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The Primacy of Love: An Introduction to the Ethics of Thomas Aquinas.

The Primacy of Love: An Introduction to the Ethics of Thomas Aquinas. By Paul J. Wadell, C.P. New York: Paulist, 1992. Pp. iv + 162. $11.95.

A straightforward exposition of important sections of the Second Part of the Summa Theologiae. Wadell moves from a general consideration of final causality and the human desire for beaititude, to charity, the passions, and the virtues and the gifts. A final chapter provides a concise summary of his themes: the moral life as a journey toward God, love as the cornerstone of Thomas's ethics, and the divinizing significance of the Christian virtues and gifts.

W. addresses the general reader rather than the specialist, which leads him to minimize treatment of technical detail. He does not intend to contribute to the current discussion of the ethics of virtue, nor does he suggest any methodological considerations that must govern the retrieval of Thomas's theological ethics for our own day. The intended audience may account for the fact that W. at times ignores some of the more complicated but nonetheless essential aspects of Thomas's ethics, e.g. the will.

W. has a profound grasp of the teleological organization of Thomas's ethics and particularly the influence of final causality on his view of human agency. He effectively communicates some of the deeply Augustinian streams of Thomas's ethics, especially the desire for God underlying human restlessness and the importance of the affections for the moral life. In general W.'s emphasis on agency, however, is not properly balanced with a discussion of human acts and the moral norms by which they are governed. Natural law is only mentioned dismissively on the first page. In fact one can find practically no discussion of Thomas's normative ethics. e.g. regarding sexual ethics, war, lying, theft, etc., and thus a valuable context for understanding Thomas's ethics goes unexplored.

The attention W. gives to the role of the passions and affections, the virtues, and the gifts will be a welcome corrective to the impression that Thomas's ethics amounts to a stifling legalism or rationalistic deductivism. Though his failure to consider questions of objective norms renders the book incomplete, W. does a fine job of making important aspects of Thomas's theory of virtue accessible to the general reader.

Stephen J. Pope

Boston College
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Author:Pope, Stephen J.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:380
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