Reviewed by Ian Mowll
This book is Matthew Fox’s interpretations of the writings of Thomas Aquinas who lived in Italy in the Middle Ages.
One of the many reasons I am drawn to green spirituality is that it’s up to date and relevant; it is not wistfully clinging on to times gone by. So, what would the medieval writer Thomas Aquinas have to say to us in today’s world? A great deal as it turns out.
Matthew Fox makes the point that whilst we, in this modern age, have acquired a great deal of technology and learning, we have not become wiser since the Middle Ages. I suggest that it’s not possible to create a ‘wisdom measuring rod’ to test this theory but it is certainly the case that many of our challenges chime with the issues that Thomas and his contemporaries faced.
The book is full of insights and useful commentary, I am sure that each of us can be inspired by different ideas but here are three thoughts that particularly struck me.
About anger, Thomas Aquinas’s view is: A trustworthy person is angry at the right people, for the right reasons, expresses it in the appropriate manner and for an appropriate length of time. I like this. I have come across some spiritualities which ask followers not to express anger and I have always questioned this. This section in the book includes a discussion about the power that anger can give us which, if used well, can help to attain justice. Matthew Fox writes: It is to the imagination and the passions that the prophets speak rather than aiming at the cold approbation of the mind.
Matthew Fox quotes Thomas Aquinas as saying, “joy is the human’s noblest act”. What about justice you might ask? Matthew Fox points out that justice is not an end in itself, but joy is. I find this honouring of joy heartwarming. Whilst quiet reflection can be helpful on our spiritual journey, it will all be in vain if we have not felt and expressed our joy for one another, all living beings and the planet.
And, of course, Thomas Aquinas talks about Nature. Matthew Fox writes: He teaches us to trust nature, to feel and love creation, to realize how thoroughly we are part of it and how much it has to teach us and how it awakens us and leads us to experiencing God. Amen to that.
For me, this book is a timely reminder that our ancestors have so much wisdom which is relevant for today’s world; such wisdom is an important counterbalance to our modern era which promotes material wellbeing. Thomas Aquinas reminds us to pay attention to our inner life so that it is connected with the amazing evolutionary journey of the Earth.