Building on Book 3 of the Dogmatics’s consideration of creation and grace and anticipating Book 5’s treatment of salvation, Book 4 of Scheeben’s Handbook of Catholic Dogmatics presents his theory of sin and its concrete realizations among the angelic order and humankind. Notable is his stress on the character of original sin as an offense against the supernatural order, that is, against our adoptive sonship—and so as the biblical mysterium iniquitatis. Also noteworthy is the nuanced way he handles the relation between sin as a privation of grace and the wounding of human nature, original sin’s hereditary character, and the mysterious nature of angelic sin.
Matthias Joseph Scheeben (1835–1888) was a German priest and scholar whose theology points to the inner coherence of the Christian faith and its supernatural mysteries. Notable in his own time, Scheeben later received praise from Pope Pius XI, who in 1935 encouraged study of the late theologian’s works, reflecting: “The entire theology of Scheeben bears the stamp of a pious ascetical theology.” Hans Urs von Balthasar credited Scheeben as “the greatest German theologian to date.” Scheeben’s works include Nature and Grace, The Mysteries of Christianity, and the unfinished Handbook of Catholic Dogmatics.
“This volume presents for the first time in English one of the most extensive and nuanced presentations of the Catholic Church’s classical doctrine of evil and sin. It is vintage Scheeben—an extensive and thorough ressourcement in the patristic, medieval, and post-Tridentine tradition combined with his own touch of synthetic genius. This work is an indispensable point of reference for contemporary ecumenical dialogue on the complex and controversial topic of original sin as well as for contemporary intra-Catholic reconsiderations of aspects of the doctrine of sin in general and particularly original sin. For a fruitful contemplation of Scheeben’s profound thought on evil and sin, one might study this volume best in conjunction with the Handbook’s Book Three, on creation and grace, in the German original published as one volume.”
Catholic University of America
“I doubt there is a theologian alive today who can match Matthias Scheeben in terms of the breadth of his erudition, knowledge of tradition, and subtlety of mind. In a world that has so often lost its sense of sin, the fourth book of Scheeben’s Handbook of Catholic Dogmatics is an essential resource to help deepen our understanding of the traditional Catholic teaching on sin and its consequences. This book serves as a salutary reminder for each of us of the gravity of our actions, of the malice of which we are capable, and of the absolute necessity for each and every one of us of the healing and elevating grace of Christ.”
Associate Editor of Word on Fire Academic
“Scheeben’s magisterial discussion of sin shows his gifts of dogmatic insight and synthesis in full flower. Sin is treated in full cosmic scope, as a rebellion among angels and humanity that wars against God’s order and purposes. Original sin, the legacy of Adam’s fall, is treated at length, but again in cosmic scope, and the volume turns inexorably back toward the angels, to the figure of the devil, and to the dominion of sin over humanity. In a manner typical of Scheeben, mystery is fundamental throughout this extraordinary treatment and, at its culmination, sin is a mystery of faith, but one known ‘only through knowledge of its mysterious antithesis.’”