A Companion to the Summa: Volume III
A FRIENDLY critic’s remark, “your delightfully unpredictable order of publication”, indicates one necessary word of apology for this volume; its title demands another. For the apparent disorder in publication might be construed as one more evidence of the contagious character of twentieth century chaos; while the title might be seen as a compromising gesture towards a world terrified of death.
To remove all need for conjecture on the future order of publication, let it be said that the next volume of this work to appear, in somewhat less than a year’s time, will be Volume I, corresponding to the First Part of the Summa Theologica. After a decent interval, the final volume, Volume IV, corresponding to the Third Part and the Supplement of the Summa, will complete what was designed as a layman’s Summa. That will finish the author’s labors; but it will only begin the task of the reader. For this whole work is not a book about the Summa, but the Summa itself reduced to popular language; and Thomas is not read in a day or a year, nor can we suffer an introduction to him shake hands and then dismiss him from our lives. If we make the happy mistake of so much as smiling at him, he moves bag and baggage into our minds, to become an increasingly more delightful intimate as the years move on.
Chesterton, in his Saint Thomas Aquinas, has explained both my order of publication and the title of this volume. “He (Thomas) did, with a most solid and colossal conviction, believe in Life; and in something like what Stevenson called the great theorem of the livableness of life….The medievals had put many restrictions, and some excessive restrictions, upon the universal human hunger and even fury for Life…. Never until modern thought began, did they really have to fight with men who desired to die. That horror had threatened them in Asiatic Albigensianism, but it never became normal to them — until now.” The whole second part of the Summa, covered by these two volumes, deals precisely with the living of human life, the invaluable meaning of that life, and the secrets of the fullest success in the living of it. This part was published first, had to be published first, because of that unholy, perverted eagerness of modern men to throw away their lives and to discard their humanity. This is St. Thomas’ superb defense of the humanity of man. The remaining volumes of this work plumb the depths and scale the heights of the unutterable truths, the mysterious beginnings and glorious goals, that interpenetrate that human life with something of divinity, the truths that are the ultimate explanations of its incredible significance.
The contents of this volume, then, needs no apology; for Thomas needs no apology. As for its impossible aim of condensing the immense IIa-IIae into a volume of this size, not to speak of supplementing it from the other works of Thomas, — well, Thomas himself spent a lifetime doing impossible things in an impossibly short space of time. For he understood well that if we completely succeed it is because we have aimed too low.
Dominican House of Studies
Washington, D. C.