Aquinas's Summa

Aquinas's Summa: background, structure, & reception

Jean-Pierre Torrell
Translated by Benedict M. Guevin
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    Aquinas's Summa
    Book Description:

    In this concise new volume by the acclaimed author of the biography of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Jean-Pierre Torrell brings his expertise to bear on Aquinas's Summa Theologiae.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1663-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)

    The fame of certain works is such that it can overshadow their authors and the rest of their writings as well. The Summa theologiae is probably the most striking example of this. It is well known that Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote the Summa theologiae and that he lived in the Middle Ages. But few readers know what kind of man he was, the kind of life he led, or his other writings. The renown of the title of his major work is such that we may be surprised to learn that he wrote a second Summa, the Summa contra Gentiles,...

  4. I The Author and His Work
    (pp. 1-16)

    Saint augustine⇔s Confessions are riddled with autobiographical references; the Summa is not as obliging about its author. It is not completely silent about him, but identifying whatever allusions there are requires supplemental information to help us understand how the personality of the man who would be its author was formed.

    Thomas was born in 1224 or 1225 in the family castle of Roccasecca in southern Italy, halfway between Rome and Naples. Of the lesser nobility, his family was related to the Counts of Aquino, whence his name. As the youngest son, and according to the customs of the time, Thomas...

  5. II The Summa: Structures and Content I
    (pp. 17-36)

    People have often compared the structure of the medieval Summas of theology to that of the medieval cathedrals. This image is a cliché and says nothing as long as we do not understand how this architecture was laid out. This is the first thing that we have to look at. For the sake of argument, let us suppose a reader with no idea how this book is laid out. My description would go from the exterior to the interior and from the more material to the more formal. This is the preferred method of Thomas himself who recommends that one...

  6. III The Summa: Structures and Content II
    (pp. 37-62)

    The third volume, also known as the Secunda Secundae, has, among its peculiarities, that of being the longest. Its author considered it important enough to preface it with a Prologue, which is also the longest of the Summa. While helpful for the reader, it also contains a subtle warning. If Master Thomas, known for his concision, takes the pains to be more explicit, we have much to gain by following his explanations carefully.

    The beginning of the Prologue is exactly what one would expect: “After studying the virtues and the vices in general as well as other points concerning morality,...

  7. IV The Literary and Doctrinal Milieu
    (pp. 63-85)

    Now that we have met the Summa’s author and come to know its major features as well as the essential elements of its content, there remains the task of saying something about the milieu in which it was written. While suggestive, evoking Thomas’s experience at Orvieto is too fleeting and fragmentary to be helpful. That experience is situated against a historical and cultural background that will be useful to bear in mind. Thomas is a man of his time, a time that we cannot completely understand apart from the intellectual ferment of his century, with its knowledge, its discoveries, and...

  8. V The Summa through History
    (pp. 86-105)

    If thomas⇔s life was relatively eventful, the reception of his doctrine was positively tumultuous. Without reviewing here the entire history of Thomism, it is important to recall its major moments, for it is not always possible to isolate from them those things that concern the Summa in particular, and it is certain that it was around the synthetically organized doctrine of this work that opposition and openness were crystallized. For more than two centuries, university professors no doubt continued to comment on the Sentences, but the Summa slowly made its way and assumed the place it would have in the...

  9. VI The Summa in the Twentieth Century
    (pp. 106-130)

    It may be surprising to say, but the state of Thomism at the dawn of the twenty-first century is still in part conditioned by the history of the two preceding centuries. Before laying out the current state of affairs, it will be helpful to recall briefly what happened before. It is this task that will allow us to see better the difficulty of isolating the history of the Summa from that of the surrounding milieu.

    In fact, there is no interruption between the period that we have just described and the one that we will be discussing. In the reform...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 131-134)

    According to the aims of the French series in which this book originally appeared, my intention has been to present to the reader the Summa theologiae, its author, its content, and its fortunes through the ages. As this book was about an important work that has made its presence felt in the history of ideas for a little more than seven centuries, this undertaking has not been without a certain temerity and this presentation has had to limit itself to the essentials. In spite of, or perhaps because of these limits, my conclusions are rather straightforward.

    The simple fact that...

  11. Annotated Bibliography
    (pp. 135-138)
  12. Index
    (pp. 139-156)