Now we begin to dip our toes into the guts of the thought of
Thomas Aquinas, so here's a heads-up on what's coming.
This "translation into the secular" of the thought
of Aquinas is patterned after the way he organized the Summa Theologica,
his systematic recap of his own thought. In the Summa, he breaks
his view of God in the universe into three parts. As he says,
- "PART ONE of this book to God,
- PART TWO to the journey to God of reasoning creatures,
- PART THREE to Christ who, as man, is our road to God."
The three parts form a systematic and harmonious "theory
of everything" which to my mind not only stands up quite
nicely in our existential and scientific world but is the perfect
way to reincorporate the essential mysteriousness of life into
a rational world view. If there was anyone who was not afraid
of either mystery or reason, it was Aquinas, and he draws what
I think is the almost perfect boundary between the two.
Warning! Aquinas was a quite systematic fellow, so to get the
full beauty of his work you have to let him unfold all the parts
one by one and let him draw the connections between them to make
the whole. The intelligence is not only in the ideas but in the
connections between the ideas so its sweep doesn't become fully
apparent until the end. Reading the Summa is like looking at a
cathedral with a microscope; you just can't see it's whole shape
until you're able to stitch the parts together. But understanding
his world view and the sense it makes of the nature and shape
of the human experience is well worth the work.
A note on pronouns: Aquinas lived in the 13th century; don't
be surprised to see male pronouns used exclusively. But realize
that this is a function of the translation from Latin to English;
for the most part, in the original Latin, Aquinas did use the
generic term for human and used Latin pronouns that were not gender-specific.
Unfortuntately none of this gender-neutral language translates
A note on gender: This is not to say that Aquinas shares our
modern understanding of the fairer sex. When Aquinas does mention
women (which actually is quite rare, spending most of his time
simply talking about humans), he bases his ideas on the scientific
and social understanding of the time (such as it was), which was
that men were the thinkers and women produced babies. So we should
obviously understand his ideas on gender as constrained by that
context and read him as though when he writes about humans, he
means just that.
A note on citations: Quotes from the Summa are identified by
Part, Question, and Article, like 1a. 2. 1, meaning
Part 1, Question 2, Article 1. And there are two parts of Part
Two, so Part Two is cited as 1a2ae (for the first
part of Part Two, or PRIMA SECUNDÆ PARTIS in Latin) or 2a2ae
(for the second part of Part Two, or SECUNDA SECUNDÆ PARTIS),
a tad counter-intuitive, but there you have it.
Note also that most of the quotes from the Summa are taken from
the translation in Summa
Theologiae, A Concise Translation, Timothy McDermott editor.
"But there is a general tone and temper
of Aquinas, which is as difficult to avoid as daylight in a great
house of windows. It is that positive position of his mind, which
is filled and soaked as with sunshine with the warmth and wonder
of created things."
G.K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas, p.94