My Reading Challenge Pick for… “a book on Catholic theology”

We are down to the last three categories for the 2018 Catholic Reading Challenge. I wanted to get this next category pick posted in November, but oh well. Here we go…

Category: “a book on Catholic theology”

My Pick: A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas by Ralph McInerny

I picked this book for two reasons: (1) I needed to beef up my knowledge of Aquinas, and this seemed to be a good overview and introduction to him; (2) it was on my husband’s shelf, and he recommended it — it was in my house and vetted!

This book cheats a little for this category of “theology,” because it is actually more about St. Thomas’ philosophy. However, that was a nice surprise, because I got to see how Thomas’ philosophy (anchored in Aristotle) supports his theology. In fact, it is a great book to read if you want to understand how a Catholic theology and philosophy work together to help us talk about God. Aquinas is the guy the Church goes to as the ultimate philosopher/theologian; and Aquinas goes to Aristotle.

This book helped me be able to better articulate how philosophical knowledge (arrived at through logic) will never contradict theological knowledge (arrived at through revelation). McInerny quotes Aquinas:

“The gifts of grace are added to nature in such a way that a they do not destroy but rather perfect nature. Thus the light of faith which is infused in us by grace does not destroy the natural light of reason divinely given us. And although the natural light of the human mind is insufficient to manifest what is manifested though faith, nonetheless it is impossible that what has been divinely given us by faith should be contrary to what is given us by nature.” (p. 18)

McInerny actually shows how our knowledge about the perceivable world brings us quite far all by itself…all the way to the point where we then need the revelation of the Incarnation to take us the rest of the way.

McInerny demonstrates Thomas’s three ways of knowing God…as best we can know him. Thomas says that we can understand God through the negative — that is, but knowing what he is not. We can also talk about him through analogy (what he is like). As to positive knowledge of God, we can describe true things about him, but never perfectly.  Philosophy and theology help us to discuss God in these three ways, but we will never perfectly understand or know him in the positive — for if we did, he would not be God.

Lastly, I appreciated how McInerny gave three ways that we use philosophy in theology: (1) “to demonstrate the preambles of faith,” like the existence of God; (2) “to make known what is of faith by way of similitudes;” and (3) to respond to contradictions of the faith and show them to be untrue.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this short book. If you have wanted an introduction to Aquinas, then this would be a great start. And you will get the added bonus of understanding Aristotle a little bit better too.

What did you read for “a book on Catholic theology”?

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

Wonder & Whimsy: Anne Bogel is in good company…

A weekly curation of quotations I come across in my reading life (or on random condiment jars) — from the inspirational to the miscellaneous. Perhaps one inspires you or catches your fancy too…

G. K. Chesterton…

“We are in Eden still; only our eyes have changed.”


“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

Anne Bogel…

“…if my real life reminds me of something I read in a book, I’m reading well — and I’m probably living well too.” (I’d Rather Be Reading)

Thanksgiving, Martyrs and Intentional Celebrations

Today is Thanksgiving, and I’ve spent the week reading stacks of seasonally-themed picture books with my kids: books about Thanksgiving meal gathering traditions, funny books about turkeys, the history of the first Thanksgiving of the Pilgrims, and the story of Sarah Hale — who we have to thank (no pun intended) for our national day of celebration.

But today, for us Catholics, it is also another important feasting day; it is the memorial of St. Cecilia, a martyr of the third-century Church.

If you don’t know her story, she was sentenced to death by suffocation in the scalding hot steam of the baths, but she was unharmed after being locked up in them overnight. The second attempt to execute her was decapitation; but the executioner could not cut off her head, despite three hacks at her neck, and she was left bleeding to die. She lived for three days more. Her body was exhumed in 1599 and found to be incorrupt. Read her whole story; it is powerful…..but…not really the kind of “happy” tale that would typically come up today around your dinner tables.

But maybe it shouldn’t be weird if it did.

Perhaps our holiday celebrations have become commercialized and stylized to the point that we are totally disconnected from the weight of their origin. It might be a trite reflection to simplistically connect the these two feast days by emphasizing that we get to live in a country where we aren’t martyred for our faith, a country that brought the Pilgrims here in the first place to have a chance to worship and practice their faith freely. While that is true, I think that such a statement by itself still removes us a bit from the reality that we are memorializing.

These holidays and holy days — be they national or religious — exist because of real people and for profound reasons, of which we should not lose sight amidst all of our traditions. Our intentional celebrations are important. We shouldn’t forget or avoid remembering the harsh challenges that people faced, because it is the surmounting of those circumstances that brought about the events we celebrate — whether it be a people group that avoided starvation and settled a colony in the New World or a saint that exhibited impenetrable faith and won her heavenly reward.

Material icons often overtake the holidays’ greater significance: turkey plates for Thanksgiving, blow-up Santas for Christmas, Peeps in baskets for Easter. You know what I mean. I’m all about decorations, but decorations are not all these days are about.

As I sit with my kids and a stack of books, I’m not saying don’t read the silly one about the turkey; I’m saying read the hard one too. Tell the difficult story. These were real people, and their stories and circumstances deserve an empathetic response. These holidays and celebrations require us to enter into the stories of real people in history and see them as part of our own.


Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey