Exploring Aquinas with the help of Reinhard Hutter

In Dust Bound for Heaven: Explorations in the Theology of Thomas Aquinas, pp. 20-25, Reinhard Hutter provides an immensely helpful and insightful list of books for those interested in further explorations of St. Thomas Aquinas:
For those readers who come as neophytes to the thought of Thomas, the following invitation to further explorations should serve as a beginner’s guide to his philosophy and theology, a beginner’s guide that gradually progresses to some more substantive and demanding interpretations of Thomas that are most helpful. For those readers already more advanced in their encounter with Thomas’s teaching and for those who would call themselves Thomists, the more demanding among the following list of studies simply indicate among a much larger body of Aquinas scholarship those works to which I am most gratefully indebted.

The best popular introduction to Thomas’s life and work remains G. K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas (2009) and the best recent scholarly introduction is Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., Saint Thomas Aquinas, Volume 1: The Person and His Work (2005). For a lovely, accessible, yet still profound paraphrase of the Summa theologiae in pocket size, the reader might turn to Walter Farrell, O.P., and Martin J. Healy, My Way of Life: Pocket Edition of St. Thomas: The Summa Simplified for Everyone (1952).

The most accessible and concise introduction to Thomas’s philosophy is Edward Feser, Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide (2009), to Thomas’s theology is Michael Dauphinais and Matthew Levering, Knowing the Love of Christ: An Introduction to the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas (2002), to Thomas’s ethics is Paul Wadell, The Primacy of Love: An Introduction to the Ethics of Thomas Aquinas (1992), and to Thomas’s masterwork, the Summa theologiae, is Jean-Pierre Torrell, O.P., Aquinas’s Summa: Background, Structure, and Reception (2005). An exceedingly helpful resource to Thomas’s theology for beginners is Joseph P. Wawrykow, The Westminster Handbook to Thomas Aquinas (2005). Those readers who want to get an exposure to Thomas’s theology under the guidance of leading contemporary Aquinas scholars should turn to The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, edited by Rik Van Nieuwenhove and Joseph Wawrykow (2005). For a brief, concise, and lucid account of the remarkable history of reception, interpretation, defense, and application of Thomas’s thought in the course of the more than seven centuries since his death, students of Thomas should turn to Romanus Cessario, O.P., A Short History of Thomism (2005). For a useful guide into various aspects of Thomas’s philosophical thought that organizes his theology, the beginner might turn to The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas, edited by Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump (1993). For a first introduction into Thomas’s metaphysics that is as accessible as it is lucid, one can hardly do better than to avail oneself of W. Norris Clarke, S.J., The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (2001).

For a balanced and lucid overview of and solid introduction to all topics treated in the Summa theologiae, the student of Thomas’s thought might first want to consult Brian Davies, O.P., The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (1992). However, the reader who is looking for guides to the most central treatises of Thomas’s masterpiece will find excellent guidance from the following studies, which are not listed alphabetically but along the lines of the order of teaching (ordo disciplinae) the Summa theologiae unfolds.

On the First Part of the Summa:

On the First of the Second Part of the Summa:

On the Second of the Second Part of the Summa:

On the Third Part of the Summa:

To assist the reader in grasping Aquinas' philosophy (without which his theology "cannot be adequately understood, let alone appreciated"), Hutter offers the following recommendations:

The most thorough historical-genetic treatment of Thomas’s philosophy is John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being (2000). The best account to see Thomas’ metaphysics concretely at work in a conceptual reconstruction of its main moves would be Lawrence Dewan, O.P., Form and Being (2006). Eleonore Stump, Aquinas (2003), offers an excellent treatment of Thomas’s thought, primarily his philosophy, but also aspects of his theology, that is directed to a readership influenced by analytic philosophy and the natural sciences. Inspired by an Aristotelian-Thomist integration of natural philosophy and metaphysics, Benedict M. Ashley, O.P., in his opus magnum, The Way toward Wisdom: An Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Introduction to Metaphysics (2006), offers an impressive demonstration of how the pursuit of philosophical wisdom along the lines of Thomas — metaphysics as meta-science — allows a comprehensive vision of all human sciences in a coherent and expansive framework. Jacques Maritain’s earlier and in many ways unsurpassed classic, Distinguish to Unite or The Degrees of Knowledge (1995), offers an even more expansive framework of Thomist epistemology: from the knowledge conveyed by the senses to natural philosophy and natural science, from there to metaphysical knowledge and theological knowledge, and finally to mystical knowledge. And in order to find out why indeed Thomism as a coherent intellectual tradition of philosophical discourse and inquiry proves superior to modern and postmodern modes of such discourse and inquiry, one cannot do better than turn to think through the argument advanced in what has become a classic in a very brief time: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Gifford Lectures, Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry: Tradition, Encyclopaedia, Genealogy (1990). Another set of expanded Gifford Lectures offers a brilliant and spirited defense of Thomas’s understanding of philosophical wisdom. No other recent work will help the interested reader better to understand why natural theology was absolutely indispensable to Thomas’s overall theological project than Ralph McInerny, Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers (2006). For a contemporary restatement of Thomas’s natural theology that addresses and rebuts the criticisms against natural theology raised by Kant and Heidegger, one best turns to the lucidly argued book by Thomas Joseph White, O.P., Wisdom in the Face of Modernity: A Study in Thomistic Natural Theology (2009).

Those who want to find out — contrary to recent rumors — why Thomas’s philosophy is far from dead but intensely engaged by contemporary analytic philosophers might want to consult John Haldane (ed.), Mind, Metaphysics, and Value in Thomistic and Analytic Traditions (2002), John P. O’Callaghan, Thomist Realism and the Linguistic Turn: Toward a More Perfect Form of Existence (2003), Craig Paterson and Matthew Pugh, Analytical Thomism (2006), and David S. Oderberg, Real Essentialism (2007). For an instructive and very broad-minded Thomist engagement of philosophy as presently practiced in America, one might turn to Thomas Hibbs, Aquinas, Ethics, and Philosophy of Religion: Metaphysics and Practice (2007), and for learning to appreciate the ongoing relevance of Thomas’s doctrine of natural law for contemporary political and legal theory and for the practice of law-making, the reader will profit immensely from Russell Hittinger, The First Grace: Rediscovering the Natural Law in a PostChristian World (2003) and from J. Budziszewski, The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction (2009).

For those readers who are interested to find out how Thomas’s theology inspires and informs the work of contemporary theologians, they might want to turn to Ressourcement Thomism: Sacred Doctrine, the Sacraments, and the Moral Life, edited by Reinhard Hütter and Matthew Levering (2010) and to The Analogy of Being: Invention of the Antichrist or the Wisdom of God?, edited by Thomas Joseph White, O.P. (2011).

By the time the reader has reached this point of the introduction it might have dawned upon him or her that this kind of invitation to a deeper exploration of Thomas’s philosophical and theological thought might presuppose a more encompassing intellectual reorientation and reeducation. Such a reader is well advised to take advantage of two rather unique books, one as precious as the other: A. G. Sertillanges, O.P., The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods (1980), and Josef Pieper, Leisure — The Basis of Culture (1998).

Steven A. Long on De Lubac: a theological instance of "destroying the village in order to save it"

What was to be Henri de Lubac’s response to the distinction of nature from grace as it functioned within the anomalous context of the exile of God from the natural world and from the nature of human agency? Reading the de Lubac of The Drama of Atheist Humanism, it becomes perfectly clear that he was well acquainted with anti-theism and the banishing of God from history through the unreasoning exaltation of matter, or will, or reason. He was also intimately aware of the dilemma of human freedom in a world that, like a mausoleum, enclosed its inhabitants in a lofty and impenetrable solitude or, alternately, offered release solely through alienating extroversion. To a Christian man of such profound vision and cultural sensitivity as well as historical awareness, it cannot have been other than ravishingly tempting utterly to contradict the naturalist reduction with one working in a different and Christian direction, asserting a natural desire for intrinsically supernatural beatitude. The dynamism of man himself would be taken not only as pointed ad Deum but as aspirationally projected within the Triune life of God Himself. Neither positivism nor scientism nor any of the other "isms" seeking to confine man within the terrestrial cage and to reduce the human mystery to a problem of naturalist flow-dynamics would gain any purchase over this starting point for the Christian apologetic, for this apologetic would be nothing other than the answer to the question: "What is man?"

In the face of such crushing cultural, ideological, and philosophic adversity, the distinctions contemplated and honed within baroque scholasticism—that revelation reveals man to himself with respect to his deeper destiny in grace, but not primarily or properly with respect to human nature as such (of which one has connatural awareness and potential natural wisdom) but rather medicinally — could hardly seem decisive. Against the anti - theists—Marx, Nietzsche, and the rest — de Lubac would rely upon teleology. Almost alone amidst contemporaries for whom teleology defined nothing, de Lubac would overstress teleology, making of the finis ultimus of intrinsically supernatural beatific vision the very natural end of man, and denying that human nature is placed in its species — as Aquinas expressly asserts that it is — by its natural and proportionate end as distinct from the supernatural beatific end.

The convergent implication of secular and Molinist thought seems indeed to be the loss of nature and natural order as theonomic principles, and the loss of natural law as nothing else than a participation of eternal law. Once this theonomic character of natural order and natural law are lost, then sustaining the distinction of nature and grace simply formalizes the boundaries consequent upon the loss of God. One may say safely, from this repose of distance in time, that de Lubac was correct in seeking the answer in teleology, and correct again in seeking an answer that would once more establish the theonomic character of natural order. While he was incorrect in supposing that natural teleology in itself could be shoehorned into or equated with a supernatural trajectory, it was precisely his instinct that the theonomic character of nature needed to be preserved that led him to attempt this defense in a manner that unwittingly falsifies nature itself. This turning of nature into a vacuole fit only for supernatural beatitude even apart from grace and revelation paradoxically completed the ontological evacuation of nature to which de Lubac was in part responding. Perhaps this is the clearest theological instance of "destroying the village in order to save it," but it still does not constitute a sufficient answer to the negation of the theonomic character of natural law and, more widely, of natural order. It also manifests a lack of that radical providentialist trust in the specifically natural that demarcates the theological vision of St. Thomas from those who are prone to assume that the natural in its own right must be a zone without the divine governance, and so needing to be as theologically minimized as possible. That is, it manifests despair in seeking to re-achieve the theonomic character of natural order by draining the natural of its own distinctive finality and intelligibility. It is not the first time that a physician unintentionally has communicated the plague he nobly sought to resist.

-- Steven A. Long, Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace (Fordham UP, 2010) pp. 42-44.

Christopher Smith: "Anglophone theologians engage De Lubac for the twenty first century"

Christopher Smith, graduate of the University of Navarra has made available online the sixth chapter of his doctoral thesis, "Surnaturel Revisited Henri De Lubac’s Theology of the Supernatural in Contemporary Theology" -- together with the introduction, contents and bibliography. The scope is impressive, covering everything from the original controversy over the publication of De Lubac's Surnaturel to revisitations of the subject from 1980-2010, including the groundbreaking publication of Feingold's The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters , the critical reaction of John Milbank, and the contributions of Reinhard Hutter and Stephen Long.
As the 2000 Colloquium at the Institut Catholique in Toulouse on de Lubac and the supernatural came to a successful conclusion, little did its participants know that the fraternal dialogue that characterized their conference would soon be followed by a debate the proportions of which can compare to what happened after the initial publication of Surnaturel. As the interventions were prepared for a double issue of Revue thomiste to appear the next year, an American student was preparing a doctoral defense that would spark this renewed debate. While many theologians had long cast the supernatural question and De Lubac into the dustbin, contemporary Thomists of the Toulousian School, and the heirs apparent of the nouvelle théologie in the so-called Communio school of theologians, had come to a modus vivendi which integrated much of De Lubac’s thought into mainstream Catholic theology. Lawrence Feingold, who prepared his thesis under Alfonso Chacón (b. 1952) and Stephen Brock (b. 1957), at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome, was about to challenge the delicate status quo in a way which for many entered the stage of theological drama as a character foreign to the developing plot line, a ghost of theologies past, and irresistible to watch. … Read more

Read Chapter 6, Anglophone theologians engage De Lubac for the twenty first century.

Reflections on Steven Long's "Natura Pura"

Andrew Greenwell (of the blog Lex Christianorum) has been reading Steven Long and offers a number of posts on Steven Long's Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace (Fordham UP, 2010):
  • Natura Pura: Human Nature Unaided (02/16/11):
    Grace presupposes nature, and perfection supposes something that can be perfected."* So succinctly does St. Thomas distinguish grace and human nature so as to immediately recombine them. But there is a marked tendency among some contemporary theologians, those of la nouvelle théologie, to so emphasize grace as to virtually negate any meaning in the notion of human nature. Ultimately, this tendency is derived from a notion of "nature" which is bereft of any theonomic character,** and one far less ontologically dense than what St. Thomas had in mind by the concept of "nature." ...
  • Natura Pura: Misunderstanding St. Thomas: Source Texts (02/17/11):
    Renaissance or Cajetanian corruptions to the genuine teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas is how the Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac interpreted the received Thomistic teaching on human nature and divine grace. In fact, it was not Renaissance or Cajetanian corruptions in the received teaching, but the "modern presumptions" in de Lubac's notions of nature that steered him wrong. ...
  • Natura Pura: St. Thomas in a Nutshell, Part I (02/18/11).

  • Natura Pura: St. Thomas in a Nutshell, Part II (02/19/11).

  • Balaam's Ass and Stained Glass: The Concept of Specific Obediential Potency:
    The notion of obendiential potency is a central concept to traditional Christian anthropology. Man's nature--that which defines him specifically--is in potency to supernatural grace, a potency which is actualized by the obedience of faith and all such obedience of faith entails (e.g., baptism). De Lubac appears to have limited his notion of obediential potency as "susceptibility to miracle," which is one manner in which the term was used by scholastics, including St. Thomas himself. But de Lubac seems to disregard, nay, in fact reject,* the concept in its other sense, that is as the conceptual carrier for "the fundamental question of the relation of nature to grace." Long, 28. (In this latter sense, to distinguish it from its former generic sense, it is often called "specific obediential potency.") According to Long, the same tendentiousness is found in the Thomist Etienne Gilson for whom the concept of obediential potency "was tantamount to the idea of a mere extrinsic and miraculous transmutation of nature." Long, 28.

    Restricted to the sense of susceptability to miracle, the concept of "obediential potentiality" is clearly deficient to explain the relationship between human nature and the supernatural life. There is a huge difference between Balaam's ass speaking (a miraculous transmutation of asinine nature) and man's capax Dei, his natural capacity to be receptive to, and elevated by the divine aid and "speak in tongues" so to speak. If kept to this denotation alone, it is an inadequate carrier of that relationship. If man were transmuted by grace, he would no longer be man. If man was not man until he was transmuted by grace, then he would not have been man before. But what is remarkable is the rejection of both Gilson and de Lubac of the term "obediential potency" as the concept of man's passive receptivity to divine grace. It was as if these two greats had never read St. Thomas!

  • The Plunder of Nature: Outside and Inside the Household (02/22/11).

  • Toward a Recapture of Nature in its Fullness (02/23/11).

  • Balthasar's Theological Vacuole, Part I (02/25/11). "Even the redoubtable Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar,* unquestionably one of the great Catholic theologians of the 20th century, shared in de Lubac's error on the distinction between nature and grace."

  • Balthasar's Theological Vacuole, Part II (02/26/11).
  • Balthasar's Theological Vacuole, Part III (02/27/11). "There is a tendency towards reductionism of nature in Hans Urs von Balthasar's understanding of nature within the greater question the nature/supernature complex."

  • Balthasar's Theological Vacuole, Part IV (02/28/11). "Hans Urs von Balthasar appears to have been convinced that the concept of pure nature had to be abandoned as an inadequate theological concept. In his book on the theology of Karl Barth, he sets forth his understanding of the Catholic position on the nature/supernature complex, but his understanding of it appears to deviate from the inherited Thomistic synthesis."

  • Balthasar's Theological Vacuole, Part V (03/01/11). Balthasar ranks himself within the historical range of prior efforts at defining the relationship between nature and grace. He views himself as a within the moderate wing, but what is really telling is that he puts the traditional Thomistic teaching at the extreme."

  • Pura Natura Persona Non Grata Est: Unwanted Nature (03/02/11).

Rusty Reno: "Theology after the Revolution"

A trenchant observation from Rusty Reno, reviewing Fergus Kerr's Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians:
Henri de Lubac’s most important contribution to Catholic theology was a sustained analysis of the relation between nature and grace. In the 1930s he argued that standard theologies of the neoscholastic tradition used a metaphysically rigid, dualistic account of human destiny that ironically confirmed rather than overcame the modern suspicion that our everyday lives and concerns (nature) have no intrinsic contact with or need for the life of faith (grace). Instead of overcoming the dualisms that have tended to drive modern thought and life toward contrastive and fruitless antinomies, neoscholasticism unwittingly absorbed the tendency into itself.

When de Lubac claimed that the fundamental structure of neoscholasticism was a covert form of modernism, he was making a direct attack on the modes of theology that dominated the Church in the first half of the twentieth century. Not surprisingly, he became a suspect character in the eyes of church authorities. In the 1950s he was silenced by his superiors in the Society of Jesus.

One would think that, as a result, de Lubac would have embraced the spirit of innovation that flourished after Vatican II. He did not. Near the end of his life he wrote a small and bitter book, Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace. In its pages he sought to address what he regarded as a fundamental misunderstanding of his basic insights, and its main thrust is a defense of the core theological judgments of the neoscholastic tradition he spent his life criticizing.

The message is clear: Readers cannot understand Henri de Lubac’s theology of nature and grace unless they know and accept the basic outlines of classical Thomistic theology. Thus the paradox, once again. By the 1980s, Henri de Lubac, the great critic of dry and dusty neoscholasticism, saw that the younger generation needed to be catechized into the standard, baseline commitments of Catholic theology. Ressourcement does not work if students have neither context nor framework in which to place the richness and depth of the tradition. Like Lonergan, de Lubac is characteristic of the Heroic Generation: He helped destroy the theological culture that, however inadequate, provided the context for a proper understanding of his generation’s lasting achievements.

"Theology after the Revolution" First Things May 2007.

Richard J. Neuhaus: "Odium theologicum"

From the late Richard J. Neuhaus, First Things (June 2007):
Odium theologicum — the ill-feeling and nasty polemics to which theological controversy can give rise—is in short supply. I don’t mean ordinary nastiness in disagreements over religion. I mean the high panache of distinguished theologians going at one another. Reinhard Hütter of Duke Divinity School offers a robust example in the theological journal Nova et Vetera. He is provoked by an attack by John Milbank, prefect of a school of thought self-dubbed Radical Orthodoxy, on a book by Lawrence Feingold in which Feingold defends traditional Thomist teaching on nature and grace. Milbank said Feingold’s argument is “arch-reactionary,” “paleolithic,” and dependent on exegetical methods “much like that of the proof-texting of a Protestant fundamentalist.” This gets Hütter up to speed: “The associations seem to be all too clear to leave any doubt about the purpose of such antecedent rhetorical disqualification. Anyone willing seriously to consider Feingold’s arguments (and for that matter Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s interpretation of Thomas Aquinas), by the sheer dynamic of the connotations entailed, must be a supporter of the Spanish Inquisition, a defender of the Papal States, and an admirer of the Franco, Vichy, and Pinochet regimes in addition to anything else implied by association as arch-reactionary. It is sad to see such an astute and critical mind as Milbank’s submit in such as unnuanced and uncritical way to the thoroughly modern political geography of ‘left’ and ‘right’ in order to situate and prejudice matters doctrinal and theological, a habit, surely by now as widespread in contemporary theology as it is thoughtless, and achieving nothing else than comfortably condemning matters of theological enquiry and discourse to the Procrustean bed of a policing political correctness and hence of the final domestication of matters ecclesial and theological under the extrinsically superimposed rubrics of political liberalism.” Whew, that felt good. In truth, Hütter’s article is substantive, incisive, and persuasive, and I recommend it to the theologically minded. What you will not learn from the article, and what he had no reason to mention, is that Hütter is a former Lutheran who became Catholic a few years ago, and what he does not come right out and say in the article is that the traditional understanding of Thomas Aquinas on nature and grace is essential to what the sixteenth-century Reformers, at their best, meant by sola gratia.


Reinhard Hütter. "Desiderium Naturale Visionis Dei—Est autem duplex hominis beatitudo sive felicitas: Some Observations about Lawrence Feingold’s and John Milbank’s Recent Interventions in the Debate over the Natural Desire to See God." 81-132. Nova Et Vetera Vol 5, Issue 1 - Winter 2007.

Mulcahy on Milbank

I particularly appreciate Mulcahy's Aquinas's Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac for its demonstration of how De Lubac's criticism of pure nature has, carried to its logical conclusions, culminated in the "integralist revolution" of John Milbank, leading proponent of Radical Orthodoxy.

Mulcahy begins with an examination of the political origins of Radical Orthodoxy in Marxist theory and anti-Thatcherism (its hostility refocusing on the "neoimperialist" and "relatively genocidal" United States of America post-9/11). Originally Marxist in tone, Mulcahy observes how Milbank's vision of society has become exclusively theological -- endorsing socialism as not only the creed of "all sane, rational human beings" but as the vehicle by which the peace of the Church [is going to be] mediated to and established in the entire human community."

Maculhy also demonstrates Milbank's increasing receptivity to theocracy -- or rather "democraticed, anarchic theocracy": small, self-sustaining communities "Eucharistic in form, with a liturgical rhythm and a spiritual motivation pervading its system of peaceful sharing." Granted, Milbank does not pretend to know how it would be established.

Maculhy then addresses Milbank's interpretation of De Lubac as the basis for the "integralist revolution" (the notion that Vatican II enacted a "new theology of grace", recognizing that “in concrete, historical humanity there is no such thing as a state of ‘pure nature’. ... with the consequence that one cannot analytically separate ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ contributions to this integral unity.”)

If "everything is grace", nothing is truly secular. To regard philosophy, politics, science and culture as non-theological or possessing "autonomous and immanent secular realms" is tantamount to heresy, against which RO marshals itself in resistance via engagement in radical Christian politics. (Indeed, Milbank indicts De Lubac and Balthasar for being deficient in their "aversion to the secular order" [photographic evidence!]):

RO views any self-limiting theology—all liberal theology—as colluding in its own marginalisation. Radical Orthodoxy intends to reverse this marginalisation by proclaiming theology’s true scope, and by insisting on theology’s relevance in determining the validity of all modes of human discourse. The establishment of the commanding position of theology over all other modes of knowledge, and in regard to all other scholarly and scientific discourse, will thus be a step toward the building of a new Christian modernity. The hope of RO is that this new modernity will be one in which divine wisdom and peace reign over all.
But how, exactly, is the marginalization of theology to be countered? -- for while Pope Benedict might lament the "de-Hellenization" of academia (the attempt by scholars to separate Christianity from Greek philosophical thought), RO abandons reason and objective truth altogether, relinquishing itself to the postmodern depiction of Christianity as a "communal narrative", one among many, howbeit claiming to trump all others as "the narrative of The Word Incarnate":
Given such an exalted Christian claim, namely, that Christian discourse alone enacts and represents the divine Word, how are this discourse’s truth claims to be recognized as true in the Christian community of faith? The idea of objective verification or falsification has, in RO’s judgement, been discredited. The answer is that Christianity “out-narrates” any rival discourse. This is to imply that the Christian story, enacted in the community of faith, has a beauty and luminosity which other discourses lack. As a result, it exerts an aesthetic appeal on those touched by it. Once the attractiveness of the divine beauty is experienced, no other arguments or evidence need be considered. Rather, the very suggestion that such other forms of evidence could be considered is a relic of epistemological naïveté. The Christian story “claims no foundation for the truth of Christianity beyond the compelling vision of the story and of the vision it sustains.”
There is no question of apologetics, of natural law, of rational persuasion, of any marriage of reason and faith -- all that's left is the aesthetic appeal of Christianity.

There is no denying that "the heart has its reasons, which reason knows nothing of" (Pascal); that converts have been won over by the beauty of Christianity, moved by the witness of its martyrs and the lives of its saints. And I can certainly get behind people like Gregory Wolfe, and his belief that "beauty will save the world" -- that art, literature and the fruits of imagination can become the wellsprings to cultural renewal, providing enrichment to public discourse and cultivating a receptiveness towards the truth where ideology and politics cannot. But Radical Orthodoxy doesn't appear to be proclaiming just that -- rather, it gives up on truth and reason altogether. Mulcahy again:

RO vigourously sets itself to reclaim a comprehensive, Christ-centred vision. But such a vision may also invite self deception. Its ostensible discrediting of correspondence theories of truth is, I would suggest, no more than apparent. Our personal vision may be tested against publicly known realities, against the truth not only of Scripture, ecclesial authority, and tradition, but also of wisdom and learning wherever these are to be found. Such an openness to truth cannot consist in collapsing everything into the doctrine of the incarnation, or into Christ’s Eucharistic presence. If it is to serve the world, and even if it is to save the world, doctrine must live with the distinctions between grace and nature, even if it refines them in new ways. If “everything is grace,” as RO would understand it, then Christianity departs for an enclave which must become ever more remote. If, on the other hand, “not everything is grace,” if there is room for the notion of pure nature, then there are vast possibilities for communication between Church and world, and between faith and all human disciplines—to the benefit of all concerned. Methodological arrogance is hardly a necessary quality of a genuinely incarnational theology.

* * *

Returning finally to the topic of Aquinas, Radical Orthodoxy purportedly adopts and expounds upon De Lubac's account of Thomism. However, if recent studies have indicated that De Lubac's understanding of Aquinas was found to be wanting, this defect is apparently by no means an impediment to Radical Orthodoxy. While Maculhy finds that "Milbank has not yet written in any detailed way on the history of Thomism, nor has he been engaged in a close reading of Thomistic texts", this has not deterred Milbank from co-authoring a book with Catherine Pitstock on Truth and Aquinas in which they expound on Aquinas' "theory of knowledge."

The impression is clearly given that for Mulcahy -- and I would imagine for most anybody who adheres to prevailing norms of academic scholarship, rational discourse and validation -- the very act of reading Milbank is itself a recipe for exasperation. Consider the following:

The word "interpretation" must be emphasised and explained when it comes to Milbank’s treatment of Aquinas. As one who rejects "accepted secular standards of scientific truth or normative rationality" and denies that truth is a correspondence between the intellect and extra-mental reality, Milbank insists that "the point [of theology] is not to represent ... externality, but just to join in its occurrence; not to know, but to intervene, originate." Accordingly, his recourse to Aquinas is not a work of exegesis, but a project of creative expression: “exegesis is easy; it is interpretation that is difficult, and Aquinas, more than most thinkers, requires interpretation." This explains why Milbank holds that, even if the actual text of St Thomas "appear[s] incontrovertibly to refute my reading," that reading itself should not be subjected to conventional scholarly critique. ...

This ostensibly post-modern approach to sources has predictably occasioned intense criticism. Informed scholars have described Radical Orthodoxy’s interpretations as "gnostic idealism," "blithely imprecise, ideologically driven historical revisionism," "free-floating, self-perpetuating insularity", "opaque [sentences] drifting [in] conceptual murkiness", "sophistical legerdemain," "blatant misreading ... that ignores the ordinary canons of scholarly enquiry," and "[not] just wrong, [but] laughable, though not amusing." Milbank’s vague and sometimes even inaccurate footnotes do not help his cause.

In Milbank’s defence, one can say only that RO had disclaimed the canons of scholarly objectivity and verifiable accuracy right from the beginning. Radical Orthodoxy sets itself to challenge all settled theological opinion, and pretends no dialogical relationship with other views or types of rationality. When considering Milbank’s interpretation of St Thomas, the best approach, one might suggest, is to recognise it as something akin to an interpretive dance. It displays an inherently subjective approach, and, in effect, purports to be nothing else. Scholarship of an objective kind must be sought elsewhere.