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on November 13, 2001
You have to hand it to Kreeft for taking some of the greatest ratiocination ever, and translating it into commonspeak. Thomas Aquinas is one of the greatest minds ever to grace God's green earth, but too often--probably due to his religion--he has been marginalized. Generally, we just read his "Five Ways" that prove God's existence. However, this is much more to Thomism than this one philosophical derringer.
For those unaware, Thomas Aquinas was the Catholic scholar who produces two L*A*R*G*E, multi-volume books on Catholic theology: "Summa Contra Gentiles" and "Summa Theologica," the latter being a summation of Catholic theology. This book is a summation of "Summa Theologica," and serves as a handbook and thumbnail for both Catholic Theology and Philosophy and Christian philosophy in general.
Aquinas has a sharp mind and can both divide the word and divide a question in a way that few others can. I am not Catholic, but stand in deep admiration for Aquinas's work and mind, and more especially because he minded his work by working his mind.
The Book:
Kreeft has selected the essential texts and questions that illuminate aspects of Thomistic philosophy/theology. He has the text with explanatory notes in footnotes, which is unusual since we are not reading a summery or rephrasing of Aquinas, but actually reading his words and ideas, unfiltered and undistorted.
His chapter divisions follow closely the divisions used in the whole "Summa Theologica," and focus primarily on the first part of part one, and the second part of part two of the "Summa Theologica," and doesn't deal with the latter books that deal with the church and the nature of sacraments. This summation, therefore, would not be offensive to any Christian.
The notes are gems, especially with his illustrations--Kreeft has united his analytical left-brain with his creative right brain, so there is no double-mindedness with what he is doing. His pictures save a thousand words!
The glossary is helpful for the Latin words and technical terms that have a specialized meaning in Thomism.
The Printing:
This book uses the "Fathers of English Dominican Province" translation, which bears the Nihil Obstant and Imprimatur, the Roman Catholic "Good housekeeping Seal of Approval" that lets us know the text has passed the censor. It is approved for Catholic consumption! As a non-Catholic, this because important because I do not want distorted doctrine misrepresenting their true beliefs.
The type and font are perfect, and I have not seen any typos. The cover is very engaging, with triumphal Thomas with the angels--the Angelic Doctor.
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on October 17, 2000
Kreeft does a wonderful job of picking the finer points of Aquinas' massive work - Summa Theologica. This is a condensed text for the beginning reader of St. Thomas' work. The book itself is organized in a way that includes the primary work of the Summa and Kreeft's comments. Thus, this makes for a wonderful read if you are trying to understand what Thomas was communicating in his work. The essential Thomas is present. In other words, Kreeft covers everything one would need to know to get a thorough grasp of Thomistic philosophy. Also, Kreeft does so in such a way that it makes Aquinas very easy to understand. The topics covered are Cosmology, the Nature of God, Aquinas' Epistemology, Proofs, Ethics, etc. This is a wonderful beginning text for anyone who is interested in studying one of the greatest philosophers who ever lived. Moreover, Peter Kreeft is well qualified to handle the Summa since he is a renown philosopher himself (Boston College Professor) and a Thomist of sorts. Keep in mind, that this book is not simply Kreeft's commentary on Aquinas, but it also includes the actual excerpts from Aquinas' Summa. That is one reason why this book stands out from other books about Aquinas. I would recommend this book to anyone.
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on March 7, 2002
Summa of the Summa (hereafter SS) is a simply wonderful abridgment of Aquinas' Summa Theologica (hereafter ST). Professor Kreeft has done a superlative job of assembling those parts of ST that will be of most interest to readers new to Aquinas' thought. The text is drawn from the Dominican Benzinger Brothers translation of ST, still the most faithful to Aquinas original language and still the most widely available complete edition of ST in English. Kreeft includes a fine glossary of technical terms in ST likely to be unfamiliar to most readers, and a short, readable introductory essay that gives an interesting discussion of the structure of ST. Rather than include a lengthy introductory commentary on the classic text as do many editors, Kreeft includes his comments in footnotes, which appear frequently and are quite extensive. To give one example, to accompany Aquinas' famous "five ways" to prove the existence of God on pp. 57-70, Kreeft provides approximately eight pages worth of footnotes. The footnotes that discuss Aquinas only are nearly always illuminating, and will prove invaluable to readers as they study the primary text. I believe readers of SS will be able to progress more smoothly to the complete ST if they so choose than they could with any other abridgment of ST or other anthology of Aquinas' writings now in print. At the same time, SS is a fine, self-contained introduction to Aquinas' thought.
The only disappointing aspect of SS is its discussion of philosophical positions that are at variance with Aquinas. Like many philosophers working in Roman Catholic institutions, Kreeft has a tendency to present false straw-man interpretations of philosophers whose conclusions he disagrees with, and then to "refute" these philosophers by kicking down the straw men. (For the record, I am Roman Catholic.) For instance, on a footnote on p. 522, Kreeft erroneously attributes to Hobbes the view that people are naturally vicious and to Hume the view that knowledge is nothing other than the passive reception and ordering of sense impressions. Kreeft strongly hints to the reader here that Aquinas' own positions are more cogent than those of Hume and Hobbes, but this is misleading since the footnote presents a "straw-man Hobbes" and a "straw man Hume". Kreeft's tendency to misinterpret and then unfairly dismiss certain important philosophical doctrines even leads him to occasionally misrepresent Aquinas. For instance, in a footnote on pp. 430-431 Kreeft claims that Aquinas' example on these pages refutes utilitarianism. In fact, the classical doctrine of utilitarianism as John Stuart Mill and Henry Sidgwick formulated it is designed to show that the very example Aquinas gives is a CONSEQUENCE of utilitarianism.
In summation, readers can profit immensely from a careful study of the classic text and supplementary materials in SS, but they should take care not to trust anything said here about philosophers who disagree with Aquinas at face value.
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on March 19, 2004
Most books on Thomas Acquinas can be summarized: "He was a great man and I understand him and you never will." Kreeft diverges from academic interpretation, often designed to show off the brilliancy of the academic interpreter, by providing the reader with Acquinas' own words. He carefully provides footnotes designed to clarify language (he makes use of a literal interpretation into English) and issues. It is an effective approach, but not just for "Beginners." Many people familiar with Thomist thought will find clarification in Kreeft's brief notes and even discover, as I did, understandings they thought they had were, to one degree or another, inaccurate. As I went through this book I found that the title of "Beginner" is in many ways a good thing, especially when climbing the heights of Thomas Acquinas and Krefft is an exceptionally good guide for that climb.
Portions of the Summa have been omitted, including Objections unique to Acquinas' time and irrelevant to the modern reader and Part III of the Summa. Frankly, while recognizing the religious focus of Part III might not be immediately useful to all readers, I would have liked to seen at least some of it with Kreeft's footnotes, perhaps as a second volume.
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on January 23, 2002
Dr. Kreeft provides an excellent introduction here in this anthology of of Aquinas' work. The way it is laid out works very well - Aquinas' writings appear first - then Dr. Kreeft's helpful remarks on the text are footnoted at the bottom of the page. No page flipping is necessary to get his comments - and they dont get in the way with reading the primary text either.
The book begins with a glossary of terms needed to comprehend Aquinas' thought. Unless you are familiar with these terms, you should really take the time to learn them before embarking on the rest of the book.
This book is a very good introduction and reference for Aqunias' thought. For absolute beginners with no background at all in Aristotelian philosophy however, you will probably want to first read Mortimer J. Adler's "Aristotle for Everybody" before tackling this book.
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on February 27, 1999
Have we really "advanced" since medieval times? Not in the realm of philosophy. Aquinas leaves every modern philosopher in the dust. The best kept secret of modern times. Read this book and see for yourself. Aquinas is a balm for the mind.
Kreeft makes Aquinas accessible to the layman (like me). Kreeft's footnotes are very helpful. I am in awe of Aquinas' intelligence. I can only describe Thomas' teaching as rigorous common sense. Very rigorous, intellectually challenging, but very worthwhile. Read a section or two a day.
For Catholics, Thomas is the premier theological Doctor of the Church. Count that as a recommendation.
We are to love God with all our heart and mind. I can't think of any better way to love God with one's mind than by reading this book.
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on November 6, 2001
. . .is no longer part of the education of most Americans. This is a tremendous loss on a number of levels, one of which is that it makes the discussion of theological concepts rather difficult on any significant level of depth.
In light of this quirk of the modern American mind, this volume by Peter Kreeft is quite valuable. He has distilled from the "Summa Theologica" of St. Thomas Aquinas the fundamental kernals of philosophical and theological truth necessary to even to begin to appropriate Catholic theology. (Or ANY systematic theology, for that matter.)
The volume is not a substitute for the original (and I don't believe that Kreeft would want it to be). Rather, it serves as an introduction -- a whetting of the appetite, and an encouragement toward stretching one's perspectives and thought processes.
Highly recommended.
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on September 3, 2013
I must first say that in recent years I have become less and less enamored with Kreeft. Obviously he is on the side of the angels, but I tend to find many of his arguments less than satisfactory and some of the positions he takes problematic (but that is for another review). The reason I mention this is because Kreeft does not give himself the opportunity to make arguments in the book under consideration. Rather, Kreeft has taken exerpts from Aquinas' Summa (Parts I and Parts II, but not Part III) and given some commentary on them. Really, they are just footnotes and make up only a very small percentage of this over 500 page book. The book is mostly taken directly from the Summa. Kreeft has made reading quicker and easier by not including all the questions and not including all the objections and responses. Because the Summa in general is so abstract, it can be difficult to sit down and simply begin reading it. Krefft's Summa of the Summa allows one to understand the format of the Summa, and still learn many of the main points that Aquinas makes in the Summa. The book also contains a helpful glossary at the beginning where many of the more technical scholastic terminology is defined. Knowing the meaning of these terms is essential to understanding the writings of Aquinas, so this glossary is very helpful to the novice (like me). Kreeft tends to stay true to the scholastic way of thought when interpreting and expounding upon some of Aquinas' passages.

I should also mention that, as I usually say in my reviews, a reading of Ed Feser's "Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide" is a necessary prerequisite to fully appreciate the Summa of the Summa. While the glossary I mentioned above is quite helpful, it alone will not be enough to truly understand much of Aquinas' thought. I would highly recommend Feser's book first, as it goes through Aquinas' metaphysics in great detail. After having read Feser and having had Kreeft guide me through a good part of the Summa, I now feel like I am truly ready to tackle the actual Summa. In fact, I have been taking a few questions a day for a couple months now and have found it much more readable and rewarding than I have in previous attempts to read the Summa. So I think this book will help to get one prepared for the more serious work. Since it's much shorter than the actual Summa, it feels doable, and Kreeft guides you through many of the more difficult passages.
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on July 19, 2004
On the one hand, the text of the Summa can be hard for beginners, even smart ones. On the other hand, textbooks where people tell you what other people thought suck. So Kreeft gives you the main dish, the text of the Summa itself (trimmed of some extraneous material not relevant to beginners (stop complaining specialists and fanatics!)), but with his lucid notes at the bottom of the page along with helpful illustrations. The book also sports a handy glossary. So go ahead, don't be afraid, read Aquinas, but don't be afraid to buy this book and have Kreeft along as a guide.
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on April 20, 2014
This thick paperback volume contains selections from the "Summa Theologica" with glossary, commentary, and heavy footnotes from Boston College professor Peter Kreeft. If you're looking to dive into the medieval Catholic philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, you may find this book a good starting point, as it explains technical terms while doing its best to make the Angelic Doctor's massive tome accessible for students today. It's still a very formidable text in its own right, presenting the dilemma of whether to read through the text first and then the footnotes later, or to undertake the painstaking process of reading through both at the same time. Kreeft's writings are sometimes a mixed bag, as he is not always wholly successful in popularizing philosophy, but this particular book (like "Philosophy 101: An Introduction to Philosophy") is one of his stronger efforts. Personally, I stopped reading after awhile because I realized I could ingest more by reading through Aquinas directly and looking things up at my leisure. That's very easy to do in an electronic age where you can easily search electronically for terms and other technicalities. Nevertheless, this book is invaluable for those who want the guidance of a great teacher like Kreeft, whose books are probably the next best thing to taking his classes at the venerable Jesuit institution where he has been a fixture for many years.
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