Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274), the major philosopher of the Middle Ages, merged Christianity with philosophical reason.

Aquinas came from Italy and taught at the University of Paris. He has been characterized as a humble, simple, peace-loving man, given to contemplation and a love of poetry. Aquinas always maintained self-control and won over his opponents by his personality and great learning.

He was part of the growing medieval movement that took Plato’s view of the ‘formal cause’ of nature being God and fused it with Christian Revelation.

Aquinas believed that there need be no conflict between what philosophy or reason teaches us and what Christian Revelation or faith teaches us. In this way Aquinas argued that ‘truth’ is equally valid from both sources. From his consideration of what God is not, Aquinas proposed five positive statements about the divine qualities or the nature of God:

  • God is simple, without composition of parts, such as body and soul, or matter and form.
  • God is perfect, lacking nothing.
  • God is infinite, and not limited in the ways that created beings are physically, intellectually, and emotionally limited.
  • God is immutable, incapable of change in respect of essence and character.
  • God is one, such that God’s essence is the same as God’s existence.

For Aquinas faith and reason are the two primary tools that are both necessary together for obtaining the true knowledge of God.

Aquinas defined the four virtues as revealed by nature:

  • Prudence
  • Temperance
  • Justice
  • Fortitude

In addition, there are three theological virtues, coming from God, described as:

  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Charity

He also distinguished four kinds of law:

  • Eternal law (God governs all creation)
  • Natural law (human ‘participation’ in eternal law, which is discovered by reason)
  • Human law (the natural law applied by governments to societies)
  • Divine law (the specially revealed law in the scriptures)

These virtues and laws by Aquinas argue that only rational thinking combined with the study of nature can reveal an understanding of God. Aquinas’ views were seen as heretical by the church and three years after his death he was posthumously ex-communicated on the grounds that human reason is inadequate to understand the will of God.

However, In 1324, fifty years after Thomas Aquinas’ death, Pope John XXII pronounced him a saint of the Catholic church, and his theology began its rise to prestige. In 1568, he was named a Doctor of the Church.

In 1879, Pope Leo XIII stated that Aquinas’ theology was a definitive exposition of Catholic doctrine, and directed clergy to take the teachings of Aquinas as the basis of their theological positions.

Today, he is considered by many Catholics to be the Catholic church’s greatest theologian and philosopher.

The influence of modern scientific atheism has led to the widespread belief that you must choose between faith and reason, and that faith is fundamentally irrational and opposed to science. This is an idea that Aquinas dedicated his life to resisting as, for him, faith and reason co-exist together.

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