Catholic Systematic Theology

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James Taylor | Forum Activity | Posted: Sat, Jun 27 2015 1:06 PM

What are some of the top systematic theologies that represent the standard doctrinal perspectives of Roman Catholics. Is there any consensus on a "go to" resource?

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 3:47 PM

Summa Theologica (22 vols.) is the classic work...

Catholicism, 3rd ed. by Richard P. McBrien

Is my favourite one but it has not left prepub.

Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 2nd ed.

Is perhaps your best bet but I have not used this one before.

Foundations of Systematic Theology by Thomas Guarino

Is one I own in Verbum but have not used it too much but seems  pretty decent.

Hope this can help you.

-Dan

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 3:52 PM

Here are a couple samples starting with Foundations and then from Suma.


CHAPTER 1

Christian Doctrine and Contemporary Challenges


Revelation and Doctrine

Revelation
Christian tradition has generally understood “revelation” to be, both in its fundamental linguistic and philological sense as well as in the sense that has developed both historically and theologically, nothing less than God’s unveiledness, his free, gratuitous self-manifestation to us. While it is certainly true that this manifestation is always filtered, by necessity, through human concepts, symbols, linguistic conventions, and historically and culturally conditioned perspectives, this does not detract from the fundamental Christian conviction that it is God himself who has entered into a loving relationship with his creation and freely manifested something of his own inner life.
From the viewpoint of Christian theology, this self-manifestation of God is humanly, and therefore linguistically, articulated as teaching, as doctrine. Jesus himself, of course, was a teacher, and part of his commission charges his followers to teach others, thereby making disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19–20). Paul, too, was clearly a teacher, one who not infrequently reminded his listeners that the teachings he laid down were to be neither altered nor contradicted.1
This intrinsic conjunction between divine revelation and Christian teaching is found throughout the early church. Origen’s great work, On First Principles, embodies significant elements belonging to the early doctrinal catechesis of the school at Alexandria. This same catechesis is found in Augustine’s De doctrina christiana and in the theological works of the great Cappadocians. The early councils of the church—Nicea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon—themselves self-consciously offered further, definitive teachings, that is, authoritative explanations of the biblical text, in light of the church’s worship, understanding, and spiritual experience. One element that the Scriptures, the early doctors, and the ancient councils have in common is this: The teaching tendered is not offered as a transitory or evanescent solution. It is proposed, rather, as God’s word, or as a ratification of God’s word, a word communicated personally to men and women for their salvation, for the sake of leading them to eternal life.
It is precisely this sense of teaching, as the scripturally and ecclesially articulated presence of the self-manifestation of the triune God, that continued with the Schoolmen in the Middle Ages and with the great teachers of the Reformation.2 To teach with authority is to offer nothing less than the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, a Word that offers to all people the healing and saving message of God’s own action and life. This self-understanding, characteristic of virtually the entire Christian tradition—that the mission of the church is to teach the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ—has led to the defining characteristics of faith and doctrine.3

Characteristics of Christian Doctrine
Christianity has staked a great deal on the notion of revelation as the enduring, saving truth about Jesus Christ. Today’s church proclaims, in essence, what the church of yesterday (and the two are intrinsically linked) held and believed about the triune God, about Christ as true God and true man, about the Lord and Giver of Life, about the church, the body of which Jesus is the head. This is not to say that such convictions are held without nuance. On the contrary, most Christians hold this belief with the concomitant recognition that over the course of time there has been organic development and genetic progress. Sometimes there is even a more generic reinterpretation. But in general contours and in fundamental principles, it is clearly a conviction of the church at large that teachings, once defined, especially those considered authoritative by the early church, are reflective of Scripture and continue, substantially intact, what the church has believed and continues to believe.4

Selected Documents
One may peruse just a few statements of the Roman Catholic Church, for instance, to see this conviction clearly stated. A glance at the dogmatic constitution on revelation promulgated at Vatican II, Dei Verbum, indicates that there is something in revelation that Christians consider to be universal, normative, self-same, and eternal. For example, God chose to reveal himself and to make known to us the hidden purpose of his will (art. 2). The Christian dispensation, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away (art. 4). Through revelation, God chose to manifest and to communicate himself and the eternal decisions of his will (art. 6). God has seen to it that what he has revealed will abide perpetually in its full integrity and be handed on to all generations (art. 7).
More recently, one may read similarly apposite sentences in the (certainly less authoritative) Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus.5 There, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger seeks to defend the “irreversible” doctrines that some have called into question, such as “the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ[,] … the inspired nature of the books of Sacred Scripture, the personal unity between the Eternal Word and Jesus of Nazareth, the unity of the economy of the incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit, [and] the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ” (art. 4). Similarly, the International Theological Commission observes that “the truth of revelation … is universally valid and unchangeable in substance” (art. I, 4). And again: “Dogma in a stricter sense … is a teaching in which the church proclaims a truth of revelation definitively and in a way that is binding for the universal church, with the result that denial of that teaching is rejected as heresy and anathematized” (art. III, 3).6
These few sentences from Vatican II, a recent magisterial document, and a body of theologians are only a few from among many other possible sources echoing the same theme. They clearly place the theological emphasis on the presence of God to his people, and the continuing importance of doctrine as one way of mediating that presence. One may also see from such statements the significant investment the Christian church has staked on its own ability to know God’s self-manifestation with a certain dimension of clarity, objectivity, and perpetuity.7 These watchwords are not recent inventions in the church; they characterize a long tradition of reflection upon the meaning of Christianity and the very nature of the affirmation that God has “revealed” himself.8

Theologians
What the church has stated in official documents is clearly affirmed by a variety of theologians as well. Wolfhart Pannenberg, for example, points out that in the days of early Christianity, dogma was often set in antithesis to competing theories since “it did not come from humans but was ‘spoken and taught by God.’ ”9 Origen described Christian doctrines as dogmata theou (Comm. Matt. 12:23), while for Aquinas, the articles of faith were an essential presupposition to theological reflection (ST I, q. 1, a. 2). In fact, for Aquinas, the assent of faith is the most certain of all the intellectual virtues, even though lacking in evidence, because its source is God himself (ST II–II q. 4, a. 3). Linking this explicitly with dogma’s claim to universality, Pannenberg says, “Dogmatics has always accepted this task [i.e., confirming the truth of doctrine] in connection with the divinely grounded universality of its content which embraces the reality of the world from its creation to its eschatological consummation.” Similarly, “Theology deals with the universality of the truth of revelation and therefore with the truth of revelation and of God himself.” Ultimately, “the truth in its binding universality precedes our subjective judgment.”10
This same emphasis on the church’s ability to know God’s self-manifestation objectively and with universal force is recently defended by Robert Jenson, who says, “We may press theology’s claim very bluntly by noting that theology … claims to know the one God of all and so to know the one decisive fact about all things, so that theology must be either a universal and founding discipline or a delusion.”11 This accent on universality is complemented by Jenson’s recognition that some elements of church teaching are irreversible: “Dogmas are the irreversible communal decisions made so far in that effort” [i.e., of the church to think through its mission of speaking the gospel]. Therefore, all theology is subject to the authority of dogma and may in turn contribute to dogma yet to be formulated.”12 The same point is made by Gerhard Sauter, who states, “Dogmatics … says what must be said as credible unconditionally and under all circumstances. God has revealed to us who he is.” He later adds, “Dogma states that which has unassailable validity.”13
This is not to say that dogma itself cannot in some sense be made the object of theological inquiry. Theology certainly adds to dogma’s intelligibility, uncovers new dimensions previously unseen, and allows dogma, at times, to undergo further development. In a certain sense, then, one may speak of dogma as providing both presupposition of theology and material for theological inquiry. This is what Pannenberg has in mind when he notes that dogmatics does not expressly make the truth claims of Christian doctrine one of its questions, but must nevertheless do so or dogmatic theses will “not make contact with worldly reality but will hover above it and will not, therefore, be true.” Theology, he argues, must “present, test and if possible confirm” the claims of the doctrinal tradition.14 Pannenberg here sounds very much like Maurice Blondel and especially Karl Rahner, with the latter’s constant and well-founded concern, in the face of the extrinsicism of the Catholic neo-Scholastic account of revelation, that theology should manifest, if possible, the congruency of the doctrinal tradition with human experience.15 To claim that the dogmatic assertions of the church may have some resonance in human experience, or that theologians should seek to show an “immanent” element “reaching” correlatively for the truth of the doctrine—to, in other words, provide at least something of an apologetical element for systematic theology properly so called lest it sink into extrinsic mummification—is hardly to call into question the characteristics of doctrine. Indeed, as we shall see, it is to further confirm their necessity.
What is already clear is that both ecclesial documents and theologians affirm that revelation is given to us as a gift; it is articulated linguistically in Christian teaching, that is, doctrine, which at times, especially in its most formal statements, may be considered irrevocable, continuous, universal, materially identical, and objectively true.16
The problem, however, is that these traditionally denominated characteristics carry with them an undeniable philosophical freight. Terms such as “continuity,” “perpetuity,” and “universality” smack, for many, of the “metaphysics of presence,” of the “ontotheology” characteristic of the classical philosophical tradition. It is, of course, such characteristics that have come under unremitting philosophical fire for being associated not only with the priority of “presence,” but presence encased in a totalizing narrative, a grand récit, a normative truth, an enveloping Ganzheit.
Today’s philosophical climate, on the contrary, is distinguished not by words such as “objectivity,” “presence,” “identity,” and “continuity,” but by terms such as “incommensurability,” “historicity,” “fissure,” “otherness,” and “difference.” As John Caputo says, “The incoming of the ‘same’ [as opposed to the impossible, l’autre] … would simply further confirm the present, already familiar horizon, would be more of the dreary pedestrian, humdrum sameness of the possible—a mediocre fellow, Climacus said—and what Lyotard would call merely a new move in an old and familiar game.”17 Perhaps even more illustrative is the late Jacques Derrida who, also wishing the incoming of the impossible, frames it within specifically religious terms, holding for a deconstruction (a sans) which is developed “without reference to religion as institutional dogma, without getting involved in some ‘article of faith’ … while proposing a non-dogmatic doublet of dogma … a thinking that ‘repeats’ the possibility of religion without religion.”18
Given this mise en scène, can the Christian notion of doctrine and contemporary philosophical accents be reconciled? Are they at absolute loggerheads? This book will examine those questions, and, in the process, will speak about the fundamental impulses of contemporary philosophy and the extent to which these may be incorporated within Christian theology.


Thomas G. Guarino, Foundations of Systematic Theology (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2005), 1–6.

QUESTION CLXI

OF THE SPECIES OF MODESTY AND, IN THE FIRST PLACE, OF HUMILITY
(In Six Articles.)


WE must consider next the species of modesty: (1) Humility, and pride which is opposed to it; (2) Studiousness, and its opposite, Curiosity: (3) Modesty as affecting words or deeds: (4) Modesty as affecting outward attire.
Concerning humility there are six points of inquiry: (1) Whether humility is a virtue? (2) Whether it resides in the appetite, or in the judgment of reason? (3) Whether by humility one ought to subject oneself to all men? (4) Whether it is a part of modesty or temperance? (5) Of its comparison with the other virtues: (6) Of the degrees of humility.


FIRST ARTICLE

WHETHER HUMILITY IS A VIRTUE?

We proceed thus to the First Article:—
Objection 1. It seems that humility is not a virtue. For virtue conveys the idea of a good. But humility conveys the notion of a penal evil, according to Ps. 104:18, They humbled his feet in fetters. Therefore humility is not a virtue.
Obj. 2. Further, Virtue and vice are mutually opposed. Now humility sometimes denotes a vice, for it is written (Ecclus. 19:23): There is one that humbleth himself wickedly. Therefore humility is not a virtue.
Obj. 3. Further, No virtue is opposed to another virtue. But humility is apparently opposed to the virtue of magnanimity, which aims at great things, whereas humility shuns them. Therefore it would seem that humility is not a virtue.
Obj. 4. Further, Virtue is the disposition of that which is perfect, as stated in Phys. vii. But humility seemingly belongs to the imperfect: wherefore it becomes not God to be humble, since He can be subject to none. Therefore it seems that humility is not a virtue.
Obj. 5. Further, Every moral virtue is about actions and passions, according to Ethic. ii. 3. But humility is not reckoned by the Philosopher among the virtues that are about passions, nor is it comprised under justice which is about actions. Therefore it would seem not to be a virtue.
On the contrary, Origen commenting on Luke. 1:48, He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid, says (Hom. viii. in Luc.): One of the virtues, humility, is particularly commended in Holy Writ; for our Saviour said: ‘Learn of Me, because I am meek, and humble of heart.’
I answer that, As stated above (I.-II., Q. XXIII., A. 2) when we were treating of the passions, the difficult good has something attractive to the appetite, namely the aspect of good, and likewise something repulsive to the appetite, namely the difficulty of obtaining it. In respect of the former there arises the movement of hope, and in respect of the latter, the movement of despair. Now it has been stated above (I.-II., Q. LX., A. 4) that for those appetitive movements which are a kind of impulse towards an object, there is need of a moderating and restraining moral virtue, while for those which are a kind of impulse towards an object, there is need of a moderating and restraining moral virtue, while for those which are a kind of withdrawal or recoil, there is need, on the part of the appetite, of a moral virtue to strengthen it and urge it on. Wherefore a twofold virtue is necessary with regard to the difficult good: one, to temper and restrain the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately; and this belongs to the virtue of humility: and another to strengthen the mind against despair, and urge it on to the pursuit of great things according to right reason; and this is magnanimity. Therefore it is evident that humility is a virtue.
Reply Obj. 1. As Isidore observes (Etym. x.), a humble man is so called because he is, as it were, ‘humo acclinis,’* i.e. inclined to the lowest place. This may happen in two ways. First, through an extrinsic principle, for instance when one is cast down by another, and thus humility is a punishment. Secondly, through an intrinsic principle: and this may be done sometimes well, for instance when a man, considering his own failings, assumes the lowest place according to his mode: thus Abraham said to the Lord (Gen. 18:27), I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am dust and ashes. In this way humility is a virtue. Sometimes, however, this may be ill-done, for instance when man, not understanding his honour, compares himself to senseless beasts, and becomes like to them.
Reply Obj. 2. As stated (ad 1), humility, in so far as it is a virtue, conveys the notion of a praiseworthy self-abasement to the lowest place. Now this is sometimes done merely as to outward signs and pretense: wherefore this is false humility, of which Augustine says in a letter (Ep. cxlix.) that it is grievous pride, since to wit, it would seem to aim at excellence of glory. Sometimes, however, this is done by an inward movement of the soul, and in this way, properly speaking, humility is reckoned a virtue, because virtue does not consist externals, but chiefly in the inward choice of the mind, as the Philosopher states (Ethic. ii. 5).
Reply Obj. 3. Humility restrains the appetite from aiming at great things against right reason: while magnanimity urges the mind to great things in accord with right reason. Hence it is clear that magnanimity is not opposed to humility: indeed they concur in this, that each is according to right reason.
Reply Obj. 4. A thing is said to be perfect in two ways. First absolutely; such a thing contains no defect, neither in its nature nor in respect of anything else, and thus God alone is perfect. To Him humility is fitting, not as regards His Divine nature, but only as regards His assumed nature. Secondly, a thing may be said to be perfect in a restricted sense, for instance in respect of its nature or state or time. Thus a virtuous man is perfect: although in comparison with God his perfection is found wanting, according to the word of Isaias (40:17), All nations are before Him as if they had no being at all. In this way humility may be competent to every man.
Reply Obj. 5. The Philosopher intended to treat of virtues as directed to civic life, wherein the subjection of one man to another is defined according to the ordinance of the law, and consequently is a matter of legal justice. But humility, considered as a special virtue, regards chiefly the subjection of man to God, for Whose sake he humbles himself by subjecting himself to others.


Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009).

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James Taylor | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 4:18 PM

Thanks Dan,

I have Summa and Foundations as well. I appreciate your suggestions. I just didn't know if there was like an "official" theology book that the "majority" of Roman Catholics would reference. 

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 4:42 PM

I think it is safe to say that for referencing most Catholics with sufficient interest have been introduced to the following as "basic"

  • Denzinger, Henry, and Karl Rahner, eds. The Sources of Catholic Dogma. Translated by Roy J. Deferrari. St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1954.
  • Jurgens, W. A., trans. The Faith of the Early Fathers. Vol. 1–3. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970–1979.
  • Ott, Ludwig. Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1957.
  • Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009.
  • Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd Ed. Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000.

You'll note this is biased toward dogmatics not systematic theology. After the big five, what one reads tends to reflect your interest, the interest of presenters, and the interest of your pastor. In my current parish, Karl Rahner or Yves Congers tend to be high on the list with Avery Dulles making occasional appearances. In a former parish Karl Adams was near the top. An associate pastor leaned toward liturgical theology (Alexander Schmemann, Aidan Nichols,Aidan Kavanaugh...) , Karl Keating style apologetics and Casimir A. Kucharek.

Dan's list is a solid one based on Logos resources.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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James Taylor | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 4:46 PM

Thanks MJ, I appreciate you commenting on this

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 6:06 PM

MJ has noted that her selections are (much) more dogmatic than systematic. There is good cause for this--in order to develop a serious understanding of Catholic systematic theology, one must have a good understanding of Catholic dogmatic theology, and this is not just because many Catholic systematic theologians also do dogmatic theology.

There are, in broad, overlapping, and contentious strokes, three kinds of Catholic systematic theologians: those who use dogmatic theology as their rock-solid base and permanent reference point, those who use dogmatic theology as more of a reliable if sometimes inconvenient guide (these often get accused, rightly or wrongly in particular cases, of heresy), and those who may or may not refer to points of dogmatic theology but who have no real problems with discarding and/or opposing it outright.

As exemplars, I shall use only well-known figures. I have tried to be as uncontroversial as possible but some readers may disagree.

In column A, you unambiguously have people like St. Thomas Aquinas, Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), and Dr. Matthew Levering.

In column B, you fairly uncontroversially have people like Fr. Karl Rahner SJ and Fr. Hans Urs Von Balthasar.

In column C, you have people like Sr. Elizabeth Johnson and Fr Hans Kung.

I would say that as a good rule of thumb for those looking at Catholic theology from the outside, you can find Catholics' opinions in all three columns, but for Catholic opinions you should look only at the first two. Again, however, the dogmatic theological resources given by MJ are crucial to understanding Catholic systematic work and its context, whatever column it falls under.

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James Taylor | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 6:21 PM

Thank you SineNomine,

I appreciate your further clarifications and nuances. 

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Dan Francis | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 7:32 PM

The closest thing to official would be the catechism...

SUMA has a dominican bias to it.....

Each writer would typically bring their own flavour to the theology. Hence while being very much the same they also would share some slight variations. 

Systematic Theology: Roman Catholic Perspectives, 2nd ed. is the one trying to draw to attention the variations in catholic thought.

-Dan

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James Taylor | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 7:51 PM

SineNomine:
for Catholic opinions you should look only at the first two.

Would Joseph Pohle's 12 Volume Dogmatic Theology be considered to fit into the first two?

What about Sylvester Joseph Hunter's Outlines of Dogmatic Theology (3 Volume)?

I have both of these in Logos, so I'm trying to see what I already have access to verses having to purchase something (I have Aquinas as well and already reference him). I didn't have Ratzinger or Levering.

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James Taylor | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 7:52 PM

Thanks again Dan. 

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MJ. Smith | Forum Activity | Replied: Sat, Jun 27 2015 9:17 PM

Pohle is on the dogmatic side so I'd say A. I'm less certain of Hunter but would lean towards placing him in A as well.

Orthodox Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev: "To be a theologian means to have experience of a personal encounter with God through prayer and worship."

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Deacon Steve | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 28 2015 2:17 PM

The definition seems to have become more nuanced in meaning over time.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systematic_theology

I would be inclined to look at the suggestions already mentioned as well as those in the article (numerous).  Don't forget Balthasar.

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Deacon Steve | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 28 2015 2:24 PM

SineNomine:

There are ... three kinds of Catholic systematic theologians: those who use dogmatic theology as their rock-solid base and permanent reference point ...

As exemplars ... In column A, you unambiguously have ... Dr. Matthew Levering.

I am interested in this reference.  Can you recommend a (or several) resource(s)?

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 28 2015 2:49 PM

James Taylor:

SineNomine:
for Catholic opinions you should look only at the first two.

Would Joseph Pohle's 12 Volume Dogmatic Theology be considered to fit into the first two?

What about Sylvester Joseph Hunter's Outlines of Dogmatic Theology (3 Volume)?

Both Hunter and Pohle are solid dogmaticians who to my knowledge fall into category A insofar as they may do a bit of systematics.

James Taylor:
I didn't have Ratzinger or Levering.

Other particularly notable 20th and 21st century Column A systematicians and dogmaticians include Fr. Aidan Nichols OP, Fr. Thomas Joseph White OP, Fr. Thomas Weinandy OFM Cap., and Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange OP.

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SineNomine | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 28 2015 3:16 PM

Steve:

SineNomine:

There are ... three kinds of Catholic systematic theologians: those who use dogmatic theology as their rock-solid base and permanent reference point ...

As exemplars ... In column A, you unambiguously have ... Dr. Matthew Levering.

I am interested in this reference.  Can you recommend a (or several) resource(s)?

I'm pretty comfortable recommending anything by Levering. He's a high quality, high output theologian deeply rooted in the Catholic theological tradition. This is why he's ended up at a new endowed chair at Mundelein. Unfortunately, Faithlife doesn't offer too much of his stuff yet, and what it offers, I haven't read much of yet. I have read in full and strongly recommend Knowing the Love of Christ: An Introduction to the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (which is really an introduction to Catholic theology through St. Thomas), which he co-authored with Dr. Michael Dauphinais. I have mostly read Levering's published articles so far and have always found it worthwhile.

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David Ames | Forum Activity | Replied: Sun, Jun 28 2015 6:34 PM

MJ. Smith:

Links added if found in Logos

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Antonius | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jun 29 2015 5:28 AM

I have this book from Professor Levering. He is a fantastic teacher, and he makes Augustine understandable.
https://www.logos.com/product/43576/the-theology-of-augustine-an-introductory-guide-to-his-most-important-works

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James Taylor | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jun 29 2015 7:04 AM

Ok, so between the Catechism, Summa, Hunter and Pohle (the ones that I own) I should be able to clearly see the standard Catholic perspective now. Thank you all for helping me narrow down my "go to" resources for this.

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Deacon Steve | Forum Activity | Replied: Mon, Jun 29 2015 7:22 AM

... and just to make clear since it was talked around, Augustine would be another source.  (No slight to any current Catholic theologian .. there are many.)

Smile

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