"A small error at the beginning is great in the end, according to the Philosopher in On the Heavens and the Earth 1." Thomas Aquinas begins his first treatise with that allusion. In a gesture typical of hasty reading, the opinion is now attributed to him. Such gestures are repeated at much larger scale. Many a fat book on Thomas is undone by hasty presuppositions about reading that occur in (or before) its opening lines.
Thomas could certainly have added a happier corollary from his own experience: a small inspiration in the beginning counts for much later on. When I was a junior in college, I finished reading Bernard Lonergan's verbum articles and promptly wrote to him for advice (as undergraduates are liable to do). Lonergan wrote back a remarkably patient letter in which he explained that I should always read Thomas actively and comparatively, putting my mental habits at stake. His single letter sparked what other teachers, nearer to hand, had been saying. From them, I heard that nothing happens in the action of Platonic dialogues by accident (Jacob Klein), that attempting to write philosophy or revelation must remain a dangerous risk (Leo Strauss), and that Aristotle's texts, in whatever form we inherit them, present consummate acts of teaching (Robert Neidorf). In graduate school, I heard from Louis Mackey that elaborate charts pretending to arrange all of writings's possibilities should be painted only in sand. These inspirations helped me to read Thomas again — and better. If my style of reading still strikes many Thomists as eccentric, I would plead my genealogy not as an excuse, but as an argument. We should continue to worry about how we read Thomas not only because he is grandly canonical, but also because his practice of writing theology challenges (or rebukes) many who would write theology today.
What follows is offered as a book and not merely a collection of chapters. Though first drafts of its oldest parts were written 20 years ago, and published in earlier versions over the years, the newest parts were written in the last months. No page of the whole has escaped rewriting. The order of consideration has been changed and changed again.
Any book on Thomas must be selective in its topics, but especially in its attention to scholarly publications. Two decades back, when Clemens Vansteenkiste sacrificed himself to publishing an annotated bibliography of books and articles on Thomas, the yearly total ran well over a thousand pieces. Today the total must be higher — and the sum of originality somewhat less. Recentiores non deteriores, the philologist's rule holds: more recent copies of a text are not necessarily worse. The rule applies to Thomistic reading as well, but only with the explicit caution also applicable to codices: more recent studies often add nothing to earlier ones. Sometimes they subtract. The latest scholarship can be astonishingly innocent of earlier discoveries. So I try to sample various strata in the last century's Thomistic scholarship, without pretending to be comprehensive. Those who want a bibliographic compilation, or even a recap of the last decade's publications, should consult the databases.
It remains only to thank my colleague, Lewis Ayres, for originally proposing this venture to me; David Mellott for his help in preparing the manuscript; Blackwell Publishers for bearing with my lengthy revisions; and the many colleagues who have spent the time, in print or in person, to challenge my readings and to correct my errors. I also thank the editors or publishers of the following publications who allowed me to revise earlier versions of some of the material that follows in order to present it here:
Chapter 2: "The Competition of Authoritative Languages and Aquinas's Theological Rhetoric." Medieval Philosophy and Theology 4 (1994): 71—90. Chapter 3: "Medicine and Natural Philosophy in Aquinas" In Thomas von Aquin, ed. Albert Zimmermann, pp. 233—246. Miscellanea Mediaevalia 19. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1988. "De regno and the Place of Political Thinking in Thomas Aquinas." Medioevo 18 (1992): 151—168. Chapter 4: The Alleged Aristotelianism of Thomas Aquinas. Etienne Gilson Series 15. Toronto: PIMS, 1992. 41 pp. (published and paginated separately). "Thomas Aquinas' Disclaimers in the Aristotelian Commentaries" In Philosophy and the God of Abraham: Essays in Memory of James A. Weisheipl, O.P., ed. R.James Long, pp. 99-112. Toronto: PIMS, 1991. "Aquinas Reading Aristotle's Ethics" In Ad litteram: Authoritative Texts and Their Medieval Readers, eds. Kent Emery, Jr and Mark Jordan, pp. 229-249. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992. Chapter 5: "The Protreptic Structure of the Contra Gentiles" The Thomist 60 (1986): 173-209.
Chapter 6: "Aquinas's Middle Thoughts on Theology as Science." In Studies in Thomistic Theology, ed. Paul Lockey, 91—111. Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1995 . "The Ideal of Scientia moralis and the Invention of the Summa theologiae." In Aquinas's Moral Theory: Essays in Honor of Norman Kretzmann, eds. Scott MacDonald and Eleonore Stump, pp. 79-97. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999. © Cornell University.
Chapter 7: "The Pars moralis of the Summa theologiae as Scientia and as Ars." In Scientia und ars in Hoch- und Spätmittelalter, ed. Ingrid Craemer-Ruegenberg and Andreas Speer, pp. 468-481. Miscellanea Mediaevalia 22. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1994.
Chapter 8: "Theology and Philosophy." In The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas, ed. N. Kretzmann and E. Stump, pp. 232-251. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. © Cambridge University Press.
Chapter 9: "Esotericism and Accessus in Thomas Aquinas." Philosophical Topics 20 (1992): 35-49.
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