The renowned Italian writer Umberto Eco once likened St. Thomas Aquinas to a “medieval computer, ” which is a fitting analogy.
Even from just a quick glance of Aquinas’ work, you can’t help but be struck by his arguments. They seem so logical and orderly, set up in the popular medieval form of question, objection, reply and solution. In fact, looking over Aquinas’ work does remind me of those early computer programs that we had to learn in high school.
However, I say that his arguments “seem” logical and orderly because thinking has progressed since Aquinas’ time. In the 21st-century we’ve learned to question the once hallowed notions of logic and order.
Although some churches, governments and even scientists may want us to, we no longer have to passively or, perhaps, apprehensively accept and socially reproduce reified ideologies and their apparently ‘legitimate’ approaches to knowledge. Sane and innocuous individuals are free to actively evaluate ideas with the analytical tools, insights and accumulated knowledge available today.
With this in mind, it seems that much of Aquinas’ work is strongly influenced by preexisting assumptions, categories and modes of reasoning, a point that he, himself, doesn’t overlook by making frequent reference to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, whom he respectfully calls “The Philosopher.” While drawing upon Aristotle’s work, Aquinas modifies the ancient Greek’s pre-Christian arguments to conform to the Christian faith as understood in medieval times.
A final point to consider with regard to the Summa Theologica is that near the close of his life Aquinas apparently received some kind of transforming vision that lead him to tell a certain Brother Reginald:
All my works seem like straw after what I have seen.†
We cannot, however, really know if this legend is true. And even if it is, Aquinas’ elaborate synthesis of ancient Greek and medieval Christian paradigms remains impressive and should be of interest to those hooked on the history of ideas.
I am happy to present this outstanding summary of the Summa Theologica, arguably one of the great intellectual achievements not only from the medieval period, but of any time or place.
This work has been posted with the direct and generous permission of the late Fr. Thomas Harding, Th.D. (1918-2005). It is not to be copied, duplicated, modified nor distributed in any way.
† For slightly different versions of this quote, Google using these keywords: All my works seem like straw after what I have seen
- A better way of reading the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas (newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com)
- Musings on Language, Wittgenstein, Aquinas, and the Otherness of God (theologiansinc.wordpress.com)
- Beware the Man of One Book. (convalescentsoul.wordpress.com)
- Thomas Aquinas, part 3: scripture, reason and the being of God | Tina Beattie (guardian.co.uk)
- Five pieces to read on the Memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, priest and Doctor (insightscoop.typepad.com)
- Thomas Aquinas, part 1: rediscovering a father of modernity | Tina Beattie (guardian.co.uk)
- The Road Thus Far… (convalescentsoul.wordpress.com)
- The Knowability of God (theologiansinc.wordpress.com)