Sunday, October 16, 2016

Book Review: One Minute Aquinas

About a year or so ago, I became interested in understanding the writings of Thomas Aquinas. I saw that his seminal work Summa Theologica is a 26-volume set which I chose not to purchase. Instead I bought Shorter Summa. I started reading it maybe three or four times, each time getting a little farther, but soon becoming overwhelmed by the depth of St. Thomas's thoughts.

In one of his Word On Fire podcasts, Bishop Robert Barron discusses Thomas Aquinas. Bishop Barron explained the layout of the Summa Theologica, stating that it was composed of written answers to questions that St. Thomas had received in the many question and answer groups in which he participated. The first part of the Summa deals with Sacred Doctrine and God; the second part is concerned with man, sin and grace; the third part with Jesus's Incarnation and life, and the sacraments. The show notes page for Bishop Barron's podcast also contains links to several books that he recommended to assist in understanding the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have not yet read any of those books; however, I have read The One-Minute Aquinas, a book that I received as a present.

The One-Minute Aquinas (Kevin Vost, PsyD, Sophia Institute Press) presents an overview and a simplification of the Summa Theologica. Like the Summa, it is broken down into three parts: God, man, and Jesus Christ. However, it it presented in a different order: man is presented first, then God, and finally Jesus Christ. Dr. Vost states early in the book that read the Summa in the order in his book, not the original order of the Summa. In the author's opinion, this order makes for an easier understanding of this great work.

Each section begins with a theme addressed in the Summa, followed by a listing of the original sections in the Summma where the questions which generated the theme were discussed. Each of these mini-chapters, as it were, are short, generally about three pages (hence the name 'one-minute'). The author distills and summarizes Saint Thomas responses, and discusses interpretations of the response to clarify what was being said. Breaking the Summa into these shorter bites allows one to read one or a few in a sitting, then contemplate their meaning.

As an example, the first question is 'What Do We All Want? Happiness'. Here, St. Thomas has explained that we all want happiness, and that there are two kinds of happiness: imperfect happiness here on earth, and perfect happiness consisting of the beatific vision of God in heaven. This part of the book then continues to discuss the soul and its eleven passions, virtue, vice and sin, and grace.

The second part of The One-Minute Aquinas discusses God. The first question in this second part describes what St. Thomas wrote as to how we should think about God. The book proceeds to clarify that God exists, what God is and is not, and the Blessed Trinity. The final part is about 'Who Is Christ?'. It explains why God became man, Christs' life and what made it perfect, and the sacraments.

Scattered throughout the book are 'Dumb Ox' boxes. St. Thomas was a large man, with a quiet demeanor. This caused the other students in the University of Paris to call him the 'dumb ox' from Sicily. The 'Dumb Ox' boxes are St. Thomas's answers to questions that you may have had regarding life, such as 'Is It A Sin To Love Wine?' (Dumb Ox Box #2).

I found the book to be a great resource. I read it twice, in an effort to better understand Saint Thomas's viewpoint. The One-Minute Aquinas has given me the background to be more confident about reading and understanding The Shorter Summa. From there, I may even tackle the Summa Theologia.