Summer Reading for August 2015

Boy Fishing, by Winslow Homer (1892).

The One-Minute Aquinas: The Doctor’s Quick Answers to Fundamental Questions. Kevin Vost, Psy.D. (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2014) 265 pages. $24.15. (Reviewed by Jeffrey S. Burwell, SJ)

The Saint Jerome Study Bible: Genesis through Ruth. Edited by Michael Lofton. (Monroe, LA: Consolamini Publications, 2014) 508 pages; $24.99. (Reviewed by Brandon Harvey)

“Come Love with Me”: Augustine as Spiritual Guide. Fr. Gabriel Quicke. (Mawah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2015) 144 pages; $16.95. (Reviewed by Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J.)

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The One-Minute Aquinas: The Doctor’s Quick Answers to Fundamental Questions. Kevin Vost, Psy.D. (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2014) 265 pages. $24.15.  

Roughly 20 years have passed since I took my first undergraduate course in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. I remember sitting in a crowded lecture hall as an elderly professor stumbled in carrying a stack of books about three feet high. Navigating his way to the front of the class, he plopped them on a desk with a thud. Looking at the class with a smile, he told us that the pile was only reading for the first week. As a young university student, it was difficult to believe that Aquinas could write so much about such a multitude of topics. We nevertheless went methodologically through some of his greatest compositions, though I never grasped most of the key ideas easily.

The ways that scholars and academics engage the work of Aquinas has changed dramatically over the last two decades. In a delightful tome of 265 pages, Kevin Vost provides a comprehensive primer that is valuable for students and scholars alike. His work entitled The One-Minute Aquinas provides insightful answers to many of the basic questions that every Catholic has asked at one time or another. Given the complexity of the subject, it was pleasant to see that he approaches the dumb ox with humor and light-heartedness. Vost begins the work by wryly asking if Aquinas might be the smartest man ever. While he recognizes that such a proposition would be difficult to prove, he uses that question to highlight the influence that Aquinas has had within the Christian tradition. He posits, in fact, that “there’s no point in being smart unless you’re wise” (xv) and that the wisdom of Aquinas was that he only wrote about what is most important.

With such a whimsical prelude, Vost provides a brief, but entirely sufficient, introduction into the philosophical and historical context in which Aquinas is situated. He begins with an inquiry into the sorts of questions that matter to men and women of faith today. Raising queries such as how we can understand God or what brings happiness, Vost shows that these are fundamental concerns that transcend the centuries. A biographical overview of Aquinas from his birth in 1225 to his canonization in 1323 follows, with brief explanations of the names and types of work that he penned. This background is helpful for those who have little understanding of the writing of Aquinas, but it is perhaps too brief for those who might want an academic refresher. Vost concludes by highlighting how Aquinas “gives us detailed, specific advice on how to perfect ourselves, with the help of God’s grace—so that we may live more joyfully here on earth” (xxvii). With this, he suggests that an accessible introduction to the work of Aquinas is necessary for every “twenty-first-century lay reader” who desires the fullness of human joy.

The book is divided into three sections that Vost suggests respectively explore how we can be happy on earth and in heaven, the nature of God, and who Christ is. Despite the headings, a great deal more is included in each of the parts. For example, the segment about Christ also looks at the sacraments and the resurrection of the body. Although a novice reader might find it curious as to why these would be included, Vost makes the Christological connection to such subjects with clarity and immediacy. The breadth of Aquinas’s thought is quite adequately covered in these three parts, and this introduction is more accessible than most other works currently on bookstore shelves. It would be a great success if all Catholic university or college students could be provided insight into Aquinas with the same depth that Vost offers.

One of the highlights of this work relates to the Dumb Ox boxes regularly interspersed in each of the three sections. These boxes “are brief samples of St. Thomas’s insights in answer to questions that surely have been nagging you for a lifetime—and to others that might not have occurred to you” (xxviii-xxiv). With about a page of text for each of these boxes, Vost proposes diverse questions such as whether it is a sin to love wine, and whether it makes sense to pray. With each of the queries, he uses direct quotations from Aquinas—with references—to respond in an amusing but academic way. Many of the answers are necessarily brief with overviews that might not satisfy a seasoned professor. All the same, the book is directed toward the philosophical dilettante and not the hardened Thomistic expert. It provides an exceptional and readable introduction to a subject that many Catholics have avoided due to unnecessary intimidation.

Like everything written about Aquinas—and there is no shortage—this work will not appeal to everyone. Some might find it overly complicated and others may feel it is exceedingly general. All the same, this book never attempts to do all things. Rather, as Vost says, the book is simply “digestible portions of life-giving wisdom and doctrine that you can enjoy one minute at a time” (xxvii). Vost is right in claiming that everyone should read the work of Aquinas, regardless of whether they formally study philosophy or theology. This work is therefore recommended for anyone who has had the interest, but not the opportunity, to engage Aquinas. As a professor at a Canadian university, this is one book that I will likely lend out to a diverse cross section of students and academic colleagues. It is certainly easier to carry than the complete works of Aquinas, and readers are almost guaranteed to grasp his key ideas more easily.

-Dr. Jeffrey S. Burwell, SJ
Director, Catholic Studies program
St. Paul’s College, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Professor, educational administration
Faculty of Education
University of Manitoba

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The Saint Jerome Study Bible: Genesis through Ruth. Edited by Michael Lofton. (Monroe, LA: Consolamini Publications, 2014) 508 pages; $24.99.

There has been a renewal in the Church for a love of the Scriptures. Many clergy are focusing more on the sacred text in homilies, great Bible studies are being developed every year, dozens of biblically based apologetics are being developed each year, and the curriculum for the formation of young people continues to grow in biblical richness. The Scriptures should be read within the Tradition (CCC 113). The writings of the Church Fathers are witnesses to the Tradition (CCC 688). Michael Lofton’s work, The Saint Jerome Study Bible: Genesis through Ruth, is a valuable resource in this pursuit of reading the Scriptures with the wisdom of the Church Fathers and Saints of the Church.

The Saint Jerome Study Bible begins with wonderful introductory pages to prepare the reader for its perspective that utilizes the writings of the Church Fathers and later theologians as a commentary alongside the biblical text, with occasional insights from post-patristic writers. This study Bible includes the document Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943), an overview of some Church documents on Scripture, an overview of the Catechism’s teaching on studying Scripture, a survey of the literal and spiritual senses of Scripture, a definition of key terms in biblical studies, a survey of typology, and a brief glance on the use of repetition and numbers in Scripture.

Here is a quick glance at the interpretive style of the theologians and fathers of the Church: Just as Adam’s bride, Eve, came from his side during his sleep, Jesus’s bride, the Church, came from his wounded side during his mortal sleep. The unity of such married spouses, like Adam and Eve, expresses the unity of Christ and the Church who also are “one flesh.” After the sin of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel were born. Both offer a sacrifice, and the offering of Abel was accepted because of his faith, and the offering of Cain was rejected because of his lack of faith. Cain kills Abel, and God gives Cain a chance to repent by asking him what had happened.

The story of Noah begins with the spreading of wickedness as the line of Seth and the line of Cain begin to intermarry. The bloodline of the future Messiah and the fallen ones is beginning to blur.  This is the context from which the events of Noah, the Ark, and the Flood occur. From the line of Noah comes Abraham. A priest-king, with the title Melchizedek, comes and blesses Abraham and offers a sacrifice of bread and wine as a type of the Eucharist offered by the High Priest Jesus.  St. John of Damascus also saw a possible connection between Melchizedek’s offering and the Bread of the Presence during the Mosaic Covenant.

Abraham’s son was Isaac. From Isaac came Jacob, and from Jacob/Israel came Joseph. It was through Joseph in Egypt that God worked to preserve his covenantal people during the famine. At the end of this story, Jacob/Israel blesses all of his sons, the tribes of Israel, but he also blesses the sons of Joseph in Genesis 48. In verse 16, as the commentary demonstrates, the Catholic notion of heavenly intercession is witnessed to by Jacob’s request for a blessing for another through an angel. While these are snippets of some of the insight provided by this commentary, much more is given in this study Bible for Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Judges, and Ruth with sometimes several different insights on a single passage.

The commentary is provided by great thinkers, many of whom are saints, such as Augustine, Basil, Bede, Clement of Alexandria, Cyrprian, Hyppolytus of Rome, Irenaeus, John Chrysostom, John of Damascus, Theophilus of Antioch, Thomas Aquinas, and more. Not only would the reader be learning new insights into the meaning of a given text, but they would also be learning from some of the greatest teachers in the history of the Church. While it has parallels to Thomas Aquinas’s catena aurea, this study Bible has the Scripture text presented alongside the commentary to allow easy use for study and prayer, and citation of commentaries.

While this newly edited work does not possess the elegance of the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture series, which uses some of the same commentators, this study Bible has a strong focus on the Catholic Tradition. The insights of these wise teachers are a great benefit for preparing homilies, whether on the Old Testament reading itself or on how it relates to the Gospel, but also for Bible study leaders and RCIA presenters.  The Saint Jerome Study Bible: Genesis through Ruth has the potential to be a great tool in the evangelization and catechesis of parishioners as well as for personal holiness, by providing a means for biblical study that aims to enforce the great and living Tradition.

-Brandon Harvey
Catholic author, speaker, and teacher
Omaha, Nebraska

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“Come Love with Me”: Augustine as Spiritual Guide. Fr. Gabriel Quicke. (Mawah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2015) 144 pages; $16.95.

The aim of this fine, brief work is to introduce us today to the main thoughts of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Perhaps the most influential Christian thinker after St. Paul, Augustine was a living legend and a highly sought after arbiter of theological disputes. Yet, he was also a tender-hearted pastor to his parishioners, and a real spiritual guide to many across the Roman Empire. In six chapters, Quicke mines mainly Augustine’s  Homilies on the Gospel of John (the 124 “Tractates,” delivered roughly between 406-21), to present Augustine as an effective preacher and loving mentor. There are, accordingly, sections dedicated to Augustine as preacher (ch. 1), on his presentation of Christ’s humility (ch. 2), on the centrality of the Holy Spirit in Augustine’s thought (ch. 3), the Church and her sacraments (ch. 4), and, of course, the role of charity in effecting divinely-intended unity (ch. 5).

While there are many strands running throughout this tapestry, perhaps the main metaphor Quicke develops is Augustine’s sense of pilgrimage, and the community needed to endure such a sojourn.  The Doctor of Grace knew that the human person was made in this world, but not for it, and stressed over and over the need for each of us to be saved by another. Of course, this savior is the humbly enfleshed Christ, but his divine presence is known only through the human, and thus, in his Church, the gathering of God’s people is most obvious.

A Belgian priest in the Diocese of Bruges, a member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Fr. Gabriel Quicke has produced a most accessible work. This short volume would serve well for any parish interested in an introduction to Augustine (although there is no real substitute for sitting down and reading his famed Confessions), for any upper-level religious education class covering the central figures of our Faith, or for those engaged Christians looking to enrich their own understanding of Christ’s great Tradition.

-Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J.
Saint Louis University

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