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Faith and Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica

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General introduction

During the thirteenth century, the philosophy of ancient Greece was introduced to European scholars through the works of Arabian and Jewish scholars, and the works of Aristotle became available for the first time in Latin translation. Thomas Aquinas synthesized the principles of Aristotle with the doctrines of the Christian faith, using logic and dialectic to produce an explanation of Catholic dogma. The thought of Thomas Aquinas was important in shifting medieval philosophy (also known as Scholasticism) away from the influence of Plato and towards Aristotle. The ensuing school of thought became one of the most influential philosophies of all time, through its influence on Roman Catholicism and Catholic ethics, and through the sheer number of people who lived by its teachings.

Background of Thomas’ philosophy

The thirteenth century, witnessed three important theological developments: Duns Scotus, laid the foundation for modern theology by emphasizing the primacy of will over intellect; St. Bonaventure represented the spirit of Augustine and saint Francis, placing God first as the source of illumination; and Thomas Aquinas adapted the principles of Aristotle to Christian doctrine and became the classical theologian of the Roman Catholic Church.

European philosophy of the thirteenth century was characterized by several formative influences. The Crusades brought Christianity into contact with three highly developed cultures, Islam, the original Judaism, and ancient Greek culture, which were introduced to the medieval world by Arabian theologians. The works of Aristotle became available to scholars for the first time, giving rise to a new scientific methodology in philosophy. Two new monastic orders appeared, the “Dominican” and the “Franciscan”, each of which took the new influences and used them in a different way. “Francis” belonged to the tradition of Augustine and Anselm, which sought the mystical union of Christianity with nature and culture. “Dominic” took on the mission of preaching to the people and defending the Catholic faith. The Dominican order produced Thomas Aquinas’ classical system of apologetic theology, and the greatest preachers, among whom was Meister Eckhart. The Dominicans were responsible more than any other school for bringing Aristotle to the West, stressing intellect over will even in their mysticism.

Life of St. Thomas

St. Thomas Aquinas was born at Rocassecca Italy In 1225 and died in 1274. His father was called Landolf and his mother Theodora. He studied in the Benedictine monastery nearby montecassino and later on he underwent the liberal study of Arts in Naples. He joined the Dominican Order and was sent to further studies in France, where he studied philosophy and theology. In Paris he met with St. Albert the Great, who became the most important professor for Thomas Aquinas. He was ordained a priest in 1252 and after further studies he lectured in Paris, made research and published a number of books. Among his works the most renown works include his Summa Theologiae, De Aeternitate Mundi, Summa Contra Gentiles, De ente et essentia.

Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas worked to create a philosophical system which integrated Christian doctrine with elements taken from the philosophy of Aristotle. He synthesized the Neo-Platonic view of philosophy which, after Augustine, had become tremendously influential amongst medieval philosophers, with insights drawn from Aristotle.

The Summa Theologiae

Summa Theologiae was composed as a text book for the students of his time. For us today the summa is an indication of the pressing demand made on theology.

In Summa Theologiae St. Thomas reaches out so far in his discussion of question in dogmatic and moral theology. He also treats some of the aspects presented by natural and canonical law as well as by Christian mysticism and ecclesiastical liturgy.

Summa Theologiae is divided into three main parts. Of the three parts we may write explanation from God to God through Christ and his redemption.

First part of Summa Theologiae

This part one of the Summa Theologica consist of 119 questions which treat matter concerning God and his attribute, the Blessed Trinity, creation, angels, days of creation, man and Divine Government.

First part of the second part

The first part of the second part is comprised of 114 questions and explanation of man’s last end, human acts, the passions, habit in general, virtues, vices and sins, law and grace.

Second Part of part two

The second part of part two is made of 189 questions and explanation of matters of faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, religion, piety and observance, fortitude, temperance, gratuitous graces, active and contemplative life and finally it treats the states of life.

The third part of Summa Theologiae

The third part of Summa theologica has 90 questions dealing with the topics on incarnation, our Blessed Lady, our Lord Jesus Christ; the sacraments in general, Baptism, Confirmation, the Holy Eucharist and Penance. There is, also, another part which is considered to be the supplement to the third part of Summa Theologiae which consists of 90 questions dealing with penance, extreme unction, order, matrimony, general resurrection, and the last things.

In short the first part contains theology and discussion of creation while the third part concludes the work with the doctrine of the redemption by Christ. The harmony of the natural and the supernatural order is the universal theme of the synthesis. But it is man who aspires to go to God by redemption, then the second part of the Summa Theologica unites the other two parts, comprises with an extensive anthropology: a treatment of being and morals, the ontological structure and the end of man.

Faith in the Summa Theologica of St Thomas Aquinas

St Thomas speaks about faith at the beginning of the Summa Theologica 11, 11ae. The first question he addresses is “whether the object of faith is the first truth.”

One would ask himself what the object of faith could mean and what it could be about. There are two meanings of material or formal objects. Take for instance that you receive a box with something and you wonder what really is inside. You don’t know but you believe there is something inside the box. That box that is what faith is about. Faith is about placing trust about something you don’t have complete certainty about. From a religious point of view one would ask: what is the object of faith assuming that faith is the box we were given. What is it that is contained in this box? Could the object in this box be God? And the answer is: it is about God. Materially speaking this is about the content but obviously there are some other elements we see in between; some are elements of the history of the church, the sacraments like baptism, scripture, or anything which is about God. This is the material object. The formal object concerns the manner in which this object of faith is attained. The faith I have in God, is brought about by certain teachings, or reflection on certain aspects of nature. The faith I have comes from a source of information, itself believed to be God. So, because God tells me so, I believe so, otherwise I should not believe.

In the next article Aquinas speaks about whether the object of faith is complex or non-complex. St Thomas puts it very clear that: “ things that are simple in themselves, are known by the intellect with a certain amount of complexity, just as on the other hand, the Divine intellect knows, without any complexity, things that are complex in themselves.’’

The human way of thinking is gradual and piecemeal and our expression of faith is equally gradual and piecemeal.

False found in faith 

St. Thomas says also in this text that faith can’t be false. In other words, what we believe, according to Aquinas, is always true. Why is it true? St Thomas points it out that:

The formal aspect of the object of faith is the First Truth; so that nothing can come under faith, save in so far as it stands under the First Truth, under which nothing false can stand, as neither can non-being stand under being, nor evil under goodness. It follows therefore that nothing false can come under faith.

In reference to the scripture Faith in the existence of God, is a necessary condition for salvation: “without faith it is impossible to please God; for he who wishes to approach God must believe that he is: and that he is a rewarder of to them that seek Him.” (Heb. 2:6) But only super natural faith in revelation is effective unto salvation. “So our relationship with the Lord is dependent on it. Faith is what brings the things God has provided for us from the spiritual realm into the physical realm (Heb. 11:1). Our faith is the victory that enables us to overcome the world (1 John 5:4). Everything the Lord does for us is accessed through faith.

If God says something to us in any form, we believe the thing must be true, because God cannot make a mistake. The trouble would be, however, how to know that it is God saying this particular thing. Of course, from the human point of view, we always make mistakes. But God, we believe, God doesn’t, since God knows all things, and better than we do. So God wouldn’t reveal himself as though he were at the level of our human beings. God actually reveals himself by becoming man and that he teaches us that we possibly have to share his life thus to be with him, to receive divine life and he wants us to keep it; otherwise, why would he reveal himself?

Whether Faith is some thing we can see

Later on, the text speaks about whether the object of faith can be seen. St Thomas teaches that “It is evident that neither faith nor opinion can be of things seen either by the senses or by the intellect.”

Faith is an attitude, and as such, it does not belong to the material realm. It is an orientation of the mind that trusts in what cannot be immediately demonstrated. Faith gives us a certainty of something we do not really see with our necked eyes or with a complete and obvious understanding in our mind.

Knowledge and Faith as regards the same object

It is a disputed point whether one and the same person can at the same time have knowledge and faith in the existence of God. Many outstanding scholastic theologians like Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, Albertus Magnus and many later theologians like Suarez assert that such is possible, because the formal object is different, and because both acts or habits belong to different orders of being. St. Thomas, on the contrary, teaches: “It is impossible for the same truth to be known and believed by the same person. ”

As ground for this he submits that the clear insight into the truth associated with knowledge cannot co-exist with the obscurity of faith. It is, however, possible, that the same truth could be known by one person and believed by another. According to the teaching of St. Thomas, it is also possible for the same person at the one time to have a natural knowledge of the existence of God as the originator of the natural order, and a supernatural faith in the existence of God as the originator of the supernatural order because the supernatural faith comprehends truths which are not contained in natural knowledge.

Conclusion 

St. Thomas Aquinas has meant to teach in his Summa Theologica that faith its self is an act that consists essentially in knowledge. It is an act of human being that takes place within the intellect and its object is “Truth”. Therefor in this sense it consists of both the objective and Subjective aspect. Seen from the side of the object it is regarded as the mind’s assent to what is not seen: “ Faith is evidence of things that appear no”.

Bibliography

  1. Benziger, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas vol. 2 11a-11ae QQ.1-189 111a QQ.1-90: Benzinger Brothers press, 1949.
  2. Frederick C., A History of Philosophy II. New York: Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc, 1993.
  3. Vernon B., Thomas Aquinas, ST in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy VIII. Ed. Paul Edwards. New York: The Macmillan Company and the Free Press, 1967.
  4. Ludwig, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Rockford Illinios: Tan Book and Publishers, Inc 1974.
  5. St.ThomasAquinas, http://www.documentacatholicaomnia.eu/03d/12251274,_Thomas_Aquinas,_Summa_Theologiae_%5B1%5D,_EN.pdf, (April, 03, 2019)
  6. ST.THOMAS, https://www.academia.edu/…/Family_vs._Order_Saint_Thomas_Aquinas_Dominican_, (April, 03, 2019)

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