In 1948, Josef Pieper published a selection of short texts from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, specifically, those texts he wanted to bring to the attention of his friends so that they could come to understand the character and thought of St. Thomas. The texts (often no more than a sentence) are arranged in a particular order by topic, so as to lead the reader through the philosophical thought of the saint. The book is entitled The Human Wisdom of St. Thomas.
Beyond a short introduction, in which he explains his scheme and his reasons for it, Pieper is present only in his choice of texts and their arrangement. He wished to engender contemplation, the heart of philosophy, so that his readers might come to know St. Thomas by having thought his thoughts after him, not by having read Pieper’s own thoughts. To that end, it’s a book to be picked up now and then, not a book to be read straight through…which is extremely fortunate, because a single text can hang me up for a considerable length of time. It’s not because I don’t understand what Thomas is saying, necessarily, but because I do. Or, at least, I sometimes think I do. The surface is calm, but there are deep waters here.
St. Thomas was a theologian, and wrote mostly theology; but he held philosophy to be the handmaiden of theology, and his philosophy underlies every word he wrote. Consequently, to understand the reasoning behind his theology it helps to have a notion of his philosophy. The problem is, he never really wrote about his philosophy—not directly, or systematically. It’s everywhere, but nowhere is it in one place. Consequently, this little book (it is just over one-hundred pages long) might be a good place to start: what Pieper has done is precisely to pull the little bits of philosophy from all over Thomas’ body of work and put them in a sensible philosophical order.
Highly recommended, for those with an interest in this area.
* Yes, I know that’s the same picture of St. Thomas that’s in my sidebar. It’s the picture of St. Thomas that I like.