St Thomas' Summa (written for beginners in theology)
- God himself and his creation
- How man returns to God
- Christ, who is God and man, the means of returning to God
The Gospels (written for all)
- The Son is sent by the Father in Spirit
- He reveals by means of words and deeds
- The Paschal Mystery
The Philokalia authors (written for monks seeking perfection)
- The purpose of the Christian life
- The means for attaining it
- Doctrine is introduced as needed
I added the last because it really does seem to be the most practical theology I've ever read, answering the question, "What must I do to see God?" In answering this question, a doctrine about God, angels, and the human person ends up being developed fairly thoroughly. All three of these models involve somehow the key doctrines of the faith and the most important information about how to live. One also sees in them instruction and examples about how to read Scripture (the Gospels interpret the OT). So here's my tentative model that I want to consider more thoroughly:
- Faith--primarily an explanation of the Creed
- Hope--about Heaven, the Kingdom of God, and the Beatitudes
- Charity--an exposition of Christian life
- Prayer--relationship with God
- Fasting--relationship with things
- Almsgiving--relationship with men
- Instruction on how to read Scripture
Faith, hope, and charity are necessary for salvation, so they serve as an excellent model. Hope is a nice transition between pure doctrine and its application to our life, since hope requires that we know what Christ has done for us, and yet this hope allows us to then live according to Christ's teaching.
The division that comes after charity is not some arbitrary one, but is based on the truth that Christian life is not merely following laws, but it involves a greater excellence and true relationship with God. Therefore the life of charity is not fittingly divided into the commandments (although these are certainly part of it!), but better divided into the counsels (which all Christians must follow according to their state) or into the spiritual actions named in Matthew 6. These are related to a far greater perfection, and as long as Christians are only aiming at the "good enough" of the commandments, they will probably not actually succeed in keeping the commandments and even forget the reason for which they tried to in the first place.
Finally the instruction on how to read Scripture could be difficult, but I think it is very important. The Theology Today document pointed to the Word of God as the source of all Catholic theology, and so no one can be a theologian without reading and knowing how to read that great gift from God. It seems especially fitting that a book which intends to teach about God should conclude by pointing to a book far greater than itself and more rich in wisdom and spirit. Perhaps it could be placed within the context of the main divisions, but it seems like more of a really important appendix than something that fits naturally within the main work.
It won't be as thorough as the Summa and it won't be as terse as the Gospels or the Philokalia, but will somehow serve to see theology in one vision and apply it in life. And I probably won't actually get started for a very long time...
St John of Damascus, doctor of the Church, pray for us!