Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Summa Contra Gentiles is less widely known and much less widely read than Saint Thomas Aquinas’s later, longer Summa theologiae (c. 1265-1273; Summa Theologica, 1911-1921). Summa Contra Gentiles is simpler in its structure and in that sense more readable and less involved, but the Summa Theologica has become better known, perhaps because it is more widely used in church dogmatics. Summa Contra Gentiles is the more philosophical of the two works, as its author intended, and more likely to be of more interest to the non-Catholic reader. It is an earlier work, but Thomas’s ideas did not change radically, and a comparison of the basic doctrines does not reveal any wide discrepancy.

Whereas Summa Theologica begins with an apologetic approach, explaining the relation of philosophy to theology and arguing for the existence of God, Summa Contra Gentiles begins immediately with God as he is in himself. As a work directed to the non-Christian, the reverse might have been expected. However, Summa Contra Gentiles is less doctrinal in style and does not base its arguments on a prior acceptance of Scripture as authoritative, as the Summa Theologica does. The earlier work is more directly metaphysical, defining the “wise person” as one who deals with the first beginning and the last end of the universe. Truth is conceived of as the final end of the whole universe, and the...

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