Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Book Review: Catholic Answers to Catholic Questions

From Saintly Intercessions to Saint Bernards

When I received my copy of Catholic Answers to Catholic Questions, I found myself surprised by its content. I have read many books explaining Catholic beliefs - from the papacy, to transubstantiation; from why we call our priest’s “Father,” to why we have all of those statues of Jesus and the Saints. This sort of apologetic work is usually an invaluable resource for answering questions from non-Catholics and even the occasional ill-informed Catholic. The format is generally the same: question-by-question the author refutes fallacies and elaborates on correct doctrine until every inquiry is laid to rest. Most of these works use similar arguments borrowed from other apologists, sometimes going back centuries, with a few unique insights thrown in to shed new light on a subject or to appeal to a specific audience. That is what I expected when I first read the title of this present volume.

But as I began reading I was confronted with a unique assortment of topics that challenged my preconceived notion of this book. Certainly there are the old standards concerning biblical interpretation, confessing sins to a priest, prayer to saints, etc. These are the issues that most trouble the inquiring Protestant mind. These are the questions that need to be answered, the doctrinal stumbling blocks that stand in the way of any conversion.

But there are other questions included in this present volume. Questions of a less pressing sort, the kind that make one say, “Hmm, I always wondered about that.” These issues are more a matter of curiosity and not so much a doctrinal or theological sticking point. A good example of this sort of question: “How did a breed of dogs come to be named for St. Bernard of Clairvaux?” Or this one: “Did Jesus ever laugh?” These are scattered in amongst more weighty doctrinal questions that divide Catholics and Protestants.

Yet there can also be found questions that non-Catholic Christians will appreciate on common ground with Catholics. For instance: “How should we respond to claims that the resurrection of Christ was just a hoax, hallucination or superstition?” and other such questions that pertain to Christianity in general and not specifically Catholicism. These too are peppered throughout, and make for a well-rounded assortment of topics.

Obviously this book is not the typical apologetics resource. As the primary author/editor of the material, Paul Thigpen, Ph.D., explains in the forward, Catholic Answers to Catholic Questions is a compilation of questions received mostly from readers of The Catholic Answer magazine (of which he was the editor), as well as a Question of the Day portion of the same magazine’s website (whose parent company is Our Sunday Visitor, and the publisher of this book). Considering the broad range of questions generated from such a format, this text includes an interesting mix of both serious doctrinal matters as well as fascinating tidbits of trivia, rolled into one.

I have several books on my shelf that give a more in-depth answer to questions concerning “Scripture and Tradition” or “The Primacy of Peter” and other such apologetics challenges. But this book fills in the gaps with answers to questions that are less often encountered and yet sometimes shed light on aspects of the faith that puzzle Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The answers are brief, and sometimes leave the reader wanting more (a problem that can be solved by checking out resources on the web or other books with similar themes). However, as a simple volume to answer quick questions and satisfy one’s curiosity, Catholic Answers to Catholic Questions earns a place on my book shelf.
To purchase this and other great books and Catholic products, visit The Catholic Company website.

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