Whether the Structure of a Disputed Question in the Summa Be Most Perfect?

It seems that the structure of a disputed question in the Summa is most perfect.

1. For St. Thomas was the greatest of theologians. Consequently his work, namely the Summa, was constructed in the most perfect manner.

2. Again, Aristotle says that in order to come to know a certain matter, one should consider the opinions of others on the issue and the difficulties that can arise concerning it. This is done by considering the objections before proceeding to resolve the issue with the body of the article, and then finishing by resolving all of the difficulties in the answers to the objections. Therefore the structure of a Summa article is a perfect structure for coming to know.

3. Again, it belongs to the teacher to explain a matter in full, and then to use this explanation to resolve all of the difficulties. Thus the objections correspond to the questions of the students, while the rest of the article corresponds to the explanation of the teacher. Thus the structure of a Summa article seems to be perfect.

But against this are the words of St. Thomas introducing the Summa, “We intend in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners.” Thus the articles are formulated for beginners and not for the sake of a perfect understanding which can be achieved by those who more advanced.

I respond, it should be said that the structure of a disputed question in the Summa is not most perfect, but is abbreviated for the sake of beginners, as St. Thomas implies in the words quoted above. It is true that in order to come to know, one must understand the difficulties of an issue, but it is not sufficient to understand the difficulties that are opposed to the truth. It is also necessary to understand the various indications by which the truth is made known, and therefore the more perfect structure is that found in the disputed questions of the schools, where arguments are made not only against the position of the teacher, but also in favor of that position. The reply to the first is evident from this.

To the second it should be said that the structure of a Summa article does indeed model the dialectical process in general, but it does not include the whole of the process, since the arguments in favor of the truth are omitted.

To the third it should be said that the students may also have some thoughts that correspond to the truth, and also that even the teacher actually comes to a knowledge of the truth not only through a principal argument, as in the body of the article, but through many arguments.

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3 thoughts on “Whether the Structure of a Disputed Question in the Summa Be Most Perfect?

  1. […] I have pointed out elsewhere the need to consider the objections and replies in order to understand the truth regarding a disputed question; the body is typically insufficient. This is particularly true in this article, where we have the following objections and replies: […]

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