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Theology in Practice is the spiritual testament of two Cistercian priests

The late Fr. Roch Kereszty and Fr. Denis Farkasfalvy, says Fr. Thomas Esposito, “would agree that theology is not a dry academic discipline; it can only be done properly when one also kneels before the mystery of God’s love poured out for us in Christ.”

Detail from "Saint Francis in Prayer" (c. 1610) by Caravaggio (Image:

Theology is, as the name suggests, the study of God. St. Anselm of Canterbury described the theological pursuits as Fides quaerens intellectum, or “faith seeking understanding”. We are called not just to love God, but to know Him. Real love seeks a closeness and knowledge of the beloved, and this is theology.

Two Cistercian priests—longtime friends and brothers in religious life—recently wrote a book that serves as a guide to those who are newly undertaking the theological pursuit. Fr. Roch Kereszty and Fr. Denis Farkasfalvy are the authors of Theology in Practice: A Beginner’s Guide to the Spiritual Life (Ignatius Press, 2023).

The book emphasizes that theology is not a purely intellectual, or a purely academic, discipline, only for the intellectual elite; rather, the authors show that theological study and human experience go hand in hand, and that such study is something we are all called to.

Sadly, both Fr. Roch and Fr. Denis died before the book was published. Fr. Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., was a close friend of and collaborator with Fr. Denis and Fr. Roch. A scholar himself, Fr. Esposito is an Assistant Professor in the Master of Divinity program at the University of Dallas, and he helped shepherd the book to the finish line in the authors’ last days.

Fr. Esposito recently spoke with Catholic World Report about this new book, and the importance of the theological pursuit.

CWR: How did the book come about? And what was your role in its development?

Fr. Thomas Esposito: The book is the fruit of a decades-long collaboration between Fr. Roch and Fr. Denis. Both men played significant roles in the life of our Cistercian Abbey; Fr. Denis was Abbot from 1988-2012, and Fr. Roch was Novice Master from 1975-2012.

The basis of the book is the manuscript they wrote for a “Spiritual Theology” class given to Cistercian novices in our community. Father Roch taught the course, and over the years he edited and expanded various sections. After Fr. Denis’ death in 2020, Fr. Roch decided to offer the novice course in book form to the public.

My role in the development of the book was quite limited, aside from reading the manuscript in 2005 as a novice. I also helped Fr. Roch choose the book cover in his final days; he passed away on December 14, 2022.

CWR: How did you know Fr. Roch and Fr. Denis?

Fr. Esposito: I am a member of Our Lady of Dallas Cistercian Abbey. I joined in 2005; my vocation to the Abbey was nurtured by Abbot Denis, to whom I went for spiritual direction as a college student. Fr. Roch was my novice master, and I immediately found in him a spiritual father and friend.

Both men taught me graduate courses in theology, and encouraged me to continue my biblical studies in Rome. Father Roch loved to inquire about what I was reading, and he playfully pestered me to publish; he enjoyed the title of “gadfly” that I bestowed upon him!

CWR: The book’s subtitle is “A Beginner’s Guide to the Spiritual Life”. How is it a beginner’s guide? In other words, what benefits does the book have for a beginner?

Fr. Esposito: A “beginner” is not necessarily an utterly ignorant person; if you believe St. Benedict and St. Thomas Aquinas, both the Rule and the Summa Theologiae were written “for beginners”.

I think that this “Beginner’s Guide to the Spiritual Life” is meant for those who seek to know the roots of the Christian life and to be refreshed at the source of our being. The book, then, is appropriate both for a seasoned monk and a young person interested in a deeper prayer life and experience of God.

CWR: Many people see theology as a purely academic discipline, something lofty that the average person can’t do. How does this book respond to that concern?

Fr. Esposito: Scholars who treat theology as a purely academic discipline do a disservice to the living tradition of theological inquiry; they drain the vital sap of theology from the nourishing tree that has grown beautiful branches over the centuries!

Fr. Denis and Fr. Roch always had in view the personal dimension of theology; by that I mean that they wanted to share the fruits of their study and prayer with their students, fellow monks, and others who came to them for spiritual counsel. Their monastic duties prevented them from devoting themselves to teaching theology full-time at the university level, and that allowed them to focus on the needs of individual men and women when teaching and writing.

Both of them, I think, would agree that theology is not a dry academic discipline; it can only be done properly when one also kneels before the mystery of God’s love poured out for us in Christ.

CWR: Theology in Practice—so, is theology something that can be done and lived, rather than a purely intellectual pursuit?

Fr. Esposito: Precisely. Pope Benedict XVI reiterated the need to regard God as both the object and the living subject of theology. We do not, in other words, simply study God or Scripture or Christian doctrine as historical artifacts, but rather as a word spoken to us in human history that demands our response today. In the monastic life, that response is the life of prayer centered on the chanting of the Psalms, as well as our daily work that gives us the privilege of glorifying God in all that we say and do. Both Fr. Roch and Fr. Denis instilled in their monks the need to study as one lives: preferring nothing else to Christ.

CWR: What is at the heart of theology?

Fr. Esposito: The heart of theology is the heart of the risen Lord. The mystery of God’s love, communicated to us in human history and human language, invites us to respond to this fascinating call to participate in the divine life that Christ prepares for us.

Theology in the heart of the Church, then, allows us to see the life of virtue, prayer, and study as essential to one’s relationship to God and the building up of the Body of Christ.

CWR: What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

Fr. Esposito: I hope that readers will find and cherish the wisdom of two venerable monks, theologians, and friends. This book is literally the last word of Fr. Roch and Fr. Denis, which makes it a spiritual testament.

In that light, I also hope that readers will find encouragement as they seek the face of the Lord, seeing in these two Cistercians a beautiful path of faith, wisdom, and love traced out in writing for others to follow.

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About Paul Senz 127 Articles
Paul Senz has an undergraduate degree from the University of Portland in music and theology and earned a Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry from the same university. He has contributed to Catholic World Report, Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly, The Priest Magazine, National Catholic Register, Catholic Herald, and other outlets. Paul lives in Elk City, OK, with his wife and their four children.

1 Comment

  1. Not simply intellectual. Theology can deepen our knowledge of God, and with that intellectual knowledge we may acquire greater reason to love God.

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