On Aquinas as Spiritual Reading


On Aquinas as Spiritual Reading

In my long blog below and anonymous commenter questioned the absence of the Summa in my list of spiritual reading, and my response was that it simply didn't belong in the category of spiritual reading about which I was at that time preoccupied. I've decided to show my hand with regard to Aquinas.

While I acknowledge Aquinas remarkable achievement and powerful argument in the Summa (or both Summas) I would say that Aquinas may be one of the single most dangerous influences possible for the intellectually inclined Catholic or Christian. I can say with all truth that approaching Aquinas alone nearly caused me to "lose my faith." (By which I mean, get lost in myself and my own reasoning). Aquinas proposes many questions and provides a great many analogies and answers from nature and scripture. The problem is that a great many of these analogies from nature are simply incorrect. Aquinas simply wasn't in a place to know what we presently know and understand about the natural world. However, what happens as one reads these, unless one quickly slams down the "metaphorical" shield is that one begins to doubt the centrality of Aquinas's arguments.

Thus, I do not recommend the Summa as spiritual reading for those who have training in the empirical sciences. I do not tell anyone to avoid it either. I simply point out that there are pitfalls to the unguided--very serious, very real pitfalls. I recall a very good Jewish friend of mine saying that the great pitfall of Judaism is that there was a powerful belief in the education of children, and the children were often so educated that they ceased to have any real faith. This is the trap for the unguarded, lone explorer.

On the other hand, for the person sufficiently prepared, sufficiently steeped in Catholic doctrine, sufficiently skeptical of the promises of empiricism, Aquinas offers a bounty of apologetics fodder, and some very profound, powerful spiritual reading.

For myself, I stay away from the Summa, the temptation to pride is far too great--the ability to lord it over one of the great minds of all times due to the limits of his times is overwhelming. I approach St. Thomas in his wonderful commentaries on the Scriptures, in his profound hymns, poems, and meditations which are often overlooked in the rush for the Summa. But St. Thomas has something for every believer, and much of what he offers is profound food for thought, for faith, and perhaps even for contemplation (for those with a mind so suited.)

Therefore, I will leave further commentary to those better acquainted with him and those who are better able to guide and to teach than am I. I respect St. Thomas, and even love him profoundly for the great Saint and example he is, but I tread very softly and very carefully about his works.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 26, 2002 10:45 AM.

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