This debut religious novel fictionalizes the life of Thomas Aquinas.
Just as Italy is becoming a hotly contested battleground between the forces of the pope and those of the Holy Roman Empire, a child is born in 1225 to the landowning Aquino family, whose castle sits on the frontier of these warring states. His mother, Theodora, names the infant after the apostle famous for doubting the risen Jesus: “But flowing through the veins of this infant was the antithesis of doubt. It was soon quite clear that he was endowed with a double portion of the spirit of truth.” Thomas’ education exposes him to ancient philosophers, while an encounter with the Dominicans, a contemporary order, spurs his religious zeal. Despite the disapproval of his mother, Thomas joins the Dominicans. He goes to Paris to continue his studies under Albert the Great, where his silent studiousness earns him the nickname “the Dumb Ox.” In the city’s tempestuous scholastic environment, Thomas begins fusing ancient and Eastern thought with Roman Catholic doctrines, a practice that causes much controversy. Despite his detractors, Thomas’ deep commitment to both reason and faith leads to groundbreaking theology, which will eventually earn him a reputation as one of the church’s greatest scholars and leave an indelible mark on Western philosophy. O’Reilly writes in a breezy but exact prose: “In Viterbo, where Pope Clement IV was living, Thomas preached and offered spiritual sustenance to the pope and the curia, as well as to the Dominicans in his charge, but late into the night he dictated the theological masterpiece, his Summa Theologiae, to several secretaries at once.” The author tells most of the story via exposition, which does not allow Thomas to emerge as a fully formed character. As a result, the book reads less like a novel than a biography. Even so, O’Reilly does an excellent job contextualizing Aquinas within the political, religious, and philosophical battles of his day, making this a pleasantly accessible work for those learning about the theologian for the first time.
A dry but informative examination of an eminent philosopher and theologian.