05 December 2012

Catholicism: Pure and Simple (a review)

As a teacher I’m always happy to find resources I can share with students when they're interested in digging more deeply into a subject. That’s especially true when the subject is my Catholic faith. Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s book Catholicism: Pure and Simple  is a welcome addition to my list of such resources.

Fr. Longenecker promises to introduce Catholicism “in simple, straightforward language” without scholarly references or complicated terminology, and he delivers. This book provides easily readable treatments of complex philosophical and theological issues such as revelation, the origin of evil, the Trinity, and the sacraments. It could be profitably read by a wide variety of students, not to mention many others who might be unfamiliar with Catholicism and are looking for a ground-up explanation of what it’s all about.

Longenecker does not begin his text by discussing beliefs unique to Catholicism, but with more fundamental questions concerning the existence of God and the true nature of humanity and the world we live in. His treatment of these topics is lucid and much easier to read than many philosophical texts that cover the same material. Of course, in comparison to many such texts, Longenecker also has the great advantage of giving the right answers to the questions he considers!

Though as promised in its opening pages the book does not contain a single footnote, readers who know the intellectual ground that Longenecker is covering will quickly realize that he’s familiar with standard arguments and sources and could provide such references if he wished. When, for example, we read Longenecker’s comment that “things I want to do, I can’t; and the things I don’t want to do, I do,” we hear Paul in Romans 7, and when we read that Catholics look forward to a reunion with all Eastern Christians “so that the whole Church may once again breathe with two lungs” we hear Blessed John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint. Longenecker’s phrasing throughout the book makes it clear that he is basing his presentation on such classic sources even though he does not delay his readers by citing them.

A few spots in the text appear to have escaped careful editing, at least in the electronic version of the book that I read. For example, the statement that the sacrament of Holy Orders “is reserved for men who are called by God and his church to be priests” seems to exclude those of us who are, or look forward to being, ordained to the permanent diaconate. A reference to “thousands” of “holy popes” was confusing as well (perhaps “bishops” was meant?). But fortunately such comments are only infrequent distractions from a generally solid presentation.

Catholicism: Pure and Simple is available at Fr. Longenecker's website. It’s worth having if you need a book to pass on to someone who’s asking basic questions about the faith, and recommended reading for anyone who wants a consideration of these questions written in refreshingly direct and contemporary language.

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