by Father John Rickert
1. Juan Donoso Cortés: Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism. Donoso argues that political questions are at root theological questions, and Liberalism is fundamentally the denial of the doctrine of Original Sin as understood in the Catholic sense. Bl. Pius IX warmly approved this book, as did Garrigou-Lagrange and Orestes Brownson.
2. Juan Donoso Cortés: Letter to Cardinal Fornari on the Errors of Our Time. A summary of the Essay in twelve brilliant pages. I have a public-domain translation available.
3. Padre Antonio Vieira, S.J. Sermons. Padre Vieira’s long life spanned most of the 17th century. He experience ranged from the royal courts of Europe to the jungles of the Amazon, where he served as a missionary among several Indian tribes. His grasp of the Bible and the Church Fathers is staggering: he seems to have read everything and memorized it. He is Iberian Baroque Catholicism at its apex. Especially to be recommended are the sermons on the Most Blessed Sacrament, on the Rosary, and on the Mandatum. It’s worth learning the language even if only to read Padre Vieira.
4. Anthony Esolen: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization. The only thing I would change about this book is its title. Judging from it, one might think this is a book along the lines one might find by Glen Beck, Sean Hannity, or people of that sort. Not at all. This is undoubtedly the best apologetic for Catholicism on historical and cultural grounds that I have ever seen. He has the historical sense of Belloc without his acridity, and the verve and vitality of Chesterton without his eccentricity. His description of Romanitas is nothing short of sublime.
5. G. K. Chesterton: The Everlasting Man. The main points of this book, which are extremely well made are that man is not just another animal, religion is not just another human activity, and Christianity is not just another religion. The refutation of evolution, at least in the case of humans, in the first chapter is as cogent and irrefutable as ever. His discussion on reading the Bible is not to be missed.
6. The Lord: The Holy Bible. I feel a bit awkward placing divinely inspired text into a list. I’d like to draw attention especially to the Wisdom literature, and there especially, the Books of Wisdom and Sirach; and to the Epistle of James.
7. Etienne Gilson: Being and Some Philosophers. This short book is one I had to read very slowly, because it is quite dense, but it has had a profound and lasting impact on me ever since. It is one thing to speak of “the absolute transcendence of existence over essence,” but quite another to grasp this as more than an academic formulation. I recommend anything by Gilson. God and Philosophy is a short, accessible book that is well worth reading. I cannot pass up the opportunity to mention that Gilson is among the best stylists in English I have read, even though his native language was French.
8. St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Contra Gentiles. This great work of St. Thomas should be read more, and it is more accessible than the ST, because it is written in fairly short chapters. You feel as though you are at the feet of the master giving lectures in class. Though the outlook is philosophical – this work was written at the behest of St. Raymond of Peñafort to help convert Moslems – there are nevertheless passages of high contemplation. Read it in Latin if you can.
9. Samuel Johnson: The Adventurer, The Rambler; The Spectator. These essays are priceless. Every aspiring scholar should read The Adventurer, No. 85.
10. Richard Feynman: The Character of Physical Law. Nobel Prize lecture by the greatest physicist of the 20th century, back when the Nobel Prize really meant something. I don’t agree with Feynman on everything, but he gives a very probing view of a mind really in search of truth, who has caught a few glimpses of it and deeply pangs for more. He has a style that is quite lucid and completely free from the arrogance and condescension of too many scientists these days who are nowhere near him in calibre.
Books mentioned in this essay and related works may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.
Father John Rickert is a member of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. He loves good books and good beer. Though originally from the most virtuous part of our vast republic (central Kansas), he now lives in Lexington, Kentucky.