an outline of ascetical theology
according to the english pastoral tradition

an excerpt

Martin Thornton

Authorized Reissue



A Course of Study in Ascetical Theology for Parish Priests and Theological Students of the Anglican Communion

After delivering lectures on this and kindred subjects, I am invariably asked for a "reading list" by those of my audience whose interest has been stirred, or more likely, by those whose politeness and charity wish to give that impression. It is an immensely difficult request: we are not dealing with a "subject" with its own clearly defined literature, but with an approach to theology springing from, and leading back to, prayer. Neither are we dealing with scholars for whom theological study is their main job, but with busy parish priests and students whose burdensome curriculum does not include ascetics as such. This practical point is frequently forgotten by the compilers of such reading lists or courses of study; nothing is more frustrating to serious students and parish priests than to be given prescribed reading at the rate of twenty tomes a month, or to be exhorted to such scholarly ideals of sticking to original sources and eschewing simple commentaries. Since those giving this advice frequently spend their lives writing commentaries, one is forced to wonder what is the point of them all.

The following scheme is an attempt to avoid such impractical ideals. It is, I think, the sort of scheme that a serious reader of this present book—itself no more than an introduction—might naturally compose for himself. Spread over two years, in eight quarterly periods, the scheme suggests ten books to be seriously studied, which is possible to a parish priest giving only five hours a week to it. These books are listed in the first column. Column 2 lists twenty more books which might be "read through" rather than pored over; almost bedside books; or which may be referred to casually at odd free moments. The third column contains a selection of "devotional" books for use in private prayer, which fit in with the reading and which should give a fair picture of English spirituality in action.

My scheme is obviously suggestive: details may vary with personal choice, and it is not meant to be adhered to rigidly. The daily Office is of course assumed, as is meditative use of the Bible throughout. Anyone who finds difficulty with the Office might well bring in some of the Caroline devotional teaching much earlier than the last six months of the two-year period. I have omitted the fundamental "background" books like Harton, Pourrat, and Scaramelli: these might be regarded as general works of reference. I have also kep rather too strictly to the English School: we have seen how St Ignatius Loyola and the Carmelites can be usefully incorporated, while slight acquaintance with, say, the Rhineland Dominicans brings English spirituality into relief by contrast.

I have tried to keep only to books currently in print, and have included devotional books most of which are now available cheaply in paperback form. A few visits to a good theological library, however, would reveal extra riches, particularly in the form of seventeenth-century manuals of private devotion.

If five hours a week of serious study (column 1) are backed up by a similar period of mental prayer or spiritual reading, I think we might have a creative scheme not unduly arduous to the type of reader in mind. Remembering the central speculative-affective synthesis, the main columns also tend to become interchangeable: Anselm and Julian can obviously either be studied or prayed. With a little fluidity and ingenuity it will be found that the four yearly quarters more or less fit with the liturgical season (Advent-Septuagesima, Septuagesima-Easter, Easter-Trinity 10, Trinity 10-Advent). I do not think a parish priest following such a scheme need spend much time on sermon preparation or devotional addresses: nor do I think these would be sub-standard!

My own scheme here appended is neither perfect nor invariable, but as a pattern I hope it may be practical and of use.


St Augustine
An Augustine Synthesis
Przywara and Martindale
A Companion to the Study of St Augustine

Hugh of St Victor
The Divine Love

St Benedict
Regula (with commentary)
Ways of Christian Life, or
Benedictine Monachism
Dom Cuthbert Butler
The Via Vita of St Benedict
Bernard Hayes
St Benedict

William of St Thierry Meditations
Mirror of Faith

The Mystical Theology of St Bernard
Etienne Gilson

St Bernard
On Grace and Freewill
ed. W. Williams
St Bernard
Letters, Sermons

The Cistercian Heritage
Louis Bouyer
St Bernard
On the Love of God
The Steps of Humility

St Aelred
Letter to His Sister
On Jesus at Twelve Years Old

St Anselm
Cur Deus Homo?
St Thomas
Compendium of Theology
ed. Cyril Vollert

Morals and Man
Gerald Vann

St Thomas Aquinas
G.K. Chesterton
St Anselm
Meditations and Letters

William of St Thierry On the Nature and Dignity of Love

Walter Hilton
The Scale of Perfection
The Ancrene Riwle

Richard Rolle

The English Mystical Tradition
M.D. Knowles
St Bonaventure
The Mystical Vine


Minor Works

Walter Hilton
The Scale of Perfection
The Book of Margery Kempe
(commentary Margery Kempe
M. Thornton)
Julian of Norwich
Revelations of Divine Love

The Structure of Caroline Moral Theology
H.R. McAdoo

English Casuistical Divinity
Thomas Wood
Anglican Devotion
C.J. Stranks

More and Cross
Whole Duty of Man

Various 17th-century Prayer Manuals at choice

Christ, The Christian and The Church
E.L. Mascall
Christian Proficiency
M. Thornton

The Vision of God
K.E. Kirk
Anselm at choice

Julian Revelations

Jeremy Taylor
Holy Living

Lancelot Andrewes
Preces Privatae


© Akenside Press and Matthew C. Dallman, 2016. Reissued with permission of Monica Thornton. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, Akenside Press.