Introduction to Christology 101 — 5 Ways to Dive Deeper in the Study of Christ
Recommended books by Benedict XVI and Fathers Thomas Joseph White, Thomas Weinandy, Edward Oakes and Roch Kereszty.
Having established that Christology (which is the study of the Persons and natures of Our Lord Jesus Christ) is the foundation of theological study, I have endeavored to create a short bibliography of texts which might help those interested in learning more about the Lord Jesus in their self-study.
I had mentioned that no real study of Christology can afford to be without three basic texts: first, a good Catholic student Bible (personally, I use the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition); second, the Catechism of the Catholic Church; and third, a copy of the texts of the first Ecumenical Councils of the early Church. These truly are the foundations of Christological study.
But what if one wished to read more about Christology? What texts might prove helpful in one’s study? May I suggest a few books to read about the One who is the very Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ? Please note that these are listed in no particular order.
1. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s three-volume Jesus of Nazareth (published between 2007-2012) is a masterpiece both of theology and theological reflection. Pope Benedict is clear to the reader in his introduction that these texts are the work of a private Catholic theologian and not his work as the Supreme Pontiff, but these books are magnificent for the clarity, prayerfulness, and deep spirituality they offer. These books are overall “theological” in the sense that they are focused on theos (God) in Christ. Pope Benedict acknowledges the historical-critical method, but emphasizes what he describes in the introduction to the first volume, From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, (2007) as “canonical exegesis,” meaning the desire to read the individual scriptural texts “within the totality of the one Scripture, which then sheds new light on all the individual texts.” Pope Benedict states:
“I have tried, to the best of my ability, to incorporate all of this, and yet I wanted to try to portray the Jesus of the Gospels as the real, “historical” Jesus in the strict sense of the word. I am convinced, and I hope the reader will be, too, that this figure is much more logical and, historically speaking, much more intelligible that the reconstruction we have been presented with in the last decades. I believe that this Jesus — the Jesus of the Gospels — is a historically plausible and convincing figure.”
Truly, Pope Emeritus Benedict has accomplished his task in these three magnificent volumes which I cannot recommend highly enough.
2. Father Thomas Joseph White is an American Dominican of the Saint Joseph Province of the Order of Preachers and is currently the rector (in American terms, the president) of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas (the Angelicum) in Rome. Many of the seminarians whom I have for formation at the Pontifical North American College have told me how much they admire Father White and his scholarship and his ability to synthesize theology. Father White’s text, The Incarnate Lord: A Study in Thomistic Christology (2017) is a large volume, but one which is well worthy diving deep into in order to learn more about the field of Christology. Father White offers a study of Christology from all perspectives and is able to masterfully synthesize it all through the lens of the Doctor Communis, Saint Thomas Aquinas. It is well worth the effort, as Father White handles Christological questions clearly and thoroughly.
3. Capuchin Father Thomas G. Weinandy is another American religious priest and theologian whose book, Jesus the Christ is a fantastic text for students of Christology. In five chapters, Father Weinandy gives us a complete course in both Christology and Soteriology (which is the study of how Jesus Christ is our soter, our savior). In his introduction, Father Weinandy is clear in what his intentions are in this text:
“The purpose of this book is to help you, learn about the person of Jesus Christ and the work he accomplished through his incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.”
He takes us through the fonts of Divine Revelation (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition), as well as the Magisterium and contemporary issues in Christology. What I also very much appreciate about Father Weinandy is that he offers us some primary sources in the appendices of his book from such authors as St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Pope St. Leo the Great and Origen.
4. The late Jesuit Father Edward T. Oakes was a professor of theology at Mundelein Seminary in Chicago and in 2011 produced a really fine book on Christology entitled Infinity Dwindled into Infancy: A Catholic and Evangelical Christology. The title of Father Oakes’ book is taken from Father Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe,” and it is truly an appropriate title because in our study of Christology, we focus in on the Incarnation of the Lord. The Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity becomes frail human flesh for us men and our salvation. Father Oakes offers his readers an historical approach as well as an ecumenical approach, which never leaves behind his orthodoxy Catholicity. I also love the fact that Father Oakes provided his readers with both a glossary and an appendix which details the First Seven Ecumenical Councils.
5. Perhaps my favorite text for Christology is written by Cistercian Father Roch A. Kereszty. Entitled Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology. Father Kereszty has produced the textbook that I actually use in my classes and seminars on Christology. This book’s approach is comprehensive (it covers Sacred Scripture, the early Church, the Councils, the Medievals, the Reformation, and modern and contemporary Christology and never loses sight of the fact that it is meant to be a introductory text. Father Keresszty offers his readers study questions after each chapter, as well as book suggestions (with introductions) for further reading. He even has chapters on “The Universal Significance of Christ in the Context of Other Religions” and “Christ and Possible Other Universes and Extraterrestrial Intelligent Beings” and a brilliant appendix on the “Relationship Between Anthropology and Christology” through the lens of Saint Bernard.
In my next entry, I wish to offer five more books on the topic of Christology which I have found helpful in my own study and which I believe that you might also find helpful. Authors will include Bishop Robert Barron, Father John P. Galvin, Father Rudolf Schnackenburg, Sister Sara Butler and Msgr. Josiah G. Chatham. I look forward to sharing them with you!