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
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
4Council of lyon attempt to unify the catholics with the eastern
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
Prudence (practical wisdom) is required for the most part, if
not always, to determine if a given act is intrinsically flawed or
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
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
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
Aquinas argues humans must achieve the humanization of the world
and eternal salvation and this entails a principle of government
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
Human Nature and the Common Good and the Necessity of Government
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
Political institutions foster knowledge, culture, and virtue and
permit humans to pursue their ultimate end, which is the enjoyment
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