Dr Francesca Murphy for The
This book is part of a series
which includes ‘What do Greens Believe?’, ‘What do Druids
Believe?’ and ‘What do Muslims Believe?’ The author keeps in view the
readers for which such a series is marketed. Caldecott is clearly aware she’s
writing for a decent person who ‘knows’ that Catholics believe in the
Inquisition, banning contraception, and turning a blind eye to clerical sex
abuse. People know from movies not only that clerics are dastardly fellows but
that Catholics have rituals, saints and statues. The author offers them a
mixture of autobiography, theology and a mature woman’s common sense. The
autobiographical element focuses on memories of Catholic corporate devotion.
This makes What Catholics Believe concrete and a bit of a page turner.…
By making eucharistic devotion and the ‘incarnational’ quality of Catholic
life the framework for Catholic doctrines, the book avoids giving the impression
that Catholics believe in ideas that are best discussed and debated in an
abstract way. It uses the descriptive parameters of the series to show how
Catholic practices are pervaded by a unique spirituality.… This is an
excellent book, in my opinion, profound but accessible, and something one could
give to a non-Catholic without making them feel proselytized.With an tacit nod
to the Da Vinci Code, the book concludes, “Blood is what he shares with
the woman who bore him into the world and that blood will be shed by a world
that does not recognize him.… There is such a thing as the bloodline of
Christ, but it has not been perpetuated through some elite family tree. It has
been made available to all, under the guise of the simplest things possible:
bread and wine, becoming the Real Presence of God in the Eucharistic feast.”
This is the heart of the Church.
Joanna Bogle for Faith Magazine
This is a persuasive, gently written, thoughtful paperback aimed at the
non-Christian reader and is part of a series. Others in the series include
‘What do Druids Believe?’ ‘What do Greens Believe?’ and ‘What do
Astrologers Believe?’ as well as more conventional offerings from Hindu,
Jewish, and Muslim writers.
Leonie Caldecott writes in a style and with assumptions that make her offerings
interesting and acceptable to people who have been brought up to believe in a
market-place idea of religion, that it’s ‘all about choice’ and that we
need to evaluate belief-systems in the light of our own knowledge and skills, or
what we imagine to be our own knowledge and skills. She succeeds because she
does not take anything for granted by way of goodwill or sympathy in her
audience – she assumes, in a very realistic way, that there will be
assumptions made about a Church which most people will know only through the
prism of today’s TV cameras and commentaries.
I use the expression ‘gently written’ because that is what emerges from the
book – here are no forceful debating-points, brilliantly scored, written with
glee, and supported by footnotes. Rather, there is a systematic tackling of
Church doctrine and history, with a good glossary (everything from “altar”
and “Assumption” through “Liberation theology” to “Ressourcement”
“Transubstantiation” and “theology of the body”), useful recommendations
for further reading, and an excellent index. The tone throughout is not
argumentative or even particularly emphatic. It is courteous and explanatory,
rather as if the author is talking to a good friend whom she has known for years
and is aware carries certain anti-Catholic prejudices and considerable ignorance
but also goodwill and genuine interest in the subject of the Church.
Certain topics are tackled early on, including the hideous subject of priests’
sexual abuse of minors, and this gives the reader a sense of being present at a
conversation which is real and open, not a rant or a monologue.
Specific doctrines are tackled well – the section on the Mass is excellent,
with a quote from Justin in the second century chiming in well with the
author’s words on the reality of Christ’s presence and the practice of
Eucharistic adoration. I like the section on saints. It starts in an almost New
Age-ish sort of way: “The saints are the ecosystem of the Church, all
interconnected in their marvellous diversity…” and goes on to explain the
process of canonisation and the way in which Catholics understand Heaven and
earth to be deeply interconnected “…Catholics believe that good people who
have died are never completely cut off from the rest of us. Being in God, they
are still aware of us and our needs. They are in Christ and in him we can touch
each other…Saints are not VIPs on a red carpet: they are a working body of
souls with special responsibilities for those who come after them. They are the
most mysterious and glorious way that God shares his very being with his own
If I were a University chaplain, or a priest giving talks to schools about the
Faith, I would use this book and pass it on to enquirers. It is an honest
introduction to the huge reality of God and his Church, and speaks in a way that
is likely appeal to today’s generation. Its cover, showing a chalice with a
rosary lying alongside, speaks of Catholicism and invites the reader to open the
book and learn more. I hope many do.
T. Stuart for The Catholic Herald
This book is a wonderful addition to the new series What Do We Believe?
that explores contemporary belief systems as different loci of personal
identity. Caldecott’s book is about belief, and so it appropriately
begins with a personal narration of her experience in a cathedral both before
and after her conversion to Catholicism. Only in chapter three does Caldecott
discuss the Church as an institution. She begins with what she considers the
most important aspects of the faith by reflecting on the nature of religion, the
sacraments, the saints, and the Virgin Mary. What Do Catholics Believe?
is engaging and concise (110 pages), and includes a helpful index, a glossary of
“Catholic” words, a summary of key points in Catholic social teaching, a
guide to further reading, and delightful literary references throughout to
writers such as J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis to help explain various points
(such as the power of evil as presented in Lewis’s Screwtape Letters).
feels while reading this book that it was written by a woman with deep
understanding of the nature of femininity and its place in the Church. What
Do Catholics Believe? stresses the role of Mary and of women in general in
the Church through its history and today. Though some might not agree with the
author (or the Church), everyone who reads this book will only be able to
respect Caldecott’s deeply felt and sensitively expressed account of the
gender symbolism behind the male-only Catholic priesthood.
is also a freshness about Caldecott’s writing, as when she describes the
saints as the “ecosystem of the Church” in her discussion of the centrality
of community (composed of the living and the dead) to Catholic Christian
life. This freshness of expression also reveals itself in Caldecott’s
historical sensitivity, as in her account of heresy in the chapter sketching
Church history: “Heresies are interesting, because they highlight the struggle
of human minds to grasp and converse about a faith in its entirety. …In the
early centuries the struggle to define and exclude…heresies was often the
impelling force behind the formulation of the actual faith and the development
of theology” (55-56). This fundamentally hopeful approach to the whole
historical question of heresies as stages on the progressive Christian journey
is a welcome perspective indeed.
in her sketch of history, Caldecott gives the impression that the varieties of
Inquisition present in Western history only began after the end of the fifteenth
century (their roots actually reached back to the twelfth). However, the very
fact that she includes a discussion of history in this short book, essentially
about belief, is significant. For too long, people (including Catholics),
have thought of history as self-evident, almost an “objective” field of
knowledge. It is partly so. But history is also a matter of perspective, and a
Christian perspective on history sub specie æternitatis is something
unique and different than—for example—a rationalist perspective on history.
By bringing history into her discussion of belief, Caldecott has opened up
important questions about the relationship between Christian belief and the
historical narratives we tell to ourselves about ourselves as Catholics.
most important contribution of this book is its attempt to explain Catholic
belief to those completely outside of it. Caldecott does this by trying to
explain what religion is in its essence. “Religion is a way of seeing, of
being, of perceiving reality,” Caldecott writes (xiii). Religion is a perspective
on the meaning of our lives and our relationships, a perspective that is a
given, if we are open and attentive. This perspective is not simply a
“choice” to be reasoned to from “facts”. Caldecott does not mean to
suggest that reason and religion are divorced. Rather, they are married: each
retains a separate identity while working toward the common end of truth. “For
Catholics, reason is essential in unpacking faith. But without the content
of faith, the lived encounter with that Other, which lies at the heart of our
religious practice, reason would be redundant, a machine snapping at empty
air” (xiv). In other words, the Christian religion is not a “rationally”
grounded ideology. It rests upon more than reason. Christian faith is a gifted
perspective that we can be opened up to through prayer, study, and sharing our
lives with others.
book is an inspiration. Everyone should read it, even those Catholics who think
they know a lot about their own faith. Caldecott’s book is immensely practical
because of its size and affordable price, as it can be given out to friends and
relatives and anyone wondering What Do Catholics Believe?
Kairos: Volume 20, Issue 06
Do you know anyone who wants to understand what Catholicism is all about?
This book is the perfect concise introduction to the Catholic Faith in the 21st
Many good faith education texts are available, but this book is
unique. Rather than focusing only on doctrine, like a catechism, it is a much
broader look at the key elements of Catholic belief, and the effects of these
beliefs on various contemporary issues.
The author, Leonie Caldecott, is
a convert to Catholicism, and she is more interested in giving readers an
authentic taste of the religion than covering the minutiae of Catholic theology.
In the first part of the book she covers what she sees as the core and
distinctive elements of Catholicism: the sacraments (with a special focus on the
Mass), saints and the Virgin Mary. In covering these topics she draws out those
aspects that are often misunderstood by non-Catholics, or seen as controversial.
Her explanations of complex subjects, such as the nature of the priesthood
and the meaning of the Mass, are models of clarity, and yet they are fleshed out
by the beautiful imagery she uses to highlight their mystical nature. It is
difficult to demonstrate these qualities by quoting from the book out of
context, but an example of the elegance and directness of her prose is one
sentence about the Mass: “Baptism and Confirmation open the door to it,
Reconciliation prepares us for it, but the Mass is the nearest we come to heaven
on earth; our final initiation into the Body of Christ.”(p 22)
of the book contains a chapter on the four last things, a brief look at the
history of the papacy (including its origins and papal infallibility), and a
gallop through Church history, not forgetting the crusades and the inquisition.
There is also a chapter that looks at the Church in the modern world, and at
Vatican II and its aftermath, with a particular focus on the work of John Paul
II and Benedict XVI and their influence on the contemporary Church in the areas
of morality and social issues.
This chapter includes a useful overview of
the theology of the body, and a summary of key points of Catholic social
teaching. The author provides a short list of further reading, a glossary of
Catholic words, and an index, all of which make the book a practical reference
This book would be ideal as an introduction to Catholicism for
RCIA candidates, or as a re-introduction for adult Catholics returning to the
practice of the Faith. The author paints such a vivid picture of the richness
and sanity and beauty of the Catholic Faith that readers of her book will be
inspired to seek out further information about the Church.