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The Catholic Classics Quiz

By Bill Dodds
How much do you know about key writings in the Church's history? -

The Catholic Church has a rich tradition of writings that are reflective of her efforts to live out her Master’s teachings down through the ages. Our quiz covers some real "gems"—classics of Catholic writing still as fresh today as when they were first penned. Try this quiz on Catholic Classics—and then head for your library!

What makes a book a classic? Its timelessness. Its style. Its clear presentation of the truth. Don't think you know much about classic Catholic writing? You might be surprised.

To make this challenge just a little bit easier, we'll only cover the first 15 centuries of Catholicism, up to the Council of Trent (1545-1563). Begin with No. 1, and then just follow the directions.

1. The Didache ton Dodeka Apostolon, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles is the earliest known work of Christian writing outside the New Testament. Penned probably between 70 and 90, it's been called what?

a) The earliest manual of the Christian liturgy. (Go to 28.)

b) The Gospel of Thomas. (Head for 33.)

2. Correct. Church leaders weren't sure what to do with Christians who had renounced their faith (often in the face of persecution) and then renounced their renunciation. Now go to 36.

3. A popular tale set in the time of King Arthur—the early Middle Ages—began to appear in writing in the 12th century. This legend featured knights searching for the "holy grail"? What were they looking for?

a) Spiritual fulfillment. (Go to 7.)

b) The cup used at the Last Supper. (Move to 19.)

4. And they had a sister called "Marjoram"? We were kidding. Return to 23.

5. Yes, he was on his way to certain death. St. Ignatius is credited with being the first to use the expression "the Catholic Church." Now head for 40.

6. No. Return to 9.

7. Both answers are correct. In the medieval mind, because the grail—or cup—held the blood of Christ, it also held his soul and so it was seen as a primary source for uncovering knowledge about God. Now head for 30.

8. Was the book's title a tip-off? St. Cyril's catechism was broken down into two dozen lessons. Now move on to 23.

9. Four years before the Council of Trent opened in 1545, St. Ignatius Loyola completed his famous Spiritual Exercises. Most of it was written between 1522 and 1523 in:

a) The family castle. (Go to 6.)

b) A cave. (Move to 17.)

10. No. St. Albert (c.1200-1280) was St. Thomas Aquinas’ teacher. Return to 18.

11. St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) wrote seven letters to members of the early Church as he was:

a) Being led to Rome to be martyred. (Go to 5.)

b) Preparing to succeed St. Peter. (Move to 41.)

12. Just as it's still easy to find books by St. Augustine (both Confessions and City of God), a slender volume by St. Benedict (480-550) is also readily available. What is it?

a) Spiritual Exercises. (Head for 22.)

b) The Rule. (Go to 32.)

13. No, that's the term for words that imitate a sound, like "buzz." Return to 40.

14. This best-known work of this 16th-century British martyr is Utopia. A chancellor of England, he was killed by King Henry VIII. Who was he?

a) Thomas More. (Head for 21.)

b) Gerard Manley Hopkins. (Go to 39.)

15. It could be argued that the best-known writer of the 13th century is the Dominican who penned the Summa Theologiae, a cornerstone of Catholic theology. Who was he?

a) Thomas Aquinas. (Head for 20.)

b) Thomas a Kempis. (Go to 38.)

16. Of course. Among Gregory of Nyssa's works is On What it Means to Call Oneself a Christian. Basil, the author of Morals, is called the "lawgiver" of Eastern monasticism. He said Christians seeking perfection shouldn't just pray, but should study and do manual labor, too. How head for 37.

17. Yes. It was during 11 months of prayer and penance, spent mostly in a cave at Manresa, Spain. Now head for 43.

18. Another Dominican, this one from the 14th century, was a mystic who dictated Dialogue, now considered a spiritual classic. The name of this Doctor of the Church is:

a) St. Albert the Great. (Go to 10.)

b) St. Catherine of Sienna. (Move to 27.)

19. Both answers are correct. In the medieval mind, because the grail—or cup—held the blood of Christ, it also held his soul, and so it was seen as a primary source for uncovering knowledge about God. Now head for 30.

20. Correct. The writings of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) have been praised by modern popes who have encouraged Catholics to become familiar with his work. Now move to 18.

21. Correct. More was accused of treason because he refused to declare the king the head of the Church in England. Now move on to your last question, 9.

22. That would be St. Ignatius Loyola, a millennium later. Return to 12.

23. Two fourth-century writers were brothers, belonging to a prominent (and very religious) family in Cappadocia, now part of Turkey. One was named Basil, the other:

a) Oregano. (Go to 4.)

b) Gregory. (Move to 16.)

24. No, Julian, was an English mystic born in the middle of the 14th century. Her famous work is Revelation of Divine Love. Return to 30.

25. Sorry. The novel as a form of writing didn't make its debut until much later, and wasn't really popular until the 18th century. Return to 36.

26. No! Really. Return to 37.

27. Yes. And on a more personal note, St. Catherine (c. 1347-1380) was her parents’ 23rd child! Now head for 42.

28. Yes. The offertory prayers are taken almost word for word from the Didache. Now move to 11.

29. Yes, and please accept our apologies for being so tricky. Both are autobiographies. St. Augustine (354-430) wrote Confessions—plural. St. Patrick (c.389-c.461) was the author of Confession—singular. Now go to 12.

30. Another 12th-century writer was a German mystic and abbess who was the author of Scivias, a collection of visions divided into three books. Who was she?

a) Julian of Norwich. (Move to 24.)

b) Hildegard of Bingen. (Head for 35.)

31. No. John Milton, an Englishman, wrote Paradise Lost in 1665. Return to 42.

32. Also known as The Rule of St. Benedict. It's a detailed manual for running a monastery. Now move to 3.

33. No, that's one of several "apocryphal" books that weren't included in the canon (or official list) of the New Testament. Return to 1.

34. Yes. The Italians refer to him simply as "the Poet." His Divine Comedy uses the form of a vision to describe a soul’s journey. Now go to 14.

35. Right. St. Hildegard (1098-1179) began having mystical visions at an early age and entered the Benedictines when she was about 18. Some 20 years later she was named abbess. She corresponded with a number of Church leaders including St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Now go to 15.

36. St. Cyril (315-386) was the bishop of Jerusalem. His most important writing was called Catecheses. His style set a pattern that is still popular. What style was it?

a) The catechism. (Head for 8.)

b) The religious novel. (Go to 25.)

37. This fifth-century bishop is credited with writing a book titled Confession. Who is he?

a) St. Augustine. (Move to 26.)

b) St. Patrick. (Head for 29.)

38. No. Thomas a Kempis is credited with writing the Imitation of Christ. Return to 15.

39. No. Jesuit Father Hopkins (1844-1889) is considered one of the premier poets of the English language. Return to 14.

40. In 251 St. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, Africa, wrote The Unity of the Catholic Church. It included the statement: "You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother." The Church in the mid-third century was facing what particular challenge?

a) Apostasy. (Move to 2.)

b) Onomatopoeia. (Head for 13.)

41. No, although he was St. Peter's successor as the bishop of Antioch. Return to 11.

42. What 14th-century layman wrote a poetic trilogy examining hell, purgatory, and heaven?

a) John Milton. (Move to 31.)

b) Dante Alighieri. (Head for 34.)

43. Let's end with a brief quote from Thomas a Kempis, author of the Imitation of Christ. This is the inscription on his picture in Zwoll, Holland, and it's said he composed it himself: "Everywhere have I sought rest and found it not, except sitting apart in a nook with a little book."

Copyright © 2000 Bill Dodds

Bill Dodds is a national columnist, a full-time freelance writer and the author of 20 books. His latest books are Your One-Stop Guide to How Saints Are Made (Servant Publications) and What You Don't Know About Retirement: A Funny Retirement Quiz (Meadowbrook Press). For more information about his writing, visit

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