Book Review: Thomism: The Philosophy Of Thomas Aquinas

Thomism:  The Philosophy Of Thomas Aquinas, by Etienne Gilson, translated by Lawrence K. Shook and Armand Maurer

By and large, I think this book gives the reader a fair understanding of Thomism and its views on a wide variety of subjects.  This is not to say that that everything about Thomism is something to approve of (more on that below), but all the same it is easy to understand the appeal of Thomism.  If you are committed to a synthesis of Greek thought and something approaching biblical Christianity, Thomism is a definitely appealing way of thinking.  There are also some good conclusions that Thomism comes to when it comes to the proofs of God’s existence.  Admittedly, this book was not hugely exciting, to the point where I fell asleep while reading it and had to stay up a bit later than I wanted to in order to finish reading it.  That said, the author has done a great job at bringing out the various elements of Thomist thinking and making this a very thoughtful work in making the philosophy better known to Anglophone readers, as Thomism has been considerably less influential here than in Continental Catholic traditions, which is something that many Catholic thinkers greatly regret.

This book is a lengthy one of more than 400 pages and is divided into three arts and numerous chapters.  The book begins with a translators’ introduction, preface, and list of abbreviations as well as an introduction into the nature of Thomist philosophy that includes the doctrinal framework of Thomas Aquinas and the question of the philosopher and the believer.  The first part of the book looks at Thomist thinking on God (I), with chapters on the problem of the existence of God (1), the proofs of the existence of God (2), the nature of the divine being (3), as well as the Thomistic reform of Hellenistic Christian philosophy regarding theology and ontology (4).  The second part of the book discusses Thomist thinking on nature (II), including chapters on creation (1), angels (2), the physical world and secondary causes (3), the human person (4), life and the senses (5), intellect and rational knowledge (6), knowledge and truth (7), and appetite and will (8).  The third and final part of the book discusses moral science (III), namely the human act (1), love and the passions (2), the personal life (3), the social life (4), the religious life (5), the last end (6), and the spirit of Thomism (7).  After that there are appendices on esse (i), the life of Thomas Aquinas (ii), and a chronology of works (iii) as well as a bibliography and an index of names and subjects.

There are many aspects of this book that raise questions about the nature of Thomist philosophy for those who seek to follow the Bible.  For one, Thomas Aquinas was both a philosopher as well as a theologian, and in some ways these two elements are in tension, because it was his thinking that what was proven philosophically was no longer a matter of faith but was a matter of knowledge.   Done uncritically, the advancement of natural theology and philosophy sets a god of the gaps approach based on what is viewed as knowledge, which is not always on a solid foundation.  This lack of a solid foundation for speculation that is considered to be knowledge is on evidence in his thinking on angels, where he combines biblical thinking on angels which is on a sound basis with far less sound speculation that can be found in Hellenistic philosophy.  And in Thomist philosophy in general it is the Greek philosophy that is the weak link in his attempts to synthesize knowledge together.  Even so, it is immensely appealing to have a philosophy that manages to combine human reasoning as well as biblical exegesis, and anyone who wants to combine Jerusalem and Athens cannot help but seek an approach that is something like Thomism.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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