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Douglas McManaman recommends some theology classics.

Deacon Douglas McManaman gives some great reading tips, listing some of the classic theological books, as well as some classic fiction authors...

READERSVOICE.COM: In a typical course in theology, what sorts of subjects would a student cover?

DOUGLAS McMANAMAN: One would cover areas like Christology, Ecclesiology (study of the Church), Sacramental theology, Eschatology, Foundational theology, Biblical Studies (New and Old Testament, Paul, etc.), theology of the Trinity, history of the Church, the theology of the spiritual life or mystical theology, and moral theology.

RV: What ancient or historic books on theology have you found most interesting?

DMc: The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas is an absolute classic. I’ve been studying Aquinas for about 30 years now and you’d think that after all that time, an author wouldn’t have many surprises left. But I continue to learn new things when I read Aquinas. He’s full of surprises; he’s centuries ahead of our time, in many ways.

I love St. Anselm, his Proslogion, I love the writings of St. Francis de Sales, in particular his Treatise on the Love of God. The letters of Father J. P. de Caussade on Abandonment to Divine Providence are inexhaustible classics that one can read for a lifetime. The Beatitudes by St. Gregory of Nyssa are very profound. On Loving God, by St. Bernard of Clairvaux is a beautiful treatise, and of course the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis is an absolute classic.

The Dialogue by St. Catherine of Siena was a work that influenced me deeply. The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Spiritual Canticle by St. John of the Cross were works that influenced me tremendously early on.

I did my Master’s Thesis on St. Augustine [author of City of God and Confessions]. His sermons and commentaries on the psalms are profound and beautiful. There are more, but I believe these were the most influential works.

RV: Can you recommend some of the most important modern books on theology that you have liked?

DMc: A friend of mine gave me a gift on the occasion of my Ordination to the Diaconate. It was a bag of three books.

One of them was a book by Caryll Houselander. I’d never heard of her before. So I decided to read it during Advent. I’m glad I did, because I am absolutely captivated by her theological writings.

She was not formally trained in theology, she died at the age of 52, she was an artist, and yet I can’t think of a theologian in the 20th century that can hold a candle to her. I am deeply inspired by her writings, especially in connection with my ministry to those who suffer from mental illness.

She is one of the greatest mystics of the 20th century, without a doubt. I’d recommend her great work The Reed of God, or This War is the Passion, or Wood of the Cradle.

Another great modern theologian is Francois Xavier Durrwell, C.SS.R. I’d recommend In the Redeeming Christ, or The Resurrection.

Anything by Pope Benedict XVI will be fabulous, as well as anything by Pope John Paul II, or Cardinal DeLubac.

Jacques Maritain, who I’d argue is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, wrote a great theological work entitled The Church of Christ.

RV: On your website you mention several novels you could recommend, like Viper’s Tangle by Francoise Mauriac, as well as some Russian classics. I was wondering if you could say a bit about what you liked about some or all of these books.

DMc: Actually I haven’t read all of them. A student of mine asked for a list of some of the great novels of the last century, so I called my good friend, the one who gave me my first Houselander book, and asked him to give me a list of the best novels in the 20th century. He has a very good mind, and a very literary one, and so he provided me with those names.

I’ve read the Mark Twain novels on that list, as well as the Graham Greene, Dickens, and Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Walker Percy. I love Mark Twain, because he brings me back to the child that I still am and have been called to be.

RV: What are some of your plans?

DMc: My plans are to continue ministering as a Deacon to those who suffer from mental illness, and to continue to paint for charity, especially for Aid to Women.

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