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Thomas Aquinas

Updated on May 15, 2015
Ronna Pennington profile image

Ronna Pennington, a college instructor, has a Master of Liberal Arts degree with emphasis in history.

Carlo Crivelli's "St. Thomas Aquinas"

Crivelli's painting depicts Aquinas balancing both the Bible and the Church in his hands, symbolizing the importance of the man, his ministry, and his theology.
Crivelli's painting depicts Aquinas balancing both the Bible and the Church in his hands, symbolizing the importance of the man, his ministry, and his theology. | Source

Thomas Aquinas Brief Bio

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was a Dominican priest, philosopher, and theologian of scholasticism.He is recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church. Aquinas' influence rings far beyond the realm of the Church, however, as his philosophies are the basis of many laws, political theories, metaphysics, and ethics that we employ today.

Aquinas, born into a privileged family, was educated first in Benedictine schools. He secretly joined the Dominican Order in 1243, upsetting his family that he chose a life of spiritual service over the sheltered life they'd attempted to provide him. Despite their concerns, he continued his education and his spiritual development as a Dominican.

During Aquinas' era, logic and reason were at conflict with the faith required by Christianity. Scholasticism was the answer. Scholasticism used reason to "prove" the existence of God. Of course the problem with this reasoning was that it was based solely on the Bible as written documentation. Regardless, the thought process connecting reason to religion was ingenious. One of Aquinas' famous logical arguments was that the phrase "God exists" is true because God's existence is part of God himself. So the idea basically was that God is real because "God is." He further argued that those who questioned whether or not God was real actually proved his existence because nothing unreal could be questioned.

Other helpful online sources:

Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas
St.Thomas Aquinas Biography

Despite His Search for Truth, It is the One Thing Missing from the Compendium of Theology -- At Least to Modern Readers

To better understand classic philosophical writings, I often think of them in terms I understand. With Plotinus’ Enneads, I employed my Christian beliefs to understand the All Soul to be part of God, an extension of the deity. Plotinus said the soul is given by the Supreme One, or God in my Christian understanding. In order for God to give a soul, it must belong to him in some way. I rationalized that if God created everything, then the soul belonged to him as a creation, likewise an extension of Him. With this, it was easier for me to understand Plotinus’ idea that all human souls instinctively seek to return to their source.

Thomas Aquinas addresses this way of thinking in his Compendium of Theology. In Chapter 94, he explains that Plotinus’ idea of the shared All Soul is erroneous. According to Aquinas, God is indivisible, meaning that the All Soul about which Plotinus writes cannot be an extension of Him. (118) Aquinas makes a good argument regarding God’s invisibility in several chapters, especially chapters fifty-six through sixty. He argues that if the Trinity is one God, He cannot be multiplied or divided.Furthermore, God was not created by a union, so He cannot be split or divided at all. (74) Since God is made up of no matter, He cannot share any part of himself with humans. (75)

Despite his redirection of thought regarding souls, Aquinas does not completely discount the teachings of Plotinus. He builds upon part of Plotinus’ theory of soul reunion. Plotinus contends that earthly souls seek to rejoin the larger All Soul – the lower seeks the higher. In Chapter 151 of Compendium of Theology, Aquinas touches on the same principle, except using body and soul as the example. Aquinas explains that the body’s desire is to reunite with its own soul. Since the soul is the higher element of the being, Aquinas reasons (like Plotinus) that the lower element, or the body, strives to join the higher, the soul. He says the soul cannot be happy or at rest until it reunites with the body, an event that occurs when man is resurrected. (185)

Even though I often read these classic works through the eyes of a twenty-first century Christian, it is still quite easy to see Aquinas’ fatal flaw in his reasoning: he blindly and wholly accepts the Bible as truth. His argument is never whether or not the Bible is a trusted source, nor does he say accepting it as truth is an act of faith alone. He simply accepts that God exists as a truth. (32) He bases the remainder of his Compendium on this one “truth.”

It makes sense that Aquinas, writing this for another Christian, did not seek to convert people to Christianity. Instead, this Compendium was a sort of primer for those already following and believing in the Christian God. Perhaps establishing the Bible as truth did not pose a problem for the first readers of the Compendium. Reading it today and reflecting on it, however, it is clear to see that even a Christian reader will spot the author’s attempt to explain the truth, order, and beauty of God fails in one area. The structured logic Aquinas builds from chapter to chapter is a testament to the order his book contributed to his era. He also establishes a picture of beauty of the soul and of God. What is missing, however, is the key element Aquinas sought to document – the truth.

(Based on the reading of:
Aquinas, Thomas. Compendium of Theology. Translated by Cyril Vollert, S.J. Veritatis Splendor Publications, 2012.)

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    • Ronna Pennington profile image

      Ronna Pennington 4 years ago from Arkansas

      Thank you! I enjoyed The Compendium and have a favorite quot or two myself :D

    • Sushma Webber profile image

      Sushma Webber 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Very interesting article. I have read many inspiring quotations by Aquinas but did not know about his life and philosophy. Thanks for this article. Voted Up and shared on FB!