Aidan Nichols OP is just the man to tackle ThomasAquinas, says Margot Lawrence
Discovering Aquinas: An Introduction to his Life, Work and Influence by Aidan Nichols op Darton, Longman & Todd £12.95
The most outstanding of all the Church's scholastic philosophers was born near the ancient city of Aquino near Naples in 122.5. He studied at Monte Cassino, then moved to Naples university, where he became a Dominican against the wishes of his wealthy family, who put all manner of difficulties in his way, including keeping him under house arrest.
Later he studied in Paris, the pre-eminent university of the period, where he wrote a commentary on the Bible and received the degree of Master of Theology and defended his Order against opponents such as William of St Amour and the Franciscan supporters of Augustinianism. He died at the early age of 49 and was canonised in 1323.
In 1567 St Thomas Aquinas was ranked by Pope Pius V with the great early fathers of the Church, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and Gregory. Only Augustine among theologians has equalled his influence on the Western Church, and Leo XIII in 1879 ordered that his teaching must be the basis of Catholic theology.
Aquinas's greatest work, the Summa Theologiae, was written after 1265, but he only lived to complete the first and second parts, dealing respectively with God, and Man; the third part, dealing with Christ, was finished by another scholar to Aquinas's plan after his death.
Aidan Nichols is himself a Dominican like Aquinas, being Prior of the community in Cambridge, and he gives us a sympathetic and authoritative account of the saint. The book covers both the events of his life and the influence he has had on Catholic thought, and there are also several chapters of expository introduction to his theology that will satisfy the serious scholar while not taking the general reader too far out of his depth.
Thomas has shown us the uniqueness of God and His pre-eminence. In the Bible, God has made himself known to mankind in a double covenant that of creation and of a saving revelation.
His discussion of the Incarnation includes the possibility that its purpose went beyond the repair of the damage resulting from human sin. In his Summa Contra Gentiles he suggests that the Incarnation was intended to give mankind the opportunity of seeing God. Thomas was passionately insistent on the reality of Christ's human will.
It was Thomas who first referred to the Church as congregatio fidelium, the congregation of the faithful. In our own day Christianity sometimes shows itself as confused and unattractive. To study Aidan Nichols's book is to realise from the splendour and lucidity of Aquinas's thought that there is another, more inspiring, side of the picture. There could be no better answer to the deplorable views of Stephen Hawking.