Who was Thomas Aquinas?
Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) was an Italian Dominican priest, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, within which he is also known as the "Dumb Ox", "Angelic Doctor", "Doctor Communis", and "Doctor Universalis". "Aquinas" is the demonym of Aquino: Thomas came from one of the noblest families of the Kingdom of Naples; his parents held the titles "Count of Aquino" and "Countess of Teano."
He was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology, and the father of Thomism. His influence on Western thought is considerable, and much of modern philosophy was conceived in development or refutation of his ideas, particularly in the areas of ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory. Thomas is held in the Roman Catholic Church to be the model teacher for those studying for the priesthood, and indeed the highest expression of both natural reason and speculative theology.
The study of his works, according to papal and magisterial documents, is a core of the required program of study for those seeking ordination as priests or deacons, as well as for those in religious formation and for other students of the sacred disciplines (Catholic philosophy, theology, history, liturgy, and canon law). The works for which he is best-known are the Summa theologiae and the Summa Contra Gentiles. One of the 35 Doctors of the Church, he is considered the Church's greatest theologian and philosopher. Pope Benedict XV declared: "This (Dominican) Order ... acquired new luster when the Church declared the teaching of Thomas to be her own and that Doctor, honored with the special praises of the Pontiffs, the master and patron of Catholic schools."
Theology of Thomas Aquinas
Thomas viewed theology, or the sacred doctrine, as a science, the raw material data of which consists of written scripture and the tradition of the Catholic Church. These sources of data were produced by the self-revelation of God to individuals and groups of people throughout history. Faith and reason, while distinct but related, are the two primary tools for processing the data of theology.
Thomas believed both were necessary — or, rather, that the confluence of both was necessary — for one to obtain true knowledge of God. Thomas blended Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine by suggesting that rational thinking and the study of nature, like revelation, were valid ways to understand truths pertaining to God.
According to Thomas, God reveals himself through nature, so to study nature is to study God. The ultimate goals of theology, in Thomas's mind, are to use reason to grasp the truth about God and to experience salvation through that truth.
Thomas believed that truth is known through reason (natural revelation) and faith (supernatural revelation). Supernatural revelation has its origin in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and is made available through the teaching of the prophets, summed up in Holy Scripture, and transmitted by the Magisterium, the sum of which is called "Tradition". Natural revelation is the truth available to all people through their human nature and powers of reason. For example, he felt this applied to rational ways to know the existence of God.
Though one may deduce the existence of God and his Attributes (Unity, Truth, Goodness, Power, Knowledge) through reason, certain specifics may be known only through the special revelation of God in Jesus Christ. The major theological components of Christianity, such as the Trinity and the Incarnation, are revealed in the teachings of the Church and the Scriptures and may not otherwise be deduced.
Faith and reason complement rather than contradict each other, each giving different views of the same Truth.
As a Catholic, Thomas believed that God is the "maker of heaven and earth, of all that is visible and invisible." Like Aristotle, Thomas posited that life could form from non-living material or plant life, a theory of ongoing abiogenesis known as spontaneous generation:
Since the generation of one thing is the corruption of another, it was not incompatible with the first formation of things, that from the corruption of the less perfect the more perfect should be generated. Hence animals generated from the corruption of inanimate things, or of plants, may have been generated then.
Additionally, Thomas considered Empedocles' theory that various mutated species emerged at the dawn of Creation. Thomas reasoned that these species were generated through mutations in animal sperm, and argued that they were not unintended by nature; rather, such species were simply not intended for perpetual existence. That discussion is found in his commentary on Aristotle's Physics:
The same thing is true of those substances which Empedocles said were produced at the beginning of the world, such as the ‘ox-progeny’, i.e., half ox and half man. For if such things were not able to arrive at some end and final state of nature so that they would be preserved in existence, this was not because nature did not intend this [a final state], but because they were not capable of being preserved. For they were not generated according to nature, but by the corruption of some natural principle, as it now also happens that some monstrous offspring are generated because of the corruption of seed.
Augustine of Hippo agreed strongly with the conventional wisdom of his time, that Christians should be pacifists philosophically, but that they should use defense as a means of preserving peace in the long run. For example, he routinely argued that pacifism did not prevent the defence of innocents. In essence, the pursuit of peace might require fighting to preserve it in the long-term. Such a war must not be preemptive, but defensive, to restore peace.
Thomas Aquinas, centuries later, used the authority of Augustine's arguments in an attempt to define the conditions under which a war could be just. He laid these out in his historic work, Summa Theologica:
First, war must occur for a good and just purpose rather than the pursuit of wealth or power. Second, just war must be waged by a properly instituted authority such as the state. Third, peace must be a central motive even in the midst of violence.
The School of Salamanca
The School of Salamanca expanded Aquinas' understanding of natural law and just war. Given that war is one of the worst evils suffered by mankind, the adherents of the School reasoned that it ought to be resorted to only when it was necessary to prevent an even greater evil. A diplomatic agreement is preferable, even for the more powerful party, before a war is started. Examples of "just war" are:
In self-defense, as long as there is a reasonable possibility of success. If failure is a foregone conclusion, then it is just a wasteful spilling of blood.
Preventive war against a tyrant who is about to attack.
War to punish a guilty enemy.
A war is not legitimate or illegitimate simply based on its original motivation: it must comply with a series of additional requirements:
The response must be commensurate to the evil; more violence than is strictly necessary would be unjust.
Governing authorities declare war, but their decision is not sufficient cause to begin a war. If the people oppose a war, then it is illegitimate. The people have a right to depose a government that is waging, or is about to wage, an unjust war.
Once war has begun, there remain moral limits to action. For example, one may not attack innocents or kill hostages.
The belligerents must exhaust all options for dialogue and negotiation before undertaking a war; war is only legitimate as a last resort.
Under this doctrine, expansionist wars, wars of pillage, wars to convert infidels or pagans, and wars for glory are all inherently unjust.
Nature of God
Thomas believed that the existence of God is self-evident in itself, but not to us. "Therefore I say that this proposition, "God exists," of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject.... Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature — namely, by effects."
Thomas believed that the existence of God can be proven. In the Summa theologiae, he considered in great detail five arguments for the existence of God, widely known as the quinque viae (Five Ways).
Motion: Some things undoubtedly move, though cannot cause their own motion. Since, as Thomas believed, there can be no infinite chain of causes of motion, there must be a First Mover not moved by anything else, and this is what everyone understands by God.
Causation: As in the case of motion, nothing can cause itself, and an infinite chain of causation is impossible, so there must be a First Cause, called God.
Existence of necessary and the unnecessary: Our experience includes things certainly existing but apparently unnecessary. Not everything can be unnecessary, for then once there was nothing and there would still be nothing. Therefore, we are compelled to suppose something that exists necessarily, having this necessity only from itself; in fact itself the cause for other things to exist.
Gradation: If we can notice a gradation in things in the sense that some things are more hot, good, etc., there must be a superlative which is the truest and noblest thing, and so most fully existing. This then, we call God -->note Thomas does not ascribe actual qualities to God Himself!
Ordered tendencies of nature: A direction of actions to an end is noticed in all bodies following natural laws. Anything without awareness tends to a goal under the guidance of one who is aware. This we call God --> Note that even when we guide objects, in Thomas' view the source of all our knowledge comes from God as well.
Concerning the nature of God, Thomas felt the best approach, commonly called the via negativa, is to consider what God is not. This led him to propose five statements about the divine qualities:
God is simple, without composition of parts, such as body and soul, or matter and form.
God is perfect, lacking nothing. That is, God is distinguished from other beings on account of God's complete actuality. Thomas defined God as the ‘Ipse Actus Essendi subsistens,’ subsisting act of being.
God is infinite. That is, God is not finite in the ways that created beings are physically, intellectually, and emotionally limited. This infinity is to be distinguished from infinity of size and infinity of number.
God is immutable, incapable of change on the levels of God's essence and character.
God is one, without diversification within God's self. The unity of God is such that God's essence is the same as
God's existence. In Thomas's words, "in itself the proposition 'God exists' is necessarily true, for in it subject and predicate are the same."
In this approach, he is following, among others, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides.
Following St. Augustine of Hippo, Thomas defines sin as "a word, deed, or desire, contrary to the eternal law." It is important to note the analogous nature of law in Thomas's legal philosophy. Natural law is an instance or instantiation of eternal law. Because natural law is that which human beings determine according to their own nature (as rational beings), disobeying reason is disobeying natural law and eternal law.
Thus eternal law is logically prior to reception of either "natural law" (that determined by reason) or "divine law" (that found in the Old and New Testaments). In other words, God's will extends to both reason and revelation. Sin is abrogating either one's own reason, on the one hand, or revelation on the other, and is synonymous with "evil" (privation of good, or privatio boni). Thomas, like all Scholastics, generally argued that the findings of reason and data of revelation cannot conflict, so both are a guide to God's will for human beings.
Nature of the Trinity
Thomas argued that God, while perfectly united, also is perfectly described by Three Interrelated Persons. These three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are constituted by their relations within the essence of God. Thomas wrote that the term "Trinity" "does not mean the relations themselves of the Persons, but rather the number of persons related to each other; and hence it is that the word in itself does not express regard to another."
The Father generates the Son (or the Word) by the relation of self-awareness. This eternal generation then produces an eternal Spirit "who enjoys the divine nature as the Love of God, the Love of the Father for the Word."
This Trinity exists independently from the world. It transcends the created world, but the Trinity also decided to give grace to human beings. This takes place through the Incarnation of the Word in the person of Jesus Christ and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within those who have experienced salvation by God; according to Aidan Nichols.
Prima causa – first cause
Thomas's five proofs for the existence of God take some of Aristotle's assertions concerning principles of being. For Thomas, God as prima causa (first cause) comes from Aristotle's concept of the unmoved mover and asserts that God is the ultimate cause of all things.
Nature of Jesus Christ
In the Summa Theologica, Thomas begins his discussion of Jesus Christ by recounting the biblical story of Adam and Eve and by describing the negative effects of original sin. The purpose of Christ's Incarnation was to restore human nature by removing "the contamination of sin", which humans cannot do by themselves. "Divine Wisdom judged it fitting that God should become man, so that thus one and the same person would be able both to restore man and to offer satisfaction." Thomas argued in favor of the satisfaction view of atonement; that is, that Jesus Christ died "to satisfy for the whole human race, which was sentenced to die on account of sin."
Thomas argued against several specific contemporary and historical theologians who held differing views about Christ. In response to Photinus, Thomas stated that Jesus was truly divine and not simply a human being. Against Nestorius, who suggested that Son of God was merely conjoined to the man Christ, Thomas argued that the fullness of God was an integral part of Christ's existence.
However, countering Apollinaris' views, Thomas held that Christ had a truly human (rational) soul, as well. This produced a duality of natures in Christ. Thomas argued against Eutyches that this duality persisted after the Incarnation. Thomas stated that these two natures existed simultaneously yet distinguishably in one real human body, unlike the teachings of Manichaeus and Valentinus.
In short, "Christ had a real body of the same nature of ours, a true rational soul, and, together with these, perfect Deity." Thus, there is both unity (in his one hypostasis) and composition (in his two natures, human and Divine) in Christ.
I answer that, The Person or hypostasis of Christ may be viewed in two ways. First as it is in itself, and thus it is altogether simple, even as the Nature of the Word. Secondly, in the aspect of person or hypostasis to which it belongs to subsist in a nature; and thus the Person of Christ subsists in two natures. Hence though there is one subsisting being in Him, yet there are different aspects of subsistence, and hence He is said to be a composite person, insomuch as one being subsists in two.
Echoing Athanasius of Alexandria, he said that "The only begotten Son of God...assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."
Goal of human life
In Thomas's thought, the goal of human existence is union and eternal fellowship with God. Specifically, this goal is achieved through the beatific vision, an event in which a person experiences perfect, unending happiness by seeing the very essence of God. This vision, which occurs after death, is a gift from God given to those who have experienced salvation and redemption through Christ while living on earth.
This ultimate goal carries implications for one's present life on earth. Thomas stated that an individual's will must be ordered toward right things, such as charity, peace, and holiness. He sees this as the way to happiness. Thomas orders his treatment of the moral life around the idea of happiness. The relationship between will and goal is antecedent in nature "because rectitude of the will consists in being duly ordered to the last end [that is, the beatific vision]." Those who truly seek to understand and see God will necessarily love what God loves. Such love requires morality and bears fruit in everyday human choices.
Treatment of heretics
Thomas Aquinas belonged to the Dominican Order (formally Ordo Praedicatorum, the Order of Preachers) who began as an order dedicated to the conversion of the Albigensians and other heterodox factions, at first by peaceful means; later the Albigensians were dealt with by means of the Albigensian Crusade. In the Summa theologiae, he wrote:
With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death. On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.(Summa, II–II, Q.11, art.3.)
Heresy was a capital offense against the secular law of most European countries of the 13th century, which had a limited prison capacity. Simple theft, forgery, fraud, and other such crimes were also capital offenses; Thomas' point seems to be that the gravity of this offense, which touches not only the material goods but also the spiritual goods of others, is at least the same as forgery.
Thomas's suggestion specifically demands that heretics be handed to a "secular tribunal" rather than magisterial authority. That Thomas specifically says that heretics "deserve... death" is related to his theology, according to which all sinners have no intrinsic right to life ("For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord"). Nevertheless, his point is clear: heretics should be executed by the state. He elaborates on his opinion regarding heresy in the next article, when he says:
In God's tribunal, those who return are always received, because God is a searcher of hearts, and knows those who return in sincerity. But the Church cannot imitate God in this, for she presumes that those who relapse after being once received, are not sincere in their return; hence she does not debar them from the way of salvation, but neither does she protect them from the sentence of death. (Summa, op. cit., art.4.)
The afterlife and resurrection
A grasp of Aquinas's psychology is essential for understanding his beliefs around the afterlife and resurrection. Thomas, following Church doctrine, accepts that the soul continues to exist after the death of the body. Because he accepts that the soul is the form of the body, then he also must believe that the human being, like all material things, is form-matter composite.
Substantial form (the human soul) configures prime matter (the physical body) and is the form by which a material composite belongs to that species it does; in the case of human beings, that species is rational animal. So, a human being is a matter-form composite that is organized to be a rational animal.
Matter cannot exist without being configured by form, but form can exist without matter—which allows for the separation of soul from body. Aquinas says that the soul shares in the material and spiritual worlds, and so has some features of matter and other, immaterial, features (such as access to universals). The human soul is different from other material and spiritual things; it is created by God, but also only comes into existence in the material body.
Human beings are material, but the human person can survive the death of the body through continued existence of the soul, which persists. The human soul straddles the spiritual and material worlds, and is both a configured subsistent form as well as a configurer of matter into that of a living, bodily human.
Because it is spiritual, the human soul does not depend on matter and may exist separately. Because the human being is a soul-matter composite, the body has a part in what it is to be human. Perfected human nature consists in the human dual nature, embodied and intellecting. Resurrection appears to require dualism, which Thomas rejects.
Yet, Aquinas believes the soul persists after the death and corruption of the body, and is capable of existence, separated from the body between the time of death and the resurrection. Aquinas believes in a different sort of dualism, one guided by Christian scripture. Aquinas knows that human beings are essentially physical, but that that physicality has a spirit capable of returning to God after life.
For Aquinas, the rewards and punishment of the afterlife are not only spiritual. Because of this, resurrection is an important part of his philosophy on the soul. The human is fulfilled and complete in the body, so the hereafter must take place with souls enmattered in resurrected bodies. In addition to spiritual reward, humans can expect to enjoy material and physical blessings. Because Aquinas’s soul requires a body for its actions, during the afterlife, the soul will also be punished or rewarded in corporeal existence.
Aquinas states clearly his stance on resurrection, and uses it to back up his philosophy of justice; that is, the promise of resurrection compensates Christians who suffered in this world through a heavenly union with the divine. He says, “If there is no resurrection of the dead, it follows that there is no good for human beings other than in this life.”
Resurrection provides the impetus for people on earth to give up pleasures in this life. Thomas believes the human who has prepared for the afterlife both morally and intellectually will be rewarded more greatly; however, all reward is through the grace of God.
Aquinas insists beatitude will be conferred according to merit, and will render the person better able to conceive the divine. Aquinas accordingly believes punishment is directly related to earthly, living preparation and activity as well.
Aquinas’s account of the soul focuses on epistemology and metaphysics, and because of this he believes it gives a clear account of the immaterial nature of the soul. Aquinas conservatively guards Christian doctrine, and thus maintains physical and spiritual reward and punishment after death. By accepting the essentiality of both body and soul, he allows for a heaven and hell described in scripture and church dogma.
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