- Thomas Aquinas and His Predecessors: The Philosophers and the Church Fathers in His Works by Leo J. Elders
The book under review is an English translation of Thomas d'Aquin et ses prédécesseurs: La présence des grands philosophes et Pères de l'Église dans les oeuvres de Thomas d'Aquin (Paris: Les Presses universitaires de l'IPC, 2015). The French text has a dedication page to Pope Benedict XVI, which is missing in the English edition. After a one-page author's preface and a two-and-a-half-page introduction, the book offers sixteen independent studies of select sources of Aquinas's thought, both philosophical and theological. The first five chapters are (1) "Plato's Philosophy," (2) "Aristotle," (3) "The Commentaries on the Works of Aristotle," (4) "The Stoa, Seneca, and Cicero," and (5) "Gnosticism and Neoplatonism: Philosophy in the First Centuries and Gnosis." Elders offers a sixth chapter, "The Fathers of the Church; Saint Augustine," which supplies an overview of the Fathers in less than three pages before turning to a consideration of Augustine. The book's chapters continue in this order: (7) "Saint Jerome," (8) "Saint John Chrysostom," (9) "The Commentaries on Two Treatises of Boethius," (10) "Saint Gregory the Great," (11) "The Platonism of Pseudo-Dionysius," (12) "The Metaphysics of the Liber de causis," (13) "Saint John Damascene and Saint Anselm of Canterbury," (14) "Avicenna," (15) "Averroës," and (16) "Jewish Philosophy: Avicebron and Maimonides." No conclusion is offered. Twenty-five books and articles written by Elders can be found in his "works cited," and Elders notes where he borrows from earlier work in this new book. [End Page 132]
This collection of essays on Aquinas and the predecessors he consults makes a valuable contribution to Thomistic studies. Elders writes, "Our intention is to show the extent to which the thought of these authors is present in the works of Aquinas, and is appreciated or discarded by him" (ix). Questions could always be raised about why some predecessors are chosen and not others. Elders considers only "those philosophers and theologians who occupy a considerable place in the works of Aquinas," and he leaves out "the authors whose influence on Western thought has not been very considerable" (x). As for Aquinas's debt to patristic sources, Elders writes, "Only those Church Fathers have been mentioned whose presence in the works of Aquinas is substantial and who have made a considerable contribution to his doctrinal synthesis. Thus the reader will not find chapters on St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Ambrose, Origen, and so on" (x). For the curious, it might be noted that Hilary's name appears over 700 times, Ambrose's name over 1,100 times, and Origen's name over 1,000 times in Aquinas's works. Elders continues that he has not examined the presence of the Latin theologians of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Aquinas's works. He assesses the way in which Aquinas read his predecessors: "The final conclusion which imposes itself after the detailed survey is that St. Thomas studied and evaluated the doctrine of these authors with perfect objectivity, grasped the essential elements, and examined the extent of their being well-founded and true" (xi).
Elders offers many insightful summaries and adroit observations, always with respect for Aquinas, and he frequently features priceless quotations of Aquinas's sources. I love this Scriptum quotation from Gregory the Great's Homilies on Ezekiel: "In sanctorum vita cognoscimus quid in scriptura intelligere debemus" (194 n. 6: "In the life of the saints, we realize what we ought to understand in Scripture"). Later in that chapter on Gregory, the reader finds both the Latin and a translation of what Elders calls Gregory's "striking formulae" found in Aquinas's works (215-18). For an example from that list, Aquinas quotes from the Homilies on Ezekiel: "The fire of love kindled here on...