It has been said that "some are born Thomists, some grow to love St. Thomas, and still others have Thomism thrust upon them." I suspect there are representatives of all three groups among the authors of this fine volume of essays. Dr. Pope says the collection is aimed at experts as well as those who are "interested but not necessarily specialists." As editor, he succeeded well. There are a lot of excellent articles on various aspects of Aquinas' moral thought (e.g., the commentaries in the pocket-size French edition, published by Cerf, or the 60 volume "Blackfriars"-McGraw-Hill edition , but I am aware of no collection as comprehensive and up to date as this one. Many of the articles are very accessible, even to non-specialist readers. Pope's own essay, "Overview of the Ethics of Thomas Aquinas" is a marvelous summary that would provide an excellent introduction to the major themes in Aquinas' ethics for any college or seminary class.
The Ethics of Aquinas includes contributions by venerable scholars who are already firmly associated with the thought of St. Thomas, viz., Servais Pinckaers, Thomas O'Meara, Leonard Boyle, Romanus Cessario, Clifford Kossel, and Jean Porter. It also more recent voices, including James Keenan, Thomas Hibbs, Stephen Pope and Eileen Sweeney. Aquinas' ethics are evaluated from a philosophical perspective by Diana Fritz Cates, David Gallagher, Pamela Hall, and others, and from a theological perspective by the theologians I have noted above. The chapters are arranged in three sections: Introduction and Overview, the Prima Secundae (moral method), the Secunda Secundae (or "special" moral), and "The Twentieth Century Legacy."
The history of what we have come to call "moral theology" is of particular interest to me, and Ethics provides several important resources in this area. It begins with a revised version of "The Setting of the Summa of St. Thomas" by Irish Dominican scholar Leonard Boyle. This essay is well known to Dominicans, who have read it in formation since its original publication in 1982. Its appearance in Ethics makes it much more readily available. Boyle's more recent essays "The Dominican Order and Theological Study" (New York: Dominican Province of St. Joseph, 1995), and "Saint Thomas Aquinas and the Third Millennium"(1999, available online in text and audio versions at www.op.org/domdentral/trad/) are helpful complements to his1982 work.
It is interesting to note Boyle's observation that despite St. Thomas' clear intent to provide a summa, with "moral theology" firmly located in the middle of the rest of theology, students in the middle ages, like students everywhere, persistently sought the bottom line. Records show that the Secunda Secundae was frequently used as a separate resource, much like a summa de casibus. (To the everlasting embarrassment of the Order of Preachers, Boyle also reports that apart from these more practical parts, much of the rest of the Summa apparently went over the heads of most of the brethren!)
At the other end of the historical spectrum, there are several chapters that treat of more recent interpretations of St. Thomas. Thomas O'Meara's analysis of Dominican schools of the 20th century is particularly helpful, as is Raphael Gallager's comparison of the Redemptorist and Jesuit schools in the same time period. These two chapters are of particular importance because while the Jesuits and Redemptorists developed and embraced the "manualist" tradition (which marked the beginning of moral theology as a distinct discipline in the 16th century), Dominican authors tended to avoid it. I believe these tendencies reflect important nuances in the theology of grace peculiar to each tradition.
Thomas Hibbs does an excellent job of reviewing contemporary issues in moral theology (proportionalism, moral absolutes, natural law and virtue) against a Thomistic backdrop. Clifford Kossell does the same thing from a philosophical standpoint, focusing on Odo Lottin, Jacques Maritain and Yves Simon.
If graduate papers are any indication, footnotes may be a lost art. However, in this volume they are copious and remarkably consistent from one essay to the next: the English text is usually cited in the body of the text, with the Latin in the footnotes. This is a very helpful feature, especially for those who are still trying to master Aquinas' Latin. My only complaint is that the notes are at the end of each essay instead of at the bottom of the page. (I guess I should be thankful that they are not at the end of the volume, as has become the custom). For the life of me, I cannot figure out why, having struggled for centuries with typewritten or typeset notes at the bottom of the page, we abandoned them as soon as it became possible to put them there effortlessly with a computer.
I found a few of the chapters (e.g., Gallagher, Westberg and White) to be somewhat arcane and stilted. Although White's treatment of the "passions of the soul" reflects Aquinas' own language, such terminology makes it difficult for many to appreciate the importance Thomas attributes to the role of the emotions in the moral life (editor Stephen Pope avoids this pitfall in his overview). White's work is a fine academic study, but from my vantage point as a moral theologian, it is of limited use to those who are trying to recover Thomas' integration of theology, philosophy and spirituality.
I am convinced that the inability of neo-Thomists in the early part of this century to transcend (or translate) the rarefied language of the Summa contributed to the demise of serious scholarship in the thought of St. Thomas and to the over-identification of Thomas as a philosopher. In a helpful corrective, O'Meara refers to the "ontological isolation" that marked neo-Thomism, the language problem, and the danger of disintegration (364). Gallagher notes the importance of recognizing the "essentially theological status of moral theology" (377). Despite these limitations, however, these essays certainly represent a strong thread in the Thomistic tradition, and Pope was right to include them. This is especially true since "Ethics" suggests a broader discipline than moral theology.
Pope's collection of papers is an important contribution to scholarship in St. Thomas. The volume he and his collaborators have assembled will be an invaluable asset to professors and students of ethics and moral theology.