Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae; A Biography

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae; A Biography

Article excerpt

Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae; A Biography. By Bernard McGinn. [Lives of Great Religious Books.] (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2014. Pp. xi, 260. S24.95. ISBN 978-0-691-15426-8.)

In 1265 the Roman Dominican Province assigned St. Thomas Aquinas to Rome to establish a Studium at Santa Sabina. The resulting institution differed from the more famous Dominican studia generalia of Paris or Oxford in two important ways. First, it accepted students only from the Roman Province; in effect, it was what Dominicans would subsequently call a "Studium provinciale." Second, its students were not generally regarded as gifted enough to train at the studia generalia. As a result, Aquinas had to think hard about how best to educate these students. To help them, he decided to write a textbook for beginners in theology. Initially Aquinas thought a revised version of his Sentence-Commentary would best meet the needs of his Roman students. However, after trying that approach for about a year, he changed his mind. He concluded that even a revision of his Sentence-Commentary would be too difficult for beginners, and so he settled down to compose a new work, the Summa Theologiae. It became Aquinas's most famous work, and Bernard McGinn offers us a biography of it in this book.

McGinn's strategy is to introduce the reader to the Summàs "intellectual gestation in the mind of Thomas, its structure and contents and some aspects of its impact on later history" (p. 2). The book's five chapters fit neatly into this pattern. Thus the first two focus on background information about the medieval world, Aquinas's life, and why he wrote the Summa: its "intellectual gestation. …

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