Back to the Summa


This Fall I was asked to give a short theology course on the virtues of Prudence, Fortitude and Temperance, three of the four “Cardinal Virtues”. Since it had been a while since I had this class myself, and given the fact that I can’t rely on personal experience on these themes (who can?) I decided to go to St. Thomas Aquinas. No, not specialists or popular commentators on Aquinas, nor websites on Aquinas, nor even videos on Aquinas, but rather straight to his masterpiece The Summa Theologica (literally, “the summary of all theology”). When I looked at the daunting Volume II of my English edition (Benzinger Brothers 1947…the best) I saw that basically everything I could possibly want to teach about Prudence (about 100 pages) Fortitude (about 60 pages) and Temperance (about 110 pages) were not only right in front of my eyes, but already in a kind of class syllabus format. In other words, over 700 years ago, St. Thomas Aquinas prepared the class for me. I guess I should not have been surprised because I do know that (contrary to common opinion) the Summa was precisely designed as an undergraduate class text. Because it is in Latin, many people think it out of reach, but there are now fine translations that open the reader to the complexities beauty of Christian theology. You only have to open the book and pick a question to study. For example, on the points about Prudence in Question 47, the following comments are made (presented as Articles):

Art 1) Prudence is in the reason; Art 2) Prudence resides only in the practical reason, not the speculative; Art 3) Prudence considers singular (concrete) actions, but also universal action; Art 4) Prudence is a virtue, a guide of intellectual and practical perfections; Art 5) Prudence is a virtue distinct from all other virtues; Art 6) Prudence give goals (ends) to moral virtue; Art 7) Prudence finds the mean in moral virtues; Art 8) Command is the chief act of Prudence;  Art 9) Solicitude/watchfulness belongs to Prudence; Art 10) Prudence concerns the common good of the many, as well as private good of individuals.

Exciting stuff! Why not look for your old copy of The Summa Theologica or pick one up online (the real books are funner than the e-versions, especially if the books are a bit dusty). You will hear St. Thomas Aquinas, The Angelic Doctor,  guiding you through arduous theological questions with agility and ease, and even (wait for it) pleasure. You might even make Bill and Ted look academically challenged. Blessings!

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