Feast Day of the Angelic Doctor

 

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As a highly Pagan poet said to me: “The Reformation happened because people hadn’t the brains to understand Aquinas.” The Church is more immortally important than the State; but the State has its rights, for all that. This Christian duality had always been implicit, as in Christ’s distinction between God and Caesar, or the dogmatic distinction between the natures of Christ.
But St. Thomas has the glory of having seized this double thread as the clue to a thousand things; and thereby created the only creed in which the saints can be sane. It presents itself chiefly, perhaps, to the modern world as the only creed in which the poets can be sane. For there is nobody now to settle the Manichees; and all culture is infected with a faint unclean sense that Nature and all things behind us and below us are bad; that there is only praise to the highbrow in the height. St. Thomas exalted God without lowering Man; he exalted Man without lowering Nature. Therefore, he made a cosmos of common sense; terra viventium; a land of the living.
His philosophy, like his theology, is that of common sense.
He does not torture the brain with desperate attempts to explain existence by explaining it away. The first steps of his mind are the first steps of any honest mind; just as the first virtues of his creed could be those of any honest peasant.

G.K. Chesterton

 

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12 Responses to Feast Day of the Angelic Doctor

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    It is worth recalling Etienne Gilson’s comments on Chesterton’s biography of St Thomas.

    “I consider it as being without possible comparison the best book ever written on St. Thomas. Nothing short of genius can account for such an achievement. Everybody will no doubt admit that it is a “clever” book, but the few readers who have spent twenty or thirty years in studying St. Thomas Aquinas, and who, perhaps, have themselves published two or three volumes on the subject, cannot fail to perceive that the so-called “wit” of Chesterton has put their scholarship to shame. He has guessed all that which they had tried to demonstrate, and he has said all that which they were more or less clumsily attempting to express in academic formulas. “

  • Darren O. says:

    I have started Etienne Gilson’s Elements of Christian Philosophy. I will admit that it has been on the shelf for awhile. Just couldn’t get past the first chapter. Then, as a lark, I read it out loud. Ah, what a difference. Maybe I’ll try the same with Mr. Chesterton’s treatment of the Angelic Doctor. It’s been sitting awhile, too.

    Wasn’t it Stacy Trasancos that sighed longing for a relationship with the Catholic religion that went beyond the bookshelf?

  • Jon says:

    One philosophic error of Aquinas, contrary to Chesterton, seems to be that he exhalted man while lowering God. Or that he at least opened the back door to humanism.

  • Not at all. Aquinas believed that God gave us our intellects by which we could understand much about Him. However he also understood that the human mind could never hope to entirely fathom God and that what the mind cannot understand the human heart often can. Near the end of his life Thomas had a mystical experience and stopped writing. He explained it to one of his fellow Dominicans:

    “I adjure you by the living almighty God, and by the faith you have in our order, and by charity that you strictly promise me you will never reveal in my lifetime what I tell you. Everything that I have written seems like straw to me compared to those things that I have seen and have been revealed to me.”

  • Jon says:

    The critique I’ve come across is that Aquinas lacked a ‘high’ view of the Fall. He didn’t take into account the profound effect the Fall had on our intellect. This seems to have elevated nature on a par with grace to where nature would soon dethrone grace, i.e. the humanist ‘renaissance.’

  • Michael PS says:

    Jon

    It is important to distinguish between St Thomas’s own teaching and that of some of his commentators, especially Suarez and his successors. They had talked of a “natural order,” governed by Natural Law, consisting of truths accessible to unaided human reason, as something that can be kept separate from the supernatural truths revealed in the Gospel. This “two-tier” account of nature and grace was based on this view that the addition of “grace” was something super-added to a human nature that was already complete and sufficient in itself and apart from any intrinsic human need.

    To rebut this misunderstanding of St Thomas was a central aim of the Nouvelle Théologie and united such such disparate thinkers as Blondel, Maréchal, the Dominicans, Chenu and Congar and the Jesuits, Lubac and Daniélou. Their central thesis was that the natural and the supernatural do not have utterly separate ends in and of themselves and that this is the teaching of St Thomas.

  • “The critique I’ve come across is that Aquinas lacked a ‘high’ view of the Fall.”

    “In this way the sin of the first parents is the cause of death and of all like defects in human nature. For the sin of the first parents removed original justice; through this not only were the lower powers of the soul held harmoniously under the control of reason but the whole body was subordinated to the soul without any defect…. Once, therefore, original justice was lost through the sin of the first parents, just as human nature was injured in soul by the disordering of the powers, so also it became corruptible by reason of the disturbance of the body’s order. (Summa Theologiae I-I1, 85, 5)”

    The Angelic Doctor used the imagery of wounds to liken the effect of original sin on human souls and human nature. I do not think that Aquinas viewed the Fall as anything but devastating when it came to its impact on Man.

  • Pinky says:

    There’s a line – it may in fact have been from Chesterton describing Thomists – that you learn more about them by reading their works than you learn about their subject. I don’t see how you could fault Aquinas for errors in emphasis without having a full picture of his thinking. Aquiring that picture would take at least a lifetime – but oh, what a life it would be.

  • Pinky says:

    My one problem with Chesterton’s book is that he set up Augustine and the Augustinians as the bad guys (or to put it better, the bearers of a less sane understanding). There may be truth in that. But I haven’t been able to reconcile it with the fact that the Dominicans were essentially an Augustinian order.

  • Jon says:

    Chesterton didn’t like ambiguity or anything approaching a fideistic stance. So he would have held to that sentiment about Augustine. Chesterton liked that Aquinas affirmed the world and the mind and probably felt Augustine in some sense disparaged them both. But that was Chesterton–his personality and inclination.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    St Augustine was a Platonist and, as Mgr Ronald Knox puts it, “The issue hangs on the question whether the Divine Fact is something given, or something to be inferred. Your Platonist, satisfied that he has formed his notion of God without the aid of syllogisms or analogies, will divorce reason from religion”

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