Christ and Spirituality in St. Thomas Aquinas

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CHRIST AND SPIRITUALITY IN ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. By Jean-Pierre Torrell. Translated from the French by Bernhard Blankenhorn. Washington: Catholic University of America, 2011. Pp. xxiii + 265. $24.95.

Torrell is well known internationally for his writings on Thomas Aquinas. He joins past and present historical research with the theological insights of scholars ranging from Jean-Herve Nicolas to Otto Pesch. This collection gathers essays from 1991 to 2004: one essay has been published in the United States but in French, while two have been published in a previous collection.

Around 15 years ago, T. drew together his research and reflection into a two-volume work that he referred to as an "initiation"--readers, however, might find it magisterial. Volume 1 was entitled Thomas Aquinas: The Person and His Work; and volume 2, Spiritual Master. T. began the latter by noting that one would not immediately think of Aquinas as a spiritual director. Aware that medieval theologians do not expound distinct areas like spirituality first articulated in the years around the Council of Trent, T. wants to show that Aquinas can contribute to the topics of spirituality prominent from the 17th to the 20th centuries, and also that this medieval theology can be viewed today as a spirituality linking God and believers. T. is not writing about devotional attitudes or methods of prayer but about a presentation of Christian life whose sources are the Bible, liturgy, past theologians, and human wisdom. Aquinas's theology of Christian life is realistic and creation affirming; it shows no fear or servitude; it is full of joy, focused on freedom and not on sin. This spirituality is in source and ground the missions of Word and Spirit in the lives of men and women.

A helpful "review" of this book is T.'s own preface where he gives the context, purpose, and basic insights of each essay. To turn to the nine essays, the first, second, and last are about Aquinas as a person. In what way is he a mystic, a holy person, a master of spirituality? There follow essays on Christian love as friendship with God, on prayer as the expression of the desire of the Christian, and on Aquinas's interpretation of the biblical phrase of being conformed to Christ. There are then three essays on Christ: the role of Christ in Aquinas's view of the spiritual life, the priesthood of Christ, and Christ as preacher. In some ways the book is about a single theme, spirituality, since Christ is present there as pedagogue and exemplar for the spirituality of Christians in various ministries and not as the subject of medieval Christology, a topic of other books by T. …