Listening to the Saints – Aquinas

For some reason I keep wanting to read Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic scholar who lived from 1225-1274.  Perhaps it is because he remains the most influential Roman Catholic theologian today.  I have read Augustine and Calvin so I want to tackle the other greats.  But I tried Aquinas before (reported here) and failed miserably.

Then I was playing around on the Kindle and discovered I could buy the entire Summa Theologica, Aquinas’ greatest work, for one dollars.  As I read reviews, I laughed at this one:

When I bought my Kindle I had a little pang of regret… “was this REALLY worth the money?” I thought to myself.

And then I started shopping with it.

This is the ENTIRE Summa Theologica, This is THE medieval masterpiece of Theology; it still in my opinion the greatest work ever written next to the Bible.

The content of this book is remarkable. This edition has a complete linked table of contents. It has the entire text. It is PERFECT.

Of course, there is the price.

The ENTIRE Summa (all the volumes) for A BUCK.


That is absolutely stunning. The Kindle almost paid for itself as soon as I downloaded this file to it.

What a great deal… what a wonderful work of Theology!

My sentiments exactly.  What could it hurt to spend one dollar and give Aquinas a try?

Well, I have read the first few sections and am already enjoying this much more than my previous attempt at Aquinas.  Maybe the lesson is to steer clear of “assorted writing” type works and just dive into the author’s own work, unabridged.  I have no goal on when to finish it, my plan is just to read a chapter here and there and maybe get it done in ten years or so.

The first “question” Aquinas addresses is “The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine (In Ten Articles)”.  Aquinas immediately discusses what sort of knowledge is necessary:

“It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason…it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation” (1. Q1, Art. 1)

Basically, at least as I understand it, Thomas’ argument is that both philosophy and scripture (natural revelation and special revelation) provide truth.  Thomas has confidence in natural philosophy, saying that philosophy can lead a person to belief in God.  But philosophy cannot take someone the whole way to the deepest truth, to get there one needs scripture (for a fuller explanation of Thomas’ philosophy: here).

Working with college students, this makes me think of vocation.  I fear that Christian students often see their studies in the classroom as separate from their spiritual life in the campus ministry or at church.  One of my goals is for them to see that their study for their class can be a form of worship.  God has called each student to a specific career and this calling is not separate from their calling as a follower of Jesus.  In whatever study they undertake, they are pursuing truth, and in whatever career they have they are serving God.  There is value in study of natural things, as Aquinas affirmed.

Ultimate, final truth is found in the person of Jesus and revealed in Scripture.  But may we not use that to devalue the study of the natural world.

I also thought this quote was great:

“Hence the fact that some happen to doubt about articles of faith is not due to the uncertain nature of the truths, but to the weakness of human intelligence; yet the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge of lesser things” (1, Q. 1, Art. 5)

I meet a lot of Christian college students who face very difficult questions from their skeptical peers.  Encouraging the student not to worry is not to say that there is no good answer to such questions.  When dealing with the subject of God of course there will be some doubt.  Yet as Aquinas seems to say, even a tiny knowledge of God, fraught with doubt, is worth more than the deepest knowledge of quantum mechanics, molecular biology or any other subject.

“For what He is not is clearer to us than what He is” (1, Q 1., Art. 9)

There is a long tradition of talking about God not by saying what God is (i.e. God is just, God is love) but by saying what God is not (i.e. God is not finite, God is not hate).  I think the idea is that God is so beyond our comprehension that we cannot really say what God is.  Thus, it is better to try to say what God is not.

Well, that is my thoughts on the first part of the Summa…

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