Is the Summa Structurally Flawed?

Here are some off the cuff remarks meant to continue the discussion about the structure of the Summa that Dr. Malloy began in his previous post. I believe that he and I are in agreement on this issue. If we’re not, I expect that he will let me know. I would like to say a word about the criticisms of the Summa’s structure that he mentions. I am thinking of the first few lines of his post:

On several counts, Thomas has for some time been criticized for the very structure of the Summa. (1) Christ comes last, “as though an afterthought”. (2) He treats the One God before he treates the Triune God.

It seems to me that in any systematic (or even non-systematic) treatment of the Catholic faith we should permit the order of exposition to be flexible. Authors should be able to make a prudential judgment, based on their purpose and audience, to present the questions as they see fit. Of course, the truth should not be compromised on account of the order or manner of exposition. If there are certain orders of exposition that we can say, a priori, will distort the content, determining exactly what those are will be quite difficult, if not impossible. In any event, the author’s hermeneutic situation should always play an integral part in determining the order of exposition. Does Aquinas not suggest a similar flexibility in his reflections in CG, I, 2 on the appropriate ways to approach discussions with those whom we judge to be in error? Indeed, it is not always a question of dealing with people with whom we disagree. I believe Aquinas shows here that he grasps that how we present Christian doctrine is importantly (if not exclusively) guided by our audience and what we hope to achieve with them. Consider St. Paul’s discourse at the Areopagus. Does he begin by talking about Jesus? In fact, Jesus only comes at the end (as an afterthought?) and there only obliquely. 

Having said all this, we can still debate whether the order of exposition that Aquinas adopts in the Summa compromises Christian teaching. I don’t think it obviously does. If one looks at the whole and how it fits together I don’t believe that it can be said that he sacrifices the Trinity to the one God or that he fails to pay attention to Jesus. Again, whether the trinity of persons should come before a discussion of the divine nature, whether Jesus should come before everything else, these are matters that it is probably impossible to decide in the abstract, or so I would contend.


Post Scriptum: I should add that I am aware that there is a lot of literature on this topic. If I didn’t mention any of it, it is because these remarks are, as I said, off the cuff.