- Thomas Aquinas on the Beatitudes: Reading Matthew, Disputing Grace and Virtue, Preaching Happiness by Anton ten Klooste
This detailed and painstaking study of the beatitudes in Aquinas is an important work, well worth the labor required to follow its dense lines of argumentation. The merits of this volume are many: a fine (and up-to-date) description of biblical exegesis in Aquinas, a nuanced account of grace and merit in Aquinas's thought, fresh insight into the organization of the Secunda pars according to the theme of happiness/beatitude, and a concise and persuasive summary of how Aquinas correlates infused virtues, gifts of the Spirit, fruits of the Spirit, and the beatitudes.
One major contribution of this study is signaled by the sub-title: ten Klooster shows (in chap. 1) how Aquinas's threefold task as a master of Scripture fits together into a coherent and ordered whole: "The single office consisted in the exercise of three tasks: to read and comment on Scripture, legere, to hold disputations, disputare, and to preach, praedicare" (iv). This simple outline sheds a great deal of light on how biblical commentary, disputed questions, and preaching worked together in Aquinas's day, and for ten Klooster should work together in our time. The task begins with teaching what the Scripture says—this is the basic and foundational work of the magister in sacred Scripture. This gives rise to questions and issues, which are then taken up through disputation where contrary answers are considered and resolution is offered. Finally, the fruit of all this work yields the preaching of the word, whereby the Scripture is made available to the whole congregation for spiritual nourishment. "The interpretation of the letter is given in the lectio, the systematic elaboration in the disputatio, and the praedicatio applies it to the happiness of the saints and to the life of the believer" (243). This simple outline clarifies how these three distinct activities were ordered and coordinated within the single task of rightly handling the Scripture. Together they are "part of medieval Scriptural hermeneutics" (2). And by ordering his study of the beatitudes in Aquinas according [End Page 128] to this threefold model, ten Klooster displays for the reader how this threefold task of handling the Scripture can function.
Ten Klooster also provides (again in chap. 1) a concise description of the hermeneutics of Scripture in Aquinas. Surveying the scholarly renaissance of works on Aquinas as a biblical commentator and theologian, he includes brief discussions on the senses of Scripture, the purpose and unity of the Bible, the use of authorities, and the technique of divisio textus (the division of the text). What value does Aquinas's biblical hermeneutics have for us today? Ten Klooster offers a nuanced position. On the one hand, Aquinas's presuppositions (unicity of Scripture, multiple senses) put him "at a great distance from presentday Biblical exegesis" (29); to receive his approach uncritically would not do justice to the advances in biblical studies since his day. On the other hand, a "full rejection" of his method "would not do justice to what is of value in his reading of Scripture" (ibid.). In the study of the beatitudes that follows, ten Klooster practices this critical reception of Aquinas, identifying elements that are deficient but also promoting qualities that would benefit the reading and interpretation of Scripture today.
On the disputed question of whether Aquinas allows for more than one literal sense of a given text of Scripture, ten Klooster offers a view that is not fully satisfactory. He plainly inclines to the view that in principle there can be only one literal sense of a text for Aquinas, but he recognizes that Aquinas often gives more than one reading at the literal level. "In the [Matthew] commentary, it is striking that Aquinas seeks to establish the literal sense, but never pins it down to a single interpretation. In theory, it may be possible to say that there is a single literal sense...