Review: Practical Theology: 350+ Ways Your Mind Can Help You Become a Saint, Spiritual Direction from Saint Thomas Aquinas
Words cannot express how absurdly pleased I was to open the package containing Peter Kreeft’s new book on St. Thomas Aquinas — or rather, St. Thomas Aquinas’s new book, as arranged by Peter Kreeft.
From its beautiful cover, featuring my favorite picture of the saint (familiar to Catholic Memes fans as the “the Summa, and this birdhouse” picture) printed beautifully with spot varnish, to it’s perfect layout (one subject per page, printed in two columns with generous margins), this is both a scholar’s book and a popular one, designed to present “350+ ways your mind can help you become a saint.”
Kreeft has selected parts of the famous Summa Theolgiae — a book for which the term “tome” was probably invented — that are often overlooked, and presents them here as spiritual direction and advice for daily life. Instead of weighty questions such as whether God is pure essence and whether evil exists, Kreeft has chosen subjects like “What is pride and why is it so bad?” and “How does God save us… What do we do and what does God do? How does salvation work?”
To each of the more than 350 questions, Kreeft gives answers first in Thomas’s words (presented in bold type) and then in short essays that paraphrase and explain his arguments.
In issue #183, “Why the Military is an Honorable Occupation,” Thomas tackles the question of whether Christianity is fundamentally pacifistic, as the Amish would argue, or whether fighting is called for in some situations. Thomas’s Just War Theory famously argues that military action is sometimes required of Christians, and Kreeft shows that while “resolving conflicts by killing people… is not a just thing,” waging war may be a just action because “hard and painful deeds, like amputations, may be necessary in a world of sin.”
If you’ve never made it through Summa, or the Lesser Summa, or the Summa of the Summa, you don’t have to worry about making it through this one — and maybe on to the others as well. Whether used on its own or as an introduction to Thomism, there’s something in it for everyone. Or at least everyone who could use a little practical theology on his or her way to becoming a saint.
The book is mostly Thomas but the brief introduction is all Kreeft at his pithy best. “Yes, organized religion is a crutch,” he writes. “You mean you didn’t know that you were a cripple?” We’re all spiritual cripples in need of a crutch if we’re to have any hope of following the footsteps of Christ, and this crutch should be a tool anyone’s ongoing spiritual therapy.
Practical Theology: 350+ Ways Your Mind Can Help You Become a Saint, Spiritual Direction from Saint Thomas Aquinas is available from Ignatius Press and booksellers everywhere.
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