10 More Good Basic Books for Theology

These recommendations are my opinions, formed from my own experience as a priest and as a professor.

‘You Can Understand the Bible’ book cover
‘You Can Understand the Bible’ book cover (photo: Ignatius Press)

I was at the reception for our recently ordained transitional deacons here at the Pontifical North American College and I was introduced to one of the guests of a new deacon. This fine lady, visiting Rome from the United States, surprised me when she met me by saying, “Oh, you’re the book list priest from the internet!” At the risk of labeling myself as “the book list priest from the internet,” and as a response to some requests that I have received from some readers for some more lists of books that might be helpful in the building up of a Catholic library, I have decided to go and create four more book lists! Yes, book sellers will be pleased with me and I hope that you will pleased with these fine books.

Each of these lists over the next four articles are for different purposes and each of the lists responds to a specific request of some readers. The first list, which you will find in this article, offers 10 more basic books in theology published over the past few years that are easily accessible and interesting to those who wish to create a theological reference library. The second list, one which I was asked to create by a reader immediately after my first book recommendation list was published, is of Catholic spiritual classics that all Catholics should read at least once in their life before they go to meet the Lord! The third list is one of Catholic fiction, that hopefully readers will find to be both entertaining and insightful. The fourth list will be of works of fiction from our Western cultural tradition that all Catholics should know.

Like my two previous lists, these recommendations are my opinions, formed from my own experience as a priest and as a professor. You may agree with some of them and others you may think are not necessarily helpful at all. And, as in the past, I ask you to let me know what you think and what have I neglected in these lists, by commenting below.

Therefore, with no further ado (and in no further order), I would like to present to you 10 more interesting books for new additions in your Catholic library:

1. Peter Kreeft, You Can Understand the Bible: A Practical and Illuminating Guide to Each Book of the Bible (Ignatius Press, 2005) is a real gem of a book. Dr. Kreeft is a master teacher and his immensely humorous and pastoral text is an answer to the prayers of those who simply want to know, without any frills or an overly scientific explanation, what to look for when they read Sacred Scripture. Make no mistake, this is a not a fluffy book; it is concrete and useful for all believers. I have used this text with many different age groups from high school students to adult education programs.

2. The late Fr. Matthew L. Lamb and Dr. Matthew Levering have offered the Church a tremendous gift with their text, Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2008). As both editors and contributors, these two fine theologians offer clear and concise introductions and explanations of the Constitutions, Decrees, and Declarations of the Second Vatican Council. With such luminous contributions from famous theologians like Dominican Father Romanus Cessario, Benedictine Father Guy Mansini, Sister Mary Prudence Allen and Sister Mary Judith O’Brien (both Religious Sisters of Mercy), and many others, this is a text that should sit right next to your copy of the Vatican II texts, aiding in a proper interpretation of the Council.

3. Bishop Philip Egan of the Diocese of Portsmouth, England’s text, Philosophy and Catholic Theology: A Primer (Liturgical Press, 2009) is a fine introduction to theology in general. The Bishop is able to explain why it is essential for someone who studies theology to have a firm grounding in philosophy. Especially to be commended is his sections on faith and reason. This is a book, with its many charts, which can be used by students beginning their study of theology on a university level.

4. Msgr. David Bohr’s book, Catholic Moral Tradition (revised edition) (London: Wipf & Stock, 2006) is an immensely useful and thorough text. Bohr offers his reader a firm grounding in the basics of morality, starting from biblical and historical foundations to the creation of a truly Catholic fundamental moral theology, all leading to a section on the application of Catholic fundamental moral theology to specialized issues like bioethics and Catholic social teaching.

5. Fundamental Theology by Fernando Ocáriz and Arturo Blanco (Midwest Theological Forum, 2008) is such an excellent manual for those who wish to understand Catholic theology. With its clear references to Magisterial documents, Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, this book is stunning in its orthodoxy and its accessibility. Covering issues like the transmission and the credibility of Divine Revelation, this book should be on the shelf of every student of Catholic theology.

6. Dr. Lawrence Feingold, a theologian who is a convert from Judaism, has given a tremendous gift to the Church with his text, Faith Comes From What is Heard: An Introduction to Fundamental Theology (Emmaus, 2017). Faithful to the Tradition and to Sacred Scripture, Dr. Feingold is working within the concept of a “hermeneutic of continuity” and he reads Vatican II’s document of Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum, in a beautifully Thomistic manner. With its study questions, this book is rapidly becoming my personal choice for my introduction to theology classes.

7. It’s difficult to recommend a book on Catholic Church history in general, but H.W. Crocker’s Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church (Crown Forum, 2001) is a really entertaining and fun book. A history text that reads like a novel, it demonstrates how the Church was and is at the foundation of Western civilization.

8. When asked what book I use to teach my class on the history of the Catholic Church in the United States, I use the same book that my rector, then-Msgr. (now Cardinal) Timothy Dolan used to teach me: American Catholics: The History of the Roman Catholic Community in the United States (Oxford University Press, 1983) by Jesuit Father James Hennesey. This is a thorough text, one that is not an easy read, but one nonetheless that has all the details one needs to know about the rich history that we have as Catholic Americans. It is dated and much has occurred since its publication in 1983, but I still contend that Father Hennesey’s book is the best.

9. Bishop Alfred Hughes’ little book, Spiritual Masters: Living a Life of Prayer in the Catholic Tradition (Our Sunday Visitor, 1998) is the work of a priest and bishop who has spent years as a spiritual director. Like a “Cliff Notes” for the Catholic spiritual classics (Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Siena, Ignatius of Loyola and many more), this text has proven to be a tremendous aid to my own spiritual reading.

10. The Mass: The Presence of the Sacrifice of the Cross by Charles Cardinal Journet (Saint Augustine’s Press, 2008) is a classic text offering a deep theology and spirituality of Holy Mass. I believe that is the best introduction to the Mass that one can find. It was translated in English for the first time in 2008.

Now, these are only 10 suggestions. There are hundreds more that I could have recommended, but I stuck with these 10 theological texts. Please let me know what you think.