Nearly six and a half centuries have passed since the death of St. Thomas (d. 1274), and yet his work is still considered the simplest and most perfect sketch of universal theology to be found in any language. Its value is recognized not only by Catholics but also by outsiders, even by the enemies of revealed religion. On this subject readers are referred to the Encyclical Letter "AEterni Patris," of Leo XIII and to the article "Thomas Aquinas, Saint," in the Catholic Encyclopedia. St. Thomas' renowned work is a Summa in the best sense of the word. In it nothing is superfluous, nothing is wanting. It is a compendious, but complete, exposition of sacred doctrine, written in language so clear and concise that one is in constant admiration of the genius and sanctity of one who could express so well his knowledge of God and all things pertaining to God. Pope Pius X, shortly before his death, viz., in June, 1914, issued a document imposing the obligation of using the Summa of St. Thomas as the text-book in all higher schools in Italy and the adjacent islands which enjoyed the privilege of conferring academic degrees in theology. All institutions failing to comply with the Pontifical order within three years were to be deprived of the power to confer degrees. It is not probably that Benedict XV, an admirer of Leo XIII and a friend of Pius X, will revoke or modify the decree of his saintly predecessor. The Summa of St. Thomas is still a living and valuable book.
The following pages cannot claim to be even a good summary of its merits and excellencies; they are simply a few pertinent remarks which will be interesting, it is hoped, and modestly helpful to two classes of readers. For students of theology they will serve as an introduction and an incentive to deeper study of a work which cannot be fully known and appreciated until the general plan and all details of the execution have been examined in a close and reverent inspection of the immortal pages penned by the Angelic Doctor. For those who are not students of theology these sketches will furnish a coveted peep into the treasury where so many riches are said to be stored. To those who are not familiar with the Latin language the Summa of St. Thomas has been as a sealed book. Translations of the full text into French and English are now in course of publication (see Catholic Encyclopedia, l.c.), and soon will afford our laymen an opportunity to learn more about the great medieval theologian's immortal work. For the benefit of both classes of readers it has been considered opportune to publish the plan of the Summa both in Latin and English. The chart facing page 87 gives in St. Thomas' own words the plan which he followed in writing on God in Himself, and on God as the Alpha and Omega -- the beginning and end of all things, especially of rational beings. The same plan, translated into English is given at page 109. These two charts, in their wonderful simplicity and grandeur, are more valuable than any words of explanation and comment. For the benefit of those who desire to know more about St. Thomas and his Summa there is added a short bibliography which will be helpful both to students and general readers. Sincere thanks are due to the Editor of the Catholic University Bulletin for the permission, graciously granted, to reprint the following pages.
The Summa and the Catechism. -- "The Catholic Church," writes Ozanam, a distinguished modern author, "possesses two incomparable monuments, the Catechism and the Summa Theologica (Sum of Theology) of St. Thomas Aquinas; one is for the unlettered (persons of ordinary capacity), the other is for the learned." The truth of this remark is admitted by all theologians who have studied and examined the Summa of St. Thomas after having learned, as we must learn, the outlines of the Christian religion from that dear little book, the Catechism. The Catechism contains a compendious enumeration and short explanations of the principal doctrines of the Christian religion; the Summa of St. Thomas contains a complete list of those same doctrines, explained and developed and defended by the genius of a Master who is universally recognized as the "Prince of Theologians." Had St. Thomas written nothing but his theology, his name would have been immortal, because nothing new is said in stating that the "Summa Theologica" is universally admitted to be the greatest masterpiece of human genius that the world has ever known. This work contains the cream of St. Thomas' philosophy and theology, being in reality a résumé, or sum, of all his other writings; it represents the perfection of the human mind in its application to the truths of faith, the perfection of Christian philosophy and theology. Those who read it are filled with enthusiastic admiration for the author, and they know not which should be more admired, the grandeur of the plan or the extraordinary genius manifested in the execution of the grand conception.
Lacordair compares the Summa to the Pyramids. -- "Shall I attempt," exclaims Fr. Lacordaire, speaking of St. Thomas, "shall I attempt to describe this man and his work? As well might I attempt to give a perfect idea of the pyramids by telling their height and breadth. If you wish to know the pyramids, be not content with listening to a description; cross the seas; go to the land where so many conquerors have left their footprints; go into the sandy deserts, and there behold standing before you something solemn, something grand, something calm, immutable and profoundly simple -- the pyramids!" St. Thomas' Summa, in its majestic simplicity may well be compared to the grandest of the pyramids. We may look upon it with admiring eyes; but no tongue can tell, no pen can adequately describe the wonders of its simple grandeur; it is the masterpiece of a genius who has had neither a superior nor an equal. This great manual of theology comes to us from that much maligned thirteenth century, of which Vaughan writes: "The masterpieces of medieval science were produced at the very time that the great architectural masterpieces were conceived and at least partially realized." The thirteenth century was an age of construction as well as of destruction. The men of those days upset and destroyed many idols of preceding centuries; but in their stead they constructed imperishable monuments both in the material and in the intellectual world, which to this day excite the unbounded admiration of all lovers of true genius; and the architects of our day would be happy if they could produce something worthy of being compared to the great cathedrals and churches and libraries and town-halls which were conceived and executed by the architects of the Middle Ages. This is a special manner true of the greatest of all masterpieces of medieval science, the Summa of St. Thomas. No writer of theology has attempted to make an improvement upon this greatest of all manuals of theology. The Church, guided by the Holy Ghost, has held her councils and has issued instructions and definitions to which not even the most enthusiastic admirer of St. Thomas would dare compare his writings when there is a question of a teacher that is infallible as well as accurate; but it is a fact well known to theologians that many of those definitions were taken almost verbatim from the works of St. Thomas. Amongst men the Summa has been looked upon as the groundwork and model for all theologies written since his time, and the greatest praise that could be bestowed upon any philosophy or theology consists in saying that the book really deserves to bear on the title-page the inscription: "ad mentem D. Thomae" -- in other words, that it was formed on the model of St. Thomas and really represents his teachings.
When did St. Thomas resolve to write the Summa? -- It is impossible to determine at what epoch in his lifetime St. Thomas resolved to write the Summa. We know that in his infancy those who cared for him were frequently astonished on hearing the child ask, with unexpected seriousness, "What is God?" It may be supposed that thus early in life grace was perfecting nature in this favored child, preparing him gradually to become in due time the most distinguished representative of that science which takes its name from God, of whom it treats. His sojourn at Monte Cassino, his studies at Naples, his reading of the Scriptures and of Aristotle, his study of the "Sentences," in which Peter Lombard gave a compendium of the most important texts of the Fathers relating to theology, his training under Albertus Magnus, who was deeply impressed with the order and accuracy of Aristotle's writings, and who was himself fond of experimenting and of collecting materials for rebuilding the edifice of philosophy and theology -- all this tended to prepare St. Thomas for giving to the world what Ozanam calls "a vast synthesis of the moral sciences, in which was unfolded all that could be known of God, of man, and their mutal relations, a truly Catholic philosophy."
Origin of the Summa. -- In preceding chapters something was said of the chaos produced at Paris and elsewhere by the introduction of new studies and new methods into the universities. With brilliant professors anxious to obtain fame by giving their names to new systems, with Averroes' commentaries on Aristotle regarded at Paris as the perfection of philosophical knowledge, with rationalism and pantheism publicly taught by professors of a Catholic university, with contempt for old systems and the love of novelty growing in the minds of men, while the sweet and pious mystics of the school of St. Victor sought to induce men to give up "philosophy and empty fallacies" in order to return to the contemplation of heavenly truths and the study of the Scriptures, there was a confusion that puzzled even learned theologians, and poor beginners could do nothing but follow the systems of their masters.
Influence of Albertus Magnus on St. Thomas. -- St. Thomas was a witness of this confusion. He had not suffered as much as others from the disordered state of philosophy and theology, because he had enjoyed the advantage of being instructed under a master whose clear vision was not dimmed by the darkness which surrounded him. Albertus Magnus -- "honor to whom honor is due" -- pointed out to St. Thomas the dangers and the needs of the thirteenth century, and to him principally, under God, we are indebted for the immortal Summa. Although St. Thomas himself had not experienced the difficulties under which others labored, he knew what those difficulties were, and he resolved with all due humility, and with the hope of assistance from heaven, to write a book that would be a remedy for the confusion and uncertainty which prevented students from forming a clear conception of the doctrines of Christianity.
The Summa written for Beginners. -- In making this statement there is no necessity of drawing upon the imagination or of resorting to ex post facto suppositions. St. Thomas himself tells us -- the declaration will perhaps surprise those who hear it for the first time -- that his Summa was written for the special benefit of students; of beginners, as we call them. This declaration was made in the Prologue to the Summa. "We have reflected," he writes, "that beginners in this sacred science find many impediments in those things which have been written by divers authors; partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles and arguments, partly because those things which are necessary for the education of novices are not treated according to the order of discipline (scientific order), but as the exposition of certain books or the occasion of dispute demanded, and partly because the frequent repetitions beget confusion and disgust in the minds of the learners." Those "impediments," or trials of beginners as we may call them, St. Thomas wished to avoid, hence he adds: "I shall endeavor, trusting to the assistance of heaven, to treat of those things that pertain to this sacred science with brevity and with clearness, in so far as the subject to be treated will permit."
These are St. Thomas' few plain and simple words of introduction to his immortal Sum of all theology. They contain a promise, and never was a promise more faithfully fulfilled. He did not write simply in order to explain or refute books that had been written before his time. He did not wish to make a show of learning by heaping up useless questions and arguments, thereby causing great confusion in the minds of his readers. No, with humble confidence in the Almighty, he intended to use the talents that God had given him to compose a complete, but at the same time brief and lucid, exposition of the truths made known by revelation. In other words, he promised to write a scientifically arranged theology, and he fulfilled his promise in such a manner as to become the Prince and master of all theologians, with no one to dispute his claim to the title.
Question I. Sacred Doctrine. -- After these few preliminary remarks, which, by the way, contain more than many a long-winded preface, as prefaces are often written, the Angelic Doctor enters into the consideration of his subject, beginning with an introductory question on Sacred Doctrine, by which term he means either revelation in general, or theology in particular.
Besides philosophy which can be known by reason, he says, revelation is also necessary for the human race, first because without revelation men could know nothing of the supernatural end to which they must tend, and secondly, without revelation even the truths concerning God which could be proved by reason, would be known only by a few, after a long time and with the admixture of many errors (Art. I, cf. Vat. Council, Const. "Dei Filius," c.2).
What is Scholastic Theology? -- The principles of revelation having been once received, the mind of man proceeds to explain them and to draw conclusions from what was revealed. From this results in man's mind theology properly so-called, which is a science, speculative and practical, higher in dignity than the other sciences, deserving to be called wisdom, because the principles from which it proceeds are made known by revelation which manifests God as the highest cause of all things (art. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). The object, or subject, of this science is God; all other things are treated in it only in so far as they relate to God (art. 7). Reason is used in theology not to prove the truths of faith -- which are accepted on the authority of God -- but to defend, explain and develop the doctrines which have been revealed (art. 8). Revelation is made known to us by the Sacred Scriptures. God, the author of the Scriptures, embraces all things in His infinite mind; and when He deigns to speak to man, if we take into account the intention of God, considering the spiritual or mystical as well as the literal sense of the words, a single text of Scripture may contain a world of meaning (art. 9, 10).
Plan of the Summa. -- Having laid down these principles, St. Thomas announces the order he intends to observe in his theology. This is one of the most important features of the Summa. In ten lines of a half column, as the words are printed in the Migne edition of his works, the Angel of the Schools sketches that wonderful plan which introduced unity into all theological treatises. Under three headings he classifies all the parts of dogmatic and moral theology; not one of them can be omitted in a complete theology; it is not necessary to add another, because they embrace everything, they cover the whole field.
General Outlines. -- Now, what are those three headings, those three leading ideas? "Since the principal object of sacred doctrine is to give the knowledge of God, not only as he is in Himself, but also as He is the Beginning of all things and the End of them all, especially of rational beings, we shall treat first, of God; secondly, of the tendency of the rational creature to God, and thirdly, of Christ, who as man is the way by which we tend to God." This is the grand division, these are the general outlines of the "Summa Theologica." God in Himself and as He is the Creator; God as the End of all things, especially of man; God as the Redeemer -- these are the leading ideas under which all that pertains to theology is contained.
Subdivision; 1a Pars. -- The First part, of God in himself and of God as Creator, is subdivided into three tracts. (1) Of those things which pertain to the essence of God, (2) the distinction of persons in God, i.e., on the Trinity, (3) of the procession of creatures from God; under which St. Thomas treats (1) of the production of creatures, (2) of the distinction of creatures, (3) of the preservation and government of creatures. Under the heading of the distinction, he treats of the distinction of creatures, (1) in general and (2) in particular, i.e., of good and evil, of creatures that are purely spiritual (the angels), of creatures that are purely corporeal (the material world), and of man, who is composed of body and spirit. This makes in all nine tracts in the first part: (1) On the essence of the one God. (2) On the Trinity. (3) On the creation. (4) On the distinction of things in general. (5) On the distinction of good and evil. (6) On the angels. (7) On purely corporeal creatures. (8) On Man. (9) On the preservation and government of the world.
2a Pars. -- The Second part, which treats of the tendency of rational creatures to God, i.e., of God as He is the end of man, contains the moral theology of St. Thomas or his treatise on the end of man and on human acts. It is subdivided into two parts knowns as the 1a 2ae and the 2a 2ae, or the First of the Second, and the Second of the Second. The first five questions of the 2a pars are devoted to proving that man's last end, or his beatitude, consists in the possession of God. Man attains to that end or deviates from it by human acts, of which he treats, first in general (in all but the first five questions of the prima secundae), secondly, in particular (in the whole of the 2a 2ae).
The treatise on human acts in general is divided into two parts, (1) on human acts in themselves, (2) on the principles or causes of those acts. Of the acts performed by man some are peculiar to him as man, others are common to him and the lower animals; hence St. Thomas speaks, (1) of human acts, (2) of the passions. Here I may pause to remark that in these two tracts, St. Thomas, following Aristotle, gives the most perfect description and the keenest analysis of the movements of man's mind and heart that ever came from the pen of man.
The principles (or causes) of human acts are intrinsic or extrinsic. The intrinsic principles are the faculties of the soul and habits. The faculties of the soul were explained in the first part, in treating of the soul of man; hence in the prima secundae St. Thomas considers habits, first, in general, then, in particular, i.e., the virtues and vices, in explaining which his power of analysis is again displayed in a remarkable manner. The extrinsic principles of human acts are the devil who tempts us, and God, who instructs us by His laws and moves us by His grace. Of the temptation of the demons St. Thomas treated in the first part, when he was explaining God's manner of governing the world. The prima secundae closes with the treatise on laws and on grace.
2a 2ae. The second part of the second treats of the virtues and vices in particular. In it St. Thomas treats first of those things which pertain to all men, no matter what may be their station in life; secondly, of those things which pertain to some men only. Things that pertain to all men are reduced by St. Thomas to seven headings: faith, hope and charity -- the three theological virtues -- prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance -- the four cardinal or principal moral virtues. Under each title St. Thomas, in order as he himself tells us, to avoid frequent repetitions, treats not only of the virtue itself, but also of the vices opposed to it, of the commandment given to practise it, and of the gift of the Holy Ghost which corresponds to it. Under the second heading -- of those things which pertain to some men only -- St. Thomas treats first of the graces freely given by Almighty God, to certain individuals for the good of the Church, such as the gift of tongues, prophecy, the power to work miracles, etc. Secondly, of the active and contemplative life. Thirdly, of particular states in life, and of the duties of those who are in different stations, especially of bishops and religious.
3a Pars. -- In the third part of his Summa, St. Thomas treats of our Blessed Redeemer and of the benefits which he confers upon man; hence the three tracts; first, on the Incarnation and on what our Saviour did and suffered when He was on earth; second, on the Sacraments, which were instituted by our Saviour and have their efficacy from his merits and sufferings; and the third, on the end of the world, the resurrection of our bodies, judgment, the punishment of the wicked, and the everlasting happiness of those who through the merits of Christ are brought back to the bosom of God.
These are the grand outlines of the Summa, which was the first, and which remains to this day the most perfect, scientifically arranged theology that was ever written. I have said nothing of the subdivisions under each grand heading; they bear the impress of the same all-embracing and penetrating mind which conceived the general plan. The Summa contains 38 tracts, 631 questions and about 3,000 articles, in which more than 10,000 objections are answered. Take up any one of these articles, and by referring to the beginning of the treatise you can see at a glance what place it occupies in the general plan, which embraces all that can be known of God, of man, and of their mutual relations. This scientific arrangement of questions is one of the most prominent features of the Summa, and the making out of this plan was in itself a greater benefit to theology than anything that had been done before or has been done since the time of St. Thomas. Writers who preceded St. Thomas had deserved well of religion and of the Church; they had written wisely and well, and to some of those who immediately preceded him or were contemporary with him must be given the credit of having prepared the way for the Summa by collecting the materials which he moulded into one vast synthesis; but they had not written a scientific theology. Those who came after St. Thomas have deemed it an honor and a pleasure to follow the order of the Summa. They may have added some new developments or cited some facts and definitions which came after the thirteenth century, but they have never dreamed of attempting to write a better theology. St. Thomas remains the master and the model; the nearer they approach to him, the better right they have to be considered good theologians.
It must not be supposed, however, that all the excellencies of the Summa have been enumerated when the general plan has been pointed out and a short list has been given of the principal questions treated in it. St. Thomas was not only a great architect, he was also a practical builder and he attended with the greatest diligence to every detail of the grand edifice which he constructed. Reading over his works we involuntarily exclaim: Verily Pope John XXII expressed a truth when he said that St. Thomas wrought as many miracles as he wrote articles.
The Style of the Summa. -- Let us consider, for instance, the style of his writings. The style of St. Thomas is something unique and inimitable; it is a most extraoardinary combination of brevity, accuracy and completeness. The Scholastics generally were not so careful of style as were the predecessors in the learned world; they were more solicitous about their thoughts than about the language in which their ideas were expressed. Hence the lamentations of John of Salisbury, who was a finished classical scholar and a writer of elegantly polished letters. St. Thomas' style is a medium between the rough expressiveness of the ordinary Scholastic and the almost fastidious elegance of John of Salisbury. We know that his hymns in honor of the Blessed Sacrament are incomparably grand and beautiful. Santeuil said he would give all the verses he ever wrote for the following words of the "Verbum Supernum," which immediately precede the "O Salutaris":
Se nascens dedit socium
Convescens in edulium
Se moriens in pretium
Se regnans dat in praemium.
But I am speaking of his style of writing on philosophy and theology, concerning which Pope Innocent declared that, with the exception of the canonical writings, the works of St. Thomas surpass all others in accuracy of expression. In a few well chosen words he tells all that one wishes to know on a question, and after reading all that others have written, students return to St. Thomas, who always gives something satisfactory. No one can appreciate this without actually reading the writings of St. Thomas. For the sake of comparison I should like to see some modern authors attempt to put into a given space as much accurate and satisfactory information as St. Thomas usually gives in the space of one article. Bossuet, Lacordaire and Monsabré, three of the greatest of authors, studied and admired St. Thomas' style, and in reading their discourses we can recognize the influence of the Angelic Doctor. Writers on philosophy and theology have studied his style; they could not imitate it, because it is sui generis, possessing an excellence which makes it inimitable. Cajetan knew his style better than any of his disciples, yet Cajetan is beneath St. Thomas in clearness and accuracy of expression, in depth and solidity of judgment.
Sound Judgment. -- This soundness and soberness of judgment in another characteristic of St. Thomas. It is a well known fact that St. Thomas was noted for his singular calmness and meekness; even under the most trying circumstances he never lost his temper, notwithstanding the many provocations he met with in his life as a student, as a professor, and as a champion of the religious orders against the malicious attacks of William of St. Amour. This quiet self-possession runs through all his writings, so much so that every candid reader, even though he paid no attention to the supernatural meekness and humility of a saintly disciple of Jesus, would be compelled to admire him as a perfect specimen of the philosopher with a well-balanced mind. St. Thomas was full of what we take delight in praising as good, sound sense. He and Albertus Magnus introduced new methods into the schools. Besides praising and making known the works of Aristotle, upon which some looked with suspicion, they insisted on the necessity of experiment and observation in an age when men too often contented themselves with reading what had been written by others.
In philosophy, says St. Thomas, arguments from authority are of secondary importance (2 Sent. Dist. 14, Art. 2, ad. 1); experiment, and reason the thing out for yourself, and do not swear by the words of a master. "Philosophy does not consist in knowing what men said but in knowing the truth." We now understand the importance of this principle; perhaps we should not have understood it so well, and might not have proposed it so courageously had we lived in the middle of the thirteenth century. The good judgment of St. Thomas is displayed in a remarkable manner in settling disputed questions. If he tells you that he is certain of the truth of his solution, you may rest assured that his arguments are convincing; otherwise he will simply give an opinion, stating that it is probably or more probable than the opposite; or he will admit that the question is doubtful, and then he suspends judgment. He does not hesitate at times to say plainly: This is something about which we know nothing, differing in this from many of his time and of our times who foolishly imagine that it is unphilosophical to say: "I don't know." On reflection we know that judgments should be formed in accordance with the nature of the arguments adduced, but as a matter of fact very few writers observe this rule. St. Thomas observed it invariably, and for this reason he has always been considered a safe guide, because he judged always in justice and in truth.
No Excellence Without Labor. -- It would be a mistake to suppose that St. Thomas attained to this perfection of scholastic writing without an effort, and that he affords an exception to the general rule expressed in the old saying: "There is no excellence without labor." He was indeed a singularly blessed genius, but he was also an indefatigable worker, and by continued application he reached that stage of perfection in the art of writing where the art disappears. Some years ago the Abbé Ucceli published a facsimile of the original manuscript of the "Summa Contra Gentiles." The text was corrected and changed in almost as many places as it remained intact, thus proving that even the genius of St. Thomas was not dispensed from the law of labor in attaining to excellence.
Another remarkable feature of the Summa is St. Thomas' wonderful knowledge of the Scriptures, of the Councils of the Church, of the Works of the Fathers and the writings of the philosophers. He seems to have read everything and to have understood everything. Father Daniel d'Agusta once pressed him to say what he considered the greatest grace he had ever received from God (sanctifying grace, of course, excepted). "I think, that of having understood whatever I have read," he replied, after a few minutes of reflection. St. Antoninus says in his Life, that "he remembered everything he had once read, so that his mind was like a huge library." Whoever has read the Summa will at once admit the truth of these statements.
Scripture. -- St. Thomas must have known by heart the greater portion of the Scriptures. There is scarcely an article of the Summa that does not contain quotations from the Scriptures, and frequently he takes pains to explain the meaning of obscure passages. It must be borne in mind that he wrote at a time when there was no such book as a "Concordance," or a "Thesaurus Biblicus," or "Divine Armory of the Holy Scriptures," or other books of that kind which make it easy for writers of our times to fill their pages with quotations from the holy writings. Not only did he know the Scriptures themselves, he was also acquainted with the Commentaries on the sacred text; and whenever it was necessary or useful, he was prepared to give the different opinions of various authors, sometimes refuting their interpretations, sometimes leaving the reader free to choose for himself from several interpretations, all of which were considered equally good. The bare enumeration of texts quoted or explained in the Summa fills eighty small-print columns in the Migne edition of his works, and it is supposed by many that St. Thomas learned the Scriptures by heart while he was imprisoned in the Castle of St. Giovanni, shortly after he received the habit of the Order of St. Dominic.
Tradition. -- He was also filled with the deepest veneration for all the traditions of the Church. He was a man of intense faith, and no arguments had greater weight with him than those taken from the consuetudo ecclesiae -- the practice of the Church, which, he said, should prevail over the authority of any Doctor (2a 2ae, Q.X.A. 12). This same spirit of faith is manifested in his quotations from the Acts of Councils, the Definitions of the Roman Pontiffs, and the works of the Holy Fathers. His acquaintance with these important souces of theological arguments is astonishing, especially when we remember that books were very rare and precious in his time -- two centuries before the invention of printing. In the "Summa Theologica" he quotes from nineteen Councils, forty-one Popes, and fifty-two Fathers of the Church or learned Doctors. Among the Fathers, his favorite is St. Augustine, whose opinions, however, he does not always adopt, when St. Augustine puts forth a private opinion and is not bearing witness to a doctrine that was handed down from the ancients. In departing from St. Augustine's opinion he usually, through respect for that Father, refrains from mentioning his name, preferring that the readers should not be unnecessarily reminded of the fact that even St. Augustine made some mistakes.
Philosophers. -- In the introduction to the Summa, St. Thomas lays down the principle that a theologian can make use of the writings of philosophers, not indeed as if theology needed them, but because she has the right to use them as her servants (Q. 1, Art. 5 ad. 2) in order to illustrate the truth of faith (Q. 1, Art. 8, ad. 2). Acting on this principle he extensively used the works of the pagan philosophers and poets in order to render more intelligible and attractive his explanations of Christian doctrines and practices. In the Summa he quotes from the writings of forty-six philosophers and poets, Aristotle, Plato and Boethius being his favorite authorities. From Aristotle he learned that love of order and accuracy of expression which are the most conspicuous features of the Summa. From Boethius he learned that Aristotle's works could be used without detriment to Christianity; and in the works of that philosopher he found several exact definitions which he adopted, and which are still used in the schools of theology (def. of Person and of Eternity). He did not follow Boethius in his vain attempt to reconcile Plato and Aristotle. St. Thomas saw that the teachings of those two great philosophers were not the same, especially in regard to the nature of universal ideas and the union of the soul and body in man. He adopted Aristotle's doctrines on those subjects, and in general the Stagyrite was his master; but the elevation and grandeur of St. Thomas' conceptions, and the majestic dignity which characterizes all his writings speak to us of the great and sublime Plato, who would have been greater than Aristotle, had he condescended to descend to facts rather than to soar aloft, even unto the Divinity, on the wings of sublime theories. St. Thomas is as sublime as Plato, and more reliable than Aristotle, because Aristotle backed the light of Christian faith, which alone can safely guide the human mind through the intricacies and obscurities of philosophy. St. Thomas then, is the Christian Aristotle, the greatest of all philosophers, and the Prince of Theologians. The importance and value of his Summa, which I have very imperfectly described, pointing out in a general way a few of its excellencies, were recognized and admitted as soon as it became known, and shortly after his death the Summa supplanted the Book of Sentences of Peter Lombard which for years had been the favorite text-book in the theological schools of the Middle Ages.
Popes, Universities and Religious Orders. -- Roman Pontiffs, the universities and religious Orders vied with one another in sounding the praises of the Angelic Doctor. The universities and many religious orders bound themselves to follow his doctrine of which Pope Innocent VI said: "Those who followed it never deviated from the path of truth; those who attacked it were always suspected of error." Heretics (Beza, Bucer) unwillingly proclaimed his greatness by boasting that if his works were removed they could destroy the Catholic Church. "The hope indeed was vain, but the testimony has its value," writes Leo. XIII (AEt. Patris).
COUNCILS: Council of Trent. -- The greatest praise that can be bestowed upon St. Thomas is to be found in the history of the General Councils of the Church. "In the Councils of Lyons, Vienne, Florence, and in the Vatican Council," writes Leo XIII, "you might say that St. Thomas was present in the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers and, as it were, presided over them, contending against the errors of the Greeks, the heretics, the rationalists, with overpowering force and the happiest results. And it was an honor reserved to St. Thomas alone, and shared by none of the other Doctors of the Church, that the Fathers of Trent in their hall of assembly decided to place on the altar side by side with the Holy Scriptures and the Decrees of the Roman Pontiffs the Summa of St. Thomas, to seek in it counsel, arguments and decisions for their purpose" (ib).
Vatican Council. -- I have heard it related, on very good authority, that at the Vatican Council the Bishop who was considered one of the best theologians among the assembled Fathers was Mgr. Gill, Archbishop of Saragossa, afterwards Cardinal. Pius IX spoke of him as "the oracle of the council," and always asked him to give an opinion before the decrees were put to a final vote. The Archbishop afterwards, replying to the congratulations of his brethren in religion, humbly protested that if he had said anything of value during the sessions of the Council, all the glory should be attributed to St. Thomas "because," he said, "whatever I may know about theology I learned from my two favorite books, the Summa of St. Thomas and the treatise 'De Locis Theologicis' of Melchoir Canus [a disciple of St. Thomas]."
Nothing more than this simple fact is required to prove the wisdom of Pope Leo XIII in calling upon his children throughout the world to study the works and the method of St. Thomas. The reasons for this action of the Supreme Pontiff are set forth at length in the Encyclical "AEterni Patris." Permit me to remark that, even from what has been said in these imperfect sketches of St. Thomas' influence on religious thought, it is evident that in his works are to be found the principles which would destroy the principal intellectual evils of our times, Rationalism, Indifferentism, and the foolish belief that there is a conflict between faith and science. St. Thomas' career and every page of his writings are a contradiction and a standing refutation of those errors. His works, indeed, should not be studied now as they would have been used in the thirteenth century; they should be adapted to the needs of the twentieth century. His principles and his methods are suited to all times because, as Father Lacordaire remarks, granting that he has not foreseen and refuted all errors, he has said all that was necessary to refute them.
Should the Summa be Considered a Miracle. -- If you ask How did it happen that this man, living six hundred years ago wrote a theology suited to the needs of all times? I answer in the words of Pope John XXII: Doctrina ejus non potroit esse sine miraculo (His learning cannot be explained without admitting a miracle)."
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