Aquinas Shorter Summa: Part I: Introduction, God, and the Holy Trinity: 1-63
Compendium of Theology (1273 AD)
(Compendium theologiae ad fratrem Reginaldum socium suum carissimum)
I am embarrassed to admit I have chosen to read a compendium of Saint Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica. It represents only about 10% of the full version above. “He has reduced to a brief compass for the sake of those whose time is taken up with the cares of daily life.” This shorter Summa is only 370 pages. I am only 63 pages into this abbreviated text.
Now more than ever though I call on Catholics to read about and own our faith. Aquinas has it right that you cannot effectively teach people by authority alone. Sooner or later the authority will lose its human authority over its subjects, or become tarnished, or simply rebelled against. Aquinas died before completing the Compendium for everyday man – but he clearly knew laity needed to be provided knowledge, guidance, and proofs of the existence of God only 1200 years or so after Christ death. So much so that he set out a shorter version for us.
Our church authorities are not only tarnished, but thoroughly ensconced in the sexual predatory actions of priest worldwide sustained over decades and covered up by many – making the church and its institutions complicit in these depraved acts. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops shared with Pope Francis the situation in the United States and “how the Body of Christ is lacerated by the evil of sexual abuse.” Pope Francis is under siege now from the Catholic right and now from people demanding answers for his own culpability in this ever-unfolding scandal. A year and a half ago, he enjoyed an 83 percent favorability rating among U.S. Catholics, but that’s dropped to 63 percent, according to CNN.[i]
The church in its magnificence cannot escape this evil within its own cloistered walls. As much as priests of honor, who have never violated their basic vows – never mind committing these atrocious acts, the tendency is to retreat and immerse oneself in pastoral work, prayer, and seeking God. While these things are needed, simultaneously these priests must fight evil within their own sanctuaries. The introductory remarks of the Short Summa described Saint Aquinas’s apologetic work as follows:
“The theologian has had to interrupt his proper task, which is the contemplation of the supernatural universe in the light of God’s own knowledge, in answer to the call of more pressing needs. He has had to descend to the level of God’s enemies and take up the battle against them on many fronts.”
If we are to descend we must be prepared. We must descend from our safe prayerful lives and from our immersion in contemplative prayer to deal with the hemorrhaging on the ground. If we have been blissfully ignorant of suffering both within the church and outside the church by being thoroughly absorbed in “the cares of daily life” we must rise above the mundane and seek greater unity with our God. To do so we must have exposure to the great mystics or Doctors of the Church. They have faced evil within their walls in the past as well as evil from outside the church walls. We must, as laity, ascend as well.
Most importantly, if your faith is shaken, what better way than to go back to the basics. What do we as Catholics believe anyway?
First 63 Pages Review:
For me to live a holy life I must know truth or the way to live a divine life. “Man’s salvation consists in knowing the truth.” Through knowing God’s words and intentions we have a choice to not “besmirch” ourselves “with a multitude of vices.” We can simplify our lives by truly living by the guideposts of faith, hope and charity.[ii] I am reminded here of St. John’s Dark Night:
“The soul, then, touched with love for Christ, her Spouse, and aspiring to win his favor and friendship, departs in the disguise that more vividly represents the affections of her spirit.1 Her advance in this disguise makes her more secure against her adversaries: the devil, the world, and the flesh. The livery she thus wears is of three principal colors: white, green, and red. These three colors stand for the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity, by which she not only gains the favor and good will of her Beloved but also advances very safely, fortified against her three enemies.”
Three enemies: the devil, the world, and the flesh. We see and identify evil every day. It is carried out by man. We are less apt to see it as demonic, though at our worst suffering most are reduced to bargaining with God for relief, even if only briefly. The battle against evil is real. Responding to it, without becoming it, requires divine inspiration and divine mercy – for we surely fall short.
If we are living these virtues we will not need to preach them from the rooftops or the pulpit. Our actions will do the talking. Although we seek perfection, we never reach perfection as only the Godhead is perfect. For us Catholics, that is the divinity of the Trinity and the humanity of Christ.
Our God is the first mover – incorruptible, unalterable, immutable, infinite, and yet simple. Our God is unity of perfection. We have the word of God as brought to us by Jesus Christ and the prophets, the rich history of the church, and all the saints and martyrs. Still we recognize there is truly an “inherent impossibility of defining God.”
Thomas Aquinas provides us with definitions and descriptors of God’s essence anyway. God is innascibility: Incapability of being born, self-existence. The word is not distinct from the Father in time, space, or nature. The word of God must be absolutely perfect. He then describes how the Holy Trinity is one being despite the son (and the word of God) and the Holy Spirit being one and yet relational different notions for us when we are seeking understanding and guidance. How much time do you have? Do you have time for Summa Theoligica coming in at 3500 pages?
To live a divine life, we must truly know our nature, our intellect, and our capacity to love (and what we direct our love to!). Our essence is in our nature, our intellect, our love. To live truly freely we most reconcile our divine essence with who we are now and with our potency to strive for perfection: To be, to know, to love is our challenge in whatever calling we have taken on in life. Thomas Aquinas lived his life teaching about the essence of God and the essence – while defending God during the Renaissance period – not by force but by logic, reason, and example. Still we have a responsibility to carry our own water and search out the truth of living a divine life. We cannot give away what is most precious to us in this life time to the authorities – our soul is our responsibility to cultivate and to be open to God’s presence. All mankind will disappoint us – sometimes grievously. The evilness of men should not shake our faith – even if they are wearing white collars.
Whether you pick up the compendium or the full Summa is irrelevant, even though they may benefit your spiritual journey. What is relevant is to ask yourself – are you truly open to the word of God and the Holy Spirit? Do you know yourself and where you stand today? Do you have an eschatological framework to serve as your daily compass?
“The voice Paul (then Saul) heard from heaven asked him why he persecuted “Me”. Saul had never met Jesus in the flesh. He had, however, persecuted the Church. Jesus is identified with the Church and her members. He is really, truly present in His Body on the earth. In the words of St. Augustine, the “whole Christ” cannot be separated, “the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.”
The Church is an encounter with that whole Christ, the Risen Lord. He is their Head and the Church is the Body. It is an entrance through Him into the Trinitarian communion. That encounter and the relationship it supports is spoken of throughout the Christian Tradition as being ‘nuptial’, this is wedding language; the Christian vocation is to be espoused to Jesus Christ as a bride to a bridegroom for all eternity.”
It is hard to reconcile our current day church with this vision. The suffering within our church is immense. Our suffering as one body is deserved. We have grossly failed and harmed many children. As a whole body we have accounting to do. As a whole we must have dramatic and divinely inspired change. As a whole we must not be asleep and passive with our faith.
[ii] 1 Cor. 13:13