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Thomas Aquinas Research Paper

By lkwood83 Jan 11, 2011 2342 Words
Thomas Aquinas: The Conflict, the Harmony and the Saint
During the High Middle Ages, Western Europe underwent rigorous reform. Through the rapidly increasing population and production of intellectual, artistic and spiritual works, thirteenth century philosophers, theologians and Christian thinkers were faced with a quandary. The central question was directed at “the attitude being taken toward Aristotle…by theologians committed to a Christian view of the nature of God, man, and the universe” (“St. Thomas Aquinas”). A clash of science and religion arose and peaked during Western Europe during the majority of the thirteenth century. The collision can be split into separate feuds, Christianity versus the writings of the philosopher Aristotle, faith versus reason, and theology versus philosophy. Christian belief relied on theology and faith without interference from reason, whereas the writings of Aristotle held reason and philosophy above all faith and theology. The constant feud between the two perspectives led to Western European corruption, most profoundly in the Catholic Church. St. Thomas Aquinas, a man who was capable of appeasing the turmoil, reformed thirteenth century Christianity by fusing theology and philosophy. Born near Aquino Italy in 1227, Aquinas began his education in a monastery at the age of five, thus beginning his career involving religious affairs. In around 1243, Aquinas single handedly decided to join the Dominican Order, a Roman Catholic order of mendicant preachers (“Thomas Aquinas”). However, his family severely opposed his decision, enough for them to “besiege… [him] with prayers, threats, and even sensual temptation to make him relinquish his purpose” (“Thomas Aquinas”). Thomas opposed his family’s strict requests and went to study under Albertus Magnus, resulting in him settling in Paris where he began his teaching career. The multiple years spent with Magnus were a great influence on Thomas’ philosophical development, making him a comprehensive scholar. In addition, during these years, Thomas began writing several of his famous works, such as the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles. The peak of Thomas’ life was when he took up residence in Rome. Here, he expanded upon more of his writings as well as concluding several of them. Furthermore, during his time in Rome, Aquinas created a theological and philosophical system, bringing connections between faith and reason, theology and philosophy, and Christianity and Aristotalienism, reforming thirteenth century Christian thought.The thirteenth century uprising and peaking conflict of faith versus reason and science versus religion was brought about by the clashing of two belief systems: Christianity, including Augustinians who practice the beliefs of St. Augustus of Hippo, and Aristotlianism. Christian theologians, such as St. Thomas Aquinas, committed to a Christian view of God, man, and the universe. The writings of Aristotle, which Aquinas studied and agreed with thoroughly, instigated Christian theology to appear less necessary as the avenue of truth, causing uproar in the Christian practice. The avenue of truth was the way one unearths or discovers an observation to be true. In Christian belief, faith in God and the spiritual world was the basis of the avenue of truth. Aristotle’s philosophy called for more reason laced into the avenue of truth, conflicting with the traditional principles of Christianity. The avenue of truth was now accessible to man through natural reason, without any necessary revelation from God (“St. Thomas Aquinas”). Augustinians followed the beliefs of Augustine of Hippo, a church father who influenced much of Western Christianity by begetting the involvement of faith in Christian religion. Their belief system was based on theology; they “placed faith in God’s revelation of Christ as the foundation for knowledge” (Garret). During the thirteenth century conflict, nearly all education was through Augustine, focusing on the importance of scripture. Those who followed Augustine were “anti-Aristotelian forces within theology [which] had increased and were reaffirming a strong Augustinian approach that rejected Aristotle on a number of points and limited his use as an authority in theological argumentation” (“St. Thomas Aquinas”). Just as Aristotelianism was being rejected, anti-Augustinian forces “attempt[ed] to teach an unchristian…Aristotelianism” to Western Europeans (“St. Thomas Aquinas”). Thomas Aquinas was educated in this way, spurring his first thoughts on the needed reform. The belief system of Aristotelianism was brought about by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who contributed to important findings in Western philosophy. The system was based off reason and the science of reason. Aristotle’s version of the avenue of truth was one being able to expose the truth of one’s observation by the means of reason, without any faith or Godly revelations. Aquinas grew up during the time when Aristotle’s writings were introduced in Latin, which were creating uproar in the Christian Church, specifically in Catholicism. As he matured and developed a sense of his own philosophy, Aquinas “appreciated the philosophy of Aristotle as a witness to the truth. He found Aristotle to be more balanced in his approach to philosophy” (Garret). Prior to Aquinas and his harmonizing of faith and reason, there was an inclination to devalue the physical world as an inferior competitor to the spiritual world. This downplay and devaluation was due to the education led through Augustine’s beliefs and teachings, as well as the scripture. Not only did this Western European crisis revolve around the clashing of the two belief systems, but also around thirteenth century thinkers’ confusion on how the clash evolved. Philosophers, theologians and other thinkers of the time believed “that all truth was one [,]” consequently the harmonizing of the beliefs should be simple to compose (“St. Thomas Aquinas”). According to thoughts prior to the crisis, conflict should not have risen between Christianity and Aristotle, or for theology and philosophy. The uncertainty that arose was due to the natural tendency to draw beliefs together and fuse them. For the bemused thinkers, “Christianity could not be wrong” because of their upbringing in Western Christian faith, yet, “Aristotle was an established, ancient authority” providing Western Europeans with steadfast allegiance to his work (“St. Thomas Aquinas”). The confusion of what to believe and be loyal to tore apart Western Europe.The peaking thirteenth century crisis began to be pacified as Aquinas matured his philosophical system. He created his “Thomist Synthesis [,]…a synthesis of theology and philosophy, of faith and reason, as well as Aristotelianism and Christianity” (“St. Thomas Aquinas”). Though his system remained basically Christian, Aquinas was capable of “incorporating significant elements from the [writings of Aristotle and viewpoints from the] Aristotelian world” (“St Thomas Aquinas”). In his synthesis, Thomas drew a relation between faith and reason, specifically by generating fifty-fifty faith and reason conclusions. His conclusion was able to incorporate both viewpoints of the crisis, mollifying the rivalry. Aquinas concluded that faith completes reason. The essence of his concluded position is summed up in his statement, “‘For faith rests upon infallible truth, and therefore its contrary cannot be demonstrated’” (Hollister). He claimed that one cannot survive without the other; one cannot reason without keeping faith and one cannot keep faith without demonstrating reason. Furthermore, Aquinas approached the basis of why faith and reason had been separate. He claimed that “some things can be known only through reason because revelation is not concerned [in the matter] and…[others] can be known through [only]…revelation”, thus separating the two (“St. Thomas Aquinas”). Aquinas saw his task as destroying the separate paths of revelation and reason and to create a way for truths to be solved using both reason and revelation. In completing this task, Aquinas created the Quinque Viae, “The Five Ways”, a scientific proving of Christian belief, the existence and unity of God. The Quinque Viae fused science and religion by supporting theology with a scientific and philosophic argument. Within the Quinque Viae, Aquinas explains five logical ways God exists: motion, creation and existence, contingent and necessary objects, degrees of perfection, and intelligent design (Chandler). Within each category, Aquinas clarifies the ways and works of God through each scientific concept. Aquinas amalgamated the concepts of faith and reason through another method as well. St. Thomas saw the two perceptions as ways of knowing. Though they were under one title, they differed slightly from one another. Aquinas believed that “[r]eason…covers what we can know by experience and logic alone. From reason, we can know that there is a God [,tying in Christian belief,] and that there is only one God; these truths about God are accessible to anyone by experience and logic alone, apart from any special revelation from God” (“Faith and Reason”). Where reason covers the facts of Christianity, Aquinas’ view on faith dug into the more spiritual context of his philosophy. He claimed that “[f]aith…covers what we can know by God’s special revelation to us…By faith, we can know that God came into the world through Jesus Christ and that God is [the trinity]…These truths about God cannot be known by reason alone” (“Faith and Reason”). Through these two definitions, Aquinas was adept to merge faith and reason under one title: ways of knowing. Though under this title, they differ slightly in the ways of proving truth in Christianity, the two were capable of being paired together in a systematic and flowing manner. His ways of viewing and creating a link between faith and reason allowed St. Thomas to abolish the conflict between Aristotelianism and Christianity, which resulted in conflicting peoples to reunite peacefully. During the crisis, Aquinas attempted to establish a middle position among the feuding sides. From this middle position, St. Thomas instituted the basis of Thomism, the later revived, comprehensive theological doctrine of Aquinas. The establishment of this middle position caused Aquinas to accept the beliefs of God as well as the ideas of man. While maintaining the beliefs of God, he recognized and “accept[ed] the idea of God as the prime mover” yet Thomas still maintained the idea of “Aristotle’s God [being] the personal God of revelation, who [contains the] knowledge and concern for [all] individuals” (“St. Thomas Aquinas”). The other position Aquinas upheld was the ideas of man, such as Aristotle’s political philosophy and the Christian man’s love of God. Thomas “used Aristotle’s logical method and…categories of thought [,] but arrived at conclusions that were in harmony with the Christian faith” (Hollister). In doing so, Aquinas discovered a solution to the discouragement of reason through faith and vice versa. Though theology is based on faith and religion, Aquinas contributed to it becoming a system incorporating not only religion and faith, but science and reason. In doing so, Aquinas solved the conflict of Augustinians being based on religion, “plac[ing] faith in God’s revelation of Christ as the foundation for knowledge” and Aristotle based on science, who’s basis was in “human reason and philosophy” (Garret). Furthering his scientific faith establishment, Aquinas stated, “The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false” (“Saint Thomas Aquinas Quotes”). Here, he claims that if one covets faith without any reasoning or scientific learning, their faith will be ridiculed and be shown as false. He states that in order to maintain faith one must support it with scientific reasoning. Placating feuds and drawing ties between Christianity and Aristotelianism, faith and reason, and science and religion, St. Thomas Aquinas reformed thirteenth century Western Christianity. "Thomas Aquinas…lived at a critical juncture of western culture when [Aristotle’s writings were beginning to be introduced] in Latin…[which] reopened the question of the relation between faith and reason” (McInerny). By creating his renowned theological and philosophical system, Aquinas was bestowed with the title of Master of Theology in Paris in 1256. Even after his death in 1274, Aquinas was named a Doctor of the Church, an honor in Catholicism, and was bequeathed the honorary title of Angelic Doctor (“Thomas Aquinas”). About fifty years after his death, Thomas Aquinas was canonized. Aquinas’ ability to question the known and answer the unknown supplied thirteenth century thinkers with a solution to the stir between traditional Christian values and the rising popularity of the science of Aristotle. By establishing a middle position between the two feuding sides of the thirteenth century faith versus reason crisis, Aquinas can be seen as a mediator, pacifying the conflict through agreement, union, and harmony. St. Thomas’ influence spread through Western Europe and spilled into other religions, aside from Catholicism. His wide-embracing philosophy and theology can be applied to every realm of the modern human world; whether it be the spirituality of man or the way one can reveal the truth by faith or reason. His Thomist synthesis illustrated an ideal belief system that, over the years, its principles have been applied to modern economic, philosophical, and social conditions. Today, many Christians use reason and logic to prove their religion and faith. By looking at his accomplishments in the fields of philosophy and theology, St. Thomas can be seen as a parent to Catholic thought and practice. He can be seen as a father, initiating and establishing well-reasoned beliefs into a previously rigid system. As well, St. Thomas played a mediating maternal role in philosophy and theology. He nurtured and confounded Christian and Aristotelian thinkers through his creation of a significant union between faith and reason. The grace of Aquinas played a fundamental role in his powerful influence. Aquinas was a calm liaison between sensitive topics of Western European intellects. His main focus was harmony; peacefully connecting faith and reason and science and religion. Aquinas concluded that truths were harmonious, and since both faith and reason were ways of unearthing the truth, they should not compete. He concluded the two should complement each other, creating a harmonious union of beliefs. During the High Middle Ages, reforms to Western philosophy and theology were composed. Christianity, specifically Catholicism, learned the ways of a harmonious union between previously opposing beliefs. The accomplishments of Western Christianity were met through St. Thomas Aquinas’ story. They were met through the conflict, the harmony, and the Saint.

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