- Thomas Aquinas: Faith, Reason, and Following Christ by Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt
After so many "companions" or "readers," is it still possible to compose a novel introduction to Aquinas? In this insightful book, presented "as a general introduction to the life and thought of Thomas Aquinas" (x), Frederick Bauerschmidt meets the challenge.
His work consists of seven chapters. The first chapter, "Time, Place, and Person," is a historical-cultural introduction focusing on Aquinas's life and [End Page 297] activity in the context of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries (1-37). Two parts follow. The first has a historical-theoretical flavor. It explains "how Thomas related reason to faith" (x), including the following chapters: "Thomas's Intellectual Project" (chap. 2, pp. 41-81), "Praeambula fidei: God and the World" (chap. 3, pp. 83-142), and "Fides quaerens intellectum" (chap. 4, pp. 143-75). The second part, "Following Christ," deals more with morals, starting in a quite Thomasian way by examining "the way of God incarnate" (chap. 5, pp. 179-227) before examining "the way of God's people" (chap. 6, pp. 229-89). Chapter 7, "Thomas in History" (291-316), presents a nuanced overview of the history of the reception of Aquinas.
According to Bauerschmidt himself, "those who wish to have an easy descriptor for this book can describe it as an essay in Hillbilly Thomism" (xi, alluding to Flannery O'Connor). However, this opus is much more refined than the humble claim suggests. Indeed, the last chapter, "Thomas in History," shows great hermeneutic sophistication and mastery. Although Bauerschmidt obviously favors la nouvelle théologie rather than archeo-Thomism in his review of the history of twentieth-century Thomism, he stresses both the naïveté of Marie-Dominique Chenu's dichotomy between religious affirmations or intuitions and particular languages and concepts throughout history, and the "point" of Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange "that it is hard to identify continuity of intuition or affirmation without some sort of conceptual continuity" (313). We would go further and speak of a necessary continuity of wording, of language.
When he compares "historical theology" à la Rorty with the "history of theology" (308-10), Bauerschmidt obviously presents the reader with his own method. Indeed, his book does not only offer (1) historical reconstructions (accounts of Aquinas in terms that Aquinas himself would approve, trying to avoid anachronism) and (2) "rational reconstructions" (redescriptions of Aquinas in our terms, deliberately anachronistic). It also gives some insights pertaining to (3) Geistesgeschichte and (4) intellectual history (the broader cultural context). Indeed, this book epitomizes "historical theology" at its best, by presenting Aquinas's intellectual project as "a form of discipleship" (x) still imitable today.
Bauerschmidt presents theology, sacra doctrina, as a "way of life." Throughout the book, he demonstrates how sacra doctrina as understood by Aquinas compares with ancient philosophy as rediscovered by Pierre Hadot: it is a way of life, more than a theoretical discipline. Bauerschmidt stresses the reciprocal integration of Aquinas's way of life (as a Dominican) and his thought. For instance, he writes, "Thomas recognizes, as did the schools of philosophy in antiquity, that virtues are acquired or deepened through practices, which always occur at particular times and places under the guidance of particular rules, teachers, and examples" (260). Even the reception of infused virtues may be prepared by such exercises (ibid.). Hence the prevalence of virtue over law in Aquinas's moral teaching. This feature [End Page 298] mirrors the statements of the Order of Preachers about the legal—not moral—status of its regulations (258-59).
In order to stress the Dominican-oriented dimension of Aquinas's theology, Bauerschmidt makes a judicious use of Michèle Mulchahey's work on medieval Dominican institutions (chap. 2 and pp. 258-64). Dominican formation started even with learning "a new way to walk" (261)!
Since Aquinas was a "disciple," his way of life and oeuvre are fundamentally Christocentric: "his single goal...