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A Manual of Catholic Theology by Joseph Wilhelm & Thomas B. Scannell

A Manual of Catholic Theology is a two-volume text in English by Joseph Wilhelm & Thomas B. Scannell. The first edition was published in 1899(?). The third edition was published in 1906.

The text is based on and is a condensation of the 7-part Handbuch der katholischen Dogmatik, commonly referred to as “Dogmatik”, by German priest Matthias Joseph Scheeben (b. 1835 – d. 1888).

A Manual of Catholic Theology (Vol. I) by Joseph Wilhelm & Thomas B. Scannell

A Manual of Catholic Theology starts with a 35-page introduction of what theology is, including a brief sketch of the history of theology beginning with the “Patristic Epoch” (basically Early Church). Unlike many introductions, this one is actually informative. It even includes a brief review of the contents of the Summa by St Thomas Aquinas.

Volume 1 contains Book I to Book III. Volume 2 contains Book IV to Book VIII. Both volumes are over 550 pages each. Each of the eight books covers a subject; for example, Book IV covers The Fall.

Most “Books” are divided into “Parts” > “Chapters” > “Sections”. Each section is typically a few pages long and its paragraphs numbered. A few notes are in the margins, the type that read like sub-headings.

The table of contents is comprehensive, listing each section which is numbered. Section numbers are continuous—that is, Chapter 1 contains 6 sections and the first section of Chapter 2 is Section 7, not Section 1—which makes for easier referencing. (Section numbers are continuous even across the volumes.) It is truly organized like a manual.

The text itself, perhaps surprisingly, is not entirely boring even though it is a manual. Some of it is on the dry side. Whilst it certainly does not contain colorful commentary, its arguments and explanations are succinct and mostly not difficult to read.

As already mentioned, each “Book” covers a subject. Typically, the text begins with descriptions or the relevant dogmas if they exist before proceeding with proofs from Scripture and Tradition.

Although terms are defined or explained in the text at some point, it would be much more helpful if each book has a corresponding glossary of terms relevant to the overarching topic of said book at the start. This is the text’s biggest weakness.

Book I: “The Sources of Theological Knowledge” is in two parts. Part I is about Divine Revelation and Part II is about the transmission thereof, including the Catholic versus the protestant view of Scripture. Revelation is the logical starting point since everything is based on assumptions.

Book II: “God” is in two parts. Part I discusses the attributes of God such as the Simplicity of God, the Eternity of God, God, the Objective Truth, amongst others. Part II is about the Trinity, starting with dogma before discussing support from Scripture and Tradition. The text regarding Scriptural support of the Trinity is, as expected, from the New Testament. Whilst the Old Testament is not neglected, there could be more details.

Book III: “Creation and the Supernatural Order” is in two parts. Part I discusses the created universe, including the angels and humanity. It would be nice if the text contains more information about angels. Part II is about the “Supernatural Order” which, amongst other things, discusses grace and its impact on man.

Book IV: “The Fall” is relatively short, containing three chapters. It discusses sin, including the difference between original sin and personal sins, before going on to the fall of the angels, the fall of man and its consequences.

Book V: “Redemption” is in four parts. Part I briefly discusses Old Testament prophecies regarding the Redeemer. Part II discusses the dogma and scriptural material regarding Christ, including elaborating on the Hypostatic Union and the attributes of Christ. Part III examines the function of Christ, including the priesthood for the purposes of sacrifice. Part IV, at under twenty pages, briefly goes through some basic Mariology, including her Immaculate Conception, Perpetual Virginity and Assumption.

Book VI: “Grace” is in three chapters. It first describes what it is—that is, “the Divine gift by which we are led to act”—and then elaborates on “justification” and “predestination”, including discussing heresies and protestant views.

Book VII: “The Church and the Sacraments” is in two parts, both very long. Part I is about the Church. The text first discusses the Church of the Old Testament before going on to the Church of the New Testament, including the Primacy of St Peter and the marks of the Church.

Part II is about the Sacraments, going through the seven in the following order: Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist (and the Mass), Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders and Matrimony. For all these, the text covers support from Scripture and Tradition as well as the effects of the sacrament, the minister and the recipient.

Book VIII: “The Last Things” is relatively short, containing five sections. It goes through scriptural support for the resurrection of the body. It then discusses the Last Judgement, Hell, Purgatory and a few paragraphs regarding Heaven.

Both volumes are freely available for download at


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