Jon Stout's Reviews > Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas by G.K. Chesterton
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Jun 26, 09

bookshelves: religion
Read in June, 2009

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 to Chesterton. The defensiveness is not Aquinas’s, but seems to be the result of trying to show his relevance to modern concerns.

I was interested in knowing how Aquinas was influenced by the Jewish Maimonides and the Muslim Averroes, but we are only told that the saint was so good as to listen to them. The fleshing out of Thomas’s personality was enlightening to me. Characterized as the “Dumb Ox” by his classmates, Thomas came alive as a particular philosophical type, the stalwart, tenacious arguer, not unlike Socrates, but with less irony. Also there is a surprising resemblance to Martin Luther. The discussion of Dominicans and Franciscans was useful in providing a context for St. Thomas’s life. With regard to his philosophical positions, I would be more interested in learning about Aquinas on his own terms, when he is not battling 20th century preconceptions.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Bob (new)

Bob Nichols I wouldn't mind knowing a little more about why Aquinas was called "the dumb ox" - since it's part of the title here.


message 2: by Jon (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jon Stout Quoting Chesterton: "Among the students thronging into the lecture rooms there was one student, conspicuous by his tall and bulky figure, and completely failing or refusing to be conspicuous for anything else. He was so dumb in the debates that his fellows began to assume an American significance in the word dumbness; for in that land it is a synonym for dullness. It is clear that, before long, even his imposing stature began to have only the ignominious immensity of the big boy left behind in the lowest form. He was called the Dumb Ox."

His mentor Albertus Magnus said, "You call him a Dumb Ox; I tell you that the Dumb Ox will bellow so loud that his bellowing will fill the world."


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