Great Books Graduate Certificate

Great Books Graduate Certificate in Theology

"Catholic education aims not only to communicate facts but also to transmit a coherent, comprehensive vision of life, in the conviction that the truths contained in that vision liberate students in the most profound meaning of human freedom."
— Pope St. John Paul II

Offered by way of a unique collaboration between the Aquinas Institute (AI) and St. Bernard’s, the GBGC provides students with a Graduate Certificate that builds on the rich pedagogy of the AI, which aims "to form a new generation of Catholic theologians and philosophers through direct contact with the sources of Catholic doctrine, faithful to the teaching authority of the hierarchy of the Church, and in a community that has the Incarnate Word of God as its center,” while simultaneously encompassing St. Bernard’s mission of “addressing both the mind and heart in coming to know and love Our Lord and His Church” in the context of graduate education and formation.

This 18-credit Graduate Certificate is comprised of six 3-credit graduate courses in:

  • GB311 – Commentary on the Old Testament
    Thomas Aquinas wrote several commentaries on books of the Old Testament. Each is a treasure trove of the wisdom of Aquinas as well as the Fathers of the Church, in whom Thomas was immersed. Among the texts when have from St. Thomas are his commentaries on the Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and the Book of Job. In this course, the professor will select one or two of these commentaries, and read and discuss the text with the students.
  • GB312 – Commentary on the New Testament
    As a companion to the course on the Old Testament, this course will draw its texts from one of two of the commentaries of St. Thomas on the Gospels of Matthew and John, or from his commentaries on the letters of St. Paul. Filled with dogmatic theology, scriptural insights, and quotations from the Fathers, these commentaries are themselves a lesson in how to approach and think about Sacred Scripture like the saints do.
  • GB321 – Church Fathers
    This course introduces students to some of the most important figures in the history of Christian theology: the Apostolic Fathers Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp, the Latin Fathers Cyprian and Augustine, and the Greek Fathers Gregory Nazianzen, Basil, and Pseudo-Dionysius. Of the vast wealth of patristic literature, these works have been chosen to illuminate the mystery of the one true God, in Trinity of Persons, as the source and exemplar of the one true Church of Christ: one Body with many members, united by a common faith and charity. The Fathers bring out with special clarity the inseparability of theology in its original sense, that is, the doctrine of God (Gregory, Basil, Dionysius); economy or how God works in creation and in each man’s life (Augustine); ecclesiology or how the Church comes from and leads to God (Clement, Ignatius, Cyprian), and morality or the life we should lead in response to God’s gracious revelation. In addition, the study of these authors provides a solid foundation for the more systematic treatment of these topics in St. Thomas’s Summa theologiae.
  • GB331 – Existence and Attributes of God
    In order to understand the mystery of the three Divine Persons, the mystery of creation flowing from the Triune God, and the mystery of salvation in Christ, we must first understand something about God in Himself—the “divine essence”; and to do this requires a careful investigation of the nature and attributes of God such as we can know them. Many ancient and modern errors about the world have come either from the careless application of limited human words and concepts to God, or the transference of divine attributes to created things. In this course, after two classes on the nature of sacred theology (the opening question of the Summa), we will read and discuss the questions in the Summa on the existence of God, His attributes (simplicity, perfection, goodness, infinity, omnipresence, immutability, eternity, unity), His Names, His knowledge and ideas, His life, and His will.
  • GB341 – The Mystery of the Holy Trinity
    The whole of our Christian life is ordered to and sustained by the life of the Most Holy Trinity; this, indeed, is God in His innermost mystery, the unity of Three Persons in one Divine Essence. The two greatest works of Trinitarian theology in the West are St. Augustine’s De Trinitate and St. Thomas Aquinas’s treatise from the Prima Pars of the Summa theologiae, which form the textual basis of the course. The effort to glimpse the infinite mystery of God’s inner life is challenging and rewarding: it calls for a purification of philosophical assumptions and of imaginative patterns of thinking, while relying on the analogy between God and the intellectual creature made to His image and likeness. The course also emphasizes the unity between the processions in God and the missions of the Persons in salvation history.
  • GB351 – The Mystery of the Incarnation
    This course focuses on the Mystery of the Incarnation, as presented by St. Anselm and St. Thomas Aquinas. Through the study of the Christological debates of the early Church and the synthesis of St. Thomas we will ponder the union of two natures in the one person of Jesus Christ, his theandric activity, and his eternal and incarnate being.

One of the unique aspects of this collaborative certificate is its emphasis on both an encounter with primary sources, and the invitation to share these encounters with peers and professors through conversation. As the Aquinas Institute's website so beautifully states, "the best way to join this great conversation is precisely through conversation: real-time back-and-forth with teachers and fellow students. Many minds working on a great text together place that text back in its element as part of an exchange between real people." In this way, direct conversations can be had not only about a primary source, such as Aquinas or Augustine, but with the primary sources themselves: "what a student misses when reading a textbook about Augustine rather than reading Augustine is Augustine himself. A textbook can teach about the great authors, but it can’t give us the authors themselves."


While there are many opportunities to receive a theological, philosophically, and/or liberal arts education in the Great Books tradition at the undergraduate level, there are few – if any – opportunities to do so at the graduate level. This format enables a student to take a specific cluster of graduate, credit-bearing courses for an accredited credential in its own right, while also preparing for the possibility of continuing one’s education and utilizing the credits earned in the Graduate Certificate towards a Master’s degree either immediately or at some point in the future. It will serve well those that wish to pursue education and formation in authentic leisure, just as it will serve well those that are pursing formation for catechetical, diaconal, or priestly ministry.

This partnership program between St. Bernard’s and the Aquinas Institute provides a pathway for students to receive a Great Books and liberal arts education at a distance, through a live online discussion, thus making it accessible to students across the country (and around the world!) through an approach to distance education that features streamlined technology, live class sessions, engaging professors, and expert guest lecturers.


Please contact us to explore financial aid possibilities! We want to offer an excellent opportunity for study and conversation for as affordable a price point as possible. Details on pricing can be found here.