Scola is the author of numerous theological and pedagogical works on topics such as bio-medical ethics, theological anthropology, human sexuality and marriage and the family, which have been translated into several different languages. In addition, he is the author of more than 120 articles published in scholarly journals of philosophy and theology. He inaugurated the Studium Generale Marcianum, an academic institute, and the journal Oasis, published in Italian, English, French, Arabic and Urdu as an outreach to Christians in the Muslim world.
He studied philosophy at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan from 1964 to 1967, obtaining his doctorate with a dissertation on Christian philosophy. During this time served as Vice-President and thereafter President of the Milanese diocesan chapter of FUCI (Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana, the university student wing of Catholic Action.
Following study at the Saronno and Venegono seminaries in Milan, Scola was ordained to the priesthood on July 18, 1970 in Teramo by Bishop Abele Conigli of Teramo-Atri. He subsequently attained a second doctorate in theology from the University of Fribourg in Switzerland. He wrote his dissertation on St. Thomas Aquinas. An active collaborator in the Comunione e Liberazione (Communion and Liberation) movement from the early 1970s, Scola collaborated in the founding of the journal Communio with Henri de Lubac and Hans Urs von Balthasar (and conducted book-length interviews with them both).
After periods of study in Munich and Paris and time spent in pastoral work Scola returned to Fribourg to work as research assistant to the chair of political philosophy at Friburg from 1979 and thereafter Assistant Professor of Fundamental Moral Theology, a position he held until 1982 when he was appointed Professor of Theological Anthropology at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome and Professor of Contemporary Christology at the Pontifical Lateran University. From 1986 to 1991 Scola served the Roman Curia as consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At the various institutes where he taught he promoted the establishment of bursaries to enable foreign students, particularly those from poorer countries, to study in Italy.
Scola subsequently resigned as bishop of Grosseto to serve as rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome and President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Rome, with a term spent as visiting professor at the counterpart Institute in Washington, D.C., during which time he wrote a monograph on the theology of von Balthasar. From 1995 until the death of John Paul II in 2005 he was a member of the Congregation for the Clergy. He also served as member of the Episcopal Commission for Catholic Education of the Italian Bishops' Conference and, from 1996, as president of the Committee for Institutes of Religious Studies which addresses questions of the theological formation of the laity in Italy.
From 1996 to 2001 Scola was a member of the Pontifical Council for Health Workers and wrote several texts on issues around health care. In 1996 he was named a consultant to the Pontifical Institute of the Family.
Scola was appointed Patriarch of Venice on 5 January, 2002, elected President of the Bishops’ Conference of the Triveneta region on April 9, 2002 and created Cardinal-Priest of Santi XII Apostoli on October 21, 2003. After the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005, Scola was considered to be among the papabili in the 2005 papal conclave. Srđa Trifković supported him vigorously in Chronicles because he saw him as the only man who might reverse what paleoconservatives see as a the decay of European culture. It is quite probable that Scola's relative youth told against his chances after such a long papacy: the conclave elected Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. Cardinal Scola will be eligible to vote in any future papal conclaves that occur prior to his 80th birthday in 2021.