Natural law

Life’s Ultimate
Questions “Aquinas”
Christopher Ullman, Instructor
Christian Life College
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
• Known as the greatest
Christian medieval
theologian-philosopher, he
single-handedly stemmed
the tide of Islamic
Aristotelianism into Europe
• His friends playfully called
him “the dumb ox”
• He produced over ninety
works in a little over two
• Summa Theologica
• Summa Contra Gentiles
• The Ways of God: For
Meditation and Prayer
• He stands at the top of the
group of thinkers known as
• At age 48 he suddenly
stopped writing
• Maybe he suffered a brain
• Maybe he had a vision that
academic learning was not the
most important thing
• “All that I have written seems
like straw to me,” he told a
• A year later, he died on the
road to a church council
Followers and Critics of Aquinas
• Philosophers who follow
Aquinas’ teachings are
known as Thomists
• Pope John Paul II (Fides et
• Etienne Gilson (The Spirit of
Medieval Philosophy and The
Christian Philosophy of St.
Thomas Aquinas)
• Norman Geisler (Baker
Encyclopedia of Christian
Apologetics, and over 50 other
• Catholic hospitals follow
Aquinas’ ethics
• Frances Schaeffer joins
Ronald Nash in being a
critic of some aspects of
Aquinas’ philosophy
• “In Aquinas’ view the will
of man was fallen, but
the intellect was not. . . .
Out of this, as time
passed, man’s intellect
was seen as
autonomous.” – Escape
from Reason, p. 211
Aquinas’ works and methods
• His greatest works:
• Summa Contra Gentiles
(an apologetic refuting the
influence of Islamic
teachings in Europe)
• Summa Theologica (a
statement of Christian
doctrine, in the light of
Scripture, church tradition,
and philosophy)
•“The study of philosophy
is not done in order to
know what men have
thought, but rather to
know how truth herself
•He was objective to a
fault, and obsessively
thorough in his analyses
•Received truth wherever
he found it
•Believed that faith and
reason can never conflict
Averroes, and
• The Islamic philosopher
Averroes (Ib’n Rushd) had
tailored Aristotle’s teachings
so that the beliefs in
creation, the immortality of
the soul, and the unity of
truth were discarded
• Averroes influenced many in
Christian academia
•Aquinas took on the
task of studying
Aristotle for himself,
and building a
Christian worldview to
counter that of the
the method and manner of dialectical
philosophizing (question and answers)
taught in the schools
the period from 9th century CE, when new
schools arose in Europe to spread
Patristic faith disciplined by dialectic
methods of thinking
Christian Rationalism, as distinct from
Augustinian Intuitionism
 reason applied to nature, human nature
and supernatural truth
The Major Scholastic Thinkers
St. Anselm (1033-1109)
Peter Abelard (1079-1142)
first to incorporate Aristotelian rationalism into
Christian theology; rational proofs for existence
of God in Monologium and Proslogium
Sic et non, collection of contradictory sayings
from Scripture and Church Fathers, introduces
method of resolving contradictions, lays
foundation for scholastic method
Peter Lombard (c.1100 - c.1160)
Sentences, compilation of early theological
opinions, becomes central text of scholastic
theological instruction
The Major Scholastic Thinkers
St. Albertus Magnus (1193/1206 - 1280)
Roger Bacon (1212-1294)
Franciscan, reconciles Aristotle with Augustine;
reason subservient to faith
John Duns Scotus (1266-1308)
Franciscan, first great Scholastic empiricist
St. Bonaventure (1221-1274)
from Averroes, introduces Aristotle’s treatises
and method; his Summa theologiae disputes
Averroes and reconciles Aristotle and
Franciscan, greatest opponent of Thomism
William of Occam (1285-1349)
Franciscan, scientific empiricist; disputed selfevident principles in Thomism, denying
competence of reason re faith
St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Century of Dispute
Italian, born near Naples
Dominican, student of Albertus Magnus, professor
of theology at Paris, papal advisor
The 13th Century is torn between Augustinians
who make truth a matter of faith and Averroists, led
by Siger de Brabant ( ? - 1277), who separate truth
from faith
St. Thomas advances a middle ground
reason and faith constitute two harmonious realms
faith complements reason
reason has autonomy of its own
St. Thomas Aquinas
Thomist Philosophy
systematic application of Aristotelian methods and
repeated Avicenna’s position on Universals which
becomes standard Scholastic view
Aquinas’ Works
Commentary of the Sentences (public lectures
seven quaestiones disputatae (public debates
commentaries on several of Aristotle’s works
Summa contra Gentiles (1258-60)
Summa theologica (1267-73)
Scholastic Process
“Through doubting we come to
inquiry, and through inquiry
we perceive the truth.”
- Peter Abelard
Knowing or Believing (the
separation of reason and faith)
• Knowing applies to the domain of reason
• Any truth humans gain apart from divine revelation is
acquired by the unaided light of the intellect
• Philosophy, natural science, mathematics, psychology are
• Believing applies to the domain of revelation
• Truths of the faith are acquired by believing the
authoritative word of God
• Theology is the example
• Knowledge of God is the one exception
The Five Ways (how philosophy
can support the belief that God
1. The Argument from Change to a Prime Mover
2. The Argument from Cause and Effect to a First
3. The Argument from Contingent Beings to a
Necessary Being
4. The Argument from Degrees of Perfection to a
Perfect Being
5. The Argument from Design in the Cosmos to a
Designer of the Cosmos
The Five Ways Summed Up
• Logic is employed in each to show that the
cosmos as we know it depends in different ways
upon the existence of God
• God is the sufficient answer to the “why”
• God is the one necessary being upon which all
the existences of all other beings depends
• Only the existence of God can make sense of
the facts of existence
Aquinas the Empiricist
• Denial of innate ideas means that sensed
experience is the trigger or catalyst of all
Only then can my
passive intellect
become aware of it
Only then can my active intellect
analyze and categorize it as one of
many of a universal kind
Knowing God
God is not perceived through the senses, but
1. We can know what God is not (the way of
Focuses on God’s absence of limitations
The Jewish philosopher Maimonides also taught the way
of negation
Arguments based on universal negatives (“No X is Y”)
are always deductive (their conclusions are believed to
be necessarily true)
Does the certainty of negative knowledge depend on
some positive knowledge?
How can I say, “God is not ____,” if I have no idea of what God
Knowing God
God is not perceived through the senses, but
2. We can know what God is like (the way of
Focuses on the similarities between particular things and
Knowledge that X is similar to Y assumes that they share some
attribute in common, and that each possesses some attribute the
other does not
Arguments from analogy are always inductive (their
conclusions are only probably true)
Since Aquinas believes we have no innate ideas, the
way of analogy cannot escape the charges that
It depends on anthropomorphism (human nature is the point of
reference: “God is like us”) or
It commits equivocation (a fallacy in which one term is used in
two different ways)
Knowing God
1. The way of negation and the way of analogy are
useful means of ascertaining who God is if and
only if
We have innate ideas
One of those innate ideas is the idea that God exists
2. Aquinas’ empiricism makes no place for innate
ideas, so neither way is effective
3. Augustine’s emphasis on imago Dei makes the
two ways usable
4. The starting point must be the divine nature, not
human nature
What Happens After Death?
1. Aquinas agreed with Aristotle that the
soul exists in union with the body, giving
the body its “form”
2. He affirmed that the soul survived the
death of the body, because God willed
that it should
3. This stance requires a setting aside of
Aquinas’ empiricism
Aristotle’s soul-body union
What is the right thing to do?
What is the right way to live?
• Right is that which corresponds to a
thing’s nature
• It is our nature to seek happiness (fulfillment)
• This is attainable only in heaven
• Moving toward this good goal is the standard
for judgment
• We are capable of right acting and right
living because of virtues and laws
Virtues: Guidance from the Inside
Cardinal virtues are part of the created nature of all
humans and are knowable through reason
• Aquinas affirms
• Plato’s doctrine of four virtues (prudence, courage, temperance
and justice) and
• Aristotle’s doctrine of the golden mean (virtue is somewhere
between the deficiency and the excess)
Theological virtues are attainable only by grace
through faith
• Faith: leads our minds to see truth and our wills to assent to truth
• Hope: makes us willing to seek God’s help in attaining happiness
• Love: is the divine gift that inclines us to seek God’s friendship
Law: Guidance from the Outside
Four different kinds of law
• Eternal law: both moral and physical
principles governing all of God’s creation
• Natural law: the part of eternal law that
applies to humans, knowable through reason
• Human (positive) law: humans trying to
make practical laws based on natural law
• Divine law: God’s law knowable through the
(Refer to Figure 7.2 on p. 185)
Natural Law
• Aquinas takes insights present in Plato, Aristotle
and the Stoics (such as Epictetus and Cicero)
• He then sifts them through a Christian filter
• The result is a powerful tool for coaxing nonChristians to an awareness of objective moral
• Natural law shows up in our Declaration of
Independence, the Civil Rights Movement, and
the ethical positions of the Catholic Church
Some Tenets of Natural Law
1. Every created thing has a God-given nature
2. The nature of humans is to love and obey God
3. A thing’s nature should always be allowed to be
4. Good is that which corresponds to a thing’s nature
5. Good is to be done. Evil is to be avoided.
6. The Principle of Double Effect: Every action has
a good effect, and a bad effect
Weigh the good and the bad
Assess the motive of the action
Why Aquinas Made a Difference
• He realized the
need for a
worldview, and built
one with God at the
• He had the faith
and the courage to
confront the culture
in which he lived on
its own terms
• He employed his mind to
understand the teachings of the
wise, and used those he
believed corresponded to truth
• He applied
logic to a
study of
the world

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