Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction From St. Thomas Aquinas: 350+ Ways Your Mind Can Help You Become A Saint, by Peter Kreeft
Given my generally low opinion of Catholic theology, it is perhaps most notable that I found a great deal to offer in this book. To be sure, there is a lot in the book that was filled with very stilted and formal language that demonstrates how Thomism has become institutionalized, and a lot of it related to human rather than divine wisdom, and quite a bit of it involved mistaken readings of the Bible and aspects of theology that were not particularly practical, but all those caveats aside this is certainly a book that demonstrates the better sides of Thomas Aquinas’ approach to matters of theology, which is frequently filled with prudence and moderation and a willingness to accept that we do not know or understand all that we might wish to. By and large, with allowances for very different theological views and beliefs about authority, the avoidance of extremism and the general warmth of humanity to be found in this book was very welcome, and a traditionalist Catholic or someone who is friendly to traditional Catholicism will find much to appreciate and approve of here that will prove practical in thinking more soundly about various matters of faith and practice.
This book provides what it sets out to do in giving more than 350 discussions, anchored by quotes from the writings of Thomas Aquinas, on matters that the author considers to be practical theology. Most of the selections are about a page long (and by page I mean close to the usual sheet of notebook paper size) and are heavily filled with references to Thomas Aquinas as well as other Christian thinkers that the author views highly like C.S. Lewis, occasional Bible references, and the author’s own thinking. Included in this book, among many other topics, are the need for theology, what it means to be a saint, what types of good exist and which is the highest, how to see God, the question of analogical reasoning, personalism, the relationship of sin and pain, questions of evil and the relationship between men and angels as well as the general inequality and hierarchy we find in Creation. The author speaks about divine providence and what does not make us happy as well as the cardinal virtues, the relationship of love, hatred, and indifference, the purpose and value of the law, faith and its relationship with works, the difficult matter of dealing with public sins and correcting one’s clergy, perfection, the contemplative life, the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice, the Eucharist, punishment and excommunication, repentance and penance (which the author appears to conflate), matters of immediate and eternal judgment, and the questions of heaven, hell, and purgatory that close this book.
This is a large book and a great deal of it discusses matters that are not particularly of great interest to non-Catholics. Do not expect this book to be friendly if you do not have at least some understanding of the inside-speak of Catholic religious discourse. The author assumes that he is writing to fellow Catholics who believe that Thomas Aquinas has something worthwhile to say but are likely to be daunted by reading the 4000+ pages of his Summa Theologica but may be open to reading a smaller but still sizable commentary and extract from said massive work. Not all of these assumptions may hold for all readers, and if you read this book and are not a Catholic, be prepared to read the author’s faint praise about Protestants giving better sermons because of a supposed lack in areas of ecclesiology or criticism of the position of eternal security that actually gives my own views on the matter that God will never abandon us but that we can lapse into judgment by abandoning Him. If you are okay with reading a lot about non-biblical subjects like purgatory as well as various speculations on the eucharist and on the tension between views of the bodily resurrection and the immortal soul, then this book is easy to recommend as a way of getting to know a gracious but conservative Catholic viewpoint on matters of practical Christianity even where one does not entirely approve of its approach or agree with its conclusions.