On St. Thomas Aquinas

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Left in the comment box at Disputations, and reposted here to remind me of what I said when I get fed up (again) with scholastic reasoning and St. Thomas Aquinas fans:

Even though I am very sympathetic to your viewpoint [--that much of this reasoning seems to get in the way of actual Christian conduct--I oversimplify, but that was the jist] at times even I can find the merit of St. Thomas Aquinas.

I don't find him much help for the daily encounters at the time of the encounter; however, his articulations of the truths of the faith help to inform how I react to things once I've been able to internalize them.

That is to say, that much of this theorizing and thinking is just that. But some small portion of it can trickle down and change us dramatically. I've experienced this again and again through Tom's presentation of Aquinas's thought.

That said, I find much of it to be straining at gnats. I suspect many do. Aquinas does not add to what has been revealed by Jesus Christ; however, he does provide the reasoning and the informed understanding of it.

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Who cares? Object, Intent, Circumstance--what does it mean? Well, I suppose it means the difference between pursuing Jean Valjean for 20 years over the theft of a loaf of bread for his starving family and Mother Teresa caring for the poor in Calcutta. The reasoning may not appeal to all--but the reasoning can inform the heart.

Nevertheless, it does, at times, seem tortuous.

And unproductive. You ask--"How can this lead to love?" And I answer, I don't really know, I don't understand it. And yet the history of the Saints and of St. Thomas Aquinas himself shows definitively that not only can it, in fact, it often does. This seems to go hand in glove with the first post of the day from the letter to the Philippians--"whatsoever is true. . . think about these things." When we start in thinking and in knowing, we can grow in loving. When we start in loving, we can learn thinking and knowing. The two comprise an ever-expanding cycle of knowledge and love IF we allow them to do so. Thus for every Thomas Aquinas there is a Thérèse of Lisieux. The two end up at the same place but arrive by different routes. Nevertheless both routes involve the cycle of knowledge and love. We cannot avoid them. True knowledge leads to love, overwhelming love leads to the desire for knowledge. Hence the need for the knowledge, not merely of St. Thomas Aquinas, but of all the Saints who have thought and loved through all of time.

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Ironically, I was posting late late late last night on how St. Thomas is a genius :-)

Part of the problem, though, is simply that there's so much emphasis on the two Summas, which are technical works. It's hard to find good translations of Aquinas's catechetical and practical works, it's hard to find any translations of his scriptural commentaries, and his hymns often go unacknowledged. Naturally, if people only talk about the technical works of a saint, the saint's thought is going to seem a bit tortuous.

Dear Brandon,

You may an excellent point. This was written in response to a somewhat abstruse, but amusing quantification of moral theology. But the Church has found much to admire in the person and the thought of the Saint, so any reflection I may have on the matter must simply be viewed as personal idiosyncrasy.

But your points are a very nice counterpoint to the usual discussion about St. Thomas Aquinas.



To me, the most astonishing thing about St. Thomas was that he was a saint despite all that scholastic endeavor and biblical scholarship. The temptation towards intellectual pride, the temptation towards doubt, the temptation towards a dry scholarly approach to scripture as a coronor would a corpse - all of those temptations utterly defeated. Praise God.

The story goes that St. Thomas had a vision at the end of his life where Jesus revealed to him many mysteries, and after that Thomas ceased to write any more theology, saying everything he had done heretofore was so much straw...

See the bottom of this page.

Would that more theologians had his humility.

BTW, I meant to add that while I think Aquinas is a genius, I agree with you, Stephen, that it can seem unproductive. What matters in the end is how it makes us behave — and that's what I find so ironic, BTW, because in my blog I was not only saying Aquinas was a genius, but in one draft I was saying that his thoughts have helped make me a better person. But I eliminated that, because I don't know how to explain it ATM.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 20, 2004 7:25 AM.

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