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Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox Paperback – Unabridged, January 15, 1974
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It is known that when the great Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton began his book on Saint Thomas Aquinas (who is, quite possibly, the most influential of all Christian theologians), "his research for the project consisted of a very casual perusal of a few books on his subject." To say that Chesterton was no authority is an understatement. To say further that he has written a masterpiece of elucidation may also be an understatement. Etienne Gilson, the chief scholar of Aquinas in the 20th century, said flatly "I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas. Nothing short of genius can account for such an achievement.... Chesterton was one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed; he was deep because he was right; and he could not help being right; but he could not either help being modest and charitable, so he left it to those who could understand him to know that he was right, and deep."
So how has he accomplished this feat? By simplifying, as his editor says, without oversimplifying. He turns his own lack of intimate knowledge to his advantage by concentrating on the core elements of Aquinas' thinking: his affirmation of the goodness of creation; his defense of common sense; and "the primacy of the doctrine of being." In this way he grasps--and helps us grasp--the importance of Aquinas for us today. As Raymond Dennehy has written, it's as if Chesterton is saying to us "the truths [Aquinas] was getting at--the basic principles of reality and reason--are in themselves really quite simple. Your basic intuitions were right all along." --Doug Thorpe
From the Publisher
A trade paperback edition of the classic portrait of Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest of Christian philosophers, by one of the greatest of modern religious writers.
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I love Chesterton's writing, except where I disagree with him: I can't buy his basic Catholicism (he warns against that in the introduction!), his acceptance of the concept of the 'saint' and of miracles. That just does not match with his approach of 'common sense'.
What I like about him: he likes to challenge paradigms and bust myths. He does this with mighty language and drops plenty of colourful aphorisms. On the negative side: he does remain short on philosophical content (what is this Plato vs Aristotle match all about? should he not at least try to explain the outlines?), but he is a little long on '-isms' and nouns of all kind; he loves name-dropping. And he is a wee bit condescending towards the 'orient' and the 'Chinaman'. Puts me off a little.
One more in this direction: he is a little vague in some of his complaints, so I am not sure what he talks about when he mentions the 'age of uncommon reason' and praises the 'level-headed man' early on. It does sound like an anti-Einstein tirade and like the normal anti-scientist's ranting against the disappointing fact that modern science comes up with counter-intuitive hypotheses, more and more.
But I love his portrait of Thomas as a liberator of the intellect, the one who reconciled religion with reason. His statement that Thomas was the real reformer, those after him were reactionaries is surprising, but I am willing to keep the idea in mind. And he wins my sympathies completely with his comparison of Thomas and Hegel: Thomas was sane, while Hegel was mad. That needs to be said.
So nice to get such Logic and Reason (for once) in a small, concise book on a great Saint and a proven genius. Chesterton is interesting, original, perceptive and brilliant, and he writes about a most interesting, original, perceptive, and brilliant person. Such a combination is exhilarating and delightful.