Whether St. Thomas is Boring?

Here in the Age of Utter Credulity, we are often informed by people who get all their information from the Interwebz that medievals like St. Thomas were “superstitious” while we now live in the Age of Reason. The way you can tell we live in the Age of Reason is twofold. First, we are technologically sophisticated enough to force people who understand what Reason means to remind us of things like this:

Second, and this is the clincher, St Thomas Aquinas, who embodies the thinking of the Medieval period, is really boring, according to, oh, you know, everybody. And since “entertainment value” is what truly rational thought is all about, it therefore follows that we live in the Age of Reason and medievals were gullible and superstitious and a thousand years dumber than we who have developed the technological capacity to bring the wisdom of Jerry Springer, Snooki, Lindsey Lohan, Paris Hilton, Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and similar intellectual lions to the masses of philosopher kings who now walk the earth in stately concord.

Still, recalcitrant people exist who dissent from this wise view of matters. Some, if you can believe it, think that there are forms of human endeavor that are interesting which do *not* involve explosions, jiggle, bling, special effects, trailer park sex quarrels, and speculations about ancient astronauts. Among them are this irrational Dominican who advances the incredible thesis that St. Thomas Aquinas is not boring and uses something called intelligence, wit and argument to make his case.

Mike Flynn has some follow-up remarks. Plus, there’s this kickin’ it St. Thomas rap, which conclusively demonstrates that Thomism is absolutely compatible with contemporary culture. Thomas is, as you kids today say, “all that” and perfect for “bringin’ the Truth to the Homies” (I’m taking a Rosetta Stone course on modern urban slang and the diagnostic software rates me as “bad” which I am told means “good” in urban slang. Yo.

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  • Justin

    I feel that I may have inspired this post. 😉

  • RFlaum

    Recently, I read (well, skimmed) some of the ST for the first time, and at first I was bored, but then… see, when I first saw all the effort devoted to deciding what time of day the Crucifixion took place and suchlike, my immediate reaction was “who cares what time of day it was”. Then I remembered all the time I’ve spent arguing about minor details of chronology in some of my favorite books, and I realized that Aquinas was, like me, a huge nerd. If he were writing today, the ST would totally have been filled with Monty Python references.

    • Mark Shea

      It matters, of course, because it has theological significance to John. John’s gospel opens with the prophetic announcement that Jesus is the “lamb of God”. Jesus is crucified at the same hour the Passover sacrifices are being slaughtered in the Temple. Same reason it matters that “not a bone of him shall be broken” is taken from Passover instructions in Exodus and applied to Jesus in John. Every detail in John is charged with spiritual meaning.

      • Subsistent

        Altho I know next to nothing about the date or time of the Passover sacrificial slaughtering, I happened to hear something once which may serve to support against objections the simultaneity Mr. Shea maintains here; namely that there were at that time TWO Passover dates close to each other: one observed by Essenes who lived in a certain quarter of Jerusalem, and another observed by other Jerusalemites.

      • RFlaum

        Yeah, I got the gist. Aquinas talks about whether it was “the most appropriate time”, or words to that effect, so I got what he meant even if I didn’t know the precise scriptural references. Mostly, I just liked the image of Thomas Aquinas making Monty Python jokes.

        • RFlaum

          Looking over my original post, I guess it came across as a sort of trivialization, implying that theology is no more important than arguments about SF books, which wasn’t my intention. I should learn to think these things through first, sorry.

  • You know you’re getting old when you put your youngest son on your knee and tell him that there was a time way back when the History Channel had shows about history. But then there was a time when MTV played videos and The Learning Channel had educational programming. Seems to be a trend. Personally, I applaud the idea that not everything important has to be fun or funny. Nonetheless, it doesn’t mean that everything important isn’t fun or even funny.

    • Beadgirl

      Remember when A&E fulfilled the “A” in their name by showing ballet performances and operas?

  • Ed the Roman

    “Whether St. Thomas is Boring?”

    No. You’re welcome.

  • SDG

    I’ve read a number of St. Thomas parodies and homages, but this one is the best I’ve ever seen. It’s so good it’s barely parody.

  • Subsistent

    A hilarious yet accurate take-off on the style of the Summa!
    In the face of rhetorical anti-Catholic flourishes by some instructors at the secular college I went to, I found Aquinas’s calm, balanced, and considerate objectivity quite refreshing. Also suspenseful: he stated objections *against* his positions so effectively that I’d wonder, “Yeah! how is he going to refute THAT argument?”
    His was a great mind, indeed, and instructive and rightly studied in our day. But not, IMO, a mind great enough to avoid falling under the baneful influence of the prestigious physician and neo-Platonist Avicenna (an Arab living in Persia in the early 1000’s) and taking Aristotle’s concept of potency and act — valid indeed for “substance” as potency in relation to “accident” — and misapplying it to creaturely essence in relation to supposedly really distinct existence. For my money, Francis Suarez (1548-1617) has effectively refuted Aquinas here.

  • Here is another reason to call God Father (not Mother or Big Man Upstairs) based on St. Thomas. In an age of surfing, tweets and texts, who thinks like him anymore.

  • If you’re passionate about the big questions of life, discovering St. Thomas systematically laying out plausible answers to just about all of them is at least as gripping as any thriller. Imagine if the young Plato or Aristotle had been given a Greek copy of the Summa Theologica by a time-traveler. They would have wept.

  • Obpoet

    Perhaps boring because to be experienced he has to be read first, then interpreted, then understood. That takes time and energy. It might even require some rereading. Compare that to listening to rap music, or gazing at a painting (or TV). Some portion of the experience is immediate and does not even require thought. Not that thought cannot be applied, is just isn’t required. So boring it might be because it requires effort. Entropy.

  • Mark R

    Intelligent people — by that I mean people who like to use their intellects and not just geniuses — do not find him boring. Even athesists and agnostics like him. A lot of religious people, even good Catholics, don’t give him the time of day. It may be true that the truest thing he said was describing his work as “straw” to our Lord. But if you do not like him, you may be boring.

  • The Real Deal

    You can’t compare a medieval scholar to Joe Sixpack History channel watcher. That’s apples and oranges.

    Compare Thomas Aquinas to any modern day biologist and then tell me who’s smarter or better informed, or even compare Joe Sixpack to the average peasant of the 14th Century and we’ll see who comes out on top.

    • RFlaum

      I dunno… Joe Sixpack probably is better-informed than the average 14th-century peasant. Widespread literacy and universal education will do that.

      • Fishmonger

        I wouldn’t be too sure of the 14th century peasant’s limitations in comparison to Joe Sixpack. It depends what sort of knowledge you’re testing. Our universal education teaches a very specific range of subjects – I wouldn’t expect Joe Sixpack to have an intimate knowledge of the rudiments of living off the land, for instance, which, while it isn’t knowledge prized by our culture is certainly ‘scientific’ and requires intelligence to acquire and apply.

        Thomas’s ‘straw’ always reminds me of the old adage that the best and highest form of knowledge is coming to the realisation that you simply *don’t* know everything (while never, of course, using that as an excuse to embrace wilful igorance). In that respect the average 14th century peasant may probably have been a bit ahead of the likes of us. Generally the most brilliant scholars I’ve come across are also the ones who have a firm sense of their own limitations, but they’re rare creatures.

        • RFlaum

          “Thomas’s ‘straw’ always reminds me of the old adage that the best and highest form of knowledge is coming to the realisation that you simply *don’t* know everything”

          Well, that’s not knowledge, it’s wisdom. “Well-informed”, to me, just means pure knowledge of data. Comparing modern to medieval on terms of intelligence or wisdom is a separate question entirely.