Aquinas, T. – Summa Theologia

Summa Theologia

By Thomas Aquinas

Thomas’ most significant work is his Summa theologiae or ‘summary of Theology,’ a gigantic work which attempts to present all of Christian theology as systematically as possible. Thomas worked on it from 1266 through 1273. Then, when he was nearly finished, he underwent an experience so intense that, as he himself explained, everything he had written seemed like straw. He completely stopped writing and died three months later. Thomas was canonized in 1323.

The Summa theologiae is written in a form common to treatises of that age. All of theology is divided into its major topics. These, in turn, are divided into subtopics described by Thomas as ‘questions. ” The first “question” in the Summa theologiae deals with The nature of Theology itself, the second with God’s existence.

The ‘questions” are in turn divided into what Thomas calls “articles,” specific queries concerning the topic being explored in that particular “question.” (Thus, confusingly enough, what Thomas calls “questions” are actually general topics, whereas what he calls “articles” are really what we would mean by the word “questions.”) These “articles” form the basic unit of the Summa theologiae, and they proceed according to an invariable form. A specific query is made, then a section beginning with the word videtur (“it seems that”) offers arguments for what will later turn out to be the wrong answer to that query. Next, a brief section beginning with the words sed contra (“but on the contrary”) introduces a different answer. A section labeled responsio (“response”) finally presents arguments for what Thomas considers the correct view. The question then closes with a refutation of the arguments presented in the videtur section.

The following selection consists of the prologue and first two questions of the Summa theologiae. Some articles of the first question are omitted, but those included are given in their entirety so that the reader can see how the work (and Thomas’ mind) is constructed.


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