Many theologians and philosophers in St. Thomas's time wrote Summas. A Summa is simply a summary. It is more like an encyclopedia than a textbook, and it is meant to be used more as a reference library than as a book. There is extreme economy in the use of words—no digressions and few illustrations. Everything is "bottom line." Such a style should appeal to busy moderns.

The medievals had a passion for order, because they believed that God had a passion for order when He designed the universe. So a Summa is ordered and outlined with loving care.

Yet, though very systematic, a Summa is not a system in the modern sense, a closed and deductive system like that of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz, or Hegel. It uses induction as well as deduction, and its data come from ordinary experience and divine revelation as well as philosophical axioms ("first principles").

A Summa is really a summarized debate. To the medieval mind, debate was a fine art, a serious science, and a fascinating entertainment, much more than it is to the modern mind, because the medievals believed, like Socrates, that dialectic could uncover truth. Thus a "scholastic disputation" was not a personal contest in cleverness, nor was it "sharing opinions"; it was a shared journey of discovery.

The "objections" from the other side are to be taken seriously in a Summa. They are not straw men to be knocked down easily, but live options to be considered and learned from. St. Thomas almost always finds some important truth hidden in each objection, which he carefully distinguishes from its error. For he believed not only that there was all truth Somewhere but also that there was some truth everywhere.

The structural outline of the Summa Theologica is a mirror of the structural ...

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