What is the relationship between charity and knowledge in the theology of Thomas Aquinas? Did Aquinas, in his mature thought, portray charity’s act as antecedent to and independent of practical reasoning? Did he view charity’s motion as rendering us morally good before God, apart from whether or not we do what is right in our actions? A dominant stream in contemporary Catholic ethics holds for precisely such a concept of charity, and many recent commentators on Aquinas maintain that this is his position as well. According to Michael S. Sherwin however, the contrary is in fact the case.
By Knowledge and By Love is a major contribution to Thomistic moral theology and philosophy by providing a thoughtful examination of Aquinas’ psychology of action and his theology of charity. Through a comprehensive analysis of the relation between intellect and will, knowledge and love, and charity and the infused intellectual virtues, Sherwin concludes that, far from divorcing the will from reason, Aquinas in his later works integrates reason and will more closely together.
Saint Augustine says, “No one can love what he does not know.” According to Sherwin, Aquinas holds that God’s grace respects and elevates this dynamic in the gift of charity, which depends on faith’s knowledge, and on the knowledge provided by the other infused cognitive virtues and gifts. Charity is a virtue, and like any virtue its acts require some knowledge of their object. Sherwin argues that not only is this a faithful reading of Aquinas, it also has profound implications for any conception of moral development. The role of a mentoring community, the characteristics of friendship with God, and the specific actions required by love all play a part in Sherwin's analysis.
By Knowledge and by Love is as readable as it is learned. Serenely and evenhandedly, Michael Sherwin leads us to see how, for St. Thomas, charity is both a matter and a mover of choice; how, being free, it must be intelligible; how, enlivening the heart, it must also steer counsel and rectify conduct. There should be no more talk of a Thomas who detaches will from reason.
—Stephen L. Brock, professor of Medieval philosophy, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross
Sherwin’s work makes important contributions to contemporary Christian ethics. . . . He examines, in a new way, various resources throughout Thomas’ corpus and presents a helpful synthesis of his considered position as expressed in the Summa theologiae.
—Stephen J. Pope, professor of theology, Boston College
This text reminds the reader of the continued importance of Aquinas’ work for contemporary considerations of the moral life.
—Mary Jo Iozzio, Theological Studies
Michael S. Sherwin, OP, is associate professor of fundamental moral theology at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland.