The question of today’s post comes from Peter Kreeft’s new book Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from Saint Thomas Aquinas. Kreeft offers an amazing array (over 350) of questions/issues which are addressed by Thomas Aquinas. He provides quotes from Aquinas and then adds his own voice either to clarify or augment the passage. Consider the following (All the quotes I give are from Kreeft’s own commentary):
- Why doesn’t God give us enough grace to overcome sin? “If God prevented us from sinning, we might then sin even more, by pride, which is the worst sin of all. We would also be ignorant of ourselves and our weakness of will, our blindness of mind and the disorderliness of our passions. . . God is a pragmatist, like a doctor. He tolerates necessary bad side effects in order to cure a worse problem. In order to cure a worse disease, He refuses to cure the lesser one. Trust your Doctor.” (p. 123)
- If the omnipotent God can do anything, couldn’t He have arranged for Christ to have saved the world without suffering and dying? “One drop of blood—from Christ’s circumcision at the age of eight days—would have been sufficient to purchase all mankind’s salvation. Why then did He give us twelve quarts instead of one drop? The simple and stunning answer, from Monica Miller’s book on the movie ‘The Passion of the Christ’, is: Because He had twelve quarts to give.” [In the passion God loved us] “with all His heart and soul and mind and strength.” (p. 234)
- Why doesn’t God just zap us into Heaven now? Why does He make us wait? “The best kind of impatience is impatience for sanctity. . . But we must also accept our slowness, and be patient with ourselves and our slowness and stupidity. Why? Because God is! At AA they tell you not to expect instant cures. As Brother Lawrence says in The Practice of the Presence of God, we must not demand to go faster than grace.” (p. 36)
- Why lust is harmful. “One of the reasons lust is bad (not the only reason) is that it makes you stupid. Like any addiction, it blinds your vision to everything else and focuses it on the one thing that is the object of your addiction. St. Thomas often points out that lust harms the reason. This is much more serious if we remember that ‘reason’ meant to him something much more broad, deep, precious, and human than it typically means to us (cold calculation). It is by ‘reason’ that we know ‘spiritual things.’ . . . Our world, far more than St. Thomas’, is chock full of lustaholics. The very word ‘lust’ is typically treated as a joke, or else the alternative is assumed to be unattainable, undesirable, and incomprehensible. When everyone has a fever, a fever seems normal and 98.6 seems abnormally cool. Yet, as C.S. Lewis says, ‘when poisons becomes fashionable they do not cease to kill.’” (p. 156)
There are theological questions like would Christ have become incarnate even if we hadn’t sinned (p. 217). Or, “could Christ have become incarnate on earth more than once?” (p. 218) Kreeft is Catholic, as was Aquinas, and so a number of questions are specifically related to Catholic life and theology. For example, “Do Catholics worship Mary?” (p. 220) “What justifies the veneration of relics of the saints?” (p. 221)
I love this book because I love Aquinas. But I find Aquinas often difficult to read and so I’m always appreciative of anyone who can make the sacred doctor understandable. I find it useful to remember that, as Joseph Owens observed, “Aquinas did all his writings as a theologian, not as a philosopher.” “[T]he most important aim was to promote the teaching and the work of the Church.” (“Aristotle and Aquinas” in The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas, p. 44) This contribution by Kreeft goes a long way to bringing that aim into clearer focus for contemporary readers of Aquinas.
Practical Theology is from Ignatius Press. It is a paperback with 366 pages and sells for $21.95.
Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., a Professor of Philosophy at Boston College, is one of the most widely read Christian authors of our time. His many bestselling books include Back to Virtue, Because God Is Real, Jacob’s Ladder, You Can Understand the Bible, Angels and Demons, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing, and A Summa of the Summa.