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Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait Hardcover – May 21, 2013

4.4 out of 5 stars 22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“With his familiar combination of deep faith and tough-minded analysis, Denys Turner introduces us to the thought of the greatest of Christian theologians, and does so in the lucid, expressive prose of a superb teacher.”—Terry Eagleton
(Terry Eagleton)

"Denys Turner's exciting new reading of Thomas Aquinas emphasizes what he provocatively calls Thomas's materialism, his insistence that matter bears meaning. Thomas Aquinas is a book to be treasured by all who know and admire Thomas-and all who would like to know him."—Bernard McGinn, University of Chicago
(Bernard McGinn)

“While he insists this book is written for newcomers and not for old hands, let this one in the latter category testify that since Denys Turner distils years of studying Aquinas and writes so beautifully, we are all in his debt for this splendid book."—Fergus Kerr, University of Edinburgh
(Fergus Kerr)

“A brilliant introduction to Thomas Aquinas and his thought, beautifully written.  Denys Turner distills Thomistic theology with consummate skill, and, in the process, crafts a portrait of St. Thomas, the man, which deserves to be recognized as a masterpiece.  A rare achievement, this lucid, learned book is destined to become a classic.”—Carlos Eire, Yale University
(Carlos Eire)

“A fine, idiosyncratic introduction to the saint and his mind . . . full of grace notes . . . [Turner] presents a thinker who is indispensable for believers and nonbelievers alike.”—Michael Robbins, Chicago Tribune
(Chicago Tribune)

“[A] superb study”—Terry Eagleton, London Review of Books (Terry Eagleton London Review of Books 2013-12-05)

“I would recommend Turner’s book for anyone curious about the Mr. Spock of the Middle Ages . . . Turner briefly but concretely fleshes him out in the full context of his age, with all of its paradoxes and contradictions.”—John Farrell, Forbes (selected as “Book of the Year” for John Farrell’s blog)
(John Farrell Forbes)

“Turner wields his pen with great finesse, achieving thin strokes that convey in fine detail interesting facets of the saint’s life and thought.”—Aquinas Guilbeau, Claremont Review of Books
(Aquinas Guilbeau Claremont Review of Books)

Book Description

Leaving few traces of his personal life behind, Thomas Aquinas has long stymied the efforts of biographers. Undeterred, master teacher Denys Turner uncovers revealing details about the elusive saint and achieves an illuminating new portrait.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; F First Edition edition (May 21, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300188552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300188554
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #882,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have two shelves of books by and on Aquinas, and when I bought this I expected to learn nothing new but to get a different insight into him. I was not disappointed on either score. Turner shocked me a bit when, early on, he deemed Aquinas a materialist. What he means by this is not the current philosophy of materialism born of logical positivism (the scientific method), which holds as foundational that the only reality is material reality, that there is no such dimension as the spiritual, or if there is, we cannot know about it. Aquinas' materialism is not that kind of materialism. Dr Turner explains that Aquinas' materialism is based on the reality of matter and that it is knowable, knowable because of abstraction which is per se nonmaterial in essence. He also maintains that Aquinas does not denigrate matter, as do the Platonists and such. Matter is good, matter has its own value. Humans are body and soul, matter and spirit, and the body has its value and meaning. Aquinas never maintains, as do many philosophers of bygone ages, and a lot of "spiritualities" of the present, that the body is wretched and of no count, that the soul is entrapped in the body like a bird in a cage, and yearns to be free. No, for Aquinas, and for Aristotle whose philosophy he uses and builds upon, the body is an essential part of what it is to be humans. We do not shed our bodies at death and "become angels." We are not angels entrapped in a body. More, while the nonmaterial soul (spirit) of a person survives death--defined as separation of body and soul, matter and spirit, material cause and formal cause--that surviving soul, spiritual and therefore incapable of decomposing, continues to exist as an immortal substance but is not a person. The reason?Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait I wrote my doctoral dissertation on Thomas Aquinas many years ago, and I can say that this is the best book I have ever read about him in a long time, a masterful introduction to the man and his work. Turner, who teaches at Yale University, tells us what Thomas thought about some key philosophical and theological notions, such as God, the soul, the mystery of matter, the will, desire, etc. but more importantly, he explains why he thought precisely in that way. He catches the great medieval theologian in the very act of thinking. The last chapter (on Eucharist and Eschatology) should be read by any Christian believer. His insight into Thomas's vocation as a friar preacher and his "materialism" is brilliant. The book is a masterpiece. [I am writing a more extensive review for publication in a Spanish scholarly publication.]
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have always thought that St Thomas Aquinas, along with all of his fellow scholastics, was “beyond my sympathies,” as Tolkien might say. Eight years ago I spent a few months trying to read his Summa Theologiae (in Timothy McDermott’s paraphrase, no less), and found it exceptionally hard slogging. I finally gave up. What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?

Turner’s introduction to the life and thought of Aquinas has given me a totally different perspective on the Dominican preacher. Modern caricatures picture Aquinas as an academic who was more interested in philosophical precision than the life of faith. How very wrong these caricatures are. I do not know if I will ever return to the Summa Theologiae; but I am grateful to have been introduced to this great theologian who is also a saint. I have discovered that while Aquinas lies well beyond my intellectual capacity he is not beyond my sympathies. “The holiness of Thomas,” writes Turner, “is a theologian’s holiness, the holy teacher invisible otherwise than in the holy teaching itself.”
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Denys Turner reveals himself in this book as a deep philosopher and theologian. I am pretty familiar with the thought of Thomas Aquinas, starting to study him some 50 years ago. This book shows many aspects of Thomas's thought which are not well understood by many scholars. Highly recommended!
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is different from anything I have ever seen on Thomas Aquinas. It is unique in that Denys Turner recreates the conflict of Thomas' ideas with his contemporaries. I found this to be extremely enlightening and wished it had been published during my study years.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a brilliant take on Aquinas that evidences familiar ease with Aquinas' texts, context and thought-world, and retrieves his daring traditionalism that is too-little imitated by his intellectual devotees. Turner always has a way of bringing seemingly settled reads to new vistas!
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As with Turner's other books, this is quite elegantly written, and with depth. Much of the book reflects Turner's long-standing interest in the apophatic tradition -- he stresses more than almost anyone else I have read the refusal of Aquinas to make certain claims about God, and the pressures on language at the limit that Aquinas acknowledges. The book is particularly good at separating Aquinas' theology from various debased versions (Catholic and Protestant and atheist). Much of the first two thirds of the book would be intriguing to a non-believing philosopher -- the discussions of the implications of an Aristotelian approach to (for instance) the characteristics of an intellectual animal are of general interest -- it is only towards the end that specifically Christian theology (belief in the uniqueness of Christ, etc.) appears.

There is not much here on the Trinity (Turner gets started on it, and then stops), and nothing on the subsequent history of Aquinas' influence.

The book is quite dense in its way -- it would not be a good starting point for someone who knew nothing about medieval or Christian theology generally.
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