It is often pointedly said of Aquinas that he was a theologian.
7 See e.g. Jordan 1993. No one-word characterization of him based on his work could be more clearly right, as long as we recognize that being a theologian is not always different from being a philosopher; that sometimes, however rarely, the designation 'theologian', like 'epistemologist', can end p.27
© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved simply pick out a philosopher with a particular interest or specialization. But I'll have to say more about this apparently trivial matter of terminology as I go along, because there's a widespread tradition of classifying Aquinas as a theologian primarily in order to deny that he wrote philosophy (except, perhaps, in his commentaries on Aristotle), and because the classification of his work really is complicated.
Aquinas lived an active, demanding academic and ecclesiastical life that ended before he turned 50 (1224/5-74); but he managed, none the less, to produce very many works, varying in length from a few pages to a few volumes, and covering in different ways all the topics in the vast range of subject-matter that was considered to be academic theology's domain in the thirteenth century. His writings are standardly sorted along the following lines. He wrote four theological syntheses, more than a dozen academic disputations (i.e. either 'disputed' questions or 'quodlibetal' questions), expositions of, or commentaries on, several books of the Old and New Testaments, commentaries on twelve of Aristotle's works, and four commentaries on works by other authors, along with many relatively short polemical writings, treatises on special subjects, expert opinions, letters, liturgical pieces, and sermons (see Appendix I).
Material relevant to my purposes in this book can be found almost anywhere in those varied writings of his. In order to explain my choice of Aquinas's Summa contra gentiles as the work to focus on, as the paradigm of the metaphysics of theism, I need to say something about its place in his own conceptions of theology and philosophy. Since the Summa contra gentiles is one of his four theological syntheses, and since those four systematic works present his attempts at a full-scale development of the Grandest Unified Theory, they are the only ones about which I want to say anything now.
The earliest of them, written during his late twenties, when he was a bachelor of theology at the University of Paris, is the Scriptum super libros Sententiarum (1253-6), an extended examination in standard scholastic form of doctrinal issues as they had been presented in Peter Lombard's Sentences, a twelfth-century compilation of opinions of Patristic and later authors on the articles of faith. Thirteenth-century bachelors of theology were expected to write (and deliver in lectures) Scripta, or commentaries, on the Sentences, and the standard organization of those assigned writings followed pretty closely the organization of the Sentences themselves.
PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com)
© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved
Consequently, Aquinas's Scriptum, the most youthful of his systematic works, is also the one that shows us less than any of the others do about his own, distinctive conceptions of how to approach, develop, organize, and
present the topics of theology.
8 The Scriptum does, however, contain much valuable material that hasn't yet been studied as much as it should be, primarily because it was superseded in most respects by his great Summa contra gentiles and Summa theologiae.
In chronological order, the other systematic works are Summa contra gentiles (SCG) (1259-65),9
9 This most widely accepted dating for SCG has not gone unchallenged. For a concise, well-informed summary of the dispute, see Jordan 1986b: 174 n. 7.
Compendium theologiae (1265-7),
10 The Compendium was once thought to have been written much later and to have been left incomplete because of Aquinas's death, but its similarity to SCG in style and in content has lately led scholars to assign it to this earlier period (see e.g. Torrell 1993).
and Summa theologiae (ST) (1266-73).
Stylistically, the Compendium is like SCG, since it's written in ordinary prose divided into chapters, and unlike ST, which follows'the scholastic method' based on the formal disputations of medieval university classrooms.
Moreover, in composing the Compendium, Aquinas borrowed from SCG. But in being entirely a work of revealed theology, the Compendium is unlike SCG and like ST. Among Aquinas's four systematic works the Compendium is unique in the brevity of its discussions and in having been organized around considerations of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. If it had been completed, it might have provided a novel reorientation of the vast subject-matter of medieval theology; but Aquinas wrote only ten short chapters of the second section, under the heading of'Hope', and none at all of the third section, under'Charity'. He did complete the first section, under 'Faith'; but since most of its 246 chapters simply provide briefer treatments of almost all the topics of theology that Aquinas had already dealt with in SCG, the Compendium as he left it seems important mainly as a précis of ii material that is developed more fully in SCG (and ST).
11 Aquinas's enthusiasm for the new approach he takes in ST may well have been what led him to abandon work on the quite differently organized Compendium.
Was this article helpful?