Sunday, 8 July 2018

On Thomas Aquinas

Dear Father Ivo Coelho,

I want to ‘read-up’ on St. Thomas Aquinas.
Can  suggest some websites or links to articles on his life and work.
It just occurred to me today that I must read his life and works.

Warm regards

that's a difficult request!
because I am not an expert on Thomas, though I love him.
I began with a distaste for him, communicated to us by our first history of philosophy teacher. 
I thought Lonergan was throwing out Thomas, with his freshness.
while doing the doctorate on Lonergan, I discovered just how much he had taken from Thomas: he spent 11 years of his life studying Thomas, first for his own doctoral dissertation on the most interesting topic of "grace and freedom", or the interaction between God's freedom and our own... and then - because he had to teach Christology, the theology of Christ - he studied one point in the classical Thomist Christology, which is obviously linked also to Trinitarian theology: how the Son can be completely equal to the Father, and yet "come from" the Father. Thomas studied a suggestion made first by Augustine, I think, and proposed an understanding of it. In brief: when we understand something perfectly, we are also able to express ourselves perfectly. From perfect understanding emerges the expression of that understanding (Thomas called it the VERBUM, the Word - not to be identified simply with the spoken word which is the sign, either a sound or a written sign) - and that expression is completely equal to the understanding from which it emerges. You can see how this could be taken as somehow shedding light on the relationship between Father and Son...

What was Thomas "doing" in his brief life - 49 years?
Again, this is what I learnt from Lonergan.
Thomas is one of the great theologians of the church. before him was the period of the "Fathers" of the Church - the "patristic" period. 
Peter Lombard had begun collecting books called SENTENCES - which means, in our language "opinions" - on different theological topics.
Abelard organized them into "Sic et Non" - on the same topic, he found some saying one thing, and others something else. 
The medievals had invented a "method" called the QUAESTIO. A quaestio existed if on any topic there was a difference of opinion. 
The method was: to state the Quaestio or else the THESIS; 
then the pros and cons: Videtur ... it seems that; Sed contra... on the contrary... 
then to find some principle or principles of a solution, 
and then to state the solution. 
and then to answer one by one the objections.
this is more or less the structure you will find in any Question of the Summa Theologiae.

People were already doing this in Thomas' time.
what was Thomas' genius?
he realized that solutions to individual questions were fine, but what if the principles of the solutions were themselves in conflict?
he realized that he had to bring unity into the solutions themselves.
how did he do that? how does one do that? either by creating a systematic thought (philosophy) oneself, or else by adopting a good system from someone else and adapt it.
And here again Thomas' boldness: he decided to adopt and adapt ARISTOTLE, where by and large the theologians of his time were Platonic - Augustinian. 
Thomas was utterly brilliant in his adaptation of Aristotle. How did he adapt Aristotle? obviously he was guided in this by his faith and his knowledge of the Christian tradition. (he was actually condemned a few years after his death for adopting Aristotle). 
this work of adaptation was carried out in his COMMENTARIES on books of Aristotle. So it involved assiduous study and writing. (He did not know Greek; so he asked friends to translate Aristotle into Latin.) (PS: the texts of Aristotle had been preserved thanks also to the Muslims - especially in Spain, I guess. These cultured Muslims were at the time the teachers of Europe.) 
There were other theologians who were also turning to Aristotle, but with different results. Thomas was different, I guess, because he also simultaneously studied the bible and wrote commentaries on the books of the Bible. 
So this double study was the source of his modified Aristotelian system. Adn this system becomes the unifying factor in his work of unifying theology. the greatest result of this is the Summa Theologiae. 

NB: Thomas was not content in quoting scripture, or stating Christian beliefs. He was trying to do theology, which means that he was trying to provide some understanding of Christian beliefs, of the Christian faith. E.g. He with all the others, since the great councils (Nicea, etc.) believed that God is three and yet one. He as a theologian tried to make sense of that: how is that possible? Again, he with all the others believed that Jesus is true God and true man, as the Council of Chalcedon had said. He as theologian tried to make sense of that. and so on. theology for him was FIDES QUAERENS INTELLECTUM - faith seeking understanding. 

what could I suggest you read?
the classic way is to first read a general article - something from the Encylopedia (perhaps even the Wiki).
then read a simple life - perhaps the one by G.K. Chesterton.
then a more substantial life which will be "life and thought" - will try to find out some from a friend.

happy study! 


From Eugenio Riva, 08.07.2018:

Carissimo don Ivo,
sono stato contento della giornata vissuta insieme a Fossanova e Amaseno.
Il libro con la biografia di San Tommaso è il seguente:
GUGLIELMO DA TOCCO, Storia di San Tommaso d'Aquino, a cura di Davide Riserbato, Jaka Book, Milano 2015
La pubblicazione è della Collana di cultura medioevale ed è disponibile sul mercato.
Guglielmo da Tocco è il promotore della causa di canonizzazione di San Tommaso e ha vissuto con lui dal 1272-1274.
Ho avuto l’occasione di leggerlo quando è uscito a settembre 2015 e mi è piaciuto molto...
Tanti saluti.

JAMES A. WEISHEIPL, Friar Thomas d'Aquino: his life thought and works, 1974
Altri due libri di un altro domenicano (tradotti anche in italiano in volume unico) potrebbero essere:
JEAN PIERRE TORRELL, Saint Thomas Aquinas, vol 1. The person and his work, 2005 (32,65 dollari)

JEAN PIERRE TORRELL, Sain Thomas Aquinas, vol 2. Spiritual master, 2003 (28,83 dollari)