Thomas Aquinas - History
Thomas Aquinas’ rather brief life (1225 to 1274) began at a hilltop castle known as Roccasecca, located between Rome and Naples. At age five, Aquinas entered the not distant Benedictine abbey of Montecassino where he began his education. Later on, Aquinas transferred to the University of Naples where he came into contact with a new group called the Order of Preachers or Dominicans. He ultimately became a Dominican much to the displeasure of his family. Aquinas went on to study in Cologne with Albert the Great -- it was this association that led him deeply into his embracing of Aristotelian philosophy. Aristotelian philosophy was something that Aquinas was predisposed to. He sought to employ rational argumentation in defense of Christian theology. He espoused the metaphysical teachings of Aristotle, which were a change from the Augustinian tradition of the Middle Ages.
Thomas Aquinas – Religious Reasoning
Aristotle sought to develop a universal method of reasoning of which it would be possible to learn everything there is to know about reality. Thomas Aquinas found no contradiction in applying this type of reasoning to religion. While he allowed that it was certainly possible for a person to accept religious teachings by faith alone and that this was indeed the best method, he asserted that theology was a science in which careful application of reason would yield observable proof of theoretical knowledge.
Aquinas was given the name, “the angelic teacher” due to his defense of theology and was considered a professional theologian. Nevertheless, among his writings are works easily recognizable as philosophy. He also wrote several commentaries on Aristotle which have garnered the respect and admiration of Aristotelian scholars. Thomas Aquinas sought to make a distinction between philosophy and theology:
“. . .the believer and the philosopher consider creatures differently. The philosopher considers what belongs to their proper natures, while the believer considers only what is true of creatures insofar as they are related to God, for example, that they are created by God and are subject to Him, and the like” (Summa contra gentiles, bk II, chap. 4).
Aquinas went on to explain that theological arguments or discourse were dependent upon starting points or principles that are held true on the basis of faith. Philosophical discourses begin with ideas that are accepted -- part of the public domain, things that everyone knows from all of the various sciences.
“. . .it should be noted that the different ways of knowing (ratio cognoscibilis) give us different sciences. The astronomer and the natural philosopher both conclude that the world is round, but the astronomer does this through a mathematical middle that is abstracted from matter, whereas the natural philosopher considers a middle lodged in matter. Thus there is nothing to prevent another science from treating in the light of divine revelation what the philosophical disciplines treat as knowable in the light of human reason” (Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 1, a., ad 2).
Thomas Aquinas – Existence of God
Thomas Aquinas applied this philosophical discourse to his Five Ways to Prove the Existence of God: 1) Motion; 2) Causation; 3) Contingency; 4) Goodness; 5) Design.
The first way was clearly indicative of his reasoning:
- There is something moving
- Everything that moves is put into motion by something else.
- But this series of antecedent movers cannot reach back infinitely.
- Therefore, there must be a first mover (which is God.)