Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Il Trionfo

I had a great idea for a philosophical essay on Thomas Aquinas last night. There is a whole series of paintings from various artists (largely Italian Renaissance) on the theme of 'The Triumph of St. Thomas'. The idea of such paintings is to portray symbolically Aquinas's impressive achievement in synthesizing Christian thought while correcting non-Christian thought. The usual way of doing it is to set Aquinas on a magisterial throne in the center of the painting, holding a book with some significant quotation (either from him or from Scripture), angels singing above his head, saints around him (usually Evangelists and Church Fathers) as signs of his Christian influences, and at his feet, either in a pose of defeated abjection or in one of learning, the non-Christian thinkers (Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, Maimonides, etc.) he makes use of and adapts.

It occurred to me that one could write an excellent introductory essay along the same thematic lines--the literary counterpart to painting's 'Triumph of St. Thomas'. In fact, I think one reason that Chesterton's biography of Aquinas is so impressive is that it at times approaches this sort of richly detailed and symbolic portrayal. (See also this short essay.)

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