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Thomas Aquinas - A Very Short Introduction

Thomas Aquinas - A Very Short Introduction
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Much of the interest in reading texts from an earlier age lies in
working out how familiar and yet how foreign their preoccupations
and ways of thinking are. A Christian thinker who died in 1274,
and whose works were entirely composed in Latin, is at several
removes from most of us these days. Good translations and
secondary literature help to make Thomas Aquinas accessible.
Recently scholars have begun to insist on the importance of
studying his biblical commentaries. He held a post, after all, as
magister in sacra pagina: professor of sacred Scripture as we
might say. The fact of the matter remains, however, even in
scholarly circles, that the Summa Theologiae is by far the most
discussed of his works. Without much compunction, then, I have
centred this introduction on the Summa, in a necessarily highly
selective reading (it runs to over 1,500,000 words); yet
highlighting issues and insights that are distinctive of Thomas’s
approach, if often provocative and sometimes unacceptable to a
modern reader. Since he divided the Summa in three, I have
devoted a chapter to each of these parts: much is left aside, of
course, but most of the salient matters are touched on, enough
(I hope) to enable the reader to scale an admittedly pretty
formidable work.
Thomas belonged to a very different culture and society from ours.
His writings are far more deeply embedded in his life, upbringing,
and career than a first glance might suggest. I have tried to bring
this out in the first two chapters. Then, in the 750 years since his
heyday, his thought has given rise to much controversy, beginning
even before his death. In the last chapter I offer summary accounts
of a handful of these debates – which are by no means all safely
concluded.
Footnoting references, signalling quotations, and so on were no
part of a 13th century scholar’s duty. He could recycle his own and
his predecessors’ work without a qualm. He knew nothing of
copyright and plagiarism, which are 17th century inventions. That
cannot be my excuse. The authors whom I list in the further
reading section will, I hope, forgive my plundering their work in
what is, I am sure they will agree, a good cause. Nobody has ever
written about Thomas Aquinas who did not want his or her
enthusiasm communicated, even at the cost of anonymity, to
enable others to discover his work.

Preface ix
Reference system xi
List of illustrations xiii
1 Life and times 1
2 Works 20
3 Summa Theologiae: First Part 31
4 Summa Theologiae: Second Part 66
5 Summa Theologiae: Third Part 87
6 Aftermath: Thomism 102
Further reading 121
Index 125
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