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June 19, 2007


Michael Westmoreland-White

Among the ancients, I have to go with Origen (despite his problematic areas) because he really go the theological ball rolling. St. John of Damascus plays a role in the East that is comparable to Augustine's in the West.

I prefer Wesley to Calvin and Menno Simons to either.

Among modern theologians, I think Karl Rahner's shadow is huge among Catholics.

Ben is right to want to include Pannenberg (and wrong to think that Moltmann just writes better).

One has to include Gustavo Gutierrez because of all the many liberation theologies--this changed the very concept of theology's purpose for much of the planet.

Although he was not a dogmatician, I think John Howard Yoder also upset the theological playground like few others.


I think it is far too early to assess Webster and Jenson, and it is really still too early to think about Pannenberg, Moltmann and Torrance in these ways as well. Maybe by the end of our careers such things will have become clear. In any case, they all are vitally important.

I definately agree that Luther and Schleiermacher should be on the list. Athanasius, Nyssa and Nazianzen as well, and perhaps Irenaeus.


What does it mean for ones theology to tower over others? Does it mean, as MWW points out, to get the ball rolling? If so, how big does this ball have to get? Plenty of theologians get movements rolling. Or is it the mass success of their viewpoints over large swaths of time? If this is the case, how can we trace the success we see today back to Calvin specifically or Barth or whoever?


But while we're on the topic, let me point out Christopher Hall's picks in his book "Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers". Not that most people today ever do what his title implies but he lists his Doctor's of the East and Doctor's of the West:

Doctor's of the East:
Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil the Great, and John Chrysostom

Doctor's of the West:
Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great


Recall some of Thomas's contemporaries and near-contemporaries: Albertus Magnus, St. Bonaventure, Henry of Ghent and John Duns Scotus. That's a tough crowd to tower over, even if you are Thomas Aquinas.

Nor did his contemporaries take Thomas as an epochal thinker. (Except, perhaps, for some zealous Dominicans). Several thomistic positions were condemned by the bishop of Paris two years later to the day of Thomas's death. Note also, for example, that when Duns Scotus wants to attack the doctrine of analogy, he chooses to attack Henry of Ghent's formulation of it rather than Thomas's. The judgment of one's contemporaries does not seem like a very good indicator of how history will judge.



Drawing a hard line from Aquinas to Calvin to Barth isn't just narrowing things down to protestantism, but really into a stream within protestantism. Surveying the breadth of protestant theology today, maybe Barth doesn't tower quite so high. Most people I know (especially outside those I met at KCL) were better read in Moltmann than Barth.

For me the jury is still out on Pannenberg. I've read and re-read him quite a bit and still feel that his work is something that people feel they *need* to engage but I'm not sure I see his influence clearly in what I read from others.

In terms of Catholic theology, Rahner is a clear and abiding influence.

andy goodliff

I'll take on board the original list was western theological giants.

People may know Moltmann better, but would Moltmann's theology be what it is without the work Barth did in the first half of the 20th century. Did Barth's theology make possible the theology of Moltmann, Pannenberg and others?

Doug Chaplin

I'm interested that no-one has mentioned St Anselm. I leave aside the enduring brain-numbing ontological argument, which continues to exert both fascination and a kind of "I know that can't be right, but I can't quite define where it's wrong" type of response it still engenders. But I do note that Western theories of atonement owe a great deal to Anselm, and much of the pasionate Reformation and post-reformation debate about them couldn't have happened without his particular articulation of them.


Well I guess every theologian works soil that was turned over by earlier theologians. That said, I think Barth is not that essential to Moltmann who, if anything, draws more deeply and organically from Niebuhr and Tillich. By contrast, I feel that Pannenberg does owe a much heavier debt to Barth.

FWIW, I read a fair bit of both Moltmann and Pannenberg before my first exposure to Barth and re-read them again before my second stab at Barth. In both cases it was Pannenberg that drew back to Barth.

Dan Morehead

I’d take Rahner and von Balthasar over Moltmann, as I generally take Moltmann to be derivative of Barth. I’d even pick Schleiermacher over Calvin. And if this was a sports draft, I might shock all the commentators and go with dark horse pick like Peter Lombard or maybe even John of Damascus.

However, my top 5, if you will (in order of chronology):

1. Augustine
2. Aquinas
3. Schleiermacher
4. Barth
5. von Balthasar

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