Against the Gentiles

Thomas pays respect to his authorities by transforming them without pretending to reproduce them. He does not swear allegiance to their reified doctrines. He constellates them with other authorities around sequences of topics that strain to trace out new pedagogical patterns. Across the span of his writing, Thomas experimented with at least five major patterns: Peter Lombard's Sentences, the writings of Boethius, those of Pseudo-Dionysius, the so-called Summa against the Gentiles, and the Summa of Theology.1 The first and the last of these are more or less radical variations on the verbal professions called creeds. The others are patterns for interrogating not so much doctrine as the languages in which it can be taught. All of Thomas's experimental structures have been liable to misreading, but perhaps no structure has been misread so aggressively as the one mislabeled Against the Gentiles.

How is a serious reader meant to be moved by the structure of this experiment in persuasion? Who is addressed by the work? In view of which ends? Taking up these questions, I begin to show what it means for Thomas to transfigure authorities into pedagogies.

1 In this and similar passages, I omit the Compendium of Theology, in part because of its brevity (at least as we receive it), in part because it returns to much older structures, especially Augustine's Enchiridion. The notion that Thomas's various works should be read as part of a more or less unified project became fixed for me in the course of studying Michel Corbin's Le chemin de la théologie chez Thomas d'Aquin (Paris: Beauchesne, 1974). If I cannot agree with Corbin's Hegelian narrative of development, I remain completely persuaded by the project of his title.

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