- Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae: A Reader’s Guide by Stephen J. Loughlin
Stephen J. Loughlin is well known to the world of Aquinas scholarship, especially for his efforts behind The Aquinas Translation Project, a web-based initiative, hosted by DeSales University, for the proliferation of works by Aquinas not readily available in English. Those familiar with his work, then, will be happy to see him here, with his contribution to T&T Clark’s Reader’s Guide series, continue his project of making the thought of Thomas Aquinas accessible to a wider readership by providing undergraduate students with an intelligent, yet demanding, introduction to Aquinas’s most celebrated work.
The work is divided into three chapters, with the first devoted to the context of the Summa. Here Loughlin introduces the reader to Aquinas the man, his work, and the Summa itself. The initial sections on Aquinas’s biography and character are missed opportunities, in this reviewer’s opinion. Perfunctory in manner, they offer the reader the typical biographical sketch of Aquinas as the pious intellectual, without pausing to consider features of his personality that have attracted less attention, such as his rebelliousness as a teenager upon entering the Dominicans, or his independence of spirit [End Page 167] in straying from the commentary tradition and setting out on his own with the work of the Summa—personality traits, one might think, that would do more in attracting typical undergraduate students to this rather heady figure. The highpoint of this chapter is Loughlin’s treatment of the Summa itself, his eloquent exposition of its “Nature and Purpose,” “Unifying Principle,” and “Method.” Following the work of Jean-Pierre Torrell, Loughlin places the theological intention of the Summa in the forefront, quite rightly identifying its governing role in the work as the main difficulty for readers today (28). Loughlin provides an illuminating summary of the complicated issue of the overall structure of the Summa, limiting himself to those theories based on the prologues of the text, an approach to be commended for grounding the reader in the text rather than in the theories. And finally, given the emphasis on its theological intention, it is remarkable that there is no discussion of Aquinas’s use of Scripture in the Summa. A basic overview of Aquinas’s approach to the Bible might help students with their own reading of the text and illuminate the theological intention at its heart.
The second chapter is by far the largest and most daunting of the three. Comprising Loughlin’s commentary of the Summa, it dwarfs the other two with a total pagination of 279! Aware of the practical restrictions of such an endeavour, Loughlin limits his comments to mainly the Prima Pars and Prima Secundae, devoting attention to only the “major principles and arguments” (ix) of the later parts. His rationale for doing so is that the material in these sections “lays down much of the foundation” (ix) for the rest. Following the order of the text itself, Loughlin discusses the content according to themes, grouped into what he calls treatises, comprising of one or more questions from the Summa. His expositions are linear, tracing arguments within the text, often for several pages without a break. The theological intention expressed in the previous chapter is never far from view, and he does a commendable job of relating discussions to the overall structure and aim of the text. Such attention is most evident in his treatment of the subject of morality, where Aquinas’s concern for right moral action is squarely placed within the larger question of happiness and fulfillment in God, as opposed to law, duty, or conscience (246). Loughlin demonstrates a deft handling of sources, bringing together voices from European scholarship, British and Continental, as well as North American, without tiring the reader with excessive quotations or arcane scholarly debates. The overall effect is a single, intelligent, and informed commentary, focusing on the achievement of Aquinas’s thought rather than on its limitations.
The third and final chapter is...