Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism

Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism

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by Richard P. McBrien

With 1 billion Catholics in the world -- and 57 million in the United States alone -- Catholicism is the world's most familiar religion. Yet many facets of this varied and dynamic tradition remain unknown or poorly understood. Now The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism offers a one-volume comprehensive and authoritative guide to the people,


With 1 billion Catholics in the world -- and 57 million in the United States alone -- Catholicism is the world's most familiar religion. Yet many facets of this varied and dynamic tradition remain unknown or poorly understood. Now The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism offers a one-volume comprehensive and authoritative guide to the people, doctrines, history, worship, art, spirituality, literature, theological developments, and changes that have shaped the Church over nearly two millennia.

Led by general editor Richard P. McBrien, bestselling author of Catholicism, an editorial team drawn almost entirely from the University of Notre Dame has collected more than 4,200 entries written by 280 leading experts from around the world and across the theological spectrum, including Benedict Ashley, Gerald O'Collins, Sandra B. Schneiders, Hans Küng, Walter H. Principe, Elizabeth Johnson, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Virgilio Elizondo, Catherine Mowry LaCugna, Robert F. Taft, Peter Hebblethwaite, Dermot A. Lane, Francis A. Sullivan, Robert F. Trisco, and John Strynkowski. A concise reference for understanding Catholic terms such as vigil light and maniple, The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism also offers superb feature-length entries on subjects ranging from the seven sacraments, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Peter, Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas to prayer and Christian spirituality, Catholicism in the United States, women in the Church, and Vatican II.

Treating Catholicism as a unique tradition, community, and way of life, the encyclopedia defines and describes topics such as Eastern Catholicism, canon law, devotions, religious orders and lay organizations, and saints, angels, and archangels. Also included are tables of the liturgical calendar, ecumenical councils, and a list of all the popes, complete with a brief biography of each.

A convenient and reliable source of information regarding every aspect of Catholicism, past and present, The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism covers the controversy and dissent within the Church as well as its teachings and beliefs, providing a balanced and unparalleled resource for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of Catholic life.

Editorial Reviews

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This book will be of interest to public and academic libraries needing an update to the "New Catholic Encyclopedia" (McGraw-Hill, 1967; supplements: 1974, 1979, 1989). It is aimed at the layperson, both Catholic and non-Catholic. Provided are simple definitions for terms, longer entries for broader subjects, and 29 feature articles of several pages each (e.g., "Bible", "The Papacy"). The latter articles are sometimes not in exact alphabetical order but are listed in the table of contents McBrien, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, commissioned more than 4,500 entries on Catholic doctrine, worship, history, culture, art, literature, and biblical scholarship. There are entries on Catholicism in various countries, biographies, information on other religions, and discussions of complex moral and social issues. Such diverse subjects as "Transubstantiation", the" Shroud of Turin", "Mother Teresa", "Limbo", the Soviet pseudosynods of the 1940s, and various apparitions of the Virgin Mary are covered, along with such nonreligious topics as "Romanticism", "Big Bang Theory", "Relativity", and "Phenomenology". All entries are signed, and pronunciation is provided when necessary. Bibliographies conclude lengthier entries. Parallel time lines of world history and of Catholicism open the book. Black-and-white photographs and line drawings accompany some entries; there are two inserts of color photographs. Maps and tables (e.g., "Liturgical Calendar" ) are also featured. There is no index, but "see also" references direct the reader to related articles While this is not an official publication of Notre Dame, a large number of contributing editors are faculty members there. There is representation from other religious authorities, including the Archbishop of Canterbury. Information is presented objectively, and controversies are handled in a straightforward manner. Such heretical movements as quietism and simony (the buying and selling of church offices) are defined in historical and social context. The lengthy article "Women in the Church" acknowledges that "The Church gets mixed reviews for its treatment of women over the centuries." Entries such as "Birth Control" and "Ordination of Women" note that there is division within the church on these topics This work will be helpful in providing answers for reference questions that range from the relatively trivial ("Seven Deadly Sins") to the complex ("Bioethics", "God"). With the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" (Doubleday, 1994) and John Paul II's "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" (Knopf, 1994) on recent best-seller lists, there will be a large audience for this excellent encyclopedia.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
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6.12(w) x 9.12(h) x 2.47(d)

Read an Excerpt


The Catholic Church and the religious tradition it embodies have been twenty centuries in the making. Today we stand on the threshold not only of a new century but of a new millennium. It is particularly fitting, therefore, that this extraordinary compendium of Catholic belief and practice should be published at this time.

The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism will afford the many thousands who consult it a splendid opportunity to grasp the full sweep of Catholic life and history: its doctrines and theologies, its religious orders and spiritualities, its liturgies and devotions, its sacraments and creeds, its councils and synods, its literature and art, its music and sculpture, its sacred objects and sacred texts, its rules and regulations, its heresies and schisms, its saints and sinners, its good popes and bad.

One is struck by the enormous sweep of the encyclopedia's content. There are feature articles on major doctrinal and moral issues such as the papacy and grace, abortion and social justice. There are entries on celebrated and obscure saints alike: Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, as well as Abbo of Fleury and John Leonardi; Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Ávila, as well as Anastasia and Maria Mazzarello. There seems to be an endless stream of short articles on items many of us older Catholics, with deep roots in the pre-Vatican II period, will have long forgotten about: custody of the eyes, the maniple, interdict, Liber Usualis, and spiritual bouquet, to name only a few. This is a veritable treasury of facts and information.The most assiduous student of Catholicism, inside and outside the Church, will be hard-pressed to name a relevant topic, large or small, that hasn't been included in this book.

I am impressed, however, not only by the encyclopedia's comprehensiveness, but also by its clarity and balance. Definitions are to the point. Descriptions are always pertinent and informative. Explanations are presented objectively, without the intrusion of the author's own opinions or preferences. While the encyclopedia is not slavishly literal when it comes to the Church's official teachings, it takes care to present those teachings in their fullness and, where relevant, to summarize the theological discussions that have so often swirled around those teachings. Although the many hundreds of articles are written by people who are experts in their fields, the presentations are accessible to the average reader, which is most of us. No one, not even a scholar who has been a lifelong Catholic, knows everything there is to know about Catholicism. We all have some thing to learn or to discover anew. This volume, then, is for everyone, and the editors and the publishers have done well remembering that vast audience for whom it has been written.

Although an encyclopedia of Catholicism, the book is ecumenical in the range of topics it treats, the manner in which its addresses them, and the authors it has selected to write them. I am especially impressed that two of my good friends in the ecumenical world have contributed major articles: George L. Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has written a particularly illuminating piece on Anglicanism, and Martin E. Marty, of the University of Chicago, has produced a wonderfully instructive and fair-minded entry on Protestantism. But other Anglicans and Protestants have also contributed to the book, and so has Rabbi Michael Signer, the Abrams Professor of Jewish Thought and Culture at the University of Notre Dame.

Which raises one final point. I am particularly proud of the fact that so much of the creative thought and scholarly energy that went into this remarkable volume have their source right here at Notre Dame. The general editor, Father Richard McBrien, and the great majority of the associate editors are members of the Notre Dame faculty. Even the few associate editors who are not currently on the Notre Dame faculty once were. Many of the contributors of individual articles are also associated with Notre Dame in one way or another. It is fitting, in my judgment, that the University of Notre Dame should have played so prominent a role in the production of this encyclopedia. Few institutions around the world are so closely identified with Catholicism, and few institutions have so great a responsibility to accurately reflect and effectively communicate the riches of that tradition to a broader public. This book does that very well indeed.

I would be remiss if I did not conclude, on behalf of all who will profit spiritually and intellectually from this encyclopedia, with a word of sincere thanks to the General Editor, Father Richard McBrien. Without his inspiration, his planning, and his long days and nights of writing, rewriting, and editing over a span of years, this wonderful gift to all of us would never have seen the light of day. Scholarship is a lonely task, but good scholarship in a work of high quality and great need is a gift beyond all calculation. But then, as John Henry Cardinal Newman said, "Calculation never made a hero." Richard McBrien, in producing this unique encyclopedia, is indeed a rare hero.

Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C.
President Emeritus
University of Notre Dame

Meet the Author

Richard P. McBrien is Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. Educated at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, he has also served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. A leading authority on Catholicism, he is the bestselling author of Catholicism, Lives of the Popes, and Lives of the Saints, as well as the general editor of The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Most recently a consultant for ABC News, McBrien offers regular commentary on all the major television networks. He is also a prizewinning syndicated columnist in the Catholic press.

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Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book presents controversial topics with several view points represented. However, I find it providing more information on Catholic topics rather than presenting the Catholic teachings and views. I would not recommend this book for people interested in finding out what the church truly teaches. It lacks orthodoxy. Although the book presents several points of view, I was disappointed that it didn't stand up to explain and defend Catholic positions on several hot topics such as abortion, infallibiliity, women's ordination, etc. I wouldn't consider this a good resource for learning church history and teachings.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is helpful and easy to use to find any word that you need to know. I am studying Catholic Theolgy, and it has been a life saver. Any one who needs help to find the meaning and history of a religious word; this is the book for you. I know that you will enjoy this handy reference book.