- Dieu, “Celui qui est” (De Deo ut uno) by Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P.
Written by the current secretary of the International Theological Commission and president of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas, this immense book on the treatise De Deo ut uno of Aquinas’s Summa theologiae is one of the most important advances of Thomistic scholarship and analysis to appear in recent decades. The book consists of five sections, encompassing nineteen chapters. The first section consists of a methodological prologue of three chapters on, respectively, the God of the Old Testament, the natural knowledge of God, and the place of the treatise De Deo ut uno within Aquinas’s larger speculative work of Trinitarian theology. The second section consists of two chapters that examine Aquinas’s arguments for the existence of God in question 2 of the Prima pars. The third section consists of five chapters that cover the divine attributes from questions 3–11: simplicity, perfection, goodness, immutability, eternity, and so on. The fourth section consists of two chapters that examine Aquinas’s doctrine of knowledge of God, the beatific vision, divine naming, and analogy in questions 12–13. The fifth section consists of seven chapters that examine the life of God, namely, his knowledge, will, love, mercy, justice, and power, topics covered in questions 14–21 and 25. The book is simultaneously historical and analytic, in the sense that it seeks both to depict the nature of Aquinas’s understanding of God within his medieval theological context and to interpret and analyze the content of the Thomistic positions in view of making normative truth claims.
The book is obviously extensive in scope and impressive in this respect. It does manage to treat effectively and in depth the whole treatise De Deo ut uno, and frequently includes encyclopedic references to historical context and secondary literature. (Providence and predestination are omitted from the book, seemingly because they enter so deeply into other theological contexts, particularly regarding grace and free will.) More significant to this reader, however, is the methodology. The author’s treatment of Aquinas is historically nuanced, but even in being so, it seeks above all to be analytically compelling. That is to say, Thomistic arguments about God are consistently presented as intellectually compelling and rationally warranted in a contemporary context. To seek to interweave the historical and analytic elements in this way is clearly quite ambitious. Furthermore, the author engages with a number of classical [End Page 647] and contemporary debates while conducting his commentary. Significant examples include Barth on natural knowledge of God, Rahner’s critique of the treatise De Deo ut uno in Thomistic theology, the critique of metaphysics as ontotheology in Heidegger and Marion (to which strong rejoinders are offered), Scholastic discussions of God’s omnipresent immediacy (Bañez’s theory in relation to Scotus, Cajetan, and Ferrara), criticisms of divine immutability in modern process theology, tactful criticism of de Lubac on the natural desire for God, Aquinas’s use of analogical terms to name God (the diverse views of Montagnes, Gilson, and Maritain), problems with Molina on “middle knowledge,” and soteriological responses to contemporary criticisms of divine omnipotence (only an all-powerful God can save us). This list is more indicative than exhaustive. Clearly, the book is primarily an exposition of the teaching of Aquinas on God, but the author’s interlocutions along the way frequently contribute to the cumulative integrity of his argument for Thomistic veracity, rather than detracting from it.
Detailed commentary on each section of the book is not possible, but some sections merit particular mention so as to indicate typical characteristics of the whole. The second section of the book is especially significant. Bonino’s treatment of Aquinas’s famous five ways is 101 pages long and constitutes, in this reader’s opinion, one of the finest historical and analytic treatments of the arguments available in recent scholarship. The text treats the notion of a “demonstration” first...