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General Introduction

In this volume we have sought to present the view taken by Thomas Aquinas of the moral and spiritual world in which we live, and of the conditions of man’s self-realization which are consequent upon it. The final end of man lies in God, through whom alone he is and lives, and by whose help alone he can attain his end. The teaching of Aquinas concerning the moral and spiritual order stands in sharp contrast to all views, ancient or modern, which cannot do justice to the difference between the divine and the creaturely without appearing to regard them as essentially antagonistic as well as discontinuous. For Aquinas, no such opposition obtains between God and the world which he has made. Any evil which disrupts the continuity of the context of human endeavour after self-realization in God is due to corruption, not to nature, and such corruption is never absolute.

The attitude of Thomas is best understood in its historical contrast to that of Augustine. Although Aquinas sought at every turn to harmonize his teaching as far as possible with Augustine’s, to whose authority he refers more often than to any other, the difference between them was fundamental. His predecessor never seems to have freed himself entirely from the Manichaean conviction of cosmic evil. His mystical doctrine of the fall extended the effects of a cosmic evil will to nature itself, so that all nature is corrupt, not only human nature. Reason in man remains, but is helpless since it cannot operate apart from the will, which has lost its freedom through sin. There is consequently a sharp division between the realm of nature and the realm of grace, such as renders it impossible to explain how man can be regenerated through grace without apparently 22 destroying the continuity of his own endeavour, and equally impossible to maintain that he can attain any knowledge of God or of divine things through knowledge of the created world. Since nature is corrupt, experience of created things, even if we could know them, could present nothing better than distorted images of what things ought to be. Anything learnt through sense would therefore be useless as a clue to the nature of the divine. The “inward way” is consequently the only way to true knowledge. The soul must develop within itself, and it can do so only through grace. True knowledge must be implanted in the mind by God, either gradually or all at once. Reliance on the ontological argument to divine existence automatically follows.

The teaching of Aquinas contrasts with that of Augustine on every point which we have mentioned, representing a kindlier view both of man and of nature. The will is free, and the natural desire for the good persists despite sin. Aquinas is more definite than Augustine that reason itself is impaired by sin. But he holds that it can be used, and that we must follow our reason as far as it will take us. Grace and revelation are aids which do not negate reason. Here as everywhere nature itself demands supernature for its completion, and the provision of divine grace meets the striving of human nature in its search for the ultimate good, this quest being itself due to the gracious moving of God. In so far as they are, created things are good, and in so far as they are and are good, they reflect the being of God who is their first cause. The natural knowledge of God is therefore possible through the knowledge of creatures. Not only so, but there is no human knowledge of God which does not depend on the knowledge of creatures. All knowledge begins from sense, even of things which transcend sense. For this reason alone Aquinas would have been bound to reject the ontological argument of Augustine, which depends on knowledge of ideal entities entirely unrelated to sense experience. The “five ways” of Pt. I, Q. 2, all involve the cosmological argument from the existence of created things as known through sense.

The task which Aquinas set himself to achieve was similar to that of Augustine. Augustine had sought to reconcile the principles of Christianity with the philosophy of Plato, without the pantheistic implications which had developed in the emanation theory of Plotinus. Aquinas sought to reconcile the philosophy of Aristotle with the principles of Christianity, avoiding the pantheism which it seemed to imply (cf. Pt. I, 23Q. 3, Art. 8). Many of Aristotle’s works had been introduced to the West during the eleventh and twelfth centuries from Arabian sources, particularly through Avicenna and Averroes, whose extensive commentaries interpreted the thought of Aristotle in a strongly pantheistic vein. Averroes had also maintained that the common basis of a universal natural religion, underlying the differences of any particular religion, was the highest of all, the “scientific” religion, of which Aristotle was the founder. The several “positive” religions he regarded as necessary for the masses, poorer versions of the same truth, whose trappings were better removed. Revelation, like anything else peculiar to any one religion, was merely a poorer way of stating what Aristotle had stated in a much better way as the content of the moral law. The whole presentation apparently led to such extravagances that for a time the writings of Aristotle were proscribed. But such a thinker was too valuable to be cast aside, and it was mainly due to the efforts of the Dominicans, Albertus Magnus and his pupil Aquinas, that Aristotle’s philosophy came to be accepted by the Church as representing the highest to which unaided human reason could attain. Plato seems to be more in keeping with the Christian belief, since he regards the material universe as created, and the spiritual as above the natural. But the mystical elements of his thought encroached on the province of revelation, and had indeed been the source of heresies. The very limitations of Aristotle, on the other hand, served to emphasize that the truths of revelation were unknown to the Greeks because they were not discoverable by natural reason, but above reason.

Aquinas makes extensive use of Aristotle’s psychology, which he applies throughout in order to define problems relating to faith and the operation of grace. There was indeed no other psychology available with any pretentions to systematic completeness. He also makes use of the Aristoteleian metaphysics wherever relevant. The treatment of all problems proceeds according to the conceptual distinctions by means of which Aristotle did his thinking. This unfortunately gives the impression that Aquinas was a rational conceptualist. Aquinas was no more of a conceptualist than Aristotle, who was certainly nothing of the kind. If Aristotle had been a conceptualist, he could never have written the Prior Analytics, which reveal the attitude of the biological scientist who insisted that all generic conceptions must be justified through induction from experienced particulars. Although the syllogistic method, which 24Aquinas employs to the utmost, may put the original appeal to experience in the background, it should be realized that Aquinas uses conceptual thinking as a means to the knowledge of things, and declares that we formulate propositions only in order to know things by means of them, in faith no less than in science (22ae, Q. i, Art. 2), and also that truth consists in conformity of the intellect with the thing known (cf. Pt. I, Q. 21, Art. 2). The charge of “a priorism” is justifiable only in so far as it can be brought against any view which maintains that knowledge transcends what is immediately experienced—not on the ground of conceptualism. According to Aquinas, divine reality is itself simple. But things known are in the knower according to his manner of knowing, and we cannot understand truth otherwise than by thinking, which proceeds by means of the combination and separation of ideas (22ae, Q. I, Art. 2, ad 5; cf. Q. 27, Art. 4), this being the way proper to the human intellect, which is confused by the things which are most manifest to nature, just as the eye of the bat is dazzled by the light of the sun (Pt. I, Q. 1, Art. 5). If the terminology is found puzzling, it should be borne in mind that it is intended as the way out of complexity, not as the way into it. Further, although Aquinas frequently appears to “prove by definition,” what he really does is to answer a question by defining its elements as they must be defined according to the final view which he means to expound, clarifying the issue so that the question answers itself. It may be observed, also, that although objections dealt with sometimes contain plain logical fallacies, Aquinas never treats them as such, but invariably looks for a deeper reason behind them.

In Pt. I, Qq. 1–4 Aquinas defines sacred doctrine as the wisdom of all wisdoms. Its principal object is God, the first cause of all that is, in relation to whom alone are man and his place in the universe properly understood. Qq. 20–23 deal with God in relation to man, as determining the moral and spiritual world in which man must seek to attain the end which God ordains by means which God provides. In Prima Secundae, Qq. 82, 85 present Aquinas’ view of original sin and its effects, and Qq. 109–114 his treatise on divine grace. In Secunda Secundae, Qq. 1–7; 17–21; 23, 27 treat of the three theological virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity, by means of which man may attain to blessedness, the final end to which all his activities must be subordinate. We may now proceed to comment on each of these five sections in turn.



Questions 1–4

Sacred doctrine does not argue to prove its first principles, which are the articles of faith, since they cannot be proved to one who denies the revelation on which they are founded. Aquinas nevertheless maintains that human reason can demonstrate the existence, unity, and perfection of God. The “five ways” of arguing to divine existence could not be omitted from any representation of his thought, and call for some comment. The first article of Q. 2 rejects Anselm’s version of the ontological argument, particularly on the ground of its question-begging form. Most commentators, however, are agreed that the criticism offered is not valid against Anselm. Anselm did not contend, as did Descartes, that the proposition “God exists” is self-evident from the nature of the concepts as anyone is bound to understand them. Nor did he argue in a purely a priori fashion from an idea existing in the mind to a corresponding existence in nature. To argue in this way would have been contrary to the whole spirit of the Monologion, with which the Proslogion was intended to harmonize. It would have been to give the primacy to reason, which in Anselm’s view must never be given the primacy, since it depends on concepts built by imagination out of sense, which leads away from truth. Faith must precede reason, seeking to understand by means of reason what it already believes. There is indeed no “reason” why God should be, other than that he is (De Veritate, 10; cf. Monologion, 18). The “necessity” involved is not imposed by thought upon itself, but imposed upon articulate utterance by inward experience of what is real, through the “eye of the soul.” The line of Augustine’s thought which he appears to follow most particularly is that of the De Libero Arbitrio II, ch. 6, 14: “If we could find something which we could not only not doubt to be, but which is prior to our reason, would we not call it God? That only should we call God, than which nothing is better.” The distinction drawn in Proslogion IV between the two uses of the term “God,” namely, cum vox significans eam cogitatur, and cum res ipsa cogitatur, seem to make it plain that the argument is fundamentally a short restatement of the claim of the Monologion in terms which fit the Realist-Nominalist controversy. If a nominalist uses the term, it is a mere flatus vocis (De Fide Trinitatis II, 1274), and proves nothing. But if a realist 26 uses it, it indicates, as for Anselm, his own inward experience of divine reality which compels the utterance “God is.” The self-evidence of the proposition is therefore derivative, since the reality is known. The very absence of any further explanation in Anselm’s reply to Gaunilo’s defence of the fool who said in his heart “there is no God,” in which he merely repeats that the phrase he used has a definite meaning, and is not a meaningless sound, also supports the view that this is the argument of the realist against the nominalist. If he adopted realism only as a useful means of serving a greater end, his adoption of it shows that, for Anselm, everything depends on inward experimental awareness.11 This appears to be reconcilable with the insistence that Anselm regarded his argument as an argument or proof, not as the statement of an immediate intuition of God (cf. Prof. Gopleston: A History of Philosophy, II, pp. 338 ff). It can be both without being merely the latter.

Although Aquinas rejects the ontological argument, his argument from the existence of things to the reality of God as their first cause depends on its underlying import. For he maintain that although the first cause can be known to exist, its essence cannot be known; and as Aquinas himself quotes from Aristotle in 22ae, Q. 2, Art. 2, to know incomposites imperfectly is not to know them at all. The argument to a first cause cannot therefore be said to have proved anything, unless it is supplemented by the ontological argument, which depends on the mind’s direct awareness. This is apparent from the manner in which each of the five ways concludes with the observation “and this we call God.” But the five ways are not ultimately dependent on their outward form, any more than the argument of Anselm. If they were, they could readily be answered by anyone who has paid attention to Hume, since the mere fact that a thing exists does not imply that it requires a cause at all. No inference to a first cause is possible if a thing is initially apprehended merely as an existent. But things are not so apprehended according to Aquinas. The wording of Q. 2, Art. 3, suggests that his thought presupposes that of Aristotle’s Physics III, ch. 3, 202a. There Aristotle maintains that the actuality of that which has the power of causing motion is identical with the actuality of that which can be moved. That is to say, when one thing is moved by another, this is a single, unified occurrence. The moving and the being moved are the same event, just as the interval between one and two is the same interval whichever way we read it, and just as a steep ascent and a steep 27descent are the same thing, from whichever end we choose to describe it. Thus for Aquinas, anything which exists, or which is moved, is seen as continuous with its creation, or with its being moved, by God who is the first cause. This is the reason why he can affirm, as he does in S. Contra Gentiles II, ch. i, that the divine act of creation is at once the act of God and a perfection of the thing made. Accordingly, when we contemplate any existing thing, the causal divine act of creation is actually present in the situation which we contemplate, and Aquinas would say that the fault is our own if we cannot perceive it. One may of course plead the inability to see. But one cannot refute the claim merely on the ground of its logical limitations, which are in fact parallel to those of Anselm’s argument in so far as one may certainly contend that the conclusion has found its way into the premises. This, however, is invariably the case with any argument which makes any genuine advance, since in all progressive arguments the distinction between datum and conclusion is artificial. The evidence with which we start, to which we assign the logical status of a datum, is bound to transcend its original boundaries by the time we have finished, and to acquire a deeper significance as it is understood in the conclusion. When it is claimed that the evidence is properly what the conclusion shows it to be, we cannot refute the claim merely by pointing out that this is different from the original conception of it. That is all we do if we reply that a mere existence does not imply God as its cause, which is no answer to one who seeks to open our eyes to see that it does.

The reader may find the reasoning of Q. 3 rather intricate, and there are some who would say that it deals with a meaningless problem. To say so, however, would be to miss the point of it. Like all great thinkers, Aquinas was thoroughly aware of the extent to which the mechanism of thinking gets in the way of truth. Thought is like a prism which breaks up the light which it receives, creating false distinctions and relations which have no counterpart in the reality which it seeks to understand. The distinctions between form and matter, essence and underlying subject, essence and existence, substance and attribute, genus and difference, belong to thought only, not to the nature of God. There is consequently no possibility of proving divine existence by arguing from them. But although Aquinas applies this consideration to the appreciation of the divine, he does not apparently maintain, as do some later thinkers, that it falsifies our knowledge of created things, which he regards as 28genuinely composite in their own nature. Indeed, it is because our knowledge of God to a degree depends on the experience of composites that it is bound to remain inadequate. This question should be compared directly with 22ae, Q. I, Art. 2.

As the first active principle and first efficient cause of all things, God is not only perfect in himself, but contains within himself the perfections of all things, in a more eminent way. It is this that makes possible the celebrated analogia entis, whereby the divine nature is known by analogy from existing things, and not only by analogy based on the memory, intellect, and will of man, as Augustine had maintained. It is a fundamental principle of Aquinas that every agent acts to the producing of its own likeness. Every creature must accordingly resemble God at least in the inadequate way in which an effect can resemble its cause. The analogy is especially an analogy of “being,” which the mediaeval mind apparently conceived as in some way active, not merely passive. All created things resemble God in so far as they are, and are good. Goodness and beauty are really the same as “being,” from which they differ only logically. Names which are derived from creatures may therefore be applied to God analogously, that is, proportionately, or we may say relatively, in the manner which the passages appended to Q. 3 should be sufficient to explain (cf. S. Contra Gentiles I, ch. 30). The application of them must, however, respect the principle of “negative knowledge,” which is observed by most thinkers of the millennium following Plotinus when speaking of the transcendent. Plotinus had maintained that anything whatever could be truly denied of the divine being, and also that whatever we affirm, we must forthwith affirm the opposite (Enneads V). Aquinas maintains that we can know of God’s essence only what it is not, not what it is, but that this is properly knowledge of God. Names may be applied in so far as they are intended to affirm what applies to him in a more eminent way than we can conceive, while they must at the same time be denied of him on account of their mode of signification. The principle is in keeping with the practice of the Old Testament, which repeatedly has recourse to negatives in reference to the divine.

Questions 20–23

In each of these four questions Aquinas begins by justifying the application to God of the terms employed, and then proceeds 29to show what we ought to mean by them. Love is the first movement of the divine will whereby God seeks the good of all things. He therefore loves all things that are. He loves better things the more in so far as he wills a greater good for them, and the universe would not be complete if it did not exhibit every grade of being. The justice and mercy of God are necessarily present in all God’s works, since his justice consists in rendering to every creature what is its due according to its own nature as created by himself, while his mercy consists in remedying defects, which God owes it to himself to make good in accordance with his wisdom and goodness. Divine providence is the reason, pre-existing in the mind of God, why things are ordained to their end, the order of providence comprising all that God provides in his governance of all things through secondary causes, which may be either necessary or contingent. The providential order is thus the permanent condition of human life and of all existence, controlling the ultimate issue of secondary causes in such a way that the divine purpose shall inevitably be attained. Predestination is a part of providence. Here we find a reluctance to pronounce upon certain questions which Aquinas obviously believed were not for man to investigate. The reason why God predestines some and not others, for example, lies in God himself, and is not to be looked for in human merits or in anything of the kind. Aquinas insists, however, that the divine intention cannot be altered by the prayers of the devout, although it may be furthered by them as secondary causes, which, as part of providence, predestination permits.


Questions 82, 85

The most serious aspect of sin is that it may deprive men of the effects of the providential order whereby they are directed to God as their final end. Original sin is the disordered disposition of nature which has resulted from the loss of original justice, and which in us has become almost second nature as a transmitted habit. Sin is thus regarded as unnatural, not as a natural opposition of man to God. Aquinas does justice to both sides of the effect of sin distinguished by Augustine as vitium, or moral damage, and reatus, or guilt, although he frequently prefers the milder term culpa in place of the latter. The distinctive contention of Aquinas is that the natural inclination to 30 virtue is never entirely destroyed by sin. If it were, human nature would be destroyed at its very root. Man would then cease to be a rational being, since it is of the very nature of a rational being to seek the good, and would consequently be incapable even of sin. This does not mean, however, that sin cannot exclude from blessedness. Man cannot himself repair the damage of sin, nor remove the guilt of it, and mortal sin entails final rejection by God in accordance with his justice.

Questions 109–114

The treatise on grace raises several points worthy of special notice. Aquinas speaks of the “infusion of grace.” Such a phrase befits a view of grace as something magical, if not physical, but is not intended as implying any positive description of the inward nature of grace. It may be regarded as no less incongruous with his whole teaching than is the lingering legal terminology of Paul, or simply as being Aquinas’ way of acknowledging that grace is ultimately unanalysable and mystical, achieving its end outside the normal order of cause and effect— for Aquinas was certainly to some extent a mystic. It need not be understood as implying any self-circumscribed substitute for the regenerative and redemptive work of God himself, which is the damaging implication of any unspiritual view of grace. Any hypostatization of grace is ruled out by the very title of the first question, which makes it clear that grace is nothing less than the help of God, while the treatise itself expounds the manner in which divine grace is essential for every action of man, no less than for his redemption from sin and preparation for blessedness. It will be observed that sanctifying grace is distinguished from free grace, which denotes the divine gifts whereby one man may lead another to faith, but which do not sanctify; and also that justification is taken in its literal etymological sense as meaning “to make just,” not in the sense in which it is now normally understood to mean the acceptance of man by God despite the sin which God forbears to impute. As used by Aquinas, justification means the remission of sins ; but it is the creation of a just man that he has in mind, not the circumstance of a spiritual personal relationship. It is recognized that justification is by faith and not of works, and it is quite clear that Aquinas held no brief for the notion that salvation could be merited by good works. Merit itself is entirely the result of co-operative grace. When we say that a 31man merits anything, we ought to mean that what God has wrought in him merits further development and consummation, since God owes it to himself to perfect and complete the work which he has begun. The whole treatise causes one to wonder what would have happened at the time of the Reformation if Aquinas had been universally understood in the Catholic Church, and if all parties had used the same terms with the same meanings. The Reformation would still have been inevitable, but it might have taken a different course.


Questions 1–7; 17–21; 23, 27

The four cardinal virtues of Aristotle, wisdom, courage, temperance, and justice, were sufficient to make man perfect in his intellect, feeling, will, and social relationships. The three theological virtues, Faith, Hope, and Charity, are essential for the attainment of his final end which lies in God. They are called “theological” virtues because they have God for their object. Through them eternal life is begun in us.

In most contexts, faith means belief. While he accepted certain points made by Abelard (1079–1142) in defence of the free use of reason, Aquinas nevertheless takes a thoroughly authoritarian view of the relation of faith to reason. Abelard had maintained, especially in opposition to Anselm, that reason was of God, the ground of the Imago Dei, and consequently fitted to investigate divine things, the truth of which it could to some extent understand without their presence. He had also insisted that some understanding of what was believed was essential for faith, mere acceptance on authority being lifeless and without moral or spiritual value, since we are no longer in the position of Abraham, to whom the Deus dixit was immediately present, and who could therefore follow the way of blind trust with profit (Introductio 1050 D–1051). This meant that the things of faith were not to be believed merely because they were revealed by God, but because their own truth convinced the believer. He maintained further that only reason could bring men to faith (Introd. 1048: Theologica Christiana IV, 1284). Aquinas agrees with Abelard that reason can never contradict faith (Pt. I, Q. 1, Art. 10), and that reason must be convinced of the truth which it accepts, since to believe is “to think with assent” (22ae, Q. 1, Art. 1). But he insists that the unseen things of faith are entirely beyond the reach of reason, 32and that faith is only of things unseen. He accordingly understands the conviction and assent of faith in a very different way. Reason must be convinced not by the matter of faith itself, but by the divine authority wherewith it is proposed to us for belief. The inward moving of God enables one to accept matters of faith on the strength of authority (22ae, Q. 6, Art. 1), and such acceptance is meritorious (22ae, Q. 2, Art. 9). Human reason can remove obstacles in the way of faith (22ae, Q. 2, Art. 10), but can never do more than provide a preamble to faith itself, though it may discover reasons for what is already believed through faith. Aquinas will go no further than to say that those whose office it is to teach others must have a fuller knowledge of what ought to be believed, and must believe it more explicitly, than those whom they instruct.

The principal object of faith is the “first truth” declared in sacred Scripture, according to the teaching of the Church, which understands it perfectly since the universal Church cannot err. The promise given to Peter in Luke 22:32 is interpreted as a guarantee of present infallibility, while John 16:13 is rendered “he will teach you all truth.” Thus although Aquinas maintains that an increase of grace is granted not immediately, but in its own time, i.e., when a man is sufficiently well disposed to receive it (12ae, Q. 114, Art. 8), he does not regard any such principle as applicable to the appreciation of scriptural revelation on the part of the Church. His explanation that the words of the Creed “I believe in the holy catholic Church” properly mean “in the Holy Spirit which sanctifies the Church” (22ae, Q. 1, Art. 9) consequently loses something of its value. The articles of faith are held to be permanent and infallible in substance, and Aquinas can conceive of no other reason for rejecting them than the defective opinion of one’s own will (22ae, Q. 5, Art. 3). The soteriological significance of belief lies in the circumstance that one must believe in the final end as possible of attainment, before one can either hope for it or strive for it. The absence of any further explanation of the saving dynamic of faith is inevitable in so far as belief is treated in abstraction by itself, without reference to the element of fiducia, or personal trust. It is merely observed that faith must be referred to the end of charity (22ae, Q. 3, Art. 2).

Hope is the virtue whereby man unites himself to God as his final end in a manner which is immediately practical. Despair is the deadliest of sins, a contention which provides an interesting contrast to later views which regard it as an essential 33preliminary to any spiritual attainment. Fear is the converse of hope, and in its essential substance is equally a gift of God which helps to keep us within the providential order which leads to blessedness. Charity is the supreme virtue which brings faith to its true form, uniting us directly to God, and directing all other virtues to this final end. Charity is, as it were, friendship with God, and herein Aquinas preserves the element which one may have missed in the treatise on faith. For charity is itself of the very essence of God. When present in us, it likens us to God, and likens us to him further in those works of mercy in which the whole Christian religion outwardly consists.

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