For some book reviews I am almost tempted just to mention that some author has a new book out and that should be sufficient to pique your interest.
Case in point is Peter Kreeft’s new book Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas. This is an author always worth reading. Since he is also a rather prolific author, directing your attention to specific books of his is also worth doing.
Peter Kreeft’s books have had a positive impact on my life. His book Handbook of Christian Apologetics coauthored with Fr. Tacelli really helped me in my limbo from atheism to belief. It was the book’s format like St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae with objections and the answering of objections that helped me to get passed some of my doubts. That I didn’t have to jettison my reason for faith and in fact required fuller use of it.
In the intervening years I have found his other books to be helpful also. His latest book Practical Theology has quickly become my favorite book of his. The concept of the book is rather simple. Peter Kreeft uses St. Thomas Aquinas works and organizes them in a way beneficial as spiritual direction. As he reminds us this Doctor of the Church wrote his Summa Theologiae for “beginners” and that the same audience this book is intended for. Still it is rather hard for most people without a solid philosophical background to easily read St. Thomas’ works. I remember once picking up “The Pocket Aquinas” and being totally lost trying to read it. Fortunately that is not a problem here. Besides the saints words Mr. Kreeft provides an abundance of clarifications. Even when quoting passages he briefly interjects information to clear up St. Thomas’ meaning. After these passages he then further illuminates it.
Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was just how focused it was. For the most part the topics are contained to just one page with few going beyond that. Combined with Peter Kreeft’s playfulness you have a nice touch of humor that doesn’t intrude on the topic. When I first received this book I figured at 366 pages I could read it in a week and then prepare a review. That plan was quickly wrecked as I more slowly read through the book and let it marinate in my mind. This was not a book I wanted to rush through. In fact I think I will shortly read it again. Only this time I will limit myself to reading just one or two chapters a day. With 358 topics this book is a good candidate for a topic a day to read through in a year book. Flannery O’Connor use to spend at least 15 minutes with the Angelic Doctor each night.
One aspect of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings that really spoke to me was not just the answers he gave to questions, but the questions he asked. This really brought to my mind this comment from G.K. Chesterton.
Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground. – Orthodoxy, Chapter 9
I have no doubt the saint would have totally agreed to this comment as his theological output was a playing in this playground. There are many who can’t see the forest for the trees and can’t see the playground because of the boundaries. There were questions he asked that I times I had wondered about, but figured nobody would have giving them any serious attention. So the best thing about “Practical Theology” is that it helped me to play in this playground and to remember that spiritual direction and spiritual reading can really fill you with joy.