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St. Thomas Aquinas: “The Dumb Ox," by G.K. Chesterton

A Micro-Review/Essay

“[W]e must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours.”

I read this book, while a Lutheran, sitting in a convent garden. It’s no wonder I became Catholic. There’s too much common sense in those two men — and this little book — to fit into one skull. The excess flows into the soul. I almost didn’t include any Chesterton in this collection of mini-essays. I could dedicate half of this book to GKC books, which would be a good and edifying task, but then it wouldn’t be a rambling sample of great 20th-century works. So I’m just rambling through three GKC books, one book about GKC, and one Belloc book (gotta touch Belloc). If I had to pick just one GKC book to recommend, I would pick The Dumb Ox. Well, maybe. I guess it’d depend on who was asking. Everything depends on who is asking. Whenever I’m asked a question about how to respond to something or what to read, I ask, “Who’s asking?” If you don’t know the audience, how do you know what to recommend? This is the one immutable truth of social discourse. If you’re ignorant of it, you lack some degree of social grace. This is one of the penetrating insights of this book: the Reformation, which toppled Aquinas from the forefront of our culture’s collective unconscious, never stopped to ask, “Who’s asking?” It just assumed everyone is and always will be a Christian, at least in the West. When that stopped being the case (about sixteen seconds after Luther broke away), Christianity alone stopped being enough to convince people of the soundness of the Faith. But by that point, it was too late. Later on, we got Voltaire and everyone started laughing at us.