Summary of Theology for Beginners by Frank Sheed

The following summary is my poor attempt at condensing Sheed’s fantastic book. Please read his book. It is well worth it. Nevertheless, I enjoy trying to summarize a great theologian who, as Karl Keating said in the introduction, “never composed an incoherent sentence” (2).

Chapter 1: Why study theology?

We study theology because the more we know about God the more reasons and motivation we have to love Him. Theology helps to remove any misunderstandings which impede the way of love and provides new insights to fall deeper in love with the God who is Love.


Chapter 2: Spirit

“In theology, spirit is not only a key word, it is the key word… In theology, we are studying spirit all the time. And the mind with which we are studying is a spirit too” (9).

We begin with our own spirit, the one we know best.

1: Spirit Knows, Loves, Is Powerful

Spirit is the element in us by which we know and love, by which therefore we decide. Our body knows nothing; it loves nothing; it decides nothing. Spirit has power too – it animates the body, without asking the body’s consent (9-10).

2: Spirit Produces What Matter Cannot

To understand what exactly is spirit, we can examine one unique thing it does. It produces ideas.

“If we are continually producing things which have no attribute of matter, it seems reasonable to conclude that there is in us some element which is not matter to produce them. This element we call spirit” (11).

“Our ideas are not material. They have no resemblance to our body. Their resemblance is to our spirit. They have no shape, no size, no color, no weight, no space. Neither has spirit, whose offspring they are. But no one can call it nothing, for it produces thought, and thought is the most powerful thing in the world – unless love is, which spirit also produces” (12).

3: Spirit Is Not in Space

1st point: “A spirit has no parts” (12).

Material things have parts. A part is any element in a being which is not the whole of it. For example, our bodies have parts, each with its own specialized function; it uses its lungs to breathe with, etc. To contrast, spirits have no element in it which is not the whole of it. For example, our souls, which are spirits, have no parts, for each thing the soul does (knows, loves, animates the body) is done by the whole soul.


2nd point: “A being which has no parts does not occupy space” (12).

Anything that you see, anything that occupies space, must have parts because “space is simply what matter spreads its parts in” (13). Since spirit is a being with no parts, it has nothing in common with space; “it is spaceless; it is superior to the need for space” (13).

Example: The power to make judgments

Since we struggle to think of a thing existing if it is not in space (although space is mere emptiness, and emptiness can hardly be essential to existence) and we find it hard to think of a thing acting if it has no parts (although parts are only divisions, and dividedness can hardly be essential for action), our ability to make judgments reveals how we can understand spirits as being spaceless and partless.

When I choose mercy over justice in a given case due to its usefulness, our minds have taken three concepts (mercy, justice, usefulness) together – without any “distance” between these concepts. “This is dependent upon the partlessness of the soul – one single, undivided thinking principle to take hold of and hold in one all the concepts we wish to compare” (14).

4: Spirit Is Always Itself

A spirit cannot be changed into anything else. Whereas material beings can be changed and even destroyed – what has parts can be taken apart – partless beings have permanent holds upon what they are. Our souls, for example, can experience change in relation to other beings – like the death of our physical bodies – but our souls still remain itself, conscious of itself, permanent.


Chapter 3: The Infinite Spirit

1: God Is Infinite Spirit

Whereas as our souls are finite spirits that can, in a limited way, know, love, decide, and act, God is an infinite spirit that is all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful. This leads us to the greatest difference between our spirits and God’s spirit and points also to the primary truth about God – the soul owes its existence to God because God is existence, He has it in His own right. It is his nature to exist.

Question: “Who made God?”

Answer: “If nothing existed except receivers of existence, where would the existence come from? In order than anything may exist, there must be a being which simply has it. God can confer existence upon all other beings, precisely because he has it in his own right. It is his nature to exist. God does not have to receive existence, because he is existence” (18).

2: God Is Omnipresent and Eternal

Question: “Where was God before the universe was created?”

Answer: First, “Where was God” has no application to God at all because “where” means “in what place,” which means “in what location in space” and God, who is a spirit, does not occupy space. Nevertheless, God, who is not in space at all, is everywhere because He is in everything.  Just as the “soul is in every part of my body, not by being spread out so that every bodily part has a little bit of the soul to itself, but because the soul’s life-giving energies pour into every part of the body” (19), so God is in everything because His life-giving power brings everything into existence and keeps it there.   Second, “before the universe was created” has no application to God at all because time is a measurement of change and God is changeless so time has no meaning in relation to Him. We say that God is changeless because He is infinite and holds all perfections in the eternal now. Remember, “eternity does not mean everlasting time… eternity is not time at all. It is God’s total possession of himself” (20).


3: God’s Knowledge, Love, Power

Since God is infinite, there is no distinction between His attributes and Himself: “Whatever God has, he is” (22).

God is all-knowing: “His activity of knowing is both limitless and changeless; he is omniscient” (21).

God is all-loving: “God loves with infinite loving-power: no loss possible, no increase conceivable… this is not stagnation but measureless vitality” (21).


God is all-powerful: “There are no limits to what he can do, no limits to what he can make… He needs no material – he creates” (21).

Question: “Can a God make a weight so heavy that he cannot lift it?”

Answer: God indeed can do all things, but self-contradiction is not a thing. God cannot make a four-sided triangle, because the terms contradict each other and cancel out. Just as a four-sided triangle is meaningless, so too a weight than an almighty Being cannot lift is not a thing at all, it is nothing (20).

Chapter 4: The Blessed Trinity

Three Persons

God is a living God. But what does his life consist of? What does God do with his eternity? He is not infinitely idle; what is his life-work?

To say that he runs our universe is insufficient because running a finite universe could never be the whole life-work of an infinite Being.

Two great operations of spirit – God knows infinitely and loves infinitely. Us finite creatures are no adequate object for infinite love. Christ our Lord revealed to us that there is companionship within the one divine nature – not a number of Gods, but three persons within the one God. It is in the knowledge and love of the three persons that the divine life is lived.

There is a new element of more-than-oneness, which still leaves the oneness utterly perfect. “No one knows the Son but the Father; and no one knows the Father but the Son.” (Mt 11:27, Lk. 10:22). Here are two persons put on one same level. “I and the Father are one.” (Jn 10:30). In St. Matthew’s Gospel, a third is brought in, within the oneness – “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – three persons, but with one name, and therefore one nature.

The Doctrine Outlined

[1] In the one divine nature, there are three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

[2] No one of the persons is either of the others, each is wholly himself.

[3] The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.

[4] They are not three Gods but one God.

We are not saying three equals one, but three persons in one nature.

“What” asks about the nature, “who” asks about the person.

My nature decides what I can do – eat, laugh, think. I cannot lay an egg, because that goes with bird nature. But though it is my nature which decides what actions are possible to me, I do them, I the person; nature is the source of our operations, person does them.

Who are you?”  Each of the three could give his own answer, Father or Son or Spirit.

What are you?” Each could but answer “God,” because each totally possesses the one same divine nature, and nature decides what a being is.

[1] The three persons do not share the divine nature; it can be possessed only in its totality.

[2] The three persons are distinct, but not separate.


Chapter 5- The Three Persons

Father and Son

The Heavenly Father has a Son.

A son is a distinct person from his father; they is no way in which a father can be his own son. But though they are distinct persons, they are like in nature – the son of a man is a man, of a lion a lion.

The second person is the Word of the first (read first eighteen verses of the Gospel of John). God has uttered a Word, a Word who is with God (abiding therefore, not passing in the utterance), a Word who is God; by this Word all things were made.

God utters a Word – an idea in his mind – the idea God has of himself. Unlike us, the idea that God has of himself cannot be imperfect. Because God is God, his idea is God.

Since the Father knows and loves; his idea knows and loves. In other words the idea is a person.

Is the second person younger than the first? –> We, as humans, must wait til we develop to the point where we can generate. But God has not to wait for a certain amount of eternity to roll by before he is sufficiently developed. Eternity does not roll by; it is an abiding now; and God has all perfections in their fullness, not needing to develop.

The Holy Spirit

The production of a Second Person does not exhaust the infinite richness of the divine nature. Our Lord tells of a third person – the Holy Spirit.

As we have already seen, there is one huge and instant difference between God’s idea and any idea we may form. His is someone, ours is only something. His is an infinite someone; between thinker and idea there is an infinite dialogue, an infinite interflow, and infinite love with an infinite intensity. It has been revealed to us that this expression is a third divine person.

In the Holy Spirit, Father and Son utter their mutual love. This love is infinite, given totally between Father and Son. As knowing produced the Second Person, loving produced the Third. Therefore, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The word “spirit” for the Holy Spirit is best understood as “breath” (“spirated”) – he is the “breath” or “breathing” of Father and Son.

[1] Love has an effect upon breathing

[2] Close connection between breath and life

Equality in Majesty

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are coeternal.

God cannot will the second person out of existence, any more than he willed him into existence.

There is no element whatever of contingency in the existence of the second person; there is origin but no dependence. God is as necessarily Son as he is Father. Same line of thought with the Holy Spirit. There is no difference among the three in eternity or necessity; and there in no inequality.


The distinction of action among the persons of the Blessed Trinity is a fact of the inner life of God. It is within the divine nature that each lives, knows, loves, as himself, distinct.

There is no external operation of the divine nature which is the work of one person as distinct from the others – the universe is created & sustained, souls are created and sanctified through the Trinity.

Why then is creation appropriated to the one, sanctification to the other?

Appropriation is a constant reminder to us that they are distinct; not only that, it reminds us of the personal character of each – that the Father is Origin, the Son proceeds by the way of Knowledge, the Holy Spirit by the way of Love.



 Chapter 6 – The Human Mind and the Doctrine of the Trinity


The Trinity is not a truth we cannot know anything about, but a truth we cannot know everything about. We cannot know God as he knows himself.

In studying God we begin with darkness, knowing nothing; we progress into light and revel in it, and at last we find ourselves face to face with darkness again, but a very different darkness from the first, a darkness richer than our light. Caligo quaedam lux – the darkness is a kind of light.

Making the doctrine our own

A man with an idea in his head and love in his heart is one man, not three men. God, knowing and loving, is one God – even though the idea produced by his knowledge is a person, and the inward utterance of his love is a person; for as we have seen, the idea remains within the mind that thinks it, the lovingness within the nature that loves.

God’s life consists of the infinite interflow of knowing and loving among three, who are one God.

God is love

God has an adequate object for his infinite loving power. It is only in the interchange of love with an equal that love reaches its height.

Knowledge of the three persons enriches our awareness of what is meant by ourselves being made in God’s image. Man is a social being with community life at his essence. “A community is a number of persons united by agreement about the things they love.” – St. Augustine. “Where each one seeks his rights, there is chaos.” – St Thomas Aquinas. For the secret of the divine community is infinite giving.


Chapter 7 – Creation

Why did God create a universe?  –> God needs no being other than Himself. The short answer is that He created a universe because He knew we would like it. Creation brings Him no gain, but brings us tremendous gain: it means that we are something instead of nothing, with all the possibilities of life and growth and happiness instead of mere blankness of nonentity.

All Things of Nothing

God made us and all things of nothing. By the mere act of his will he made us into something. And the same will that brought us into existence is required to keep us in existence.

Without God All Is Meaningless

If God withdrew his will for our existence, we should be nothing. I do not mean that we should die, I mean that we should be nothing at all.

God is the explanation of everything. Leave out God, then, and you leave out the explanation of everything, you leave everything unexplainable.

You cannot use anything intelligently until you know what it is made for.

How God Created

God simply willed creation. He is omnipotent, limitless in power, and therefore requires neither material to work upon nor any process of manufacture. Creation is “appropriated” to the Father, who within the Blessed Trinity is Origin.


The Fathers and Doctors of the Church never thought of Genesis as giving us a scientific blueprint of creation. Chapter 1 of Genesis was not written until 400 years after Chapter 2 on Adam and Eve and the fall of man. Around 900 BC, Chapter 2 was written, when King Solomon was reigning in Jerusalem. 400-500 years later, the compilation of the books of Moses were written.

Catholics can believe in an immediate creation of the human body from the elements in the earth or in an evolutionary process by which the first human body comes from the earth by way of other animal bodies; but, we must not deny the immediate creation, for the first man and every subsequent man, of the soul. The soul, being a spirit, having no parts, cannot evolve from some lower form; it can exist only if God creates it.

Nor are we forced to choose between evolution and creation. Creation answers the question why does anything exist. Evolution is a theory as to how the universe did develop once it existed.


Chapter 8 – The Nature of Man

Soul and Body

“The Lord formed man of the slime of the earth” – that accounts for his body.

“He breathed into his face the breath of life” – “breath” is the name for the Holy Spirit.

“Let us make man to our image and likeness” – God breathed into man his own image and likeness – a spiritual soul.

Man’s soul, because it is a soul, animates his body, as the soul of a lower animal animates its; but because man’s soul is a spirit, it has the faculties of intellect and will by which it knows and loves as the animal cannot.

The relation of soul and body should not be seen as two separate things, one of which animates the other; but they are combined in one being, man himself.

Two other truths about man – [1] man is a social being – we do not come into existence unless other humans produced us.

God’s Law and Freedom

The second truth is that God’s will is the reason for man’s existence; so God’s will must be the law of his existence. To disobey the law is sin; to think we can gain by disobeying is insanity.

When we learn laws and live according to them we gain freedom. There is no such thing for man as freedom from these laws; there is only freedom within them. We learn the laws of gravity, air-currents, movement of bodies, and at last we can fly in the upper air.

That there are laws applying to man’s soul, moral laws, is just as true. The same God who made the laws of gravity made the laws of justice and purity. We cannot break the laws, but, if we ignore them, they can break us.

Man knows moral laws through [1] witness of his nature & [2] by the teaching of men entitled to speak in the name of God.

[1] Witness of his nature – if we disobey the laws for the running of the car, the engine makes strange noises and at last comes to a stop. If we disobey the laws of the body, we have pain, and ultimately death. The stirring of conscience in the soul is like the strange noises in the engine and the pain in the body; it is a protest against misuse.



A Goal Above Our Nature

Until we reach heaven, we shall not know what heaven is. But, in the inspired word of God, we are given glimpses.

“Here we see through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face.” – 1 Cor 13:12

Seeing is the key to life in heaven – [1] Those is heaven shall see God – our seeing will be direct. [2] We shall see God “face to face,” see him as he sees us. We shall know him, not be means of an idea.

That is why the very essence of the life of heaven is called the Beatific Vision – which means the seeing that causes bliss. Our will, the loving faculty, will be in direct contact with God. So it will be with every one of our powers – energizing at its very fullest upon its supreme object. And that, if you will think about it, is the definition of happiness.

The life of heaven requires powers which by nature we do not possess. If we are to live, we must be given new powers. For heaven our natural life is not sufficient; we need supernatural life. We can have it only be God’s free gift, which is why we call it grace (gratis).

Sanctifying Grace

When we come to die there is only one question that matters – have we sanctifying grace in our souls? If we have, then to heaven we shall go. If we have not, then to heaven we cannot go b/c our souls lack the powers that living in heaven calls for.

It would be no advantage to find a kind gate-keeper if we did not have the powers to live once we got in. We need super-natural life, and we must get it here upon earth. To die lacking it means eternal failure.

Grace: [1] It’s supernatural – wholly above our nature. B/c it’s object is to unite us with God, its called sanctifying grace.  [2] Even the word supernatural does not convey how great a thing it is. It enables us to see God direct.

Giving us this new life, God does not give us a new soul with new faculties. He inserts it, sets it functioning, in the soul we already have. By it our intellect and will are given new powers.

The supernatural life in our souls is a new fact, as real as the natural life we have to start with. The powers it gives are facts too.

Grace is not just a way of saying that a soul is in God’s favor; it is a real life, with its own proper powers, living in the soul; and he who had it is a new man.

In what can God’s indwelling of the soul by grace differ from God’s maintaining us in existence? God’s presence is always there, but His indwelling is by invitation only.

Faith, Hope, and Charity

By sanctifying grace the soul has new powers – the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity; the moral virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The first three are called “theological” b/c they have God not only for their end but also for their object. All our actions should have God for their end or purpose, but they cannot all have God for their object. God is also in a special sense their cause.

The moral virtues have God for their end, but for their object they have created things – how we shall best use these to bring us to God.

Faith is the root of the whole supernatural life. Faith is directed to God as supremely truthful, hope to God as supremely desirable, charity to God as supremely good.

Hope has three elements: it desires final union with God, sees this as difficult, sees it as attainable.

Charity is love of God. And as a necessary consequence love of all that God loves.

Supernatural Habits

Faith, hope, and charity are called habits by theologians. We say that a given habit grows on us. Really it grows in us, becomes second nature. The theological virtues are habits because they are really in our souls, and they enable us to do things which without them would be impossible for us. As natural habits are acquired gradually, supernatural habits are acquired instantly by God. As natural habits are lost gradually, supernaturally habits are lost instantly by one mortal sin against them.

Only charity makes the soul and its habits come alive. That is why “the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Cor 13).



Fall of Angels

God created angels with their natural life, pure spirits knowing and loving, and with supernatural life. And some of them chose self, self as against God. Theologians think it was pride. All sins involve following one’s own desire in place of God’s will, but pride goes all the way, putting oneself in God’s place, making oneself the centre of the universe.

The angels who stayed firm in the love of God were admitted to the Beatific Vision. The rest got what they asked for – separation from God. Unlike men, their choice was final.

Fall of Adam

God created man and woman with the natural life of soul and body, and with sanctifying grace, God dwelling in his soul and pouring supernatural life into it. In addition he gave man pre eternal gifts, not supernatural but rather perfections of the natural – guarding it against destruction or damage. The body was subject to the soul. The natural habits wholly harmonious with the supernatural.

The point of union, for the first man as for all spiritual beings, was in the will, the faculty which loves, which decides. And he willed to break that union. He sinned, disobeying a command of God.

Man fell by the tempting of Satan. And Satan tempted our first parents with the promise that they would be like gods.

Whereas the angels testing had been done on an individual basis; the human race was tested and fell in one man, the representative man. The angelic race could not be tested in an individual angel, for there is no angelic race. Men are related to one another, brought into being by others. Not so with angels. Each is created whole and entire by God.

Results of Adam’s Fall

We are all born with natural life only, without the supernatural life on sanctifying grace.

Original sin is not to be thought of as a stain on the soul, but as the absence of that grace without which we cannot, as we have seen, reach the goal for which God destined man.

And our nature too is not as Adam’s was before he failed the condition, but as it was after.

How to restore a fallen race?

Four thousand years ago, the plan of redemption suddenly seems to take shape – at least to our eyes. God spoke to Abraham: his children were to be God’s chosen people. One nation bore mankind’s hopes, proclaiming that God is one; and of them was to be born the Saviour of the world.


The Redeemer

God Became Man

To effect the redemption of the world, God became man. The second person of the Trinity, the Son, the Word, became man.

The order of the universe, as a work of wisdom, is appropriated by the Son. The order had been wrecked, and a new order must be made; it was the Son who made it. To make it, he became man.

The first step is to pierce as deep as we may into the being of Christ Our Lord. And for this we must read the Gospels – as though we had never read them before, as though we had never heard the story before.

Our Lord as We Meet Him

We must read, then, with the determination to meet Our Lord for ourselves, as he is. To become aware of the double stream of both word and action as man and other times as more than man – things that only God could do.

He brings them to the point where they tell him – to Peter’s “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt 16:16).

Christ: God and Man

Understanding what Christ is – is essential to understanding what He does. 

The nature anything has decides what it is. Nature, though it answers the question what, does not answer the question who. 

Nature decides what a being can do; but the person does it.

Because Christ Our Lord, uniquely, had two natures, he could give two answers to the question “What are you?” – for nature decides what a person is. And he had two distinct principles, source we may say, of action. By the one nature he could do all that goes with being God – he could read the heart of man, for instance; he could raise Lazarus to life. By the other he could do all that belongs to being man – he could be born of a mother, could hunger and thirst, could suffer, could die.

But whether he was doing the things of God or the things of man, it was always the person who did them.

Mary was the mother of God – our Blessed Lady did exist before the second person of the Trinity was born into human nature; the Son already existed in his divine nature.

God died upon the Cross – God the Son, in his human nature, died upon the cross. And in his human nature God the Son rose from the dead.

The Manhood

The second person of the Trinity became man and is man in heaven and everlastingly.

Although he did not sin, sin itself is not a way of defining a man, it is a way of missing manhood. So he was more completely man than we.

As God, Christ our Lord was omniscient, he knew all things, his knowledge was infinite. The person who in one nature knew all things did, in the other nature grow in wisdom (called experimental knowledge).

Jesus had by God’s gift two other ways of knowing: [1] infused knowledge – God forming directly in their minds knowledge needed for the work he had sent them to do; [2] the Beatific Vision – the direct knowledge of God we shall all have in heaven.

How can a person pray, when he is himself God? – When Christ prayed, it was the second person of the Trinity who prayed.  Prayer is the utterance of the finite create to the infinite God. God the Son, taking on a human nature, must utter his nature, uttering its adoration and thanksgiving and petition.

What does a person who is God do with a human soul? Our Lord knew what his soul could do, for he had made this soul, and used every power of the soul to the uttermost of its possibility. He could do all that could be done with his human soul – but not more.


Chapter 12 – Redemption

Suffering and Death

God chose that the sin committed in human nature should be expiated in human nature. The life Christ offered as sacrifice was his human life; an offering of the divine life would have been meaningless.

The suffering was in his soul and body; the death was the separation of his soul and body.

Because Christ was truly man, his sacrifice was truly human, so that it could be set against the sin of the race. But because he was God, his act had an infinite value by which it compensated, outweighed, not only all the sin men ever had committed but all they ever could.

Every act of Christ was infinite in value because he who performed it was God.

Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension

Both the resurrection and ascension belong to the completeness of the sacrifice by which the breach between the race and God was healed, grace was made available in a new abundance and a new richness, heaven was opened to the members of the race.

In the Resurrection, God gives the visible sign that the priest who offered his own body and blood in sacrifice was wholly pleasing to him. In the Ascension God shows visibly that he is actually taking to himself that which has been offered to him.

Truth, Life, Union

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No man comes unto the Father but by me.”

To have found the way is not the end; it is the beginning. The way is not the goal. Only the goal is, for us, permanence; the way may be lost. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12).

As against the danger of losing the way we need truth. As against the danger of falling by the wayside we need life – the life of sanctifying grace.

Through union with Christ, and only so, do men come to that everlasting union with God which is their destiny.

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20). 

Observe how closely this follows the great formula of the Last Supper – truth, life, union. Truth through teaching. Life through baptism, the forgiveness of sins, and provide the Eucharist (Jn 6:54).


Chapter 13 – The Visible Church

The Structure of the Church

Through the Apostles, with Peter as their Rock upon which Christ built his Church, would give Christ’s teachings and life till the end of time.  Although men direct the church here upon earth, it is Christ we join when we join the church. And all gifts come through them, but always from the Holy Spirit.

The Church is Catholic and Apostolic

Catholic, is from a Greek word meaning “universal.” What does universal mean? The word contains two elements – all and one, all in one. One in that the Church would be built upon the Rock. All to encompass: all nations, all doctrines, all ages.

Apostolicity is seen in a variety of ways. First, the unbroken line back to Pentecost. Second, the Church, like the Apostles, teaches and has always taught what Christ taught. Third, the Church teaches as the Apostles taught, that is, with complete authority. Example: Council of Jersualem (Acts 15:28): “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”

As the Church is made by the God who made men, every sort of nation and every sort of man has joined the Church, feeling wholly at home.

The Church is One



  1. Thank you for the summary. I have shared it with my students who are using it to good effect. Did anyone complete beyond chapter 12?

  2. hi im laura wygergangs


  1. […] special gift from God–is what Christians mean by “grace”. (What the Frank Sheed reading, chapters 8 – 10 flesh […]

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