Ten reasons I am not a Thomist

Me: “My name is Mark, and I am not a Thomist.”

Others at the meeting: “Hi, Mark.”

Yes, I *do* hide behind the Summa!
At moments I am sorely tempted to despair when I realize how much work one must do to master Saint Thomas’s teaching. Twice this past semester at Marquette University I was on a board of examiners for what we call our “doctoral qualifying exams”—usually called “comps” (for ‘comprehensive exams’)—when I realized I simply didn’t know some things that Thomas himself would have known cold, and would have assumed that most of his readers would have known, too. One of my fellow-examiners is an expert in the teaching of St. Augustine, while another is a cracker-jack reader of the Old Testament. In one instance we were talking about Augustine’s teaching on some point or other when I realized I didn’t know what book of Augustine I’d have to consult in order to track the teaching down (De doctrina christiana? De trinitate? I dunno!), and in the other I realized that I couldn’t rattle off the minor prophets if I had to.

After the exam we were sitting around just chatting, when I told my colleagues I had an announcement to make. “I am not a Thomist,” I said. “That’s too bad for us,” a colleague responded, “because that’s why we hired you!” An explanation was in order. I told them that I didn’t feel that I could really consider myself a full student of Thomas’s teaching until I had a reasonable mastery of some basic texts and skills. And so, until I acquire them, I can’t be a Thomist.

So here is a list of ten things I haven’t done yet, that I need to do. What do you think?

I am not a Thomist because:

  1. I have not yet read all of the writings of Augustine, cover-to-cover.
  2. I have not yet read all of the Bible (in the vulgata), cover-to-cover.
  3. I have not yet read the Metaphysics, cover-to-cover.
  4. I have not yet read Gratian’s Decretum, cover-to-cover (but I have read Raymond of Peñafort; does that count?).
  5. Yeesh! I haven’t read Lombard, cover-to-cover (big feelings of inadequacy!).
  6. I don’t know the medieval or Dominican liturgy very well at all.
  7. I don’t really know the doctrine of St. Albert.
  8. I haven’t memorized Isidore’s Etymologies.
  9. I remember reading through Damascene’s De fide orthodoxa, but I’ve forgotten what it says!
  10. I haven’t read through the whole Corpus Dionysiacum, or Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed, or…..ugh.

Are you a not-Thomist, too? If so, let me know why (by discussing it, or by leaving a comment).


Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson is an associate professor of Theology at Marquette University, and founded thomistica.net on Squarespace in November of 2004. He studied with James Weisheipl, Leonard Boyle, Walter Principe, and Lawrence Dewan, at the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies (Toronto, Canada).