Of Stouts and Summa

A story of beer, big ideas, and bridging lonely divides.

We sit around a coffee table on wooden pallets, sipping ale, basking in the wafting smell of freshly-baked bread, and the chatter and chuckling dies down to a low murmur. Everyone gazes down at worn, slightly crinkled printouts of paper on which are words written centuries ago by one of the world’s most brilliant minds. There is a slight pause, and then someone begins to read. It’s Tuesday night, a Stouts and Summa night.

After graduating from a small, Thomas Aquinas-driven liberal arts college, two of my roommates began experiencing Aquinas withdrawal and longed to dive deeper into the Summa Theologica. And why not invite others to join in the conversation too? One roommate suggested throwing stouts into the mix. After all, what could be better than combining two of life’s most sublime things—alcohol and philosophy? Hence, “Stouts and Summa” nights were born.

At the time, we were still meeting people in the city, exploring new friendships, and didn’t exactly have a huge pool of people to tap into who we knew would be excited to wrestle with whether God’s existence is self-evident or the nature of prudence.

There was no need to worry, however. Although the inaugural meeting of Stouts and Summa was a modest affair with only a few people, it was a success nonetheless. It is a testament to the power and beauty of truth that it has the ability to draw human beings together and bind their minds, hearts, and souls in community whether they be erudite or not, whether they’re shy and reserved or the life of the party, whether they are young or old. It wasn’t long before word spread, we met more people, and previous guests asked if they could bring friends. What had started out as a fun but uncertain experiment slowly shaped up to become a regular every-other-week occurrence. We’re closing in on the one-year mark, and although we’ve turned to different parts of the Summa and attendants come and go, it never fails to foster great conversation and good times.

People of all intellectual backgrounds show up—we have grad students well versed in the Summa sitting on our secondhand couches alongside those who haven’t read much philosophy at all. We begin with conversation and (of course) beer, read aloud the question we’re currently focusing on, pause for some reflection, and then free and flowing discussion ensues. The evening ends with night prayer.

There are debates, questions, and sometimes bewilderment. But whether we come up with any brilliant insights on a particular night or not, I am always grateful for these interludes of intellectual exchange and friendship. There is wonder and joy in realizing that there are this many other people in this city who desire to cultivate the life of the mind. Stouts and Summa has provided that “What, you too?” moment from which so many great friendships are born.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” We’ve quickly learned through our evenings of Stouts and Summa how true that is. Combining two of these “unnecessary,” things—friendship and philosophy—in our little corner of the city, we’ve stumbled upon a slice of the good and the true in these evenings when we gather for festivity and the exercise of our minds. It has not perhaps made our lives more practical or productive, but certainly more beautiful.


Maria Bonvissuto is an assistant managing editor at a publishing house. An unabashed book and caffeine addict, she can usually be found reading, playing classical guitar, or gallivanting off on an adventure with friends. 

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