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Key scholars and synoptic links

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Plato and Augustine

Synoptic links: Plato, Mindy, Body, Soul and Life after Death

Plato views that beyond the world that we can perceive, there is a truer reality, an immaterial, perfect world of forms. This prefigures Christianity's idea of heaven as a perfect world.

On Plato's influence on Augustine, including some important ways that Augustine departs from Plato and the Neoplatonists, read this article.

The other synoptic link to draw is between Plato, his view of the soul, and the afterlife topic in DCT. Plato argues in his cyclical or opposites argument that just as the body is mortal and is subject to death, the soul must be its opposite and so is imperishable.

Further reading.

Augustine's influence on Protestant Reformation

Synoptic links: Augustine on Human Nature, Knowledge of God, Pluralism and Theology, Life after Death

Augustine develops the doctrine of Original Sin. 

If human's are corrupted by original sin, it follows that humans are incapable of gaining salvation through their own deeds, but by God's grace alone. This idea of salvation through grace can be used to support exclusivism in the 'Pluralism and Theology' unit.

The corruption in human reasoning is also taken by some Protestant thinkers to argue that knowledge of God can only come through revelation in the 'Knowledge of God' unit.

Augustine's view of predestination also bares an influence on Calvin's thought. For discussion on Augustine's influence on Calvin see this article.

Synoptic links: Aquinas and Aristotle

Linking Natural Law, Conscience and Human Nature, Knowledge of God, Aristotle, Sexual Ethics, Metaethics

Aquinas is one of the key figures of Scholasticism, a medieval intellectual movement that attempted to harmonise philosophy, in particular Aristotolianism with Christian Theology. Aquinas takes Aristotle's idea of linking human flourishing with fulfilling our telos but combines it with the Christian teaching of God.

From Aristotle's teleological approach, Aquinas develops a deontological theory, Natural Law Theory, which has influenced Catholic teaching. This is especially apparent in the Sexual Ethics unit: if the purpose of sex is reproduction, it follows that contraception and homosexuality are wrong. This of course can be disputed.

The four tiers of law (Eternal, Divine, Natural, Human) can be used to support both natural theology and revealed theology. Natural Law supports the idea that we can use reasoning to understand God, whereas the divine law supports idea of God's revelation.

While accepting the Fall, Aquinas argues that humans are naturally inclined towards the good (synderesis) and are capable of using reason to work out the right thing to do. This makes an interesting contrast with Augustine. 

David Hume's scepticism

Synoptic links: The Teleological Argument, The Problem of Evil, Religious Experience, Jesus Christ.

David Hume is an empiricist and central Enlightenment figure, who challenges the cosmological argument, the teleological argument and the possibility of miracles.

For example, Hume writes: "The world, for aught he knows, is very faulty and imperfect, compared to a superior standard; and was only the first rude essay of some infant deity who afterwards abandoned it, ashamed of his lame performance: It is the work only of some dependent, inferior deity, and is the object of derision to his superiors."

In other words, drawing an analogy with a house, even if the world has a designer, the faulty design of the world suggests an imperfect designer, very different to omnipotent and benevolent God envisaged by the Christians. Evil and suffering could be taken to be examples of bad design. Further reading

Freud's Psychoanalytic approach

Synoptic links: Secularism, Religious Experience, Conscience, Metaethics 

Freud's critique of religion appears in quite a few units. He sees God as an illusion, based on the helpless infant's desire for a father figure. Religion is a neurosis. In 1930 he wrote:

“It is asserted, however, that each one of us behaves in some one respect like a paranoiac, corrects some aspect of the world which is unbearable to him by the construction of a wish and introduces this delusion into reality. A special importance attaches to the case in which this attempt to procure a certainty of happiness and a protection against suffering through a delusional remoulding of reality is made by a considerable number of people in common. The religions of mankind must be classed among the mass-delusions of this kind.”


Heraclitus (b. c.535 – d. c.475 BC)

Modules: Ancient Greek Influences

Parmenides (fl. 475 BC)

Modules: Ancient Greek Influences

Socrates (b. c.470 – d. 399 BC)
Modules: Ancient Greek Influences

Plato (b. 428/427 or 424/423 – d. 348/347 BC)
Modules: Ancient Greek Influences, Mind, Body, Soul

Aristotle (b. 384 - d. 322 BC)
Modules: Ancient Greek Influences, Mind, Body, Soul


Philo (b. c.20 BC – d. AD 50)

Modules: Religious Language


THE PATRISTIC AGE (c. 100-c.700)

This is the period from the closing of the New Testament writings to the Council of Chalcedon. In the beginning of this period the question of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism came under debate, including questions such as whether non-Jewish/Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised, whether they needed to observe the Jewish food laws and how the Old Testament should be interpreted. As Christianity came under persecution from the Romans, in the second century we see the emergence of apologetics. In this period we see scholars such as Irenaeus of Lyons (c. 130-202) and Origen (c. 185- c. 254) (Unit 1.7 Theodicy). 

In the fourth century the fortunes of Christians markedly change. While the faith of Constantine is under considerable academic debate, what is known is that he ushers in a period of toleration and later privileging of Christianity within the Roman Empire. In 313 he issues the Edict of Milan, a decree of toleration that ended persecution against the Christians. A little over a decade later he hosted the Council of Nicaea (325). This was the first ecumenical council inviting every bishop in the Christian world and was an attempt to prevent schism and settle the debate on the status and identity of Jesus Christ (Unit 3.4 Jesus Christ). It was determined that Jesus was of one substance (homoousios) with God. 


Arguably the most important theologian of this period, especially in the west, was the north African bishop, Augustine of Hippo (354 - 430). He made contributions on the doctrine of church and sacraments in response to the Dontasist controversy, the doctrine of grace, in response to the Pelagian controversy and the doctrine of the Trinity (Unit 3.1 Augustine on Human Nature). Pelagius (354 – 418) argued that humans must follow the laws of the Old Testament and the example of Christ to strive for improvement. His followers argued that salvation could be achieved through good deeds. Augustine argued strongly against this and that salvation can only be achieved through God's grace alone.

Irenaeus (b. c.130 - d. c.202)

Modules: Problem of Evil, Death and Afterlife

Origen (b. 184 - d. c. 253)

Modules: Afterlife

Plotinus (b. 204/5 - d. 270)

Modules: Religious Language

Boëthius (b. c.477 - d. 524)
Modules: Attributes of God

Pseudo-Dionysios (fl. ca. 500)
Modules: Religious Language, Religious Experience

Pelagius (b. 354- d. 418)
Modules: Human Nature

Augustine (b. 354 - d. 430)
Modules: Problem of Evil, Human Nature, Conscience, Sexual Ethics, Death and Afterlife, Attributes of God



The Middle Ages saw the collapse of the western Roman empire, though the Roman empire survived in the east, with its capital, Constantinople. The divergence of the Latin West and Greek-speaking Byzantine East led to the Great Schism in 1053. As a result, there was little theological interaction between east and west.

One movement that emerges in the west in the 13th century is scholasticism which attempted to harmonise Christianity with late antique philosophy, especially Aristotelianism. Chief amongst the scholatistics was Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Amongst his significant contributions are his Five Ways for the existence of God (Unit 1.3 Cosmological and Teleological Arguments), the principles of analogy (Unit 1.7 Religious Language) and the relationship between faith and reason (Unit 3.3 Knowledge of God). 

Anselm of Canterbury (b. 1033 - d. 1109)
Modules: Ontological Argument, Attributes of God

Maimonides (b. 1135 - d. 1204)
Modules: Religious Language

Albert the Great (b. c. 1193- d. 1280)

Modules: Conscience

Thomas Aquinas (b. 1225 - d. 1274)
Modules: Cosmological Argument, Teleological Argument, Conscience, Natural Law Theory, Knowledge of God, Sexual Ethics, Death and Afterlife, Attributes of God


Dante Alighieri (b. 1265 - d. 1321)

Modules: Afterlife



The Reformation saw the Protestant church splinter off. Martin Luther (1483-1546), came to attention in 1517 by posting the 'Ninety-Five Theses' attacking the Catholic Church's practice of selling indulgences. He argued for reform in the church, for the primacy of the Bible over the church and developed the concept of justification by faith (Unit 3.2 Afterlife, Unit 3.5 Moral Principles). John Calvin (1509-1564) is another central Protestant scholar in this period, who helped to popularise the doctrine of predestination (Unit 3.2 Afterlife, Unit 3.5 Moral Principles).

Martin Luther (b. 1483 - d. 1546)
Modules: Knowledge of God, Death and Afterlife

John Calvin (b. 1509 - d. 1564)
Modules: Knowledge of God, Death and Afterlife

Rene Descartes (b. 1596 - d. 1650)
Modules: Mind, Body, Soul, Attributes of God


THE MODERN PERIOD (c. 1750- Today)

The Enlightenment was an intellectual movement that emphasised human reasoning. One of the leading Enlightenment philosophers who features heavily in this course is the Scottish empiricist David Hume (1711-1776) (Unit 1.3 Cosmological and Teleological Arguments). These Enlightenment scholars attacked many areas of Christian theology, including the notion of revelation (Unit 3.3 Knowledge of God), the doctrine of the Trinity, the possibility of miracles (Unit 1.4 Religious Experience, Unit 3.4 Jesus Christ) and the notion of original sin (Unit 3.1 Augustine on Human Nature). The problem of evil became understood as a serious challenge to Christianity, and it is in this period that the term theodicy is coined by German philosopher Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716).

An important movement to arise in this period is Liberal Protestant theology, associated with scholars such as Schleiermacher (1768-1834) and Paul Tillich (1886-1965) (Unit 1.7 Religious Language). They tried to make Christianity relevant by appealing to common human experiences, and abandoning some doctrines, which were seen as outdated, such as original sin, while reinterpreting others, such as the nature of Christ, so it was more consistent with the modern world. After the horror of the First World War, some theologians became disillusioned with liberalism and its optimistic view of humanity. A contrasting movement, Neorthodoxy, associated with Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Reinhold Niebhur (1892-1971), emphasised the transcendence and otherness of God, and a return to the appeal in revelation (Unit 3.3 Knowledge of God).

The 20th century has seen the continued global expansion of Christianity. Scholars such as Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010) have responded to the need for inter-faith dialogue and made contributions to comparative theology (Unit 3.7 Pluralism). In Latin America, in response to oppressive governments and massive inequality, Liberation Theology emerged, emphasising orthopraxis over belief, and reading the Bible and Christ's ministry through the lens of the experience of the poor and the oppressed (Unit 3.12 Liberation Theology). Another strand, spurned especially after the Second World War, has been the growth of feminism, a movement that advocates for the emancipation of women and gender equality. Feminist theologians such as Mary Daly (1928-2010) have argued that Christianity needs to be abandoned, whereas others such as Rosemary Radford Ruether (1936- ) have advanced a theology of reform (Unit 3.9 Gender and Theology).


David Hume (b. 1711 - d. 1776)
Modules: Cosmological Argument, Death and Afterlife, Jesus Christ, Religious Experience, Religious Language

Immanuel Kant (b. 1724 - d. 1804)
Modules: Kantian Ethics


William Paley (b. 1743 - d. 1805)
Modules: Teleological Argument, Knowledge of God

Jeremy Bentham (b. 1748 - d. 1832)
Modules: Utilitarianism

Schleiermacher (b. 1766 - d. 1834)
Modules: Attributes of God

John Stuart Mill (b. 1806 - d. 1873)
Modules: Utilitarianism

Karl Marx (b. 1818 - d. 1883)
Modules: Liberation Theology

William James (b. 1842 - d. 1910)
Modules: Religious Experience

Francis Herbert Bradley (b. 1846 - d. 1924)
Modules: Metaethics

Sigmund Freud (b. 1856 - d. 1939)
Modules: Conscience, Religious Experience, Secularism 

Bertrand Russell (b. 1872 - d. 1970)
Modules: Cosmological Argument, Secularism

Karl Barth (b. 1886 - d. 1968)
Modules: Pluralism and Theology, Death and Afterlife, Knowledge of God

Paul Tillich (b. 1886 - d. 1965)
Modules: Situation Ethics, Religious Language, Christian Moral Principles

H.A. Pritchard (b. 1871 - d. 1947)
Modules: Metaethics

George Edward Moore (b. 1873 - d. 1958)
Modules: Metaethics

W.D. Ross (b. 1877 - d. 1971)
Modules: Deontological Ethics, Metaethics

Hendrik Kraemar (b. 1888 - d. 1965)
Modules: Pluralism and Theology

Ludwig Wittgenstein (b. 1889 - d. 1951)
Modules: Religious Language

Charles Hartshorne (b. 1897 - d. 2000)
Modules: Attributes of God

Gilbert Ryle (b. 1900 - d. 1976)
Modules: Mind, Body, Soul 

Karl Rahner (b. 1904 - d. 1984)
Modules: Pluralism and Theology

Joseph Fletcher (b. 1905 - d. 1991)
Modules: Situation Ethics

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (b. 1906 - d. 1945)
Modules: Moral Action

Frederick Copleston (b. 1907 - d. 1994)
Modules: Teleological Argument

Simone de Beauvoir (b. 1908 - d. 1986)
Modules: Gender and Society

C. L. Stevenson (b. 1908 - d. 1979)
Modules: Metaethics 

A. J. Ayer (b. 1910 - d. 1989)
Modules: Religious language

Ian Ramsey (b. 1915 - d. 1972)
Modules: Religious Language

Basil Mitchell (b. 1917 - d. 2011)
Modules: Religious Language

Raimon Panikkar (b. 1918 - d. 2010)
Modules: Pluralism

John Macquarrie (b. 1919 - d. 2007)
Modules: Attributes of God

R. M. Hare (b. 1919 - d. 2002)
Modules: Religious Language

John Paul II (b. 1920 - d. 2005)
Modules: Pluralism and Society, Gender and Society, Liberation Theology

Philippa Foot (b. 1920 - d. 2010)
Modules: Metaethics

John Hick (b. 1922 - d. 2012)
Modules: Pluralism, Jesus Christ, Death and Afterlife, Theodicy

Antony Flew (b. 1923 - d. 2010)
Modules: Religious Language

Pope Benedict (b. 1927)

Modules: Gender and Society, Liberation Theology

Gustavo Gutiérrez (b. 1928)
Modules: Liberation Theology

Mary Daly (b. 1928- d. 2010)
Modules: Feminism and Theology

Richard Swinburne (b. 1934)
Modules: Religious Experience, Knowledge of God, Attributes of God

Rosemary Radford Ruether (b. 1936)
Modules: Feminism and Theology

E. P. Sanders (b. 1937)
Modules: Jesus Christ

Elisabeth Fiorenza (b. 1938)
Modules: Feminism and Theology

Leonardo Boff (b. 1938)
Modules: Liberation Theology

Richard Mouw (b. 1940)
Modules: Moral Principles

Richard Dawkins (b. 1941)
Modules: Mind, Body, Soul, Secularism, Afterlife, Knowledge of God, Augustine on Human Nature

Gerald O'Collins (b. 1942)
Modules: Jesus Christ

Peter Vardy (b. 1945)
Modules: Attributes of God

Peter Singer (b. 1946)
Modules: Utilitarianism

N.T. Wright (b. 1948)
Modules: Jesus Christ

Simon Chan
Modules: Feminism and Theology

Reza Aslan (b. 1972)
Modules: Jesus Christ


McGrath, A. 2016. Christian Theology: An Introduction. (Wiley-Blackwell: USA).

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