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Friday, December 29, 2023

The Best Books I Read in 2023

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The Best Books I Read in 2023

Before moving on to the presentation of the best books I’ve read during the year 2023, I warmly recommend two titles that every good Christian should have in his “essential library.” Very short but extremely profound and, I would say, practical, both have been written by Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696–1787). Despite writing dozens of substantial volumes, including the monumental Theologia Moralis (1748–1785), the wisdom of Saint Alphonsus is nevertheless best known through these two small booklets that help us lay the foundation of the Christian life.

uniformityThe Treasures of Saint Alphonsus

First, the shortest one is called Uniformity With God’s Will and can be read in an hour. It can be easily found online on various Catholic websites.[i] The essence of the book helps us understand the meanings of that statement we make whenever we recite the Pater Noster: “Fiat voluntas tua...” (“Thy Will be done…”). Specifically, Saint Alphonsus demonstrates that this is the nature of the path every Christian traverses in this world: to do the will of God. However, even if we know this will, we always discover that both we, through our sins, and the entire fallen world oppose the fulfillment of God’s will. Caught in the midst of this ongoing struggle, we must always refresh our deepest convictions regarding this fundamental duty: fulfilling the will of God. To understand how important this is, here is a single quote extracted by Saint Alphonsus from the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila:

Those who give themselves to prayer, should concentrate solely on this: the conformity of their wills with the divine will. They should be convinced that this constitutes their highest perfection. The more fully they practice this, the greater the gifts they will receive from God, and the greater the progress they will make in the interior life.”

The second book by Saint Alphonsus that I recommend is somewhat longer than the first. The title under which it is usually translated into English is Prayer: The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection. As in the case of the first book, you can easily find numerous editions in print as well as the text online on various websites.[ii] By reading it, you will learn a fundamental axiom of Christian life, presented by Saint Alphonsus with diamond-like clarity: he who does not pray, does not attain salvation. Therefore, for all people–even those in mortal sin–prayer, and mainly prayer, is the primary key to the Kingdom of Heaven. This is asserted with unwavering conviction, as Saint Alphonsus simultaneously provides numerous examples proving that, for absolutely every human being, prayer is as necessary as air. This does not, of course, exclude any of the other necessary means for salvation, such as the Holy Sacraments, but it establishes a hierarchical list of priorities in which prayer occupies the first place.

Two Amazing Aristocratic Books

Among the most remarkable titles I read during the year 2023, the first was written by Archduke Eduard of Austria and was published by Sophia Institute Press. Titled The Habsburg Way: Seven Rules for Turbulent Times, with an introduction by Viktor Orbán, the Prime Minister of Hungary, it is a surprise and delight for any reader who loves Christian Tradition.

First and foremost, we are pleased to see how a member of one of Europe’s most prestigious royal houses concretely illustrates the true meaning of hereditary royalty and aristocracy: the excellence of virtues. Then, His Excellency demonstrates, through numerous testimonies drawn from the extraordinary history of his family, the profound nature of these virtues and how they can be embraced and practiced by those who are married.

Simply adopting and following the rules outlined in this book, presented as its chapter titles, would already be a good start for a virtuous life:

  1. Get Married (and Have Lots of Children);
  2. Be Catholic (and Practice Your Faith);
  3. Believe in the Empire (and in Subsidiarity);
  4. Stand for Law and Justice (and Your Subjects);
  5. Know Who You Are (and Live Accordingly);
  6. Be Brave in Battle (or Have a Great General), and
  7. Die Well (and Have a Memorable Funeral).

Practical and concrete, what Archduke Eduard calls “the Habsburg Way” is not a specific path reserved only for his royal family. On the contrary, it is the universal path of Wisdom and Holiness inherent to the Judeo-Christian Tradition, embodied by members of an illustrious house. It is time to emphasize–in the spirit of the Brazilian thinker Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira (1908–1995)–that this is, in fact, the true mission of Christian royal houses, of genuine Catholic aristocracy: to be a model of virtuous living for their subjects. The members of the Habsburg house, as shown by His Excellency through the real histories recounted, have embodied how they lived and defended Christian virtues. If tabloids and television have accustomed us to seeing only the scandals in the lives of royal family members, it is time to remember what their true role has been, is, and will be: that of exemplary leaders.

I assure you that you will learn a lot about the theology and philosophy of Saint Thomas. At the same time, you will discover how all these things can serve as a foundation for important clarifications regarding the field of the arts.

If parents will be able to read another book written by Archduke Eduard of Habsburg more as an allegory, children will thoroughly enjoy the story titled Dubbie the Double-Headed Eagle. Published in 2020 by Full Quiver Publishing, I discovered and read it–along with my children–only in 2023, eager to see what else His Grace has written apart from The Habsburg Way.

Truly captivating, the adventure of the little double-headed eagle Dubbie illustrates one of the constant charisms of royal house members: that of storytellers. Extremely unusual, the story in this little book gives us the opportunity to reflect on the vicissitudes of the lives of those destined for special vocations. After all, a double-headed eagle is quite rare, isn’t it? Without revealing its content, I emphasize that its core represents the essence of Archduke Eduard’s message: as much as possible on this earth, the happiness of any human being is tied to family.

A Traditional Catholic on the Modernism and Its Impact on the Christian Family

If the book The Habsburg Way, written by the great-great-great-grandson of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, has more of an applied character, showing us, through examples, how Christian virtues can be practiced within the family, Dr. Joseph Shaw, the son of the late Thomas Shaw (1923–1998), 3rd Baron Craigmyle, offers in his book published by Os Justi Press, The Liturgy, the Family & the Crisis of Modernity: Essays of a Traditional Catholic (2023), a multitude of comprehensive answers. They come to the aid of those who want to understand as thoroughly as possible the enormous crisis in which the world, the family, and especially the Church currently find themselves. Although Shaw’s book also includes concrete examples and (auto)biographical stories, his emphasis falls on all those extremely serious issues that are the result of the greatest crisis in the history of the entire world: the birth of modernity.

Well-known in English-speaking traditional Catholic circles, Dr. Joseph Shaw is a true successor to the famous author Michael Davies. Like him, with patience and tenacity, he addresses all questions and doubts regarding both the Roman Catholic Liturgy (i.e., the “Tridentine Mass”) and Catholic Tradition. Showing, without reservation, that the Church “had suffered some disfiguring calamity,” he seeks all possible explanations to help us understand how we got here.

As an excellent philosophy professor, Dr. Shaw clarifies the meanings of the most important words and categories he operates with through edifying definitions. For example, a “traditional” Catholic (abbreviated as “Cath trad”) is “a Catholic who wishes to live in continuity with previous generations.” Simple and clear, isn’t it? Similarly clear are the numerous questions and answers regarding the Holy Liturgy and all the other details related to how a true Catholic should approach the worship owed to God. At the same time, just like in Archduke Eduard Habsburg’s book, the family plays a crucial role. Children’s education, leisure activities, strengthening ties with Tradition, the disastrous Second Vatican Council and its consequences, feminism, the sexual revolution – in short, all the major problems of modernity and their impact on family are masterfully discussed by Dr. Shaw. Certainly, if you want to understand and act correctly, his book is one that falls into the must-read category.

Saint Thomas Aquinas – the Musician of Eternal Beauty

We are accustomed to an image of Doctor Angelicus as, first and foremost, a teacher, an unbeatable logician, and a metaphysician. Without a doubt, Saint Thomas was all of that. Smaller texts, like De Ente et Essentia and De unitate intellectus contra Averroistas, or monumental works, like Summa contra Gentiles and Summa Theologica, demonstrate this.

However, Dr. Sebastian Morello’s work, The World as God’s Icon: Creator and Creation in the Platonic Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Angelico Press, 2020), shows us that he was even more: an aesthete in the profound and mystical religious sense that this term can have. In other words, if he loves the Good and the Truth with all his heart, Beauty is not foreign to him. In continuity with Saint Dionysius the Areopagite, but also with other classical authors–including Plato and Aristotle–, Saint Thomas shows how divine glory spreads its marvelous rays over the entire creation, in cascades, following the words of the Holy Apostle James:

“Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17).

In clear and accessible language, Dr. Morello manages to explain difficult subjects, such as participation metaphysics and divine exemplarism. I don’t want to suggest that the reading will be easy; when it comes to such topics, a substantial intellectual effort is required. However, what I guarantee is the clarity of Dr. Morello’s arguments. Additionally, erudition is well-controlled, and references and names do not excessively burden the text. I assure you that you will learn a lot about the theology and philosophy of Saint Thomas. At the same time, you will discover how all these things can serve as a foundation for important clarifications regarding the field of the arts. If you have ever wondered why you like certain books, poems, films, or why we all admire architectural masterpieces like Sainte-Chapelle and Notre-Dame de Paris, here you will find the most profound answers.

Latest from RTV — FRANCIS TURNS 87: Catholic World Divided Over Worst Pope in History

[i] For example, here: [Accessed: 27 December 2023]

[ii] On Internet Archives you can find volume III of The Complete Ascetical Works of Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, which contains – among other excellent texts – the treatise on prayer to which I refer: [Accessed: 27 December 2023]

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Last modified on Saturday, December 30, 2023
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.