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Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas believed that he had a better proof of God than did Anselm. Here Thomas is girdled by angels with a mystical belt of purity after his proof of chastity.

More than a century after Lombard, the Dominican scholar Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) stayed with the scholastic tradition. He lectured on Lombard's work titled the Four Books of Sentences, and he wrote a work of his own titled On Being and Essence. Aquinas began by acknowledging the Islamic scholar Avicenna's work on this subject. And Aquinas wrote: "Nothing can be called a being unless it posits something in reality." Aquinas wrote that "essence signifies something common to all natures through which the various beings are placed in the various genera and species, as humanity is the essence of man, and so on..."

Avicenna had been influenced by Aristotle. Thomas Aquinas followed suit and intended to put Aristotle within a grand and coherent Christian theology. Aquinas joined Anselm in wanting to go beyond faith by proving God's existence. He believed that he had a better proof than had Anselm. Aquinas believed that one could start with a truth and build from it logically to truths beyond sense experience, to God at the top of a hierarchical order, to the being beyond which there was no greater being.

One of the arguments put forth by Aquinas is called the First Cause argument: every effect has a cause, the universe is an effect, therefore the universe has a cause, and that cause is God. For Aquinas, God alone didn't have a beginning. Therefore, for Aquinas, the question what caused God was not relevant.

Aquinas transposed Aristotle's view of happiness as the purpose of life – a view coupled with well being, moderation, virtue and fulfillment. For Aquinas all of these good things were realized by knowing God and could be acquired by practice and also, most importantly for the Church, infused into believers by the grace of God mediated by Church sacraments.

Aquinas believed that not all people had the intellectual capacity to reason as well as he or those who understood him. Those people, he reasoned, did best for themselves by clinging to the authority of those more capable than they. The wisest of men, Aquinas believed, had faith in the authority of God as revealed in scripture.

Aquinas addressed the question of just wars. He found a rationale for getting around scripture that expressed the pacifism of early Christianity, beginning with an argument by Augustine. He described three things necessary for a war to be just: it had to be commanded by a sovereign; those attacked had to "deserve it on account of some fault;" and those doing the attacking had to have "rightful intention." The wars called crusades could be classified as just under these restrictions.

Aquinas' work was applauded by some scholars but it was not welcomed at first by the Church. In 1277 the archbishop of Paris declared Aquinas' views as heresy, and this was repeated in England by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  But Church doctrine regarding philosophical complexities changed. The Church began to accept Aquinas' work and to accept Aristotle. In 1323, Pope John XXII would canonize Aquinas. In 1567, Pope Pius V would declare Aquinas a doctor of the Church, and the works of Aquinas would be required reading for anyone studying philosophy.


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