Catholic Theology

By Tracey Rowland, Bloomsbury T&T Clark, £14.99

Catholic Theology introduces the Catholic tradition by focusing on “foundations, key concepts, eminent thinkers and historical development”. Rowland, one of the finest Catholic theologians writing today, combines fundamental and historical theology, offers a wide range of insights into numerous theologians and movements, and provides an informative tour of the most significant schools of modern theology.

Meant for undergraduate students and study groups, Catholic Theology has plenty of academic qualities, diving into deep waters while employing substantial endnotes and several appendices. But Rowland wears her learning lightly, even when the topics at hand – schools of Thomism, intricate methodologies, gnoseological concupiscence – are dense and demanding. “The best an author can hope to achieve” in such an introductory text, she explains, is to provide “an overview of the most significant approaches and fault lines” and leave readers to “fill in the details and nuances in their studies”.

In September 2014, Rowland was named by Pope Francis to the International Theological Commission (ITC), a body of 30 theologians answering to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is not surprising, then, that the opening chapter on “fundamental issues and building blocks” delves into two ITC documents: “The Unity of the Faith and Theological Pluralism” (1972) and “Theology Today” (2012).

The first principle examined – “The mystery exceeds any system” – is especially important, for it maintains the essential balance and tension between “mystery” and “system”. No theological system can comprehensively explain the mystery of the faith; conversely, doctrine and dogma are indispensable and necessary. A section on the relationship between the Magisterium and theologians sets the stage for the next four chapters.

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