St. Thomas Aquinas On Law, Morality, and Politics

448838On Law, Morality, and Politics by Thomas Aquinas
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Combining the Neo-Platonist influenced theological and political thoughts of St. Augustine with Aristotelian influenced reasoning, St. Thomas Aquinas drastically changed medieval theology and political thought which would far-reaching consequences ever since. On Law, Morality, and Politics is a selection of excerpts from Aquinas’ Summa Theologica and two from On Kingship that provide the reader a glimpse at his thinking.

Of the roughly 280 pages in this collection, almost four-fifths of dedicated to the exploration of law and justice in various facets. The minute differences between types of law (divine, natural, and human) that Aquinas discusses in full then the various types of justice is a mind-numbing exercise of reading that almost makes one throw away the book. The final fifth of the book of selections features a little morality but mostly on politics from leadership to church-state relations of various types. With exception of the two selections from On Kingship, Aquinas’ style of listing objections to the points he is about to make then stating his opinion and finally replying to the previous objections is rather self-aggrandizing. Yet save for a short introduction, there was no commentary to help the layman reader to understand what Aquinas was saying—though in the last fifth of the book it was easier because Aquinas’ thoughts were straightforward compared to the law and justice sections—and making it hard to keep reading.

On Law, Morality, and Politics by St. Thomas Aquinas is a collection of excerpts, with two exceptions, from his most famous work yet only the last fifth of the book is clear cut and straightforward. The lack of commentary to help the read understand what Aquinas is trying to make clear and why it is important makes understanding the thinking of the man hard.

The Political Writings of St. Augustine

0895267047.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Political Writings of St. Augustine by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 0.5 of 5 stars

The most important voice in political thought throughout the Middle Ages, influencing even St. Aquinas, was that of St. Augustine. Through excerpts of sermons, letters, and selections from City of God, the 4th-century theologians’ view of the world of man is shown both in its maturity and development.

Covering almost 360 pages, the vast majority of it being the words of St. Augustine, this book’s quality comes down to the introduction by Henry Paolucci and the appendix containing a lecture by Dino Bigongiari. Instead of helping set the stage for understanding the works the reader was about to encounter Paolucci’s introduction really didn’t do anything to give context just information about the man and his works overall. However the lecture of Bigongiari opens the reader’s eyes to understanding what they had just read, but that’s only if they made it to the very end of the book after potentially giving up trying to figure out why some of these selections were included. In fact the reader learns more in the last 15 pages of the book about St. Augustine’s political thoughts than the previous 340+ by the theologians own hand. It would have been better to have Bigongiari’s lecture as the introduction so as it give the reader insights about how to understand the author’s thinking.

The Political Writings of St. Augustine is a nice selection of the theologian’s writings about political subjects, however because of the way the book is structured the reader will not understand the man until the very end if they even get that far. I can only recommend the lecture by Dino Bigongiari presented at the end of the book, the rest is unfortunately worthless.

The Guide for the Perplexed

0486203514.01._SX450_SY635_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Guide for the Perplexed by Maimónides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Looking to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and Jewish theology, Moses Maimonides wrote The Guide for the Perplexed. A three part letter to his student, the book was influential not only to Jewish thought but Christian and Islamic thought throughout the Middle Ages while still giving those in the 21st Century insights to consider.

The first part focuses on Maimonides arguing against the anthropomorphism of God, basically stating God is incorporeal, and all references in the Bible to God doing physical things are essentially figurative language to allow the human mind to understand the works of God. This leads into a discussion by Maimonides that states that God cannot be described in positive terms only negative conceptions because while positive terms put limits on God, the negative does not. This leads into a discussion of philosophy and mysticism of various kinds. The second part begins on Maimonides expounding on the physical structure of the universe, an essentially Aristotelian world-view, which eventually leads into a debate on if the universe is eternal or created. Though Maimonides admits that Aristotle’s arguments for an eternal universe are better, Divine Revelation decides the matter. Maimonides then expounds on the Creation presented in Genesis and theories on the possible end of the world. The last part is explained as the climax of the whole work as Maimonides expounds on the mystical passage of the Chariot found in Ezekiel, which isn’t supposed to be directly taught only hinted at though over time direct instruction has become the normal. This is followed by analysis of the moral aspects of the universe and explaining the reasons for the 613 laws in the Torah. Maimonides ends the book with how God is worshipped correctly, through wisdom.

The comparison of and thesis of complimenting of long held Jewish theological thought and Aristotelian philosophy by Maimonides could have been hard to follow, the text was more than readable and thus the arguments very understandable. While his arguments and logic are insight and enlightening, Maimonides is yet another religious individual who has married ‘pagan’ philosophy with divine revelation to the determinant of the latter like many of his Christian contemporaries were doing and their predecessors before them and many would do after. This is the book’s biggest flaw, but instead of being a reason not to read it is the main one to read it and thus understand the arguments of those who want to merge two separate worldviews into one.

The Guide for the Perplexed was intended by Maimonides for learned individuals to give his view on philosophy more than theology, however the two could not be connected within the text. While I do not adhere to the vast majority of the thoughts the author expounded upon, the insight into medieval thought were invaluable and insightful.

Abraham’s Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity

6c9f8b678de74f859726e577167444341587343Abraham’s Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity by Philip G. Samaan
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Many Christians have no idea what the religion of Islam actually is and for many who have read the Old Testament, they forget that Islam began among the descendants of Abraham’s other son Ishmael. Dr. Philip Samaan attempts to give Christians, in particular Seventh-day Adventists, a glimpse of actually Islam and Muslims in Abraham’s Other Son: Islam Among Judaism & Christianity.

The first two-thirds of the book Samaan focuses primarily on everything related to Islam beginning with Abraham, Hagar, and Ishmael in the Biblical record before turning his attention to Muhammad as well as the rise and spread of Islam. After the historical portion, Samaan then looks at the faith of Islam itself and its similarities and contrasts to Judaism and Christianity. Then after covering Jesus in Islam, the book turns to focus on Christ for nearly the last third of the book until the last chapter covers how Christians—Seventh-day Adventists—can witness to both Muslims and Jews.

Born in Syria into an Orthodox Christian family, Samaan not only grew up amongst all three faiths but has studied them diligently bring extensive knowledge to this book. However, while Samaan is particular knowledgeable on the subject went to write, it felt that he wrote parts of at least three different books in this roughly 280 page book. Not that the material cover wasn’t insightful, but when the book ignored Islam for long stretches which felt weird given that it was to be the main topic. While the book structure was a little surprising, the biggest drawback is the editing of the text which could have been tightened up in several spots and in some places were determinately to the understanding of what Samaan was discussing.

Abraham’s Other Son is an informative book on the history of Ishmael and his descendants in Muslims around the world. While Philip Samaan’s book is not perfect, it is able to give Christians—not only Seventh-day Adventists—a true glimpse at what Islam really is and its relationship to Judaism and Christianity.

Blood Brothers by Philip Samaan

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650

ReformationsReformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 by Carlos M.N. Eire
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Half a millennium after a lone monk began a theological dispute that eventually tore Western Christendom asunder both religiously and politically, does the event known as the Reformation still matter? In his book Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650, Carlos M.N. Eire determined to examine the entire period leading up to and through the epoch of the Reformation. An all-encompassing study for beginners and experts looks to answer that question.

Eire divided his large tome into four parts: On the Edge, Protestants, Catholics, and Consequences. This division helps gives the book both focusing allowing the reader to see the big picture at the same time. The 50-60 years covered in “On the Edge” has Eire go over the strands of theological, political, and culture thoughts and developments that led to Luther’s 95 theses. “Protestants” goes over the Martin Luther’s life then his theological challenge to the Church and then the various versions of Protestantism as well as the political changes that were the result. “Catholics” focused on the Roman Church’s response to the theological challenges laid down by Protestants and how the answers made at the Council of Trent laid the foundations of the modern Catholicism that lasted until the early 1960s. “Consequences” focused on the clashes between the dual Christian theologies in religious, political, and military spheres and how this clash created a divide that other ideas began to challenge Christianity in European thought.

Over the course of almost 760 out of the 920 pages, Eire covers two centuries worth of history in a variety of ways to give the reader a whole picture of this period of history. The final approximately 160 pages are of footnotes, bibliography, and index is for more scholarly readers while not overwhelming beginner readers. This decision along with the division of the text was meant mostly for casual history readers who overcome the prospect of such a huge, heavy book.

Reformations: The Early Modern World, 1450-1650 sees Europe’s culture change from its millennium-long medieval identity drastically over the course of two centuries even as Europe starts to affect the rest of the globe. Carlos N.M. Eire authors a magnificently written book that gives anyone who wonders if the Reformation still matters, a very good answer of if they ask the question then yes it still does. So if you’re interested to know why the Reformation matters, this is the book for you.

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The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century

HillerbrandThe Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century by Hans J. Hillerbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Christendom, the social-political-religious definition of Europe for nearly millennium was shaken at the right moment and the right place to rend it asunder for all time. In Hans J. Hillerbrand’s revision of his own work, The Division of Christendom: Christianity in the Sixteenth Century, the Reformation started by Martin Luther in Germany is seen first and foremost as a religious dispute that was not inevitable but due to political and societal factors as able to evolve until it became irreversible.

Hillerbrand began by setting the stage upon which Luther would burst onto the scene focusing not only on the condition of the Church, but also the political situation in Germany. Then Hillerbrand goes into what he calls “the first phase” of the Reformation in which Luther was the primary focus from 1517 to 1521, then after Luther’s stand at Worms the focus of the Reformation changes from a primarily religious controversy into one that politics begins to dominate in Germany. Yet, Hillerbrand doesn’t stop with Luther and Germany, as he begins describing the reactions to the German events in other territories before they lead to their own Reformation events. The Catholic Church’s response to the spread of Protestantism across Europe, the different forms of Protestantism besides Lutheranism, and the theological debates between all of them were all covered. And at the end of the book Hillerbrand compared the beginning of the 16th-century to the end and how each was different and the same after over 80 years of debate.

While Hillerbrand’s survey of the Reformation is intended for both general audiences and scholars, which he successes in doing, the epilogue of the book is what I believe is the best part of the text. Entitled “Historiography”, Hillerbrand discusses the various ways the Reformation has been covered by historians over the past 500 years and the trends in history as well. But in reviewing his own text, Hillerbrand emphasized the religious aspect that sparked as well as influenced the Reformation and the importance of the events in Germany which determined not only Luther’s but the Reformation’s fate in Europe. By ending the book on this note, Hillerbrand gives his readers much to think about on either to agree or disagree with his conclusion which is one of the many reasons to study history.

The Division of Christendom is a relatively, for 500 pages, compact survey of 16th-century Europe in which things both changed dramatically and yet stayed the same during a transformative time in Western history. As one of the foremost historians of the Reformation, Hans J. Hillerbrand knows this period of history as no one else and just adds to my recommendation to read this book for those interested in the Reformation.

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The Prophecies of Daniel and the Revelation

SmithDaniel and the Revelation by Uriah Smith
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The prophecies of Daniel and Revelation have been a long studied by Seventh-day Adventists and their precursors for almost 200 years; one of the most prominent writers was Uriah Smith during his long tenure with the newsmagazine Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Smith’s major contribution to Adventist theology was his verse-by-verse commentary of the books of Daniel and the Revelation.

This book is the most in-depth explanation of Seventh-day Adventist thought on end-time Biblical prophecies from the turn of the 20th Century, yet even though it’s mostly over 100 years old—there are some publisher insertions here and there—it is mostly what Seventh-day Adventist still believe today. However, the biggest difference is the focus of the Islam and Ottoman Empire—referred to Turkey—as being a major prophetic “player” in the past in particular in relation to Revelation 9 though in other places as well. While today Adventists do see the rise of Islam as playing a role in the prophetic past, it is only in affecting the Church at a particular time and nothing more.

Though Daniel and the Revelation is not an up-to-date book on what Seventh-day Adventists believe about those prophetic books, the great majority of Uriah Smith’s text is still relevant today. The only significant change has been an even more focused look at the history of the Church in prophecy than on another religion.

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