Thomas Aquinas: Charting the via media in the 13th Century

The influence of Aristotle on the Theology of Aquinas is important to note.

A. Thomas as a mediation theologian

Most of Aristotle’s works were simply unknown until the 12 century The writings of Aristotle become a piece that the Muslims study first them it reaches Europe. It gets translated into Latin. Aristotle is a theological minimalist. For Aristotle the universe imitates God is a distant way. He shares the same idea of a soul that Plato does. When the body dies, the soul ceases to exist. For Aristotle, God is totally absorbed in his own perfection. Aristotle was totally fascinated with the material world; he did autopsies and worked on medical things. Plato, who was Aristotle’s teacher was different, Aristotle fell far from the tree.

B. Aquinas and Aristotle on causation “The fabric of the universe is spun on the connection of the causes.” Thomas Aquinas, On truth

Aquinas’s famous “five ways”

  • The argument from motion (the Unmoved Mover) namely God
  • The Argument from efficient cause. Nothing that exists that exists on its own
  • The argument from possibility & necessity. The things that do exist could also not exist. They are necessitated by something that created them namely God
  • The grades of being. A hierarchy of value. Some categories of being. The best being is God.
  • The argument of design of providence, (Cosmological argument) For example, bird migration. Someone has designed this
  • A “nominal definition” & the God of the philosophers.

C. Aristotle on science: two kinds of theology

    1. Natural theology or “philosophy” studies being (creatures) begins with nature, existence, “effects”
    2. Revealed theology or “the science of Sacred Scripture” studies God Creation and First Cause “Grace does not destroy nature, but rather perfects it” Thomas Aquinas


Continued. Nature and reason are reliable theological tools. Aquinas wrote Summa Theologica I, q. 12 art. 12 (on page 53)

“Whether God can be known in this life by natural reason. Reason cannot show the whole power of God. Reason cannot disclose God’s essence. But reason CAN prove that God exists…and show what attributes belong to God.”

Revealed theology or “scripture” takes over where natural theology ends. Summa Theologica I. q. 12 art. 13 –p59 “Whether by grace a higher knowledge of God is obtained.” Grace assists human knowledge. Thomas: Revelation = axiom.


D. Nature & Grace, Faith and Reason

    1. Thomas is happy to use Aristotle but he is willing to baptize him.
    2. Thomas’ critical use of Aristotle
    3. Thomas make a systematic case that nature and grace are on a continuum. He is saying that philosophy is not hostile to theology. Thomas would say that a philosopher might find God. Thus Revelation is a shortcut for reason. Faith is not hostile to reason. This also means that grace is not hostile to nature. (? Does Grace destroy the old nature?) The analogy of being: effectàcause. “Grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it.” Thomas AquinasT