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Deacon Douglas McManaman gives some great book tips on theology

Readersvoice.com aims to pick up a few good reading tips. While browsing along the bookshelves in a charity store, I came across a 1967 Fontana paperback copy of The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A Kempis. Written in the early 15th Century, it urges the reader to reject the folly and unreality of the world -- a shadow of shadows -- and says there is no reality except in loving God and serving him alone. The book is one of the classics of theology, and for this issue of readersvoice.com I interviewed Deacon Douglas McManaman about the subject. Deacon McManaman teaches theology, and in this interview he gives many excellent reading suggestions.

READERSVOICE.COM: A Wikipedia definition of theology went something like: the study of God and how God relates to the human race, and the study of faith and spirituality, from the internal point of view of a faith. But I was wondering if you had a definition of theology.

DOUGLAS McMANAMAN: I don’t have my own definition of theology, I just look to St. Anselm who coined the phrase fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). Sacred theology (as opposed to natural theology) is “faith seeking understanding”.

The word ‘theology’ means the study of God (Theo). Natural theology is a part of philosophy, which studies God insofar as He can be known via human reason alone. Sacred theology, however, begins with articles of faith and proceeds to reason to conclusions on the basis of those principles.

Of course, those principles are found in the Scriptures (New and Old Testament). Interestingly enough, although the argument from authority is the weakest argument in science and philosophy, it is the strongest argument in theology. For example, “quantity is an accidental mode of being, because Aristotle said so” is a very weak argument.
But, “the Logos has a divine nature, because it says so in the gospel of John, chapter 1, 1ff” is a very strong argument.

RV: How did you first become interested in theology?

DMc: It was after my conversion when I was 17 years old.

I was hitchhiking across the United States with my 5 String banjo and I got a lift from a Catholic priest from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. He was the biggest influence in my life. His joy and love for the Eucharist convinced me to return to the Catholic Church in which I was baptized as a child. I slowly became more interested in studying my faith.

Eventually I wanted to become a priest, and so I went back to university and studied philosophy first. Later I decided not to become a priest, but to get married.

But I still wanted to study philosophy, which I did. Philosophy, however, can only take you so far. Human reason has its limits. And so towards the end of my bachelor’s degree, I became more and more interested in sacred theology.

RV: When you started studying theology, what areas interested you, and where did your interests expand from there?

DMc: I like Foundational or Fundamental theology. I’ve always liked working near the horizon that divides philosophy and theology, in particular, the philosophy of being or natural theology.

Human reason, unaided by faith, is capable of discovering so much about God, i.e., that God is Beauty Itself, Goodness Itself, Truth Itself, that God is One and unchanging, and that all things are subject to His providence. To enter all this into dialogue with divine revelation is what I’ve always been inclined to do. I also love the theology of the Trinity, eschatology (heaven, hell, purgatory), and the theology of the spiritual life.

RV: What’s your daily routine?

DMc: Well, it all depends on the day of the week. I am a high school teacher of religion and philosophy, and I minister to mental health patients twice a week in the evenings.

I am married and have one adopted daughter. So, my daily routine includes marking papers, preparing lessons, playing with my daughter, painting, writing, preparing homilies, and visiting the sick.

RV: Can you recommend a good introductory book on theology?

DMc: A good introduction is Discourses on Grace and the Sacraments, by Clement Crock, or Theology for Beginners by F. J. Sheed, or Peter Kreeft’s Fundamentals of the Faith. A great book is Introduction to Christianity by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), although that might be tough reading.

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