The Church has given the title “doctor” to some of her saints. In Latin doctor means “teacher” and the doctors of the Church are teachers of a very special sort. Pius X calls them “our great teachers” and “interpreters of revealed doctrine.”1 According to widely accepted criteria, doctors of the Church are people recognized by the Church for their orthodoxy, eminent sanctity, and (with a few exceptions) their excellence as scholars.
As Pius X’s remark suggests, the doctors of the Church are primarily teachers of theology since theology is concerned with understanding and explaining revelation. But some of the doctors of the Church are likewise teachers of philosophy. This is because revelation re-proposes or assumes many philosophical truths: that God exists, that human beings have a definite and permanent nature, that some ways of life are good for us and others aren’t, etc. So, the Church has always had a deep interest in philosophy too, as John Paul II reminds us in Fides et ratio (1998).
The doctors of the Church are typically distinguished from the “fathers” (although some fathers are also doctors). But the latter play basically the same role, the main difference perhaps being the fact that they were key in the formation of the Church’s doctrine in the early centuries of her life.
The ecclesiastical hierarchy – the bishops and pope – rely on the fathers and doctors of the Church to guide them in their own teaching duties. But lay people too should, of course, look to them for guidance in understanding Catholic doctrine, whether it has been defined or not.
Doctor communis ecclesiae
Among Catholic teachers, both fathers and doctors, the Church has consistently taught that St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) is, in a sense, the first. This understanding of St. Thomas emerged fairly early. Thomas died on March 7, 1274 and was canonized 49 years later by John XXII on July 18, 1323. At a consistory in Avignon at the beginning of the canonization process in 1318, Pope John said of Thomas that he would count it “a great glory for us and our Church if we were to inscribe this saint into the catalogue of saints.” And the reason for this, said the pope, was that Thomas
more enlightened the Church than all the other Doctors; a man can profit more in a year from his books than [from studying] the teaching of the others his whole life.2
During the Council of Trent (1545-1563) it is reported that Thomas’s Summa theologiae was placed on the altar alongside the Scriptures and papal decrees. On this practice Leo XIII comments in Aeterni Patris (1879):
[T]he highest praise that Thomas has received – entirely unique to him and not shared with any other Catholic doctors – is that the Council fathers of Trent made it part of the order of the conclave to place on the altar, next to the codices of divine Scripture and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas in which they could seek counsel, reason, and inspiration.
Pius V proclaimed Thomas a doctor of the Church on April 15, 1567. As Pasquale Porro observes, the pope did this at a time when “among the Latins, only Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great enjoyed this dignity.”3 Three years later in the papal bull In eminenti Pius declared Thomas’s theological doctrine, “which has been received by the Catholic Church,” to be “greater than all others.”4
Leaping ahead to the twentieth century, in a 1904 letter to the Pontifical Academy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Pius X again expresses the Church’s mind with respect to Thomas’s status. He calls Thomas the “leader and master of Christian philosophy and theology” and tells us that his “divine genius fashioned weapons suited to protect the truth and defeat the many errors of the times.” Pius continues:
Indeed, those principles of wisdom, useful for all time, which the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church handed down to us, have been organized by no one more aptly than by Thomas, and no one has explained them more clearly.5
In the same vein, Pius XI remarks on the appropriate title for Thomas in Studiorum ducem (1923):
We commend not only the title “Angelic Doctor” but also the title “Common” or “Universal Doctor of the Church” for Thomas, whose doctrine the Church has made her own, as many documents of every kind attest.
Moving forward to Vatican II and the postconciliar magisterium, we see that that there is no essential change in the Church’s judgment about Thomas. Paul VI, who approved and promulgated the Council’s teaching, stresses its recognition of Thomas’s doctrinal primacy in the conciliar documents Optatam totius (on priestly formation) and Gravissimum educationis (on Catholic education).6 In his 1974 apostolic letter Lumen ecclesiae, which commemorates the 700th anniversary of Thomas’s death, Paul himself explains that in canonizing and conferring the title “doctor” on him, the Church
intended to recognize in St. Thomas’s doctrine the particularly elevated, complete, and faithful expression of her magisterium … The Church, in sum, confirms St. Thomas’s doctrine with her authority and uses it as a most preferred instrument, thus extending to him, more than any of her other renowned Doctors, the light of her own magisterium.7
Pope Paul’s statement is just as strong as any of those of his predecessors and perhaps even stronger than theirs.
It is not surprising, given these kinds of papal endorsements, that the Jesuit theologian Joseph de Guibert should write the following about Thomas’s authority in the Church:
Simply embracing the doctrine of St. Thomas we embrace the doctrine most commonly accepted in the Church, reliable and approved by the Church herself (with a few familiar exceptions). Where no grave reason prevents it, the authority of St. Thomas suffices to prefer his opinion.8
I could go on for quite a long time quoting all of the papal statements about the exceptional nature of Thomas’s teaching and its authoritativeness for Catholics. So far, for instance, I have said nothing about John Paul II, who reaffirms Thomas’s important doctrinal position in the Church and declares in Fides et ratio that in Thomas “the demands of reason and the power of faith found the most elevated synthesis ever attained by human thought.”9 But there is no need to multiply the quotes since I think that the several to which I’ve drawn your attention are enough for you to get the idea.
As I understand her position, the Church isn’t telling us that we should not read and try to learn from other Catholic (or non-Catholic) philosophers and theologians. She is telling us, rather, that in our pursuit of truth Thomas should be taken as our principal guide among philosophers and theologians. What that would look like in the concrete would certainly be up for discussion.
I’m a philosopher and this new column will mostly be philosophical. I say “mostly” but not “exclusively.” Any Catholic philosopher worth his salt cannot be ignorant of theology and needs to engage in it from time to time. So, although you can expect this column to be mostly philosophical, you should also expect to find some theology in it too. Whether there will be a lot of theology or a little I cannot at the moment predict.
The philosophy in this column will be Thomistic. If you don’t know Thomas well you might wonder what he has to teach us about philosophy or whether he has anything at all to teach us about it. It is common among modern scholars to observe that Thomas did not think of himself as a philosopher and there is a lot of debate about whether or in what sense we can attribute a philosophy to him. I’m not aware of any place in his texts where Thomas tells us that philosophy is his profession. In one place he tells us that he is carrying out “the duty of a wise man” (sapientis officium) who seeks to make known “the truth that the Catholic faith professes” (veritatem quam fides Catholica profitetur). In another place he says that he is a “teacher of Catholic truth” (Catholicae veritatis doctor).10 And in still another place he says that he is a “teacher of theology” (theologiae doctor).11
Should we conclude from these descriptions of his work that philosophy simply isn’t Thomas’s business? That would be a pretty awkward step given what I hope to do in this column! Before we take it let’s go a little further into the texts where Thomas offers the above descriptions.
Obviously, in each case Thomas is presenting himself as a teacher. If we read the rest of the texts under consideration, we find that what Thomas wishes to convey to his students are the truths that he has learned about God and the relationship creation bears to God. In the Summa contra gentiles Thomas explains that these truths are of two sorts. The first sort are beyond the abilities of our natural cognitive powers. To know these truths we need the help of revelation and grace. We can call these truths “supernatural.” Thomas says that the Trinity would be an example. We could add to this list, among other things, the Incarnation and the Sacraments.
The second sort of truths are not beyond are natural cognitive powers, says Thomas. In theory, we can know them without the help of revelation and grace. Thomas tells us that they “have been proved demonstratively by the philosophers led by the natural light of reason.” We can, therefore, call these truths “natural.” God’s existence and oneness are examples he provides of them.
Thomas says that the way that he, as a teacher, will proceed to make these natural truths known is by way of demonstration using the natural light of reason. In other words, he will be following the method of the philosophers. Clearly, then, Thomas does philosophize in his work. To be sure, this philosophizing is, for him, always in the service of the “the truth that the Catholic faith professes,” that is, it is philosophizing in the service of theology. But it is philosophizing nonetheless.
In Thomas’s view, philosophy (and theology) can help us not only to know the truth but to recognize and overcome error. He sees it as his task to help in both regards. “The twofold duty of the wise man,” he says, is “to meditate on and speak the divine truth” and “to refute the opposing error.”
Looking over the body of Thomas’s work, we see that his philosophizing doesn’t occupy just a small, well-circumscribed part of his output. It takes up a large part of his three major works: his commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, the Summa contra gentiles, and the Summa theologiae. And many of Thomas’s works, considered in themselves, are purely philosophical: all of his commentaries on Aristotle, the De ente et essentia, and the De principiis naturae, for instance, are in this group.
Thomas sees the natural truths we have been talking about as presuppositions of the supernatural truths. That is why he calls the former the praemabula fidei or “preambles of the faith.” If God did not exist, then what the Church says about the Trinity would be at best an interesting story. It wouldn’t be a literal account of reality. So, our belief in the Trinity (a supernatural truth) presupposes our belief in God’s existence (a natural truth). By demonstrating God’s existence, philosophy can show that this presupposed belief is reasonable and that talk about the Trinity cannot be dismissed out of hand (even if it deals with a truth that surpasses reason’s natural power).
Leo XIII and Aeterni Patris
One of the main inspirations of this column is Leo XIII’s 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris, which I quoted earlier. In Aeterni Patris Pope Leo reflects on philosophy’s role in the Church’s teaching mission. Of all the natural helps to the Catholic faith that God has given to us, Leo says that of philosophy is the most important.
He tells us that philosophy can offer, on the one hand, a path to the Catholic faith insofar as it can open our eyes to the reasonableness of the faith, and on the other hand, he says that it is for the Church a powerful ally against error.
Evidently, Leo’s view of philosophy is the same as Thomas’s. He sees it as serving a theological purpose by guiding us to the truths of the Catholic faith and unmasking errors opposed to them.
But there is more to say about Thomas and Aeterni Patris. In this encyclical Leo singles out Thomas’s philosophy as the most valuable one that the Church has at her disposal. “Reason,” says Leo, “borne on Thomas’s wings to the upper limit of human capacity, can hardly ascend higher, while faith could hardly expect more or stronger aids from reason than those which it has already obtained from Thomas.”
To Leo’s mind, the mediaeval “scholastic” thought that drew on the wisdom of the Church fathers and pagan antiquity and rigorously deployed reason in the service of faith is the exemplar to which we should all look. But Leo sees Thomas as the leader of the scholastics:
Among the Scholastic Doctors, the chief and master of all towers Thomas Aquinas, who, as Cajetan observes, because “he most venerated the ancient doctors of the Church, in a certain way seems to have inherited the intellect of all.” The doctrines of those illustrious men, like the scattered members of a body, Thomas collected together and cemented, distributed in wonderful order, and so increased with important additions that he is rightly and deservedly esteemed the special bulwark and glory of the Catholic faith.
Besides proposing Thomas’s philosophy as a guide in matters that pertain more directly to the faith, Leo also insists on it as an indispensable guide in political and social questions, in understanding the nature and purpose of the liberal arts, and in inquiring about the principles of the physical world.
Toward the end of the encyclical Leo calls on Catholic universities to “defend [Thomas’s] doctrine and use it for the refutation of the dominant errors.” And asks them to ensure that “carefully selected teachers” introduce it “to the minds of students and make clear how [Thomas] surpasses others in solidity and excellence.”
Thomas famously says in his commentary on Aristotle’s De caelo et mundo that “the study of philosophy aims not at knowing what men think, but at what is the truth of things.” I agree with Thomas. The most important reason to study Thomas himself is that we believe he can be a light in our pursuit of truth. If I spend a lot of time in this column working through what Thomas has written and pass on his teaching, it is because of this.
But discussing Thomas’s texts is not the only thing I will be doing. I intend also to comment from a Thomistic perspective on topics of current interest both in the Church and the culture generally. So, in the next two installments of the column I will be weighing in on the contemporary debate over the merits and demerits of political liberalism, a debate to which I have already contributed elsewhere (here, here, and here).
Besides topics of contemporary interest you can expect to see some discussion of more standard philosophical topics: God’s existence, the human soul, the problem of evil, and so on.
I will also be interviewing contemporary Thomists of note and offering portraits of great Thomists of the past. And, as I have done in this inaugural column, I will be looking again at magisterial teaching on Thomas.
Before concluding these remarks, following good Thomistic practice, I would like to entertain some objections to what I have been saying.
Some people might simply object to more Thomism. Haven’t we Catholics overdone it with Thomas? There are a lot of other good Catholic philosophers and theologians we could be engaging.
I agree that there are a lot of other good Catholic philosophers and theologians to engage and I hope to bring some of them into my column too. But the emphasis on Thomas comes first of all from the Church herself. You may wish that other Catholic thinkers had been privileged in the way that Thomas has, but they haven’t. If we think that the Church’s consistent and firm recommendation of Thomas has been a mistake, then what other settled dispositions of the mind of the Church do we have a problem with? How do we decide which ones we’ll go along with and which ones we won’t?
All the same, as I said earlier, I don’t see the Church telling us that Thomas should be our exclusive guide in philosophical (and theological) questions but our principal guide.
A related objection might be that the focus on Thomas tends to crowd out contemporary philosophers. Should not our philosophy be a living philosophy rather than a “museum philosophy”?
Philosophy is concerned first of all with truth and not with whether the people who can help us in our pursuit of truth are alive or dead. That’s completely irrelevant. If contemporary philosophers have had new insights into truth or have corrected past beliefs, well and good, let’s learn from them. As Leo XIII says in Aeterni Patris:
We hold that every word of wisdom, every useful thing by whomsoever discovered or planned, ought to be received with a willing and grateful mind. […] If anything is taken up with too great subtlety by the scholastic doctors, or is too carelessly stated, or if there be anything that ill agrees with the discoveries of a later age, or, in a word, is improbable in whatever way, it does not enter our mind to propose those things for imitation by our age.
Finally, there is the “Immaculate Conception objection.” Wasn’t Thomas wrong about the Immaculate Conception? Doesn’t that show us that our estimation of him has been a bit overblown?
As far as I’m aware, the Church has never declared Thomas infallible. Her view is not that Thomas never makes mistakes but that they are rare and that he is more reliable than all the other fathers and doctors, which is still saying a lot and still reason to take him as our principal guide.
Perhaps an analogy from baseball will help to drive the point home. A good argument could be made for considering Sandy Koufax the best pitcher in the history of the game. Even if you disagree, let’s just suppose for the moment that he is. Koufax, we would then say, was better than every other pitcher. And yet, while we say that, we wouldn’t deny that he had some bad games. (In fact, over his first five seasons Koufax had a 4.16 ERA, which isn’t bad but it’s nothing special either.) So, Koufax was great even if he wasn’t perfect.
As far as the Immaculate Conception question itself goes, it’s more complex than it is sometimes portrayed. But this is not the place to try to sort it out. Maybe I’ll come back to it at some point in the future.
A few last things
This column will be primarily for an educated, but non-specialist, Catholic audience. I do hope specialists will find it engaging but I don’t see them as my primary audience. So, I will avoid being too technical.
Latin will probably show up often but always with a translation when I think one is necessary. I don’t need to tell you that Latin is an important language for western culture and for Roman Catholics. Even if you never learn it (although you should if you can), you should know some key words and phrases.
I hope above all to participate in your search for truth and to encourage you to read Thomas for yourself.
(Editor’s note: This “St. Thomas for Today” essay was first posted, in slightly different form, on July 2, 2019, and was an introduction to Dr. Trabbic’s “St. Thomas for Today” column for CWR.)
1 Acta Sanctae Sedis, vol. 37, p. 435.
2 D. Prümmer, Fontes vitae S. Thomae Aquinatis: Notis historicis et criticis illustrati (Toulouse: Biblioplam, 1912) pp. 148-149.
3 Thomas Aquinas: A Historical and Philosophical Profile, R.W. Nutt and J.G. Trabbic, trans. (Washington, DC: Catholic University of American Press, 2016) p. 403.
4 T. Ripoll and A. Bremond, Bullarium Ordinis FF. Praedicatorum, vol. 5 (Rome: Mainard, 1733), p. 245.
5 Acta Sanctae Sedis, vol. 36, p. 467.
6 Lumen ecclesiae, §24.
8 De Christi Ecclesia (Rome: Universitas Gregoriana, 1928), p. 326.
10 Summa theologiae, I, prologue.
11 Quodlibet I, q. 7, a. 2.
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I think this will be an interesting and thought provoking column and I look forward to the next installment. I hope you might consider including some good books for lay people that would provide an introduction to Aquinas’thought.
As an introduction to St. Thomas Aquinas, it is best to note that while a product of his times, he’s the foremost perpetrator of the idea and practice that continues to deny women their rightful place and ministry in the church (and the world) as co-equal of men being co-equally created in the image and likeness of God. For the Angelic Doctor, women are inferior, misbegotten, defective, and deficient men. He thought that women were not created in the image and likeness of God in the same way as men.
A very welcome addition to CWR indeed.
I am looking forward to further installments of “St. Thomas for Today.” Largely through the efforts of Dr. Edward Feser, I now possess some fluency with Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics, and the “de fide” teaching of the Catholic Church regarding classical theism and divine simplicity. This has assisted me greatly in my own faith, as well as in non-professional discussions within the public square, regarding supposed conflicts with modern science.
Dear Professor Trabbic,
I eagerly await future columns.
Great initiative! Thank you!
Good luck, Joe!
Just another note saying that I’m very much looking forward to the continuation of this column.
Great idea. Nothing but the very best!
As an octogenerian whose whole life has been devoted to the study of Aquinas, I look forward to following your column. Having witnessed both the flourishing revival of Thomism in America in the 40’s to 60’s and its collapse in the 60’s and 70’s, I rejoice in the current revival, but warn against repeating the mistakes of the past that led to that downfall.
Thomism is not a system of pat answers to be learned by rote and set forth in a doctrinaire manner as a series of deductive syllogisms from postulated definitions and principles. Using Thomist philosophy as an apologetic easily brings it into disrepute as mere special pleading. It can serve as a handmaid to theology only if it preserves its own autonomy, not fearing to question presumed theological certitudes whenever these appear to conflict with critically evaluated findings of the natural and human sciences. In particular, it must avoid being misused as an ideology to support right-wing political movements and religious traditionalism.
Thomistic realism demands that abstract concepts be grounded in realistic, perceptual phantasms reflecting cinematically the manifold, ever-changing world of our sense perceptions. When this is not the case, our “abstract” judgments are only nominally true, and we have no “real” knowledge, but only strings of empty words.
As a man dedicated to the study of St Thomas Aquinas in my retirement I gladly welcome this new column. Thank you, CWR!
I commend the editors of Catholic World Report for daring to go out on the limb with this regular column on St. Thomas and Thomism. Thinking people in this country desperately need this fountain of living waters and will surely reward the editors of Catholic World Report for their courage.
Philosophy is the study of human reason that have significance among the concepts of reality. In other words, it’s our basic understanding all these of knowing as clear of the matter of what is the issues of the mind. How we are thinking a prior to the question of the ‘unknown’ which is beyond of the most important of the study. First, why we ask because it’s a science is that the practices were precisely what is possible definition of our principles of these thoughts. Many of our claim is the search of the ultimate reality under of some rules. [A] Epistemology – will likely of our philosophers ‘knowledge’ is our description of the inferential thinking. Most of the causes is to create the evident truth differences that may arise.We learn of the probability even if the premise is unreal this will consider the effects. The “being” as acquianted throughout the prediction which is depending sometimes of our natural selection. For example, all human question because they believe what is “unfalsifiable” is the person who thinks of itself. If we knew more than we can be false either true we do not have a choice. [B] If we accept this statement “X exist” it affects between X and Y they have to be perfect it was not is that certainly. There are metaphorical falsifiability we may think even though all is known.Consequently, is an object of science “per se” everything is verifying it quite to think our criterion of philosophical theory. Most of our experiences is to describe the impossibilities as subject is human our non-scientific reason that can criticize. Through the use of natural light of our reason which does acknowledge the evidence the other are not scientific.How do we assure the equality of the standard in our reasons. This knowledge have explanatory acquisition what is certain they may require us of our personal relationship. Likewise; science, ethics, metaphysics, logic, physics is our rational concern of our integrity.If it established that ‘ethics’ is what constitutes the essential to “man’s life” it can pursue to our individual goal’s. Philosophy will always to begin of thinking is our consciousness and free will to ask ‘I know’ of beyond is the subtle that control the perceptions of the epistemological question. Because it includes his authority Aquinas of the identical reality to our subjective to the higher truth. Something that defined when we associate this in time contest our intellectual knowledge of existence.[C] above of the position is the thread of wisdom broad conflicts Plato “whether the intellectual principle is united to the body as its form”. If we are “Being” what is revealed true of our human reasonings.If we say we completely understand God of our natural capacities as we being of before study in physics are not just true for us. It’s entirely our motivation as reasonable creatures through our reason not of the object itself. There can be no argument in the brain that each part of our lives is probably impossible. Who is our being? in our own can prove these consistent with the essences what’s the “superior reality” which we notice in our mind. Metaphysics – It’s among of the incomprehensible reality instantiating our logical consistencies example thereafter is uniquely. We can argue of the philosophical cause that we refer to as aspectual. If this were then perhaps it doesn’t follow that they cannot be understood. The knower is exactly what it was before I maintain therefore is the God’s existence there for you to ask further. For Aquinas, who is it that speaks what is important to the human issue at your conclusion what kind of philosophy you’re trying to prove. Everyone of good reasoning is intelligent and knows about you but not to others.
A theory of intrinsic values are the major ambiguity of the moral autonomy and holistic Philosophy of Aquinas. It helped us in human life many issues on Greek ethics the reform of contemporary ontology. Much of the relation of God various kinds multiple facets of teaching neo-liberalism.The review of the concepts what philosophies recognizes the veiled of mystery? The pursuit of knowledge of existence if there’s metaphysical the whole range of the universe. This is certainly defensive personalisation the profession of philosophy (1) Our existence that something really exists and was I eventually discover “I exists” (2) Aquinas is known not much is about broad liberal arts of philosophy who was perhaps the most important influence on our existence? (3) falses that there’s God making us to exist as human beings? (4) As Thomas is famous even say what reason is against of God’s existence? (5) If human exist, how it is important of those who think —awareness that we exists—Aquinas moral philosophy, there are being exists as an end in itself. Our desire is not to become evil if we allow our reason either ‘no human being can exist’ or ‘which makes us to our existence is to be free from the influence of our illogical thoughts?’ These subsistence of philosophy that in itself we exist our ‘moral system’ only think of the ultimate reality and that is our God? For those things are said to be self-evident to us because of this principles. Unlike Aquinas doesn’t have to have it to exist or be the kind of human my desire of perfection evil is not to originates to human the worlds in which they exist go beyond God’s mystery. How is it then that there is our existence Aquinas only means that a desire for it naturally exists. The Intellectual inference divine causality (if it exists) cannot be known to be that at which all things we exist because preferred to all the subordinate ends is good and if we do not choose it must be evil what is and of which of the sciences of philosophy it is the human? in speaking of God evidently equally to accept reasoning rhetorician that subject, and the man who is not God. For platonic reality are we to question and answer “first principles?” Or things known to us is the will not at the start need the reason and the man who has been brought up has or can easily know our startingpoints. He who knows all things is himself, but of another wisdom is useless? Further, clearly according to Aquinas maintaining a thesis of the contemplative life even these are ends; yet many reasons i.e. substance, is prior in creatures to the relative ‘a thing itself’ reference to a single God nothing other than the existence of we shall know something in all matters alike.On the contrary, can be salvaged that moral perfection meaning now as it had in the times of Aquinas when no being except God self speak of products of chance (hê tuchê kai) what reveals rationally search for the causes of philosophy. How Thomas distinguish between Aquinas and convent schools psychological reality? And since the likeness to God is identical and now a second process is the “theism” Plato’s concept of “God” not we who first choose God.First, and against all-pervading in mind theistic element in their view of the world.They do normally quite distinct from theist in contrast peculiar human life being thus in no sense strictly the life of God. Second, there is no relation between the evils of human life instinct that we ―if there is no God, why be good ? “Atheism” does not speak existence of God on our definitions of “atheist” we don’t believe in God! But as our lives viz-a-viz is a dualism with oppositions to understand human existence do itself. Philosophy is the absolute meaning of our spirit Thomistic-Aristotelian psuche (Latin: anima; English: soul), for the substance. Rene Descartes notions are ensouled and are not reducible to machines, i.e., not reducible to entities all of properties can be described in terms of the fundamental forces of physics or science of biology. It is the pursued in the liberal arts and natural sciences. Certainly developments and all its possible are not absolute— “fulcrum” exert no turning effect about what is obvious can be inferred.What is the relationship of Aquinas philosophy? It’s important in the conservation of momentum but the issue no solutions can ever be considered definitive. An expert in communication have intelligent understanding of “mental image” radial and circular explain about causes and effects that go on just by looking at them ‘modelling’ “substratum” has no reality. Not since the end of the second World War denial that mind is not a supernatural. The question whether Philosophy exist? critique true in NO way then, and least of all (yes versus no) conscience for our moral character. If the cause influential among art status does not mean that with the death of God “scrum” who do not naturally or easily conform win the sympathy ? To his critics, understand at last the reality what was true to you no reason can never possess by others. In other words, who never once complained about “enantiodrome” the spectrum can a “leaky faucet” focal seizure certainly not alone in your struggle. While much remains advert spectra now there’s not only the story of a breakthrough that likely has acquire an absolute. Yet there is individual already of hue or spectral composition? Absorption and all it has to mention resenting Philosophy summaries into greater gender equality. All that we have are known misconceptions modern day obsessions is essential. Freeing yourself of these especially what do you not, that all other men count death among the great issues of philosophers ( res ipsa loquitur ) are less respectable than others.
For these, philosophical bequest for example strict liability credibility among had any responsibility to prevent injury to the trespasser in the first place. Indeed, process of looking, thinking, and proving is goes when you untie it, the technique
remains in your mind. I don’t know what Aquinas to think how you could make their exemption if you prove no causation. You’ll gain your knowledge and power if we are certain what we do of the Intellect and how do you know yourself in metaphysics.
“Whatever is moved is moved by another.” Let there be motion.
St Thomas is not as wrong about St Mary as post Thomas Scholastics would contend. Duns Scotus contention is spectulative theology, a then populist, ever growing populist sentiment. Not certain that St Thomas would recognize the modern Roman Church.
In his “Elements of Christian Philosophy,” Etienne Gilson wrote: “What has divided the Thomist school from the other schools of theology, ever since the thirteenth century, is a general reluctance to conceive the act of being (esse) as a distinct object of understanding.”
The distinct act of being? Why anything rather than nothing? And, on this question of radical creation, rather than not, von Balthasar had this to say:
“The responses of the Old Testament and a fortiori of Islam (which remains essentially in the enclosure of the religion of Israel) are incapable of giving a satisfactory answer to the question of why Yahweh, why Allah, created a world of which he did not have need in order to be God. Only the fact is affirmed in the two religions, not the why. The Christian response is contained in these two fundamental dogmas: that of the Trinity and that of the Incarnation” (My Work in Retrospect).
Peter, a response to von Balthasar’s “Why God created a world, which he did not need to be God”. An overview by Dutch theologian Prof Henk JM Schoot assists in introducing a response.
“Aquinas distinguishes a threefold image of God in human beings: image according to rational nature, image according to grace, and image according to glory. This threefold distinction makes clear that we are not only concerned with an anthropological, but also with a salvation historical distinction. Aquinas reckons here with the influence of the different stages in salvation history concerning the relationship between God and human beings. So he speaks of the image of creation, of re-creation, and of likeness [similitudo]. And next to this the distinction has an epistemological character as well, since it also accounts for the different possibilities and degrees of knowledge of God” (Henk J.M. Schoot Thomas Aquinas on Human Beings as Image of God Tilburg University/Thomas Instituut Utrecht).
Balthazar’s standard for the Why [in context of creation a synonym of causality] of creation by God is amiss. First, nothing can cause God to act. Whatever can be attributed to God as Pure Act is consistent with his Essence, Love. Beginning with Saint Bonaventure on exemplar causality, its correlation to God’s efficient causality and the purpose of final causality in the likeness of man with God, “Everyone exists by virtue of the efficient cause, is patterned after the exemplary cause, and ordained toward the final cause. For this reason every creature is one, true , and good” (Breviloquium II 1 4). The light of God [similar to Jesus the spiritual light] imbues his creation and its beauty reflects his. Aquinas, like his contemporary Bonaventure, relates the efficient causality of God to man’s final causality (Comm Metaphysics 775). Aquinas adds, if it were possible to attribute a cause [the Why of creation] to God in creating man, that it would be his love for man created in his likeness.
“Whatever can be attributed to God as Pure Act is consistent with his Essence.” Yes, God IS what he does, and DOES what he is. His Act IS his Essence. Absolute simplicity in the Creator as the Triune Oneness, instead of any lesser and finitely imagined composition of the distinct “Persons”—analogous to our created composition of esse (whatness) and existence.
Might we then say that Balthasar is NOT “amiss” in his remark about the “why” of creation (my Jan 27 at 8:04 a.m.)? Rather and with you, he is also referring to God as absolutely free and pure act—namely the act of love (“God IS love,” 1 John 4:8)—with no implied and necessary “cause” behind the freedom of God who, again, is what He does.
So (Balthasar), in contrast with other religions: above/within a monotheistic Creation is the self-revealed (Christian) glory and absolute sovereignty of the gratuitous Incarnation and the Resurrection. Yes?
A good question framed in context of pure act of existence not subject to causality. Your formula is God is self revealing absolute sovereignty suggesting causality. God can do what he wants. He can’t be restricted by his own unchangeable existence [that I agree].
What strikes me on this question is the eternal nature of God as Trinity. Since we can’t place in time ‘events’, creation of the universe since there are no preexisting coordinates to measure it, we may exercise the same judgment regarding the Trinity, a reality that is an eternal communion of love. Though we can attribute a cause, the eternal Word destined from all time to enter our created universe. Out of love for fallen Man.
Now we mustn’t displace from this another reality, that our understanding of the mind of God is intellectual conceptualization. We do know within and with God time doesn’t exist, except that it exists for us who experience existence in sequence. Therefore, all that exists is simply manifest for us as sequential acts that for God are inherent to one Pure Act.
The eternal Word, Jesus of Nazareth manifest in our sequential existence is as always from all eternity the same Word who was from the beginning [eternity] with God, who is God (Jn 1). Always and forever one pure act of existence, our’s incorporated sequentially for God a completion. The ‘miracle’ of our creation is that we are truly free to determine our eternity due to God’s infinite power. And infinite love, “self revealed glory, gratuitous Incarnation”.
Peter Beaulieu, What you are, your person, all its characteristics, is not identical with your existence. Not a provocation, rather an affirmation of your Gilson insight on esse in Saint Thomas Aquinas. Esse, act of existence, is identical exclusively only in God to his essence. A man created by God receives his act of existence [esse] as the act that completes the act of the form. What you refer to as radical creation.
Aquinas’ early relatively short but dense expose on Being, Essence and Existence explicates this truth. At Fordham most Jesuits [except my mentor Quentin Lauer SJ] took issue with this truth, that in the order of being Man created by God is not identical to what he is, in respect to the fact that he is. Therefore, John can say with complete veracity God [that he is] is Love [what he is]. That is true exclusively in God.
Thomas Aquinas philosopher, theologian par excellence was also somewhat a mystical theologian. Today’s reading touches on this, and corresponds to Doctor of Mystical Theology Saint John of the Cross’ comprehensive knowledge of Aquinas and frequent references to the Angelic Doctor. Alluded to in today’s breviary Collatio 6 super Credo in Deum. “Whoever wishes to live perfectly should do nothing but disdain what Christ disdained on the cross and desire what he desired. For the cross exemplifies every virtue”.
Annihilate is a contentious word found in John of the Cross [see his The Living Flame of Love]. John in one passage speaks eagerly of annihilating himself. That of course is figurative. Although, it is indeed a most radical ’emptying of oneself’ analogous to Christ’s emptying figuratively of his divinity.
Mystery behind the mystery of Christ’s unexpected revelation is precisely this unexpected revelation of the divinity, his extreme humility, his radical inversion to a nothingness that reveals his glory, the unfathomable depth of his love. Man’s intellect could not invent this.
An addendum: In Essence and Existence Aquinas demonstrates examining the flux and transient nature of the qualities that comprise our essence that we do not find our Cause for existence.
In agreement, my imperfect expression “radical creation” refers to creation ex nihilo, that is, from nothing. Nothing as in zero. So, possibly not completing the act of (pre-existing?) form, but from zero? I’m just a simple country boy! So, I ask, is the “act of form” a Platonic presupposition? Or, is our ONLY access to the Triune God (and to ourselves) the Incarnation whereby God gratuitously transcends his own transcendence?
And so, I wonder, again, if the radical concept of ex nihilo echoes the introduction of “zero” into Western thought, a groundbreaking recognition gained only a few decades before Aquinas then developed his theological and philosophical insights.
And, then there’s the question, I suppose, whether Hell is the totally abandoned condition of self-conscious zerohood (!), the condition of having betrayed oneself totally and woefully into the really, really “outer darkness,” because still not able to reverse or cancel one’s created existence ex nihilo? Cancel culture, beware!
A good question that opens the mind to the primacy of existence, and that what exists, being, is that which is first evident to the intellect (Ibn Sina in De Veritate).
There is a connection with Plato’s pre existing Forms since Aristotle was his pupil. Aristotle transformed the process of how we understand existence, that is, things that exist. Aristotle postulated that what exists are beings. Now in understanding beings, things that have different natures, different essences, he formulated two principles, metaphysical or transcendent that unlike Plato’s Forms are principles of understanding, not things that exist in themselves. For example Form and Matter. As the form is understood as that act which gives this matter its whateness. Neither principle Form nor Matter are therefore pre existing realities. Although for Aristotle Form had a preeminence as an act. He did believe in a God [see Aristotle’s Eudemian Ethics] although because of requirement to worship the gods he had to be cautious [recall Socrates execution]. Form remained a finality of sorts.
Next we have Saint Thomas Aquinas who believes in God and that God created all things. That is why he establishes the term esse, which means in Aquinas Act of Existence. That Act is from God, who is Pure Act. Form and Matter then are not preexisting things, rather as said principles of the intellect in understanding existence. Creation from nothing is therefore coherently articulated by Aquinas.
Why retain the principles form and matter? The reason is the form of created things undergoes change, the qualities color, shape, texture and so forth are transient, effecting change and affecting that which the form acts upon [we can envision a form however it doesn’t exist unless it acts upon that other principle we call matter]. Aquinas [as well as Aristotle, Ibn Sina] understood that these principles of our understanding, that is, our intellect reference an existent thing, a being. Being created absolutely and in all respects by God and not from pre existing things.
Thank you. This conversation is rich—especially the understanding that “form” and “matter” are lenses of the finite human mind, rather than the nature of things. We’re led back to what the historian Charles Norris Cochrane said of St. Augustine on this insight (developed later by Aquinas).
A quote and three points:
QUOTE: “…he was confronted with the difficulty of conceiving substance as spiritual, but with the discovery that this was possible, the greatest of his intellectual problems was solved. For he was thus enabled to perceive that, so far from being ultimate, ‘form’ and ‘matter’ alike were merely figments of the human mind; they were the spectacles through which men saw the corporeal or object world. His subsequent emancipation from the delusions of materialism and idealism followed as a matter of course, and with this, the revolution [acceptance of Trinitarian Christianity] was complete” (“Christianity and Classical Culture,” 1940/1974).
FIRST, Trinitarian truth, then, is NOT confounded by replacement of Aristotelian with modern physics which departs from the world of sense perception, and into the world of atomic behavior—which is statistical, with interchangeable particles and light waves—Quantum Mechanics at the small end and Relativity at the other. (The “accident” of color, for example, is only our sense perception.)
SECOND, the intellectual BANKRUPTCY of clerics today, who would borrow from the evolving natural sciences to likewise impose a “paradigm shift” in truth and Ultimate Reality itself, is as insidious as it is abundantly obvious.
THIRD, we even understand, in the consecration of the Host, why Christ’s words (and the words of alter Christus) are “THIS is my body,” rather than “this BREAD is my body,” the Lutheran notion of mingling rather than Transubstantiation—behind a “congregational” church, and now as insinuated in the German “synodal way”? And, of overall synodality: we note the difference between a bottom-up “synodal (c)hurch,” apparently as a “structure” (?) of local/continental focus groups, contrasted with the “assembled” and Eucharistic Church attentive to the successors of the apostles. The difference between what the Church DOES, and what the Church IS.
Peter, although as principles of the intellect in understanding reality they are, as principles understood by Aquinas [myself, E Gilson, Maritain, Garrigou-Lagrange] truth, they aren’t arbitrary principles. A true principle in Aquinas is a truth, here a meta [beyond] physical truth that corresponds correctly with the nature of being. And to your point, they are not preexisting, rather their operation is realized to the intellect in the entirely unique act of existence given by God.
A consideration on zero, the concept of mathematician, Al-Khowarizmi for an empty numeral space later used in his development of algebra. Later, in the West it came to represent nothingness.
What is created by God is not an extension of his being but absolutely distinct from him. God’s Pure Act of Existence requires no pre existing condition [for example time, space, nothingness] for his creation of a separate existence.
Yay – Okay. If the good Thomistic philosophy professor will not shrink from the occasional foray into good Thomistic theology, dare we hope to hear news of the habitus for vice and virtue, infused and natural, or lex aeterna et natural?
Meiron. Habit, for Aquinas, is understood as forming an acquired personality trait of a man by habitual practice. Either for virtue or evil. Although neither changes the nature of Man, rather is revealed as a chosen behavior.
Infused virtue is not acquired. It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit given to whom God chooses, we receive the gift by our participation through works of charity and prayer [although the impetus to be charitable and pray is itself the work of grace]. As Augustine and others in agreement, All is a grace.
The natural, acquired virtues including the Cardinal virtues Prudence, Justice, Temperance, Fortitude present in potency within our human nature understood as the Natural Law Within are insufficient to gain salvation [there is nothing in Man that might correspond to the gift of grace as Pelagius mistakenly understood]. Man requires grace to perform acts beyond the purview of Natural Law needed for participation with Christ’s salvific act.
As Boethius, Manlius Severinus taught the only means of becoming Christlike is the moral life by participation with and in Christ through the gift of grace. Participation as a doctrine was accepted by Aquinas and the Church.
So the evidence of God’s grace at work within us are the desires to be holy, charitable, selfless for sake of a greater good, to know and love Christ. Its confirmation is our efforts to do what grace inspires.
Thanks, Fr. You’ve sufficiently condensed the topic. It seems so easy and simple. Yet so very many struggle with understanding and with virtue. I hope for more examples and applications, for more exposition and edification. If you’ve not yet gone and returned from Third Paradise, maybe Romanus Cessario or Professor Trabbic have? Lord, please help! Does faith grasp at straw? Calling Mal.
Just a short example on habit, described by Aquinas as a moral habit [an acquired disposition] impressed upon an act such as the virtue fortitude.
Your faith is the evidence of what you hope for not straw.
After I wrote I thought perhaps your initial question was to Trabbic. Perhaps he’ll respond because Habitus in Aquinas deserves an exposition.
Are we compelled? Aquinas ponders this regarding these graces gifted to us, whether free will remains in Quaestiones disputatae de veritate. He responds to his own question that we can decline to accept these gifts of the Holy Spirit. Aquinas must be assumed correct, God doesn’t program us on the basis that God created us out of love to love him and be loved. Love when true can only be given freely. That the reason for free will in Man, to at any moment refuse God, or not to refuse. Except when redemption is achieved [including when making reparation in Purgatory], and in the Beatific Vision it seems we’re completely held and guarded by God’s hand.
YES! “Aquinas ponders this regarding these graces gifted to us, whether free will remains in Quaestiones disputatae de veritate. He responds to his own question that we can decline to accept these gifts of the Holy Spirit. Aquinas must be assumed correct, God doesn’t program us on the basis that God created us out of love to love him and be loved. Love when true can only be given freely.” Nail hit on the head.
The interplay and intersection of grace/free remains a difficult concept. There is Thomas, Neo-Scholastics, Neo-Thomists, New Theologists, and Francis. Seems these questions get bandied and boondoggled from many angles.
It became obvious very quickly you are talking St Thomas Aquinas but referring to him as “St Thomas” confuses simpleton Catholics like me who distinguish between St Thomas (apostle) from St Thomas Aquinas and St Thomas More, all worthy of being called St Thomas.
I was thinking the same thing. There is often a similar confusion and conflation of the Sts. Ignatius.
“As far as I’m aware, the Church has never declared Thomas infallible. Her view is not that Thomas never makes mistakes but that they are rare and that he is more reliable than all the other fathers and doctors, which is still saying a lot and still reason to take him as our principal guide.”
It would be impossible to declare anyone, but the pope, under certain well-defined conditions, as infallible.
The only clear error of St. Thomas that I have been able to find (Grant that I haven’t read and tried to understand all of this work.) is his mistaken understanding that clothes are unnatural. Given that humans are rational (and tool making) animals and that they have need of manufactured “skins” according to the climate they live in – and the post-Fall demands of modesty – then clothing can’t be unnatural.
The erroneous idea that clothes are unnatural has been used by “moderns” as a justification for extremely immoral social immodesty that according to its object amounts to mortal sin.
Also, St. Thomas’ definition of law isn’t sufficiently detailed enough. He may have understood it, but it appears that those who followed managed to focus on the ambiguity inherent (or created?) by the word “reason” to essentially ATTEMPT to divorce morality from law. Their craftiness and a lack of understanding and/or push-back from Catholics has enabled great evil.
A simple analogy might explain this better.
An army comes across a river that is deemed in need of a bridge to permit its (easy) crossing. There would be an essential difference between that army being the Russians seeking to advance and capture more territory in an unjust war of invasion, and Ukrainians seeking to move troops to attack an invading Russian army in the same unjust war. The difference lies in the final cause.
On the contrary, what if in the scenario above the Russian’s were replaced with rebels? Rebellion isn’t invariably wrong.
A law forbidding the building of bridges without the prior approval of the government would forbid both the Russians and the rebels from building bridges, but that couldn’t be just.
An example of such an unjust law (i.e. “law”) that is “on the books” is “resisting arrest.” In one state, this unjust law has been traced back to the 1830s.