Bronze-level articleThomas Aquinas

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St. Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274) was a Roman Catholic saint and philosopher.

His massive Summa Theologica makes Das Kapital look like light beach reading, and it is renowned as the epitome of Christian theology and philosophy by the Catholic church. Why the essential insight it purportedly provides wasn't included in the holy scripture to begin with remains unknown.[1]

Aquinas endorsed something he called "natural theology" — knowing God by studying his creation (i.e., the Universe) as opposed to the rationalist practice of exclusively studying the Bible — an approach he based on earlier work by Jewish and Islamic philosophers Maimonides and AverroesWikipedia's W.svg.

His philosophical legacy, known as Thomism, shifted medieval philosophy away from Plato and towards the rediscovered works of Aristotle. This was one of the developments which led to the Renaissance, during which many new philosophies developed either from or in opposition to Thomism. Thanks for that, Tom![2]

For all his (relative) logical prowess, he was constrained by the fact that no part of his reasoning could bring him into disagreement with Scripture, and often trumped opposing arguments by simply throwing a quotation from the Bible or one of the Church Fathers at the problem. Unsurprisingly, doing so rarely caused it to go away.

Another early apologist device of his was redefining certain terms by saying "X may be understood in two ways". He then used the less obvious understanding when it suited his cause.

The Summa is his point-by-point summation about who he thought God was and, as such, how the universe worked. His original seed thought, of God as the un-caused Cause, thus explodes into multiple volumes detailing every tenet of faith upheld as dogma since then by the Roman Catholic Church. An introductory text for theology students, it is considered "one of the classics of the history of philosophy and one of the most influential works of Western literature."[3], and is a foundational text for Catholics — and an important text among Anglo-Catholics, some Lutherans who identify as "Evangelical Catholics", and Calvinists.[4]

The Summa was written with a mind both attuned to Scripture and to Aristotelian philosophy; it can be very difficult to understand without first understanding Aristotelian philosophical concepts, such as 'movement', 'potentiality', and 'actuality' (which, incidentally, play a major role in one of Aquinas's arguments for the existence of God).

Contents

[edit] Quinque viae

Aquinas puts forth five rather arguments that are supposed to, together, prove the existence of God.[5] Richard Swinburne argued that these arguments are only strong when collected together: individually, each of them is weak. Even if one accepts every single one of his premises, he only manages to prove that anything resembling a deity, as opposed to the specifically Christian God.

[edit] The Argument of the Unmoved Mover

See the main article on this topic: Argument from first cause

This argument says that God must be the cause things are moving in the Universe. Aquinas argues that an infinite regress of movers is impossible, thus there must be an unmoved mover that initiated all motion. He says that this mover is what he calls God. It's a cosmological argument. Of course, you might as well call this mover "Charlie" or whatever floats your boat, since it does not prove that this mover has any of the characteristics that are usually associated with the concept of God, such as conscience, benevolence, omnipotence, or that it intervenes in our universe. It obviously doesn't prove that the Christian God exists. The furthest it goes is supporting a sort of weak Deism, and using the argument as proof of a given deity is an example of equivocation.[citation needed]

[edit] The Argument of the First Cause

See the main article on this topic: Argument from first cause

This is EXACTLY the same argument as the Unmoved Mover. Same steps, same order, same leap of logic from common sense to assumptions about the nature of the universe, same special pleading for God. Well, technically speaking its a bit different. This argument doesn't make the stupid error of assuming that the natural state of things is not motion BUT it still makes the horrible mistake of trying to apply the 'in universe' concept of causation to something that happened before the universe began AKA what created it.[citation needed]

[edit] The Argument from Contingency

See the main article on this topic: Argument from first cause

To try to explain why something exists rather than nothing (and try to prove that God exists), Aquinas formulated this argument. According to Aquinas, the universe could conceivably not exist (meaning it is contingent), thus it must have a cause for existing, and this cause must not be something that is also contingent, but rather some that whose existence is necessary. And this is what he calls God. This argument has exactly the same problems as the Unmoved Mover argument: it just defines God as the original cause of everything, when the concept of God includes many other attributes.[citation needed]

[edit] The Argument from Degree

See the main article on this topic: Ontological argument

Aquinas argues that there must be an ultimate standard of perfection to compare everything else to. So perfection must have a pinnacle, which he calls God. Yes, this one has the same problems as the other ones, and this one also does not even prove that a maximally perfect being exists: it only proves that its concept exists. Aquinas also forgot that, following this stupid logic, there must also be an ultimate standard of smelliness, thus there must be a pinnacle of smelliness to which we compare everything else to... which also proves nothing.[citation needed]

[edit] The Teleological Argument

See the main article on this topic: Argument from design

Unintelligent objects (such as rocks) act towards an end (such as falling to the ground). However, unintelligent objects cannot act towards an end unless they are directed. Therefore, Aquinas claims that a single being with intelligence directs everything towards its end (call this thing God). The conclusion does not follow, as there is no reason that each individual object cannot be guided by a unique being.[citation needed]

[edit] Rebuttals

Aquinas attempted to rebut several arguments for atheism. The format is that Aquinas offers an erroneous point-of-view and several reasons why that view might be true, and then a rebuttal and his own point-of-view.

[edit] Problem of evil

See the main article on this topic: Problem of evil

Aquinas rebutted the problem of evil by saying:[6]

This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that he should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good.

[edit] Occam's razor

See the main article on this topic: Occam's razor

Aquinas rebutted an argument for atheism based on Occam's razor:[7]

Objection 2. Further, it is superfluous to suppose that what can be accounted for by a few principles has been produced by many. But it seems that everything we see in the world can be accounted for by other principles, supposing God did not exist. For all natural things can be reduced to one principle which is nature; and all voluntary things can be reduced to one principle which is human reason, or will. Therefore there is no need to suppose God's existence.

On the contrary, It is said in the person of God: "I am Who am." (Exodus 3:14)

[...]

Reply to Objection 2. Since nature works for a determinate end under the direction of a higher agent, whatever is done by nature must needs be traced back to God, as to its first cause. So also whatever is done voluntarily must also be traced back to some higher cause other than human reason or will, since these can change or fail; for all things that are changeable and capable of defect must be traced back to an immovable and self-necessary first principle, as was shown in the body of the Article.

Aquinas argues that nature works towards some end, also known as teleology. This would require intelligent design or some other related argument (such as the argument from beauty or argument from design) to be true.

[edit] Christian views

[edit] Weddings

  • " On this account it is forbidden to celebrate marriages at those times when men ought especially to arise to spiritual things." [8] (So no weddings at the best times to have weddings. No Christmas weddings, no Spring weddings, sometimes even no summer weddings. Goodness; did they all get married and then have a Halloween masquerade?)

[edit] Heaven

  • "...The blessed in glory will have no pity on the damned."[9][10]
  • "...That the happiness of the saints may be more delightful to them and that they may render more copious thanks to God for it, they are allowed to see perfectly the sufferings of the damned."[11] (In other words, when the saved see unrepentant sinners - which may include Mormons, gays, Jews, atheists, people who used contraception, and all the rest being char-broiled, you will be happy and praise God for His justice.)

[edit] Scientific errors

Summa Theologica is an honest attempt by a pre-modern scientist to explain how the world works. Unavoidably, many of his assumptions are contradicted by modern biology and medicine. Aquinas had no access to the microscope, germ theory, Darwin, or any other tools to serve him in any form that could be called scientific. (However, being monks never hindered William of Ockham or Roger Bacon giving science a method and logical foundation, or Gregor Mendel discovering heredity.)

[edit] Biology

Aquinas believed honestly that the sperm gamete was the only one required for impregnation to occur in a woman. In his version of reality, there is simply no such thing as the egg cell. In the world of Aquinas, not only are women relegated to strict gender roles — but in terms of who pulls the most weight in making babies happen, women are to be understood as playing the second fiddle. Thaat's terrific.

[edit] Sexuality

Aquinas formulated the idea of Natural Law, a mainstay of Roman Catholic theology which says the human body should be only used in accordance with the Laws of Nature (as according to Thomas). Obviously we see where this is going quickly. Unlike the Kama Sutra, whose authors knew how to throw a party, for the ever-celibate monk Thomas, everyone on earth is made "naturally" to be drawn to the opposite sex and engage in missionary-style procreation. Female sexuality in a heterosexual sense is missing, and Thomas quickly sends all Sodomites to the Other Place for violating Natural Law.[citation needed]

Of course, to some modern Homo sapiens, this still seems like a perfectly sane way to think reality functions.

The Summa Theologica is an introductory text for theology students written and is Aquinas' best known work. It's considered an important work both in Christianity and philosophy in general. It covers many subjects, but is perhaps best known for the five reasons which supposedly prove the existence of God (Quinque viae): argument from first cause (phrased in three different ways), the ontological argument, and the argument from design.

[edit] See also

[edit] Additional reading

  • A Summa of the Summa by Peter Kreeft
  • My Way of Life: The Summa Simplified for Everyone by the Confraternity of the Precious Blood

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  1. The Holy Spirit, allegedly responsible for inspiring the Bible, has been unavaliable for comment.
  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM9RUzYjArs
  3. Ross, James F., "Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae (ca. 1273), Christian Wisdom Explained Philosophically", in The Classics of Western Philosophy: A Reader's Guide, (eds.) Jorge J. E. Gracia, Gregory M. Reichberg, Bernard N. Schumacher (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2003), p. 165. [1]
  4. Note: Evangelical and similar newer strains of post-19th Century Protestant and/or revivalist denominations Christianity aren't likely to take much interest in Aquinas's work.
  5. Summa Theologica, Prima Pars (Part 1), Question 2
  6. ST, PP, Q2, Article 3, Reply 1
  7. Summa Theologica FP Q2 A3
  8. ST, STP, Q64, A10, Answer
  9. ST, STP, Q94
  10. ST, PSP, Q29
  11. ST, STP, Q94


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