Thomas Aquinas was one of the most influential thinkers in the history of Christianity and in western civilization. Yet his theological views are complex and presume acquaintance with technical philosophical language. Now Timothy Renick has produced an attractive and accessible account of Aquinas's thought and life that will make his views clear to non-specialists. The topics dealt with include God, angels, evil, metaphysics, morality, sex, war, abortion, and politics. Timothy M. Renick is Associate Professor and Director of Religious Studies at Georgia State University. He was awarded the University System of Georgia Board of Regents' Teaching Excellence Award in October 2002.
- Aquinas is important, an understatement I know
This is the second book in the Armchair Theologians series that I have read. I like the idea of a series of short books on theologians or important periods. It is a mix between Oxford’s Very Short Introduction series and a Dummies handbook. It actually is pretty intellectually rigorous (or at least Aquinas is) but they are written with the lightness and humor of a dummies book.
I liked the Aquinas more than the Calvin book. Aquinas is a bigger philosophical figure, so it it feels more like a intro to philosophy book than a theology book, although it is clear that Aquinas was doing theology and was concerned with issues of understanding and seeking after God.
Renick clearly enjoyed his task of writing a Dummies style book for Aquinas. He makes all kinds of jokes (mostly funny) but probably too many dated pop culture references. This book was written almost 10 years ago, and even then the references were probably a bit dated. (He has two different references to the dog in the show Fraiser.) And glancing around at other reviews, it seems that people either liked or hated the humor.
In some ways it is a bit embarrassing that I haven’t read more about Aquinas (or at least remembered more than I do). Renick does a good job walking through Aquinas’ important contributions in a way that builds upon one another. So he talks about how we can know who God is and the how Aquinas understood humans and angels. Then he moves to free will and God’s culpability in evil. Once we understand how Aquinas understand God as ‘immutable’, then it is easier to understand how Aquinas thinks about other objects around us and other issues of metaphysics.
Probably most important for our everyday life is Aquinas’ contributions to the idea of Natural Law, Just War and sexuality. Renick uses lots of examples like any good philosophy teacher to help us understand a difficult idea by showing us a simpler one. But he does not leave it at abstract theology or philosophy. There are two different chapters specifically on modern issues where Aquinas’ thought still is important (homosexuality, abortion, sexual ethics and politics to name a few.)
The final chapter is an encouragement to actually read Aquinas for ourselves, and some helps on how to do that better and with less frustration. A very helpful chapter. This was a useful book to pick up. I am enjoying these quick little books. Not all introduction style books are good (I thought John Calvin for Armchair Theologians and A Very Short Introduction to the Bible were mediocre at best), but Aquinas and Noll’s Protestantism: A Very Short Introduction were very good.
Originally posted on my blog at http://bookwi.se/aquinas/