Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Aquinas Catechism

Unfortunately people today tend to think of Saint Thomas Aquinas as a philosopher. However, in truth he was less of a philosopher and much more a pastor who loved to preach God's Word. In this lovely book, we see the pastoral side of the Angelic Doctor's ministry brought to life for modern readers.

This work is taken from several sermons preached by St. Thomas Aquinas, which have been compiled together as a catechism and published by Sophia Institute Press. I understand they have been quite substantially edited to fit this format. In the time-honoured fashion of catechisms, they begin with a exposition of the Apostle's Creed, followed by the Lord's Prayer and the Hail Mary, an explanation of the Ten Commandments and some studies in the sacraments.

These are not the intricate philosophical discussions we find in the Summas, but straightforward and practical explanations of Christian doctrine. The Angelic Doctor makes a real connection between orthodoxy and orthopraxy, making these teachings relevant to everyday life. I found the exposition of the Hail Mary very edifying.

I believe the texts are based on notes taken by the original audience, rather than Aquinas' own writing. This may explain a clumsy statement about the death of our Lord. He says "His human nature died; for He died not as God, but as man." In a sense this is correct, as Christ's divine nature is impassible and cannot die. However, the two natures are joined in communion. Hence, we do not say the Blessed Virgin was the mother of Christ's human nature, but she was the Mother of God. We must therefore say that the God-Man tasted death on the cross, without His divine nature actually perishing. He goes on to clarify this by analogy of the death of a person's body not affecting the death of the soul.

I was also disappointed in Aquinas' exposition of the Our Father. Commenting on 'Thy Kingdom Come,' he disconnects this from 'thy will be done on Earth;' treating the two as separate prayers. He interprets the coming of the Kingdom entirely in terms of the Second Coming and the eschaton, failing to see any present advancement of the Kingdom through the Church. I would be interested to see how Aquinas engaged with the Kingdom theme in his commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

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