Wednesday, March 22, 2017

New Book: John of St. Thomas, The Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Cluny Media, 2016)


John of St. Thomas, O.P., The Gifts of the Holy Spiritwith an introduction by Cajetan Cuddy, O.P. (Tacoma, WA: Cluny Media, 2016), xiv + 403pp.

To my joy and amazement, Cluny Media just recently reprinted a translation of a section of John of St. Thomas' Cursus Theologicus, dedicated to the Gifts of the Holy Ghost. The translation by Dominic Hughes, O.P., was originally published in 1951 by Sheed & Ward under the title, The Gifts of the Holy Ghost.  But it had been long out of print and hard to find.  It is now available from the Cluny Media website for the affordable price of $24.95.  I have been working on a review of this book to submit it for publication in a scholarly journal.  Before I do so I would like to share with you some of my thoughts in draft form.
John of St. Thomas (1589-1644) is not only an exceptionally faithful commentator of St. Thomas' Summa; his Cursus Theologicus is also historically monumental insofar as it is in itself an original Thomistic synthesis, a theological masterpiece in its own right that goes beyond merely commenting on the text of St. Thomas.  For example, whereas St. Thomas treats of the Gifts in many different questions spread throughout the Secunda Pars (Ia-IIae, qq. 68-70; IIa-IIae, qq. 8-9, 19, 45, 52, 121, and 139), John of St. Thomas gathers together the entire discussion of the Gifts into a single Disputatio.  In a sense, the Cursus is the first of the theological manuals, that is, the predecessor to the many Thomistic treatises ad mentem Sancti Thomae of later centuries.  It is historically a turning point between the earlier commentatorial tradition and the later manualist tradition. 
Hughes’ English translation does tone down a bit the scholastic format of the Latin original.  'Articles' are translated into 'chapters', and the questions that John asks in each are rendered as statements or headings. Thus the original scholastic sense of a quest for an answer to a question is lost a bit in translation.  Also lost in translation is John’s constant and explicit reference to the logical structure of the arguments to which he is replying: expressions such as ad primam, major probaturminor constatcontra estare either missing, or glossed over in such a way that their logical precision is lost; for instance, ad minorem is paraphrased as "in response to the latter part of this argument."  But these tendencies seem to be almost inescapable among mid-20th century English translations of scholastic works; compare, for example, Garrigou-Lagrange's Beatitude, translated by Patrick Cummins, O.S.B., with Garrigou's original De beatitudine.  For a purist such as myself, this toning-down of the scholastic method is obviously a drawback.  But the relatively free-flowing English text of these translations is designed to appeal to a non-expert audience, and thus opens up a masterpiece from the heart of the Thomistic tradition to a wider readership.  This is surely something positive in its own way (perhaps a mixed blessing of sorts) and, realistically, it is necessitated by the financial imperative of selling more books.  If you want to be a strict 'purist', read the Latin text itself.  For, as the Italians say: "traduttore, traditore."  That said, Hughes' translation includes, over and above the original, very helpful outlines at the beginning of each of his chapters (articles), which are a great aid to the careful student of John’s text.  
            One minor aspect in the reprint that I do find entirely unnecessary and in a way regrettable is the change in title, and together with it the "minor editorial revisions to the original text, including the changing of ‘Holy Ghost’ to ‘Holy Spirit’ throughout."  Not that it is theologically erroneous to say 'Holy Spirit' instead of 'Holy Ghost'. Rather, I just think that the deliberate suppression of traditional Catholic expressions such as this one tends to promote a disconnect with tradition in subsequent generations of Catholics.  This suppression furthers yet a little more the linguistic distance between us and our ancestors in the faith.  It is not so much an issue of preserving a tiny feature of our Catholic language; rather what is at stake is promoting continuity between generations of Catholics.  English-speaking Catholics need to become more familiar with the faith, writings, and modes of expression of their forefathers, not less.  That said, the consistent replacement of the expression ‘Holy Ghost’ throughout the book was to me personally at most only a bit distracting, and did not detract from the sheer joy of holding and reading John of St. Thomas’s commentary on St. Thomas in translation.
         The reprint also includes a brand new introduction by Fr. Cajetan Cuddy, O.P., which aims to show to the average reader the relevance of John of St. Thomas’ work on the Holy Ghost.  Fr. Cuddy here offers a brief apologia of the Thomistic Commentatorial Tradition.  He argues that "truth did not die with Saint Thomas Aquinas in 1274" (p. v), and that this tradition is "a living tradition" because the men who represent it received the "essential first principles of doctrinal purity and cultural engagement from Saint Thomas" and then went on "expeditions through the cultural and intellectual jungles of their own periods" (pp. v-vi).  And John of St. Thomas, whom his contemporaries called ‘another Thomas’, excels among Thomists in that he had a "unique ability to adjudicate difficult questions amidst great confusion without deviating from the truth.  Speculative complexity did not deter or suffocate this Iberian priest" (p. vii).  The translator's introduction to the 1951 edition, also contained in the reprint, includes a rather valuable "historical introduction" to John of St. Thomas, which will prove very helpful to readers seeking to deepen their understanding of the life, work, and times of this great Thomist.
        All in all, Fr. Cajetan Cuddy and Cluny Media have done a great service to English-speaking readers of Thomism and Theology in general by making available again this gem of the Thomistic tradition in translation.  The volume is a great joy to have and to study. I sure hope to see more volumes of this kind in years to come. 

Be sure to look also at Cluny Media's other Thomistic titles, such as Brennan's Thomistic Psychology, as well as several other volumes published in their Thomistic Institute Series.

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