(Ignatius Press, 1999, 150pp, RRP $19.90)
This work is the publication of a set of conference papers delivered at the Wethersfield Institute in New York in 1994. The authors published are: Marie George, John Haas, Russell Hittinger, Peter Kreeft, Ronald McArthur and Ralph McInerny.
The Kreeft contribution takes the form of an examination of ten of St Thomas's personality traits. Each character trait is illustrated by reference to some incident in the life of St Thomas.
The essay by Marie George covers the subject of faith and reason. It seeks to emphasise what can be achieved through reason alone, although it does not address any of the arguments of the post-moderns that all conceptions of rationality are tradition-dependent. George thus reiterates the classical Thomist arguments in favour of philosophy without entering into an analysis of the degree to which St Thomas's philosophy is dependent upon his theology - a task she would need to undertake in order to answer the post-modern criticisms of the position she seeks to defend.
The essay on the subject of nature and grace in St Thomas by John Haas is very introductory. In the beginning of the essay Haas claims that he does not want to buy into the argument about whether or not Cardinal Henri de Lubac's interpretation of this relationship was correct. This means that he has to avoid dealing with any of the complex aspects of the relationship and gives a kind of lowest common denominator presentation of the key concepts. The major merit of this paper is that it highlights the problems with the Calvinist and Lutheran interpretations and it also introduces readers to the terminology associated with the theology of grace and nature.
The essay by Ralph McInerny is entitled "Thomas Aquinas and Moral Relativism". Its focus is a defence of the 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor and a refutation of the arguments of Richard McCormick against the existence of moral absolutes.
The Hittinger essay provides a good overview of the political philosophy of St Thomas, and the McArthur paper contains some interesting reflections on the subject of how our minds tend to be more accepting of ideas which are familiar to us, than ideas which come from sources outside our usual social milieu. McArthur ends his paper with a series of quotations from different Popes regarding the importance of the study of the work of St Thomas.
The work would thus be valuable for students at senior high school or undergraduate levels who want a basic introduction to the thought of St Thomas. The essays presuppose no knowledge of St Thomas's works and would provide a relatively pain-free introduction to his thought and personality.
Tracey Rowland is a doctoral student at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge.