Aug 05

St. Thomas Aquinas, by G.K. Chesterton ?

I had read other books by Chesterton, including Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man, and had appreciated these books as thoughtful writing in a erudite style that was a pleasure to read. Several years ago, I read the other of Chesterton’s biographies on St. Francis of Assisi, and would have given it 5-stars if I was writing book reviews at that time. This tome was a serious disappointment. Chesterton makes it quite clear that Aquinas was his favorite saint, yet abounds in hyperbole and over-statement that is just the opposite of what would be expected of a British author. Chesterton’s point is to exalt the Aristotelianism of Aquinas against the Platonism of Augustine, and ultimately leaves Augustine as a rather diminutive saint, a pessimist, and a breeder of pessimists such as M. Luther. At the end of his short text, he waxes quite long in diatribe against Martin Luther, yet offers nothing substantial, just as the entire text truly offers nothing substantial for me to change my low opinion of Thomas Aquinus. Chesterton is prolific with quite absurd statements, which are thrown out with no defense, such as the argument that Calvin was a Manichean. Please? Chesterton shows not only his ignorance of Calvin (and Augustine, who wrote the definitive arguments against the Manicheans) but also of Aquinas. Another absurd statement will be used as an example… first he states that St. TA was the only real realist, then states later that he was not too much of a realist (???) so as to be like Plato. Please again???? Chesterton’s writing uses repeatedly the word “Catholic”, as though he were trying to differentiate Romanism from the Christianity of Christians. With his use of the word “Catholic”, I plead that I am only a Christian and NOT a Catholic. It is unfortunate that Chesterton’s zeal for his own ideology clouds the ability to rightfully describe St. TA, and I’m left as much in the dark before this book as after reading it as to knowing Thomas Aquinas.

Perhaps the greatest error of Aquinas was to hold rationalism in supreme regard, as parroted by Chesterton. Contrary to Augustine and the Reformers who hold that the entire man is fallen, including his intellect and rationality, Chesterton and other authors portray TA as not considering human rationality to have serious defects. In the end, this would lead to a chasm between the human intellect and the Scriptures, which are believed on faith. That is, Aquinas held that faith follows reason, and Augustine the opposite. Such thinking in Aquinas would explain why modern man would produce the dichotomy between the lower story of experience and the upper story of faith, as described by St. Francis Schaeffer. For this reason, the Reformers were correct in throwing out St. Thomas Aquinas, and Chesterton’s book only reinforced this thought in my mind.


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