Jacques Maritain Center


Ralph McInerny

University of Notre Dame

Copyright ©1977 by University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana 46556.
Reprinted here with the permission of the University of Notre Dame Press.
All rights reserved.

filiabus filiisque meis:
Cathy, Mary, Anne, David, Beth and Dan



Ralph McInerny was born in Minneapolis and was educated at the St. Paul Seminary, the University of Minnesota and Laval University. He has been a member of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame since 1955. He was a Fulbright Research Scholar at the University of Louvain in 1959-1960. A past president of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, he is Associate Editor of The New Scholasticism. Among his publication are The Logic of Analogy, Studies in Analogy, A History of Western Philosophy, Volume 1, From the Beginnings to Plotinus, Volume 2, From Augustine to Ockham, and Thomism in an Age of Renewal.


In this book, I have aspired to write an introduction to the thought of a man who for some seven hundred years has been a major influence in philosophy and theology. I say aspired, because, far from being an easy thing, something one might do at odd moments and with but half one's mind engaged, writing an introduction is a difficult thing. The reader will detect, I trust, a note of anguished sincerity in that remark. I wanted to make the thought of Thomas Aquinas attractive, but attractive for the right reasons. So I have at least suggested the structure of the arguments he uses to arrive at his position. I wanted the book to be comprehensive, yet I hoped to avoid thinness. Most important, I have tried to present Thomas in such a way that my reader would quickly leave me and go to the works of Aquinas himself.

Perhaps no book could have accomplished all this. The structure I have used is at once natural and unusual. The reader will swiftly see how reliant Thomas was on his predecessors; many of his works are commentaries on earlier ones. Why not present the thought of Thomas in close connection with its major sources? This method seemed a good idea and presented no insuperable difficulties as I put it into effect. The Table of Contents will convince the reader that I have managed to cover a wide range of topics without grievous overlapping. Of course, my eye has been mainly on what Thomas made of his sources rather than on the sources themselves. Nonetheless, my procedure should enable the reader to appreciate both Thomas's continuity with earlier thought and his creative independence of it.

The translations in the text are all mine. This is not because of any negative judgment on the translations that are listed in the Bibliography. The truth is, I do not have any opinion at all about the vast majority of those translations -- except to wish that they were not necessary. Thomas' Latin is the least difficult thing about reading him and anyone with the slightest gift for languages could learn to read the Summa theologiae, say, in short order. In any case, in drafting these chapters, I have turned Thomas into English whenever I wanted to quote him. I might have replaced these with the more careful translations of others before sending the book to the printer, but I decided against this for several reasons. First, there is a sameness of style in the quotations now, and of course I do not regard sameness as a literary achievement. Second, I deliberately rendered Thomas loosely, in the interest of accuracy, dreading that fidelity to the text which can turn it into a dead letter. I have taken no distorting liberties, and perhaps I overstated my looseness and underestimate the dullness of the English I have made Thomas speak. Finally, it was a great practical advantage to have done my own translation. I was saved the enormous bother of requesting permission to use the translations of others.

Over the more than two decades of my academic career, during which I have been a constant reader of Aquinas, I have watched his philosophical stock rise and fall and now see it begin to rise again. Once he was a household word in Catholic universities and college; then he became almost an unknown figure. But elsewhere he was read closely and learned from. Perhaps the two events are not unconnected. These minor fluctuations give no true indication of the continuing surge of his influence. The year 1974 marked the seven hundredth anniversary of the death of Thomas Aquinas. The global character of the commemorations was overwhelming. There were countless meetings, conventions, symposia held in his honor. An international meeting held in Rome and Naples in April 1974 brought delegates from the ends of the earth. Special issues of learned journals were devoted to the thought of Thomas. I had hoped to finish this book in time for it to appear during that anniversary year. That was not to be. Perhaps it can play some small part in the beginning of the next seven hundred years of Thomas's historical influence.

University of Notre Dame


1216Order of Preachers confirmed by Pope Honorius III.
1217Dominicans arrive in Paris.
1224/5Thomas born at Rocca Secca.
1230/1Thomas becomes a Benedictine oblate at Monte Cassino
1239Thomas studies at Naples.
1244Thomas joins Dominicans and is held captive by his family for a year.
1245-1248Thomas at Dominican convent of St. Jacques in Paris.
1248-1252Thomas studies under Albert the Great in Cologne.
1250/1Thomas is ordained priest.
1252-1256Thomas studies theology at Paris.
1256-1259Thomas teaches theology at Paris. Writes expositions of Boethius's On the Trinity and De hebdomadibus.
1259-1265Thomas in Naples and Orvieto. Completes Summa Against the Gentiles. Writes Part One of Summa theologiae.
1265-1268Thomas at Santa Sabina in Rome, then in Viterbo. Writing commentaries on Aristotle.
1269-1272Thomas again teaches theology at Paris. Writes against the Latin Averroists; completes Part Two of Summa theologiae.
1272Thomas assigned to Naples. Writes first ninety questions of Part Three of Summa theologiae.
1274March 7. Thomas dies at Fossanova.
1277March 7. Thomas condemned at Paris.
1323Thomas is canonized.
1325Paris condemnation revoked.

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