I have been inclined to read your commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law for some time, but I have been stumped by a prior question.  I am worried that I cannot understand St. Thomas on law without a better understanding of his thought on politics.  The two go hand in hand, right?  But I know that his commentary on Aristotle’s Politics is really not complete, and what else we have from him (On Kingship, for example) is not extensive either.

So, I guess my question is this: what would you recommend as the proper preparation for assimilating the teaching of the Treatise?  Aristotle's Politics?  Plato?  Leo Strauss?  Alasdair MacIntyre?   Or maybe I have it wrong, and your commentary is sort of sui generis?   Maybe it is a mistake for me to try to situate the ideas fully in a political teaching and so I should just dive in?

Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.


I think it’s fine to begin with St. Thomas, but by all means read the other classical writers too.  Read as much as you can!  Feast on all those riches!  Most people find it better to read the ancient and medieval writers before the moderns, not just because they came first, but also because the moderns forgot so much of what the previous writers wrote and became confused about the rest.  But there is no one way to do this.  The important thing is to jump in and start swimming.  Since you’re drawn to the Angelic Doctor and his views on law, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t dive right into the Treatise.

True, you should read the Treatise in the context of St. Thomas’s other work, but that doesn’t mean you have to read all the other works you mention first.  In fact, I would suggest saving them until later.  His work on kingship is a quirky special-purpose work.  His commentaries on Aristotle are intended to explain Aristotle’s thought, rather than his own.

Yes, secondary sources can be helpful, but even so, I think you should always begin with the author’s own words -- otherwise your baloney meter won’t be calibrated well enough to detect whether the secondary source is helping you or feeding you baloney.  Of course, my own commentary on the Treatise is a secondary source too, so don’t throw away caution!  But in a line-by-line commentary, where you have all of the author’s original words, you can tell more easily whether the commentator is playing tricks with them.  That’s one of the reasons I’m trying to bring this genre of writing back.

Still, if my book doesn’t help you, drop it like a hot potato.  You can always come back to it later.  The same goes for the work of any scholar.