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To really get the full beauty of Aquinas, you have to let him unfold all the parts one by one and let him draw the connections between them. But going through it sequentially can be just a tad overwhelming.

So here's a brief overview, sort of an outline of the Summa Theologica, which also functions as a summary of the thought of Aquinas. Feel free to read through it and jump around a bit as well and get a feel for what he says about any of the following topics that may tickle your fancy.

getting started

We take a look at what's coming, answering the question is religion even logical, a look at the whole God thing, and a description of the parts of the Summa.

Part One - of God

God - how to begin - When you start with Aquinas, the only thing he asks you to believe is the evidence of your own senses ... why there is not nothing ... Thomists vs. agnostics.

the great unknown - Non only logically, but theologically, we have no idea what God is.

what we are - Life in the universe happens by way of unique and individual blobs of matter that keep popping up in space-time in various evolving forms.

what God is not - Space, time, matter, the stuff of life: God isn't like, doesn't have, and isn't dependent upon any of it.

what God is - God is not an individual or an instance in a category, but possibly the thing gives categories their essence, the form itself.

perfection - God is not in the process of becoming; God is already fully actualized, complete, realized and unfolded. There is no potential to become because God already fully is.

goodness and evil - Goodness is a measure of self-actualization; it is the degree to which we have become what we are drawn to become. Evil is a kind of non-being, a disfiguring of form, a failure to actualize.

presence - Whatever mystery creates and sustains things in being exists intimately in everything and is wholly and entirely in every place.

knowledge - By God's thinking about form, the universe exists and some out of all possible forms exist within it. In other words, God thinks, therefore I am.

providence - God thinks the universe into existence in a particular way and for a particular purpose.

logic and scripture - Spiritual truths conveyed in Scripture describe the highest context by which we can understand reality and won't be inconsistent with what we find out on our own using reason, since truth cannot contradict truth.

trinity - The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are less like persons (in the sense of individuals) and more like relationships within God representing God's self-knowledge and love: the Father is God, the Son is God as known to God or God's self-knowledge or awareness, and the Holy Spirit is the loving relationship between God and his self-knowledge.

trinity and us - That loving relationship between God's self-awareness and God that we call the Trinity is what we are supposed to model; the whole purpose of Christ, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist is to get us into this graced state.

Part Two - of the journey to God of reasoning creatures

happiness - Happiness resides in an act of perception: the feeling of limitless horizons opening up to vision, of ecstasy and wonder and awe.

key insights of Part One of the Summa - Existence is a mystery, we can use our minds to get to God, the desire to flourish is woven into the fabric of existence, the Trinity represents states that describe the nature of God's delighted self-awareness, the purpose of religion is to show us how to be happy.

off we go - We must act to become happy, so morals describe the acts that will ultimately make us happy.

actions - Actions are considered well-formed when the object of the action is good (e.g., furthers the flourishing of a life form) and the action itself is well-intentioned and appropriate to the circumstances.

passions - Passions are built to fuel the will to seek what we think is good; to be happy, we have to be willing to love: to know, to recognize and to be fully drawn in by the good.

virtues - Virtues are those patterns of choice that serve to open us up to our own potential.

theological virtues - Faith is the yearning for answers to the ultimate questions of life and the wilingness to be drawn to the words, ideas, and rituals of the religious traditions that attempt to answer them. Hope is the habit of embracing a higher standard of behavior because we believe that if we do, we will in fact turn into better, happier versions of ourselves. Charity is the habit of choosing to be vulnerable enough to be drawn to the good, to love it, and to act accordingly.

moral virtues - Prudence is the habit of thinking well about what is to be done. Justice is the stable and lasting willingness to do the right thing for everyone. Courage helps us be bold in the attainment of good. Moderation helps keep our passions from ruling over reason.

sin - Those acts that interfere with our path to authentic happiness, blunt our common sense, and block our growth towards what we are supposed to become.

natural law - It's natural for existing, living things to flourish and grow and the measure of this flourishing is what we call goodness. So the primary law, upon which all other laws must be based, is that good be done (i.e., fourishing occur) and evil avoided.

human law and god's law - In order to aid in the flourishing of the race, human law should be based on natural law. God's Law (i.e., Christianity) is more of a gift than a set of external commands and changes the context of religion from one of external commands to one of happiness.

grace - Grace is the mysterious means by which our souls are healed, recharged, and aimed back on the right path to our own flourishing.

key insights of Part Two of the Summa - The point of morals is to make us happy. Charity, the act of letting our hearts be drawn by love to goodness, is essential to happiness. The primary law, upon which all other laws must be based, is that good be done (i.e., fourishing occur) and evil avoided. Grace is a healing of the soul and recommitment to seek our higher good.

Part Three - of Christ, our road to God

part three - In Part Three, the big mysteries all come together: the essential mystery of God, the self-awareness of God as described by the Trinity, the joining of this to a human being in the Incarnation, and the ongoing presence of this historical joining through space and time in the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of the Eucharist.

the incarnation - At a specific place and a specific point in historical time, the self-awareness of the mysterious cause of existence popped up in a human being.

grace and the garden - Original sin or flawed human consciousness? Either way, our first crack at self-awareness got us part of the way, but not all the way, to where we should be, and the remedy and path forward for us is modeled in the life of Christ.

the grace of Christ - Christ is our source for the grace that helps us heal, live and grow into the self-aware, divinely happy beings that we are meant to become. This is what is meant by Christ being the head of the church; if you are human and have existed or will exist at any point in time, you have a shot at healing and growing towards the divine by sharing in the grace of Christ.

the humanity of Christ - Christ is the living proof of concept that it's possible for humans to grow into the happy self-awareness of the divine; Christ makes the self-aware love and joy of the Trinity the new model for consciousness.

the life of Christ - Christ structured his life with a balance of contemplation and teaching and allowed his death to happen as the ultimate lesson on what it means to be human. Since charity is the habit of choosing to be vulnerable enough to be drawn to the good, to love it, and to act accordingly, and without it we have no shot at true happiness, vulnerability is crucial. By his death, Christ elevates it to an act of divinity: Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. The sins of the ego are redeemed by nothing less than the conscious tearing down of the very structures of ego itself, the ultimate act of which is sacrificial death: Christ as both priest and offering. And after such death? Resurrection. Aquinas believes that Christ rising from the dead shows us that such sacrifice will be justly followed by new life.

sacraments - Sacraments are the means by which, day in and day out, we can heal and grow into what we should be, to approach that act of perception by which we become happily and divinely self-aware, like the adopted children of God that we are.

eucharist - This is where everything comes together: the essential mystery of God, the happy self-awareness of God as described by the Trinity, the joining of this to a human being in the Incarnation, and the chance for reasoning creatures to enjoy this happiness, with the healing and recommitment of the grace of the sacrament as the means.




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