An Outline of an Outline

INTRODUCTION TO THE SUMMA THEOLOGIAE OF THOMAS AQUINAS. By John of St. Thomas; translated and introduced by Ralph McInerny (St. Augustine’s Press, P.O. Box 2285, South Bend, Ind. 46680, 2004), x + 182 pp. HB $27.00.

When you want to take a long trip by car to some place you have never visited before, it is essential to have a good map so you do not get lost. In a similar way, if you want to read the great Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas it is very helpful to have a good map or guide so you know where you are going.

The introduction to the Summa by John of St. Thomas is a map or guide through the three parts of this masterful and influential work. Professor McInerny says it best in his brief Preface: “…it is not a commentary or analysis of the text of the Summa Theologiae, but a bearing of its infrastructure, displaying the ordering principles that brought together the vast treasury of Christian theology in as economical and perspicuous a manner as possible” (pp. ix-x).

In the Prologue the author says that he will spell out in a general way “the marvelous order of the whole Summa of Theology and the interconnection of treatises and topics that Saint Thomas himself discovered and perfected…” (p. 3).

Anyone remotely familiar with the work of St. Thomas knows that the Summa contains three parts. Thus at the end of the short Chapter One the author says: “So it is that Saint Thomas, by this threefold consideration of God as cause, namely as effective principle (Part One), as finalizing happiness (Part Two), and as redeeming Savior (Part Three), divides the whole Summa Theologiae…. Thus from God considered in himself and in his being, we pass to God as efficient and redemptive cause, in order to come back to him as the object of happiness after the glorious resurrection. So it is that the golden circle of theology is closed” (p. 11).

That is a concise and accurate summary of the Summa. St. Thomas himself considered his Summa as a type of outline of theology. So McInerny says in his Preface that the work of John of St. Thomas is “an outline of an outline.”

The title of Chapter 2 is: “The Connection of the Treatises in Each of the Parts.” In this short chapter John of St. Thomas explains the connection between God in himself and as efficient cause (The First Part), God as final cause (The Second Part), and God as Savior (The Third Part).

The rest of the book gives a very brief summary of what is contained in each of the various treatises as found in the Summa, for example, the unity of God, the Trinity, creation and creatures, man’s final end and how to get there by leading a life of virtue, vice and sin, the Incarnation and Jesus as Savior of the world, divine grace and the distribution of grace through the Seven Sacraments of the Church.

According to Aristotle, the proper task of the wise man is to put order into things. That is exactly what St. Thomas has done in the Summa. He has excelled all other doctors of the Church in putting order into the teaching of sacred theology. Therefore he is among the most wise in the teaching of the faith. Perhaps it is for this reason that he is the only theologian quoted and recommended by Vatican II.

Professor McInerny was able to find a French translation of this introduction by John of St. Thomas, but it seems that there is no other English translation. So this is a first.

This brief volume is very useful for anyone who wants to read and become familiar with the thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas as found in the Summa Theologiae. A student will save a lot of valuable time by having this book handy. It is also a great help to teachers of Thomism because the author gives an overview or outline of the whole Summa in a few pages.

The English translation is excellent and easily readable. Highly recommended.

Kenneth Baker, S.J.
Ramsey, N.J

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