The Treatise on Human Nature: Summa Theologiae 1a, 75-89

The Treatise on Human Nature: Summa Theologiae 1a, 75-89

The Treatise on Human Nature: Summa Theologiae 1a, 75-89

The Treatise on Human Nature: Summa Theologiae 1a, 75-89


This series offers central philosophical treatises of Aquinas in new, state-of-the-art translations distinguished by their accuracy and use of clear and non-technical modern vocabulary. Annotation and commentary accessible to undergraduates make the series an ideal vehicle for the study of Aquinas by readers approaching him from a variety of backgrounds and interests.


Thomas Aquinas—medieval philosopher, theologian, friar, and saint— was born in southern Italy sometime around 1225. At that time, even more than now, intellectual brilliance was of slight value to someone not born in the right place, to the right parents, of the right sex. Aquinas was fortunate in every respect, being the youngest son of a wealthy family living in the heart of western Europe. In addition, he had the exceedingly good fortune of living through one of the three or four periods in which Western philosophy has experienced its greatest flourishing and development. What largely precipitated this development, in 13th-century Europe, was the recovery and translation into Latin of all the major works of Aristotle. Aquinas was a leading force in the study of this work and in the effort to construct an Aristotelian philosophy that would harmonize with and support the complex Christian tradition represented by the Bible, Augustine, John Damascene, Pseudo-Dionysius, and many others.

Over and above his various Aristotelian commentaries, biblical commentaries, polemical tracts, and scholastic disputations, Aquinas was famous for his massive syntheses of Christian theology and philosophy. As a professor for many years at the University of Paris and as a friar in the Dominican order, dedicated to education and preaching, he was keenly aware of the need to present modern theology in a clear and an organized manner. His greatest and best-known effort in this respect was the Summa Theologiae, the masterpiece that he continued writing up until a few months before his death, on March 7, 1274.

1. Context of the Treatise

For medieval theologians such as Aquinas, the study of God was in large part a study of the created world. St. Paul had written in Romans 1.20 that the invisible things of God are clearly seen, understood through the things that have been made. This was viewed as a kind of charter for the project of natural theology: the project of understanding God’s

I have in mind (1) the fourth century B.C.E.; (2) the later 13th and the early
14th centuries; (3) the later 17th and the 18th centuries; and perhaps (4) the
20th century.

For a biographical sketch, see Pasnau and Shields (forthcoming). The most
authoritative and detailed study is Torrell (1996).

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