- Thomas Aquinas: A Historical and Philosophical Profile by Pasquale Porro
Anglophone philosophers and Thomists owe a debt of gratitude to Joseph Trabbic and Roger Nutt for their recent translation of Pasquale Porro's Thomas Aquinas: A Historical and Philosophical Profile. One of Europe's leading historians of medieval philosophy and editor of the prestigious journal Quaestio, Porro has achieved a truly original feat: a historical introduction to all of Thomas Aquinas's works accompanied by properly philosophical analyses of numerous key doctrines. The author integrates the best of twentieth- and twenty-first-century studies on Thomas's university and religious context, his doctrinal sources, and dialogue partners. Porro also provides many original textual and systematic interpretations of Thomas's thought. While paying adequate attention to his theological corpus, Porro rightly focuses his speculative analysis on philosophical matters (for example, he dwells at some length on the esse/essentia distinction but does nothing with transubstantiation). Metaphysical and anthropological issues receive the most attention, though ethics does not suffer from neglect. One might say that Porro does for philosophers what Jean-Pierre Torrell's masterful Thomas Aquinas (vol. 1: The Person and His Work; vol. 2: Spiritual Master) has done for theologians. In other words, Porro's opus stands out as unique within the literature on the Angelic Doctor. The fact that Torrell has just published thoroughly revised editions of both of his volumes in French shows the speed of evolution in the historical scholarship. That evolution also indicates the need for a work like Porro's in philosophy and the history of philosophy.
Porro's work follows a chronological order: Thomas's years as a student (chap. 1), his first stint as master of the sacred page in Paris (chap. 2), his first years in Italy as master, especially at Orvieto (chap. 3), the Roman sojourn (chap. 4), the second term as teacher in Paris (chap. 5), and the final years in Naples as well as the aftermath of his death (chap. 6). The last chapter includes a marvelous overview of Thomism's birth pangs in the late thirteenth century. The bibliography of primary and secondary sources is simply outstanding. Thankfully, the translators have added a list of English translations of Thomas's works. The monograph includes a handy chronology, a name index, and a very thorough subject index.
Porro writes in a very clear and accessible way, and the quality of his style comes out well in the English translation. He tends to alternate between a selection of citations from the primary texts and solid summaries of other texts. The references could have been more thorough (the footnotes give no page or line numbers for the text of the Leonine edition). Porro consistently centers his presentation on the thought of Thomas himself; the latter's mode of argumentation always stands in the foreground. Thomas's sources [End Page 459] (especially the Greeks and Arabs) receive frequent attention, yet without dominating the scene. Porro consistently offers a smooth combination of historical remarks, identification of sources, textual analysis, and properly philosophical evaluation. We find occasional critical remarks that are both respectful and well-founded. Porro is evidently interested in the truth of the matter. He neither slavishly follows the Angelic Doctor nor seeks to deconstruct him. Modern scholarly debates mostly remain in the background. Each section includes a prudent selection of secondary literature in the footnotes. There is little doubt that Porro has mastered the vast literature on Thomas's philosophical works and ideas.
For each work of Thomas, after giving an overview of the historical setting and a brief thematic survey, Porro usually offers a more in-depth consideration of one or two key doctrines contained in the work under consideration. Among the most insightful treatments are the pages on De principiis naturae (6-12), De ente et essentia (12-26), analogy (33-40), truth (62-68), necessary...