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Catholic Philosopher Chick Makes Her Début
By Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Regina Doman
Chesterton Press, 2012
346 pp.
$20.00 print, $5.00 Kindle

When Cate Frank experiences guy trouble, the former fashionista, recent Catholic convert, and philosophy Ph.D. student at Dominican University of Houston (read: University of Dallas) constructs a scholastic quaestio :

  Q : How am I going to deal with those guys???

Art. 1 : It seems to be out of the question that I would be “destined” to be with any of those chauvinistic pigs.

Obj. 1 : But some of them were rather nice . . . .

Obj. 2 : And then, Sean may be patriarchal, but maybe he is just doing it to put on an act? Also—not that this is relevant, of course—he is pretty easy on the eyes . . . .

On the contrary, it is utterly ridiculous to think that you are destined to be with any of them . . . .

I answer that: . . . it is very, very unlikely that my future would entail a romance with Sean, Justin, Che, Nat, Michael, Garett, or Bartholomew. Even my lively imagination can’t quite see ANYTHING like that unfolding . . . .

Reply to Obj. 1 : But that doesn’t mean niceness is enough. Besides, skinny jeans on men? I think not.

Reply to Obj. 2 : On no occasion has he led me to believe it’s just an act. No doubt there are gaggles of undergrad girls to swarm all over him. Not me. The Next Great Catholic Philosopher does not swarm.

Anybody who has spent time in a graduate program dominated by post-college males, especially budding philosophers or theologians, will recognize the cast of characters the sharp and sassy Cate Frank has to deal with. The plot of this cleverly hacked chick-lit novel hinges on how Cate and some of those males can come to grips with the discrepancy between the wisdom they study and the immature attitudes that motivate most of their interactions. To transform the chick-lit getting-hitched plot into a leaving-behind-childish-things-and-growing-in-practical-wisdom plot, while still remaining deliciously snarky, is no small task, and the authors mostly achieve it.

While some of the episodes are less than compelling to this thirtysomething male reader (e.g., the search for an off-campus rental apartment), the seminar scenes and a climactic disputation on Thomas Aquinas’s views of women surprisingly drive most of the plot and keep the pages turning. Cate must prove her mettle in “The Suminar,” a year-long intensive seminar on Thomas’s Summa Theologica . Her fellow students live in fear, awe, and adoration of Dr. Hastings, who “started out by giving us some background which, he added, he didn’t think we ought to need, but which perhaps we did, and maybe we were ashamed to ask certain questions, and perhaps we should be ashamed, but that was no reason to remain in ignorance.” The eminent Thomist’s mixture of hauteur and delight in his grad students emerges with the perfectly exaggerated comic touch that characterizes David Lodge’s masterful academic creations. Like Lodge, too, the authors manage to enlighten their readers in the academic subjects their characters study.

Readers caught up in the suspense that develops around the proper interpretation of Thomas’s infamous remark that “the female is a misbegotten male” will learn a great deal about Aristotelian biology and the personalist interpretation of Thomas, even as they experience why medieval scholastic disputes could draw large, raucous crowds. I’m cheering for the fun to continue when Cate gets her first tenure-track job at the University of Our Lady of the Rust Belt.

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