- Master Thomas Aquinas and the Fullness of Life by John F. Boyle
This short, pocket-size book is a publication of the annual Aquinas Lecture that the author delivered at the University of Dallas in 2013. As noted in the acknowledgments, he presents "the connecting tissues that unify [his] seemingly disparate scholarly work on St. Thomas Aquinas" (xii). In point of fact, given that this scholarly work has spanned the author's entire professional career, this book, I would suggest, offers not only consideration of "connecting tissues" of academic labor but also the ruminations of the author's life-long conversations—even friendship—with "Master Thomas." What the author gives the reader, in other words, are his mature reflections "on Master Thomas precisely as a master, as a teacher" (xv).
To this end, the author fittingly enough presents to us a master of both philosophical and theological wisdom. The wise man, the author notes in an opening section entitled "Master Thomas," sees things in relation to their causes and thereby orders them according to their ends. This upshot is clear: "this drive to order things … characterizes Thomas's teaching" (13). The "connecting tissues" of the author's research that he chooses to substantiate this, and to which the core of the book is dedicated, are Aquinas's position on life (specifically, its natural degrees and its moral and supernatural aspects) and his biblical exegesis.
We turn, then, to the degrees of natural life. Here the author cites the classic Aristotelian-Thomistic view that what defines life is the ability for self-movement. Generically speaking, we find three distinct types of things that move themselves: plants, "which move themselves in a very limited way" (20); animals, which "move themselves … according to the instrumentality of bodily organs and parts" and which "apprehend the forms of other things" through the senses (21); and man, who moves himself like animals do but whose self-movement, as expressive of his intellectual nature, is also "immediately consequent upon an end not simply given in nature" (23-24). The author then explains that the source and first cause of life is of course God, "whose nature is [his] very act of understanding" and who "is [his] own end," as he is "always in act" (26). In this way, life reaches "its ultimate perfection in God" (28).
Moving to consideration of the moral life, that is, of the "good life" for the human being, the author notes how the definition of life—the ability for self-movement—still holds, since the moral life concerns the way the human being moves himself in the way intended by his nature as through certain "habits," thereby acquiring "a kind of second nature" (30). The foundational principle here is that we are ordered to the good as to our proper end and perfection: "the good perceived draws us to itself; it is part of our self-movement, a part of our living, that we move ourselves to the good" (34). And since God, who [End Page 140] has revealed himself as a Trinity of persons, is himself the First Good, the human being's ultimate end and perfection is properly supernatural, not simply natural.
This leads the author to conclude the section on life with consideration of the supernatural life. Here he places the focus on two supernatural virtues: faith and charity. As regards the former, "a habit that makes the intellect assent to things that appear not" (41) and which "is not a mere feeling … [nor] a mere confidence" … [but a] knowing [of] the truth" (43), the author stresses how Aquinas's teaching on the supernatural virtue of faith "reminds us with his exquisite clarity that man knows and assents to the truth [both natural and revealed] with only one power, the intellect. The life of the mind is one and unified" (44). Also key to Aquinas's presentation of faith is the fact that "with faith, man begins eternal life here on...