The Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas is January 28th, and Verbum is celebrating with sales on Aquinas texts and scholarship in the Verbum Monthly Sale.
Here’s an excerpt from British Dominican scholar Aidan Nichols’ Discovering Aquinas: An Introduction to His Life, Work, and Influence:
Aristotle had asked, fundamentally, two questions. What is reality like, and what are the rules of argument which get us from one conclusion about it to another? The first kind of question is answered in his Physics, Metaphysics and Ethics; the second in his logical writings, the Organon, a name we can paraphrase as ‘the philosopher’s tools of trade’. The latter had been percolating through, in dribs and drabs, for some time, but a logical rule is empty unless you have some content for it to deal with, and it was the philosophical and ethical writings that caused the stir. In them, the different kinds of things in the world around us, including man, are analysed in terms of general principles of being and action which all beings in different ways exemplify; happiness is said to be the goal of specifically human life; it is reached by the exercise of virtues which are ways of being at harmony with myself and my human environment. There is little in Aristotle about the divine, for the philosopher lacked the concepts both of creation and of the personal nature of God, even if he saw a place for an unmoved Mover to keep the whole cosmic process of coming-to-be and passing-out-of-being in operation.
Thomas’s achievement was to integrate such naturalism into the traditional Christian vision of life which the earlier monastic theologians entertained. In the early Middle Ages theology had been by and large the spiritual theology practised in the monasteries. While issues of logic were beginning to exercise monastic minds (one thinks of St Anselm), and such ruminations on the fundamental grammar of theological discourse were even more at home in cathedral schools, the aim was predominantly (not least in Anselm) the expression of the prayerful orientation of man to God. Preferred theological themes were closely relevant to spiritual living: religious self-knowledge, one’s status as creature and sinner; the grace of Christ and how it heals from sin and raises up to share the life of God; the goal of earthly pilgrimage in the beatific vision, sitting down with the Trinity at the banquet of heaven in the celestial city. Monastic theology, so well described in Dom Jean Leclerq’s The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, included, as that title tells us, ardour for erudition. The same monastic milieux transmitted, after all, much of the pagan classical inheritance as well as the Church Fathers. It was Thomas’s conviction, evidently, that this programme could be taken much further. The naturalism of the pagans at their best—the thinking, both theoretical and practical, of the ‘good pagans’—could be textured into the fabric of Christian theology, without losing—and here is the point that Thomas’s more rationalist disciples in later centuries were in danger of forgetting—the spiritual and eschatological (in a word, the heavenly) orientation of theology itself (14-15).