The 40 Greatest Theologians Throughout History
Throughout history, there have been a large number of people who have contributed significantly to our understanding of God and how He works. These theologians have shed light on religious and spiritual matters, and even directed the course of human history. Learning about these theologians can be a great way to help you find out more about your own faith.
If you are interested in learning more about theology and spiritual traditions, you can read the words of the great theologians. Often, we focus on Christian theologians, since here in the West Christian theology has had a profound influence on society. This list focuses mostly on great Christian theologians, but also includes some influential non-Christian theologians. Here are 40 great theologians from throughout history:
Early Christian Theologians
Technically, early Christianity is considered as Christianity prior to 325 A.D. However, for the purpose of this list, the theologians included are those up through the Reformation. Early Christian theologians helped shape the course of Christianity for the course of history.
- St. Ignatius of Antioch: Also known as Theophorus is considered on of the Apostolic Fathers, and was the third bishop of Antioch. His letters have been preserved as evidence of early Christian theology.
- Polycarp: Another influential father of Christianity. His exhortations to avoid materialism are considered part of Christian theology, and he was enthusiastic in combating heresies. His martyrdom is considered one of the defining points of Christianity.
- Clement of Alexandria: Clement was known for his combination of Greek philosophical traditions with Christian doctrine.
- Saint Augustine: One of the most authoritative figures in Christian theology is Saint Augustine, who successfully completed the merger of Greek philosophical practice and Judeo-Christian religious traditions. His treatises on authority and other theological issues have influenced Christian tradition for centuries.
- Saint Jerome: Widely considered one of the most learned of church fathers, Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, providing one of the most important texts in the Catholic church.
- Gregory the Great: This pope was very influential as a theologian who revised worship and wrote prolifically about theology and spirituality.
- Bernard of Clairvaux: This advisor to five different popes wrote eloquently about different matters of doctrine, especially on the love of God, and on humility.
- Francis of Assisi: This saint became devoted to austerity after making some wild choices in his youth. He is one of the most well-known theologians, and had much to do with the development different orders within the Catholic church.
The Reformation is generally considered to last from 1517 to 1648. This was a time period marked by transformative theology. Learning about reformation theologians can help you find out more about your faith and spirituality.
- Martin Luther: Many religious scholars pinpoint the beginning of the Reformation from when Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of church. Luther directed religious thought for centuries.
- John Calvin: A French reformist who broke with the Catholic church and helped with Protestant reform efforts, influencing Christian theology and religion.
- John Knox: Brought the Reformation to Scotland, and rose in the ranks of the Church of England, contributing to the Book of Common Prayer.
- Teresa of Avila: This saint reformed Carmelite nuns, and was a prominent theological thinker, and apologist for Catholicism.
- John Hooker: Theologian who was instrumental in bring reason and tolerance to the Church of England. His influence has been felt in Anglicanism for centuries.
- Richard Baxter: One of the leading Puritan theologians, he was a non-conformist who influenced Christianity through his writings and hymns.
- John Milton: His polemic writings have had a great deal of influence on theology, as well as serving under Oliver Cromwell.
- Jacob Boehme: A free thinker whose writings have been theologically influential.
During periods of religious awakening, theologians often appear to provide new insights into theology and other weighty matters of the spirit. The great theologians of the “Awakenings” in 1727, 1792, 1830, 1857, 1882, and 1904, can provide some great insight into the development of religion.
- Jonathan Edwards: One of the most important philosophers and theologians of American revivals, Edwards focused on determination and harmony.
- Charles Wesley: Leader of the Methodist movement, and a theologian with a number of writings, and known for his hymns.
- John Wesley: Like his brother Charles, John Wesley was known as a religious thinker who helped lead the Methodist movement.
- George Whitefield: This revivalist helped bring the Great Awakening to Britain and influential in the evangelical movement.
- William Booth: Founder of the Salvation Army, and a theologian instrumental in providing aid to those who needed it. The Salvation Army is well-known throughout the world.
- Joseph Smith, Jr.: Founder of the Latter-day Saint movement, Smith was known for his new theology for that time. He was inspired by the revivals of the Second Great Awakening.
- William Burt Pope: Theologian focusing on the “big picture” of Christianity, and a linguist who translated different works.
- Soren Kierkegaard: A prominent theologian that focused on the practice of Christianity. Considered one of the first existentialists.
Even today, Christianity is changing. Theologians offer insight into the word of God, and new ideas about religion are always emerging. You can keep up with the latest in understanding religion and God with some of the modern theologians.
- Karl Barth: The father of “neo-orthodoxy” and influential in the movement to reject theological liberalism.
- Gordon Clark: Well-known American philosopher and theologian, his ideas of scripturalism have influenced modern Christian thinking.
- C.S. Lewis: One of the most well-known modern Christian theologians. Also known for his fiction, much of which contains Christian undertones.
- Joseph Ratzinger: The current pope, Benedict XVI, is a well-known academic and theologian who continues to influence the direction of the Catholic church.
- John Stott: A noted leader of the modern evangelical movement worldwide, and a theologian whose writings are influential.
- Albert Schweitzer: Medical missionary and religious philosopher who challenged many commonly held views from skeptics and Christians alike. He was awarded a Nobel prize in philosophy.
- Marilyn McCord Adams: Prominent religious philosopher looking into theology, and teaching philosophy to the next generation of theologians.
- Elizabeth Stuart: A feminist theologist specializing in queer theology.
Other religions have their own theologians as well. If you are interested in understanding the teachings of other spiritual traditions, and if you want to understand other ideas of religion and deity, you can learn from some of these great historical theologians.
- Abraham Joshua Heschel: One of the leading Jewish theologians of the 20th Century.
- Rachel Adler: An influential Jewish theologian, focusing especially on gender issues and Jewish law.
- Prophet Muhammad: The founder of Islam is considered one of the foremost theologians in the world — someone whose view of theology has shaped the world for centuries.
- Leila Ahmed: The first women’s studies professor at Harvard Divinity School, Ahmed is interested in gender studies in Islam.
- Buddha: While possibly not truly a theologian, Buddha’s spiritual teachings nevertheless have influenced millions of people through centuries.
- Ketut Wiana: One of the foremost scholars of Hindu theology in the world today, and an expert Agama Hindu Dharma.
- Baháu’lláh: This Persian nobleman and theologian is the founder of the Baha’i faith — someone who has influenced spiritual thinking for the past 150 years.
- Confucius: While Confucianism doesn’t espouse a specific theology, there are spiritual elements involved, and his thoughts on spirituality, and metaphysics have been influential over thousands of years.