable to the outside world. For a while, I brushed those works off. I thought that those works had little to no bearing on my life. I thought that even if I were to read those works there was no possible way I could pass muster. However, an opportunity arose to read St. Thérèse of Lisieux when some of my friends decided to form a reading group. These gatherings forced me to sit down and actually listen to this holy woman. By the time I finished reading The Story of a Soul, my whole perception on my vocation completed changed. Somehow her sweet spirit and honest words rocked my world. Somehow a celibate little nun who died at the age of 24 was teaching me to be a kinder wife, a more patient mother, and, most of all, a more faithful Christian. St. Thérèse showed me that I could pass muster even though I was not a nun or missionary. She taught me with her simple words that I should be content in the vocation God gave me and not to be jealous of those who perhaps seem more blessed than myself. In other words, she showed me how to live holier by applying her “Little Way” to my life as a mother and wife. Therefore, I would like to share some excerpts from her book The Story of a Soul that made a particular impact on me.

#1 God Giving Everyone the Right Measure of Happiness

You knew all my intimate thoughts and cleared up all my doubts. I once told you how astonished I was that God does not give equal glory in heaven to all His chosen. I was afraid they were not at all equally happy. You made me bring Daddy’s tumbler and put it by the side of my thimble. You filled them both with water and asked me which was fuller. I told you they were both full to the brim and that it was impossible to put more water in them than they could hold. And so, Mother darling, you made me understand that in heaven God will give His chosen their fitting glory and that the last will have no reason to envy the first. By such means, you made me understand the most sublime mysteries and gave my soul its essential food. —St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul. (New York: Double Day, 2001) 20.

#2 A Flowery Example of the Measures of Grace

I had wondered for a long time why God had preferences and why all souls did not receive an equal amount of grace […] Jesus saw fit to enlighten me about this mystery. He set the book of nature before me and I saw that all the flowers He has created are lovely. The splendour of the rose and whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realised that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wild flowers to make the meadows gay.

It is just the same in the world of souls — which is the garden of Jesus. He has created the great saints who are like the lilies and the roses, but He has also created much lesser saints and they must be content to be the daisies or the violets which rejoice His eyes whenever He glances down. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being that which He wants us to be.

I also understood that God’s love shows itself just as well in the simplest soul which puts up no resistance to His grace as it does in the loftiest soul. Indeed, as it is love’s nature to humble itself, if all souls were like those of the holy doctors who have illumined the Church with the light of their doctrine, it seems that God would not have stooped low enough by entering their hearts. But God has created the baby who knows nothing and can utter only feeble cries. He has created the poor savage with no guide but natural law, and it is to their hearts that He deigns to stoop. They are His wild flowers whose homeliness delights Him. By stooping down to them, He manifests His infinite grandeur. The sun shines equally both on cedars and on every tiny flower. In just the same way God looks after every soul as if it had no equal. All is planned for the good of every soul, exactly as the seasons are so arranged that the humblest daisy blossoms at the appointed time. — St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul. (New York: Double Day, 2001) 2-3.

#3 The Sacrifice of Sanctity

Much later, when I understood what perfection was, I realised that to become a saint one must suffer a great deal, always seek what is best, and forget oneself. I understood that there were many kinds of of sanctity and that each soul was free to respond to the approaches of Our Lord and to do little or much for Him — in other words,to make a choice among the sacrifices He demands. Then, just as when I was a child, I cried: “My God, I choose all. I do not want to be a saint by halves. I am not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing — that I should keep my own will. So take it, for I choose all that You will.” — St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul. (New York: Double Day, 2001) 9.

#4 The Little Way

You know, Mother, that I have always wanted to be become a saint. Unfortunately when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passersby. Instead of being discouraged, I told myself: God would not make me wish for something impossible and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint. It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults. But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new[…] It is your arms, Jesus, which are the lift to carry me to heaven, And so there is no need for me to grow up. In fact, just the opposite: I must stay little and become less and less. —St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul. (New York: Double Day, 2001), 113.

#5 Prayer as an Upward Leap

For me, prayer is an upward leap of the heart, an untroubled glance towards heaven, a cry of gratitude and love which I utter from the depths of sorrow as well as from the heights of joy. It has a supernatural grandeur which expands the soul and unites it with God. I say an Our Father or a Hail Mary when I feel so spiritually barren that I cannot summon up a single worth while thought. These two prayers fill me with rapture and feed and satisfy my soul. — St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul. (New York: Double Day, 2001) 140.

3 Literary Journals to Feed Your Soul

Catholic authors have to toe a very thin line when trying to write works that will testify to the Catholic experience in art and literature. However, this is difficult when trying to appeal to a secular audience.

Listers, contemporary Catholic authors are becoming more and more of an endangered species in the world of literature. Catholic authors have to toe a very thin line when trying to write works that will testify to the Catholic experience in art and literature. However, this is difficult when trying to appeal to a secular audience. The avenues of the exposure and promotion are becoming less and less available to authors who even hint in a belief in Jesus Christ. And, as anti-Catholicism increasingly grows the plight of Catholic expression in the arts becomes more perilous. The Catholic authors who we still cling to like Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and G. K. Chesterton are all dead, but there is seemingly no one left to pick up their standard and carry on the tradition of good literature that still sings (or in some cases, hums) about the grace of God. Or is there?

Blessed Pope John Paul II acknowledges the crisis of contemporary Catholic literature:

It is true nevertheless that, in the modern era, alongside this Christian humanism which has continued to produce important works of culture and art, another kind of humanism, marked by the absence of God and often by opposition to God, has gradually asserted itself. Such an atmosphere has sometimes led to a separation of the world of art and the world of faith, at least in the sense that many artists have a diminished interest in religious themes.–“Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

Although the Pope acknowledges the present crisis he calls for authors and artists to continue speaking of the beauty and wonder of creation and of God in their world. He says:

On the threshold of the Third Millennium, my hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude– “Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

These struggling and rare artists must be supported, but finding efficient and reputable outlets are perhaps even more rare than finding the authors themselves. Therefore, listers, I have compiled a list of a couple of journals that I found helpful in sating my hunger for contemporary Catholic literature. (N.B. I encourage you all to check them out, and if you have the finances to support these or other Catholic publications that support and encourage Catholic expression through the arts please do so.)

1. Dappled Things

Dappled Things is pure Catholic joy. From the moment you open the journal, you will be inspired. Dappled Things includes short stories, poems, essays, and visual art by faith-filled authors, scholars, and artists. The artwork is uniquely exquisite with a wide range of styles from artists you may or may not heard of. My personal favorite of the artwork is the icon Our Lady of Merrimack by David Clayton in Fifth anniversary issue. The essays are edifying, interesting, and, at times, provoking in the good kind of way. However, my favorite aspect about Dappled Things is the editorial board is unafraid of exhibiting authors and poets who have a profound and deep love for Jesus Christ. In a world where it is taboo for an author to share the realities of Catholicism, Dappled Things is a voice crying out in the wilderness. One of my favorite short stories from Dappled Things is “Dirty Little Coward” by Gerald C. Matics in the 2009 Mary, Queen of Angels Issue. Here is a quote from Dappled Things about who they are:

The Psalmist invites us, “Come, let us sing to the Lord, and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us!” We the editors of Dappled Things invite you, our Catholic brothers and sisters, to sing and shout in our pages about our dappled world. Write about spotted trout and brinded cows, or write about the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We ask only that your work be inspired by your love for Him and His Church in the fullness of her Scripture and Tradition, her sacraments, and her communion of saints. –Dappled Things

2. Image

Although not strictly a Catholic journal (it is ecumenical including pieces from Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic authors and artists), Image is unafraid of exhibiting and promoting many Catholic authors and artists. Each issue is filled with beautiful images of contemporary artwork. What makes Image really unique is the interviews they have with many of the featured artists in their publications. I have learned so much about modern religious art just by reading these amazing and stimulating articles. As a lover of classical art, Image helped me understand a little about the modern spirit of the contemporary religious artist (I love the interview they did with Marc Quinn in 69th issue). Their ecumenical listing of various authors and poets have helped me understand different cultures, but also led me to some wonderful authors who have been touched by the Christian tradition (especially the illustrious Thomas Lynch, undertaker and poet). They, like Dappled Things, are unafraid of allowing authors to speak about their religious experience, especially Catholics.

Few Christians have applied the concept of “stewardship” to culture itself. While it has been natural for Christians to see themselves as stewards of natural resources, or wealth, or the institutional church, there has been little sense of stewardship over our national culture.

Image speaks with equal force and relevance to the secular culture and to the church. By finding fresh ways for the imagination to embody religious truth and religious experience, Image challenges believers and nonbelievers alike. –Image

3. Pilgrim

Pilgrim is an online Catholic Journal. All of its content is free. But just because it is free, doesn’t mean that it isn’t good. In fact, the content is fantastic and exciting. The website consists of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, paintings, and photography. It not only includes and promotes contemporary literature and art from a Catholic perspective, but it looks back to older pieces of work and analyzes it from a contemporary standpoint. If you need something that will feed your soul, Pilgrim is the perfect journal for you.

How does Christianity, lived in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, affect the way men and women experience life in the world? What would an integrated, Catholic approach to life look like today? In what ways should it draw and depart from historical expressions of Christianity? How should it engage ideas and ways of living traditionally unassociated with the Church? Considering such questions, Pilgrim is committed to helping Catholics grapple intelligently and humanely with challenges posed to them both by the Church and by contemporary society. We explore what it means to sustain a Catholic identity and live Christianity holistically in today’s world. We also provide a forum for Catholics, and those sympathetic to Catholic ideas and approaches to life, to develop their capacities for criticial thought, creativity, and concern for one another and for all God’s creation.

5 More Short Stories That Every Catholic Should Read

Fiction has a savage appeal to authors and readers because they get entertainment out of some character’s suffering or unhappiness.

Listers, fiction has a savage appeal to authors and readers because they get entertainment out of some character’s suffering or unhappiness. However, to the credit of all fans of the written word, they also derive entertainment in a resolution, but that always means that something must first be resolved. Why are we, members of humanity, so obsessed with this tension between conflict and resolution? I was discussing this very topic with a group of friends recently, and we concluded that the story is not good if it does not capture some aspect of our conflict with sin. Fiction is one way humanity proclaims its utter brokenness. As Catholics we always struggle with concupiscence. Even though Christ died for our sins, we still feel we are unworthy of his redeeming grace. Even some of the words we say at Mass reflect this:

“Lord, I am unworthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Fiction, I think, is a reflection of this struggle between concupiscence and grace. We struggle with sin, which is our conflict, yet we fly to the Lord in the Sacraments and find our resolution. So, our obsession with suffering in fiction exists because we are ever looking for a hope for our redemption. I often wonder about the day when there will no longer be a conflict with sin (i.e. the completion of the Kingdom of God). The conclusion I came to is that fiction will no longer be necessary. The only thing that will exist is the poetry of praise, the great Gloria. However, as we all are still alive in this corrupted world, we still need fiction. We need that brief glimpse of redemption through suffering. Fiction points to this ideal of justice and resolution that people, Catholic or not, perpetually seek.

Therefore, I submit to you all, listers, my promised part 2 of short stories that every Catholic should read (if you haven’t read part 1 of this posting you can view it here ). Please do not presume that all of these authors are Catholic or remotely Christian. However, each of the following stories testify to the human’s struggle with concupiscence and our desire for eternal freedom from sin. Please note that these books are listed in no particular order. Now on to the stories…

#6 “The Hint of an Explanation”

by Graham Greene

Known for his intense writing style and thrilling historical mysteries, Graham Greene is one of the best authors to describe the epic struggle of man against his lesser angels. Many of Graham Greene’s writings are particular provocative, which is probably why Hollywood turned many of his stories into film (so if you read something by him other than this story, reader beware). However, “The Hint of an Explanation” is not so much provocative as it is particularly terrifying for those who love the Eucharist (and probably why Hollywood decided not to make this particular story into a feature film). The story takes place on a train where the main character, an agnostic, starts a conversation with a Roman Catholic stranger about what God allows. The Roman Catholic says that it is impossible to understand why somethings happen, especially occasions of corruption, but he says there are moments in life when there are hints as to why God allows them to occur. He then describes his own personal story of one of these hints. The gripping story the Roman Catholic stranger weaves takes you to a heart-wrenching moment when his younger self  is offered a terrifying and yet tempting bargain.

#7 “Lions, Harts, Leaping Does”

by J. F. Powers

As a married Catholic, I often forget about the struggles of parish priests, monks, and others who live the consecrated life. I mistakenly think of them effortlessly following  the rules of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Sometimes when I read The Imitation or The Interior Castles, I envy their access to God and their relationship with the Almighty. However, when I find myself slipping into this envious mindset, I look to J. F. Powers to set the record straight. Known for his realistic portrayal of priests, J. F. Powers discusses the often ignored topic of the struggles of the clergy. Often addressing the misnomers of clergy life, he describes the issues, the annoyances, the struggles, and the uncertainties that often might plague priests and monks. “Lions, Harts, Leaping Does” is one such story. Brother Didymus, a Franciscan monk, struggles with the issue of false humility when he refuses to go see perhaps for the last time his aging brother. This story is a beautiful tale of the internal struggles of elderly monk. It certainly made me appreciate the precarious line that those of the consecrated life often have to toe. This story has helped me appreciate more fully the sacrifice that our priests, monks, and nuns for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

#8 “The Last Ugly Person”

by Roger B. Thomas

Although not as well known as the rest of the authors in this list, Roger B. Thomas holds his own. His writing style is poignant and emotive, not to mention the fact that the late Dr. Ralph McInerny put his stamp of approval on him. In a country that is so confoundedly image obsessed, “The Last Ugly Person” perhaps is one way to keep yourself inoculated from the temptation of vanity and pride. “The Last Ugly Person” is about a dystopian society where beauty, or rather a certain perception of beauty, is law. Those who don’t fall under the rules of beauty and acceptability, the Uglies, start to mysteriously disappear. As their numbers tick away, the struggling vagabonds are forced to rely on strangers to help them survive their wickedly and deceptively beautiful surroundings.

#9 “The Story of the Bad Little Boy”

by Mark Twain

Like most of Mark Twain’s stories, “The Story of the Bad Little Boy” is written in a laughing, sarcastic, and lyrical manner that upon further reflection will lead you to see a striking and disturbing reality. The story is based on those little Sunday school instructional tracts that churches used to hand out to children about proper behavior. This story refutes the premise of those pamphlets that good little boys are always rewarded and bad little boys are always punished. Upon first reading you will find yourself bursting with laughter at the fiendish misdeeds of naughty little Jim, and afterwards you will marvel that what appears to be exaggeration is really the awful truth: “Nice guys finish last.” I suggest you pair this story with “The Story of the Good Little Boy” because they are both extremely short and the meanings of both are enhanced when read consecutively. My recommendation is to read these stories during the election season.

#10 “The Passing of the Third Floor Back”

by Jerome K. Jerome

This last selection could be described as a situation in which grace collides with human folly. Also written as a widely popular play, “The Passing of the Third Floor Back” is a tale about a stranger who rents a room at a boarding house in London. He discovers that his fellow inhabitants are egregiously twisted in their own personal failures. However, as he meets with each individually, his presence and kind words create a curious effect on them. This beautifully written story testifies to the hope and the promise of grace to the worn and gnarled souls of all who are crippled by sin. I recommend this story to be read a couple hours before Confession.




Listers, please click the title of the short story to view the work on Amazon. Thank you.

The Authors and Catholicism: Although the majority of the authors in this list are Roman Catholic, there are a couple who are not Catholic. Regardless, all of the selected stories’ subject matter fall into line with the Catholic teaching.

Other Lists by JE Foyer
5 Short Stores that Every Catholic Should Read
6 Children’s Picture Books Perfect for a Catholic Family Bookshelf
8 Quotes from Christian Authors about the Importance of Good Fiction

6 Children’s Picture Books Perfect for a Catholic Family Bookshelf

One of the many essential tools to teaching our children about the glory and depth of our faith is the picture book.

Listers, one of the many essential tools to teaching our children about the glory and depth of our faith is the picture book. Children often have short attention spans, and their comprehension skills are still not as developed and refined as adults; however, that should not prevent us from sharing with them the truth, the glory, and the goodness of our Catholic tradition. The picture book is often an excellent tool to use to help remedy this difficult hurdle. When you really consider what makes good children’s literature you will notice a common thread among all the greats. Good children’s literature must be an intricate blend between the following: 1) a thoughtfully laid-out plot using plenty of descriptive language; 2) captivating relevant illustrations created with the intention of capturing children’s attention. When religious content is thrown into this intricate mix, it transforms story-time into an occasion of spiritual formation. But, how do you determine whether one Christian picture book is better than the other? The answer is very subjective, but there are some things I would suggest for you all to consider when selecting one:

  • Does the book’s subject matter line-up with the teachings of Magisterium? (i.e. Is it orthodox? Is it in any way blasphemous?)
  • Is the meaning or subject worthwhile? (i.e. Does it challenge your child to strive to be virtuous? Does it inspire discussion? Is there a moral? Does it teach them about truth in some way?)
  • Is the plot composed in a way that is engaging to children (i.e. is it written in way to make children care about what actually happens)?
  • Do the illustrations captivate children’s imagination (i.e. are the illustrations interesting with beautiful colors, shading, and perspective? Are they composed skillfully and purposefully? Has the illustrator taken great pains to flesh out the plot so that children can get the gist of it by merely studying the pictures?)
  • Is the language stilted and awkward, or is it smooth and descriptive? (i.e. Does it flow? Does it sound like you are reading out of a dictionary?)
  • Are the illustrations and writing appropriate and respectful to the particular subject matter (i.e. Are the serious things illustrated and written in a serious manner? e.g. Jesus should not be smiling on the cross in illustrations, and Jesus should not be described as someone’s “Homeboy”)
  • Is the book re-readable? (i.e. Did the book create and enjoyable or tedious experience? Are the illustrations detailed enough to discover something new each time it is read? Does the story inspire in depth discussion?)

I used this criterion to compose the following list* of good children’s picture books that are helpful in the spiritual formation of children. These books are not listed in any particular order. (N.B. Some of these stories deal with issue of death. I recommend that you read it first before introducing the book to your child, so you can determine whether the subject matter is age appropriate). I also realize that six stories is a rather a short list, but I wanted to make sure I did a good enough review of each of the books’ merits. I fully intend on doing a part 2 and 3, so if you have any books to bring to my attention please let me know.1 Now on to the stories:

#1 The Clown of God

Retold and Illustrated by Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola is easily my favorite children’s author and illustartor. His unique artistic style and striking illustrations rival some of the more beautiful pieces of art in modern culture. The Clown of God is my personal favorite among his numerous books, which include Strega Nona, The Song of St. Francis, and Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland. The Clown of God made a profound impact on me when I was a child. I know, I know, you all are thinking “A story about clown, really?” But trust me, this story will surprise and touch you and your children. The plot is as complex and rich as the illustrations. The story is about a little orphan boy named Giovanni, whose desire in life was to make people happy through juggling. This story is very serious, and I would recommend previewing it first as certain twists in the plot may upset sensitive children. Nevertheless, I highly recommend it because this book quite possibly could be life-changing for your children. It should inspire them to play, to work, and to live in a way that always brings glory to God.

#2The Weight of a Mass: A Tale of Faith

by Josephine Nobisso/Illustrated by Katalin Szegedi

If you have younger children you know that taking them to Mass can be quite an ordeal. However, eventually your children will begin to perceive that Mass is a serious and important thing (so keep it up). In order to illustrate the importance of Mass to your children I recommend The Weight of a Mass to them. I consider this book The Hint of an Explanation for children as it deals specifically about the weighty value of the Eucharist. The story is filled with reverent yet lavish illustrations that certainly will not only pique the aesthetic sensibilities of children but also of adults. It is a tale about a starving beggar woman who tells a baker that she will lift up the baker’s intentions at Mass in exchange for a scrap of bread. The baker is incredulous at first, but then something miraculous happens that saves the baker and the whole kingdom from disbelief. This is book is perfect for bedtime. It will hopefully lead your family into edifying discussion about why Mass is an integral part of the Catholic faith.

#3 Take It to the Queen: A Tale of Hope

by Josephine Nobisso/Illustrated by Katalin Szegedi

Perfect for story-time during the month of May or during any Marian feast day, Take It to the Queen expounds on why praying the Rosary and venerating the Holy Mother is an important part of our Catholic faith. Josephine Nobissio weaves an allegorical tale about a King who marries a woman from a village. In gratitude to the village, the King gives the village many gifts and promises that his firstborn son will help and advise the village council. However, as years pass the villagers forget his kindness and start reviling the king and one another. The village falls under disrepair due to selfishness and deceit, and the villagers begin to starve. However, they remember that the Queen was a fellow citizen and made supplications to her to help them at their darkest hour. Take It to the Queen helps children learn to love our Holy Mother and rely on her holy assistance as they strive to serve God throughout their lives.

#4 The Squire and the Scroll: A Tale of the Rewards of a Pure Heart

by Jennie Bishop/Illustrated by Preston McDaniels

In the present day, our children are bombarded constantly by the various agendas of the world. And more often than not, these worldly things are contrary to the values of the Christian life. One such major tenet of our faith that is under constant attack by the world is the Church’s message of purity. The Squire and the Scroll story is an allegory about this very same conflict. The story is about a kingdom that loses it greatest treasure, the lantern of purest light, to a great enemy, a monstrous dragon. The King of the realm sends all his knights but loses all but one to the unknown perils on the the road to the dragon’s keep. The last knight and his lowly squire are then sent out to face the unknown dangers in order to re-obtain the lost light. The only way for them to keep from harm and maintain their virtue is to listen to the often-neglected yet sagacious wisdom of an ancient scroll. This story is filled with adventure, sorrow, redemption, and joy. It will bring up a great discussion with your children about ways they can avoid temptation through listening to tenets of the faith and relying on the grace and wisdom of Scripture.

#5 The Children’s Book of Virtues

Edited by William J. Bennett/Illustrated by Michael Hague

This compilation of illustrated stories categorizes various fables, fairy tales, legends, prayers, and poems by virtues that are essential to the excellent life (e.g. there is a whole section on courage, charity, and responsibility). Not all the stories are not always overtly Christian or religious, but the stories do underscore various essentials that mark a virtuous person. Many of the stories and fables are familiar to the Western mind (e.g. “St George and the Dragon,” “The Stars in the Sky,” and “The Lion and the Mouse”) while others are not, which allows for growth and familiarity with other cultures (e.g. “The Honest Disciple,” “The King and His Hawk,” and “The Indian Cinderella). Like the other stories in this list the illustrations are done with particular detail and effort which help children to imagine and to dream. As anthologies go, this should be on top of your list as it inspires children to strive in virtue and helps acquaint them with stories and fables of the past.

#6 Can You Find Saints?: Introducing Your Child to Holy Men and Women

by Phillip D. Gallery/Illustrated by Janet Harlow

Being on the more light-hearted side, Can You Find the Saints is the perfect road trip book. It is sort of like Where’s Waldo? but with Catholic subject matter. I know it sounds a little disrespectful, but really it is done in a very tasteful and educational way. The illustrations are filled with the great detail and are very engaging even for the youngest of readers. The illustrations depict the wonderful and vastly different lives of the saints. For example, one whole page in this book is a collage dedicated to Mary. Your child will discover many things about our Holy Mother like different titles she is given throughout world and the major moments in her life. Another particularly interesting aspect to the book is the parent guide in the back. It assists parents to having a more fruitful discussion while their children make new discoveries throughout the book. Each page is packed with illustrations that will make your children discover something new every time they read it. In this book, your children will learn about the ways in which Saints are identified, who many of the Saints are and what they did during their lives on Earth, and how can your children strive to be Saints in our day and our time.

Happy reading!

  1. The Authors and Catholicism: Although the majority of the authors in this list are Roman Catholic, there are one or two of the authors that I am not certain about. Regardless, all of the selected stories’ subject matter fall into line with the Catholic teaching. Also all of the books can be found with most major online Catholic book retail companies. If you all, listers, have any information about this let me know. []

8 Quotes from Christian Authors about the Importance of Good Fiction

Many people undervalue the genre of fiction because fiction is often misconstrued as purely a method of entertainment.

Listers, many people undervalue the genre of fiction because fiction is often misconstrued as purely a method of entertainment. Although this common use is by no means wrong, the exclusive reason why someone chooses to read a book should not be because they want to escape the doldrums of human existence. Fiction, however, should be another way of gaining a new perception on reality without the abstractions of philosophical debate (although fiction may perhaps precipitate philosophical discussion). The following list contains quotes from authors, some Catholic and some not, about the importance and value of the genre of fiction:

1. Flannery O’Connor on the Reality in Fiction

“People are always complaining that the modern novelist has no hope and that the picture he paints of the world is unbearable. The only answer to this is that people without hope do not write novels. Writing a novel is a terrible experience, during which the hair often falls out and the teeth decay. I’m always highly irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system. If the novelist is not sustained by a hope of money, then he must be sustained by a hope of salvation, or he simply won’t survive the ordeal.” –“The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1969), 77-78.

2. Blessed John Paul II on the Gospel’s Ability to Inspire Art

“Every genuine art form in its own way is a path to the inmost reality of man and of the world. It is therefore a wholly valid approach to the realm of faith, which gives human experience its ultimate meaning. That is why the Gospel fullness of truth was bound from the beginning to stir the interest of artists, who by their very nature are alert to every “epiphany” of the inner beauty of things” –-“Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

3. G.K. Chesterton on the Underlying Morality in Fiction

“This great idea, then, is the backbone of all folk-lore — the idea that all happiness hangs on one thin veto; all positive joy depends on one negative. Now, it is obvious that there are many philosophical and religious ideas akin to or symbolised by this; but it is not with them I wish to deal here. It is surely obvious that all ethics ought to be taught to this fairy-tale tune; that, if one does the thing forbidden, one imperils all the things provided[…]This is the profound morality of fairy-tales; which, so far from the being lawless, go to the root of all law. Instead of finding (like common books of ethics) a rationalistic basis for each Commandment, they find the great mystical basis for all Commandments.” –“Fairy Tales”, All Things Considered, (New York, Feather Trail Press, 2009), 87.

4. C.S. Lewis on What Makes Good Fiction

“I never wrote down to anyone; and whether the opinion condemns or acquits my own work, it certainly in my opinion that a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” — C.S. Lewis, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said,” The New York Times November 18, 1956.

5. G.K. Chesterton on Teaching Children Fairy Tales

“We all know the people who think it is wicked to tell children fairy tales which they are not required to believe, though of course not wicked to teach them false doctrines or false news why they are required to believe. They hold that the child must be guarded from the danger of supposing that all frogs turn into princesses or that any pumpkin will at any minute turn into a coach and six and that he must rather reserve his faith for the sober truth told in newspapers, which will tell him that all Socialists are Satanists or that the Act of Parliament will mean work and wealth for all. We ourselves have generally found that children were quite sufficiently intelligent to question the first and that grown-up people were quite sufficiently stupid to swallow the second.” –“Dragooning the Dragon” As I was Saying (Grand Rapids: W. B. Eerdmans, 1985)

6. Flannery O’Connor on the Levels of Meaning in Fiction

“We all write at our own level of understanding, but it is the peculiar characteristic of fiction that its literal surface can be made to yield entertainment on an obvious physical place to one sort of reader while the selfsame surface can be made to yield meaning to the person equipped to experience it there.” — Flannery O’Connor “Writing Short Stories,” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1969), 95.

7. Blessed Pope John Paul II on the Necessity of Fiction Conveying the Message of the Gospel

“In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God. It must therefore translate into meaningful terms that which is in itself ineffable. Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen. It does so without emptying the message itself of its transcendent value and its aura of mystery.” — “Letter of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Artists”

8. Flannery O’Connor on the Necessity of the Supernatural in the Heart of the Author

“Where there is no belief in the soul there is very little drama. The Christian novelist is distinguished from his pagan colleagues by recognizing sin as sin. According to his heritage he sees it not as sickness or an accident of environment, but as a responsible choice of offense against God which involves his eternal future.” –Flannery O’Connor, “Novelist and Believer” Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 1969), 167.

5 Short Stories that Every Catholic should Read

The genre of the short story is a particularly extraordinary human invention.

Listers, the genre of the short story is a particularly extraordinary human invention. In a matter of two hours or less, the short story can illustrate some complexities of life without taxing the mind with deep philosophical terms or concepts. As some of us don’t have the proclivity to have intense philosophical and theological discussions on the various nuances of life and faith, the short story provides us with a brief vision on the robust nature of the Christian existence. Many people would suggest that short stories are just for children. However, I would argue that adults need short stories as well. It is one of the few welcome outlets in which adults can hold up a mirror to themselves and observe what they see, warts and all.

In this spirit, I submit to you all, Listers, a modest list of 5 short stories that testify to the beauty and the blemishes of our humanity. I, by no means, believe that this list is a complete one (hence the “part 1” in the title of the posting). I hope to do more postings on great short stories, so please suggest any if you feel a particular piece is appropriate to this list. Now on to the stories:

#1 “Leaf by Niggle” by J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien is one of the more recognized and widely read modern authors in the English language. However, due to the vast and well-deserved popularity of The Lord of the Rings, many of his other works like his short stories are not given the attention that some of them deserve. Originally published in a book called Tree and Leaf in 1964, “Leaf by Niggle” is a short story about an artist named Niggle who procrastinates making plans for a necessary journey. However, when his journey abruptly begins without warning he finds himself ill-prepared and thinks of the people and unfinished projects that he has now left behind. My recommendation for this story is to have tissues or a handkerchief close by, not because it is sad, but, because it elucidates a beautiful reality of humanity’s participation in the Kingdom of God.

#2 “The Light Princess” by George MacDonald

It is truly shocking how a lot of people don’t know and haven’t read George MacDonald’s works even though his influence has left an indelible mark on the world of literature. C. S. Lewis honors MacDonald in The Great Divorce by making MacDonald into a character who guides the narrator on a bus ride from hell to heaven. He may not have been a Roman Catholic, but MacDonald’s influence has certainly made a massive impact on Catholic literature. Both J. R. R. Tolkien and G. K. Chesterton admit that MacDonald’s writing made a enormous impact on their lives, their method of writing, and their way of re-imagining the world. “The Light Princess” is, in my humble opinion, the most romantic fairy tale that I have ever read. It is about a princess, obviously, who has had a curse put upon her by an evil witch. I won’t tell you what the curse is because that would rob the story of its whimsy. However, she meets a handsome prince who falls madly in love with her. When the witch takes away something terribly dear to her, a hard decision has to be made. I realize that some of you all might object that I suggest reading a fairy tale, but I assure this is no watered-down Disney production. You’ll find this story not only wildly entertaining, but extremely edifying as MacDonald weaves this tale of true love.

#3 “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde might perhaps be one of the more controversial authors in the history of Catholic literature due to certain predilections he had in his personal life. However he lived his life, it is certain the Gospel inspired him in some way as many of works reflect a distinct fascination to certain aspects of Christianity. One great example of his deep attraction to Christianity is in Wilde’s collection of short stories entitled The Happy Prince and Other Tales. This book is filled with wonderful stories, including my personal favorite, “The Selfish Giant.” This story is about a giant who had a beautiful garden, and while he was away on extended trip to visit an Ogre, the town children played in his garden happily. But, when he returns and discovers the children, he banishes them from his garden and builds up a wall to prevent their entry, which in turn causes a dreadful consequence. This whimsical fairy tale of “The Selfish Giant” is a lighthearted story of how God’s grace can soften the hardest of hearts.

#4 “The Blue Cross” By G. K. Chesterton

It won’t take you too long when exploring the various posts on St. Peter’s List to notice that many of our contributors greatly esteem the “Prophet of Orthodoxy,” G. K. Chesterton. His wit, his ideas, his stories, and his unabashed passion for reason have inspired many Christians, Catholic or not, to delve deeper into what it means to be truly Christian. His decided use of reason perhaps becomes incarnate in the beloved character of Father Brown, a crime fighting Roman Catholic priest whose only weapons are faith and reason. Father Brown first appears in “The Blue Cross” a story first published in The Saturday Evening Post in 1910. In the story, the head of the Parisian police is trying to apprehend the famous and wicked criminal, Flambeau. Amidst his search for the criminal, he encounters a mild-mannered priest, Father Brown, who at first seems like a easy target for theft as he is carrying a jewel encrusted cross. However, Valentin soon discovers that Father Brown is not your average cleric, but a man who has the happy knack of finding clues to the hardest of mysteries using the most unusual methods.

#5 “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor”

Flannery O’Connor is one of my literary idols, because she shook the American literary scene with her dark and yet realistically sinister characters. “Revelation” is one such story that frightens me to my very core with its gruesome realistic portrayal of a rather stuck-up, white, middle-class, and “Christian” lady from the South named Mrs. Turpin. Throughout the story she constantly is looking down her nose at the people she is sharing a waiting room with. However, with an abrupt and sudden run-in with an angry young girl, Mrs. Turpin’s elite perception of her life is called into question. WARNING! Flannery O’Connor’s stories are not for the faint in heart. These stories are deliciously gritty. She frequently, yet rightly, uses strong and shocking language to capture entirely the reality of the darkness of human failure and the glorious beauty of the sudden emergence of unmerited grace.



Listers, please click the title of the short story to view the work on Amazon. Thank you.


Part II: 5 More Short Stories That Every Catholic Should Read.

“A Little Litany” – 6 Stanzas by GK Chesterton On Our Lord and Lady

When God turned back eternity and was young,
Ancient of Days, grown little for your mirth
(As under the low arch the land is bright)
Peered through you, gate of heaven—and saw the earth.

Listers, the following is a poem by G.K. Chesterton describing the relationship between Our Lord and his Blessed Mother.1

A Little Litany

Gilbert Keith Chesteron

When God turned back eternity and was young,
Ancient of Days, grown little for your mirth
(As under the low arch the land is bright)
Peered through you, gate of heaven—and saw the earth.


Or shutting out his shining skies awhile
Built you about him for a house of gold
To see in pictured walls his storied world
Return upon him as a tale is told.


Or found his mirror there; the only glass
That would not break with that unbearable light
Till in a corner of the high dark house
God looked on God, as ghosts meet in the night.


Star of his morning; that unfallen star
In that strange starry overturn of space
When earth and sky changed places for an hour
And heaven looked upwards in a human face.


Or young on your strong knees and lifted up
Wisdom cried out, whose voice is in the street,
And more than twilight of twiformed cherubim
Made of his throne indeed a mercy-seat.


Or risen from play at your pale raiment’s hem
God, grown adventurous from all time’s repose,
Or your tall body climbed the ivory tower
And kissed upon your mouth the mystic rose.

  1. FISHEATERS: The poem by G.K. Chesterton is taken from the Catholic resource site Fish Eaters, which SPL highly recommends as a source of recourse for faithful Catholics. The poem is also available on EWTN. []

6 Literary Quotes: Dostoevsky, Steinbeck, Tolkien and More

“Here I have for once in my life acted sincerely and, well, you all look upon me as a madman.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 1880

Listers, the following quotes were submitted to SPL based on the merit of the quotes and not necessarily the merit or virtue of the author.1

“‘How shall a man judge what to do in such times?’”
“‘As he ever has judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and ill have not changed since yesteryear; nor are they one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.’”
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers, 1954

Mark Twain

“Tell you, you corn-stalk, you cabbage, you son of a cauliflower? It’s the first time I ever heard such an unfeeling remark. I tell you I have been in the editorial business going on fourteen years, and it is the first time I have ever heard of a man’s having to know anything in order to edit a newspaper. You turnip! Who write the dramatic critiques for the second-rate papers? Why, a parcel of promoted shoemakers and apprentice apothecaries, who know just as much about good acting as I do about good farming and no more. Who review the books? People who never wrote one. Who do up the heavy leaders on finance? Parties who have had the largest opportunities for knowing nothing about it… Who edit the agricultural papers, you—yam? Men, as a general thing, who fail in the poetry line, yellow-colored novel line, sensation-drama line, city-editor line, and finally fall back on agriculture as a temporary reprieve from the poorhouse. You try to tell me anything about the newspaper business! Sir, I have been through it from Alpha to Omaha, and I tell you that the less a man knows the bigger noise he makes and the higher salary he commands. Heaven knows if I had but been ignorant instead of cultivated, and impudent instead of diffident, I could have made a name for myself in this cold, selfish world.”
Mark Twain, “How I Edited an Agricultural Paper,” 1870

“Art in the blood is liable to take the strangest forms.”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Greek Interpreter” (from The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries), 1893

“Here I have for once in my life acted sincerely and, well, you all look upon me as a madman.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, 1880

“‘The proverb says, that he who does good to him that does not deserve it, is always ill rewarded. I did think… that it was false, because nothing is more contrary to reason, and the rights of society: yet I find it too cruelly true.”
“The History of the Fisherman” in Arabian Nights

“You couldn’t win an argument with Fauna because she would agree with you and then go right on as she had planned.”
John Steinbeck, Sweet Thursday, 1954

  1. St. Peter’s List thanks Kara Schmidt for submitting these quotes []

14 More Glorious Chesterton Quotes

As SPL enjoys this Thanksgiving with friends and family, please enjoy this offering of GK Chesterton quotes.

Listers, as SPL enjoys this Thanksgiving with friends and family, please enjoy this offering of GK Chesterton quotes.

Rights & the Good:

“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”


“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

Shooting Grandma:

“The word “good” has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.”

An Adventure:

“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is an adventure wrongly considered.”

Religious Liberty:

“Religious liberty might be supposed to mean that everybody is free to discuss religion. In practice it means that hardly anybody is allowed to mention it.”

Traveler & Tourist:

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.”

Muddled Feminism:

“It [feminism] is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”

I Am:

“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly,”

Fallacies to Fashions:

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”


“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.”

When You Lose:

“How you think when you lose determines how long it will be until you win.”

The Evolutionists:

“It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.”


“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”


“Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.”

And 14 More GK Chesterton Quotes

“Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist.”

Listers, SPL is proud to reproduce the great products of GK Chesterton’s humor and acumen.

Hot Water:

“I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean.”

Music & Dinner:

“Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist.”

On Reading a Novel:

“People wonder why the novel is the most popular form of literature; people wonder why it is read more than books of science or books of metaphysics. The reason is very simple; it is merely that the novel is more true than they are.”

Beauty & The Beast:

“There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”

On Those Who Hate Christianity:

“There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.”

Is Love Blind?

“Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind.”

When to Say Grace:

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

On Impartiality:

“Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference which is an elegant name for ignorance.”

GK Chesterton in all his glory.

On Education:

“No man who worships education has got the best out of education… Without a gentle contempt for education no man’s education is complete.”

The Starving World:

“The world will never starve for want of wonders, but for want of wonder.”

On Reading:

“There is a great deal of difference between an eager man who wants to read a book and a tired man who wants a book to read.”

On Perspective:

“One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.”

On Angels:

“Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”

Thanks & Wonder:

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

13 GK Chesterton Quotes

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

Listers, SPL presents a small snapshot of the extraordinary intellect and wit of Gilbert Keith Chesterton. His works brim with antidotes, parables, paradoxes, and witticisms. Even over the most mundane of subjects, he is a joy to read.

On Fairy Tales:

“Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

On Living the Life:

“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”

On a Poetic Lacuna:

“Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”

On Literature:

“Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.”

On Soldiers of Charity:

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”

On Love:

“The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.”

On the Occasion of Being Absentminded:

“I am not absentminded. It is the presence of mind that makes me unaware of everything else.”

On the Occasion of a Dinner Party:

“There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”

Our Neighbors:

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.”

On Christianity:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

On Education:

“Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

An Antidote to Materialism:

“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”

On Literary Critique:

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.”

6 Catholic Thoughts Concerning the “Game of Thrones” Series

Time Magazine has called George R. R. Martin, “the American Tolkien.” His A Song of Ice and Fire series, more commonly referred to as the Game of Thrones series, has broken into the realm few fantasy works do – mainstream America.

Listers, Time Magazine has called George R. R. Martin, “the American Tolkien.” His A Song of Ice and Fire series, more commonly referred to as the Game of Thrones series, has broken into the realm few fantasy works do – mainstream America. The series’ growing popularity is evident in the recently released hardback fifth volume in the saga, and the premiere of the HBO TV adaptation, the Game of Thrones series. A few thoughts on this “American Tokien’s” work…

The following critique is written regarding the books 1-4.

1. Unique Style of Writing:

Each chapter of Martin’s work bears the name of the character it follows. Allowing for a host of perspectives, Martin is able to weave complicated, but followable political schemes. The popular name of the series overall and the name of the first novel, The Game of Thrones, sums up the saga completely. It is a narrative that focuses more on political posturing and wit, than the traditional foci of fantasy, e.g., fight scenes, magic, creatures, etc. If you are looking for a story riddled with subtleties and Machiavellian tactics, the Game of Thrones is that and some.

2. Characters over World:

As alluded, Martin composes a character-based narrative. Avid fantasy writings can attest to the fact that many authors fall into the sub-par range, because they are more interested in describing their world than making the characters seem real. Rigid stereotypes, flat personalities, and predictable outcomes plague most fantasy literature, but Martin strives to produce believable, anti-stereotypical, and unpredictable characters.

3. The Characters:

Coupling his unique chapter-character style with complicated characters lends the Game of Thrones series an unpredictable and entertaining plot line. One of the aids in this approach is the fact that it would be difficult, particularly in the first few novels, to actually state who is the main protagonist and antagonist. Another literary fault of the fantasy world is that no matter what danger your main character(s) find themselves in, they will escape. It leads the reader to just be waiting for the Deus ex Machina moment to happen. However, in GoT, this is not the case. It is not uncommon for a character to take a main protagonist role only to be unexpectedly killed.

Bran & Jon Stark, Game of Thrones. HBO

4. Modern Good & Evil:

The literary trap that Martin does not avoid is that of modernity. One such pitfall is the inability for modernity to understand virtue. Almost every character in the series is an anti-hero. They are lesser evils fighting against greater evils. Those characters which do appear to be good speak of honor, not virtue. Inevitably, this leads to vague notions of morality based off naval gazing, i.e., seeking the “right” and “honorable” answer by self-searching and not external standards. However, even these vague moral heroes are naive, exploitable, and ultimately lost within a Machiavellian political power structure. It is a pit almost all modern literature falls into – modernity understands evil, but it does not understand good.1

5. Sexuality:

The series is riddled with sexual activity. It is granted that a work focusing on political battles for the throne must reveal the sexual connections amongst the characters. Lines for the throne(s) are the basis of almost all political posturing within a monarchy. However, the book goes way beyond what is necessary and includes graphic sexual descriptions. Moreover, it moves beyond even those relationships which are important to the storyline and includes random sexual experiences that are completely superfluous to the story. The books contain sexual details of incest, child brides, and masturbation. Moreover, his description of sexuality is very juvenile in tone, and reads more like a male teen fantasy than reality.

6. The American Tolkien…

Time magazine’s statement – which appeared as a critique after the fourth volume – can only be seen as a shallow comparison of popularity. As stated, it is uncommon for a fantasy writer to become popular in the mainstream, and those who do accomplish this task are almost always compared to Tolkien. J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings single handedly created the modern fantasy genre, while also adhering to a classical understanding of Good and Evil. If Martin and Tolkien are compared by their under-gird philosophies, then Martin appears to be another shallow modern author who thrives off describing evil and sexuality.

  1. Update (1-12-13) A similar comparison may be made of the Lord of the Rings movies. As moderns, we are able to depict evil, but when the modern mind must depict the good and virtuous life, it is lost. We see how modernity had to recreate Tolkien’s heroes, most notably in turning Aragorn from a virtuous character to a insecure navel-gazer. To wit, as moderns, not only do we not understand the virtuous life but we also find it unbelievable; thus, it has vanished from our art and literature. Naturally, since we cannot grasp the entirety of the good, we – as moderns – falter on understanding the corruption of the good, evil. Our present culture displays this most notably in abortion, gay marriage, and the basic belief that there can be no wrong between two consenting adults. In retrospect, depict may have been a better word choice than understand. []