As the poet said, “Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo! So little time! So much to know!”

I get lots of books from publishers. They are nearly all, I am sure, sound, since the publishers are sound.  I can’t possibly read everything I get. Still, I like to bring the titles to your attention.

For example, before I hopped the hurtling tube of flaming death to the southern climes for a visit to my mother…

BTW… I was finally able to give her the NRA – Law Enforcement challenge coin which one of you readers kindly sent me to bring to her (retired career cop that she is):


Back to books.

I read a post at the NCReg by a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn, Fr. John Cush.  He lists 10 books that everyone should have on their shelf.

Fr. Cush starts with an all too common and yet all too alarming anecdote about a priest who, after seminary, essentially didn’t read anything else to keep him fresh or up to date in theology.   You would think that priests would want to keep delving.  Right?  All professionals of note are required to stay up to date in their fields.   But priests are not just professionals.  They ought to love what they are and what they do, for love of God and neighbor.  When you love you want to know more about whom you love.  Right?  Not interested?  It’s not love.

Fr. Cush recalls the wise adage: “Beware the priest who has NO BOOKS in his room, because he’s probably not keeping up with his intellectual formation. Beware also the priest who has LOTS OF BOOKS in the room and the binding is not cracked on any of them, because he has allowed himself to become just a book collector.”

I am going to exempt myself from that last part, because I have literally stacks of uncracked books, because they rain down on my like something from the old testament.

Here are Father’s recommendations with links.  He comments on them, over there.

1. A good Catholic study Bible in English is a necessity. For me, the Ignatius Bible: Revised Standard Version — Second Catholic Edition (Ignatius Press, 2005) is a jewel to be treasured. [US HERE – UK HERE] This edition was revised according to norms set forth in Liturgiam Authenticam (2002). The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament (Ignatius Press, 2010) has some excellent notes by Dr. Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, and they also publish a large number of study Bibles for the Old Testament with some solid, orthodox notes.  [I also like the Navarre series.]

2. Absolutely essential for a theological library is the Catechism of the Catholic Church. [US HERE – UK HERE] Be sure to get the second edition of the Catechism from 1997! The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Compendium to the Catechism to the Catholic Church are also very helpful to someone creating a theological library.

3. A great collection of the main texts of the Catholic Church is to be found in Enchiridion Symbolorum: A Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations of the Catholic Church(Ignatius Press, 2012) (Latin and English Edition). [US HERE – UK HERE] This new 2012 edition takes the reader through the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI and has many (but not all) of the Magisterial Documents. All of Pope Francis’ work is not yet collected in this English edition, but hopefully will be soon. You can find the Holy Father’s teachings online at [It is really important for priests to have this book… not to mention the first two.]

4. The Documents of Vatican II, with Notes and Index: Vatican Translation (Alba House, 2009) [US HERE – UK HERE] offers the sixteen documents of the Council along with a faithful notes and a handy index. A Catholic should know what Vatican II actually states, not just what other people say Vatican II says. [NB: The translations of the Vatican II document are not without their problems.  Also, I wonder if it might not be equally if not more useful still to the documents of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism.  Vatican II?  I guess we all have to have that, too.]

5. Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica can be found in a brand-new edition, which brings this massive, but essential work into one volume (824 pages, albeit with small print) in Jake E. Steif’s Summa Theologica: The Only Complete and Unabridged Edition in One Volume (2017). [US HERE – UK HERE] There are, of course, so many different editions one could choose for the Summa, but this is a fairly new and concise one. A good introductory guide might be Peter Kreeft’s A Shorter Summa: The Essential Philosophical Passages of St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica(Ignatius Press, 1993). [US HERE – UK HERE] Whether you consider yourself to be a Thomist theologically or not, Saint Thomas’ thought is the building block for all Catholic theology. [Anything by Peter Kreeft is great.  Read lots of him.]

6. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity: Revised Edition (Ignatius Press, 2004) [US HERE – UK HERE] is a classic, really setting the scene for an understanding of late 20th-century Catholic theology. The product of this young professor’s study and experience after Vatican II and written in 1968, the future Pope’s work can set the reader on a proper path for the study of theology.  [Here’s where I must make an intervention.  Like so many good priests and bishops, Father falls into the sin of omission.  He is strong on the issue of theology.  However, when it comes to Ratzinger, he ought perhaps, even more than this fine classic, have pointed the shelf-filler to Spirit of the Liturgy  US HERE – UK HERE.  Why?  Because everything we do and hope to do in the Church must flow from and return to our sacred liturgical worship of God.  Time and again we read great speeches and talks and sermons about A and B and C and almost never do they mention liturgy.  Remember… WE ARE OUR RITES.  We ignore worship at our peril.  It is the theology proposed in the other books.]

7. Aidan Nichols’ The Shape of Catholic Theology: An Introduction to Its Sources, Principles, and History [US HERE – UK HERE] (Liturgical Press, 1991) is, in my opinion, the best introduction to the study of theology for any student. It is a book that I have used since I was beginning my own theological studies and it is one that I use today as a professor. It offers a proper understanding of the fonts of Divine Revelation, namely Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as well as an understanding of the Church’s Magisterium. It is just a clear, easily readable introduction. [Nichols is, indeed, very good and I warmly endorse this book.  Get the updated edition. Nichols also wrote a book on Ratzinger’s theology.  Worthwhile, especially read in tandem with Tracey Rowland’s Ratzinger’s Faith.  US HERE – UK HERE]

8. Boniface Ramsey’s Beginning to Read the Fathers: Revised Edition (Paulist Press, 2012) [US HERE – UK HERE] gives a thematic overview to the great thinkers of the Patristic period, and, as an introduction, might inspire the reader to really study the Fathers of the Church.  [His book on Ambrose is really good.]

9. Richard A. Spinello’s The Encyclicals of John Paul II: An Introduction and Commentary(Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2016) [US HERE – UK HERE] is a masterful edition to the thought of this great Saint, whom I pray will one day be a Doctor of the Church. [He could be the Doctor Misericordiae.  Indeed every priest should also read Familiaris consortio.]

10. For a great introduction to some great spiritual writers and their theology, check out Jordan Aumann’s Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition (Ignatius Press, 1985). [US HERE – UK HERE] From the early Church to post-Tridentine period to the Twentieth Century, the reader’s appetite will be whetted to want to know more about our great saints.

Of course the list can be increased and multiplied.  This is just one priest’s take on the basics.  Another might make other good suggestions.  It is a good list to work with.  He asks for your recommendations over at his post.  HERE

Sooooo many to recommend.

Card. Sarah’s books are good.

Perhaps your parish priest might need some or all of these books?  How’s his preaching?

It is a sad state of affairs that priests these days can’t give more time to being men of learning… which they can then pass on.  Instead they have lots of busy work, much of which has little to do with their priesthood.  Augustine suffered mightily from his sarcina that he had to carry.   He longed for otium in negotio.  As should all priests of every age, size, and background.

When you are in someone’s space, living or work, look for their books.  Of course you also, these days, need also to take into consideration their Kindle!

YES!  You need a Kindle.  US HERE – UK HERE

It would be a spiffy gift to load up a Kindle with great books and give it to a priest.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Andrew says:

    Items 1 – 5 are also available in Latin.

    (If any priest reads Latin) I would highly recommend “Hieronymus adversus Jovinianum”, which I am presently reading. It might turn out to be very useful should there be a storm coming over celibacy.

  2. ServusChristi says:

    I currently have the CCC, Roman Catechism as well as the Canons & Decrees of Trent, books on devotion to Mary such as Secret of the Rosary, True Devotion to Mary and the Glories of Mary, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Ludwig Ott and am continuing to build my Catholic Library hoping to include St Bellarmine’s De Controversiis.

    I must admit, I prefer the Roman Catechism over the CCC because of the format among many other things and I’m quite staggered to see how many Dogmas listed in Fundamentals of Catholic dogma are being undermined if not denied by at least some of our clergy.

  3. The Masked Chicken says:

    It, partially, depends on what you mostly do. Apologetics? Spiritual direction? Social justice? Moral theology?

    Just to add a few more to the list:

    Jergens: The Faith of the Fathers, 3 vols.

    Dupuis: The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church

    More and more, many things are available, online. Denzinger is available, as well as the Summa. In fact, Migne, the Patrologia latina and graeca, is available, if you want to look at the sources. Of course, there is the Christian Classics Ethereal Library and New Advent for older works and the Church Fathers.

    I really like the feeling of a book, but there is something to be said for having a thousand books on a Kindle or iPad. On the other hand, one EMP can wipe out your whole library. There is something to be said for analog.

    The Chicken

  4. frthomashoisington says:

    Father Z,
    Given that priests ought to read the documents of every ecumenical council, and given that priests need to be conversant regarding the documents of the Second Vatican Council in order (among other reasons) to argue charitably for a correct interpretation of that council (i.e., an interpretation guided by a hermeneutic of continuity), please share with your readers your recommendation for the best English translation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Is the translation on the Vatican’s website the best available? Who translated the version on the Vatican website?

  5. frthomashoisington says:

    There seem only to be four English translations: (1) the National Catholic Welfare Conference, 1965; (2) Walter Abbott, SJ, 1966; (3) Norman Tanner, SJ, 1990; (4) Austin Flannery, OP, 1992.

  6. makreitzer says:

    Thanks for all the book suggestions, Father. I’ve been reading the encyclicals of Pope Pius XI and they are absolutely wonderful. I think reading the encyclicals of popes prior to Vatican II is an eye-opening experience. Pope Pius XI was clear, easy to understand, and most of his encyclicals are relatively short compared the book-length documents we’re getting these days. Reading them is also an immersion in the history of a very challenging time between the wars.

  7. CatholicNerdGirl says:

    I much prefer the Walter Abbott version to the Austin Flannery version…I’m certain that the Council Fathers did not use “inclusive language”, which the current (21 years old) Flannery edition does. Find yourself an old Abbott copy on Amazon.

  8. In re challenge coins: I’m spearheading a small challenge coin project. What company would you recommend I take my business to to make them?

  9. Fallibilissimo says:

    Joseph Ratzinger’s faith, the simplicity I see in it (and I mean that as the greatest of compliments) is such an attraction. With all his mighty intellect and his unmatched command of philosophical history and concepts (just read the first part of intro to Christianity if you want to see what I’m talking about), when I read Ratzinger it’s easy for me to see a man who is simply rooted in Jesus Christ and all the rest flows from that. When I was younger, I would read some St JPII and that was often admittedly a “dense” experience and felt quite “dogmatic” (nothing wrong with that. In fact, we need that). But reading Ratzinger/Benedict, even when he can be quite dense, always had something refreshing about it and also intellectually liberating in a way that was more “crisp” (hard to define it really). It’s as if he removed cobwebs for me…I don’t know if anybody gets what I’m saying here. Just look at his book on Jesus of Nazareth or his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, his writing is so approachable and, like the proverbial onion with many layers, is understandable to nearly everyone while maintaining a great penetrating depth to explore.

    It’s hard for me to even write about him because my eyes get all teary. It also pains me to see him frail because though I never met him, I love him as if he were my grandfather. Simply put, he’s easy to love and for me, his writings have been an opportunity experience that.

    Anyway, there are so many good books one could put on this list and certainly the ones I’d put on the top would be the Bible and Catechism of the Catholic Church (what a an amazing gift the CCC is. We should thank heaven for it often!). There’s another book which has some good pointers on methodology and intellectual predispositions: Luigi Giussani’s Religious Sense. I know some people scoff at it and I could even understand where they’re coming from but some lessons he conveys are priceless nuggets to contemplate well over a lifetime. None of these are really his, it’s just basic philosophy but to some his presentation can be attractive to a modern audience. For example, “the object dictates the method”, “reason as openness vs reason as measure” or freedom as attachment rather than detachment (in another of his works).

    In my experience, in nearly every case, what makes writings “must reads” isn’t their originality or creativity per se, but their ability to communicate concepts and impress them in our minds and hearts in a new or fresh way. Actually, probably the best example of this ability is exemplified in then Cdl. Ratzinger’s discourse entitled “conscience and truth” (very relevant for today). It’s as if Socrates/Plato (particularly in Phaedrus) sit down with St Paul and Newman to have a chat on the meaning of conscience where Ratzinger writes an annotated synthesis of their dialogue. The short section on anamnesis becomes an invitation for all of us to understand and reflect on what conscience really is, especially for Christians. I can never see my/our own life or read the overarching story seen in every person in the Bible (notably the story of the fall and expulsion from the garden and how it relates to us today) in the same way after learning a few concepts in there.

    ok, enough of my messy rambling…

  10. JonPatrick says:

    I second what the Chicken says about Kindle and EMP. It also bothers me that Big Brother Amazon knows what I have in my Kindle library and can control it. What happens when the libs decide that one or more of the books is “subversive” and needs to be deleted? Paper books can be hidden under the floorboards for when the storm troopers come.

    [Faraday Cage.]

  11. frjimt says:

    With part of my family heritage coming from protestant clergy background, I can still hear one of my relatives asking: ‘why, when I call the parish house is pastor Davis in’ his study’ and fr bill is in ‘his office’?

    Perhaps a reason for us to learn to continue to ‘study’ more?!?

  12. bcstudent says:

    I have the privaledge of having Dr. Peter Kreeft as a professor. I just got out of his Thursday class on the Philosophy of World Religions. Not only is he a prolific writer, but he is also a great man and a fantastic, witty professor.

  13. LexCredendi says:


    (I) I strongly reaffirm your observation on the theological mastery displayed in the Preface to the New Edition of Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity. Revisiting it today, his analysis of liberation theology – as a school which, effectively, omits the idea of God – was prophetic, in my opinion. More importantly, it provides powerful ammo for pious Catholics to defeat the subversion of saving doctrine.

    (II) See pages 11-18. He argues that any churchman who baptizes Marxism (in the way Thomism baptizes Aristotle) necessarily adopts a certain primacy of politics and economics. And because dogmatic theology does not bear directly on politics and economics, it becomes secondary on an evangelical agenda aimed at remedying social “realities.” In this way, God isn’t denied, but insidiously omitted. He is unnecessary to resolve the “practical” realities confronting mankind.

    Due to the liberation theologian’s omission of God’s nature, the Person of Christ is necessarily treated with doubt. The object of faith is no longer contact with His Person, but political and economic justice through His messianic dimension (yuck, so secular). Adopting a sort of Jewish vision of the messiah, the liturgy is reduced to a pledge of temporal justice and subjective consolation.

    Then, with force IMO, Ratzinger wonders aloud whether this inversion of things human and divine arises from the 20th Century’s suspicion that God would ultimately be disproven. Assessing the results of materialistic (i.e., atheistic) ideologies by, very graciously, reciting a few bioethical horrors and the utilitarian view of man ascendant in the hard sciences, Ratzinger concludes that, insofar as human welfare is concerned, there is nothing more practical than unwavering faith in the triune God. “We ought to wonder whether God might not in fact be the genuine reality,” he says, “the basic prerequisite for any ‘realism,’ so that, without him, nothing is safe.”

    Thus, he calls on theologians to renew a Christology that glorifies the Lord in the fullness of his divinity.

    (III) IMO, his analysis clarifies twin poisons in the Church today (other than faithlessness). The first being the inversion of our spiritual yearning, turning from religion to the order of politics and economics, and the second being sins of doctrinal omission. Damage today results not from Fr. Martin’s bold declaration of charity toward gays, or Card. Cupich’s exhortations to foster prudence (i.e., discernment) by accompaniment, but from their glaring OMISSIONS of Scripture, Tradition, and sin’s eternal consequence – which, clearly, must be preached in any discussion touching on sins of grave matter.

    Omissions are more ambiguous than affirmative acts. But it is vitally important that bishops and priests refrain from distorting doctrine by presenting particular aspects without due order.

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