- Holy Teaching: Introducing the “Summa Theologiae” of St. Thomas Aquinas by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt (review)
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 70, Number 1, January 2006
- pp. 140-142
- View Citation
- Additional Information
140 BOOK REVIEWS Holy Teaching: Introducing the "Summa Theologiae" ofSt. Thomas Aquinas. By FREDERICK CHRISTIAN BAUERSCHMIDT. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2005. Pp. 320. ISBN 1-58743-035-5. Preparing an introductory text to as great a work as the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas is generally a thankless task. Reviewers, including this one, will inevitably ask why certain favorite elements or emphases of theirs were not included or not included to the extent that they might wish-as if an introductory text could include everything or give all the detail one might hope for. Others will simply dismiss such pedagogical projects tout court, on the ground that any adaptation or compression of the Summa distorts the finely tuned balance of the work. I should begin, therefore, by thanking Bauerschmidt, the author of studies on the medieval mystics and of articles on Aquinas's theology, for the significant work that he put into this annotated compendium of texts from the Summa Theologiae. It is a much-needed theological companion to the largely philosophical compendiums edited by notable Thomistic philosophers such as Ralph Mcinerny. It serves as a theological "reader" that could be usefully combined in coursework with brief introductory expository volumes on Aquinas's theology such as those by Aidan Nichols, O.P., Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., and Michael Dauphinais and myself. Its publication with Brazos Press fosters an ecumenical engagement with Aquinas's theology that has significant potential for bringing ecclesial communions closer together. Bauerschmidt's work also stands as an effort to respond to a serious pedagogical problem. What passes for theology textbooks at present tends to be either historicist manuals tracing the development of doctrine from the beginning to the present day with very limited penetration into the intelligibility of the doctrine, or neo-Rahnerian synopses that do for Catholic theology what the works that popularized the great thinkers of classic Protestant liberalism did for Protestant theology. In the former approach, it is difficult to discern why "theology" should not be subsumed into "history of religions"; in the latter approach, it is difficult to see how "theology" is not admitting its own formlessness and thereby writing its own death-warrant as a discipline in the university. Bauerschmidt's compendium recalls theologians and theological students to the difficult intellectual work that reading Aquinas, or for that matter the Fathers, requires. Reading Aquinas's texts, one sees that in order to learn and teach Scripture in accord with the Church's doctrinal tradition, one cannot do without metaphysical claims and distinctions. The compendium thus will encourage the training of Catholic undergraduates, seminarians, and graduate students in the habits necessary for passing on the sacra doctrina, the "holy teaching," that Bauerschmidt cherishes. Like most contemporary interpreters, Bauerschmidt is concerned to read Aquinas historically. As he states, "Even ifThomas's theology is one for the ages, BOOK REVIEWS 141 one cannot properly understand that theology if one does not understand its author's place within his own age" (12). This principle, while possessing a prima facie logical plausibility, largely rules out the tradition of commentators on Aquinas between the fifteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, since they knew very little about Aquinas's historical context and life. Aquinas himself did not know much about the historical context of the Fathers or of the books of Scripture, whose teachings he sought to penetrate and pass on. Whether Bauerschmidt's brief summary ofAquinas's history actually tells his readers anything important for real insight into Aquinas's texts that those readers could not have gathered in via (e.g., that Aquinas sought to reconcile Aristotle with the inherited Augustinian and Dionysian streams of thought, or that Aquinas was born almost eight hundred years ago and lived the life of a Dominican friar and university teacher) is not at all clear. In the "Suggestions for Further Reading" at the end of the volume, the specialized studies recommended are all primarily historical studies. Even while granting the excellence of most of these studies one might wonder whether speculative theology informed by Aquinas should have been included. For instance, Anscar Vonier, O.S.B.'s or Colman O'Neill, O.P.'s speculative theological approaches...