Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Review: Angelic Doctor or Dumb Ox

I’ve always been fascinated by Saint Thomas Aquinas, probably because he’s not so easy to understand! He’s been called both Angelic Doctor and Dumb Ox. Although he died more than 700 years ago, he’s still considered one of the smartest, deepest thinkers of all time – by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. And yet, he was so humble that fellow students thought he was just a big lump of slowness … until he opened his mouth to elucidate a problem posed by his mentor, St. Albert the Great!

Thomas Aquinas is one of those saints that needs to be known today: his thought processes were logical, he was humble and most importantly, he put God and God’s will above that of all else. We definitely need more of his ilk today. Obviously a great way to “know” Aquinas is to read his writings – but these are often beyond the ken of the everyday reader, certainly tough for middle-schoolers or high-schoolers: an age that would do well to know and imitate the Dumb Ox, to help today and tomorrow’s world.

Thanks to Sofia Institute and Raissa Maritain, St. Thomas Aquinas is now very obtainable for the 10-15 year-old crowd, and even us older folks. It seems that Mrs. Maritain, back in 1934, wrote a biography of the great man called Saint Thomas Aquinas: for Children and the Childlike. Maritain’s book has just been re-printed by Sofia Institute and a whole new crop of “children and the childlike” can learn much about Aquinas.

With a reading level of a middle-schooler or higher (or as a great family read-aloud for the younger ones), this short volume helps to explain the facts of Aquinas’ life – from birth to death, and all in-between. There are quotes from Aquinas’ writings and quotes from his beatification and canonization documents. But further, this book resonates with the author’s respect and affection for this humble man. Maritain, and her husband Jacques, created a community of prayer and contemplation focusing on Aquinas and his works in their native France (after their joint conversion in 1905); this community helped teach the great man’s works and kept alive his memory. The writing style makes this book accessible to the young adults who need this book!

The reprint of this book is beautifully illustrated by Ted Schluenderfritz with images of the saint that symbolize his humility and great love of the Trinity and the Catholic Church. A quick-read, this book helps to place the saint in context while also implying the need today’s Church has for scholars like St. Thomas Aquinas.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am thrilled that Sofia has decided to republish it. It’s definitely going on the list of read-alouds for my younger kids for this next year -- some of the vocabulary makes it tougher than having them read it on their own. I’m also recommending it to my older kids and husband to read -- dh is about mid-way through and will be using excerpts in his courses this year (at the high school level)!

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This review was written as part of the Catholic book Reviewer program from The Catholic Company. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Saint Thomas Aquinas: for Children and the Childlike and to purchase your own copy of this soon-to-be thriller classic.

Maritain, Raissa –Saint Thomas Aquinas: for Children and the Childlike – Sofia Institute Press (Manchester, NH); 2009. Paperback, 114 pages. ISBN: 9-781933-184470

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