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Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  1,640 ratings  ·  94 reviews
A new edition of G. K. Chesterton's masterful study of St. Thomas. Visit to see other books in this G. K. Chesterton series.
Paperback, 118 pages
Published January 13th 2010 by Createspace (first published 1933)
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This is my second complete read of G.K.Chesterton’s classic treatment of the “Angelic Doctor” – as St. Thomas is sometimes referred to – and I do not plan on it being the last. In fact, I suspect subsequent reads to be even more fruitful than this one which was a significant improvement on my introduction to the work back in the 1990’s.

As St. Thomas is considered one of the greatest minds to have ever lived and his biographer, Chesterton, not a slacker himself when he puts pen to paper, the rea...more
Joe Dantona
This isn't a biography; it is an adventure story!

Of course, Chesterton would have scoffed at calling this small book a biography in any case. But what it severely lacks in biographical data (which, of course, was not the author's aim) it makes up for in immense creative use of certain significant events in the great saint's life. Between dinner with St. Louis and his arguments against the Augustinians, to choosing the life of a poor Dominican monk instead of following the rich life of an abbot s...more
Douglas Dalrymple
Chesterton has only a few things to say about Aquinas, really, but that’s the way it is with all his books: the ostensible subject is most of the time fondly neglected for the atmosphere surrounding it. And while from most writers behavior of this sort would be intolerable, from Chesterton, somehow, it’s better than tolerable; because almost no one else is this fun to read.

Chesterton’s Aquinas is no vague hypothesizer of miniature angels traipsing about in Nana’s sewing kit, but the champion of...more
Jonathan B
I started reading "Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide" by Edward Feser around the same time as this. Though I haven't finished Feser's book yet (I'm a little more than halfway through), I like his book much better than Chesterton's. It seems like Chesterton spends too much time talking about stuff that isn't very important to Aquinas or his philosophy or his theology. Had he spent less time going after Luther (just one of his many "rabbit trails"), he could have spent more time explaining the philosoph...more
I am a huge Chesterton fan, and I've been wanting to read more about the men and women of faith who have come before us. This seemed the perfect book to fit the bill. I WISH, however, that I was far more well-read than I am, and that I had actually read St. Thomas Aquinas' work first. I own a copy of Summa Theologica, but it's rather daunting, and I have to admit that I've never taken the time to delve into it. Chesterton assumes you already know the work - this book, although it claims to be a...more
Kirk Lowery
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 articl...more
This is a perfect book for someone like me: a lapsed but still interested Catholic who could never keep Aquinas and Augustine straight. Chesterton packs more theology and philsophy into this slim volume, and makes it much more accessible, than any massive tome on same subject. I don't think I've ever read any thing that combines brevity and challenging ideas like this book. It's confirms my belief that all such books should be written by intelligent laymen instead of academic specialists. And he...more
Jon Stout
G. K. Chesterton’s biography of Thomas Aquinas is so defensive and sarcastic in tone that it does not seem realistic. Chesterton’s arguments repeatedly take the form that St. Thomas was neither this extreme (Platonic, mystic, Buddhist, Hegelian) nor that extreme (Aristotelian. Manichean, Muslim, pragmatic), where the extremes range all over the board, including many never known by St. Thomas. The saint always occupies the middle ground of common sense and the essence of Christianity, according t...more
Bobbi Martens
Chesterton may not make the life of Aquinas crystal and simple like we might expect a biographer to do, but he does illuminate much about the character and the philosophy of the man and make it very graspable. At the end of this book, I am not floundering for a light switch or buried under heaps of heavy intellectual thoughts. Chesterton has made me think clearly and in a new way in more than one place, and has made me smile in dozens; and he done so while teaching me about one of the greatest m...more
Reminds me of the line in the movie "National Treasure" where the girl says to Nick Cage..."people don't talk like that any more." That is the case for Chesterton...authors don't write this way any more. Admittedly there were moments that I struggled with historical references that were unfamiliar, but that is a failure of the reader and not the author. A brilliant sketch of a brilliant saint. It seems impossible that one can do justice to a man as large as Aquinas in 110 pages, but GKC pulls it...more
This is certainly not a biography but more of a love letter to a revival of Thomism against modernism. Chesterton's biting sarcasm can grow tiresome, but one clearly picks up on his affection for Aquinas. The latter sections of he book are helpful for grasping the basics of Aquinas's ontology. Good introductory reading for Aquinas before digging into a monster like the Summa.
Erik Graff
Feb 11, 2013 Erik Graff rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Chesterton fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: biography
This is more of a personal appreciation of the theologian than an objective biography or an exposition of his philosophical or theological thought.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton—semi-officially known as “the oft-quoted G. K. Chesterton”—would have us believe this little volume is a sketch or an outline of Thomas Aquinas’ life and thought. It’s difficult for me, however, to classify this book as anything even roughly resembling a biography. Chesterton clearly places Aquinas in thirteenth-century Italy and France; otherwise, however, he mentions only one specific date or year in the entire book (and not until page 141!). There’s no real chronology...more
Josh Wade
Chesterton's book was basically Catholic apologetics with very little of Aquinas' philosophy. In fact much of it was just telling how modern philosophers are all wrong and have muddled the great and glorious philosophy of the medieval schoolmen, which was light years ahead of the ancients. I have been trying to have patience with religion, which while I admit to being as vehemently anti-theist as Dawkins, I do realize that there are philosophical truths to be found buried in the cognitive disson...more
This was one of those books that sat on my shelf for two years before I finally picked it up. Once I actually started it, I could not put it down. This is a fantastic introduction to the philosophy of St. Thomas. If you never got around to taking a medieval philosophy class in undergrad, or if (like me) everything you know about St. Thomas' philosophy comes from reading Dante, here is your chance to catch up. Chesterton was writing for his era, but based on all of the science v. religion talk we...more
Jul 10, 2010 Bryan rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: thinkers, theologians
G.K. Chesterton + St. Thomas Aquinas = perfect combination

For people interested in philosophy, religion, the nature of man, and how to grow closer to God, I'd highly recommend this book. Chesterton does a great job of creating a portrait of the man who reconciled Aristotle with Christianity. Most memorable to me was his description of the ending of Aquinas' life, his humility, his recognition of how small and dependent we all are before God, and the honesty of Aquinas' heart as he prepared to fa...more
I've read two books recently with a Roman Catholic "bent." GK is known as a Christian apologist (among his many talents). This biography of Thomas Aquinas was written with entertaining and valuable insights. However, by the time you reach the end of the book you find yourself immersed in a polemic argument about the philosophical opinions of Aquinas and their value/weaknesses. That portion is not for the weak of heart (i.e. at least a little interested in philosophy). If you can make to the end,...more
Sometimes very hard to follow. This was my first Chesterton book. He's incredibly smart and from what I've read about him, a very versatile and deep author. However, as much good information as he put in this book, he got very rambly and off-topic, and it took him a while to bring the topic around to being relevant to St Thomas, making it hard (for me at least) to follow. You might need to do some homework before you read this book...
Giancarlo Montemayor
With an elegant and delightful prose, and a detailed research work, GK Chesterton provides a redeeming view of the life, philosophy, and theology of Thomas Aquinas, or "the dumb ox" as his classmates would call him before he discovered his own powerful and beautiful mind.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Medieval History, or to those whose first thought about this man is "heretic!"

I enjoyed the book. As a Protestant, I found it intriguing that Chesterton sets up the Reformation as a battle of Aquinas vs. Augustine (though he would actually call it a corrupt form of Augustinianism battling a corrupt form of Thomism). It would seem Chesterton's dislike of Martin Luther stems not so much from his separation from the Catholic church as from his large shadow eclipsing Aquinas in modern times.

Chesterton's portrait of Thomas's Christian Humanism is helpful, and worth heeding as...more
Fr.Bill M
This is one of the most "accessible" treatments of the Great Catholic theologian ever written, and Chesterton's insights into his character and his impact on the development of Christianity and Western culture are invaluable. Read this before reading anything else about Aquinas.
Rick Davis
I like the fact that even when Chesterton gets his facts wrong (as he does often when dealing with Augustine or anything about the Reformation) his ideas are still right. This was also a great book for getting random insights into Dante, who relied heavily on St. Thomas.
now i gotta actually read more about st. thomas aquainas. i feel much like the biography i read on st. vincent de paul.

i have some info on the person, and a basic background on their thought, but I really actually need to read what they wrote.

good thing he wrote so much
G. K. Chesterton has a style all his own. He wanders through the life of St. Thomas, first by comparing and contrasting him to Francis of Assisi, then anecdotally exposing the reader to the life, personality, and theology of the Dumb Ox. Chesterton allows that Thomistic experts will be less than satisfied because of omissions in the life of the Saint and novices may be mystified by undocumented or unexplained allusions that dot the narrative. Not to mention, that his literary style is far deeper...more
Will O'kelley
I decided to try and read this book out of a desire to try to understand God's work throughout history. I have to admit that this book didn't suit me much. Individually, Chesterton and Aquinas are both geniuses in their own right--Aquinas probably in a league of brilliant men far above Chesterton's (no offense). This fact was obvious from reading the book. However, to a layman like myself, a person starting almost from scratch in my understanding of philosophy, the combination of Aquinas and Che...more
Charity demands that I advise the reader at the outset that this is not a biography of St. Thomas Aquinas. Chesterton does provide a few biographical sketches, but you will not learn from this book much about the history of Aquinas. I don't grudge him this, especially, if what he says is true, there is little known about the life of the saint. Indeed, I rejoice in what use the author makes of the funny, heroic and inspiring anecdotes provided; though, it must be acknowledged, much of the book is...more
As always, G.K. Chesterton writes beautiful prose for the Catholic and non-Catholic alike (although I think one can see that he is appears condescending for starters (but maybe this is just the intellectual atmosphere of his time). He does great work on St. Thomas Aquinas this time, providing areas for reflection and consideration regarding medieval philosophy and the role of the Catholic Church both before and after the reformation, of which Thomas is a turning point. I highly recommend this bo...more
I never really understood or appreciated Aquinas until I read this.
Yuri Bernales
This book would be worth reading if only for the line: "... the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs." Chesterton's biography of Aquinas is like no other biography. He skims through details that other biographers would milk out and instead focuses on the man himself, his character, and his philosophy. I feel that his portrayal of Aquinas suffers minimally from this. As expected, he also makes witty remarks while juxtaposing various philoso...more
Last year during the Presidential election, when Paul Ryan was chosen as the GOP VP candidate, he did a famous interview where he said his two favorite philosophers were Ayn Rand and St. Thomas Aquinas. I asked Emilia and several Catholic friends to explain what this dude Aquinas was all about, and how his worldview is compatible with the writings of Rand (boo, hiss, etc). I never got a satisfactory answer, so when I saw this book lying around at the Garvey house I decided to snag it. Also, I wa...more
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Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) cannot be summed up in one sentence. Nor in one paragraph. In fact, in spite of the fine biographies that have been written of him (and his Autobiography), he has never been captured between the covers of one book. But rather than waiting to separate the goats from the sheep, let’s just come right out and say it: G.K. Chesterton was the best writer of the twent...more
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“St Thomas (Aqinas) loved books and lived on books... When asked for what he thanked God most, he answered simply, ‘I have understood every page I ever read’.” 11 likes
“[Buddhism and Christianity] are in one sense parallel and equal; as a mound and a hollow, as a valley and a hill. There is a sense in which that sublime despair is the only alternative to that divine audacity. It is even true that the truly spiritual and intellectual man sees it as sort of dilemma; a very hard and terrible choice. There is little else on earth that can compare with these for completeness. And he who does not climb the mountain of Christ does indeed fall into the abyss of Buddha.” 7 likes
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