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St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 1274)

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Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Life and Times St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274 )

Aquinas came from a noble family from Naples.

He joined the Dominican order against his familys wishes. Aquinas studied with Albert the Great in Paris and participated in the Aristotelian revival of the Middle Ages.

He was canonized and became a saint in 1323.Resisting the temptation of a prostitute and the discovery of Herring at night were the miracles used to justify his sainthood. Aquinass extensive corpus of scholarship is perhaps a greater miracle than those mentioned above.

Known as the greatest Christian medieval theologian-philosopher, he single-handedly stemmed the tide of Islamic Aristotelianism into EuropeHis friends playfully called him the dumb oxHe produced over ninety works in a little over two decadesSumma TheologicaSumma Contra GentilesThe Ways of God: For Meditation and PrayerHe stands at the top of the group of thinkers known as ScholasticsAt age 48 he suddenly stopped writing Maybe he suffered a brain hemorrhageMaybe he had a vision that academic learning was not the most important thingAll that I have written seems like straw to me, he told a friend A year later, he died on the road to a church council

4Council of lyon attempt to unify the catholics with the eastern orthodox

Aquinas was dubbed the dumb ox by his fellow students, for being large and quiet. He was apparently quiet because he was busy thinking; he became the Catholic churchs top theologian, a title he still holds today, without dispute.

Aquinass major work, the Summa Theologica, is divided into 4 parts.

Prima Pars (1st Part) Existence and Nature of GodPrima Secundae (1st Part of the 2nd Part) Happiness, Psychology, Virtues, Law (Human, Natural, Divine)Secunda Secundae (2nd Part of the 2nd Part) The virtues in detailTertia Pars (3rd Part) Christian DoctrineMajor Work(s)

The political philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, along with the broader philosophical teaching of which it is part, stands at the crossroads between the Christian gospel and the Aristotelian political doctrine.


During the Middle Ages, many of Aristotles works were lost to Western Europe, beginning in the first few centuries AD.

Aquinas merged Aristotle with Christianity after the recovery of his philosophy via Muslim scholars in the 12th and 13th century.

The purposiveness or end-directedness of nature in Aristotle is identified by Aquinas with Gods purposes.Aquinas and Aristotle

The Islamic philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) had tailored Aristotles teachings so that the beliefs in creation, the immortality of the soul, and the unity of truth were discardedAverroes influenced many in Christian academiaAristotle, Averroes, and Aquinas

Aquinas took on the task of studying Aristotle for himself, and building a Christian worldview to counter that of the Averroists


Unlike his medieval Jewish and Islamic counterparts, Aquinas does not have to reconcile Aristotelianism with a concrete political and legal code specified in the sacred writings of his religion..As far as he is concerned, God no longer requires people to live according to the judicial precepts of the Old Law (Summa Theologiae [hereafter ST], I-II, 104.3), and so the question of formulating a comprehensive Christian political teaching that is faithful to biblical principles loses it urgency if not its very possibility.

These observations perhaps explain why Aquinas, whose writings nearly all come in the form of extremely well organized and systematic treatises, never completed a thematic discussion of politics. His letterOn Kingship(written as a favor to the king of Cyprus) comes closest to fitting the description of a political treatise, and yet this brief and unfinished work hardly presents a comprehensive treatment of political philosophy.

Even his commentary onAristotle'sPoliticsis less than half complete, and it is debatable whether this work is even intended to express Aquinas' own political philosophy at all. Although it is not expressed in overtly political works, Aquinas' thoughts on political philosophy may be found within treatises that contain discussions of issues with far reaching political implications.

This does not mean, however, that Aquinas was uninterested in political philosophy or that he simply relied on Aristotle to provide the missing political teaching that Christianity leaves out. Nor does it mean that Aquinas does not have a political teaching. 12

In his celebratedSumma Theologiae, for instance, Aquinas engages in long discussions of law, the virtue of justice, the common good, economics, and the basis of morality.

Even though not presented in the context of a comprehensive political teaching, these texts provide a crucial insight into Aquinas' understanding of politics and the place of political philosophy within his thought.

Ultimate RealityAquinas was primarily a Christian theologian.

He viewed human wisdom as structured like a pyramid with the sciences of ethics and politics at its base with philosophy above and theology at its apex.

Natural philosophy are not contradictory but complementary.

Faith and reason are valid in their own realms.

Aquinas scholastic method integrates Aristotles teleological view of nature into the biblical theology of creation and Christian salvation.

"The unseen things of God are visible through His manifest works." Rom. I: 20

Aquinas was inspired by this passage to examine Gods works and prove to the skeptics that there is a God!

The Mystery of CreationAquinas Five Proofs


Consider a bouncing ball. How did the ball start bouncing? Did it fall and if so what caused it to fall? What started all the action?

The First Proof: The Prime MoverAccording to Aquinas, it is necessary to go back to some first mover, which is itself moved by nothing---and this all men know as God.

Consider yourself and your family history. You came to be because of your parents and your parents came to be because of their parents and so on. But where does it begin? The Second Proof: The First Cause

Aquinas explains, if the chain were to go back infinitely, there would be no first cause, and thus no ultimate effect, nor middle causes, which is admittedly false. Hence we must presuppose some first efficient cause---which all call God.

Consider things that exist beyond the realm of human control. How did trees, animals, mountains, stars, and the sun come to exist? What caused these things to exist? If it was a mere accident what existed before the universe? If nothing, then nothing can come from nothing.

The Third Proof: Possibility and Necessity

Thus, Aquinas argues, there must be presupposed something necessarily existing through its own nature, not having a cause elsewhere but being itself the cause of the necessary existence of other things---which all call God.

Consider the notion that there are varying degrees of love, goodness, and perfection. Consider the concept of heat. There are certainly varying degrees of heat. Aquinas points out, fire, which is the greatest heat, is the cause of all heat. The cause of the greatest love, goodness, and perfection is who we call God.

The Fourth Proof: The Degrees found in things

Aquinas saw this ordered structure and argued, there is something intelligent by which all natural things are arranged in accordance with a plan---and this we call God. The Fifth Proof: The Cosmos

Examine the natural world around you. Although it appears to be chaotic at times, nature is very structured. Weather systems, oceans, the solar system, time, it all has structure. Who is responsible for this structure? Who could have designed such a plan? The Fifth Proof: The Cosmos

Proper arrangement and the origin23

The Solar System is unique in that the rocky inner planets are protected from cometary bombardment by two large gas giants. Scientists estimate that the Earth would receive approximately 1,000 times its current level of comet impacts if these planets were not where they are. Such a large number of collisions would have prevented the existence of life on the Eart24

"Things are in motion, hence there is a first mover.Things are caused, hence there is a first cause.Things exist, hence there is a creator.Perfect goodness exists, hence it has a source.Things are designed, hence they serve a purpose.

-St. Thomas Aquinas(1224 1274)

About LawsPolitical rulership must be carried out under law and the ruler should keep the laws he makes for others.

Aquinas describes the essence of law:

Law is a rule and measure of acts whereby man is induced to act or is restrained from acting: for lex (law) is derived from ligare (to bind), because it binds one to act. Now the rule and measure of human acts, as is evident from what has been stated above, since it belongs to the reason to direct the end, which is the first principle in all matters of action according to the Philosopher (Aristotle).

Types of LawsFour kinds of Law:

Eternal LawNatural LawDivine Positive LawHuman Positive Law

Eternal Law Divine reason and wisdom comprise an eternal law a law governing the whole creation, a law not made but eternally existing and therefore unknowable to humans entirely, yet the source of all true law on earth.(Eternal law comes from God and is unchanging).

Natural Law The practical reflection or sharing in eternal reason that provides humans with objective, changeless, universal rules or general principles of action for ethical and political life.(Natural law is eternal law that can be known to humans)

True law is reasonable.Natural Law and Rationalism are consistent with Christian truth.Law must mirror a natural world order made known through reason and the revelation of the prophets. Law has a moral purpose.Law gains its legitimacy through reason. The validity of law is based on its moral content or justness.


Divine Law The revealed truths such as the ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mounts that supplement and corrects human fallibility and frailty. (Divine Positive law is the part of eternal law revealed through the scriptures).

Human Law True law that is derived from natural law. A rule of state that is at odds with natural law is no law at all.

(Human positive law is the laws made by the state )

The Order of Natural LawFirst Principle:Do good and avoid evil.For example preserving life, caring for children, knowing the truth about God, not harming others, helping the poor and the sick, shunning ignorance, etc. Second Principle:How to act based on the first principle.For example the enforcement of the law, making of laws, functioning of society.

Aquinas' celebrated doctrine ofnatural lawno doubt plays a central role in his moral and political teaching. According to Aquinas, everything in the terrestrial world is created by God and endowed with a certain nature that defines what each sort of being is in its essence. A thing's nature is detectable not only in its external appearance, but also and more importantly through the natural inclinations which guide it to behave in conformity with the particular nature it has.

Aquinas explains that the entire universe is governed by the supreme lawgiverpar excellence: "Granted that the world is ruled by Divine Providence...the whole community of the universe is governed by Divine Reason." Even though the world governed by God's providence is temporal and limited, Aquinas calls the law that governs it the "eternal law." Its eternal nature comes not from that to which it applies, but rather from whom the law is derived, namely, God

As Aquinas explains, "the very idea of the government of things in God the Ruler of the universe, has the nature of a law. And since Divine Reason's conception of things is not subject to time but is eternal, according to Prov. viii, 23...this kind of law must be called eternal." (Ibid.).Because the rational creature's relation to the eternal law is so different from that of any other created thing, Aquinas prefers to call the law that governs it by a different name. Instead of saying that humans are under the eternal law, therefore, he says they are under the natural law, and yet "the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature's participation of the eternal law"

Unlike Aristotle, Aquinas did not believe that the state leads people to their greatest potential. The state is subordinate to the Catholic church who is in charge of moral matters on Earth. Therefore an unjust law does not have any binding force. Such laws are an act of violence against the people of the state.

Aquinas defines human law as the ordinance of reason for the common good, proclaimed publicly by a ruler who has care for the community.

Aquinas, then, has a value-based ethical theory. The rightness or wrongness of particular actions is determined by how those actions further or frustrate the goods.

Certain ways of acting are intrinsically flawed or unreasonable responses to these human goods.

Like Aristotle, Aquinas seems sure there can be no formula provided to determine what action is right or wrong in all particular cases.

Prudence (practical wisdom) is required for the most part, if not always, to determine if a given act is intrinsically flawed or not.Normative Theory

Aquinass first principle of morality is: Good should be done, and evil avoided

We are by nature inclined toward the Good, according to Aquinas, but we cannot pursue the good directly because it is abstractwe must pursue concrete goods which we know immediately, by inclination. Those goods are:Preservation of lifeProcreationKnowledgeSocietyReasonable ConductNormative Theory

Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of GovernmentThe political condition is a natural condition of human beings as part of creation.Aquinas states: Thus the goodness which in God is simple and unique is found in countless and differentiated creatures. Consequently it is the entire universe which shares perfectly the goodness of God and represents it more than one creature by itself.Human beings are partners with God and politics is necessary even if there was no fall from the Garden of Eden.

It is a natural condition to be politically conditioned. Same as to say to promote a common good-the good of all. Hence, there is a necessity of government.Human beings are part of creation, though we cannot grasp the mind of the creator, his wisdom is truly incomparable to the immanent dimension, still we are in tangled with God. we are living creatures who are part of this world and is part of the galactic universe, the finite being sharing the perfect goodness of the infinite being that is God more than a single creature by itself. Because of Gods goodness even if there was no fall from the garden of eden, human beings would be always the partner of God, and politics is necessary.36

Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - ContinuedAquinas reflections on human mutual dependence:

Nonhuman animals have specific natural defenses (such as claws), whereas humans must rely on reason for their survival.

Human co-creation requires human cooperation and cannot be done by single individuals with their limited talents.

The power of speech show that solitary existence is inappropriate (nature does nothing in vain); speech and language provide the mans for interpersonal projects.

Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued

Aquinas argues humans must achieve the humanization of the world and eternal salvation and this entails a principle of government within society.

If it is natural for human beings to live in society, then it follows that there must be regulation of society. For not human group can long endure if each person sought only his individual ends. One of them would have to provide for the common interest, just as an organism would break apart unless it had some controlling power in it which worked for the good of all bodily parts.

Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government - Continued

Humans require political rule for social survival.

Humans should be put under the rule of those providing for the common interest or common good.

The king or government exists to prevent chaos.Original sin leaves humans wounded, fallible, and frail though not vitiated or corrupted.

Political institutions foster knowledge, culture, and virtue and permit humans to pursue their ultimate end, which is the enjoyment of God.

Followers and Critics of AquinasPhilosophers who follow Aquinas teachings are known as ThomistsPope John Paul II (Fides et Ratio)Etienne Gilson (The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy and The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas)Norman Geisler (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, and over 50 other books)Catholic hospitals follow Aquinas ethicsFrances Schaeffer joins Ronald Nash in being a critic of some aspects of Aquinas philosophyIn Aquinas view the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not. . . . Out of this, as time passed, mans intellect was seen as autonomous. Escape from Reason, p. 21140


The highest manifestation of life consists in this: that a being governs its own actions. A thing which is always subject to the direction of another is somewhat of a dead thing.

-Aquinas, Thomas. 13th Century.

That is why we are rational beings, responsible and accountable for all our actions.41