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Logos Software offers great resource for studying the Catechism in the Year of Faith (and beyond!)

The Year of Faith that officially began last week calls Catholics to reacquaint themselves with (or perhaps enter more deeply into) the Faith they profess, in order to live it more effectively and to present a more compelling witness to the love of Christ for the world. Reflecting on this, I realized that there will probably be lots of people using the Catechism to systematically review the Catholic faith. Sure, lots of Catholics own a copy of the Catechism and perhaps even pull it out from time to time as a reference to clarify the Church’s teaching on one point or another, but probably few have tried to read it cover-to-cover. Many parishes around the country have, in the last few years, used the Why Catholic? Program to re-catechize the adult faithful, a program which is based on the Catechism and follows its organization (i.e., fleshing out the tenets of the Nicene Creed). My experience with Why Catholic, however, was not very encouraging – there was too little of the Catechism and too much of the usual touchy-feely rubbish that has contributed to the current “crisis of faith” throughout the Church: “This week reflect on how the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is meaningful in your everyday life, then list three reasons why you feel more sparkly-special just knowing that God is Three in One.” Blech.

Back when the “new” Catechism was actually new, Ignatius Press brought out The Companion to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: A Compendium of Texts Referred to in the Catechism of the Catholic Church Including an Addendum
— a collection of the texts of all the passages from various Scriptures and patristic works referred to in the footnotes of the Catechism. I loved this, because most readers of the Catechism, like myself, are not going to have at hand the huge library of Catholic reference works you would need to understand all the footnotes, so most people would just skip over the notes as not being that important. However, the whole reason the footnotes are included in the Catechism is to show that the Church is “not just making this stuff up” when it comes to official doctrine, but rather the Catechism is simply a new enunciation of truths that Christians have held all along for, now, two thousand years. The notes show the sources of particular statements and explanations in the Catechism, and root the Catechism in Christian tradition all the way back to the first written expression of the Faith in the Bible and early Church Fathers. (By the way, this Companion to the Catechism is now available for Kindle.)

Unfortunately, even though I have the Companion, I have seldom used it. For one thing, it is physically unwieldy, even bulkier than the Catechism itself and, then again, I find it somewhat disorienting to read passages (even lengthy passages) lifted out of the context of the documents from which they were taken. (I am a big proponent of reading things in context, to avoid misunderstanding.) In those days, the terms “hypertext” or “hyperlink” were still unknown to all but the geekiest of computer nerds, but if I had known what hyperlinks were, I would have known that that’s what I was wishing the Companion provided – a link to the specific passage a note referred to, in the place where it actually occurs in the original source.

Well, now, just in time for the Year of Faith, the Logos Bible Software company has produced an inexpensive version of exactly what people like me have been wanting (perhaps without knowing it) since the new Catechism first came out back in 1994. You may be familiar with Logos as the company that, for nearly twenty years now, has offered Bible study software that allows Scripture scholars, students, and enthusiasts to study the Bible with hyperlinks to different translations and commentaries. They’ve expanded their offerings enormously over the years, with lots of add-on libraries, and have perfected a system for connecting related texts and allowing readers to switch between them with ease. I’ve known about Logos for about fifteen years and admired their product but, frankly, it’s always been too expensive for me (the entry-level base package costs around $250) – it’s been one of those things on my “if I ever have money to spare” list. So I was delighted when, a couple of months back during the Catholic New Media conference, I saw a demo of a new, inexpensive ($49.95) stand-alone package designed just for Catholics – in fact, the Logos rep I spoke to said that this package was created specifically in response to the Holy Father’s call for Catholic entrepreneurs to find ways to use the new media and new technologies in the service of the Church, and brought into production in time for the Year of Faith.

All these works are included in Logos’ Catechism software package.

Here are all the works included in this package:

Watch the video here to get an idea how this software works. I like the fact that you can add your own notes. This software is available for Windows, Mac, and smart devices such as iPhone or Android tablets (although how you’d use it on a tiny iPhone screen beats me). If you buy this Catechism package and fall in love with the Logos system, you can later purchase one of the regular Logos base packages and use this Catechism bundle with the larger system. (I believe this is not true of other Logos bundles, which are essentially just plug-ins or add-ons to the base packages and won’t work without the base.)

As an aside — I was

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drooling looking over the software specs just now and thinking, “Hey! Logos software does for the Bible and the Catechism what the Perseus Project does for classical literature – but the Perseus Project does it online, for free.” I’ve been in love with the Perseus Project for years, ever since, as a graduate student, I took a course in Latin Historians as an independent study. The Perseus Project has huge libraries of classical-era Greek and Latin works, as well as English translations of most of them, and allows you easily to flip back and forth between the original text and English translation, or to click on a particular word to check its meaning and morphology. In other words, the Perseus Project has much of the same kind of functionality as the Logos Bible system. And, as I find out by perusing the Logos Software channel on YouTube, the Logos folk also recognized the similarity, so they now offer a free Perseus collection add-on, which allows users of the Bible software to include the classics collection in word searches. Here’s a video that shows how this works:

Okay, enough of the scholar-geekery. My point is that Logos Software has made available to ordinary Catholics a fantastic tool for studying the Catechism, in the context of the Catholic teaching tradition, for a very reasonable price. For fifty bucks, you get a wonderful library of Catholic reference works AND a superb software system for discovering the connections amongst these works. If you haven’t yet settled on a personal plan for improving your grasp of Catholic teaching in this Year of Faith, here is a great place to start.

©2012 Lisa A. Nicholas

Please leave your thoughts or comments below!

Apocalypse and Alternate History: the novels of Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson

Now that so many people are reading books on electronic devices, more and more books are being made available in digital format. Since I became a Kindle owner a couple of years ago, I have really enjoyed dipping into the many old, out-of-copyright books that available to be downloaded at no cost. Project Gutenberg, which claims to be “the first producer of free electronic books (ebooks),” has for some years provided digitized versions of books in many formats, including those used on the Kindle and the Nook and other devices. Even more convenient for Kindle owners like myself is the fact that every time Project Gutenberg releases a “new” old (public domain) book, Amazon immediately publishes it for the Kindle at no cost. This provides an extra convenience for Kindle owners, since we can have it downloaded to our device automatically (cutting out a step, compared to acquiring it directly from Project Gutenberg) and we can keep the title in our library “cloud” when we don’t need or want to have it taking up space on our Kindles.

Robert Hugh Benson
Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson,
former Anglican, bestselling Catholic author

One of my favorite out-of-copyright authors whose books are available from Project Gutenberg is Robert Hugh Benson. On the PG site, you’ll find a number of his Catholic novels, written in the early years of the twentieth century. Google Books also has free downloads of his novels and short stories, as well as a fair number of his catechetical, apologetic, and homiletic works; both Project Gutenberg and Google Books also offer biographies of Benson (the Google one is in two volumes).

Perhaps you’ve never heard of Msgr. Benson, who was almost as popular in the early 1900s as Fulton Sheen would be fifty years later. Benson was the son of an (Anglican) Archbishop of Canterbury, and himself was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1895. Within a few years, however, he became a Catholic priest and a very popular writer for both Catholic and Anglican audiences, producing many works of Catholic apologetics as well as novels in various genres — historical, speculative, and contemporary fiction, all with religious themes.

http://www.booksshouldbefree.com/book/Lord-of-the-World-Robert-Hugh-Benson

Benson has been enjoying a sort of literary comeback in recent years, with a number of small publishers bringing some of his better known works back to print, and a number of web sites are devoted to Benson & his works. I have read a few of his novels, having begun with his most famous one, Lord of the World (one of his few works still available in print editions). This novel has been described variously as being “dystopic,” “science fiction,” “speculative fiction,” “prophetic,” and “apocalyptic.” The latter is probably the most apt, because Benson presents a vision of the world as it may when the end times arrive, as described in the final book of the Bible (“The Revelation to St. John,” known traditionally to Catholics as “The Book of the Apocalypse”). Benson, writing in the early years of the twentieth century (Lord of the World was first published in 1907), was alarmed at the social trajectory of the modern, Western world, and wrote this novel, at least in part, as a warning of where things seemed to be headed. Projecting his story forward in time less than a century, he foresaw a world that had become radically secularized, a culture of death in which euthanasia has become so common that euthanasia squads, not ambulances, are sent to accident sites and euthanasia parlors have replaced nursing homes. Marriages are sterile, churches are empty, and a demagogue rules over an all-encompassing socialist world government. Most churches have become Masonic temples, and the few churches that remain are all Catholic. I won’t give away the ending, but if you’ve read the Book of Revelation, you probably know where it’s headed.

Strangely enough, Benson’s loyal readers were dismayed by this novel, complaining that it was too gloomy. Despite his insistence that it described the way the Bible assures us the world really will end, his fans urged him to write another end-of-times novel, with a happy ending and, very reluctantly, he did. The result was a novel called Dawn of All. In its introduction, Benson writes:

In a former book,
called “Lord of the World,” I attempted to sketch the kind of
developments a hundred years hence which, I thought, might reasonably be
expected if the present lines of what is called “modern thought” were
only prolonged far enough; and I was informed repeatedly that the effect
of the book was exceedingly depressing and discouraging to optimistic
Christians. In the present book I am attempting — also in parable form
— not in the least to withdraw anything that I said in the former, but
to follow up the other lines instead, and to sketch — again in parable
— the kind of developments, about sixty years hence which, I think, may
reasonably be expected should the opposite process begin, and ancient
thought (which has stood the test of centuries, and is, in a very
remarkable manner, being “rediscovered” by persons even more modern than
modernists) be prolonged instead. We are told occasionally by moralists
that we live in very critical times, by which they mean that they are
not sure whether their own side will win or not. In that sense no times
can ever be critical to Catholics, since Catholics are never in any kind
of doubt as to whether or no their side will win. But from another
point of view every period is a critical period, since every period has
within itself the conflict of two irreconcilable forces. It has been for
the sake of tracing out the kind of effects that, it seemed to me, each
side would experience in turn, should the other, at any rate for a
while, become dominant, that I have written these two books.

Benson also says that he found Dawn of All very tedious to write, because he knew it described a world that would never exist. To convey the idea that we shouldn’t ever expect to live in the world described, he has a priest from our real world find himself transported in a dream to an alternate reality, a world which, having found that socialism doesn’t work and the promises of modern philosophy are empty, has gradually been won back to the Catholic faith and public life has been put back under the influence of the Church. Protestantism has been reconciled to Rome, Ireland is one big religious retreat center (all the laity having been evacuated to America or somewhere), and the Inquisition once again keeps the world safe from heretics. In fact, the novel basically presents an idealized version of medieval Christendom, a world in which trade guilds (not labor unions) are prominent, and people are required in public to wear attire legally prescribed for their state in life and occupation. It’s an odd work of speculative fiction, and best read after Lord of the World.

NuEvan Press, Dawn of All, Robert Hugh Benson

Speaking of odd, NuEvanPress.com offers ebook versions of both these novels that, the publishers say, have been “gently edited” to make the books more palatable to modern readers. A cursory look at the samples available on Amazon doesn’t reveal any obvious updates, so I’m guessing the “gentle editing” was intended to help the edition conform to the Amazon rule that anyone desiring to publish a title in the public domain must provide “added value,” in order to make their edition distinct from the free ebooks that Amazon publishes. In addition to the “gentle editing,”  NuEvan Press also includes helpful subtitles (“A Catholic Novel of the End Times” and “A Visionary Novel of the Catholic Church Victorious”), as well as an appendix in each book, relevant to the content of the novel. The appendix to Lord of the World contains a selection of readings from the Church Fathers on the Antichrist; in Dawn of All, it’s the Fathers on “the preeminence of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”

I recommend any of Benson’s books, particularly the two mentioned here. Lord of the World provides the “Catholic answer” to the Left Behind novels, and Dawn of All presents a nice little fantasy that may provide a tonic in these days of the culture wars and the marginalization of religion. One caveat: the language will sound a bit formal or even old-fashioned, perhaps irritatingly so for some readers, so if that might be you, go ahead and plunk down $2.99 for the NuEvan Press e-editions; otherwise, just go for the freebies.

If you’ve already read these or other books by Robert Hugh Benson, please click the comment link, and let me know what you think!