If Thomas Aquinas was born in 1225 as it is commonly thought, then he died before reaching the age of fifty after producing the single-most influential systematic theology of the Western Christian tradition. He did this with a formula: he internalized the thought of Aristotle as it was being introduced into Western Europe and translated into Latin, and he in turn “translated” Christianity into this Aristotelian language. One can use the principles of hermeneutics outlined in Retrieving the Spiritual Teaching of Jesus of this series to analyze what was going on as Aquinas went through some of the basic doctrines of the church in his Summa Theologiae. He laid out their contents by answering an exhaustive series of questions and responding to each of them in intricate detail. The model for each question and answer was drawn directly from the pattern of learning at the University of Paris. Although systematic and abstract, it also enabled an extensive conversation with the tradition of classical theologians and his own contemporaries. This may seem quite distant from spiritual life on the ground, but the method produced a clear understanding of the structure of spiritual life in terms of its goal and the means of attaining it. Aquinas’s analysis of grace, how it enabled genuine Christian spirituality, empowered the virtues, and led to eternal life, constitutes a classic substructure of Western Christian spirituality that became all the more distinctive when Reformation spiritualities offered alternatives to it.
Roger Haight is a visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York. He has written several books in the area of fundamental theology. A graduate of the University of Chicago, he is a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America.
Amanda Avila Kaminski received her doctorate in religious and theological studies at the Graduate Theological Union where her primary concentration was in Christian Spirituality. She has written extensively in this area. She serves as Assistant Professor of Theology at Texas Lutheran University where she also serves as Director of the program in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship.
Alfred Pach III is an Associate Professor of Medical Sciences and Global Health at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. He has a PhD from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and an MDiv in Psychology and Religion from Union Theological Seminary.
Reading Religion Newsletter
Subscribe to our newsletter and receive updates on new books, new reviews, and more.
You can unsubscribe at any time. We will never share or sell your e-mail address.