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BOOKS / Chesterton’s Aquinas: “Reason can be trusted

April Thu 29, 2010

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There is a smooth and even enjoyable road to approach St. Thomas Aquinas, besides just reading a few articles of the enormous Summa. That road is to read the sketch of the great 12th century philosopher and theologian from the witty and incisive pen of G. K. Chesterton.(St Thomas Aquinas)

 

The creator of Fr. Brown admits readily that he is not a competent philosopher. And this is an advantage for the reader because even the most difficult content is made accessible by his brilliant and evocative writing style. Despite not being a philosopher, Chesterton’s objective in the work is summarily philosophical: to show the great turning point produced by the Dominican monk in Christian thought and in Western thought in general. It was a turning point comparable to that accomplished a few decades before on a different front by St. Francis, to whom Chesterton dedicated a previous work.

 

In what did this turning point consist? “St. Thomas Aquinas was one of the great liberators of the human intellect… It was the very life of the Thomist teaching that Reason can be trusted.” Aquinas radically opposes all skepticism or dualism between thought and reality. Reality is always in the foreground in his reflection, never merely subjected to the tyranny of ideas nor to the corruption of a disembodied spirituality.

 

Herein lies the value of his rediscovery of Aristotle, which permits St. Thomas to “save the human element in Christian theology… His Aristotelianism simply meant that the study of the humblest fact will lead to the study of the highest truth.” A consequence of this was his untiring “optimism” that, according to Chesterton, traverses every page written by Aquinas: “Now nobody will begin to understand the Thomist philosophy, or indeed the Catholic philosophy, who does not realize that the primary and fundamental part of it is entirely the praise of Life, the praise of Being, the praise of God as the Creator of the World.”

 

Chesterton does not hide, but rather emphasizes, the fact that a Thomistic outlook, after the triumph of a pessimistic and skeptical vision, is wildly unpopular and furthermore difficult to comprehend. It is precisely for this reason that he seeks to make a few basic principles of St. Thomas’s way of reasoning accessible.

 

 

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