Thursday, October 02, 2008

Summa Theologiae

Summa theologiae, Pars secunda, prima pars. (copy by Peter Schöffer, 1471)The Summa Theologiae (also sometimes referred to as the Summa Theologica) is the most famous work of Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225 – 7 March 1274). It was intended as a manual for beginners as a compilation of all of the main theological teachings of that time. It is not designed or ordered as an apologetic work, to convince non-Catholics, but it does contain a summary of the reasonings for almost all points of the Catholic Faith. It became so reputed that at the Council of Trent, it was consulted after the Bible itself on religious questions.

The Summa Theologiae is a more mature and structured version of an earlier work of Aquinas, the Summa Contra Gentiles. This former work was more apologetic in nature, and each article was a refutation of a specific belief of different heresies and other religions. The Summa Theologiae is famous for its quinquae viae which literally means "five streets," i.e. five ways to prove the existence of God. Some have called the Summa Theologiae the greatest theological statement of the Middle Ages.

The Summa has a standard format for each article. A question or a topic is given, such as "Whether it was fitting for Jesus to be poor". Then, a series of objections to the viewpoint presented are given. One objection could be, for example, "The Philosopher (Aristotle) says that the best life is being in the middle, between poor and rich." A short counter statement is then given, such as, "The Bible says that God always does the right thing, but Jesus was God, and he was poor, so it must have been the right thing." The actual truth is then presented, generally a clarification of the issue rather than simply pointing out which "side" is correct. For example, this could read, "Although it's true that the best way of life is a middle ground between being poor and rich, the reason for this is that this allows a person to be not distracted from his goal by either want or luxury. But the goal of Jesus was to spread his message as far as possible, and so to be the most mobile, it was better to have nothing." Individual counters to the first objection are then given, if necessary.


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