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 might have been important, but perhaps it would have been simply one among a number of significant medieval works. The Encyclical Letter of Pope Leo XIII, “On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy,”...
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