THOMAS AQUINAS: METAPHYSICAL/PHILOSOPHICAL CONSIDERATIONS

THOMAS AQUINAS: METAPHYSICAL/PHILOSOPHICAL CONSIDERATIONS

Aquinas views on the nature of understanding and reason are what have been commonly understood to constitute his metaphysical considerations. These ideas and postulations continue to intrigue both philosopher and theologian alike, as his unique perspective has had considerable influence on the realm of Christianity, to say the least.

As a theologian, Aquinas held philosophy, which he considered to be a science, in high esteem. Yet Aquinas viewed philosophy to be inferior to the nobler pursuits of theology. As such, philosophy was to be thought to posses certain basic inferiorities to the field of theology. Thus, philosophy was to be understood or perceived as the servant or handmaiden of theology[1] with theology taking the position of superiority in all subsequent considerations.

Thomas was a protégé of the previous understanding or school of thought, commonly referred to as the scholastic school, which existed in a “time of dissent, dissatisfaction, and deviation from orthodoxy.[2]” It was a time marked by Anselm’s primary use of the “scholastic method of exposition-that is, statement of a problem, exposition of extant conflicting views concerning it, and the master’s own resolution of the problem[3].” This theological construct based its primary hypothesis upon Platonic philosophy as espoused by Augustine. Aquinas attempted to incorporate Aristotelian thought into the equation of understanding and knowing God. Aquinas is referred to as belonging to the scholastic school historically, a time identified as the historical period referred to as the European Medieval Age. Aquinas theology often brought Aquinas into sharp conflict with his peers.

Aquinas rejected the ontological argument for the existence of God and the scholastic acceptance of the ransom theory of satisfaction (Jesus paid a ransom to Satan for the propitiation of human sin)[4]. Men such as Anselm and Bonaventure presented a postulation that, in essence, stated that in order for man to even comprehend of God in thought alone constituted a substantive proof of His existence, as the concept of a infinite being is so far beyond the realm of human comprehension that the thought alone must be inspired by, and implanted by, God. Other wise, how could that which is finite conjecture or portray a cohesive analysis of that which supersedes the common existence of humanity?[5] Although this theological conundrum, the Ontological argument, articulated by Anselm has been lauded as a brilliant example of argumentative practice and procedure, it appears to be an inferior example for theorizing the existence of God[6]. Its consistent weakness is seen in its inability to do much more than create a syllogistic challenge that is clever in construct, but lacking in convincing substance[7].

Thomistic theology set forth the first primary cosmological argument for the existence of God based upon Aristotelian philosophical ideas and presentations, at least during the period of the Middle Ages. His use of Aristotelian principles and the cosmological argument was based on the primary consideration of first cause or causation as a governing confluence of enacting agencies in the creation of substance. This cosmological theory presents the conceptual idea that existence by necessity must be derived from something, for substance cannot be ‘ex nihilo de facto,’ something out of the substance of nothing[8].

Lewis Sperry Chafer, in Systematic Theology, adequately surmises Aquinas view by stating:”(a)…that every effect must have a cause; (b) that the effect is dependent upon its cause for its existence; and (c) that nature cannot produce itself”[9]. Dr. Elmer Towns in Theology for Today astutely under girds this basic premise concerning the cosmological perspective of being. Upon close scrutiny, Dr. Towns states: “The existence of cause is recognized. Every event must have a cause”[10]. Dr. Towns further delineates and excoriates the hypothetical dilemma of philosophical theories that constitute rough, conjectural speculations, at best. He correctly presents the understanding that “only in theoretical speculation do philosophers deny the possibility of cause”[11]. Thomistic theology bases existence upon the logical conclusion that action necessitates a performer or agent of initiation in order for existence to be brought into effect. Cause must by definition be preceded by substance. Substance must have a point of origin, thus validating Prime Motion in a historical context and setting. Aquinas speculations of first cause were set forth to discredit the belief that “there cannot be an infinite regression of causes”[12], as Eric Millard so eloquently states in Christian Theology.

A Thomistic theory can be seen to further influence Western mans philosophical understanding of the nature of truth, as expressed in a cohesive analysis of thought processes. Dr. Karl Rahner in Readings in the Philosophy of Man[13] attempts to utilize Thomistic philosophy to span the gap between anthropological and theological understandings of man in relation to creation. Dr. Rahner surmises in true Thomistic values that “a philosophy of religion which shows that since man is an incarnate spirit, i.e. a spirit in the world, he is by nature an unlimited openness and therefore not a priori an impossible recipient of revelation”[14]. As a student of Heideggar, Rahner emphasizes mans natural and temporal existence, showing how Aquinas theoretic system continues to influence philosophers and their understanding of metaphysics.

Rahner formulates Aquinas view of epistemology and metaphysics rather astutely. The profound summation of St. Thomas belief that:

 

“For man truth only exists in judgment, that this judgment cannot be passive reception of an impression but rather must exist in activated, formulations of synthesis between a priori transcendental existence of mans active agent intellect and sense experience, and… that ontological truth must by necessity arise not in the recess of intellect.”[15]

 

This exists as a statement of brilliant deductive synthesis concerning Aquinas philosophical machinations. When analyzed thoroughly, it is the antithesis of the then standard Platonic theory of knowledge, which alleged that intellect proceeded from prior knowledge that existed in an independent state that was vastly superior to the shadow realm of temporal existence (Plato’s world of ideas). Aquinas, following Aristotle’s theories of Knowledge, accepted knowledge as being limited in its durative ability to only exist in outside stimulations that by necessity must be accepted into the individual place of deductive reasoning and incorporated into the mind (soul) to be processed and become understanding. From this perspective, knowledge is created from external stimulation and illuminated through the acquisitioned conductivity of the senses, or sensate stimulation alone.

As such, Thomistic theology inserts itself into the theory of learning. Thomistic thought rejects the assumption of innate knowledge as espoused by Plato and embraced by Augustine as a belief paradigm. In principle, Thomism embraces the Tabula Rasa, or blank tablet, concept of epistemology as being theoretically adequate. Aquinas applied this epistemological functional equivalency to the questions formulated in his metaphysical pursuits and questions pertaining to the function and existence of mankind as well as mankind’s causational relationship with God[16].

To Aquinas, God was not indebted to man for man’s need of salvation. In this primary aspect of salvific purpose and functionality, Aquinas deviated from Augustinian theological theorems postulated by the bulk of the theologians of his era. Aquinas rejected the concept of an “upward fall”[17] that created the climate of belief that “God by necessity is shackled to a need to save man as presented by Anselm”[18].

Aquinas theology would view this seeming contradiction as an antilogism, something that exists against reason. Antilogism exists as the antithesis of the Hegelian principle of thesis/antithesis/synthesis. A antilogism is composed in substance as that type of argumentative statement which consists of three statements “whereby if any two of the three statements are true, the third can be seen as inconsistent, false or contradictory… i.e.: Socrates is a human. All humans are mortal. Therefore Socrates is not a mortal”[19].

As applied to Thomistic theology, the appropriate example would be seen as: “God is the creator of humanity. Humans are evil. Therefore, God created evil and is responsible for man’s evil”. Thomism liberated the theology of salvation from a dependence upon Satan, thus viewing God as a benevolent dispenser of salvific grace simply out of desire, not out of obligation. In this framework, Aquinas can best be understood to exist as a nominalist, out of sync with the typical and normative Augustinian theologian or theology of his era and the preceding eras along with the subsequent ones as well. At least those theologies that were based on a Platonic grid as there sole means of support.

In Paul and the Law[20], Frank Thielman supports Roger Haight in The Experience and Language of Grace[21], by correctly crediting Aristotle as the true source of Aquinas theories of salvation and grace, thus creating a decisive paradigm shift away from Augustinian views that were pronouncedly Platonic in origin. Augustine’s common conjecture consisted of a perspective where grace was seen as God’s necessary intercession against the fall. Aquinas, in opposition to this formulation, viewed grace as the necessary composition needed to lift man up from the natural realm into the existence of the supernatural acquisition of the understanding of God.

Karl Rahner has modified the Thomistic perception and understanding of salvation by limiting it to the exclusive confinement of the dispensed sacramental system used by the Roman Catholic Church. Rahner’s vantage point could be construed as a type or espousal of a supernatural “existentialism.[22]

In this Thomistic aberration, man not only posses the ability to know God through the senses, in potential, Rahner postulates an understanding that views this potential as operating in an activated exercise. In this system, man cannot be seen as existing apart from God, thereby attempting to synthesize both Augustinian and Thomistic systems of theology into a cohesive whole[23].

This Christian existential perspective brings to light the fatal flaw that exists in the Thomistic system of philosophy. God is divorced from the realm of experience and natural habitation of humanities place of existence in the arena of substantive being. As such, the theory of God’s existence in a real format is confined to the realm of understanding alone. This development can be seen in the Roman Catholic Churches separation of theology and traditional teaching ministry from the arena of the superstitious expressions of fictitious phantasms and their importance in the culture of belief, i.e., the doctrine of trans-substantiation, images manifesting as apparitions or appearances as icons, grace in water, etc.

When reason and the realm of the supernatural are separated, a system that focuses on the exclusive cultivation of knowledge is formulated, leaving it susceptible to the charge of gnosis and may cause it to be viewed as the true heir of the Gnostic tradition. The exclusion of supernaturalism from the realm of reason is a dangerous practice that lends itself readily to the nature of superstition. Thomistic philosophy carries within it this propensity as an inherent weakness.

Aquinas’ occupational preponderance with the necessity of sacraments as “impartational elements of grace”[24] creates the misunderstanding that God is seen as separate from His creation outside of the ability to contemplate His existence. Thus, the sacraments and the authority of the Church as the sole arbitrator of doctrine and practice serves the role of acting as the manifest presence of God, placing the importance on the Church as the vehicle for knowing God, thus subverting the value of personal relationship and experience found to exist between humanity and God when properly sought after. Further research could be pursued in the area of Thomistic influence on the school of theology that espouses a cessationistic vantage point as a place of priority and understanding. Is it possible that Aquinas subtle influence is felt in the Protestant variations of church through this aspect of theology?

Returning to Thomistic theories of learning, Aquinas imposition on the historical dialectic can be seen in his subjective approval of mans inability to know anything he has not previously judged in inquisitive reason. In this, Aquinas seems to walk in a spirit of agreement with Emanuel Kant’s statement in The Critique of Pure Reason, where he states “thoughts without content are hollow, images without concepts are blind”[25]. A natural problem arises in Thomistic theory. It is one that seemingly needs to be addressed and explored in a more thorough and fuller fashion. It is the problem that is presented by Thielman where he ascertains that “Aquinas should have been more keenly aware that the link between his own time and Paul was not Aristotle”[26].

Was Aquinas pursuit in synthesizing philosophical reasoning with the analogy of faith a help, or a hindrance, to the church? Did the scholastic nominalism, as presented by Aquinas, leave a void in the Churches heart, creating the atmosphere and propensity to reject supernaturalism as a distinct methodology, through its reduction of a theistic epistemology, confining it to the natural realm? And possibly more important than the other considerations combined, was Aquinas most notorious legacy the creation of a foundational acquiescence that has capitulated into a cessation point of view in theological considerations, as Luther, specifically amongst the Reformers, rejected the excessive abuses of Aquinas theology of the sacramental grace as the sole exception, or releasing agent of God’s supernatural presence?[27] These are areas that merit further considerations and research, as Aquinas lasting impression upon the Church universal is noted and understood. It needs to be acknowledged that it was Aquinas theories of government and ecclesiastical relationships that increased the authority of the Papacy, which led to the subsequent abuses perpetrated by the churchmen in positions of power. These varied forms of abuse of power and authority led to the schisms, exiles (Babylonian Captivity) of the papacy, political intrigues, and ultimately, the Protestant Reformation.

By restricting the understanding of knowledge to the realm of the temporal, material substance, Thomism reduces a priori epistemological inquiries to a form of base realism that is significant in its metaphysical concerns and implications[28]. The Thomistic digression into the Patristic methodologies of Biblical interpretation simply enhances these difficulties. Milton Terry states; “ The allegorical method of interpretation obtained an early prominence among the Jews of Alexandria. Its origin is usually attributed to the mingling of Greek philosophy and the biblical conceptions of God”[29].

Aquinas, like Augustine, created significant epistemological hardship in his embracing an interpretive theory that allowed the literal, allegorical, moral and anagogic system of interpretation to be employed when analyzing Scripture. As an adherent to this practice, Aquinas thought scriptural truths could be discarded for deeper interpretations that supported, rather than challenged, philosophical theories that may not have been conducive to a historical, literal and grammatical level of comprehension when exegeting Holy Writ. This is witnessed in his treatment on the subject of hidden revelation and Scripture. In Summa Theologica, First Part, Q. 1, Art. 10, Aquinas addresses the question: “Whether in Holy Scripture a Word May Have Several Senses”? Aquinas answers himself by stating and answering objections to the allegorical system of interpretation. In Objection #2 and #3, followed by Reply #2 and #3, Aquinas States:

 

“Further, Augustine says (De util. Cred. iii) That ‘the Old Testament has a fourfold division namely, according to history, etiology, analogy, and allegory.’ Now these four seem altogether different from the four divisions mentioned in the first objection. Therefore it does not seem fitting to explain the same word of Holy Writ according to the four different senses mentioned above.

Objection #3. Further, besides these senses, there is the parabolical, which is not one of these four. On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xx, I): Holy Writ by the manner of its speech transcends every science, because in one and the same sentence, while it describes a fact, it reveals a mystery.

I answer that, the author of Holy Writ is God, in whose power it is to signify His meaning not by words only (as man can also do), but also by things themselves. So, whereas in every other science things are signified by words, this science has the property that the things signified by the words have themselves also a meaning. Therefore that first meaning whereby words signify things belong to the first sense, the historical or literal. That meaning whereby things signified by themselves also have a meaning is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it…

Reply Obj. #2. These three-history, etiology, analogy-are grouped under the literal sense. For it is called history, as Augustine expounds whenever anything is simply related; it is called etiology when its cause is assigned… It is called analogy whenever the truth of one text of Scripture is shown to not contradict another. Of these four, allegory stands for the three spiritual senses…

Reply Obj. #3. The parabolic sense is contained in the literal, for by words things are signified properly and figuratively… Here it is plain that nothing false can ever underlie the literal sense of Holy Writ”[30].

 

If there were a primary fatal flaw that can be readily seen, it would be found in this area of understanding. The adherence of the melding of theology and philosophy can be noted as constituting a dangerous proposition when it is found to ignore Biblical revelation that does not fit within its context or framework of reference[31]. Philosophic Theology, or Systematic Theology as it is also known, appears to bear this same inherent weakness. It is a weakness that needs to be recognized and adequately dealt with if the church is to operate in a position of peak efficiency. Left unchecked, this nominalist, cessationist vantage point gives rise to such theoretical speculations as Thomas J. J. Altizer’s Death of God theology, whereby God is reduced substantively, being confined to a form of deistic non-intrusive existence. John Montgomery comments on this deviation that incorporates the process-thought paradigm as an operational consideration:

 

“Doubtless Altizer goes to far in his endeavor to create a one-to-one correlation between Rome’s (Catholicism) worldview and process-thought. Aristotelian logic, St. Thomas’ passion for objective final truth, and the respect given through the centuries to the inerrant scriptures and creedal verities are too much a part of Rome’s life to be brushed lightly aside”[32].

 

 

The conflict exists in the struggle between Aquinas rationalism and what needs to be done with the Scriptures[33]. Unfortunately, the Roman Church has adopted Philo’s systematic allegorical method of stripping Holy Writ of its accurate interpretive value (Dr. Sauer, Liberty University lecture)[34] and instead, has embraced a formulation that makes allowance for speculative conjectures over the Historical/Grammatical method of interpretation as presented by the classic Protestant Hermeneutical proponents such.

When the various and voluminous materials produced by Thomas Aquinas are examined, it becomes apparent why this man has been held in such high esteem within Roman Catholic circles. Right or wrong, his thoughtful analysis of Aristotelian philosophy has influenced the world of the church. After all, it was Thomas Aquinas who incorporated Aristotelian thought and philosophy into the church as a mainstay form of speculative theory, thus setting the momentum for almost all-subsequent Roman Catholic theology from that historically decisive turning point on.

With Aquinas’ adoption of Aristotelian deductive reasoning, he gave the Roman church a firm intellectual foundation utilizing logic as a base of reference, thereby by making Aristotle a Christian bulwark. This adoption was the inevitable result of three centuries of argumentative debates based upon various views of theologians and philosophers, as the schoolmen took advantage of the pre-Christian philosophers to adopt their various systems of philosophy in an attempt to answer the questions of The Faith in a concise and relevant format.

This new view that Aquinas and his colleagues presented from the Aristotelian perspective was not without opposition though, and it (as well as Aquinas) were subjects of controversy and sometimes expulsion from the church on suspicion of heresy during his lifetime and approximately the next one to two hundred years following his death.

Eventually, Aquinas” Theories would be adopted and put into practice by the Roman Church to become the official standard regarding Catholic doctrine from the time of Leo 13th until the present. Due to the Roman Catholics’ emphasis being placed upon Aquinas writings concerning logic as the basis of the idea of certainty rather than upon personal experience[35], Aquinistic theology has become the cornerstone of the Catholic churches theology from the Middle Ages forward, up to the present time period. His teachings were not based upon logic alone however, for he did not believe that faith and reason could ever be in conflict, for he saw God as the author of
both, and he also reasoned that God exists as a God of logical order, who would not purposely contradict Himself.

Born to wealthy parents, Thomas Aquinas was privileged to undertake a rigorous formal education. Although his life was brief by modern standards (1224-1274), Aquinas achieved much in shaping and influencing his world and the worlds of philosophy and theology that would follow.  As an undergraduate, Aquinas was called the dumb ox, for as a student he was very quiet and impressively resolute constitutionally. Within his large, bulky frame, was a sharp, inquisitive mind. He was both quiet and impressive. Aquinas was religious, and with a single-minded devotion he assumed his position as a scholar and teacher, even going to the point in his chosen vocation of refusing the personal appointment to the post of Archbishop of Naples, an impressive position that carried with in its confinement extraordinary power and prestige[36].

Thomas Aquinas greatest achievement, as far as history is concerned, is found in his setting forth the relationship between reason and faith in such a fashion that those to whom the Aristotelian philosophy was definitive could feel that they might consistently remain Christians even as they embraced logic as a principle of thought in practice and application.

Aquinas rejected Plato’s’ assumption that ideas alone were the summation of all that was truly real. He believed as Aristotle did in adjudicating the prepositional consideration that knowledge was based upon what the senses perceived: sensate knowledge did not exist in an independent state, according to Aquinas. This is seen in Aquinas assertion that:

 

“The principle of intellectual activity, which we term the human soul, is a bodiless and completely substantial principle. This principle, also termed the mind or intellect, can act without the body having an intrinsic part in the activity. Nothing can act independently unless it be independent.”[37]

 

Yet, Aquinas went further than Aristotle did by embracing Christianity, a proposition unavailable to Aristotle, and holding to the premise that all truth ultimately comes from God alone. Aquinas incorporated faith into the equation of reasons place of purpose. This knowledge from God was to be appropriated by faith: that is, by knowing and appropriating His knowledge into human reason. Aquinas also believed that mans ultimate happiness consisted in his contemplation of God. Aquinas statement: “Happiness is the greatest human good, the end to which all others are subordinate,”[38]captures this emphasis when coupled with: “For as the ultimate happiness of man consists in the use of the intellect, the created intellect could never see God… since a thing is perfect so far as it attains to its principle”[39], and, “Man’s final happiness does not consist in mortal activity, for it is ultimate and not subservient to a higher end, whereas mortal activity is directed to something above itself”[40].

He stressed the competence of human reason and went far concerning free will, even though he believed it to Limited in its capacities of self-expression, subject to the influence of the higher power, known as God. “Man’s natural reason tells him he is under a higher power because of the deficiencies he feels in himself crying out for care and comfort. Whatever the higher may be, it is what all men term God,”[41] is a profound statement that clearly identifies Aquinas views concerning man’s subjection in creation.

Aquinas system of theology and his system of philosophy came together in many points, but they came no closer together in any of the other fields, than they did in his treatment of the metaphysical and epistemological problem. This is clearly evidenced in the metaphysical realm where he asserted the primacy of God as the chief agent of creation. Aquinas philosophy could be summed up in his assertion: “Everything that is possible-to-be has a cause, since its essence as such is equally uncommitted to the alternatives of existing and not existing”[42]. Also, Aquinas assertion: “The first mover of the universe is mind, and therefore its ultimate purpose is the good of mind: and this is truth,”[43] clearly associates the Thomistic allegations as to the supremacy of thought, indeed an Aristotelian tendency.

When Aquinas dealt with the problem of being, and its implications on the ultimate meaning of life, Aquinas gave substance to the philosophical truths developed by Aristotle, the major Greek proponent of rationale metaphysical speculation. By doing this, Aquinas incorporated yet another Greek school of philosophy into the church as a mainstay of theological speculation. This method of approaching the nature of reality would have long lasting effects and ramifications upon the church as a whole, for Aquinas’ system would affect theologians and philosophers for Centuries to come, lasting up to the present era, as he presented a viable system that sought to understand God through the created order of that which exists in substance.

In regard to mans relationship to magistrates, Aquinas believed that all men were subject to the laws of God and that the church and state, as well as the papacy and Empire, were founded by God and ultimately responsible to Him[44]. The Thomistic assertion:

 

“Always remember that political science is supreme, not unconditionally, but in relation to the other practical sciences which deal with human matters and whose purposes are social. For theology, which considers the final end of the entire universe, is of all sciences the most important”[45].

 

Aquinas taught that a ruler exercised power as a divine privilege and trust. To Aquinas, the monarch who betrays that trust losses his right to obedience by his subjects and as such would be placed in jeopardy of judgment. In this sense he was advocating civil disobedience that could go so far as a violent overthrow of a corrupt, or religiously obstinate government. Corrupt churchmen were to use inappropriate assertions of power to subjugate Potentates to Papal dictates, as they were subjected to the threat of church influenced revolt. Aquinas assertions of revolutionary acquiescence of power and subjection to authority would be used inappropriately in the application of this basic tenant of Thomistic doctrine. Note:

 

“Obedience is commanded within the limits of due observance. The duty develops according to the gradation of authorities which (sic) have power, not only over temporalities, but also spiritually over the conscience. St. Paul says, let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, for there is no power but of God (Rom. Xiii. I, Jerome Latin Vulgate Version). Therefore a Christian should obey power that is from God, but not otherwise.”[46]

 

This statement, attributed to Aquinas, is the telling indictment that has been used throughout the subsequent Roman history to assert Papal authority and subjection of potentates.

It was Aquinas’ belief that man could cultivate four natural virtues on his own, but he could only receive the Christian virtues by divine impartation. These four virtues are prudence, justice, courage, and self-control. The other Christian virtues are faith, hope and love. He believed that grace is both the divine act of God, underserved by man, and its effect is in a certain supernatural thing (change) in man coming into existence from God. He agreed with Augustine in his statement, “…Without grace men can do no good whatsoever”[47].

To Aquinas grace was the new birth wrought in the Christian by the creative act of God. It is also this grace that enabled a man to repent. His concept of grace was the motivating factor in a Christian’s life that allowed him to will and to work in such a fashion as to please God. God primarily issues this grace through Jesus Christ. He also held that grace comes to a man through the sacraments.

Concerning the Roman Churches thought on Mary (both then and now), he denied the Immaculate Conception theory, while condoning the selling of indulgences, thus both aligning and alienating Himself from many of his contemporaries. Aquinas’, like most of his colleagues, held to transubstantiation, and was one of the main catalysts in the inauguration of the feast of Corpus Christi[48].

When trying to understand the supernatural, Aquinas had difficulty coming to terms with that which might constitute this sphere of the supernatural. Thomas acknowledged the presence of Angels and demons, but relegated them almost exclusively to the place of the imagination, or thought, causing them to be confined to the region of the imagination and the mind, being intelligent, constituted as thinking thoughts. He believed these spirits could have no direct influence on the human psyche because they might infringe on the human level of free will and human freedom of choice[49].

His adaptation of Aristotelian thought left little room for a separate realm of non-physical reality. As such, he felt God would rarely infringe upon humans through direct influence. It was his belief that God had to put aside his own natural laws in order to contact humans on their level. Aquinas felt that God had done this once and only once with Jesus. In this aspect his beliefs had much in common with the aprioristic theology that espoused the Aristotelian concept of a God who remained unknown. This philosophy adopted in the days of Aquinas had enjoyed a renaissance of sorts in the era of Aquinas non-religious contemporaries, becoming a very popular belief system, just as it had centuries before. This thought pattern lent itself to a separation from God in a personal sense, alienating Him from the realm of experience and only allowing one to find God through the process of intellectual ascent.

There is no way to truly judge the influence this belief system has had on the constituency of faith through the ages.  As a point of historic irony, Aquinas laid the groundwork for the rejection of the allegorical method of Biblical interpretation employed by the church from the Apostolic Fathers period forward. This came into existence by the Reformers rejection of the doctrinal speculations presented by Aquinas that led to the varied Papal abuses of authority and subjection of men. Aquinas assertion that: “By nature all men are created in liberty, but not in other endowments…”[50] led to many areas of difficult and tumultuous times, as the Papacy asserted it supremacy over the Western landscape.

As such Aquinas excessive doctrinal positions would have a profound impact on the Protestant Reformation, where the Historical/ Grammatical method of interpretation would ultimately prevail, mitigating the Thomistic theories usage in the Protestant realm of theological considerations. His rejection of the supernatural realm, and its implications within the context of Christianity, has caused difficulties in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions of belief in reconciling this crucial element of faith.

It has been theorized by some that man is a combination of both perceptive and rationale elements within his psyche[51]. The problem arises in the understanding of how man interacts with the realm of the unseen. Is mans only contact with the supernatural Jesus, or is it possible for God to intervene supernaturally in the confines of humanity? Aquinas held that God personally broke through this barrier Himself to speak directly into the arena of humanity on only one true occasion. When this happened in Christ Jesus it was such a marvelous revelation and of such a magnitude that man cannot comprehend it. Aquinas believed along with Aristotle that man could not be free if indeed mans psyche was subject to immediate infiltration by other psychic contents or realities.

When dealing with Aquinas views of the metaphysical realm, it becomes imperative and necessary to understand his assertion that mans ultimate end was found in his ability to contemplate God. Mans greatest actualization, according to the Thomistic view, is found in mans ability to cogitate nature and Scripture, deducing who God is, and what He is like, through natural revelation. This is seen in Aquinas statement:

 

“Christian theology issues from the light of faith, philosophy from the natural light of reason. Philosophical truths cannot be opposed to the truths of faith, they fall short indeed, yet they also admit common analogies; and some are moreover foreshadowings, for nature is the preface to grace”[52].

 

It then becomes mans responsibility to capably respond to this informational stimuli by learning to relate to God. Aquinas believed that to understand God was to be on the way to knowing Him. This understanding or revelation comes through nature first in a limited format, Scripture is the second and consequently superior method of revelation, subject to the interpretation of the Church, with Jesus the Christ being the ultimate fashion whereby God chooses to reveal Himself through. Williston Walker acknowledges this aspect of Thomistic thought in A History of the Christian Church when he sums up Aquinas theology by stating: “Natural reason to be sure, knows nothing of those ‘mysteries of faith’… Reason therefore must be perfected by the divine revelation (sacra doctrina) contained in the canonical Scriptures… (They) are the only final authority (regula fidei), though they are always to be understood in the light of the interpretations of the church fathers, the decrees of the church councils, and the papal definitions of the faith-in short, as comprehended by the teaching authority of the church”[53].

Thus the primary principle of a metaphysical system is to understand that knowledge begins with the simple assumption that because it exists, it is. By formulating this postulation, it is meant that essence is the basic element of being, for without matter it is impossible for a human to know, for mans rational being is confined to the corporeal substance of existence in the natural. Therefore, to have being means communication must by necessitation be possible, so long as the communicatee is capable of receiving that which is communicated.

This element of communication leads into Aquinas’ second element of knowing, namely, the mind or soul of man. According to Aquinas, it is within this element of being that man becomes distinguished apart from the rest of the material world, for no other aspect of creation has the capacity to coherently understand in a rational manner. According to Aquinas “this soul is the form of the body, that which is its animation and vitality”[54]. It is given by God and carries with it an awesome responsibility on the part of the recipient to use it according to its intended purpose: that of knowing God. The mind is the power of the soul and can also be identified as the intellect. When the intellect is acted upon, it becomes an active force that engages in the thought process, attempting to analyze the data that is being presented to it. Once the input has been observed, the intellect then causes action to be taken in either a positive or negative reactional response or objection. Thus the mental process acts procedurally by positing or negating that which is sensed by the person. This act on the part of the mind and body interacting with one another constitutes the second aspect of Aquinas metaphysical system of belief.

Aquinas third aspect of his system is found in the realm of the supernatural. This area of being is confined to mans’ ability to relate to God and is dependent upon God in the conditioning of the response stimuli regarding the initiation of relationship. Aquinas held that God has instigated the ability to know Him through His intervention in human history based upon the revelation of His Son Christ Jesus. Under this aspect of knowing, Aquinas developed his cosmological argument for the existence of God as a definitive point of proof.

Aquinas defining statement, and greatest contribution to the faith, both in the area of philosophy and theology, is found in his five arguments for the existence of God. These opinions are articulated as five arguments that are seen as:

 

1)    The Prime Mover or movement-everything that has movement must have a mover, and be moved upon by an external force, except for the Prime Mover.

2) The nature of efficient cause-cause produces cause- therefore there is an ultimate cause to all that exists.

3) Possibility and necessity-nothing produces nothing-existence comes from Something-a ultimate something that causes all to be must therefore exist.

4) Gradation found in creation-a ultimate standard from which all deviations are measured must exist.

5) Governance of the world-all things move toward and end. As such, the one who ultimately governs the world that exists must guide all that exists. That someone must be the Prime Mover[55].

 

When taken as a cohesive whole, Aquinas argument can be said to show that by logically thinking about the order and harmony of nature, man can come to a knowledge of God through natural means, although this knowledge may carry within itself elements of fault. For this apparent contradiction or aberration, God has provided the further revelation of His revealed will: that which is embodied in the Canonical record of Holy Writ. This scriptural revelation climaxed in the personage of Jesus Christ when God assumed the constraints of humanity, joining Himself to the human race with the express intent of granting the final word of revelation of Himself and in the securing of relational qualities with those who so desire to enjoy this relationship.

Aquinas was an original thinker who used Aristotelian thought as the base of understanding for those who wanted to acquire absolute knowledge, or at least aspire to its attainment. His incorporation of Aristotelian thought concerning the acquiring of knowledge (sense and reason), is one of the most impressive pieces of constructive thinking ever produced by the human mind. Yet his adherence to this philosophy produced major weaknesses in his theology that would affect the church in an adverse fashion for years to come. His teachings concerning knowing God on a logical, intellectual level were profound. Aquinas’ bypassing areas such as dreams, visions, healing, tongues, prophecy etc., has left a vacuum that the church is still trying to fill. Dr. Mark Virkler states, in relation to this dilemma:

 

“Aquinas was greatly influenced by Aristotle, and sought to reduce Christianity to Aristotle’s worldview. This worldview left no room for direct spiritual encounter. Therefore dreams and visions were played down, along with experiences of angels and demons, the healings, tongue speaking, and miracles… This was the turning point for the church (relating to the exclusion of the supernatural in a non-superstitious formula)”[56].

 

 

As one former Roman Catholic and Jesuit Priest, Professor Bob Arrowsmith put it, “the Roman Church is blessed with a Platonic heart beneath its Aristotelian head. And it’s just beginning to find the way to get them together”[57]. This statement shows the major Weakness of Aquinas philosophy. Being deductive in nature, it can only offer hypotheses, but man is informed by experience and hypothesis. To deny the realm of sensate knowledge is to place a cumbersome restriction upon the human experience that is unreasonable, and implausible.

To be human is to be a person that is buffered by reason, emotion and faith. The three are necessary together if a holistic balance is to be achieved in both the objective pursuit of knowledge and the subjective realm of human experience, for experience and knowledge to be valid and whole. The confinement of faith to the region of intellect has created a void that seems to disallow the incorporation of the supernatural aspects of Biblical faith. This legacy can be seen in some circles of the Protestant churches embracing a cessationist perspective regarding the chrisms of the church life in relationship to the spiritual manifestations, or graces of a supernatural variety.

It is interesting to note however, that at the end of Thomas Aquinas life he had a tremendous spiritual encounter with God. After this experience he continued to work for the church, but he refused to resume His writings for he considered that all of his “writings had become as straw compared to what had been revealed”[58] to him, He said, “I can do no more. Such things have been revealed to me that everything I have written seems to me as rubbish”[59].

An interesting conjecture at this point is appropriate concerning the possibility of what might have happened had this learned Dominican theologian discarded portions of his theological ramblings for the doctrine of saved by grace through faith, plus nothing and made allowance for the mystical subjective portion of the Christian faith. Would the Reformation have had an earlier date of arrival, thus avoiding some of the more schismatic aspects of the church as a whole in the Western region of its incarnation? Shuster confirms that Aquinas “had a shattering mystical experience of what it would mean to live in eternal bliss”[60]. Within a relatively short period following this epiphany, Aquinas died on the way to the Second Council of Lyons “where another attempt would be made to heal the schism between the churches of the East and West, at the Abbey of Fossanova in the Campagna on March 7, 1274”[61].

In closing it would seem appropriate to insert a statement from the philosopher Wittgenstein: “My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way; anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as senseless, when he has used them as steps to climb up beyond them. He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it. He must transcend these prepositions and he will see the world aright”[62]. May the faith of the Lord Jesus illuminate understanding and allow the church to rise above it’s constraints and see the light of His eternal glory.



[1] Aquinas, Thomas, Adler, Mortimer, Great Books of the Western World, Great Ideas, Maynard Hutchins, Gen. Ed., Encyclopaedia Britannica Publishing Co., Chicago, ILL, 1952, Vol. 3, p.345.

[2] Shuster, George, N., Saint Thomas Aquinas, Heritage Press, Norwalk, CT, 1971, p. ix.

[3] Van Engen, J., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Walter Elwell, Ed., Anselm, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1984, pp. 52-3.

[4] ___ Op. cit., Anselm, pp. 52-3.

[5] Kiefer, James, Anselm of Canterbury, Monk, Archbishop, Theologian, N.D., % Dec. 2001. <http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/141.html>

[6] Towns, Elmer, Theology for Today, Harcourt College Publishers, Orlando FL, 1999, p.27.

[7] Potthoff, Harvey, God and the Celebration of Life, Rand McNally & Co., USA, 1969, pp. 19-20.

[8] Muller, Richard, A., Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1985, p. 107.

[9] Chafer, Lewis Sperry, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Dallas TX, Dallas Seminary Press, 1948/1957, p. 143.

[10] ___ Towns, Theology for Today, Op. cit., p. 24.

[11] ___ Towns, Theology for Today, Op. cit., p. 24.

[12] Erickson, Millard, Christian Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1983, 84, 85, p. 158.

[13] Rahner, Karl, Readings in the Philosophy of Man, Kelly, Williams, Ed., McGraw Hill Press, NY, 1967, 72, pp. 214-23.

Dr. Rahner excerpts readings from a previously published article entitled Truth in St. Thomas Aquinas, Vol. 7, and pp. 353-70. As a Jesuit, Rahner’s view of the changing values to an idealistic system that is closer to our time is invaluable. His neo-existentialism reveals the inherent weaknesses of a truly logical approach to the existence of God, set apart from the crucial element of personal appropriation of faith and the mysterious, in my opinion.

[14] ___ Rahner, Readings in the Philosophy of Man, op. cit., p. 214.

[15] ___ Rahner, Readings in the Philosophy of Man, op. cit, pp. 215, 216.

[16] Williams, Rodman, J., Renewal Theology, Zondervan Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, pp. 372,3.

[17] ___ Rahner, Readings in the Philosophy of Man, op. cit., p. 219.

[18] ___Rahner, Readings in the Philosophy of Man, p. 216.

[19] Dictionary of Philosophy, p. 13.

[20] Thielman, Frank, Paul and the Law, IVP, Chicago, ILL, p. 248.

[21] Haight, Roger, The Experience and Language of Grace, Paulist Press, NY, 1979, pp. 54-78.

[22] ___ Erickson, Millard, Christian Theology, op. cit., pp. 901-02.

Dr. Erickson, although not specifically citing Rahner, astutely surmises the difficulties presented by this deviation that attempts to further synthesize philosophical schools into a cohesive whole.

[23] Nagler, Arthur, The Church in History, Abingdon Press, Nashville TN, 1929, p. 104.

[24] ___ Erickson, Millard, Christian Theology, op. cit., pp. 901-02.

[25] Kant, Emanuel, Critique of Pure Reason, Readings in the Philosophy of Man, op. cit., p. 75.

[26] Thielman, Frank, Paul and the Law, op. cit., p. 45.

[27] ___ Nagler, The Church in History, pp. 144-5.

It would appear that a substantive argument could be made for Luther’s rejection of supernaturalism and the churches life that would be based upon the Roman abuses of superstition. It is an ironic point of historical interest that cast Calvin into the role of buffer between Luther and philosophies usefulness in the formation of church doctrine.

[28] Brown, Robert, Spirit of Protestantism, Oxford Press, NY, 1961, p. 68.

[29] Terry, Milton, Biblical Hermeneutics, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, N.D., p. 163.

Terry further stipulates the problem of the Patristic Father’s, and by proxy, Aquinas, when states; “Similar allegorizing abounds in the early Christian fathers.” This allegation is also found on page 163.

[30] Aquinas, Thomas, Adler, Mortimer J., Gen. Ed., Encyclopaedia Britannica, Great Books of the Western World, Chicago, Ill., Aquinas, Vol. 1, Summa Theologica, 1952, pp. 9,10.

[31] Latourette, Kenneth, A History of Christianity, Vol. 1, Harper & Row, NY, 1953, 1975, p. 498.

[32] Montgomery, John, The Suicide of Christian Theology, Bethany Fellowship Inc., Minn., MN, 1975, pp. 170,1.

[33] ___ Nagler, The Church in History, op. cit., p. 394.

[34] Sauer, Dr. Ronald. Paraphrased lecture notes taken from Hebrews, NBST 654, on 12-05-01, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, 1986, EDP.

[35] Clark, Walter, Houston, Psychology of Religion, Macmillan Press, NY, 1958, p. 58.

[36] ___ Nagler, Church in History, pp. 104-5, p.148.

[37]  Shuster, George, N., Saint Thomas Aquinas, selections from his works, Heritage Press, Norwalk Press, CT, 1971, p. 9.

[38] ___ Shuster, Saint Thomas Aquinas, op. cit., p. 11.

[39] ___ Aquinas, Thomas, Adler, Mortimer, Ed., op. cit. Summa Theologica, p. 50.

[40] ___ Shuster, op. cit. p. 11.

[41] ___ Shuster, op. cit. p. 31.

[42] ___ Shuster, op. cit. p. 31.

[43] ___ Shuster, op. cit. p. 11.

[44] Millard, Erickson, Christian Theology, op. cit. p. 246.

[45] ___ Shuster, op. cit. p. 98.

[46]___ Shuster, op. cit. p. 103.

It would be interesting to note what a re-interpretation of the Roman’s xiii. I passage would do to the standard approach of civic authorities and the need to be in submission to them. Is a better interpretation one that would take in the uniquely Jewish flavor of the N.T. church, and the struggle of the believers in Rome’s rejection of Temple authority, as presented by the author of Hebrews? Paul may have been reminding the believers in Rome of their Jewish obligations of Temple taxation and its superiority to the ‘fiscus Judaicus’ imposed by the Emperor in 64 A.D.

[47] Davis, John, Evangelical Ethics, Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing Co., NJ, 1985, p. 212, 213.

[48] ___ Latourette, Kenneth, op. cit. p. 461, p. 531.

[49] ___ Latourette, Kenneth, op. cit. p. 498.

[50] ___ Shuster, op. cit. p. 104.

[51] Pecheur, D., Benner, David, Ed., Baker Encyclopaedia of Psychology, Baker Book House, Grand rapids MI, 1985. Article: Cognition, pp. 178-182.

[52] ___ Shuster, op. cit. p. 4.

[53] Walker, Willston, ET. Al., A History of the Christian Church, Scribner, US, 1918, 59, 70, 85, p. 341.

[54] ___ Aquinas, Thomas, Adler, Mortimer, Ed., Great Ideas of the Western World, Encyclopaedia Britannica inc., Chicago, ILL, 1952, Article: Soul, p. 798,

[55] ___Elmer Towns, Theology for Today, op. cit. p. 31.

Although Dr. Towns uses slightly different terminology, his citation of the Ontological argument is basically the same proposition presented by Aquinas and his contemporaries.

[56] Virkler, Mark, Dialogue With God, Bridge Publishing, NJ, 1986, p.258.

[57] Taken from class notes Seminar in Philosophy, fall semester, 1985. Dr. Arrowsmith, a former professor of the author of this paper, can be construed as an expert on the subject, being a former Jesuit Priest.

[58] ___  Aquinas, Great Books of the Western World, op. cit. p. VI.

[59] ___ Aquinas, Great Books of the Western World, op. cit., p. VI.

[60] ___ Shuster, op.cit. p. xiv.

[61] ___ Shuster, op.cit. p. xiv.

[62] ___ John Montgomery, op. cit. Suicide of Modern Theology, pp. 299-300.

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