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  • Thomas Aquinas's Presentation of Christ as Teacher
  • Michael S. Hahn

THE PRESENT STUDY examines Thomas Aquinas's presentation of Christ as teacher, as outlined in his treatise on Christ in the Tertia pars of the Summa theologiae. In comparison with other aspects of his theology, this theme could appear to be of negligible significance. Thomas himself devotes only a handful of articles to its consideration,1 and insofar as none of these has proven controversial, they have garnered scant attention in Aquinas scholarship.2 The topic has been profitably explored in a recent monograph by Paweł [End Page 57] Klimczak, but there the Summa's treatment is largely set aside in favor of the commentary lectures on Matthew and John.3 There is much to recommend about Klimczak's approach, as Thomas's com-mentaries are indeed rich and insightful, closely engaging with and illuminating the biblical text. Nonetheless, there is validity to the concern, implicit in the observation of Richard Schenk, that the questions devoted to the mysteries of Christ's life in the Tertia pars—and by extension, certain doctrinal considerations that underlie these questions—have been too long passed over by commentators and Aquinas scholars alike.4 The situation has improved in the past few decades, led in part by Schenk and his fellow Dominicans, especially Jean-Pierre Torrell;5 yet on the subject of the Summa's treatment of the doctrina Christi, there remains a clear need for further focused scholarly attention.

From the outset, acknowledgment must be made of the relative unremarkability of this material, if taken in isolation from its surrounding context. It does provide a concise [End Page 58] overview of an important office exercised by Christ, as teacher or rabbi, against the broader background of the Old Testament prophetic heritage. And, in doing so, it shows a profound attentiveness to the witness of Scripture concerning Christ's preaching activity, and its relation to his larger mission as the savior, God incarnate. However, the chief value of these reflections ultimately lies in their embeddedness within Thomas's broader Christology, which they reprise and refract, capturing his distinctive emphases on the person and work of Christ, while at the same time advancing them according to a particular trajectory. Indeed, what holds for this material holds for the treatise on Christ at large. One finds Thomas closely engaging with Scripture, especially the Gospels; one finds him focused on soteriological concerns, based on the conviction that Christ's teaching and his work of salvation are inextricably linked; one finds him attending to the wisdom of what God has done in Christ; finally, one finds him honing an incarnational grammar that elucidates the importance of who and what Christ is, as God, as Word, as human, and as savior. In light of these features, Thomas's presentation of Christ as teacher serves as a useful vantage for his reflections in the Summa on the person and work of Christ, which is the broader compass of this study.

Before addressing the details of Thomas's presentation of Christ as teacher, there is need for some clarification about the scope and focus of this inquiry, which is, at least initially, fairly specific. Beyond this, there is need for contextualization of this presentation, with regard both to Thomas's larger treatise on Christ, and to some earlier material in the Summa that it presupposes and builds upon, pertaining to the prerequisites for Christ's success as teacher. With this broader foundation in place, a more focused analysis of Thomas's presentation of Christ's teaching can proceed, leading finally to a consideration of several salient ways in which this presentation serves to illuminate the interests and goals of Thomas's Christology, and of his theology more broadly. [End Page 59]

I. What "Christ as Teacher" Could Be, and What It Is for Thomas

Within medieval theology, the theme of Christ as teacher is most often associated with Thomas's contemporary Bonaventure6 and, in turn, with the early Augustine,7 both of whom were concerned to provide an account of human knowing that is centered on Christ, as God...


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