The Power and the Glory

Graham Greene

This novel, originally published in 1940 was criticised by the Vatican at the time. Set in the Mexico of the 1930s it follows an unnamed 'whisky-priest' who is evading the government forces who were brutally supressing the Roman Catholic church, forcing priests to marry and give up their religious clothing. He travels the country hearing secret confessions and performing mass but this is also a man who drinks heavily, is gluttonous; as much a sinner as a saint. And that of course is what makes the book a classic, regarded by many as being Greene's masterpiece. That said, we could very easily have added The End of the Affair to this list too.

The Name of the Rose

Umberto Eco

A great loss to the world of literature when he passed away in 2016, Umberto Eco is perhaps still best known for his debut novel, The Name of the Rose. The year is 1327 and in an Italian monastery an apparent suicide is just the first in a series of mysterious deaths which will be investigated by a Franciscan friar. It is a tour de force in semiotics, mystery, literary theory and puzzle solving. It also contains a labyrinthine library worthy of the attention of the most demanding bibliophile out there.

Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh

Waugh's novels could be roughly divided into two halves; the satirical early work like Vile Bodies and Scoop, and the later 'Catholic' novels like the Sword of Honour trilogy. Where then does the classic Brideshead Revisited sit? Perhaps as the novel that traverses the divide between the two. Charles Ryder's relationship with the Flytes allows Waugh to demonstrate his sharp observations of the aristocracy through the absurd and eccentric circle of friends that surround Sebastian Flyte. But there are also the Catholic themes of divine grace and reconciliation, with Waugh himself saying that the book was steeped in Catholicism.

Suite Française

Irène Némirovsky

Why include a novel by a famously Jewish author? In 1939 Némirovsky was baptised into the Roman Catholic church and debate still rages about whether this was a genuine conversion or a desperate attempt at survival by someone who had already been denied French citizenship along with her husband the previous year. Némirovsky never made any attempt to hide her Jewish ancestry and so many argue that this proves it was a genuine conversion. She wasn't able to evade the Nazi regime but her work survives, including the rediscovered Suite Française and its prequel, The Fires of Autumn.

How Far Can You Go?

David Lodge

How do Catholic values deal with emerging permisiveness and pharmacological developments like the pill in the Britain of the 1950s through to the 1970s? In David Lodge's novel we follow a group of friends through university and into adulthood, dealing with the assaults on their faith and perhaps finding more solace in exactly the kind of books that we have highlighted here rather than the Good Book itself.

  • The Catholics

  • The story of Catholicism in Britain from the Reformation to the present day, from a master of popular history – 'A first-class storyteller' The Times

    Throughout the three hundred years that followed the Act of Supremacy – which, by making Henry VIII head of the Church, confirmed in law the breach with Rome – English Catholics were prosecuted, persecuted and penalised for the public expression of their faith. Even after the passing of the emancipation acts Catholics were still the victims of institutionalised discrimination.

    The first book to tell the story of the Catholics in Britain in a single volume, The Catholics includes much previously unpublished information. It focuses on the lives, and sometimes deaths, of individual Catholics – martyrs and apostates, priests and laymen, converts and recusants. It tells the story of the men and women who faced the dangers and difficulties of being what their enemies still call ‘Papists’. It describes the laws which circumscribed their lives, the political tensions which influenced their position within an essentially Anglican nation and the changes in dogma and liturgy by which Rome increasingly alienated their Protestant neighbours – and sometime even tested the loyalty of faithful Catholics.

    The survival of Catholicism in Britain is the triumph of more than simple faith. It is the victory of moral and spiritual unbending certainty. Catholicism survives because it does not compromise. It is a characteristic that excites admiration in even a hardened atheist.

  • Buy the book

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