- Aquinas on Human Action: A Theory of Practice by Ralph McInerny, and: The Question of Christian Ethics by Ralph McInerny (review)
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 59, Number 4, October 1995
- pp. 653-655
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS 653 importance for both scholars and students of christology. One can only hope this present essay is but a prolegomenon to a longer and more substantive treatment which could respond to some the questions raised above. The Catholic University ofAmerica Washingron, D.C. JOHN S. GRABOWSKI Aquinas on Human Action: A Theory of Practice. By RALPH MCINERNY. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1992. Pp. ix+ 244. The Question of Christian 'Ethics. By RALPH MCINERNY. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1993. Pp. x + 74. Both of these books are cut from the same cloth. In fact, Ralph Mcinerny seems to have quite a bolt of the same fabric in his study. In 1982 he published Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. In the past two decades he has produced significant interpretations of Aquinas on natural law, conscience, and the human act. He has also left the theoretical provinces and argued for the practical application of Thomistic principles to various particular moral questions of our day. With the two books at hand, Mcinerny continues to advance the development of a living tradition of Thomistic ethical theory. Readers will not expect to find original moral theory in these books, unless it is that of Thomas Aquinas. What is new is Mclnerny's defense of his way of interpreting Thomas. There is an edge to both books under review. The summary presentations of Thomas's scholastic doctrine, delivered in Mclnerny's trademark clear, breezy style, are knit together by an interesting series of dialectical interchanges on some of the most important theoretical issues. The more recent The Question ofChristian Ethics defends the natural or philosophical autonomy of Aquinas's moral theory against the "fideistic" interpretations of Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, and Rene Antoine Gauthier. In so doing, Mcinerny tries to sustain a careful balance between protecting "moral philosophy from being swallowed up by theology [while insisting] that it is within the ambience of the faith that philosophy is best carried on" (ix). The slender volume publishes the text of the 1990 McGivney Lectures of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. The earlier Aquinas on Human Action divides neatly into two parts. Part One carefully guides the reader through a tour of the main elements of the moral theory of Summa theologiae 1-11. It is an excellent introduction that in six chapters shows the scope and explanatory power of Thomistic ethics. Although Part One covers much the same ground as his earlier Ethica 654 BOOK REVIEWS ThomistU:a, the treatment is much more sophisticated, and because of the way it deals with the interpretive and philosophical complexities, it will serve as a standard exposition of Aquinas's theory of moral action. He systematically covers themes such as human acts, happiness and the Good, the structure of the moral act, freedom and coercion, means and ends, exterior and interior acts, the place of reason, conscience, natural law, and practical reasoning . Part Two then leads the reader into six fields of contemporary controversy : fideism (contra Gauthier's dismissal of Thomas's Aristotelianism), the importance ofusus in the moral act (contra Donagan), the relevance of nature to moral truth (contra Finnis), the dependence of ethical truth on metaphysical verity (contra the is/ought taboo), the fragile liaison of modern natural rights and Thomistic natural law (as per Michel Villey against Maritain and, presumably, much recent episcopal teaching), and moral absolutes (contra Belmans, Fuchs, Rabner, et al.). These books represent not only fine moments of philosophical clarity and welcome instances of polemical virtuosity, they are also proffered as instruments in the cause of advancing a particular school of thought. As Mcinerny says in his Preface to The Qu.estion: "We stand ... on the threshold of a great forward movement in the history of Thomism ..." (ix). He argues that this advance ofThomistic philosophy accords with Church's lte ad Thomam, consistently reiterated from Leo XIII to Vatican II, as the Catholic thinker's inspired way in the contemporary quest for truth (55). Indeed, "the believer who follows the advice of the magisterium and takes Thomas as his chief guide in philosophy has...