There are names which one encounters in the study of theology that one will read and say to themselves, “I really should get around to reading them.” Invariably, I know that I rarely do find the time to actually read them. After all, there is so much to read and so little time! (Here I think of the old Twilight Zone episode with Burgess Meredith, “Time Enough At Last.” If you have never seen it, please do so!) There’s so much of the great Fathers of the Church (especially Augustine), the Scholastics (especially Saint Thomas Aquinas), the recent popes (especially Ratzinger) and 20th-century Catholic theology (like de Lubac and Congar) that I have really to do.

When I see a library filled with theology texts, I am like a veritable kid in the candy store. I want a copy of everything and I want the endless time to absorb all of this material! Thankfully, in my current priestly assignment, part of my role is to read and study, so I have some dedicated time on my hands for this theological enterprise. My own area of study and interest is 20th-century theology, so I am particularly interested in these thinkers and the impact that they have had on Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.

With that in mind, I would like to offer a set of articles (this time not a booklist!) that can offer us a simple introduction to some of these great thinkers. And, again, like with my book recommendation lists, it must be noted that by my featuring these theologians, it is a not an endorsement of all their thoughts and all their works. This is simply an attempt to show us how influential some of these theologians have been and why one might hear their names and ideas in one’s study of theology, both formally and informally. I am mostly limiting myself to theologians in the 20th century, both Catholic and yes, one Protestant (if only for his tremendous influence). And, it must be noted, that I am offering only a small, simple biography and a tiny snippet of their thought.

The theologians whom I will discuss over the next few articles are Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Jacques Maritain, Jean Daniélou, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Charles Journet, Louis Boyer, Matthias Joseph Scheeben, Gabriel Marcel and Avery Dulles. Nine of the ten are Catholic, with Bonhoeffer being the sole Protestant. I have included him because of his heroic life and death as well as his practical theology. My inclusion of Scheeben brings us into the 19th century — I justify this by saying his vast influence had come to fruition in the 20th century with theologians as diverse as Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange to Hans Urs von Balthasar citing him as an influence. Furthermore, I have listed two thinkers who could be considered primarily philosophers, Jacques Maritain and Gabriel Marcel. Both are included for two reasons: first, their influence is vast, especially on Catholic theology, and second, I really, really like them! It is my hope that you will really also like these thinkers as well!

What books would I recommend from each of these thinkers to get us ready for this study? Here’s my list (did you think you could get an article from me in the National Catholic Register without a book list?):

  • Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis
  • Yves Congar, Tradition and Traditions
  • Jacques Maritain, True Humanism
  • Jean Daniélou, God and the Ways of Knowing
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics
  • Charles Journet, Theology of the Church
  • Louis Boyer, Introduction to Spirituality
  • Matthias Joseph Scheeben, The Mysteries of Christianity
  • Gabriel Marcel, Creative Fidelity
  • Avery Dulles, Theology of Revelation

You might note that many of these thinkers are French and many are part of a school of thought in 20th-century Catholic theology described as ressourcement. This “nouvelle théologie” had major detractors, including some fine theologians like Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, OP, and we must acknowledge this opposition. At the essence, these ressourcement theologians believed that the sources of theology, namely scripture and tradition, should be critically re-examined and many of these theologians were later justified by the publication of such papal documents like Pope Pius XII’s Mystici Corporis (1943) and Divino afflante Spiritu (1943) as well as by the overall workings of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). “La nouvelle théologie” demonstrated a return to the sevenfold loci proprii of theology, as articulated by Melchior Cano, OP (1509-1560): Scripture and Tradition, the Church, the Councils, the Fathers, the Magisterium, the Scholastics, and the Canon Law of the Church. These proponents of nouvelle théologie also focused on secondary sources of theology described by Cano as the loci alieni: history, reason and philosophy.

I was introduced to many of these thinkers as a college student, in volumes published by Ignatius Press, and I have found these thinkers to be tremendous influences on my own theological and spiritual life. I look forward to introducing these theologians to you because they have a great deal to say in helping us understand our Church and our world today.