Aquinas for Armchair Theologians

Timothy M Renick, Aquinas: For Armchair Theologians Westminster John Knox Press, 2002.

Renick has written a delightful book. Itelligent and witty, the reader gains a good understanding of Aquinas’ theology with real world, modern applications and a sense of fun. Renick skillfully shows how Thomas’ theology underpins modern thought in some of the most unlikely places and also shows us where Thomas is in conflict with modern thought and theology.

The chapter titles give you a good idea about the tone and topic of this book.

  • Beginings: Thomas Acquinas Life and Times
  • Human, Angels, and God
  • Why Is There Evil? Do Humans Have Free Will? (and Other Questions Your Better Off Not Asking)
  • Metaphysics 101 (or Why We Are What We Are)
  • Law and Morality
  • The Ins and Outs of Sex
  • “Just War” and Double Effect
  • Abortion, the Role of Women, and Other Noncontroversial Issues
  • Politics
  • Reading Aquinas

Thomas’ theology has a real ‘double effect’ for us today; that is, an action with both positive and negative effects. Yet, Thomas might point out that it need not be so. Thomas pins his theology on his concept of natural law. The problem for us today is that people apply Thomas’ beliefs (based on medieval concepts of nature/science) to modern problems. If we used modern concepts of science/nature with Thomas’ method most of the conflicts over sex,  gender, and other issues  would disappear.

I never fail to be surprised how some medieval notions of science/nature prevail in otherwise modern people today. This is due in part to their incorporation of Thomas’ views on subjects like gender and sexuality, even if they have never heard of Thomas. It calls to mind a discussion I had with a friend from church over homosexuality. His arguement boiled down to his belief that it is ‘unnatural’. As a biologist I had to disagree with his use of the term unnatural because if you look around the animal kingdom you can find plenty of homosexual behavior, especially in birds;  there are plenty of examples in nature, enough to say that this is simply a variant in behavior. (To a scientist, variant has no positive or negative conotation. Its like saying a flower has two variations in color, red and blue.) Since we don’t normally credit these animals with the intellect to decipher moral vs immoral behavior, you really can’t say they are being immoral or unnatural. He wound up telling me that since I’m in the sciences I obviously didn’t know the common use meaning of ‘natural’, or something along those lines. Ironic, huh?

If you would like to learn more about Thomas and his theology, this is an ideal place to start. Thomas’ principles really do touch many aspects of our lives, theological and secular. This book would also be ideal for a small group study.