Barrett’s Book Notes: Thomas Aquinas
It has been very encouraging to see a renaissance of interest in Thomas Aquinas. For far too long evangelicals have put Thomas aside, allowing Roman Catholics to claim him. That is a mistake. Thomas has much to say that is of great value for Protestants, even if we take issue with certain conclusions he draws. But I realize that a figure like Thomas, given the massive size of his Summa, is daunting, to say the least. That’s why this recent, and very brief, introduction to Thomas by Brian Davies is most welcome. In around 120 pages Davies introduces the novice to the most important contributions of Thomas’s thought. The last chapter, “Thinking About Aquinas Today,” demonstrates why Thomas is relevant for contemporary theological and apologetic discussions today. This is a great place to start for those of you fearful to take on this colossal theologian.
If you enjoy Davie’s little introduction to Thomas, then you may want to press on and explore his commentary to a major work of Thomas: the Summa Contra Gentiles. The SCG is a classic work and may be second in importance to Thomas’s Summa Theologiae (who knows!), in which Thomas utilizes not only revelation but reason to give a logical explanation for the type of knowledge we have of God. What’s amazing about this book is that you have, in just one volume, a guide. I would recommend reading Davies’s commentary alongside the SCG, allowing his insights to enlighten Thomas’s argument.
As profitable as it is to read commentaries and introductions to Thomas, the best practice is always reading Thomas for yourself. Only then will you begin to understand his thought directly. Robert Miner, the editor, and translator has done us a great favor, giving us questions 23-46 of Thomas’s Summa Theologiae, Secunda Secundae, making available an accessible and fresh version of Thomas’s thought on these biblically rich Christian virtues. This volume will be ideal for classroom use and it will also go a long way in reminding theologians today that the best thinkers of the past moved from doctrine to the Christian life, rather than relegating the latter to others. Also, there is a bonus at the end, with a section of essays by Jeffrey Bernstein, Dominic Doyle, Mark Jordan, Robert Miner, and Sheryl Overmyer.
Seriously, these OUP handbooks are addicting. I know many other scholars are with me. This recent one will not disappoint either, with a large variety of contributors touching on Thomas’s wide canon. I also appreciated the “Chronological List of Aquinas’s Writings” at the end, which helps put his publishing development into perspective. Here are some chapters that may be of special interest:
The Five Ways (Timothy Pawl)
God’s Simplicity (Eleonore Stump)
God’s Impassibility, Immutability, and Eternality (Brian Leftow)
God’s Omnipotence (Brian Leftow)
The Limits of Language and the Notion of Analogy (Brian Davies)
Providence and the Problem of Evil (Eleonore Stump)
The Trinity (Giles Emery)
Incarnation (Michael Gorman)
The Development of Aquinas’s Thought (Giorgio Pini)
If you’ve read the books above, and are feeling brave, then Legge’s volume is your next stop. While subjects like faith and reason, nature and grace, and the attributes of God typically receive attention, Legge turns our attention to the interface of two doctrines that were critical for the formation of Thomas’s thought: Trinity and Christology. Legge begins with Eternal Processions and moves to the divine missions of the Godhead, only to transition in part 2 to an explanation for why the Son became incarnate. Included is an in-depth treatment of the hypostatic union according to Thomas as well. But what may be missed in the title of the book is the fact that part 3 turns to the relationship between Christ and the Spirit. Legge’s target is Karl Rahner, challenging the latter’s claim that Thomas fails to read Christology through a trinitarian lens. Legge argues that a proper reading of Thomas cannot sustain Rahner’s claim. All in all, this book, though historical in orientation, demands engagement from systematics as Thomas’s trinitarianism is retrieved and applied to Christology. Don’t miss, by the way, Gilles Emery’s Foreword, too.
Matthew Barrett is Associate Professor of Christian Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author of several books, including 40 Questions About Salvation; God’s Word Alone: The Authority of Scripture, Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary; Salvation by Grace, and Owen on the Christian Life.