Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Book Review - Kevin Vost's "The One-Minute Aquinas"

Life is full of difficulties, but being a fan of Dr. Kevin Vost’s writing sure isn’t one of them!  Each book is as insightful and exciting as the last (if not more so).  In Memorize the Faith! and Memorize the Reasons! Vost used the memory techniques employed by St. Thomas Aquinas to teach us how to inculcate the Faith and explain it to others.  In Fit for Eternal Life he harnessed Aquinas’ insights into our hylomorphic nature and the four cardinal virtues to get us off the couch and back to tending these magnificent bodies God entrusted to us. (I shed 52 lbs. after digesting that one!)  His next book, Unearthing Your Ten Talents, widened the focus from developing the cardinal virtues to progressing in all ten of the virtues addressed in Part II of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica.  Now, in The One-Minute Aquinas, he successfully tackles the promethean task of making the Angelic Doctor’s entire Summa Theologica accessible to us regular gals and guys in the pew!  It is an amazingly thorough crash-course in Thomas’ theology.

Anyone who has cracked the Summa for the first time quickly realizes that he or she is on semi-foreign soil.  Yes, Thomas wrote about the God we love and the Faith we are devoted to living, but 13th century philosophical vocabulary can be immensely difficult to follow.  I have purchased a number of thick commentaries in the hopes of making headway, but I’ve never come across one like The One-Minute Aquinas.  At less than 300 pages, it is an insightful, comprehensible (and fun) treatment of the entire Summa

As hard as this may be to believe, in only 42 brief sections, Dr. Vost is able to lead us through Thomas’ theological understanding of man, God in Himself, the Incarnation and life of Jesus, and the life of grace.  The section on Thomas’ five “proofs” of God’s existence, for example, is penetrative.  Vost moves from quoting and explaining Thomas’ proofs in more accessible language to addressing the New Atheists’ misunderstanding of them. Then, memory master that he is, Dr. Vost translates the information into both a chart and diagram (take your pick) to aid in forming connections and later recall. I appreciated the way he tried to draw attention to fine points as well.  An example: While we can affirm that God’s existence can be known through reason, it is a mistake to say His existence is “self-evident.”  And if we have questions and want to delve deeper into Dr. Vost's summation, his explanation of Thomas' terminology and copious footnotes help us dig deeper into the Summa for ourselves - it's right there online! Take a subject as profound as the Incarnation, simply Google Vost's footnote to "ST, Part III, Question 2" (and following), to continue mining.

Sprinkled throughout the book are also insets labeled “Dumb Ox Box”es (after Thomas’ nickname while at university).  These address questions of interest to readers that don’t easily fit into the schema of the book, and range from the whimsical, “Is it a sin to be boring?,” to the grave, “Is it fair to lay an ambush in war?”

This book is a wonderful contribution to the growing body of literature dedicated to equipping the laity for the New Evangelization.  Pope St. Pius X stated his conviction that, “a man can derive more profit from [Thomas’] books in one year than from a lifetime spent pondering the philosophy of others.” If you are looking to not just meet the Angelic Doctor but to spend time meditating upon his Summa, then I can’t think of a better resource than Dr. Kevin Vost’s The One-Minute Aquinas.

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