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St Thomas as modern as he is medieval?,
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This review is from: St. Thomas Aquinas (Paperback)
The Echo Library does a splendid job by using `print-on-demand technology to build and preserve an exciting world class collection of rare and out-of-print books', and G.K.Chesterton's little masterpiece of 97 pages certainly merits reprinting. It is perhaps a pity that the publishers don't have a page of elementary information to tell us a little about Chesterton or even the date of original publication (1933).
Chesterton had converted to Catholicism in 1922 and in 1923 had published a book on St Francis of Assisi. He is clearly a partisan for Catholicism against Protestantism and the modern world; for the `living' Middle Ages against the Renaissance `which was a resurrection of old things discovered in a dead thing'; and for the Aristotelian view against the Platonic, neo-Platonic, and what he calls the neo-neo-Platonic view of the Renaissance. And he lays about himself lustily against thinkers with whom he disagrees: Francis Bacon, for example was `third-rate' and Hegel was `mad'. Soberly abstract though St Thomas often is, his abstractions, according to Chesterton, are never cloudy nonsense and are always rooted in Common Sense.
The brilliant opening chapter of the book is built around a comparison between St Francis and St Thomas - very different in character, appearance and in the aspects of Christianity which they developed; but Chesterton stresses that, though they were both accused by their detractors of corrupting Christianity by importing into it a pagan goddess (Nature) or a pagan sage (Aristotle), both actually expanded the possibilities and implications of Christian doctrine from within, "depending on external things only as every living and growing thing depends on them; that is, it digests and transforms them, but continues in its own image and not in theirs", so that "St Thomas did not reconcile Christ to Aristotle; he reconciled Aristotle to Christ."
The book is sometimes quite difficult: it assumes some familiarity with philosophy and theology (though it delights in showing that those who think they are familiar with them often labour under vulgar misconceptions). Actually it even assumes that the reader is familiar with St Thomas' ideas; for this is no way a text-book that gives a clear or methodical account of what St Thomas actually wrote. It occasionally makes comparisons with modern times with which a reader of the 1930s was perhaps more familiar than a reader of today. Many pages are a bit windy. But Chesterton's style is a delight to read: it is mixture of Carlyle and of a more modern version of Gibbon in that it delights in apparent paradoxes and in witty confrontations of opposite verbal phrases. His admiration for St Thomas is unbounded; but even those who do not share the faith of St Thomas (or that of Chesterton) will still find some formulations throughout this book which are as wonderfully happy as they are wise, insightful and thought-provoking.