10 October 2002

I finally got my copy of Fergus Kerr's newest book After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism (Blackwell, 2002). The great fan of Aquinas that I am, I read it through once already and hope to go through it again in greater detail when time allows. It is an excellent introduction to the thought of Thomas Aquinas in the context of the last century of debates on how to interpret Aquinas properly.

Kerr discusses Aquinas in his historical context, his epistemology, his "natural theology" and the five ways, his account of metaphysics, how he thinks about natural law and ethics, the controversies surrounding Thomistic discussions of nature and grace, and finally his soteriology (particularly "deification"), christology, and his doctrine of God. Kerr is always clear and deals with the variety of alternatives when it comes to understanding Aquinas on a particular issue. Moreover, though he is not dogmatic in his own interpretations, Kerr does provide a case for reading Aquinas along the lines of many of the major revisionists of the past century (with whom I am generally sympathetic).

For instance, many people think of "natural law" when they consider Aquinas' ethics. But Kerr does a good job exploring the various ways in which Aquinas has been understood on this issue, making a good case for seeing his "natural law" approach as quite different from that of later natural law theorists, as well as placing it within Aquinas' larger discussion of beatitude, participation in the mind of God, sin and grace, virtue, prudence, and charity.

Kerr also makes a good case for seeing Aquinas as not really an "Aristotelian", but at least as equally indebted to the tradition of Christian neo-platonism found in Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius. Besides, there are some serious questions about what we have traditionally understood as "Aristotelian" in contrast to what Aristotle was actually saying (e.g. on the question of "substance"), as well as how he was understood by Aquinas. Later traditions and readings have often misconstrued not only Aquinas, but also Aristotle and Aquinas' interpretation of Aristotle.

While Kerr's volume is really just an introduction, it is an excellent one in both breadth and clarity--a book that I would even consider using if I were ever to teach an undergraduate course on the thought of Aquinas.