The following quote of Padre Pio provided the impetus for this page: “The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder.” In order to aid my fellow Christians in finding good resources for the formation of their spirituality and for the increase of their fervor, this page shall include good religious books of which I am familiar. I have either read them or significant passages within them. So, this list will obviously exclude many great books of spiritual value because of my lack of reading. Also, it will contain more obscure works as well. Feel free to comment if you think that my ordering of them is mistaken or if you know of other good books which I should read.
Also, this list comes from a Catholic perspective, which means that the only Protestant works that I shall refer to are those of C. S. Lewis and George MacDonald. But, many Catholic works have held value for Christians of all denominations–especially those of St. Augustine and St. Bernard of Clairvaux. And certain ages of the Church must belong to Protestants as well as Catholics. (If you think otherwise, that real Christianity ended with the Apostles’ deaths and began again in 1517, you really need to consider whether you follow correct doctrine!) I hope this list proves fruitful for all!
Beginner – those books which may be read at any point in the spiritual journey, especially in the beginning.
1) The following works of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Samuel, Tobit, the Wisdom Books (except for Job), Jonah, the Synoptic Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, and Catholic/General Epistles
These books seem to be the most straightforward and accessible works of the Bible. Many parts of the Bible contain ideas and stories which may be confusing, but these books generally avoid that with the exception of Genesis. But Genesis contains some of the most important passages in the Bible, so it remains a must for beginners. Many of the other books of the Bible are made more accessible by a thorough knowledge of the above books–even instantly accessible.
2) The Catechism of the Catholic Church
3) The Rule of St. Benedict
The first major handbook on the spiritual life after the Bible, it was read assiduously by believers along with Scripture until the publication of The Imitation of Christ. St. Benedict offers very practical and straightforward advice on being a good Christian.
4) C. S. Lewis’s Philosophical and Theological works, especially Mere Christianity, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and The Four Loves
Few explain the basic tenets of Christianity and the logic behind them as clearly and saliently as C. S. Lewis. And his principles are truly universal: I mistook him for a Catholic!
5) The Spiritual Combat by Lorenzo Scupoli
6) On Free Choice of the Will by St. Augustine
7) Enchiridion by St. Augustine
This work explains the story of the Fall and the Salvation of Man in a beautiful and exciting manner as well as some other important Christian doctrines.
8) The Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton
The least difficult of Merton’s works and one of the greatest modern conversion stories.
9) Father M. Raymond’s works, especially You, a.k.a. Spiritual Secrets of a Trappist Monk
Few books explore the importance and purpose of being a Christian as well as his book You. I consider it the greatest work ever to have been written. His other works are also great and very accessible.
10) Dictionary of the Saints
Offers excellent summaries of various saints’ lives. One can discover a new saint for further study or look up saints one knows nothing about.
11) G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics and Orthodoxy
12) Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom
Great advice on prayer by an Orthodox priest.
Intermediate – Those books for those with a firm understanding of the basics
1) The following books of the Bible: everything except Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, the Prophetic Books, and the Apocalypse
I consider the above books to be the most difficult works of the Bible. Those three books of the law might contain surprising ideas to some and bore most. The Prophetic Books and the Apocalypse of St. John require much learning and commentaries to be read intelligently. I suppose a Bible which included good glosses might suffice for a commentary.
So, all the other books not pointed out above or in the beginner section, I consider intermediate.
2) Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis
On one hand, I hesitate to place this work on the intermediate level, but saying that it is only for those well-versed in Christian thought seems more wrong. Kempis–the presumed author of this work–can be very hard hitting as he examines the faults of which even those dedicated to Christ are guilty. A great book for the development of humility.
3) Consolations for My Soul by Thomas a Kempis
A lesser known work of his, but great for those suffering spiritual dryness. Focuses more on the goodness of God than our own faults.
4) Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales
A work for deepening the spiritual lives of all people. St. Francis was a strong believer that any man can lead a life of holiness, no matter his vocation or occupation.
5) Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi
6) The Life of St. Francis of Assisi by St. Bonaventure
7) St. Bernard of Claivaux’s On the Steps of Pride and Humility and On Consideration
8) St. Augustine’s Confessions
9) St. Faustina’s Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
10) The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude the Great
11) The Golden Legends by Jacobus de Voragine
Many of these stories need to be taken with a grain of salt, but some of the passages are wonderfully moving–especially the death of St. Andrew the Apostle. Also, we become more fired to holiness by the example of the saints.
12) St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Autobiography
13) St. Gregory Nazianzen’s Life of Moses
14) A Letter from Jesus Christ to a Soul that Really Loves Him by John of Landsberg
Well-Versed – Books which are very mystical or require much study to appreciate
1) Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, the Prophetic Books, and Apocalypse of St. John
2) The Showings of St. Julian of Norwich
3) The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton
4) The Cloud of Unknowing
5) The Story of a Soul by St. Therese of Lisieux
6) Pearl by the Pearl Poet
A medieval poem which juxtaposes suffering with the promise of eternal life.
7) St. Thomas Aquinas’s works: The Compendium of Theology, Summa Contra Gentiles, Summa Theologica, and Catena Aurea
8) St. Augustine’s City of God
9) St. Bonaventure’s Journey of the Mind into God
10) George MacDonald’s Poetry and Novels, especially Within and Without, Seaside Parish, and Weighted and Wanting
MacDonald writes things which are very beautiful and fruitful for any Christian soul. A Catholic ought to know theology well before reading him however in order to detect where MacDonald deviates from Catholic thought.
11) The Great Means of Salvation and Perfection by St. Alphonsus Liguori
12) The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich
Here is a collection of mystical writings in the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Some of the writings are strange and confusing. Others of great value. As published in English, the first volume and much of the second predate the Great Schism, while the rest were written afterwards. So, read those volumes with the understanding that they may contain erroneous doctrine–though not much separates the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.