Sunday, August 24, 2003

St. Thomas Aquinas and Computer Chess

I play chess sometimes, and have a few computer chess programs (Chess Tiger and Crafty, among others). Unfortunately, I am unable to beat the computer no matter how stupid I make it. I can beat my Palm Pilot occasionally, but not consistently. The reason why is that I am not patient enough to examine every possible move and its consequences. The computer examines them all and always makes the best move. So, no matter how well I play, my doom approaches with the inevitability of has the inevitability of a Russian winter.

Reading Aquinas is similar. The temptation when reading the Summa Theologica is to read it like eating at a salad bar. We scan the table of contents, and read only the specific question and article that concerns us. But to do this is to miss the beauty and power of the work, since the entire work has an order designed for the purpose of teaching sacred doctrine. In the introduction, Master Thomas informs us of his purpose in writing the book: we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners. We have considered that students in this doctrine have not seldom been hampered by what they have found written by other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments, partly also because those things that are needful for them to know are not taught according to the order of the subject matter, but according as the plan of the book might require, or the occasion of the argument offer, partly, too, because frequent repetition brought weariness and confusion to the minds of readers. Aquinas has planned out the whole work in order to make learning easier. To pick and choose articles to read is to miss out on this planning.

If you do read it sequentially, as I am currently doing with the Prima Secundae, is like playing chess against a computer. You will find that Thomas examines every possibility and closes off every avenue of escape, and that his conclusions approach with the inevitability of sunrise.

I highly recommend reading the Summa in order. It takes effort, but it's surely much more worthwhile than wasting time watching television, and it's the only way truly to appreciate St. Thomas Aquinas' genius.

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