Lenten Reading--Chesterton on Aquinas

Unlike many of my co-religionists I am emphatically NOT a fan of G. K. Chesterton (except perhaps the Father Brown stories--I debate with myself over their merits.)  I found The Man Who was Thursday tedious to the point of tears.  The poetry is just short of dreadful and most of the fiction a trial.  Now keep in mind, I am a minority opinion and this evaluation really says nothing at all about the work of Chesterton and says a tremendous amount about me.  But I offer this preface to say that I am once again enjoying Chesterton's biography of St. Thomas Aquinas--a figure who fascinates me endlessly.  Reading through it, I am once again inspired to one of those ill-fated mini-forays into the wilds of the Summa (probably with Peter Kreeft as my guide).  I don't really expect to get far because I never do.  I get to about the point of Divine Simplicity and find my head reeling from thoughts about things that no one can really know, and yet a great many spend an enormous amount of time speculating on.  That said, the fault is not in St. Thomas, but most certainly in Steven, and I find the man and his work inspirational.  So much so that Chesterton's biography of him is consistently one of the Chestertonian opus that I can approach and enjoy.

from St. Thomas Aquinas: "The Dumb Ox"
G. K. Chesterton

Now, the first thing that Aquinas did, though by no means the last was to say to these pure transcendentalists something substantially like this. "Far be it from a poor friar to deny you have these dazzling diamonds in your head, all designed in the most perfect mathematical shapes and shining with a purely celestial light; all these almost before you begin to think, let alone to see or hear or feel. But I am not ashamed to say that I find my reason fed by my senses; that I owe a great deal of what I think to what I see and smell and taste and handle; and that so far as my reason is concerned, I feel obliged to treat all this reality as real. To be brief, in all humility, I do not believe that God meant Man to exercise only that peculiar, uplifted and abstract sort of intellect which you are so fortunate as to possess; but I believe that there is a middle field of facts which are given by the senses to to be the subject matter of the reason, and that in that field the reason has a right to rule, as the representative of God in Man. It is true that all this is lower than the angels, but it is higher than the animals, and all the actual material objects Man finds around him. True, man can be an object; and even a deplorable object. But what man has done man may do; and if an antiquated old heather called Aristotle can help me to do it I will thank him in all humility.


  1. Thanks, Steven, for highlighting the Chesterton book on Thomas Aquinas. As I am a hugely devoted reader of Flannery O'Connor, and since much of her Catholic thought derives from Aquinas, a man about whom I know too little, I am eager to obtain and read the Chesterton book, which should serve me well as a primer before I dig again into my Penguin Classic edition, Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings.

  2. Dear RT,

    A commendable effort. I too love Flannery and she came by her scholasticism honestly. I've delved into Aquinas time and again and have more success with the lesser works than I tend to have with the Summa because I find myself asking too often, "How do you know that? Simply asserting that it is so is not a meaningful proof." I also have to admit that occasionally, because he was a good man of his times his scientific analogies get in the way of my understanding because they are so often wrong. (Based on Aristotle, how could they be otherwise?)

    But I will continue with my four-volume Farrell and all the other armament to enter into the Fray and someday, God willing, I'll make it through and take from that triumph some small gain in understanding and it will have been worth it.




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