The entire Summa is about 3,000 pages long, and most of it is Scripture so I would rather just read the Bible to get my theology, but Aquinas' work is so influential in Western thought that I needed to at least read a book like Kreeft's that is an anthology of the Summa using Aquinas' actual words. Kreeft also has a Summa of the Summa that is 500 pages, but I opted for this even more concise version that is under 200 pages. It is not "about" the Summa but gives the most important parts in a concise readable form. I figured this was enough to "count" for my Invitation to the Classics List!
So, what is the Summa? I didn't know until I saw it on my list. I will let Wikipedia explain it to you:
The Summa Theologiæ (written 1265–1274 and also known as the Summa Theologica or simply the Summa) is the best-known work of Thomas Aquinas (c.1225–1274). Although unfinished the Summa is "one of the classics of the history of philosophy and one of the most influential works of Western literature." It is intended as a manual for beginners in theology and a compendium of all of the main theological teachings of the Catholic Church. It presents the reasoning for almost all points of Christian theology in the West. The Summa's topics follow a cycle: the existence of God; Creation, Man; Man's purpose; Christ; the Sacraments; and back to God.
Among non-scholars the Summa is perhaps most famous for its five arguments for the existence of God known as the "five ways" (Latin:quinque viae). The five ways occupy one and one half pages of the Summa's approximately three thousand five hundred pages.
Throughout the Summa Aquinas cites Christian, Muslim, Hebrew, and Pagan sources including but not limited to:Christian Sacred Scripture,Aristotle, Augustine of Hippo, Avicenna, Averroes, Al-Ghazali, Boethius, John of Damascus, Paul the Apostle, Dionysius the Areopagite,Maimonides, Anselm, Plato, Cicero, and Eriugena.
(From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summa_Theologica)It is interesting to note that "At the Council of Trent (1545-63), which formulated basic Catholic teaching for succeeding centuries, his Summa was placed on the altar alongside the Scriptures" (Invitation to the Classics, p. 93). Aquinas also wrote a summary of theology for missionaries to the Muslims called the Summa contra Gentiles.
Where the Summa Theologiæ was written to explain the Christian faith to theology students, the Summa contra Gentiles is more apologetic in tone, as it was written to explain and defend the Christian truth in hostile situations against unbelievers, with arguments adapted to fit the intended circumstances of its use, each article refuting a certain heretical belief or proposition. Instead of a mere elucidation of the length and breadth of Christian truth, Aquinas explains specific core articles of Christian belief.
(From: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Summa_contra_Gentiles)The Summa Theologica contains 604 main questions with many sub questions that total over three thousand! After the question, there are objections followed by his position and concluded by the answers to the objections. Apparently, this reflected the debates that were going on at the universities at the time.
A rational nature seeks to "make sense," to be coherent and comprehensive, to understand how a thing fits together with others in order to find its place in the larger scheme of things. Theology is an attempt to make sense" out of faith--to see how what is revealed in Scripture relates to what we know through our experience, both in everyday life and in science. (Invitation to the Classics, p. 94)I am not big on theology. As I told my friends who were gathered around a picnic table hotly debating theology one summer afternoon in 2001, "I just don't 'think' about God." This was followed by uproarious laughter because they all knew I had been studying and leading Bible studies for over 30 years (www.3yearbiblebookclub.blogspot.com). I don't think about God just as I don't "think" about my husband, I LOVE him. I ADORE him. I want to KNOW him. I don't want to THINK ABOUT him! So that is where I get hung up on theology.
BUT I believe this is how some people's brains work. So, I have slowly and painfully tried to read theology in order to become "all things to all men." I like Piper and Tozer, but they make it so practical. I still struggle with Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy because it is too philosophical and just not practical. But others gobble it up. Therefore, I muddled my way through it, twice (Part of my reason for not thinking that book is too earth-shattering is that I say, "Duh, isn't this how all believers should live? Isn't it obvious? Don't people already know this stuff about the Kingdom of God?" But apparently not for those raised in a traditional church culture. I was nurtured in the Navigators which was radically different and more like what Willard describes. The Navigators were more practical than Willard though. I do like Willard's Spiritu of the Disciplines though. But I digress. . .)
Summa means "summary," but it isn't a "summary" when it is twice as long as the source of the summary, the Bible! That is why Paul Kreeft's Shorter Summa was PERFECT! In addition, I will read On Prayer and the Contemplative Life which takes from the much more concrete Second Part of the Second Part (II-II) of the Summa Theologica. In this part . . .
Aquinas argues for the superiority of the contemplative life in our return to God--a life absorbed in thought about God, living in his presence--over a life dedicated to activity, wholesome and necessary though that might be. Aquinas's own life was a mixture of the contemplatives and active lives, with the aim of presenting to others the fruits of contemplation.The is more my cuppa' tea!
LATE BREAKING BULLETIN ..............................................................
I wrote all the above introduction before I read the "Endnotes" of The Shorter Summa (What nerd reads the Endnotes? Answer: ME!), and even St. Thomas sort of came to the same conclusion:
Here is how St. Thomas described his Summa explaining why he could not finish it, after he had had a "mystical experience" (the correct description is "infused contemplation"): "I can write no more; compared with what I have seen, all I have written seems to me as straw" (Endnote #2, Kindle Edition, Location 1564-67)I REST MY CASE!!!!! It isn't about "thinking" about God, it is about a relationship with Him!
Even Invitation to the Classics encourages the reader to "thumb through the Summa, exploring the questions of most personal interest to gain a sense of the whole. (p. 96 - I just read that so I am not "cheating" by reading The Shorter Summa!) Even The Shorter Summa was difficult for me to get through, but I did enjoy the whole section on "happiness" (means "complete well-being" and not what we normall attach to this word in modern day) because it lined up directly with what I read in Aristotle's Ethics. But I could have told you what His conclusion would be: complete well-being can only come from God.
Here are the "Issues to Explore" from p. 96:
(1) How is philosophic reason related to faith?
It approached faith from a different angle and has its place in the world. Many people think that way. So, I succumb to the way God made them. I don't know if answers to objections really convinces people to follow Christ though. It is a supernatural encounter with a relational God.
(2) How does Aquinas understand embodiment as essential to humanness? How does this relate to the resurrection?
I am too dumb to answer this question. HELP!
(3) How are general human virtues related to the theological virtues?
All men are created in the image of God. So, there are glimmers of God in everyone. The full manifestation of God cannot be realized until we are reconciled to Him through Jesus though. Our happiness can only be derived from Him. It helps to have read Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle and his writings on moral human virtues.