By Will Deatherage, Executive Director
Happy Advent, everyone! Every year, Clarifying Catholicism puts together a recommended reading list for theologians who might be searching for some good books for their Christmas lists. This year, we have divided our list into twelve categories, from Systematic Theology to Interreligious. Each entry in this guide includes the book’s recommended audience, difficulty level (beginner, intermediate, and advanced), price, description, and link to purchase it.
Ecclesiology: Papal Primacy from its Origins to the Present
Author: Klaus Schatz
You should read this if… you want to learn more about the history of the expansion of papal authority
Prerequisites: Familiarity with Church history may help
Arguing for the legitimacy of papal primacy, Klaus Schatz impressively condenses thousands of years of ecclesiology into just a couple hundred pages. While packed with information, this work is kept coherent and historically interesting by Schatz’s thesis that the papal primacy arose from theological clashes between the papacy and secular authorities, which culminated in the First Vatican Council’s decree on papal infallibility. Those want to defend the papacy, as well as those who are interested in the Church’s political drama throughout history, will enjoy this book. Also featured in 2021’s list!
Historical Theology: The Ecumenical Councils of the Catholic Church: A History
Author: Joseph Kelly
You should read this if… you are interested in an honest historical perspective of Church councils
Prerequisites: Familiar with Roman history may help
This concise history of the ecumenical councils is an excellent complementary text to the aforementioned Papal Primacy by Klaus Schatz. Though this text provides more historical than theological commentaries, Kelly is refreshingly honest about their complexities and controversies, portraying the Church as theologically sound yet institutionally flawed. This book is accessible enough for beginners to read, yet it is historically packed enough for seasoned theologians to learn something new. This book provided me with a basis for my video series on the ecumenical councils. Also featured in 2020 and 2021s lists!
Interdisciplinary The Soul’s Upward Yearning: Clues to out Transcendent Nature
Author: Robert Spitzer
You should read this if… you are interested in scientific evidence of God
Prerequisites: A willingness to learn diverse disciplines (from psychology to quantum physics) is required; a basic knowledge of the natural sciences is presupposed
Robert Spitzer is perhaps one of the brightest Catholic interdisciplinary scholars of our time. His work combines psychology, sociology, astronomy, metaphysics, quantum physics, and several more subject areas to argue that the secular sciences point to a spiritual dimension. This book requires a commitment to learning terminology from diverse scientific disciplines, though even mastering one chapter is worth purchasing this book. Also featured in 2020 and 2021s lists!
Interreligious: Toward a Theology of Religious Pluralism
Author: Jacques Dupuis
You should read this if… you are interested in a nuanced and sensible perspective of the relation between Christianity and other religions
Prerequisites: Basic familiarity with Soteriology
Having lived in India for decades, Dupuis provides a thoughtful and unique perspective of how other religions participate in God’s plan. Though controversial upon release, this now widely celebrated work constructs an inclusivist but not pluralist theology of other religions. The author also provides a valuable historical survey of the Church’s doctrinal stances on other religions.
Old Testament: The Formation of the Hebrew Bible: A New Reconstruction
Author: David Carr
You should read this if… you are looking for the most up-to-date chronology of the Old Testament’s composition
Prerequisites: Advanced knowledge ofrecent Old Testament scholarship terminology; a willingness to consider diverse theories regarding biblical authorship and composition
This is by far the most up-to-date comprehensive overview of the Old Testament’s composition. Carr chronicles every major era of Israel’s history, positing which portions of each book were written and redacted during them. It is a very challenging, yet very rewarding read which uses advanced terminology.
Moral Theology: The Moral Wisdom of the Catholic Church: A Defense of Her Controversial Moral Teachings
Author: Robert Spitzer
You should read this if… you want a scientific perspective of the Church’s more controversial moral teachings
Prerequisites: A willingness toengage with empirical sciences
Full disclosure: I have not read this yet, since it just came out last week, but given Spitzer’s impressive work in the intersection between science and the religious experience, it is at the top of my personal Christmas list. Based on descriptions and interviews, this book touches on nearly every major hot-button theological issue, from abortion, to gender, to self-defense. It has also been reviewed by prominent Catholic writers like Edward Feser.
New Testament: A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus
Author: John Meier
You should read this if… you want the quintessential Catholic perspective of the historical Jesus
Prerequisites: A willingness to explore diverse perspectives regarding the historical Jesus, familiarty with Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic may help
Given the recent death of this series’s author, John Meier, it seems fitting to celebrate his first book, which is the only historical Jesus work I would recommend to both Catholics and non-Catholics. Meier is strikingly honest in his assessment of the historicity of Gospel events, which may come across as controversial to some readers. That said, he has crafted some excellent defenses against atheistic and agnostic historical Jesus scholars, who have long-sought to reduce Jesus to a mere wise-man or philosopher. Also featured in our 2020 list!
Author: Bernard Lonergan
You should read this if… you are interested in a modern psychological approach to philosophy
Prerequisites: Familiaritywith advanced scientific terms, as well as the history of philosophy
Rather than jumping straight into metaphysics, the study of being, Bernard Lonergan begins his systematic philosophy by examining the mental processes of acquiring knowledge itself. He does this for the sake of developing a theory of knowledge that is culturally transcendental; his mission is laying the groundwork for what truth is. Arguably, he accomplished this, as one commentator I read mentioned how Lonergan’s work, which is rooted in the Thomistic method, is the only theory of knowledge that he has been able to successfully teach in non-Western European countries.
Scripture (General): The Paulist Biblical Commentary
You should read this if… you want a comprehensive set of academic biblical commentaries
Prerequisites: Familiarity with historical-critical biblical methods, a willingness to read diverse writing styles, a willingness to read fairly dense text
What might perhaps be the most impressive Biblical commentary ever assembled features contributions from different professors for each book of the Bible. It is over twice the size of a standard bible because of its incredible depth, and it provides the historical contexts, authorships, literary characteristics, and theological functions of each book. It is worth its weight in gold (and pounds; it is a heavy book), and I would pay double or even triple its current price for it. Also featured in our 2021 and 2020 lists.
Systematic Theology: Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church
Author: Francis Sullivan
You should read this if… you want to learn about where the Church gets its authority from
Prerequisites: Willingness to learn ecclesiastical terms
If I was a theology professor, I would make this book required for my students. A nuanced understanding the Church’s teaching authority, as well as authentic interpretation of the Church’s magisterial statements, is crucial in our politically polarized culture in which Catholics attempt to weaponize doctrinal statements against others. Francis Sullivan is, in my opinion, the most underappreciated theologian of modernity because he condenses such a critical and complex issue to such a brief and accessible work. I not only recommend this book to theologians who are interested in the weight of doctrinal pronouncements, but I wholeheartedly believe that anyone who wants to become a theologian must read this book. Also featured in our 2021 and 2020 lists!
Compilation: The Christian Theology Reader
Author: Alister McGrath
You should read this if… you are looking for excerpts of the most important theological texts/commentaries gathered into one work
Prerequisites: Willingness to grasp short bites of fairly dense theology
This is an impressive compilation of excerpts from hundreds (YES, hundreds!!) of theologians and philosophers. It is a very well-organized collection, which covers every major area of theology, from epistemology to eschatology. It is excellent for readers who want to explore different theologians before diving into one particular author.
Wild Card: Sentient Intelligence
Author: Xaview Zubiri
You should read this if… you are interested in a modern scientific philosophy of knowledge
Prerequisites: Advanced knowledge ofthe history of philosophy, advanced knowledge of philosophical terms from a wide variety of sources
What is reality? What is being? What is truth? Zubiri attempts to answer such questions with a rigor that rivals that of the greats, such as Aristotle and Kant. The difference between Zubiri and his predecessors is his masterful critiques of commonly held philosophical assumptions, as well as his application of modern scientific perspectives to construct a new realist philosophy. Much like Aristotle did with the sciences of his time, Zubiri integrates perspectives of physics, psychology, biology, chemistry, mathematics, and more into his work. It is only available online for download, but it is a great gift to get printed and bound for a philosophically inclined friend/loved one.