10 More Books Every Armchair Theologian Should Read

Here are 10 more books to help stoke in your mind and heart the fire of love for God.

Eduard von Grützner (1846-1925), “Priest Reading in an Armchair”
Eduard von Grützner (1846-1925), “Priest Reading in an Armchair” (photo: Public Domain)

I was very surprised (and very edified) by the many, many reactions to my article “10 Books That Belong in Every Catholic Library”. I was especially thrilled that so many have added their own comments to my list, like “Fr. Z” and Sherry Antonetti’s very kind (and useful) additions to my list. As I mentioned in my original article, I kept to the realm of general theology and did not venture too far into spirituality or other aspects of Catholic literature. Were there so many other books that I could have mentioned? Of course. But as I said, these were books that I found especially helpful to me (and to the seminarians that I teach) over the years.

I loved the fact not only that people were reading the post, but especially the fact that people were reading. Reading has become a lost art (and a lost pleasure) for so many of us in our busy world today. With this being the case, I thought that I might mention some great Catholic theologians in this article in the hope that people might be compelled to read their fine work. Now, could I have chosen other books by these particular authors? Am I neglecting other magnificent texts? Certainly. But I think these ten books are really great and I wanted to share them with you. (And I might be able to do a third list in the future!) Please note that I include the most recent editions that you could purchase online.

1. The Mysteries of Christianity by Matthias J. Scheeben (Crossroads, 2008) — Fr. Scheeben was a 19th-Century German Catholic who was a premiere theologian and a mystic who stated that the purpose of his theology was “to make the Christian feel happy about his faith. Because the beauty and eminence of our faith consist in this: that through the mysteries of grace it raises our nature to an immeasurably high plane and presents to us an inexpressibly intimate union with God.” This text, The Mysteries of Christianity, presents a manual of understanding the Catholic faith that has influenced successive thinkers of all types from Garrigou-Lagrange to Balthasar. Scheeben writes, “A truth that is easily discovered and quickly grasped can neither enchant nor hold. To enchant and hold us it must surprise us by its novelty, it must overpower us with its magnificence; its wealth and profundity must exhibit ever new splendors, ever deeper abysses to the exploring eye.” That is precisely what this text will help us to do.

2. The Lord by Romano Guardini (Gateway, 2012) — What more can be said about this text which seamlessly melds deep spirituality with fine dogmatic theology and was a prime impetus to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth series? Fr. Guardini, now a Servant of God, offers his readers an unforgettable experience of the Lord which will touch the mind and the heart.

3. Theology of Revelation by Rene Latourelle (Wipf & Stock, 2009) — Fr. Rene Latourelle, SJ, who recently passed away, was a French-Canadian Jesuit who taught for years at the Gregorian University in Rome. He is, in my opinion, the author of the premiere book on understanding the theology of revelation according to the fonts of Divine Revelation itself, namely Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as interpreted through the Magisterium of the Church. Latourelle is the father of our contemporary understanding of the discipline of fundamental theology, meaning the study of the fonts of Divine Revelation, the transmission of Divine Revelation, and the credibility of Divine Revelation. This text is a treasure.

4. Meeting Christ in the Sacraments by Coleman O’Neill (Alba House, 2012) — Fr. O’Neill’s text is one that is very underappreciated today. A Dominican Friar who taught at Fribourg, he gives one of the clearest syntheses of the sacraments in an age (the 1960s) when confusion was abounding in several circles, especially in matters of the sacraments. Fr. O’Neill’s “sacramental realism” has helped for many years to clarify questions I have had and ones I have received in the course of my ministry as a priest and as a teacher. It is a book about how we receive God’s grace in and through the sacraments of the Holy Church.

5. Rekindling the Christic Imagination by Robert Imbelli (Liturgical Press, 2014) — Fr. Robert Imbelli is someone whom I consider to be one of the finest minds in the American Roman Catholic Church and I am proud to say that he is a Diocesan Priest from New York! A true professor in. the best sense of the word, one who professes the truth, Fr. Imbelli’s little book is a gem that is as contemporary as it is timeless. Illustrated by some fine art and using examples from some of the best of Western culture, Fr. Imbelli engages the mind, heart, and soul of his readers in a true theological formation.

6. And Now I See by Bishop Robert Barron (Crossroad, 1998) — One of Bishop Barron’s very first books, this one remains my favorite. Reading this text as a seminarian made me want to be a priest who is in love with Christ, one who is in love with theology, and to want to be more fully engaged in the culture for the sake of evangelization. In his dialogue with literature, film, art, music, philosophy, theology, and psychology, Bishop Barron taught me that “above all else, Christianity is a matter of seeing.” The bishop, through his writing, taught me to see Christ in my theology studies and always to use theology for the pastoral growth of the People of God.

7. Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology by Roch Kereszty (Alba House, 2002) — This is my “go-to” book when it comes to the most important Person in my life, the Savior, Jesus Christ. Fr. Kereszty, a Cistercian professor at University of Dallas, gives what I believe is the best synthesis of the study of who Jesus is (what we call the theological discipline of Christology) and what Jesus does (how he is Savior — the theological discipline of Soteriology) available in English. Following a study of what Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the Magisterium of the Church, and select theological questions about the Lord, this book will be a treasure in your library.

8. The Trinity: An Introduction to the Catholic Doctrine of the Triune God  by Gilles Emery (Catholic University of America, 2012) — If only for his glossary alone, it deserves a place on this list. Fr. Emery’s book takes a complicated subject like God Himself and defines the terms that Catholic theology uses. As far as I am concerned, this is the best basic text on the Most Blessed Trinity.

9. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Volumes One and Two by Jean-Pierre Torrell (Catholic University of America, 2005/2003) — I have to admit that a major lacuna in my studies is really knowing the theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas well. Bad philosophy leads to bad theology and, when I was studying philosophy in the early 1990s, not much time was given at all to Saint Thomas where I was in college seminary. We read a great deal about how others, especially Bernard Lonergan, SJ and Frederick Copleston, SJ, understood Thomas, but I can say that I never really engaged Saint Thomas himself until I began doctoral studies. Dominican Father Torrell’s two volume work gives a tremendous introduction to the life of Saint Thomas in his first volume and to his theology in the second volume. I can tell you that I need to read more of Saint Thomas, rather than just about him, but these volumes really helped me “know that I did not know.”

10. Introduction to Theological Method by Jared Wicks (Piemme, 1994) — This edition, now since updated as Doing Theology (Paulist, 2009), was the way that I learned to study theology. Fr. Wicks, my professor for my introductory class in fundamental theology many years ago at the Gregorian University, Rome, is currently a scholar in residence at the Pontifical College Josephinum. This text gives an easily understood overview to the concept of Divine Revelation and its two fonts — Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, as well as the role that the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, as well as positive theology plays in the Church’s theology. Wicks’ genetic method is “fair and balanced,” to use a quote from television and I think it is a remarkably fine text. In many ways, it compliments well Aidan Nichols’ work, The Shape of Catholic Theology, which was mentioned in my initial list. Interestingly enough, both books were written around the same time by professors in Rome at two different Roman pontifical universities (Wicks taught at the Gregorian and Nichols at the Angelicum) and both are excellent introductory textbooks. I am very grateful to have studied theology at the time period when I did and these are both seminal texts for me.

Again, these are some really good books for theology, but primarily in the areas of dogmatic and fundamental theology. I acknowledge that I didn’t include spiritual classics or Catholic literature in this list, so perhaps I can do that in the future. Please let me know what you think of this new ten and, if you had read any of them, whether you find them helpful and why.