ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

273. Place in Philosophy. -- St. Thomas of Aquin owes to Albert the Great his vocation to philosophy and his initiation to peripateticism, but he surpassed his master by all the distance that separates genius from talent.

St. Thomas substituted the more critical procedure of the literal commentary on Aristotle for the running paraphrase which he found in vogue as a means of popularizing. It was in order to understand Aristotle that he took such care to procure faithful versions of the Greek text (226). The knowledge he had of Aristotle's system is much more profound than that of which Albert gives evidence. Besides, his historical sense is remarkable for a man of his epoch. He was among the most accurate of his age in expounding the teachings of the Grecian philosophers, the Fathers of the Church, and the Arabian and Jewish philosophers. Still, his anxiety to make their writings, especially those of Aristotle and St. Augustine, subserve what he believed to be the truth, betrayed him very often indeed into the sort of historical errors and mistakes so common among the philosophers of the Middle Ages (281). St. Thomas's brilliant talent as a teacher drew around his chair crowds of seculars and regulars alike. It won for him the willing praise of the Faculty of Arts, and of several of his contemporaries.{1} The two Summae were drawn up to serve as hand-books of study, and were adopted both in lay and in religious circles.{2}

St. Thomas's language is clear, simple, precise and scientific. His method is orderly, free from glosses and digressions; his explanations are concise; he finds its proper place in the whole for every single detail; his thought travels straight and steadily to its intended term; towards this he makes everything else converge. He boldly grapples with difficulties before which his master, Albert, either remains puzzled or beats a retreat.

The characteristic features of his doctrine proper will be more easily indicated after the exposition of it given below (309).

{1} W. of Tocco, his biographer, says on this subject: "Sub cujus Doctoris lucida et aperta doctrina floruerunt quamplures magistri religiosi et saeculares propter modum docendi compendiosum, apertum et facilem" (Bolland. Acta SS. Martii, vol. i., vita, cap. 4, n. 18, p. 663).

{2} In 1319 a witness at the process of his canonization declares that "etiam laici et parum intelligentes quaerunt et appetunt ipsa scripta habere" (ibid., p. 713).

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