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Friday, December 22, 2023

The Essential Christian Library

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The Essential Christian Library

Whether it is dedicated to the study and knowledge, or it is devoted to meditation and prayer, Christian life places great importance on the written word. Complementing and supporting the spoken word, which we hear in the context of the Holy Liturgy and the sacred rituals of the Church, or simply in the prayers we daily raise to our God, Jesus Christ, the importance of the written word is vital. By reading, we shape our minds and hearts, learning true devotion. Through reading, we know and deepen our Orthodox faith, the divine supernatural Truth that was first revealed to us through Moses and the prophets, and then through our Lord Jesus Christ himself. At the same time, we learn to guard against the heresies that, today more than ever, have multiplied excessively. And, as our knowledge and understanding grow, along with our devotion, we can even study some good apologetics manuals, thus becoming capable of defending the faith and combating the widespread errors of that abominable sum of all the heresies named by the Saint Pope Pius X (neo)modernism.

If we accept, therefore, the importance of reading, the inevitable question arises regarding the content of an ideal library. What books should a good Christian’s library contain? As my articles dedicated to this subject will indicate, to answer this question as comprehensively as possible, I will structure the content into distinct categories. Let’s begin!


For the Judeo-Christian tradition, the book of books has been, is, and will forever be, without a doubt, the Sacred Scripture. The reference text of the Western world is the legendary translation by Saint Jerome, known as the Vulgate Bible (Lat. Biblia Sacra Vulgata). The Council of Trent (1545–1563) established this edition as the official Bible of the Church. Its most well-known edition is the Clementine Vulgate, promulgated in 1592 by Pope Clement VIII (from whose name the edition gets its name).

For English-speaking readers, the reference translation, from which I take the quotes used in my articles, is the one produced by members of the English College in Douai, France, from which the New Testament was first printed in Reims, France, in 1582. All these details point to the origin of the English version of the Vulgate: Douay-Rheims.

As we are in the season of preparing gifts for the Holy Christmas, I assure you that any of the recommended essential books would be an invaluable gift. For all these books belong to that category that we read and reread throughout our lives not just once or a few times but countless times.

Although not mandatory, it would be ideal to have in our library a bilingual version containing both the Latin text of the Clementine Vulgate and the Douay-Rheims translation in English. One such edition is produced by Baronius Press.[i] Elegant, in a large format (8½" x 11½"), it also includes the comments of the Catholic English bishop Richard Challoner (1691–1781). Personally, I use this one.

Angelus Press, the excellent publishing house of the Society of Saint Pius X, offers an edition of the New Testament in Latin (Clementine Vulgate) and English (Douay-Rheims).[ii] In a smaller format (9" x 10"), it is beautifully bound and edited.

Of course, editions of the Bible containing only the text of the Douay-Rheims version in English can also be beneficial. Two editions that I warmly recommend are also published by Angelus Press. The first is a compact version (6" x 9"), containing all the texts of the Old and New Testament.[iii] The second edition, in addition to the reference text of the Douay-Rheims version, includes the rich commentaries of Father Haydock (1859), plus a very useful dictionary.[iv] From an educational perspective, the value of this English version of the Bible lies in the very substantial commentaries provided on each page.


The reading of the Bible is not an easy task. Therefore, the practice of the virtue of prudence is absolutely necessary. And our attitude towards sacred texts must also be correct, based on awareness – obtained through meditation (i.e., prayer) – that we are dealing with texts whose author is God Himself, whose infinite and perfect understanding far surpasses our capacities in an infinite way. This is found expressed very clearly in two verses from the book of the prophet Isaiah (55:8-9):

“My thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.”

But if we practice the virtue of prudence and have a correct attitude towards sacred texts, who will teach us how to interpret them? Most of the time, we find ourselves in front of the Holy Scriptures just like the Ethiopian man who, when asked by the apostle Philip, “Thinkest thou that thou understandest what thou readest?” responds with all sincerity, “And how can I, unless some man shew me?” (Acts 8:30-32). So what can we do, we who do not have the apostle Philip at hand to interpret sacred texts for us? A simple solution is to patiently read and re-read the interpretations proposed by the great Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church.Catena

Aware of its value, St. Thomas Aquinas not only wrote numerous commentaries on the biblical books himself but, even before doing so, he elaborated an extraordinarily useful work entitled the Catena Aurea (i.e., The Golden Chain). In its pages, you will not find any interpretation by St. Thomas himself. But what we have here are the commentaries of over eighty (80) Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Thus, the four Gospels of the New Testament are presented in full, accompanied by the interpretations of the most well-known sacred authors. In practice, whenever we want to quickly read how the saints of the first millennium of the Christian era understand different passages from any of the four Gospels, we find everything we need here, neatly arranged by St. Thomas. In a word, without having to spend tens, hundreds, or even thousands of hours reading numerous commentaries of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church to find the commentary that interests us, in the Catena Aurea, everything is ready. Since I discovered this monumental work of the Angelic Doctor almost twenty years ago, I have never parted with it.

The same publisher that gave us the Clementine Vulgate side-by-side with the Douai-Reims English version, Baronius Press, offers us the most elegant edition of the Catena Aurea available in English.[v] And Angelus Press offers us a well-made edition, at a somewhat more affordable price, of the famous compilation of patristic commentaries on the Bible.[vi] Also, on various websites, there are cheaper versions, and online there are several places (such as the Internet Archive digital library) where complete editions, from the 19th century, of the work called Catena Aurea in the translation of St. John Henry Newman, can be downloaded for free.


Desiring to strengthen the faith of those threatened by neo-modernism, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre repeatedly recommended the Catechism of the Church produced and published in 1566, three years after the conclusion of the Council of Trent. Indeed, no other work of instruction proposed to the faithful can compare with this work, written under the coordination of Saint Charles Borromeo (1538–1584) and promulgated by Saint Pius V (1504–1572).

Clear and in a very precise language, primarily intended for priests who have the duty to educate the Christian people, the Roman Catechism is a lifelong reading. Specifically, I believe that each of us should read the entire catechism thoroughly once every 4-5 years. But for this to be possible, we first need to have the book. In English, there are two excellent editions that I warmly recommend.

The first is published by TAN Books and featured on the Angelus Press website.[vii] Based on the translation done in 1923 by Dominican Fathers John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callan, the edition is beautifully bound, printed in a spacious font, in a standard size format (5.75" x 8.75"). The content is that of the traditional catechesis established since the time of the Fathers of the Church: the Apostles’ Creed, the Commandments of the Decalogue, the Sacraments, and the “Our Father” prayer. Going through it, you will become acquainted with all the fundamental teachings of the Christian Faith. Another edition, also based on the translation by Fathers John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callan, is offered by Baronius Press.[viii] Other translations of the Catechism can also be found online without any difficulty.[ix]


In the entire glorious Christian Middle Ages, there was no work as famous and widely read as The Golden Legend. Also known as the Legenda Sanctorum, it is a collection of lives of the most well-known saints. Written by the Italian archbishop of Genoa, Jacopo di Varazze (1230 – 1298), the work is characterized by the beauty of its style and the picturesque descriptions that present to us a world of miracles arising from the faith of those featured.THE GOLDEN LEGEND

In the midst of the present crisis, we become aware of how much we need saints. We would be delighted to have a Saint like Padre Pio among us or a defender of the faith like Pope Gregory the Great. In any case, it is clear to us that we need models, examples of piety, faith, and hope. If the Church proposes such models through those it canonizes, The Golden Legend describes them, emphasizing the deeds and virtues they demonstrated to prove their holiness.

Thirty years ago, in 1993, Princeton University Press published in English a complete translation of Jacopo di Varazze’s work. Done by a connoisseur of patristic literature, William Granger Ryan, this translation is a true treasure for any lover of classical Christian culture. Massive single-volume editions or two-volume editions can be found on all major websites or in antiquarian bookstores. With this book, your essential Christian library will be complete.

As we are in the season of preparing gifts for the Holy Christmas, I assure you that any of the recommended essential books would be an invaluable gift. For all these books belong to that category that we read and reread throughout our lives not just once or a few times but countless times. They are a true nourishment for our souls thirsty for Good, Truth, and Beauty.

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[i] Baronius Press’ Douay-Rheims & Clementina Vulgate [side-by-side] Bible webpage is here: [Accessed: 12 December 2023]

[ii] This edition can be found on the Angelus Press website at the following address: [Accessed: 12 December 2023]

[iii] Link: [Accessed: 12 December 2023]

[iv] Link: [Accessed: 12 December 2023]

[v] Link: [Accessed: 12 December 2023]

[vi] Link: [Accessed: 12 December 2023]

[vii] Link: [Accessed: 12 December 2023]

[viii] Link: [Accessed: 12 December 2023]

[ix] For instance, here: [Accessed: 12 December 2023]

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Robert Lazu Kmita | Remnant Columnist, Romania

A Catholic father of seven and a grandfather of two, Robert Lazu Kmita is a writer with a PhD in Philosophy. His first novel, The Island without Seasons, was published by Os Justi Press in 2023.