St. Thomas Aquinas

I am unfamiliar with the writings of this philosopher and would like to learn about his theological beliefs. I took a class on religions, and my teacher told me that my Christian views were somewhat like that of Aquinas’ beliefs. Does anyone know where I should start? On Faith or one of those general collection books?

“There are many sweeping generalizations that are always true” -Space Ghost

If you really want to dive in and get soaked in theology, try Thomas’s Summa Theologica which is his explanation of the entire Catholic system. Each tenent of belief is discussed and he attempts to logically prove why each thing is as it should be through a mixture of Biblical scripture and rational thought.

My three volume set spans some 3000 pages and isn’t something you want to start reading right before your favorite Tv show.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

Our football team just played St. Thomas Aquinas High School… Their quarterback chop blocked me and tore my ACL… I don’t like St. Thomas.

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

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I’d suggest starting with an quick overview (something along the lines of From Socrates to Sartre by Stumpf. A college library should have it. This will give you thumbnail sketches of the people who preceded Thomas so that you can see what he built on and where he went his own way.

Mentor books used to have a series of paperbacks named The Age of. . . . that discussed each phase of philosophical conjecture. I believe that Thomas would be in The Age of Faith (although he may have had his own section if they published The Age of Scholasticism).

Basically, Christian philosophers/theologians had tended to follow the basic thrust of Plato’s thought (with an idealized Good and all other objects being reflections or shadows of some idealized form). Thomas was introduced to the theories of Aristotle through translations of Arabic/Islamic copies of the works of Aristotle and began to follow those ideas in which one began with observable realities and postulated how they tied in with ultimate values.

(I have horribly oversimplified both schools of thought.)

If you are already into philosophy and want to dive into his stuff, go ahead. Amazon and your local college library each have lots of stuff on him or by him.


Well, to begin with, Thomas Aquinas was a Christian. In the middle ages, the works of Aristotle were just being rediscovered in the West, and the Church, which had traditionally based its teachings on Plato, found them all rather unsettling. (It didn’t help that all the important modern commentators on Aristotle were Moslems.)

Thomas, one of the most brilliant minds in history, undertook to restate Christian doctrine using Aristotlean philosophy as a skeleton. (It’s no good saying, “Use the Bible”. The Bible wasn’t written for intellectuals, and doesn’t answer the questions that intellectuals want – no, need – to have answered.) He was so successful, that, with very few exceptions, his theological teachings are still official doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church. (For that matter, on a lot of important subjects, like the Trinity and the Incarnation, he’s also pretty much required reading for Protestants.)

But I should warn you, if you didn’t find Plane Geometry fun, you won’t like Thomas. The Summa is a densely-written book intended to be used by serious students. If you still want to tackle it, I should warn you that each article starts off by saying the opposite of what he means to prove, and giving the reasons for thinking that way. Then he adds a quotation (usually from the Bible) and goes on to show why what he said first is wrong.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Footnote to Tom’s post (which I was waiting for, since my knowledge of Scholasticism is somewhat less than perfect): It is indeed The Age of Faith. They covered over 1,000 years of philosophy in one ~200 page paperback. BTW, this is also the title of the Will and Ariel Durant volume on the Middle Ages, which is well worth perusing as well.

Thanks guys, I should have made it clear that I don’t mind reading difficult books, unless they are required reading in my Lit class. In fact, I thoroughly enjoy reading theological and philosophical arguments. I thought about going to the library, but it just takes SO long to go two blocks to get a book and then have a limited amount of time to read it. And John, it sounds like his style is much like that of the apostle Paul’s, and while I realize Paul’s writings were written in a more simple style, I had no problem with the logic of Romans (or any of his other letters, for that matter), so I feel I should be able to handle it. My main goal, which I should have stated previously, is to learn the philosophy behind my faith. I’ve heard many people refer to him as a good source, so I wish to find this out for myself. Any other writers I could look to for practical Christianity?

“There are many sweeping generalizations that are always true” -Space Ghost

Personally, I would start with a good biography and then move on to the Summa – it’s very dense reading and I found that having a historical context for the writing helped me to absorb it.

As far as other writers are concerned, I would recommend Augustine (though he can sound a little harsh), and C.S. Lewis, IMO the greatest modern Christian apologist. I’d start at the very beginning (a very good place to start), which would be Augustine’s Confessions and Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I’m really interested to see who other people would recommend, as I’m always looking to expand my reading list as well.

Thomas is considerably drier than Paul, but have fun.

Other authors:
G. K. Chesterton (who has a commentary on Thomas and some wonderful fiction, The Man Who Was Thursday, the Father Brown mysteries (collected short stories), and others that are imbued with his theology.)
His magnum opus is Orthodoxy.

St. Augustine, Confessions, and City of God. Harder to find in bookstores, but a college library should have them, are his various debates with Pelagius and others.

Current Catholic philosophy can be found in works by Karl Rahner, Etienne Gilson, the guy who was at McGill, in Canada, whose name I can never remember.
Theology that leans over the edge (so that the Church has ordered them to stop publishing as Catholic theologians–they can still publish, but they would have to do it as “private citizens”): Richard P. McBrien and Hans Küng. The stuff that had been published up until around 1980 for Küng and 1990 for McBrien are still inside the Catholic fence (although they irritated a lot of people).

Protestants with strong catholic (somtimes Catholic) messages include:
Paul Tillich (we used to joke that we should swap the Lutherans, Küng for Tillich)
C. S. Lewis


In response to Jodhi’s request for opinions, one of my favorite theologians (I’m not very much of a theist, but this one seems to make a lot of sense for both believers and non-) is Soren Kierkegaard. Check out his “Concluding Unscientific Postscript” (a great title, IMO). I sort of consider him post-Nietschze damage-control.
In history courses on the gothic we usually consider Thomas Aquinas and that bunch the beginining of “modern thinking” as we know it; definitely check out the Summa. But while you’re in the medieval vein, have a look at Abelard-- an even more interesting fellow.

I think, just to be fair, that someone should stick up for the other side here. You can certainly get a nice, one-sided view of the matter if you read all the philosophers who have the same attitude towards and conclusions about christianity and religion in general; Meanwhile I will suggest reading those with opposing views that you may better understand the whole subject.

No offense to Aquinas, but some of the arguments against Christianity that he lays out and then refutes are pretty weak and poorly framed.

For a good refutation of Aquinas and Anselm, I suggest reading David Hume. I would also suggest reading some of Nietzsche’s early works on morality in exclusion of Christianity (“Beyond Good and Evil” is especially good). (BTW Nietzsche was most definitely NOT the proto-Nazi he is sometimes made out to be – his theories are quite antithetical to Nazism, in fact, so don’t worry about anything like that.)

Kierkegaard? I am not worthy! I bow in the presence of someone who could get through Kierkegaard! I frankly admit that I never could. :slight_smile:

And Sixseatport, not to pick nits, but he did ask specifically for Christian writers and philosophers. If someone asks for a good Chinese restaurant, it’s not unfair to fail to mention all the good Italian restaurants.

ah, jodih, yes, but while it is most important to read the primary sources concerned therein, one can also glean a great deal of useful information by studying opposing views.

i.e. Know Thyself, but also Know Thine Enemy.


Everybody else has made some good, solid suggestions, none of which I can disagree with. So, instead, I’ll give you a list of authors which, IMHO, would be good ones to avoid if you want solid Christian (especially Catholic) theology. Ergo, stay away from the following:

Leonardo Boff
Malachi Martin
George Stallings
Matthew Fox
Charles Curran
John Dominic Crossan.

Again, this selection is simply MHO. I would also include anything written after 1980 by Hans Kung and Richard McBrien, but that’s just me, and you have to remember that I tend to be extremely conservative in affaires d’religioux. Some of these are weirder than others; on the whole, Crossan and McBrien are just a little ways off; Curran and Kung are noted Catholic dissidents (meaning they disagree with what the official Catholic Church teaches), and Stallings and Fox are both waaaaaaaaaaaayyy out in left field. I would avoid the last two especially if you’re looking for orthodox Christian viewpoints, although Fox can be entertaining if you happen to be a devotee of either weird fiction or abnormal psychology.

You probably already know this, but I will add to this list of them to avoid any writings by the following:

Joseph Smith
Brigham Young
Mary Baker Eddy
Helena Blavatsky
Charles Taze Russell
Herbert W. Armstrong
Loraine Boettner
Tony Alamo
Jack T. Chick.

There. Keep that list handy, run from works by the people on it like you would from the plague, and you’ll do well, my son.
Consider it to be sort of your own private Index of Forbidden Books. :slight_smile: