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Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox by G. K.…
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Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox (1933)

by G. K. Chesterton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Brilliant ( )
  brone | May 18, 2015 |
I must admit that I had high expectations of this book. G. K. Chesterton has a huge reputation as a writer. Since he was a devout Catholic, I expected an excellent book on Thomas. I was disappointed.



First, the author does not give a coherent narrative of Thomas' life. He makes many references to events and people of the 13th century (a good thing), but he expects the reader to already know about them. You will get a great deal more out of this book if you have already read an encyclopedia article on both him and the 13th century.



The book is really a hagiography of Thomas, a series of meditations about the man, his life and his thought. It is uncritically complimentary of Thomas, and only filled with praise of him, even or especially when noting his flaws.



The writing style, while entertaining, chases rabbits everywhere. The self-deprecating authorial voice is very loud and annoying. For a journalist and popular writer, he is remarkably unwilling to get to the point.



However, the chapters "The Approach to Thomism" and "The Permanent Philosophy" are worth reading, and I thought them to be very helpful on understanding what Thomas the Philosopher is all about. In the last chapter, sadly, Chesterton descends into partisan propaganda, railing (very unfairly, in my view) against Martin Luther as the very opposite of Aquinas; he even calls Luther a barbarian, evidence of his rhetorical intent. Thomas himself would have chided Chesterton for his incivility and unfairness.



If you are looking (as I was) for an entry-level introduction to Aquinas, look elsewhere. Josef Pieper's "A Guide to Thomas Aquinas" would be a good place to start.
  KirkLowery | Mar 4, 2014 |
This is a great little book. I grew up with a hazy view of the Fransiscans as having been true men of faith, while the over-intellectuality of the Dominicans (of which Aquinas was a member) led them to a distorted and drier faith. This book helps dispel that contrast, and in fact plays on the differences and similarities between Francis and Thomas a good deal.

The second chief merit of this book is in its ability to give the reader a more nuanced view of the late Middle Ages. Despite us now "knowing better" it is difficult to rid oneself of a simplistic picture of the philosophy and theology of this period, and indeed of Aquinas, as having been concerned with the old question of how many angels were able to fit on the head of a pin. Chesterton depicts an Aquinas whose philosophy was so much richer than that; and also, indeed, helps to undo some of the equally inaccurate prejudices against the Middles Ages and the Scholastics they are still kicking around from the early modern period.

The book suffers--unfortunately quite a good deal, and it gets worse as the book goes on--from Chesterton's polemicizing and stridency. He is at his worst when he is defending Aquinas' "common sense" philosophy from the heresies of modern philosophy, and pretty much all other philosophy in general.
2 vote lukeasrodgers | Jan 23, 2011 |
A good biography on the life of St. Thomas Aquinas. Very scholarly and descriptive in its treatment on the great person of one of the Doctors of the Church. ( )
  cimtslcwdcsn | Apr 2, 2009 |
St. Thomas Aquinas
  holyfamily | Mar 21, 2009 |
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Pegis, Anton C.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385090021, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:35 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

"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... 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" -- www.amazon.com… (more)

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