An introduction to the theology of Thomas Aquinas, focused upon the text of his Summa Theologiae.
ST703-2 Lesson 01
Thomas Aquinas was born in 1224 (25) and died in 1274. He entered the Dominican ranks as a monk and led a simple and impoverished life. As a professor and priest, his main task was to offer commentaries and disputations. He is well known for his philosophical treatises on Aristotle as he attempted a middle way between Christian and Aristotelian thought. He believed all truth is God’s truth. Consider that he also wrote a series of theological systematic works. The Summa Theologiae argues from biblical authority or special revelation. Consider that Aquinas has been a continual marker in the great conversation of God’s Word. Learn how Thomas Aquinas is unique and important and is a giant of the Christian tradition.
ST703-2 Lesson 02
Consider the first pima pars of the Summa. Thomas’ aim is to write to beginners and offers a deep and wide view of Christian theology to priests in training who will be serving people over the years to come with biblical truth in an accessible way. For Thomas, holy teaching or sacra doctrina is identical with sacra scriptura. Thomas believes the theologian’s task is to illumine the Scriptures, not to add to them. He immediately addresses who God is and teaches that the theologian is to talk about everything only as it relates to God. He offers a lengthy analysis of the doctrine of the Trinity and is most famous for describing the distinction between divine processions and divine missions. Consider that the divine processions are internal within the Godhead and divine missions are external and amongst God’s creatures. In De Potintia, Thomas states, “The early doctors of the faith were compelled to discuss matters of faith on account of the insistence of heretics. Thus Arius thought that existence from another is compatible with the divine nature, wherefore, he maintained that the Son and Holy Spirit, whom Scripture describes as being from another, are creatures. In order to refute this error the holy Fathers had to show that it is not impossible for someone to proceed from the Father and yet be consubstantial with him, inasmuch as he receives from him the same nature the Father has.” Consider John 5:26 as it states, “For just as the Father has life in himself, thus he has granted the Son to have life in himself…” In Summa Contra Gentiles Thomas writes, “It is useful for the human mind to exercise itself with such reasons, however weak they are, provided there be not presumptuous attempt to comprehend or demonstrate. For the ability to perceive something of the highest realities, if only with feeble, limited understanding, gives the greatest joy… In accord with this thought, St. Hilary declares in his book, On the Trinity, speaking of this sort of truth: In faith, set out, go forward, persevere. And though I may know that you will not attain the end, still I shall praise you for your progress. He who pursues the infinite with reverent devotion, even though he never attains it, always profits nonetheless from advancing forward. But in penetrating this secret, in plunging into the hidden depths of the birth unlimited [the generation of the Son of God by the unbegotten God the Father], beware of presumptuously thinking you have attained a full understanding. Know, rather, that this is incomprehensible.” Thomas examines God’s will, predestination, election, and creation as they relate to God and teaches us about how we then can continue to live with God.
ST703-2 Lesson 03
How does the Summa work? How does Thomas argue? The first part of the Summa is on God and creation, the second part is on the moral life and the third part is on Christ and the Sacraments. Explore that the Summa consists of questions and articles. The structure of the articles begins with a question and then an initial common answer followed by reasons or objections to this answer. Thomas then offers sed contra or “on the contrary” and quotes a biblical text or authoritative statement. He answers this with his approach and responds to each reason or objection. Explore a case study on 1a.13.5, “Whether what is said of God and of creatures is said of them univocally?”. Univocal means “single meaning”, equivocally means “divergent” and analogically means “similar and dissimilar”. Thomas argues that God is of a different genus than humanity and that language cannot be univocal. Thomas denies that terms are applied to God and humanity in a purely equivocal manner. Consider Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen being understood by the things that are made…” Thomas believed the equivocal view must be dismissed and suggested the need to think about language analogically.
ST703-2 Lesson 04
Explore Thomas and his tradition. Consider that Thomas was a theologian and viewed himself as a catholic theologian both east and west. He was also an Augustinian theologian such as Luther and Calvin. He was not just a priest and professor but a Dominican monk. While not his vocation, he spent time as a philosopher commentating on Aristotle. In Expositio De Trinitate he states, “ The gifts of grace are added to nature in such a way that they do not destroy it, but rather perfect it. So too the light of faith, which is imparted to us as a gift, does not do away with the light of natural reason given to us by God…Accordingly we can use philosophy in sacred doctrine in three ways. First, in order to demonstrate the preambles of faith, which we must necessarily know in [the act of] faith. Such are the truths about God that are proved by natural reason, for example, that God exists, that he is one, ad other truths of this sort about God or creatures proved in philosophy and presupposed in faith. Second, by throwing light on the contents of faith by analogies, as Augustine uses many analogies drawn from philosophical doctrines in order to elucidate the Trinity. Third, the order to refute assertions contrary to the faith, either by showing them to be false or lacking in necessity.” Consider that Thomas is both Platonist and Aristotelian. Thomas believed that philosophy is to be a handmaiden to theology.
ST703-2 Lesson 05
Explore the outline of the prima secundae. In the first part, Thomas reflects on how we return to God. He sketches the shape of the happy life and argues that man is made to return to God, to come close to God by finally being able to see him fully. What sort of human is fit to see God? Matthew 5: 8 tells us, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Thomas addresses intentions, character, emotions, and the like, not just acts good and bad. He tries to honor both intention and action as morally important. Thomas’ desire to understand the moral psychology of ethical behavior flows from his concern to see spiritual change, to address how change happens and to train priests to care wisely for souls. He addresses human actions, human emotions, virtues, the law, sin and the gospel of grace.
ST703-2 Lesson 06
Explore the case study of Summa 1a2ae.3.8 , “Whether perfect human happiness consists in the vision of the divine essence?”. Perfect human happiness is “beatitude”, a term from Matthew 5. Thomas’ answer is, “It would seem that perfect human happiness (beatitude) does not consist in the vision of the divine essence … First, Dionysius the Areopagite says the unknown is the highest so our greatest happiness can’t be something we can see (as that would be less than the highest).” Second, “the higher the nature, the higher its perfection. But to see his own essence is the perfection proper to the divine intellect.” Consider 1 John 3:2 as it states, “When he shall appear, we shall be like him, and we shall see him as he is.” Thomas’ answer is, “Finally and perfect happiness cannot consist in anything other than the vision of the divine essence.” He states, “A human being is not perfectly happy as long as something remains for him to desire and seek” and “the perfection of any power is judged according to its object” (not subject). To know something perfectly one must know its essence, not just what it causes. Thomas says, “Consequently, for perfect happiness the intellect needs to reach the very essence of the first cause. Thus it will have its perfection through union with God as with that object in which alone perfect human happiness consists.” Dionysius talks of those on a journey, not yet in the promised land. Desire is needed now, but must be satisfied then. Thomas notes, God and creatures see God, but God’s sight is higher than ours. He attempts to describe our final blessing and its nature.