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.
York: McGraw-Hill, 19xx
"A New St. Thomas
By St. Thomas Aquinas. Latin Text and
Introduction, Notes, Appendices and
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