This book is an original reading of the Summa of Theology of Thomas Aquinas. It reads the main parts of the Summa backwards, starting from the conclusion, to discover Thomas's purpose: the unification of persuasive Christian wisdom in a pattern of ongoing moral formation. The book is not another "synthesis" of Thomistic ethics. It argues instead that the Summa offers a series of exercises in evaluating the theological traditions that grew up around the original scenes of divine teaching: the incarnation, the Gospels, and the sacraments. God provided those scenes so that human beings might learn the most important moral lessons in ways they would find most compelling. The task of writing theology, as Thomas understands it, is to open a path through inherited languages so that divine pedagogy can have its effect on the reader--in a memory of the original scenes but also in their present repetition. This understanding of moral formation determines the structure of the third part of the Summa, which moves from God's choice of incarnation through the scriptural retelling of the life of Christ to the events of Christian sacraments. It also determines the structure of the Summa's second part, which begins and ends with claims on the reader's life. What I've said in that paragraph distinguishes my book from most others on Thomas in several ways. First, I read the Summa as theology, not philosophy--especially when it comes to the moral teaching. I admire the ingenuity by which people derive philosophical virtue ethics from Thomas but I don't think that is what Thomas means to offer. Second, I think that the structure of the Summa is an essential part of its teaching. By structure I mean the order of topics but even more the staging of the teaching from page to page. The Summa exercises its readers in discerning among languages--not in constructing systems or performing deductions. Third, I hold that the Summa teaches morals by directing attention to the way God teaches morals--namely, though embodied scenes. That much should be obvious from the last part of the Summa, which moves from incarnation through Gospel narratives to sacraments. Yet Thomas's confidence in bodily scenes of instruction explains the often overlooked structure of the middle part of the Summa. That part begins and ends with Christian revisions of classical forms of exhortation to the best human life. It also explains Thomas's interest in the stages of law and the limits of virtue as the engine of human life. The notion of scene of instruction is an important for the Summa. I think that it also raises questions about Christian moral teaching quite generally. So the middle part of my book breaks away from close readings in the Summa to reflect on Thomas's place in the history of Christian moral teaching--and so his usefulness for teaching or writing in the present. What remains as a puzzle is why Thomas chose to stage this incarnational moral teaching within the then new genres of university disputation--the genres we think of as "Scholastic." The structure of the Summa once again provides an answer. Thomas's minimalist refusal to tell a new story except by juxtaposing selections from inherited languages is his way of opening room for God's continuing narration in the soul. I call this attitude belated anticipation. I commend it as a way of writing Christian morals now.
Teaching Bodies by Mark D. Jordan was published by Fordham University Press in December 2016. The ISBN for Teaching Bodies is 9780823273799.