The Best Way To Study Thomas Aquinas
Regular readers know my enthusiasm for the Logos Verbum software. It’s simply the most powerful Bible resource ever available, and I know of no better way to study the Catechism. I use Logos everyday, both on my laptop for research and my iPad for personal Scripture study.
Logos always has cool projects in the pipeline, but perhaps the most exciting right now, especially for Catholics, is the first-ever English translations of many works by St. Thomas Aquinas. These include his commentaries on Jeremiah, Isaiah, the Sentences of Peter Lombard, and much more.
Today I’ve invited Logos specialist Aric Nesheim to explain how Logos can help us study Aquinas like never before. In Logos, all of Aquinas’ texts, citations, and references are interlinked, which means you can study Aquinas holistically, in context.
(Note: I don’t work for Logos, nor do I receive any kick-backs for promoting their software. I’m just a huge fan and think it can help all Catholics tremendously.)
The great Doctor of the Church, Thomas Aquinas, stands as the Church’s greatest theologian and philosopher. In 1879, Pope Leo XIII proclaimed that Aquinas’ theology was a “definitive exposition of Catholic doctrine.” The study of Aquinas is essential for anyone seeking to deeply understand the Church’s theological positions. His works are required reading for seminarians and those looking to enter the priesthood. Studied in and out of ecclesial contexts, Aquinas’ thought is also a cornerstone of Western philosophy.
So the question naturally arises: how do we best approach the study of this great luminary? Luckily, Aquinas himself composed his works to be accessible to anyone seeking to learn the basics of the Christian faith. Aquinas organized works like his famous Summa Theologica into topical sections so that students could navigate his vast writings with ease and precision.
Even though Aquinas was a brilliant theologian who meticulously organized his texts, his work remains intimidating. Why? Because to comprehensively understand Aquinas requires knowledge of other great philosophical and theological authors. Aquinas pulls extensively from Church authorities—from St. Paul to St. Albertus Magnus. He consults great philosophers like Aristotle, Averroes, and Maimonides. For those who don’t have a well-rounded liberal arts education (and even for those who do!), diving into Aquinas might seem like diving into freshly poured cement.
Someone might contend that a solution to this problem is simply, “the Internet.”
“Just Google the stuff you don’t know,” the naïve scholar might say. But the problem with “just using the Internet” becomes quickly apparent when you think about what you’re actually doing when studying Aquinas. Anyone can type in, “What does Aquinas think about transubstantiation?” and find where in the Summa he writes about the Eucharist (c.f. questions 74–83 of the third part). But as you begin to read, you’ll begin to notice that Aquinas cites Scripture, Church authorities, and philosophers to back up his arguments. New questions arise: what was the context in which Aquinas’ sources were written? Where else in the Scriptures can I find information like the kind Aquinas is presenting?
Can I follow the theological thread that Aquinas himself followed in order to reach his conclusions?
This last question is the one that the serious inquirer is always asking. This isn’t because we can’t take Aquinas at his word, but rather because being able to think with the mind of the Church gives us more than mere theological trivia knowledge. When we follow the strands of ecclesial tradition throughout the centuries, we train our minds and hearts to think like the saints’.
OK—so how do we do this? One way is to buy a ton of theological and philosophical books and hope that we have the wherewithal to cross-reference them with something like the Summa. Of course, that route can end up costing thousands of dollars and have little to show for it. Not only does that kind of research take an exorbitant amount of time (not to mention researching skill), it further requires the ability to organize and keep track of all your information. You’d need to have a very large desk to hold all the books you’d be referencing, and an even bigger filing cabinet to hold all of your notes.
You could try finding all your texts online, but this method too can end up taking countless hours of procuring resources and organizing data. Plus, you spend just as much time moving from your original source to all of your cited sources.
What would best suit our needs is a tool that organizes all our information, includes relevant resources, and automatically connects cited and referenced sources.
This is precisely what Verbum does.
Verbum is the Catholic version of the powerful Logos Bible Software. But what has been used for Bible study for years has now been modified for those who want to delve into the rich theological tradition of the Church.
When you open up a work like the Summa in Verbum, you’ll notice that all of Aquinas’ sources are hyperlinks that are automatically connected to other resources in your Verbum library. These resources can be read on mouseover or opened with a click. You can take notes and make highlights just like in a nondigital copy, but all of these notes are saved and easily organized with the rest of your library. Verbum also works on your PC, Mac, tablet, or smartphone.
The benefit of a digital interlinked library is obvious to anyone who has done this research on an academic level: The ability to instantly see the entire context of a given citation is invaluable.
Verbum isn’t just made for scholars. With Verbum’s features and liturgical documents (such as the Catholic Lectionary and the Roman Missal), the Faithful can go deeper into the daily readings and Mass of any given day. Plus, there are hundreds of features conducive to deeper Bible study, devotional study, and religious study that anyone can use.
Studying great theologians like Aquinas can be extremely difficult. When we study ancient texts, we’re not only dealing with translated documents—we’re coming up against cultural and historical differences that can obscure our understanding of the text. Though this is a problem that can never be fully solved, Verbum helps us research by bringing the whole of Tradition into one place. This means that our study of Aquinas—or any Church authority—can by looked at holistically.
There is something to be said for the new technology we’ve been blessed with and the doors it opens for research and devotional use. It must be remembered that technology is a tool, and can be used for good or bad. Just like the printing press allowed for great developments and great grievances for the Faithful, technology allows for these same potentials. Verbum is new technology that builds up and strengthens the Church and the Faithful; it gives us an unparalleled ability to study the Scriptures and Tradition.
(If you don’t see the video above, click here.)
If you’re totally new to Logos, I recommend exploring any of their Verbum base packages. If you’re looking for the cheapest way to get started, check out the $50 Catechism Collection. You not only get the Catechism, interlinked to the Bible and other texts, but you also receive the documents of Vatican II, the Canons and Decrees of Trent, Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma, and more. It’s a great entry point to the Logos Verbum software.
(If you don’t see the video above, click here.)