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A review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star, 24 May 1964,

of a book:

SUMMA THEOLOGIAE. BY St THOMAS AQUINAS.

Latin and English Translation, Introduction, Notes, Appendices and Glossaries.

Volumes 1, 2 and 3,

edited by Thomas C. O'Brien, O.P., general editor.

New York: McGraw-Hill, 19xx

 

 

"A New St. Thomas Aquinas Version"

 

SUMMA THEOLOGIAE. 

   By St. Thomas Aquinas. Latin Text and English Translation, 

   Introduction, Notes, Appendices and Glossaries. 

   Volumes 1, 2 and 3. 

   133, 239, and 277 pages. 

   McGraw-Hill. $5.50 for Volume 1; $6.75 for the others.

 

   These volumes are part of a remarkable publishing enterprise -- the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas in 60 volumes, with the Latin and English on facing pages. The volumes will appear at the rate of eight a year, to sell for $330 the set, and should be completed in 1971. Like the English translation, which came out earlier this century, this work is the product of a large team of scholars of the Dominican order of friars. Father Thomas C. O'Brien of Catholic University is general editor for American contribution.

   The value of this work, with the Latin and English together, is beyond question for any serious student of theology or medieval philosophy. But to anyone who does not already have a working knowledge of the outlook, arguments, and vocabulary of the Summa, it will be a difficult task to assimilate, since the translation and commentaries are expressed in the rather technical language of Thomistic scholarship.

   The neophyte cannot conveniently begin his reading of Aquinas with this work, but must first master some of the recognized secondary manuals (such as Father Copleston's Aquinas in the Penguin Books or Gilson's "Elements of Christian Philosophy," which sells for 75 cents in Mentor Books), and then sharpen his teeth on some more limited selection of Aquinas' writings, such as those which appeared recently in a paperback volume edited by Thomas Gilby, O.P.

   It is to be hoped that the publication of this work will encourage a fair number to do this, especially those young philosophers who may not be Roman Catholic, or even Christian, and will, thus, be ready to approach Thomas with a critical eye without preconceptions. For Thomas has a great deal to offer to students of this type, who may be able to respond to his moderation and interpret his austere prose with profit to contemporary thought, both in the field of philosophy and outside of it in the area of more general intellectual attitudes.

   Like all great men who have become part of an "establishment," Thomas has suffered from his supporters as much as from his enemies. In fact, the extravagance of the latter has opened the way for the former. His supporters have treated his writings as dogma, which must not be modified or adapted. Perhaps their worst damage has arisen from their insistence that Thomas' ideas form an organic whole, so that whoever accepts a portion of them must follow along their inevitable sequence to embrace the whole of them. This is far from the truth. The angelic doctor had a picture of the truth achieved by long discussion and debate over more than a millennium of time by innumerable predecessors. In that long period every detail was examined, debated, modified, and re-examined. The picture was never final in Thomas' mind, for he wrote different versions of portions of it at various times of his life. The "Summa Theologiae" represents one particular verbalization of one particular version. It has immense value today, but that value can be determined only if it is subjected to the same examination, debate, and modification which served to formulate it originally.

   The materials which went into the work of Aquinas are a combination of observation and revelation. To the twentieth century non-Catholic thinker the use of revelation as one of the sources of evidence may seem repellant, but as soon as we recognize that all thinkers in all ages use a similar dual source of evidence by combining assumptions based on faith, which they do not question, and observations derived from experience, we begin to see that Thomas used the same kinds of materials as any other thinker and must be examined in a critical fashion in terms of what he did with these materials just as all other thinkers are. On this basis Aquinas has a great deal to offer to the rather confused subject of philosophy today.

   Much of the value of this work rests in the fact that it is a typical product of the Western tradition; that is, a tentative consensus arising from a community's investigation and discussion over time. The neophyte whom we have mentioned, who objects to the use of revelation as a significant element in a philosophic system, might consider the present work's statement (vol. 1, p. 102) on the nature of revelation as a reflection of our Western tradition as defined above: "Revelation is not oracular. . . Propositions do not descend on us from heaven ready-made, but are . . . more a draft of work in progress than a final and completed document, for faith itself, though rooted in immutable truth, is not crowning knowledge, and its elaboration in teaching, namely theology, is still more bound up with discourses progressively manifesting fresh truths or fresh aspects of the truth to the mind. So the individual Christian and the Christian community growth in understanding; indeed they must if, like other living organisms, they are to survive by adaptation to a changing environment of history, ideas, and social pressures." This surely is a more flexible definition of revelation than most thinkers today would be willing to apply to modern science, which constitutes for so many of us today our act of faith.

CARROLL QUIGLEY. 

 
 

 

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