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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 305

Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica is a treatise dating to the High Middle Ages that was intended to instruct students in Christian doctrine. Aquinas himself was a 13th-century Dominican friar, and was deeply ingrained in the Neoplatonist teachings of pseudo-Dionysus (among other philosophers, secular and Christian alike).

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His Summa Theologica (left unfinished owing to Aquinas' death) is a touchstone text in the history of both philosophy and Christianity for its ability to join both. Specifically, Aquinas does not take for granted the merits of studying church doctrine; he justifies his study by stating that Christianity and its study stands apart from the realm of science, and so constitutes a separate but greater pursuit. Aquinas quotes heavily from Scripture to support this claim.

Aquinas' quinque viae (Latin: "five ways") amounts to nothing sort of a reason-based justification for the existence of God (viz. arguments from motion--stating that God must be the "prime mover"--causation, contingency, degree, and a teleological argument"). The so-called "five ways" are not without critique from modern philosophers; however, the very fact that Aquinas sought a rational explanation for God was unique in contemporary Christian circles.

In brief, Aquinas is known for merging the studies of philosophy and doctrine, and (in related fashion) faith and reason. The latter dichotomy is exhibited, in addition to the quinque viae, by Aquinas' structure, wherein he lists a series of objections to each of his claims, followed by point-for-point responses.

The Summa is divided into three parts, the first devoted to Theology (the nature of God, Christ, and the Trinity), the second to Ethics (including human sins and virtues), and the third to the nature of Christ's incarnation and His relationship to mankind, as well as a discussion of eschatology (the end of the world). Aquinas' enduring legacy is as a comprehensive and multifaceted scholar, theologian, and philosopher.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 795

It is a difficult task to comment on Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica briefly; it has meant and can mean many things to many people. Partly this is because of its length; it runs to many volumes. It is also because of the scope of the questions considered; they range from abstract and technical philosophy to minute points of Christian dogmatics. The situation is complicated because of Thomas’s style. Such works were common in his day, and his is only one of many that were written in this general form. The work consists entirely of questions, each in the form of an article in which the views Thomas considers important are summarized and then answered. Objections to the topic question are listed, often including specific quotations, and then an equal number of replies are given, based on a middle section (“I answer that”), which usually contains Thomas’s own position. However, this, in turn, is sometimes based on some crucial quotation from a philosopher or theologian.

Out of this complexity and quantity many have attempted to derive Thomistic “systems,” and both the commentators and the group of modern Thomists form a complex question in themselves. Thomas was considered to be near heresy in his own day, and his views were unpopular in some quarters. From the position of being not an especially favored teacher in a very fruitful and exciting era, he has come to be regarded as perhaps the greatest figure in the Catholic philosophy and theology of the day. His stature is due as much to the dogmatization and expansion of his thought that took place (for example, by Cardinal Cajetan and John of Saint Thomas) as it is to the position Thomas had in his own day. Without this further development, his writing...

(The entire section contains 7832 words.)

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