The Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,086
    The Fathers of Trent place the Summa of Thomas Aquinas upon an altar with the code of Sacred Scripture and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, thus compelling us to be disciples of St. Thomas Aquinas. Why was he elevated above all other philosophers and theologians?
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  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,282
    Are you asking for historical facts on the matter, theological conjecture, or ....?

    I assume our resident Thomist will weigh in shortly.
    In the mean time, I will offer my own observation.

    Aquinas seems to do for whole of theology what another Thomas apparently hoped to do for the narrow field of political revolution:
    "not to find out new principles, or new arguments, never before thought of . . . but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject, in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent"

    Thanked by 2francis Kathy
  • Oh goody, an opportunity to de-lurk and do my first post here. Briefly, I think Aquinas owes his high status to a combination of the following:

    (a) He is comprehensive. There are few important topics that Thomas does not turn his attention to somewhere in his works.

    (b) He is systematic. Although you might be able to find a few glitches here or there, the different parts of his theology fit together into a coherent whole. Compared to other less systematic theologians, you rarely get that feeling that what he has said on one topic might be inconsistent with dogmatics in some other field.

    (c) He is synthesizing. He has an extraordinary grasp of both the Latin and the Greek theological traditions from previous ages; these strands and carefully woven together into a consistent synthesis. Where he does have to correct a great figure from the past, he does it with the utmost respect.

    (d) His theology is metaphysically well-founded. The perennial philosophy looms large in Thomas’s works. Since much of metaphysics has disappeared down a rabbit hole since the enlightenment, this can make engagement with the modern mind difficult; but on the other hand, once the modern mind has engaged with moderate realism, Thomas’s works gain enormous apologetic power.

    (e) He is scrupulously fair to opposing arguments. He utilizes the medieval form of the disputation to construct his answers in the face of the strongest known counter-arguments to his position. One can never accuse Aquinas of a theological sleight-of-hand.

    (f) He provides an extraordinary balance between the rational and the spiritual. His theological synthesis is simultaneously woven out of hard rational argument and deep spiritual insight. Aquinas does theology, with his brain, whilst on his knees.

    (g) He is dogmatically reliable. Apart from some areas in which there was later dogmatic elucidation, one cannot go wrong in consulting Aquinas for his opinions.

    (h) He wrote some cool hymns.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,086
    Thanks Gregory. Excellent analysis!

    This is one of the questions in my son's home school religion course. The questions were based on this encyclical.

    http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/leo_xiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_04081879_aeterni-patris_en.html
  • Extra credit might be obtained using Pius XI's "Studiorum Ducem" (oddly, not translated into English on the Vatican's website).

    http://www.papalencyclicals.net/Pius11/P11STUDI.HTM

  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    Historically, St; Thomas was in the kind of position that people like Rahner, Schleiermacher, and Ockham were: a place and time when a philosophical heritage became available for the use of theology. Unlike many other theologians, he accomplished a righteous integration in which the new philosophical tools helped form a fresh, new synthesis that not only stayed true to the faith, but made the faith shine forth for his times. He was "the new evangelization" of his times.

    One of the cool things he did was to say something positive about the nature of the Trinity, using Aristotle's idea of real relations. The Trinity is so unlike anything in our experience that usually the most helpful theological expressions are negative in form. God is not complex. God is immortal. Etc. But with the category of relation, something both true and positive can be said.

    The sheer volume and diversity of his works is amazing. He wrote small treatises, huge cosmic treatises, letters of correction or instruction, biblical commentaries, philosophical commentaries, hymns, prayers, and many other types of writings. They say he kept 5 secretaries busy full time at the height of his career, which helps to explain his amazing productivity during the last decade of his life.

    Like Aristotle, Thomas was intent on describing reality. Here is this remarkable real world with real beings in it. What is going on? This simple, almost childlike approach (contrast esp. "constructive" theologies) is perennially useful. It's by nature not-ephemeral.

    Thomas' theology was very positive in tone. He believes that goodness, truth, beauty, and being are all basically identical, but looked at in different ways. God is being in a simple, completely active way, and all other being is derived from him, somewhat like fire comes from fire.

    Charity, according to St. Thomas, is extremely positive. It's not the kind of charity that has to be empty of self-interest in order to be real. Even if it's sacrificial, it's not only good for the person doing it, but also pleasurable and in some sense easy, because of the inclination God gives us to love.

    ***

    In the Summa T, Thomas very consciously told the story of salvation according to the order of the subject. Salvation begins with God in heaven, the Good One who freely, in love, diffuses Himself by creation. At the height of His creation are these free, complex beings, coming forth from Him who is free and simple (not complex), and to whom He gives gifts of the Holy Spirit and of grace in order that their free response to Him might be according to the great law of love. This grace is accomplished by the incarnation of the Son and the sacraments.

    An outline of the Summa, as may be found by examining its table of contents on the newadvent.org website, follows this way that creation comes forth from and returns to God. We begin (after a preamble question about method) with God, and then the creation. Then we talk about human nature, especially graced human nature. Then we talk about the Son and the sacraments which make all of this possible.

    St. Thomas wrote the Summa for "beginners," because his experience as a teacher taught him that the existing tools were fraught with different kinds of distracting problems. Either they were repetitive, or needlessly complicated by confusing arguments, or presented in a disorderly way. The Summa is streamlined and orderly.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,282
    On a related note, but veering off the original question....

    Everyone I know whose first experience with Aquinas was in a classroom setting where a portion from the middle of the Summa was read after a bunch of explanation and lecture has felt confused and intimidated by it, and come away with a view of Thomas that he was essentially a logician/philosopher, concerned with rules and explanations.

    People I know who have come to Aquinas more-or-less on their own (like myself), or had the opportunity to arrive at the Summa by way of a classical education taken on voluntarily, see him in a much more positive and authentic light.

    I think we tend to look back on Aquinas through the lens of modernity, imagining that "scholasticism" means "like grade school."
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    Exactly. And a weakness with many of the accepted abridgements is that they take a philosophical approach, emphasizing metaphysics rather than salvation.

    One of the things that somebody should write for reference is a good "Thomistic philosophical jargon for dummies" handbook. That way, you don't have to study philosophy before diving in to the good juicy theology.

    This is a promising place to start learning: Thomas' own "lite Summa." http://shop.sophiainstitute.com/Aquinass-Shorter-Summa-P46.aspx
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood CHGiffen
  • eft94530eft94530
    Posts: 1,570
    Kathy: somebody should write for reference

    http://www.taylormarshall.com

    Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages: A Quick Layman's Guide to Thomism
    a free e-book by Taylor Marshall
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,282
    http://www.taylormarshall.com

    Thomas Aquinas in 50 Pages: A Quick Layman's Guide to Thomism
    a free e-book by Taylor Marshall


    I have found the few of his videos I have watched, etc, to be extremely reductive, and another symptom of the modernist urge to summarize and explain everything.

    I think people miss the poetry and mysticism of Aquinas when approaching him from that direction, as if the point of theology is learn a bunch of facts about God, rather than to facilitate an encounter.

    A few days ago I ran across this, in the Summa, a perfect example of the kind of amazingly poetic ways that Thomas delves into the mystery of God:

    Whether in creatures is necessarily found a trace of the Trinity?
    [...]
    Augustine says (De Trin. vi, 10), that "the trace of the Trinity appears in creatures."

    I answer that, Every effect in some degree represents its cause, but diversely. For some effects represent only the causality of the cause, but not its form; as smoke represents fire. Such a representation is called a "trace": for a trace shows that someone has passed by but not who it is.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,282
    Also, sometimes his analogies are HILARIOUS.

    In efficient causes it is impossible to proceed to infinity "per se"--thus, there cannot be an infinite number of causes that are "per se" required for a certain effect; for instance, that a stone be moved by a stick, the stick by the hand, and so on to infinity. But it is not impossible to proceed to infinity "accidentally" as regards efficient causes; for instance, if all the causes thus infinitely multiplied should have the order of only one cause, their multiplication being accidental, as an artificer acts by means of many hammers accidentally, because one after the other may be broken. It is accidental, therefore, that one particular hammer acts after the action of another;
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,646
    I love the St Thomas anticipated the sometime feminist critique of the fatherhood of the Father by 700 years, and very roughly said that human fatherhood aspires to be like that of the Father in the Trinity, but the failure of human fathers can't be attributed to God the Father.

    He also very interestingly stepped close to, and backed away from, the proposition that souls were sexed, as it were.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,831
    I have heard many eastern Christians say that while they generally reject Scholastic theology and parts of St. Augustine's theology, they consider St. Thomas brilliant. They also say that, unfortunately, his successors did not possess his brilliance.
  • Picking up on a few of the themes raise in this thread, I think it has to be admitted that understanding Aquinas can be quite difficult without some sort of introduction to the language and philosophy that he uses. I can imagine that just being dropped chunks from the master with little context can be a frustrating affair. I think it is possible to read Aquinas through Aquinas by starting with works such as the “Compendium of Theology”, the commentaries on Aristotle (but these provide a serious intellectual commitment in themselves), and even some of the opuscula such as “Being and Essence”; but, in general, I consider it easier to approach him through some of the introductions written by others.

    So, I suggest starting with Feser’s “Aquinas” (which has displaced Brian Davies’s fine introductory books as my first recommendation). Then there are a series of books from a previous generation such as Daniel Sullivan’s “Introduction to Philosophy”; Henri Renard’s series “Philosophy of x”, for some values of x; and perhaps Garrigou-Lagrange’s “Reality”, though G-L might himself be a bit difficult for a beginner.

    A recent text from Brian Davies, “Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae: A Guide and Commentary”, that I have only just started reading, looks to be a good companion for anyone who does wish to start at page 1 of the summa theologiae. A small group of us in York are doing precisely that; if you’d like to have a look at the materials we’ve assembled, ite ad:

    http://readingthesumma.blogspot.com
    Thanked by 1Adam Wood
  • fcbfcb
    Posts: 255
    Those who want a quick intro to Thomas's philosophical vocabulary might begin with his own De Principiis Naturae, which was one of the first things he ever wrote. One has to read it carefully, but it is pretty comprehensible, even for the novice Thomist.

    As to why he is so influential...well, he's just so damn smart. But the story about the Summa being on the altar at the Council of Trent is, alas (or thank God) apocryphal.
  • The story about the summa being laid on the altar at Trent is in para. 11 of "Studiorum Ducem". So it's infallibly defined, I'm afraid ;-)
    Thanked by 1Adam Wood
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,646
    Funny how Pius XI eliminates the Decretals mentioned by Leo XIII.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,831
    I have heard the story that some wanted to place the summa in an honored position at Vatican II, and it was rejected. I haven't been able to verify that, but I did hear this in the infamous sixties.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    If I ever finish my dissertation on Thomas' soteriology, all the Protestants will immediately convert. I'll keep you updated so you can get your RCIA ready ;)
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,086
    CharlesW

    I wonder where you might have run across that thinking... do you have any idea?
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,831
    Francis, I had several comments. I don't know which one you were referring to.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,086
    Charles

    ^^^^