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Thomas Aquinas: A Portrait

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  97 ratings  ·  23 reviews
A concise and illuminating introduction to the elusive Thomas Aquinas, the man and the saint

Leaving so few traces of himself behind, Thomas Aquinas seems to defy the efforts of the biographer. Highly visible as a public teacher, preacher, and theologian, he nevertheless has remained nearly invisible as man and saint. What can be discovered about Thomas Aquinas as a whole?
Hardcover, 312 pages
Published May 21st 2013 by Yale University Press (first published January 1st 2013)
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Justin Evans
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
A great, great book of its type; this reminded me of the books people wrote about philosophers in the mid-twentieth century. It's clear, it's convincing, Turner has a command of the details but doesn't need to prove it at ever turn. He chooses idiosyncratic ways into Thomas's thought (the fact that he didn't finish the Summa Th, his thoughts on prayer, his thought on friendship), and uses them to create a great picture of both thought and man (though, of necessity, the picture of the man is pret ...more
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If you want an introduction to St. Thomas, there’s no better place to start than here. Denys Turner has written a deeply compelling portrait of a humble but brilliant theologian. This is both an intellectual history and a hagiography. Countless books have been written about Aquinas’ thought, but not many contextualize it. Turner demonstrates the close link that always existed between Aquinas the scholar and Aquinas the Dominican.
Andrew Marr
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Here is a poetic description of the theological vision of Thomas Aquinas. A contradiction in terms? For decades I have found his structured exploration into divine mystery poetic but it is Denys Turner who has really made the poetry flower, a feat accomplished over a century ago by G.K. Chesterton. There is hardly any theological jargon, which is a big help to the reader lacking the terminology of medieval theology but the probing of Thomas' subtle insights into the nature of God takes some care ...more
Lauren Albert
First, a warning—though the subtitle of the book is “A Portrait” it is really a portrait (if you can call it that) of Aquinas as a theologian and teacher. I’d call it an intellectual biography.
Turner must be an excellent teacher. For obvious reasons, I know little about Catholic theology except what I picked up from reading books that touch on the subject tangentially. He has an amazing ability to build homely analogies to explain complex topics. I struggled with the chapter on the Eucharist but
May 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Simply put: one of the most remarkable books I've ever read. Turner has put together a masterpiece that helps one come to know St. Thomas Aquinas. I have a whole new and deeper appreciation for Aquinas. ...more
Mar 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this book so much I'm now starting it again. At first I thought it was going to be a struggle to find my way into it. Looking back, I wonder now why I thought so. Occasionally Turner writes a sentence that needs a bit of unpacking, but beyond that he's wonderfully clear, and when necessary provides good analogies for some of the more difficult patches.
I'd read Chesterton's 'biography' of Aquinas last year, but have already forgotten most of it. Yet at the time it gave me an enthusiasm
Jan 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
A beautiful, theological reflection on the life and thought of Thomas Aquinas, though, admittedly, not for the beginner. The chapters on Thomas' materialism and doctrine of God were my favorites. ...more
Jun 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Turner writes with astonishing clarity, and has a unique gift for analogy--i'm thinking of the simultaneous holiness and humanness of jesus as represented by a square that is both a square and yellow, rather than a square that is both a square and a circle, illuminating the utter lack of shared traits between the two genus, to use thomas's term; the 1844 understanding of the word "virus" as a placeholder for the discoveries that would take place under the microscope 40 years later as analogous t ...more
Humberto Ballesteros
Reading this book immediately after finishing Peter Brown's masterful biography of Saint Augustine proved a disappointment. Turner eulogizes Aquinas' invisibility as a writer, and eloquently advocates for its intellectual and theological value: The saint is humbly silent so that the truth might shine forth all the brighter. I wish that Turner had followed his subject's example, but sadly, where Aquinas is selfless and erudite, Turner seemed to me caustic and arrogant. Several times in this short ...more
Charles Lewis
Jun 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
For some reason I thought I wrote about this book. I finished it in early 2014. I had been looking for a great book about Aquinas that I could actually understand. But this is not a light read by the author does great summaries on key points that even when you think you might be a bit lost you find your way again. Actually I've tried easy to read books and then I realized that Aquinas was not simple. Though it is amazing how much of the Summa, his master work, can be read with a bit of instructi ...more
Nov 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Reading Aquinas himself is remarkably easy. Flannery O’Connor liked to boast that she read a little bit of the Summa each night before bed. Reading others on Aquinas, however, is often less easy. At his best here, Denys Turner gives us an eloquent survey of Aquinas’s Christian materialism, broadening our view of theological possibilities beyond the ossified divide of materialist science vs. supernaturalist faith. At his worst, Turner bogs down in hagiographical fawning, academic quibbles, and re ...more
Peter Blair
May 28, 2016 added it
Shelves: theology
The section on God's action/freedom and ours, as well as the section on the divine oneness and the Trinity, are both excellent and super helpful. Some parts are occasionally less compelling/I have questions about them (which may or may not arise from my own ignorance as from any errors on his part). However, I have it on good authority his treatment of Aquinas' theology of the Eucharist gets at least part of Aquinas' thought wrong. ...more
Oct 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
I was given this book to read while I awaited my copy of Chesterton's A Dumb Ox to arrive. I read the Introduction and first chapter and really liked it, but I'll move on to Chesterton's book. I may come back. ...more
Matt Moser
Jul 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
A delightful little theological biography of Thomas. Turner's prose is crisp and clear, illuminating a few major themes of Aquinas's thought in a way that brings out the beauty and prayer that animates it. ...more
Nov 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
My first real exposure to the thought of Aquinas--Turner provides a good summary of the primary arguments (and methods) of Thomas's philosophy in an approachable format. The biographical portions are negligible. ...more
Joel Zartman
Apr 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Best yet.
Nick Spencer
Jun 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Impressive and clear
Apr 11, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2020
I’ve turned off the TV for a few hours during this
Corona update is my evening with BBC World News 8 pm.
So who do I want to spend the day with....without contagion?
This man, Thomas Aquinas.

To give an idea what Thomas did to his aristocratic parents in 1244.
Thomas was only 19yrs when he refused to join the
Benedictine “Ivy League” monastery
and signed up for the Dominicans
....sort of “Peace Corps” who preached to the poor.
Mom and dad were not amused!

The book starts out well...but
Sarah Hui
Dec 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Need to go back and finish the rest of it
james r piper
Oct 15, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Overwritten and overdone. Makes me want to read a real intellectual again, like St. John the Apostle: “In the beginning was the Word... and the Word was God.
Apr 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Really good, simple overview of Thomas Aquinas' thoughts on God, Soul, Jesus Christ and the Eucharist. Would recommend to anyone who wants to know more about Thomas Aquinas. ...more
I learned a lot about Aquinas in this book. I did not know that his family was against him becoming a monk, nor did I know the steps they took to keep him from doing so.
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Thomas' Summa was written in the 13rh century as a curriculum to prepare Dominican friars for their ministry as preachers. As such it is not scintillating reading. But it is an all-time classic of Western theology, brilliant in its clarity and directness and astounding in the power of its logic. Turner succeeds in making its main topics completely engaging by using concrete examples that light up the most challenging of its concepts.
Romek Jaguś
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Jan 13, 2018
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Mar 26, 2018
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Jul 30, 2019
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Dec 17, 2015
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Denys Turner is the Horace Tracy Pitkin Professor of Historical Theology at Yale University, a position which he has held since 2005. He previously was the Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at Cambridge University. He received his B.A. and M.A. from University College, Dublin, and his D.Phil from the University of Oxford.

Turner's work covers several areas within the history of Christianity, with

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  Kerine Wint is a software engineering graduate with more love for books than for computers. As an avid reader, writer, and fan of all things...
43 likes · 12 comments
“The main danger is that of supposing that the thing to do is get a mind on the scale of Thomas (Aquinas)’s into your head, a task of compression that will be achieved only at your head’s peril. The only safe thing to do is to find a way of getting your mind into his, wherein yours has room to expand and grow, and explore the worlds his contains.” 1 likes
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