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Saint Thomas Aquinas

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  3,747 ratings  ·  291 reviews
G.K. Chesterton's brilliant sketch of the life and thought of Thomas Aquinas is as relevant today as when it was published in 1933. Then it earned the praise of such distinguished writers as Etienne Gilson, Jacques Martain, and Anton Pegis as the best book ever written on the great thirteenth-century Dominican. Today Chesterton's classic stands poised to reveal Thomas to a ...more
Paperback, 167 pages
Published January 15th 1974 by Image (first published 1933)
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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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 re
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Joe Dantona
Aug 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Tom LA
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I listened to the audiobook. This was my first Chesterton, and I surely am going to read as many of his other books as i can. Such a natural gift for writing in a spontaneous colloquial tone and a cheerful, clever wit that never switches off.

The book is a brief outline of St. Thomas Aquinas' life, a bit of a high-level comparison with St. Francis, and, in the last few chapters, a broad but passionate look at St Thomas' theology, its sublety, its power, and an attack on Martin Luther, who, among
Monica Aho
Mar 10, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
May 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Chesterton has spoiled me with this enchanting story of the remarkable personality of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Jan 24, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: biography
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
Sharon Barrow Wilfong
Jun 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Chesterton is always a roller coaster ride to read. I read somewhere that he dictated all of his writing to a secretary with no revising. While this does prove what an amazing genius Chesterton is, it also helps to understand why you feel as though you are racing around inside his head, plucking one idea out of another.

His turns of phrases are fantastical and are so well stated, sometimes hard to understand, but mostly proverbs that leave you thinking, "Yes! That is very true and I never thought
Doreen Petersen
Oct 21, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: religion
Don't bother with this one. ...more
David Saxon
I've now read Heresy, Orthodoxy, and Saint Thomas Aquinas, desperately trying to enjoy Chesterton. He is so oft-quoted and admired. His writing is witty, elegant, and powerful (rhetorically). Unfortunately, I find myself rarely agreeing with him. His Catholicism dominates his reasoning. This was especially true of Aquinas. Chesterton presents Aquinas' recovery of Aristotle as a rescue of the Incarnation and the goodness of God manifest in creation from the negativity and hyper-spirituality of Au ...more
Apr 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chesterton at his most anti-pomo. The last two or three chapters alone worth the price of admission. Devastating, absolutely devastating. They are also the chapters that do the bulk of explaining Thomistic philosophy; beyond that most of it is autobiography, but for that reason, might even be good for the high school student.

That said, Chesterton gives some amazingly good descriptions of Luther the Augustinian monk; that's my guy. Of course, he's wrong, quite wrong, that Luther was against the u
Apr 14, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Adam Marischuk
After spending most of their lives studying and writing about St. Thomas Aquinas, his philosophy and theology, Etienne Gilson, Anton Pegis (who provides the appreciation in the book) and Jacques Maritain all concluded that this was likely the best book written on the Saint. I can only imagine the despair and humility from those three emminent professors.

If there has been a better book on Aquinas written since, I have yet to find it.

This was likely my fourth or fifth reread of the book, I've lost
I did not know much about Aquinas before I read this book. I should not have started with this one.

One reviewer stated this is not a typical biography. I agree. Maybe because of that and not knowing much about Aquinas, I could not really get engaged with the book. I am not going to rate it because GK Chesterton is a Catholic icon. However, if I did, I would give it 2 stars... Just OK.
Fr.Bill M
Jul 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Taylor Marshall
Nov 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is, hands down, the best biography of Thomas Aquinas ever written. I recommend that all students of Saint Thomas Aquinas read this bio by Chesterton!
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
Jon Stout
Jun 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: religion
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
Christopher Rush
Feb 14, 2016 rated it liked it
I know this is a highly-respected work, and I do respect it. The union of Thomas Aquinas and G.K. Chesterton is a Dream Team-like pairing. Chesterton indeed sets out to do precisely what he aims to do: an anecdotal bird's-eye survey of key moments in Aquinas's life and thought combined with terse practical suggestions on what to do with Aquinas's philosophy. The issue, though, if such an issue exists, is Chesterton accomplishes his goal: he even admits it is not a thorough, authoritative treatme ...more
Mar 26, 2016 rated it did not like it
Chesterton begins with a disclaimer that the book is a general panorama of the life, ideas, and writings of St. Thomas. He should have put the pen and paper down after the disclaimer. This book falls very very short of any hagiography and is plagued by agenda, opinion, and cheap shots at institutional threats to the Catholic Church. G.K. inserts snarky introductions and comments that characterize the tone of a hot tempered layman defending his religion, especially in chapter 7 The Permanent Phil ...more
Sherwood Smith
Chesterton is interesting even when I disagree. I picked up this book in hopes of a clearer picture of who Aquinas was. As it happens, very little is known about the details of his life, though he was related to half the big guns of the 1200s. He wanted to be a friar, rather than a monk (with an abbey and maybe higher as his assured post)--nowadays most won't discern the difference, but it seems to be akin to someone chosing to work in a soup kitchen, when the relatives want to make you the CEO ...more
Feb 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: spirituality
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
Bobbi Martens
Sep 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Noah Goats
Feb 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
Having just finished reading (and very much enjoyed) The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius, I felt ready to dig into medieval thought a little bit. G.K. Chesterton's slim biographical sketch of Thomas Aquinas, it turns out, was not quite what I was looking for. What I hoped for from this book was a succinct sketch of the saint's life and a summary of his philosophy. What Chesterton gave me was a hundred pages of unfocused wandering where Chesterton seemed to talk about whatever he wanted to ...more
Mar 01, 2013 rated it liked it
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... ...more
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.
Erin Evans
May 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Where do I start? I’m sad to finish this book. I’m reading through Aquinas’ own Compendium of Theology (basically his “Summa for Dummies”), and this biography by Chesterton has helped me to understand the man behind the writings. Chesterton and Aquinas have helped to clarify something I have been discovering in my own life and faith these last few months, helping me to restore a balance between what it means to be created as both a spiritual and physical being. I’ve tried to condense some of the ...more
Vagabond of Letters, DLitt
2 and 4 stars. I never knew Aquinas was of imperial blood. However, there is little of Thomas in this book, which is unsurprising given that so little is known of him besides his literary output, in which he is invisible and would remain so even if not placed next to such blinding fusion-fire of reason, logic, and truth.

Notes scribbled while reading:

Pleasure to read; well styled; spoiled by rants about a determined God (thwarting his will) and comparisons of calvinism and jansenism to Manichae
Sam Strickland
Chesterton’s style can be rambling, but he still gives a nice romp through Thomas’s life considering every anecdote we have about him as true. Despite his loose dealing with the historical material, there are flashes of insight throughout that are worth reading.
Jul 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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The Catholic Book...: 5. Quotes 17 12 Aug 28, 2017 12:53AM  
The Catholic Book...: 4. Questions - Chesterton 7 12 Aug 11, 2017 11:18AM  
The Catholic Book...: 2. Chesterton 9 8 Aug 10, 2017 12:14PM  
The Catholic Book...: 1. St. Thomas Aquinas - Understanding 6 14 Aug 09, 2017 06:52AM  
The Catholic Book...: Introduction 3 10 Aug 04, 2017 02:30AM  

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Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936) was born in London, educated at St. Paul’s, and went to art school at University College London. In 1900, he was asked to contribute a few magazine articles on art criticism, and went on to become one of the most prolific writers of all time. He wrote a hundred books, contributions to 200 more, hundreds of poems, including the epic Ballad of the White Horse, fi ...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’.” 29 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.” 20 likes
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