We have a winner!

As we celebrate St. Thomas’s old-calendar feast day, we are blessed to have at hand an authentic relic of the Angelic Doctor.  This little bit of bone was there in the room when he wrote his great summae, when he taught at the university, and when he saw our Lord in a vision.  This little bone has come down to us as a treasure, a source of blessing from a great saint.

The medium of St. Thomas’s own handwriting is especially mysterious.

But St. Thomas left behind him something far more important than chips of bone.  Through the mysterious medium of ink and paper, he left us something of his soul.  It gives us great joy to celebrate St. Thomas’s feast day by giving away a complete set of his Opera Omnia, everything he wrote in 56 hardbound volumes of parallel Latin and English.

And the winner is … Wil Charles of North Carolina!

Wil is a community college student in North Carolina.  After his graduation, he plans to transfer to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and major in philosophy.  “Thomas Aquinas has

increasingly drawn me over the years,” Wil writes. “I love the depth, seriousness, rigor, and precision that marks his work in philosophy and theology.”  But Aquinas’s life of consecrated celibacy, famously sealed by his vision of an angel, also drew Wil’s interest.  The great Doctor’s life witnessed to the fact that his intellectual work was all about the mystery of the triune God and the means of communing with each person of the Trinity.

Having followed the Aquinas Institute for some time, Wil saw our advertisement about an Opera Omnia give-away and donated $150.  The 92nd dollar was the winning entry.  Congratulations Wil—and thanks to all who made this a successful event!

Last chance to win Aquinas’s Opera Omnia

Near the end of his life, St. Thomas Aquinas stopped writing.  He declared that, in light of a mysterious grace God had given him, “all that I have written seems as so much straw.”

To celebrate his feast day tomorrow, you might say that the Aquinas Institute will give away a pile of straw—about 200 pounds of it.  The winner of our random drawing will receive the complete opera omnia of St. Thomas, 56 hardbound volumes in parallel Latin and English texts.

There is only one day left to enter the drawing, so please spread the word!  Even if you have already entered, you can enter as many times as you like:

  • If you have not already done so, subscribe to our blog using the box on the top-right. This is worth one entry.
  • Share our post about the give-away using one of the social media buttons below. Each share is worth one entry.
  • Donate to the Aquinas Institute. Every dollar is worth one entry.

Who do you know who needs these texts?  Students? Colleagues?  Classmates?  Perhaps your parish priest?  Please pass on our post to anyone who wants to study St. Thomas but can’t afford to buy the complete set.

No doubt those who enjoy the Beatific Vision share St. Thomas’s appraisal of his own work.  Very likely we would feel the same way, if we had shared in his mystical experience.  But as viatores slogging our way toward the Heavenly Jerusalem, usually without the benefit of mystical insight, we have to agree with what our Lord himself said to St. Thomas from the cross:

Bene scripsisti de me, Thoma:  “You have written well of me, Thomas.”

One week until the winner is announced….

As we continue translating and editing St. Thomas’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, we keep finding nuggets from the Angelic Doctor we would like to share.  Ash Wednesday especially brings this one to mind:

Christ did not fast as though he himself needed a fast, but to prepare us by his example for receiving his grace.  …But a fast befits us, that we may be prepared to receive his grace.  So, because the sacraments of his grace are principally set before us around the Paschal feast, right before the Paschal solemnity we have the Lenten fast.  This is also because spring, which begins then, is the most apt of seasons for concupiscence; and because the Lenten fast signifies that we arrive at the glory of resurrection through the difficulties of this present life, as also Christ did through his passion.

(Super Sent., lib. 4 d. 15 q. 3 a. 3 qc. 1 ad 3)

Perhaps it is a stretch, but one is tempted to see the “four senses” at work here:  literally, we prepare for Easter; allegorically, Lent reminds us of Christ’s fast in the wilderness; morally, Lent combats concupiscence; anagogically, Lent points to the eschatological orientation of our lives.

As nearly always happens, St. Thomas’ old-calendar feast day (March 7) falls early in Lent this year.  The Aquinas Institute plans to celebrate by giving away an Opera Omnia set worth over $2,500.  There is still time to enter the drawing!

There are THREE ways to enter:

1) Subscribe to our blog (using the Subscribe button on the top-right) between now and March 7th for one entry.
2) Share our post about the drawing (using one of the “Share this” buttons below the post) between now and March 7th to receive one entry per share.
3) Donate between now and March 7th to receive one entry per dollar.

The winner will be notified on March 7th and arrangements will be made to deliver the first 18 volumes immediately, and the rest as they are published.

Have a blessed Lent!

Feast day drawing!

The Aquinas Institute is giving away an Opera Omnia set worth over $2,500.

The winner will be selected in a random drawing on March 7th.

There are THREE ways to enter:
1) Subscribe to our blog (using the Subscribe button on the top-right) between now and March 7th for one entry.
2) Share this post (using one of the “Share this” buttons below) between now and March 7th to receive one entry per share.
3) Donate between now and March 7th to receive one entry per dollar.

The winner will be notified on March 7th and arrangements will be made to deliver the first 18 volumes immediately, and the rest as they are published.

Happy feast day!

Advent and Updates

St. Thomas on the Coming of Christ

During this season of Advent, my work with the Aquinas Institute has had me reading St. Thomas’s commentary on Isaiah. As St. Thomas himself notes in his prologue, “The subject matter of this book is principally the appearance of the Son of God: hence in the Church it is read during the season of Advent.” He goes on to comment that there are three appearances of Christ: (1) his coming in the flesh, (2) his coming into the heart by faith, and (3) his coming at the end of time in glory.

This idea of the “three comings” was already venerable by St. Thomas’s day, and had been given classic expression by Bernard of Clairvaux. In fact, the reality of Christ’s “three comings” undergirds the ancient tradition of the three “spiritual senses” of Scripture: Christ’s past coming in the flesh grounds the allegorical sense, his present coming into the heart by faith supports the moral sense, and future his coming in glory leads to the anagogical sense. St. Thomas’s threefold division of Christ’s advent offers nothing new.

But he goes on to expand creatively on the classic “three comings,” offering a mini-treatise on Christ’s advent. He starts with the notion of prophecy. Prophecy has to do with seeing what is far from us, St. Thomas argues, and indeed what Isaiah foresaw was still “far off” in his day. But it was “far off” in three ways:

  1. Christ was “far off” from us, because he was exalted on high in equality of majesty with the Father.
  2. Christ’s Incarnation was “far off” from our knowledge because it was a mystery hidden in the Father’s secret plan for history.
  3. Christ was also “far off” because he was “delayed in the expectation of the fathers,” and a great deal of time would elapse after Isaiah before he came.

What does this have to do with the “three comings”? St. Thomas’s next trio brings out the relationship, because he argues that what was “far off” in Isaiah’s day has now “come near”:

  1. “The highest has been made the lowest,” he says, because “the Word was made flesh” (John 1:14). Obviously, this is Christ’s first “coming,” his coming in the flesh. Christ is no longer “far off,” because he has “drawn near” in the humility of his humanity.
  2. What was hidden in the Father’s secret plan has been revealed, because “the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he has declared him” (John 1:18). Notice that this revelation is only available to those who have faith, corresponding to Christ’s second “coming” according to the traditional schema. Christ’s Incarnation is no longer hidden, because the Father’s secret plan has been revealed to those who believe.
  3. Regarding the lapse of time, St. Thomas says that “what was delayed has begun even now to be possessed by the saints in glory.” Here one would have expected St. Thomas to say that Israel’s long wait for the Messiah was ended with Christ’s appearance in the flesh. Instead, he points out how what we await at Christ’s final coming in glory is in a certain way already present. In other words, he lines up this third way of “drawing near” with Christ’s third “coming”.

St. Thomas is not done yet. He argues next that Isaiah’s vision has to do with “the end,” and this time he lines up his points explicitly with the “three comings”:

  1. “For the first appearance was at the end of the law.” When Christ lived, died, and rose in the flesh, the curtain of the Temple was torn and the world of the Mosaic Law ended.
  2. “The second appearance, however, was at the end of idolatry.” In other words, when the nations received Christ in faith, it spelled the end of the ancient pagan world.
  3. “And the third [coming] will be at the end of all misery” because, when Christ comes in glory at the end of the natural world, “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes, and death shall be no more” (Revelation 21:4).

This is all very lovely, but how did St. Thomas arrive at these three sets of three? Note their relationship to one another: the first has to do with the past, when Christ’s coming was “far off,” the second has to do with how Christ’s coming has “drawn near,” and the third has to do with “the end”. It is the simple past-present-future schema of the “three comings of Christ”.  That is to say, St. Thomas used the structure of the “three comings” as a guide to meditating on the “three comings”.

Updates

Upcoming volumes. The long-delayed Supplement to the Summa is scheduled for release on August 15, 2017. We took extra time on this project to align each text from the Supplement with the part of the Sentences from which it was taken, and to include a cross reference and more information about how it was written.

Book IV of the Sentences is also scheduled for release on August 15, 2017. Rather than rushing to print, we paused to prepare an introduction to the text and to the translation.

That same date will also see the release of Volume 55 of the Opera Omnia, a collection of smaller works that have been found useful for college courses.

New technology. Our big challenge right now is to design eBooks that work smoothly with bilingual texts. We plan to publish St. Thomas’s works in PDF, ePub, Nook and Kindle formats. Look for another post about this, because we will be asking for beta testers.

We have completely redesigned our online Aquinas text reader. The site will soon include Aquinas’s Opera Omnia in Latin along with as much English as we can legally provide. Users find the new site easier to navigate, and before long the site will offer word searches in Latin and English. A mobile-friendly mode is also in the works.

Business progress. We have submitted an application for another NEH grant in order to complete Books II and III of the Sentences. We will find out whether we have received the grant in August of 2017.

The transition to Ingram is almost complete. We will begin to see the difference in January, and the full import for the Aquinas Institute should be clear by March.

Donations. We have updated our system for accepting online donations. It is easier to find and easier to use, and the new system helps us with our record keeping. Please consider an end-of-year gift. All these new projects and opportunities mean we need to hire more help!

Aquinas’s Opera Omnia in thousands of bookstores

In St. Thomas Aquinas’s day, book distribution was an uncertain affair.  Individuals copied out books by hand for themselves; university scriptoria offered new copies as well as second-hand manuscripts; the Dominican network ensured that certain works were copied for their libraries in various cities.  But the fate of a book once written was, so to speak, in the hands of God.

Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae was his most widely circulated work, but the parts circulated independently.  The Secunda Secundae took on a life of its own as a handbook for confessors, accounting for nearly forty percent of all manuscripts of “the Summa.” [1]  His lectures on the Gospel of Matthew apparently bounced along country roads in loose folios in the back of a wagon, because a chunk of his text was lost to view for hundreds of years before turning up by accident in a library in 1955. [2]  Even with the advent of the printing press, Aquinas’s Summa circulated at first in pieces. [3]

Our own efforts to spread Aquinas’s works have been less random than 13th-century manuscript distribution, but hardly systematic.  After our first in-house, casually produced editions, we registered for an Amazon Advantage account and began selling exclusively through Amazon.  The results have been gratifying but difficult to predict.  Our volumes are in steady use at a liberal arts college in California and a graduate theology program in Florida; the biblical commentaries have been used for a summer program in Italy; we get requests from individuals around the United States.  One of our board members, Peter Kwasniewski, was visiting Prague recently when he noticed Aquinas Institute volumes on a family’s bookcase.  The wife of the family said she was studying St. Thomas for her graduate degree and had taken these volumes out of the university library.

“It is my dream,” she said, “someday to own my own Summa.”

And spreading the Summa—with all the rest of Aquinas’s Opera—is our dream.  One step toward that dream was realized this past month:  we signed a contract with Ingram Publisher Services to distribute our books nationally, with the possibility of plugging into their international channels in the future. Since we use offset printing, we need to print several thousand copies of the books at once and then store them in a warehouse for shipment. [4]  Ingram will handle storing the books, shipping, marketing, sales, and the Electronic Document Interchange (EDI), and distribute not just to Amazon but to thousands of major and minor re-sellers in the United States, including thousands of college and university bookstores.

Over the years, other distributors have requested to carry our books.  It is such a hassle to set up the EDI system for each re-seller that until now we have simply remained with Amazon. But due to ongoing problems with Amazon, we recently reconsidered our options. Luckily, our book sales have grown enough for us to be of interest to some of the larger distributors. We researched several companies, and Ingram seemed to fit our needs best.  They could provide marketing to the kinds of people who would be interested in the works of Aquinas.

When we first talked with the folks at Ingram about how to set up our books on their system, they couldn’t find a trace of our books anywhere in their records.  They usually have at least some data about every book out there, but for us they had nothing. It was exciting:  right away, this meant that they would not have to worry about duplicate sets of information or having the wrong information mixed with the right information.  But for the future, this meant that there are vast, untapped possibilities and sales channels for our books. Basically, no one has ever heard of us, and we still sell a decent number of books per month.  What will happen when people hear of us?  Ingram is excited, and we are excited.

Eventually, Ingram will market our e-books as well. We want to get the e-book thing just right before we publish in that market, though. There are many electronic editions of the Summa out there, many of them for free, but none with a Latin-English text. Bilingual e-books present challenges, but we have several neat ideas that we hope will prove not only useful to our readers but even innovative in the realm of e-books.  More on that to come.

At the end of this month, John Mortensen will have a thirty-minute meeting with sales people at Ingram assigned to marketing our books.  In those thirty minutes, he needs to explain to them why our volumes are unique or neat or useful in a way that will help them sell the books to retailers who can sell them to readers.  With that in mind, we are hoping that you will take a moment to write to us with some feedback.  We need to know:

  • who buys these books?
  • what are they used for?
  • why are these books used instead of other editions?
  • what would you like to see done better?

This is a historic moment not just for the Aquinas Institute but for the promulgation of St. Thomas’s works.  Please take a moment and give us your perspective!

 

[1] Leonard E. Boyle, “The Setting of the Summa Theologiae,” in Aquinas’s Summae Theologiae: Critical Essays (Brian Davies, ed.; Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield: 2006), at 16.


[2] H.-V. Shooner, O.P. in ‘La Lectura in Matthaeum de S. Thomas (Deux fragments inédits et la Reportatio de Pierre d’Andria)’, Angelicum 33 (1956): 121-142.


[3] Jean-Pierre Torrell, Aquinas’s Summa: Background, Structure, and Reception (trans. Benedict M. Guevin, O.S.B.; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005), 93.


[4] Using print-on-demand is still not an option for us, and won’t be until that technology can match the quality of offset ink printing, and do that on the right paper quality, paper color, sewn binding, cover color, gold stamping, format size, and so on.

A software revolution for the Feast of St. Jerome

St. Jerome is best known today as the translator of the Vulgate Bible.  We remember him for a feat of scholarship and as the vir trilinguis, master of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.  But at the Aquinas Institute, we also admire Jerome for overcoming a logistical problem:  how do you manage workflow on a project spanning 73 separate works and totaling (in the end) 620,937 words?  His cell in Bethlehem was a swirl of dictation and secretaries, correspondence and strategy, inkpots and quills.

We in the 21st Century have computers to manage big texts.  On the other hand, the Aquinas Institute project spans 58 volumes, or 15,170 pages, for a total of 8,758,385 words—and that’s in Latin.  The English text is even bigger.  To put that in perspective, if you typed St. Thomas’s Opera Omnia at 60 words per minute, it would take you 2433 hours just to enter the text, and you would not even have begun to proof-read, format, or compare manuscripts, much less translate anything.

It all started in 2008, when the Aquinas Institute offered its first summer courses. We needed texts for the courses, so John Mortensen decided to leverage a database he had used in researching his doctoral dissertation to generate bilingual books.

At first we just produced Word documents and sent them to CreateSpace for printing. That experiment (read: headache) made it clear that producing high-quality volumes with high-quality texts required much better software.  We needed something big enough to hold the entire Opera Omnia of Aquinas. Our team members were scattered over several states, so we also needed a way to share documents and changes.

We could not find anything even close to what we needed. John began developing our own software system, and since then he has re-written the system three times from the ground up in order to keep it up-to-date and agile. You can see the current public version of the interface at www.ptreader.com.  At each re-write, John researched all the available software.  Did we really need to spend so much time coding?  But nothing turned up.

Until now!  Pondering a fourth re-write, John came across a piece of software that promised to revolutionize our workflow.  Introducing: Trados Studio 2017.

This software has grown by leaps and bounds in the past eight years, and especially in the past three years. It can handle large volumes of text, and it runs checks and double-checks on things like punctuation and formatting. It provides world-class translation tools for analyzing translation similarities and differences, building glossaries, providing suggestions for new translations, and on and on.

Best of all, it allows us to build plugins, small computer programs that add features to the main program as if they had been built in from the beginning.

John is working with developers at SDL to learn about plugins already in development.  We want to create new plugins that are open source and useful to the widest audience possible.  With these custom-built features, we will be able to synchronize translation data with our current enormous database, to format and edit text efficiently, and to keep detailed records about the work done on source texts and translations.  We plan to use Git (the repository system used by Github) to manage collaboration and tracking changes, and we have a custom cloud instance of MySql to hold the data.

It will take us a few months to get Trados Studios 2017 tailored to our needs, but in the end we will have:

  • faster translation, editing, and review of translations
  • the ability to network with people in different countries to bring the works of Aquinas into their languages using translation tools available in every language
  • the ability to invite many more people to participate in translation and editing work
  • all of our digital texts available online for perusal and searching
  • all of our printed editions available in various eBook formats
  • a light at the end of the tunnel for the Opera Omnia project

We like to think St. Jerome is smiling down on us today.

Announcing the release of Aquinas’s Commentary on Job

It is commonly said that Thomas Aquinas wrote commentaries on Scripture.  But the claim is liable to misunderstanding: in our day, biblical scholars write commentaries on Scripture while theologians write monographs about theology. [1] St. Thomas would have found this division of labor interesting in theory but odd in practice, because his job as a medieval university master was to teach theology to the most advanced students by lecturing on a book of the Bible.  He lectured on Scripture in class, wrote theological treatises at home, and did theology all the time. [2]

When St. Thomas was named lector for the priory at Orvieto, he was expected to expound a book of Scripture for the brethren. [3] He had already begun work on Book III of the Summa contra gentiles, on divine providence, so to keep his work focused he looked for a book of Scripture that would allow him to lecture on divine providence.  Where to turn?

His clue came from Maimonides, who devoted two chapters of his Guide of the Perplexed to the book of Job.  According to this venerable Jewish teacher, Job was written to explain the various opinions people hold about divine providence. [4] Literal exposition of the book of Job was rare in the Christian tradition, but St. Thomas saw this as an opportunity to fill a gap. [5] And so he set out to teach his fellow Dominicans about divine providence via the book of Job, declaring that “The whole intention of this book is directed to this: to show that human affairs are ruled by divine providence using probable arguments.”

For today’s students of St. Thomas, this was a stroke of luck.  Everyone knows that the artist flourishes under constraint:  the poet’s creativity is unlocked, not diminished, by a rigid sonnet structure; the architect’s brilliance emerges especially under the demands of an unusual terrain; the painter’s genius rises to the challenge of a fresco where ceiling and walls dictate the contours.  The same is true of a theologian.  It is one thing to compose a treatise on divine providence in the open spaces of unshackled speculative reason; it is quite another thing to teach about divine providence through respectful engagement with the complicated, pungent, and often obscure poetry of Job.

The result is one of St. Thomas’s most lyrical works, a book Jean-Pierre Torrell describes as “beautiful.” [6] The dramatic situation and the nooks and crannies of the poetry elicit insights from St. Thomas that might never have come up any other way.  For example, in the first chapter of Job, God calls Satan’s attention to Job’s outstanding life.  It is an odd scene, to say the least:  no one thinks of Satan as standing in God’s presence at all, few hope that Satan will notice them, and most would be stunned to think that God would bring them to Satan’s mind.  But the curious story prompts St. Thomas to a marvelous observation:

Consider that God not only orders the lives of the just for their own good, but he represents it for others to see.  Still those who see this example are not all influenced by it in the same way.  For the good who consider the life of the just as an example profit from the experience; whereas the wicked, if they are not corrected so that they become good by his example, revolt against the life of the just which they have observed….

The just man’s life amplifies the goodness of the good and the wickedness of the wicked at the same time, thus driving forward God’s plan.  Job’s story is not just about whether Job gets a fair shake, and my story and yours are not just about whether we get our own.  Our life—including our misfortunes—is also for the sake of others.

There are many such jewels in St. Thomas’s treatment of Job. [7] Consequently, the time has come for an English edition of this masterwork suitable for serious study.  The Aquinas Institute is happy to announce the release of our latest volume in the Opera Omnia project, a hard-cover, Latin-English edition of the Job commentary, with a translation by Brian Thomas Becket Mullady, OP, STD.  We hope this volume will serve both theologians and biblical scholars and contribute to dialogue between them.

***

[1] There is the outstanding exception of the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, which recruits theologians who are not biblical scholars to write commentaries on various books of Scripture.  Even here, however, the theologians enlisted have been influenced by the modern convention of the “commentary,” and what they write tends to lack the unity of intention one sees in Aquinas’ biblical expositions.

[2] A marvelously clear example of this biblical-theological unity, predating the university, is Rupert of Deutz’s treatise De honore et gloria filii hominis super Matthaeum.  It is a treatise on the Incarnation that takes as its literary form a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

[3] The lector’s role was to prepare those Dominicans who had no opportunity to attend the university for their mission of preaching and hearing confessions.  In addition to lecturing on Scripture, he was supposed to offer classes on moral issues, material which may have laid the groundwork for the Secunda Pars of St. Thomas’s Summa theologiae.  See Jean-Pierre Torrell, St. Thomas Aquinas: The Person and His Work (vol 1; trans. Robert Royal; Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1996), 118-119.

[4] The Guide of the Perplexed, Book III, chapters 22-23.  A translation is available online here.  For a comparison of Maimonides and Aquinas on Job, see Martin D. Yaffe, “Providence in Medieval Aristotelianism: Moses Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas on the Book of Job” in Hebrew Studies 20/21 (1979-1980): 62-74.

[5] An anonymous medieval letter, probably written by a Victorine monk, denies that Job has any useful literal sense.  Hugh of St. Cher allows that Job’s literal intention is to show the depths of human misery and to teach patience, but he concludes that the value of Job lies more in its practical than in its speculative teachings.  See Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1964), 88-89 and 301-302.  Roland of Cremona, the first Dominican master at the university of Paris, composed a literal exposition of Job about thirty years prior to that of Aquinas, but it does not appear that St. Thomas was familiar with this work.  See Torell, St. Thomas Aquinas, 57-58.

[6] See Torrell, St. Thomas Aquinas, 120.

[7] For an appreciative review of Job commentary’s contribution to St. Thomas’s teaching on providence, see Roger Nutt, “Providence, Wisdom, and the Justice of Job’s Afflictions: Considerations from Aquinas’ Literal Exposition on Job,” in the Heythrop Journal LVI (2015): 44-66.

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