Thinking Theologically about the Divine Ideas

Reexamining the Summa of Thomas Aquinas


Thinking Theologically traces Aquinas’s subtle grammatical and thematic engagements with the doctrine of the divine ideas throughout the Summa Theologiae. This study offers new insights into the contributions of Aquinas’s doctrine to debates about eschatology, christology, providence, natural law, virtue, and creation’s participation in the trinitarian life of God. It argues that Aquinas adapts the doctrine to support his pedagogical goal of guiding readers from the confession of faith to the wisdom of sacra doctrina. In turn, this demonstrates that Aquinas’s reading of the divine ideas reinforces his understanding of the dynamic exchange between philosophical reasoning and theological inquiry.

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Benjamin R. DeSpain, Ph.D. (2016), Durham University, is a Research Fellow at Australian Catholic University. He has previously published on the theological reception of the divine ideas. His current research focuses on Aquinas's notions of divine and human understanding.
Benjamin DeSpain does us a great service by showing that a treatment of the divine ideas in Thomas Aquinas is not solely a philosophical matter but inextricably bound to Aquinas’s pedagogical commitments in the Summa Theologiae and that this doctrine needs to be rehabilitated in contemporary theological inquiry. DeSpain’s work is a formidable step in that direction showing the richness of the doctrine of divine ideas, for it refers not only to the origination of creatures in being and in truth, but also to their action and perfection, and thus to the attainment of their final end, as these ideas or the idea of each one of us is our ultimate measure in the quest for happiness, that is, in seeing God “face to face.” - Alice M. Ramos, Professor of Philosophy, St. John’s University, New York

Thinking Theologically about the Divine Ideas will become the benchmark work on Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of the divine ideas. It is the book, one suspects, that Aquinas himself would have hoped for in our time, in that it is not simply about the doctrine, curating it and interpreting it as an object of intellectual history, although all of this is done to the highest scholarly standard. Beyond this, DeSpain’s treatment itself embodies and performs the theological task that the doctrine inculcates us into. DeSpain leads us into a conceptual space that is richly-traditioned, but open to mystery, silence, and surprise, and capable of framing our responses to a plenitude of contemporary tasks for theological thinking and practice. Along with Mark McIntosh’s account of the divine ideas in the wider mystical tradition (The Divine Ideas Tradition in Christian Mystical Theology), this work should stir a renewal and retrieval of interest in this neglected doctrine, comparable to the recent retrieval of other classical doctrines such as the Trinity and Divine Simplicity. - Christopher J. Insole, Durham University/Australian Catholic University

Acknowledgements IX
Abbreviations XI

1 Introduction: Making a Case for Rereading Thomas’s Doctrine of the Divine Ideas
 1.1 Problematic Methodologies: Interpreting Thomas’s Doctrine of the Divine Ideas
 1.2 An Argument for the Fitting Gestures of the Divine Ideas in the Summa Theologiae
 1.3 Notes on Method, Audience, and Scope
 1.4 Outline

2 The Habit of Thinking Theologically: Faith Seeking Understanding in the Summa Theologiae
 2.1 There and Back Again: From Pedagogy to Reception
 2.2 The First Question, the Oldest Question … A Note on the Summa’s Audience
 2.3 Knowing the Unknown God through Faith
 2.4 Hold Tight and Pretend It’s a Plan: The Structure of the Summa
 2.5 Conclusion: Thomas Aquinas as Teacher of the Divine Ideas

3 A Case for the Theological Validity of the Divine Ideas
 3.1 The Theological Intelligibility of the Divine Ideas
 3.2 Revisiting Josef Pieper’s Hidden Key
 3.3 Divine Difference in Creational Imitation

4 The Grounds for a Trinitarian Rereading of the Divine Ideas
 4.1 An Excursus on Thomas’s Formal and Applied Vocabularies for the Divine Ideas
 4.2 The Logic of Theological Fittingness
 4.3 Stick to the Plan: The Unity of the Summa’s Treatise on God
 4.4 The Fittingness of Speaking about the Trinitarian Processions as Rationes
 4.5 Conclusion

5 Peripheral Preface: A Metaphysical Prefix to Thomas’s Doctrine of the Divine Ideas
 5.1 Worlds Apart: The Curious Practice of Bifurcating Theology and Philosophy
 5.2 Overture to the Intelligibility of God
 5.3 Theological Appropriation of the Divine Ideas in the Doctrine of Divine Providence

6 Virtuous Vision of the Divine Ideas: The Theological Appropriation of Macrobius
 6.1 Macrobius Ambrosius Theodosius as Medieval Authority
 6.2 Conduit for the Divine Ideas: Macrobius in Summa Theologiae 1a2ae.61.5
 6.3 Identifying the Exemplar Virtues
 6.4 Eschatological Glimmers: Actualizing Divine Similitude
 6.5 The Nexus of Moral Illumination: Natural Law and Moral Development
 6.6 Conclusion: A Note on Interpretive Trajectories

7 The Theological Metaphysics of Hope (and Spiritual Despair)
 7.1 Supernatural Complement to a Natural Capacity: Some Background Notes
 7.2 Eschatological Fulfillment: Humanity’s Happy Ending
 7.3 Motus Spei: Incedens Deo et Divinae Ideae Sui Ipsius
 7.4 Spiritual Despair: Denying One’s True Meaning
 7.5 Conclusion

8 Conclusion
 8.1 Ressourcement’s Double-Edged Sword
 8.2 The End is Silence: A Final Plea for Reclaiming the Doctrine of the Divine Ideas
All readers working in the areas of Catholic, philosophical, moral, and historical theology. Specialists working on Aquinas, Medieval theology, divine ideas, and Platonism.