The influence of Aristotle on Aquinas’s philosophy has been the subject of many studies, but this is not true regarding the same influence on Aquinas’s theology. This collection of essays aims to provide an introduction to such a study. The book meets this aim successfully through ten essays, which are arranged reflecting the order of the Summa Theologiae—starting with God and the created order, and finishing with the sacraments. With three exceptions, most authors of the volume primarily work in theology or religious studies; the primary interest is theological, and Aristotle only serves as a point of comparison. Their underlying conviction is that “Aquinas is, first and foremost, a theologian” (p. vi), and that we can understand some important claims of his theology by looking at one of its main sources.
The first essay, “Central Arisotelian Themes in Aquinas’s Trinitarian Theology” by Gilles Emery, shows that Aristotle’s influence on Aquinas’s trinitology is widespread: Aquinas borrows from Aristotle certain structural elements (such as the Holy Spirit’s proceeding from the Son, divine persons as relations, etc.), as well as some central concepts (such as nature, individual, principle, etc.), and some logical tools that enable him to clarify his Trinitarian language. Overall, this essay is a very clearly written case study of how Aquinas turns to some Aristotelian concepts when elaborating on specifically Christian doctrines.
The second essay, “Aristotelianism and Angelology according to Aquinas” by Serge-Thomas Bonino, shows that Aquinas inherits certain key elements from Aristotle that give a framework for his treatment of angels. For instance, Bonino considers Thomas’s position that angels are purely immaterial and his (later condemned) view that each angel must be its own distinct species.
The third essay, “Aquinas and Aristotelian Hylomorphism” by Raymond Hain, bears a slightly misleading title. Instead of examining Aristotelian hylomorphism in Aquinas in general, it focuses on two questions: the unity of soul and body, and the status of the intellectual soul especially after death. Hain concludes that although Aristotle’s hylomorphism provided a useful framework for tackling these issues, Aquinas remained rather unclear especially regarding the second one (giving rise to many contemporary debates on the status of the disembodied soul).
The fourth essay, “Aristotle and the Mosaic Law” by Matthew Levering, argues that Aristotle enables Aquinas to fully appreciate the law of Israel as a law, in the context of Israel. Levering shows Aristotle’s influence in three central places: in Aquinas’s discussion of the precepts of the just social order and of interior dispositions, in the discussion of whether the laws of the Decalogue are well expressed, and in some particular problems (such as why can there be no exceptions to the Mosaic law, or why all but two precepts are negative ones).
The fifth essay, “Aristotle’s Philosophy in Aquinas’s Theology of Grace” by Simon Francis Gaine, demonstrates that topics that would have been foreign to Aristotle himself can still manifest a remarkable Aristotelian influence in Aquinas. Aquinas relies heavily on Aristotle’s account of nature in his discussion of why grace is needed, and on other Aristotelian themes in his characterization of grace as a habit, and in his description of the instrumental causality of the sacraments.
The sixth essay, “Aristotle and Aquinas’s Theology of Charity in the Summa Theologiae” by Guy Mansini, shows that Aristotle’s understanding of friendship provides a useful model for Aquinas in developing his account of charity—Aristotelian friendship strictly but analogically—and we cannot understand it without considering Aristotle’s account in the Nicomachean Ethics.
The seventh essay, “Aristotelian Doctrines in Aquinas’s Treatment of Justice” by Christopher A. Franks, provides a thorough discussion of Aquinas’s account of justice and its Aristotelian counterpart. Franks’s assumption is that “the Christian narrative context is important for understanding Aquinas on justice exactly because he is so Aristotelian” (p. 141), and overall, this is a detailed introductory presentation of Aquinas’s theory even though avoiding such topics as the theory of just war or just government.
The eighth essay, “Contemplation and Action in Aristotle and Aquinas” by Mary Catherine Sommers, shows how Aquinas adopted and at the same time changed Aristotle’s view of the contemplative life. Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that the contemplative life, simpliciter, is better than the active life. Unlike Aristotle’s, however, the Christian context presents a special problem for Aquinas’s position: If the contemplative life is better than the active life, then how is it that Christ, whose life was in every respect an exemplary life, chose an active life? The overall solution seems to be that while Aquinas agrees with Aristotle that the contemplative life is the best life, he also thinks that perfect contemplation can only be achieved by the blessed, in patria.
The ninth essay, “Aristotle in Aquinas’s Christology” by Corey L. Barnes, provides both an interesting case study in Aquinas’s theological use of Aristotle, and an examination of some more general principles that are present in Aquinas’s other—philosophical as well as theological—considerations. Barnes shows four issues where Aristotle informs Aquinas’s Christology: fittingness arguments, the principle that “actions pertain to supposits” (p. 188), the notion of instrumentality, and Christ’s resurrection as a cause of the general resurrection.
The final, tenth essay, “Aristotle in Aquinas’s Sacramental Theology” by John P. Yocum, shows some key aspects in Aquinas’s theology of sacraments that either explicitly or implicitly rely on Aristotle’s conceptual framework: Aquinas’s view that sacraments are complex signs, treating sacraments as sensible signs, and Aquinas’s treatment of sacramental causality. Yocum’s paper is a helpful case study, even though it does not discuss some specific problems arising from combining Aristotle’s metaphysics with especially the sacrament of the Eucharist, and its treatment of sacramental causality is rather brief.
All in all, the present volume is a useful introduction to Aristotle’s influence on Aquinas’s theology. It is selective, not comprehensive, and does not treat certain topics such as, Aquinas’s discussion of the divine attributes, creation, divine providence, other theological virtues, sin and punishment, prayer, and eschatology. Additionally, the essays concentrate on Aquinas’s views as expressed in the Summa theologiae and occasionally in the relevant Aristotle commentaries and do not consider the Sentences commentary or the Summa contra Gentiles. Nevertheless, the material presented here is already much more than sufficient for an introductory volume.
The organization of the whole book as well as of most of the individual essays is exceptionally clear. The volume is well edited and includes a helpful index of terms. Readers would benefit from more tables like the one on p. 57 that lists parallel references between Aquinas’s Summa and Aristotle’s writings on major topics.
The volume, despite being an introduction, assumes a readership with some previous knowledge of Aristotle and Aquinas. It will be especially welcome by Aquinas scholars in both philosophy and theology, and can provide a good starting point for some further, more specific studies on this rather general subject.