Skip to content

James Dolezal’s Recommended Reading List

In God’s infinite wisdom he chose to give us his inspired and inerrant word in the Holy Scriptures. As a result, Christians throughout the ages have prized literacy and are thus, a people of the book. While Christians are primarily a people of the book, they are also a people of many books. But as the preacher notes, “of the making of books there is no end” (Ecclesiastes 12:12). So how are Christians to decide which books are worth their time? Asking fellow Christians who have read widely and carefully for recommended reading is an excellent place to start.

Credo Fellow James Dolezal recently recommended some helpful books for further reading on medieval scholasticism, particularly highlighting the thought of Thomas Aquinas. If you are looking for some fun reading, here they are:

Aquinas: Summa Theologiae, Questions on God (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy)

Thomas Aquinas (1224/6–1274) was one of the greatest medieval philosophers. His Summa Theologiae is his most important contribution to Christian theology, and one of the main sources for his philosophy. This volume offers most of the Summa’s first 26 questions, including all of those on the existence and nature of God. Based on the 1960 Blackfriars translation, this version has been extensively revised by Brian Davies and also includes an introduction by Brian Leftow which places the questions in their philosophical and historical context. The result is an accessible and up-to-date edition of Aquinas’ thoughts on the nature and existence of God, both of which have continuing relevance for the philosophy of religion and Christian theology.

The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas by Etienne Gilson

In this final edition of his classic study of St. Thomas Aquinas, Etienne Gilson presents the sweeping range and organic unity of Thomistic philosophical thought. The philosophical thinking of Aquinas is the result of reason being challenged to relate to many theological conceptions of the Christian tradition. Gilson carefully reviews how Aquinas grapples with the relation itself of faith and reason and continuing through the existence and nature of God and His creation, the world and its creatures, especially human beings with their power of intellect, will, and moral life. He concludes this study by discussing the life of people in society, along with their purpose and final destiny. Gilson demonstrates that Aquinas drew from a wide spectrum of sources in the development of his thought-from the speculations of the ancient Greeks such as Aristotle, to the Arabic and Jewish philosophers of his time, as well as from Christian writers and scripture. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas offers students of philosophy and medieval studies an insightful introduction to the thought of Aquinas and the Scholastic philosophy of the Middles Ages, insights that are still revelant for today.

The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy by Etienne Gilson

In this book (a translation of his well-known work L’esprit de la philosophie medievale), Etienne Gilson undertakes the task of defining the spirit of mediaeval philosophy. Gilson asks whether we can form the concept of a Christian philosophy and whether mediaeval philosophy is not its most adequate historical expression. He maintains that the spirit of mediaeval philosophy is the spirit of Christianity penetrating the Greek tradition, working within it, and drawing out of it a certain view of the world that is specifically Christian. To support his hypothesis, Gilson examines mediaeval thought in its nascent state, at that precise point where the Judeo-Christian graft was inserted into the Hellenic tradition. Gilson’s demonstration is primarily historical and occasionally theoretical in suggesting how doctrines that satisfied our predecessors for so many centuries may still be found conceivable today.

Thomist Realism and The Critique of Knowledge by Étienne Gilson

The highly regarded French philosopher, Étienne Gilson, brilliantly plumbs the depths of Thomistic Realism, and false Thomisms as well, in this answer to Kantian modernism. The important work, exquisitely translated by Mark Wauck, brings the essential elements of philosophy into view as a cohesive, readily understandable, and erudite structure, and does so rigorously in the best tradition of St. Thomas. Written as the definitive answer to those philosophers who sought to reconcile critical philosophy with scholastic realism, Gilson saw himself as an historian of philosophy whose main task was one of restoration, and principally the restoration of the wisdom of the Common Doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas. Gilson’s thesis was that realism was incompatible with the critical method and that realism, to the extent that it was reflective and aware of its guiding principles, was its own proper method. He gives a masterful account of the various forces that shaped the neo-scholastic revival, but Gilson is concerned with the past only as it sheds light on the present. In addition to his criticisms, Gilson presents a positive exposition of true Thomist realism, revealing the foundation of realism in the unity of the knowing subject.

History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages by Étienne Gilson

“A comprehensive analysis of philosophical thought from the second century to the fifteenth century, from the Greek apologists through Nicholas of Cusa. This work is Gilson’s magnum opus.”

~Journal of the History of Ideas

The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas by John F. Wippel

Written by a highly respected scholar of Thomas Aquinas’s writings, this volume offers a comprehensive presentation of Aquinas’s metaphysical thought. It is based on a thorough examination of his texts organized according to the philosophical order as he himself describes it rather than according to the theological order.

In the introduction and opening chapter, John F. Wippel examines Aquinas’s view on the nature of metaphysics as a philosophical science and the relationship of its subject to divine being. Part One is devoted to his metaphysical analysis of finite being. It considers his views on the problem of the One and the Many in the order of being, and includes his debt to Parmenides in formulating this problem and his application of analogy to finite being. Subsequent chapters are devoted to participation in being, the composition of essence and esse in finite beings, and his appeal to a kind of relative nonbeing in resolving the problem of the One and the Many.

Part Two concentrates on Aquinas’s views on the essential structure of finite being, and treats substance-accident composition and related issues, including, among others, the relationship between the soul and its powers and unicity of substantial form. It then considers his understanding of matter-form composition of corporeal beings and their individuation. Part Three explores Aquinas’s philosophical discussion of divine being, his denial that God’s existence is self-evident, and his presentation of arguments for the existence of God, first in earlier writings and then in the “Five Ways” of his Summa theologiae. A separate chapter is devoted to his views on quidditative and analogical knowledge of God. The concluding chapter revisits certain issues concerning finite being under the assumption that God’s existence has now been established.

Mediæval Reactions to the Encounter Between Faith and Reason by John F. Wippel

“The distinction between faith and reason was not an original discovery on the part of the thirteenth century. It is already present in some of the Fathers of the Church, especially so in St. Augustine. While Augustine was interested in constructing what might best called a Christian wisdom rather than any kind of separate philosophy, he was quite familiar with and well-versed in philosophical thinking, especially in Neoplatonism. For his appreciation of the distinction between understanding or proving something on purely rational or philosophical grounds and believing it on divine authority, one may turn to Bk II of his De libero arbitrio.”

“There, in attempting to buttress the claim that God gave free will to human beings, he raises the issue of God’s existence. At the same time, in this same treatise Augustine had argued that it is one thing for us to believe that God exists on the authority of Scripture. It is something else for us to know and to understand what we believe. “Unless believing is different from understanding, and unless we first believe the great and divine thing that we desire to understand, the prophet has said in vain: ‘Unless you believe, you shall not understand.’” As a consequence, we find in Augustine strong support for a position adopted many centuries later by St. Anselm of Canterbury-Unless you believe, you will not understand.”

Thus Professor John Wippel opens his clear and engaging discussion of the relations between believing and understanding, showing the deep roots of this experience as developed in mediæval philosophy and theology.

Credo Editors

This article is brought to you by the Credo Editors

Back to Top