Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan
by Denys Turner
Yale University Press
Publisher's Book Information
This is a solid theological portrait of Aquinas. Turner argues that Aquinas's theology is deeply influenced by
his Dominican vocation. The material he set down in writing is above all for preaching purposes.
Turner begins by noting that Aquinas is a materialist in that he believed in the importance of material things.
But he also believed that matter is truly profound. For example, in man it is the soul that gives the body its
meaning. The soul is not some added extra but is the form of the body, it is everywhere in the body informing matter.
The soul is the way in which the body is kept alive and which differentiates living from non-living things. The
person is body and soul. Bodily activities become a language of human interaction and so it can be said that Aquinas
had a theology of the body.
Turner then moves to Aquinas's understanding of God. God, for Aquinas, is the ground of all being, the reason why
there is something rather than nothing. God is not just one being among others, which appears to be what Dawkins
understands by the Christian God, but is Being itself.
Turner discusses the Thomistic understanding of the Trinity. There is a real relatedness between the three persons
of the Trinity. God is seen as a communion of love. It is grace which enables us creatures to enter into that communion
of love, into friendship with God. Even the human will's consent to enter into that communion is a work of grace.
This is what we are created for and so the perfect human is Christ. In Christ, we see the perfect image of what
we are called to be.
Turner ends with a discussion of Aquinas on the Eucharist. Once again we note the importance of matter: because
matter has such significant meaning, it can really be the means of giving us God himself. Aquinas uses the term
"Transubstantiation" to describe the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Turner argues that Aquinas
uses the term to describe a profound mystery, a best possible fit, but surely the term deserves a greater respect
than Turner appears to give it, given that it has been revered by the Church over the centuries.
This is a well written work about a great theologian and saint, one who is more needed than ever, at a time when
both faith and reason are under attack.
Copyright ©; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2015
Version: 12th January 2015