Study Aids

Program Details and Recommended Study Resources: fact sheets, books, and videos.

Catholic Culture

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Truths of Faith Holy Scriptures Saints & Heroes Catholic Culture Worship & Tradition

Catholic Culture—Overview

The Catholic Culture program investigates the influence of the Church on cultural aspects of Western Civilization. It focuses on such topics as Architecture, Art, Music, Science, and Literature. All of these fields were well established before the Christian era but the Church transformed them in ways that are not widely understood.

The Catholic Culture program attempts to identify the unique contributions of the Church on particular fields so some historical background is presented. In most cases credit is given to pagan scholars and artists for their contributions, and a glossary of terms relevant to a particular field is presented. But the purpose of this is to highlight the pre-Christian state of the art with the immense changes and novelties introduced by the Church in a wide range of disciplines during the Middle Ages and Modern period.

Videos can be very helpful in understanding the influence of the Church in all areas of Culture, and most of the Catholic Culture subtopics have videos associated with them that can be used for classroom instruction. Topics such as Art and Music are best understood through audio-visual media rather than books, and Dr. Thomas Wood's video series, Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization. provides excellent overviews of complicated subjects, such as the Catholic Church's influence on Science, Education, and Law. Watching the entire video series is probably the best possible introduction to the Catholic Culture program, for anyone unfamiliar with the Church's enormous influence on Western institutions.

Subdivisions and Study Aids

There are about 700 study questions associated with the Catholic Culture program subdivided into eight units of about 90 questions each. Links to study aids, homework assignments, and reading recommendations are provided for each subtopic.

Unit Topics Covered
1: Architecture Architectural Terms, Structures, Styles, Basilicas, Cathedrals, Churches, Abbeys, etc.
2: Art Catholic Artists, Sculptors, Masterpieces, Art Terms, Techniques, Saints, etc.
3: Music Chant, Polyphony, Hymns, Liturgical Music, Composers, Instruments, Musical Terms, etc.
4: Literary Arts Spiritual Classics, Poetry, Literature, Philosophy, Christian Authors, Historians, Writers, etc.
5: Monasteries Desert Fathers, Celtic Monks, Benedictines, Monasteries, Cluniacs, Cistercians, etc.
6: Science Scientific Method, Astronomy, Christian Scientists, Scientific Revolution, Faith and Reason, etc.
7: Education Christian Education, Guilds, Universities, Librari, Catechism, Scholasticism, Patron Saints, etc.
8: Law and Economics Canon Law, Civil Law, Natural Law, Catholic Action, Social Teaching, etc.

Recommended Reading

The topics covered in the Catholic Culture are diverse and most books recommended for the program cover only one specific topic. Thomas Wood's How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization is the exception. It comprehensively covers many aspects of Catholic culture and is the primary text for four units: Monasteries, Science, Education, and Law.

The books selected to cover most other topics are homeschool favorites, targeted for middle school students but of interest to all ages. Videos play a larger role providing instruction for the Catholic Culture program than most other divisions, so several are recommended here.

How the Church Built Western Civ
by Thomas Woods
No institution has done more to shape Western civilization than the two-thousand-year-old Catholic Church, and in ways that many of us have forgotten or never known. Professor Thomas E. Woods book goes far beyond the familiar tale of monks copying manuscripts, and shows how the Church was critical in developing such widely divergent fields as modern science, free-market economics, art, music, charity, law, universities, and the idea of human rights.

Cathedral by David Macaulay
This concise overview of the major tenets of the Catholic faith is an excellent introduction for beginners as well as a stimulating read for educated Catholics. Fr. Laux provides in-depth explanations of topics including: Sources of Faith, Attributes of God, Human Nature, the Immaculate Conception, Sanctifying Grace, the General judgment, and many more.

Art Through Faith by Seton Press
This beautiful art appreciation book from Seton Press is on of their most popular items and does a wonderful job of presenting the Church's influence on art. It includes Full color reproductions of Christianity's greatest religious art with insightful comments on their religious meaning. Introduces artists such as as: Fra Angelico, Bellini and Botticelli, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and the Renaissance Painters, Rubens, and the Pre-Raphaelites.

History of Western Art by Cromwell
This is a secular DVD series on the history of art, but the first three half hour vidoes, cover most of the important developments in Western Art from the Early Renaissance to the Baroque period that are of interest to Catholic students. Other Art History videos that cover similar material may be found on Youtube, but we haven't found another series as comprehensive.

YouTube Channels and Videos

The following videos can be to introduce a wide variety of cultural subjects, and are excellent options for classroom instruction. Dr. Thomas Wood's video series is especially helpful and important for stressing the importance and breadth of the Church's contribution to Western Civilization, as well

Catholic Church - Builder of Western Civilization Series

Thomas Woods made a series of 13 videos to accompany his book Catholic Church: Builder of Civilization, and together they form the foundation for about half of the units in the Catholic Culture Program. Links to all 13 Videos are given below, organized by the study unit they are affiliated with.

  • Overview — Both the Introduction (#1), and the Conclusion (#13) of Wood's series cover many topics and provide a broad overview of the Church's influence on Culture. They also stress the fact that many of these contributions are overlooked and not well known.
  • Science — The first three episodes, Church and Science (#2), Priests as Scientific Pioneers (#3) and The Galileo Case (#4) are each dedicated to the Church's under-appreciated contribution to Science. Together they provide much evidence to refute the idea that the Catholic Church has opposed rather than advanced the cause of Science.
  • Education — Episodes 5 gives an overview of the evolution of The University System in Europe, and shows the Church's dedication to education, the teaching profession, and freedom of inquiry. Episode 6, Does God Exist continues a discussion of the intellectual heritage of Christianity by discussing how Catholic scholars used Reason to prove the existence of God. Episode 6 relates not only to 'Education', but to the Apologetics unit of the 'Truths of the Faith' program.
  • Monks and Monasteries — Episode 7, The Monks , gives a fascinating overview of the enormous contributions of the Monasteries to Western Civilization. Many of the Scholars who advanced other fields such as Science, Education, Law, and Music, were Monks or Friars.
  • Law and Economics — Episodes 10 and 11, Concept of Rights and Laws (#10), and Origins of International Law (#11), both trace the Church's role in the development of the legal concepts of Human Rights and International law.
  • Morality and Charity — Episodes 8 and 9, Catholic Charity (#8) and Western Morality (#9) provide broad insights into the impact that the Christian view of Charity and Duty has had on Western Civilization. We have also used these episodes when focusing on the Moral Teaching   units of the 'Truths of the Faith' program.

Art and Architecture Videos

The first three segments of The History of Western Art, listed above is a good introduction to Renaissance art, but there are other good options on YouTube.

  • PBS Cathedral - David Macaulay — This 57 minutes adaptation of David Macaulay's 'Cathedral' book, combines an entertaining story of a medieval town that sacrifices for generations to build one of the most glorious Cathedrals in Europe, with a fascinating documentary that describes the brilliant innovations of Gothic architecture. Its animated back story will hold the interest of school age children, while McCaulay's spell-binding naration of the major developments in Architectural history during Middle ages will please views of all ages. Highly Recommended.
  • Builiding the Great Cathedrals
    This 54 minute video, produced by NOVA (PBS) combines a historical documentary narrating the building of several of Europe's most famous Cathedrals, with clear explanations of the important structural innovations of the Gothic era that revolutionized architecture.

Music Videos

Since Music is primarily an audio experience, videos are an important resource for the study of Catholic Influence on Music. There are many online videos that provide beautiful examples of Traditional Catholic worship music. Petrus Josephus, for example, is one YouTube channel, but there are many more.

The videos listed below focus on the History of Music, rather than Music appreciation, and even though they were created by a secular producer, they present most important developments of Western Music, such as polyphony and musical notation, in an easy-to-understand way. Unfortunately, they fails to cover some important Catholic composers and developments in liturgy, but the topics they do cover are well done.

  • BBC Howard Goodall's Story of Music - Part 1: Age of Discovery
    This 58 minute video by Howard Goodall of the BBC provides an excellent introduction to the history of Western Music, starting from Greek and Roman times and continuing through the late 16th century, with early Italian Opera. In spite of the secular viewpoint, the enormous contributions of the Church to Musical theory and practice during the early Middle Ages is unmistakable. Almost every important musical from Gregorian Chant, to simple 'Organum' harmonies, to the development of musical notation, to polyphony, and increasingly sophisticated musical instrumentation, was sponsored and produced by the Catholic Church.
  • BBC Howard Goodall's Story of Music - Part 2: Age of Discovery
    This is the second part of a BBC series on the history of Music. While the first part emphasized innovations in musical notation, chords, and polyphony, this series develops more advanced topics regarding musical scales and harmony, such as the circle of fifths, modulation, chord progression, and counterpoint. Featured artists include Bach and Handel, both 18th century musical geniuses whose innovations laid the basis for what we now consider Classical music. By the end of the 18th century, Western music composition and instrumentation had advanced to a point that the Church was no longer the primary vehicle for advancement in music, as it was for the previous millennium.