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Summa of the Summa, Edited and Annotated by Peter Kreeft

Summa Theologica (summary of theology), sometimes simply referred to as “Summa”, is the highly revered work written by St Thomas Aquinas (b. 1225 – d. 1274).

Summa of the Summa, Edited and Annotated by Peter Kreeft

Intended as an “instruction for beginners”, the Summa is in Q&A format. It is written plainly but it can get technical, and that is perhaps one of the reasons that makes it daunting to read for some but it is never superfluous. St Thomas writes what is necessary for the sake of clarity and breaking it down into Q&A format helps.

It is at least a few thousand pages in total and is freely available on the internet but this abridged version—“summary of the summary”—with Kreeft’s introduction and annotations (footnotes) is a helpful reference.

Kreeft deliberately uses an older translation from 1920 by the Dominicans, supposedly a better literal translation of the text.

Kreeft’s introduction explains the structure of the text, that it is in four parts beginning with God. Each part is divided into treatises and each treatise is divided into “questions” that contain “articles” which are actually the individual questions. (In contemporary English, the meanings of “question” and “article” are switched.) Each “article”, in 5 steps, examines the opposing arguments (“objections”) before coming to the correct arguments. Kreeft explains this better and in a little more detail.

Kreeft also provides an 8-page glossary at the start since we moderns use words differently. This is very helpful and, if anything, can be longer. There is also a topic index at the end.

Although Summa is a work of theology rather than merely philosophy, Kreeft omits Part III about the life of Christ and the Sacraments, amongst other things, because this book is intended more for philosophy classes. Other parts of the text are omitted because they may not be as relevant to the modern mind compared to those who lived during the 1200s. In many instances, not all the objections are included even if the article is not entirely omitted.

So, to those who like basic questions such as “Whether God Is Perfect?” or “Whether the Foreknowledge of Merits Is the Cause of Predestination?”, these are included in this book. However, if one is interested in the intricacies of the Sacraments such as “Whether Baptism was Instituted after Christ’s Passion?”, then these are unfortunately not included. In any case, this version is over 500 pages.

Kreeft practically never interrupts the text. All his annotations are presented as footnotes. Rarely, an alternative term is provided in square brackets following the original translation; for example, “…God is the most noble [perfect] of beings.” Like his other books, Kreeft’s explanations are simple and clear and are the main reasons why one would bother getting this book.

Of course, since this is an abridged version, it is recommended to also find and read the article in its entirety if one is really interested before or after looking at Kreeft’s annotations.

Although Kreeft explains the structure of the text and a one-page table of contents is provided, a complete table of contents would give the reader a better sense of the material covered in the Summa even if Part III is entirely omitted. This is arguably not practical since it may take 50 pages but it would nonetheless be helpful, especially if each “article” is marked to indicate whether it is included and whether it is partial or complete.


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