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Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Thomas Aquinas
    Book Description:

    Leaving so few traces of himself behind, Thomas Aquinas seems to defy the efforts of the biographer. Highly visible as a public teacher, preacher, and theologian, he nevertheless has remained nearly invisible as man and saint. What can be discovered about Thomas Aquinas as a whole? In this short, compelling portrait, Denys Turner clears away the haze of time and brings Thomas vividly to life for contemporary readers-those unfamiliar with the saint as well as those well acquainted with his teachings.Building on the best biographical scholarship available today and reading the works of Thomas with piercing acuity, Turner seeks the point at which the man, the mind, and the soul of Thomas Aquinas intersect. Reflecting upon Thomas, a man of Christian Trinitarian faith yet one whose thought is grounded firmly in the body's interaction with the material world, a thinker at once confident in the powers of human reason and a man of prayer, Turner provides a more detailed human portrait than ever before of one of the most influential philosophers and theologians in all of Western thought.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19045-8
    Subjects: History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-7)

    What follows in this short book is a portrait in outline of a man and a mind, and, insofar as it is possible, of a soul. They all belong to Thomas Aquinas. It is a profile sketched out in thin strokes of the pen, exaggerating a few features out of all proportion and omitting many more altogether. It is therefore a caricature. But caricatures do not always distort. At best they reveal the prominent features of a character unobscured by excess of detail. My caricature, I hope, is no more distorting than any other work on Thomas Aquinas, just differently...

  5. ONE A Dominican
    (pp. 8-46)

    In April 1244, Thomas Aquinas stunned his parents and family by taking the habit of the Dominican order from the hands of the prior in Naples, Thomas Lentini. Apart from the prior, the Dominican community there consisted of but one other friar, John of San Giuliano, so in a manner typical of the Thomas we will later get to know, the ceremony must have been an understated and low-key affair. Thomas was nineteen or twenty years old at the time, and Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (as he had called his band of followers) was dead only...

  6. TWO A Materialist
    (pp. 47-69)

    Thomas’s theological identity is all Dominican, even if by no means are all Dominicans recognizable from a common profile, theological or spiritual. Meister Eckhart, who shared a teacher with Thomas in Albert the Great, could hardly differ more from Thomas in spirit, in style, and in some important matters of theological substance. To say that Thomas Aquinas is “all Dominican” is therefore not to say that he is stereotypically Dominican. There is no Dominican theological stereotype, the Dominican rule being a positive encouragement to diversity, personal and theological. Moreover, though today Thomas stands out as the greatest of the theologians...

  7. THREE The Soul
    (pp. 70-99)

    Souls are not angels. Angels are not souls, nor do angels “have” souls. Only embodied beings have souls, for any soul is the life of some body, a body alive in the characteristic ways of humans, dogs, cabbages, and cats. It is of the greatest importance to get this much clear if we are not to mistake Thomas’s account of the soul for other accounts much more familiar than his—accounts much easier to understand and to some much more plausibly consistent with Christian beliefs, especially with Christian beliefs regarding human persons’ survival of death. Thomas, believing as firmly as...

  8. FOUR God
    (pp. 100-144)

    Deus vere [est] subiectum hiuius scientiae,¹ “It is God who is the true subject of this discipline.” So says Thomas at the outset of theSumma. By contrast, talk about God is curiously unfashionable among Christian theologians today. They seem to prefer to talk about Christ, as if you could theologize with Christological adequacy without standing on secure doctrinal ground concerning God. This seems perverse, being somewhat akin to an English person’s attempting to describe to an American the conduct of a cricket match while suppressing any indications that cricket is a sport. The American, after all, might reasonably conclude...

  9. FIVE Friendship and Grace
    (pp. 145-168)

    Given the prevailing caricature of the man whose physiognomy consisted of nothing but an oversize cerebellum, the chances are exceedingly low of anyone guessing Thomas to have been the author of the following sensitively practical reflections on how to cope with sadness. First, he says, you should cry, both tears and groans, though you might also try talk therapy. Above all, no stiff upper lip:

    First of all, because anything that is causing you inner hurt afflicts you all the more for being contained, as the mind becomes fixated upon it. But when it is let out it is in...

  10. SIX Grace, Desire, and Prayer
    (pp. 169-188)

    It would be impossible to overestimate the importance of friendship in Thomas’s moral theology, and the role that friendship plays in his theology of grace. The central paradox of grace, for Thomas—it is perhaps one of the most distinctive and best known features of his theology—is that we do not know our own natures except through the knowledge that comes with what on the hierarchy of existence ontologically exceeds nature, namely grace. For, on account of the Fall, nature has become insufficient to achieve that which is the goal of its own, natural, being. Well known is Thomas’s...

  11. SEVEN Christ
    (pp. 189-229)

    Thomas was plagued by hostile colleagues throughout both tenures of his mastership of theology at Paris. In or around 1270, during his second stint as master, Thomas became embroiled in more than one open conflict with them, one of which concerned the much vexed question of the eternity of the world. In summary, two positions occupied the center stage in Paris: that of Aristotle and of some of his followers, mainly philosophers, according to whom the world was demonstrably eternal, that is to say, had always existed; and that of the conservative theological majority, according to whom not only was...

  12. EIGHT The Eucharist and Eschatology
    (pp. 230-266)

    We end with the Eucharist. This, significantly, is the last completed topic of Thomas’sSumma theologiae. It follows his treatment of baptism and confirmation—though the text of theSummain fact continues thereafter, breaking off midway through the discussion of the sacrament of penance. In Chapter 1 of this outline of Thomas’s theology I commented on the theological significance of Thomas’s not having brought the work to its final state of completion: it tells us a lot about Thomas the theologian, I said, that he is content that his life should come to an end having freely chosen to...

  13. EPILOGUE The Secret of Saint Thomas
    (pp. 267-270)

    Thomas thought that etymologically the Latinsacramentumderived from the conflation ofsanctumandsecretum: a sacrament, he says, is a hidden holiness. “Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore”—thus does Hopkins translate the first line (as we now have it) of “Adoro te devote, latens deitas,” one of Thomas’s Eucharistic hymns. You wouldn’t have known that mere bread and wine could bear such weight of meaning, for basic human food is the last place you would guess to be the point of entry into the mystery of the world’s creation out of nothing and its trajectory through...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 271-284)
  15. Further Reading
    (pp. 285-292)
  16. Index
    (pp. 293-300)