- Embracing Wisdom: The "Summa theologiae" as Spiritual Pedagogyby Gilles Mongeau
Gilles Mongeau has written an illuminating book with many enjoyable insights. This is no small praise for a book that adds to the innumerable discussions of the structure and aims of Thomas Aquinas's Summa theologiae. According to the introduction, Mongeau's work draws upon various streams of Thomistic and medieval studies: Thomas Hibbs's attention to dialectic and narrative in the Summa contra Gentiles, Jean-Pierre Torrell's treatment of the spiritual theology of the Summa theologiae, and Mary Carruthers's retrieval of the rhetorical shape of medieval and Dominican life. Mongeau thus offers a reading of the Summa theologiaeas rhetorically constructed to lead its reader into deeper conformity with the wisdom it seeks to communicate. [End Page 303]
He formulates the purpose of his work in his first chapter, "A Wisdom that Makes One Holy." The theme of wisdom as transformative plays a central role in this book. Mongeau thus seeks to overcome some of the separations that have occurred in scholarship on Aquinas. He helpfully summarizes the work of Mark Jordan, Guy-H. Allard, Peter Candler, and Fáinche Ryan and their distinct approaches to viewing the Summathrough the respective lenses of wisdom, rhetoric, deification, and sanctification. He seeks to add to their various emphases a more historical focus on thirteenth-century rhetorical practices. He then turns to a presentation of sacra doctrinaas both scientia(knowledge) and sapientia(wisdom). As scientia, sacra doctrinaconforms the mind to reality. As sapientia, sacra doctrinahelps the wise person order all things both theoretically and practically. Drawing upon the work of Pierre Hadot, Mongeau discerns in such wisdom a way of life, in particular, the way of life embodied in the Dominican friars whom Aquinas sought to instruct. Mongeau summarizes the goal of his book as follows: "I hope that my readers, having become aware of and open to the rhetorical dynamics present in the text, might allow the spiritual pedagogy of the Summa theologiaeto work in them as it did in Thomas' students, leading them to Wisdom's embrace" (17).
The book has two major parts. The first part (chapters 2-4) examines the rhetorical order of the Summa theologiaeand presents the work as a ductus—a directed motion or a leading—into divine wisdom. Here the emphasis is on "the historical and methodological context for reading the Summa theologiaeas sacra doctrina" (16). The remainder of the book (chaps. 5-9) deploys that same context in the service of close readings of various parts of the Summa. In each instance, Aquinas's presentation of Christ as the Incarnate Word is revealed as the pattern for contemplating such divine wisdom and handing it on to others. Mongeau, in analyzing many sections of the Summa, "[brings] to the fore the rhetorical ductusthat unites Aquinas' systematic and spiritual concerns" (17).
Chapters 2-4 present the heart of the book's thesis, namely, that the often-overlooked rhetorical element of the Summais easily demonstrated when Aquinas's writings and life are placed within their thirteenth-century Dominican context. Mongeau considers the interplay of meaning and culture as found in ancients such as Aristotle and Cicero as well as Philo, Augustine, and Boethius, along with their shared attention to rhetoric within philosophy and theology. Following Marshall McLuhan, Mongeau observes that the rhetorical dimension of meaning has been radically diminished in the post-Cartesian streams of philosophy and theology in the West. In contrast, he avers that rhetoric should be seen as "the art and science which allowed Christian thinkers, pastors, and poets to mediate the intersubjective, aesthetic, and dramatic power of meaning during the patristic and early-medieval period" (38). The recognition of the indispensable role of rhetoric and meaning within the search for truth as opposed to a sterile rationalism is certainly sound and welcome. Furthermore, Mongeau implicitly avoids any [End Page 304]reduction of...