Celebrating classic Counter-Reformation books

Ten titles that reveal the beauty of the Catholic faith

"Council of Trent" by Pasquale Cati. Public Domain.

Oct. 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Many people are celebrating this event with books, movies, conventions, and more. However, Catholics and some Protestants find the situation more deserving of mourning than celebration. They do not see the breakup of the Church as desirable, so they strive for unity rather than division.

One way to achieve this unity is through books that show a clear understanding of Jesus Christ and his Church. This was on display in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the best-known book of the Counter-Reformation (1545-1648) and the framework for the more recent Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The following are great Counter-Reformation books, not because they were written during that time (most were not), but because they contain valuable information that shares in the spirit of that movement. They show that most of the objections toward the Catholic Church are based on misinformation, and that the Church has so many vitally important things to offer. In fact, reading any five of the titles listed will make the reader wonder why anyone would ever think of leaving the Church in the first place.

Navarre Bible New Testament

By the Holy Spirit, apostles, other saints, and faculty of the University of Navarre

It is fitting that the first selection would be a Bible, since the interpretation of the written Word of God was a central theme of the Reformation. Contrary to the claims of some, the Bible cannot be properly interpreted outside the context within which it was delivered to us — the Catholic Church. Leaving interpretation up to every individual only creates confusion and chaos. Even Martin Luther lamented that everyone in his time seemed to have their own views of the Bible, no matter how odd those views might be.

The Navarre Bible New Testament is an answer to this problem. The Revised Standard Version (Catholic Edition) of Matthew through Revelation appears with commentary from saints such as Augustine and Josemaría Escrivá, and from the faculty of the University of Navarre in Spain. The New Testament is also available in a compact edition (with less commentary) or in separate books (with even more commentary). The Old Testament is also available in seven volumes, completing a Catholic explanation of the whole Bible.

Scripture Alone? 21 Reasons to Reject Sola Scriptura 

By Joel S. Peters

Despite the great riches of the written Word of God, it is not in itself a complete exposition of Christian truth and practice. Scripture Alone is a sharp, concise refutation of sola scriptura, or the belief that all a Christian needs as a rule of faith is the Bible. Joel S. Peters shows very clearly, in 21 different ways, that this common Protestant misconception is not even found in the Bible itself, is not workable in practice, and actually has its roots in Martin Luther’s own personal problems.

Apologetics groups, Bible studies, Knights of Columbus councils, youth groups, schools, and entire parishes would do well to get multiple copies of this handy booklet (available in quantity discounts) in order to reinforce the beliefs of Catholics and to challenge the beliefs of their Protestant friends. Not only are the deficiencies of sola scriptura pointed out, but the proper function of the Bible is revealed: Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are sources of divine revelation, which are correctly interpreted by the Catholic Church, which is “the pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Catholicism and Fundamentalism: The Attack on “Romanism” by “Bible Christians”

By Karl Keating

Catholic apologetics (providing a reasoned defense of the faith) went out of style in the 1960s, but Karl Keating helped to facilitate its return in the late 1980s. In his landmark 1988 book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Keating addresses many topics of interest for Christians, including the Bible, the Mass, purgatory, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Inquisition. This book sets the standard for modern apologetics works.

Keating’s treatment of controversial issues — presented as a contrast between fundamentalist claims and Catholic teaching —reveals that oftentimes the “beefs” people have with the Church are misguided. It is usually not what the Church teaches that is the problem; the problem is what people mistakenly think the Church teaches. This smoke is cleared away in Catholicism and Fundamentalism, which is a great help to any reader —Catholic or Protestant — who wants to have accurate knowledge of basic Christian beliefs and history.

Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historic Church

By Stephen K. Ray

Apologist, author, and speaker Stephen K. Ray recounts his unexpected conversion — along with his wife, Janet — from fundamentalist Protestantism to Roman Catholicism in Crossing the Tiber. In this book with a title based on the name of a river that runs through Rome, he also documents the continual teaching of the Church on Baptism and the Eucharist through the centuries, showing that the sacraments are indeed part of Christ’s salvific plan.

For readers who want a personal touch to Catholic apologetics, Ray’s conversion story is a worthy option. The basic text is easy to read, and the extensive footnotes provide more details explaining Ray’s many biblical and historical reasons for becoming Catholic. This book is an honest and enthusiastic account of what happens when curiosity about Christ is combined with diligent research and the courage to act on that research.

The Incredible Catholic Mass: An Explanation of the Mass

By Ven. Martin von Cochem

The Church’s constant teaching that the Mass is the same sacrifice as Calvary was discarded during the Reformation. However, this discarding was itself soundly refuted by Ven. Martin von Cochem. In his deeply informative book, The Incredible Catholic Mass, he lays a foundation for all later books on the subject, including gems such as Pope Benedict XVI’s The Spirit of the Liturgy.

Ven. Martin, who lived during the latter part of the Counter-Reformation, describes the Mass as the supreme work of adoration, thanksgiving, praise, and forgiveness. Catholics have, in the Mass, nothing less than the Sacrifice of Calvary — the all-powerful act of salvation. One single Mass on earth, he writes, infinitely surpasses anything that all the angels and saints in heaven could achieve, because Christ’s power is unlimited and because he has chosen to communicate his grace to us sacramentally through his Church.

Sacred Treasure: Understanding Catholic Liturgical Music

By Joseph P. Swain

The future Pope Benedict XVI was quoted in the Ratzinger Report as stating that “the only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.” Everyone knows that rational arguments can be effective in sharing the truth, but what many people don’t realize is that truths demonstrated — whether in the lives of holy people or through sense-perceptible means in holy art — can reach people who would be unreachable through logic alone.

Joseph Swain shows, in Sacred Treasure, the beauty of sacred music with a common sense method that even people with only a smidgeon of musical knowledge will understand. If every parish priest had a copy of Sacred Treasure, the Church would be well on its way to a glorious transformation that would lead countless souls hack into her arms. Sacred art leads to sacred lives, and sacred music is perhaps the most effective way to achieve this, since, according Vatican II, “The musical tradition of the universal Church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 112).

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

By Thomas E. Woods, Jr.

There is a common misconception that medieval times were filled with ignorance, superstition, and misery — all thanks to the Catholic Church. So awful were these “Dark Ages,” we are told, that the Church had to be rescued by Protestant Reformers in the 1500s. Yet Thomas E. Woods, Jr. shows that the truth is quite different. Not only has the Catholic Church not been the enemy of progress, but it has been the greatest benefactor the West has ever known.

The Church has been central to the understanding and advancement of human rights, international law, physics, astronomy, geology, agriculture, architecture, metallurgy, printing, music, and economics, among other subjects. Cardinal John Henry Newman stated that “to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” Put positively, we could say that to be deep in history is to become Catholic, since it would be difficult for a non-Catholic to stay out of the Church after reading Woods’ book.

Achieving Peace of Heart

By Fr. Narciso Irala, SJ

A common misconception stemming from the Reformation is that the Catholic Church is only good for coming up with arbitrary and onerous rules that make us miserable. However, Fr. Narciso Irala, by helping the reader overcome obstacles to joy, shows that the Church always looks out for our wellbeing. Readers of his popular book will find ways to think clearly, rest effectively, and make decisions that take into account the good of the whole person.

Quite fittingly, Ignatius of Loyola, one of the primary saints of the Counter-Reformation, had an influence on the contents of Achieving Peace of Heart. His famous spiritual exercises are even praised in the book by a Protestant who believed they could reduce the populations of asylums, prisons, and mental institutions by two-thirds. Yet Fr. Irala’s lessons are not only for those on the fringes of society, but for anyone who wants to live with peace of mind. He explains how joy can be ours even in the midst of suffering — how pleasure may not always be possible, but contentment is always within reach.

Summa of the Christian Life

By Ven. Louis of Granada

Ven. Louis of Granada’s writings were read by great saints such as Teresa of Ávila, Charles Borromeo, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Peter of Alcantara, Francis de Sales, and Rose of Lima — yet very few Catholics today have even heard of him. This problem can be remedied by getting his three-volume Summa of the Christian Life, a marvelous compendium of the 16th-century Spanish Dominican’s heavenly wisdom.

Ven. Louis, who lived during the early part of the Counter-Reformation, deftly deals with everything from ants to angels as he explains creation, sin, redemption, grace, and eternal beatitude in terms anyone can understand. Each of the three volumes offers valuable insights into life’s mysteries, but especially helpful is volume two, which addresses the theological and moral virtues in relation to our quest for happiness.

Prayer: The Great Means of Grace

By an anonymous author

If someone were to acquire a detailed knowledge of Christian history, creeds, sacramental theology, and moral theology, this knowledge in itself would not make that person a saint. In fact, if this knowledge is not coupled with prayer, it may even produce an especially proud sinner. Knowledge by itself does not give the power to do great things. This ability is only given to those who ask for it in prayer. St. Charles Borromeo goes so far as to say that “prayer is the beginning, the growth, and the completion of all virtue.”

This teaching is found in the booklet Prayer: Great Means of Grace, along with many other quotes from holy men and women that point out the necessity and power of prayer. Humble and continual prayer is the key to salvation, so much so that St. John Chrysostom says “not to pray and to lose the life of the soul — that is, sanctifying grace — is one and the same thing.” We can also say “to continually pray and to maintain the life of the soul — that is, sanctifying grace — is one and the same thing.” This priceless insight can be shared with others via quantity discounts, similar to those for Scripture Alone.

May God grant that we always diligently make use of the great gifts he has given us through his one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church — including the insights found in these timeless Counter-Reformation books!

Other noteworthy books 


Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David Currie

Evangelical Is Not Enough by Dr. Thomas Howard

Dialogue Concerning Heresies by St. Thomas More

Classic Catholic Converts by Fr. Charles Connor

Evangelical Exodus edited by Douglas Beaumont

The Protestant’s Dilemma by Devin Rose


Spiritual life 

Imitation of Christ by Fr. Thomas à Kempis

Catholic Prayers (Compiled From Traditional Sources) edited by Thomas A. Nelson

Introduction to the Devout Life by St Francis de Sales

12 Steps to Holiness and Salvation by St. Alphonsus Liguori



OSV’s Encyclopedia of Catholic History by Dr. Matthew Bunson

Positively Medieval by Dr. Jamie Blosser

Seven Lies About Catholic History by Dr. Diane Moczar

The Facts About Luther by Msgr. Patrick O’Hare

Supremacy and Survival by Stephanie A. Mann



Radio Replies by Frs. Charles Carty and Leslie Rumble

This Is the Faith by Canon Francis Ripley

The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent edited by Fr. H.J. Schroeder

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma by Dr. Ludwig Ott

Thomas More: A Lonely Voice Against the Power of the State by Peter Berglar

The Faith of the Early Fathers edited by William Jurgens



Eucharistic Miracles by Joan Carroll Cruz

The Incorruptibles by Joan Carroll Cruz

Mysteries, Marvels, Miracles in the Lives of the Saints by Joan Carroll Cruz


Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints 

The World’s First Love by Ven. Fulton Sheen

The Glories of Mary by St. Alphonsus Liguori

Our Sunday Visitor’s Encyclopedia of Saints by Dr. Matthew Bunson



A New Song for the Lord by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

The Reform of the Roman Liturgy by Msgr. Klaus Gamber

Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches From Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces — and How We Can Change Them Back Again by Michael S. Rose

Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness by Peter Kwasniewski


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