Wednesday, January 2, 2013

St. Thomas Aquinas, Natural Law, and the Common Good /// Aquinas Quotations

Arguing against those who said that natural philosophy was contrary to the Christian faith, (Aquinas) writes in his treatise "Faith, Reason and Theology that "even though the natural light of the human mind is inadequate to make known what is revealed by faith, nevertheless what is divinely taught to us by faith cannot be contrary to what we are endowed with by nature. One or the other would have to be false, and since we have both of them from God, he would be the cause of our error, which is impossible." 
"Aladdin's Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World" by John Freely


St. Thomas Aquinas, Natural Law, and the Common Good

St. Thomas Aquinas, a medieval Roman Catholic scholar, reconciled the political philosophy of Aristotle with Christian faith. In doing so, he contended that a just ruler or government must work for the "common good" of all.

Before the time of Jesus, the Greeks developed concepts about how the world worked and human beings behaved. Aristotle, who died in 322 B.C., was an Athenian philosopher who wrote about science, ethics, politics, and almost every other realm of knowledge.

Throughout his writings, Aristotle did not teach that the Greek gods or religion controlled the world and its people. Instead, his observations led him to conclude that nature was purposeful and driven by natural laws that human reason could discover. These natural laws provided a way to explain the world and the place of humans within it.

In one of Aristotle’s works called The Politics, he reasoned, "man is by nature a political animal." By this, he meant that people were naturally destined to live in groups, which required some sort of ruler or government. According to Aristotle, only by living in a community "to secure the good life" could human beings achieve such virtues as courage, honesty, and justice. In his time, this human community was a city-state like Athens.

Applying his scientific method of observation and analysis of evidence, Aristotle studied the governments of 158 city-states in the Greek world. He classified rule by a king (monarchy) and the superior few (aristocracy) as "good" governments. He judged rule by the few rich (oligarchy) and the many poor (democracy) as "bad" governments.
Aristotle concluded that the best government was one that "mixed" the features of oligarchy and democracy. For example, all the citizens would choose some government officials by lottery. But only some citizens with a certain amount of property or wealth could qualify for other offices. Aristotle thought this form of government provided the best chance for political stability.

Augustine and Christian Faith

Hundreds of years later, Christianity emerged as the dominant religion in the Roman Empire. The fathers of the early Christian Church introduced a way of explaining the world far different from that of Aristotle. Perhaps the most important of these early church fathers was St. Augustine.

Augustine was born in A.D. 354 in North Africa, then a province of Rome. As a youth, he studied the concepts of natural law and human reason from the writings of classic Greek and Roman thinkers like Aristotle and Cicero. Augustine converted to Christianity when he was 33.

He became a Christian priest and bishop of the North African city of Hippo. For a while, he believed reason and faith were compatible. By the year 400, however, he had changed his mind. "Do not therefore try to understand in order that you may believe," he wrote, "but believe in order that you may understand."

Augustine taught that when Adam and Eve put their own desires above God’s will, they committed a sin that became the source of evil among human beings. Christians often call this "original sin." Augustine believed that all human beings were born with original sin and were thus doomed to damnation. But like other Christians, he also believed that God was merciful and sent Jesus to save believers from sin and eternal suffering.

Even so, Augustine viewed humans as essentially sinful. Only some of them would escape from the fires of hell. These individuals, known only to God, would achieve heavenly bliss in what Augustine called the "City of God." Membership in the Christian (Roman Catholic) church was essential, he wrote, but even that did not guarantee salvation.

Because of Adam and Eve’s sinfulness, government was needed to control and punish sinful humans. Augustine said that government forms were not important since they were all temporary.

Augustine argued that people should obey their rulers unless they violated God’s word. In that case, believers could refuse to obey, but must expect punishment. In general, though, he advised that it was better to endure a wicked state during one’s brief existence on Earth, having faith that eternal life awaited in the City of God.

Augustine died in 430 as barbarians assaulted Hippo, heralding the end of the Roman Empire. Later, the Roman Catholic Church made him a saint. St. Augustine’s writings helped develop Catholic Church beliefs.

Thomas Aquinas Combined Reason and Faith

Nearly 2,000 years after Aristotle died, only a few of his works on logic survived in Western Europe. But Jewish and Muslim scholars had preserved much of his writing. Starting in the 1100s, scholars in the West began to translate Aristotle’s works from Hebrew and Arabic into Latin, making them available in the new universities that were forming. Along with these translations came extensive commentaries on Aristotle such as those by the Spanish Muslim scholar Averroes.

The rediscovery of Aristotle’s works with their sophisticated explanation of the world based on natural law and reason seemed to challenge the teachings of the Christian faith. At first, the Roman Catholic Church tried to ban his works.
But some church scholars such as Albert the Great at the University of Paris thought it was possible to combine human reason and Christian faith. Thomas Aquinas, an Italian Roman Catholic theologian (religious scholar), devoted his life to this task.

Aquinas was born in 1225, the son of a noble family in the kingdom of Sicily, which included part of the mainland of Italy around Naples. His family sent him at age 5 to the Benedictine monastery of Monte Casino to train as a monk.
Later, Aquinas attended the University of Naples where he first encountered the writings of Aristotle. Against his family’s wishes, he joined the Dominican order at 18, taking a vow of poverty.

In 1245, Aquinas traveled to the University of Paris where a great debate was going on about Aristotle’s ideas. The young Aquinas studied under Albert the Great who sided with those who believed Aristotle’s view of the world was compatible with that of Christianity.

Aquinas came to think that one should believe only what is self-evident (e.g., human beings use reason) or can be deduced from self-evident propositions (e.g., human reason can discover truth).

Aquinas became a Dominican teacher of religion at the University of Paris and in Italy. He continued to study the works of Aristotle and the Muslim commentaries on them.

Aquinas wrote his own commentaries on Aristotle, which included reasoned propositions based on certainties revealed by God. He also wrote summaries of Catholic doctrine that also attempted to combine reason and faith.

Natural and Human Law

Thomas Aquinas, much like Aristotle, wrote that nature is organized for good purposes. Unlike Aristotle, however, Aquinas went on to say that God created nature and rules the world by "divine reason."

Aquinas described four kinds of law. Eternal law was God’s perfect plan, not fully knowable to humans. It determined the way things such as animals and planets behaved and how people should behave. Divine law, primarily from the Bible, guided individuals beyond the world to "eternal happiness" in what St. Augustine had called the "City of God."

Aquinas wrote most extensively about natural law. He stated, "the light of reason is placed by nature [and thus by God] in every man to guide him in his acts." Therefore, human beings, alone among God’s creatures, use reason to lead their lives. This is natural law.

The master principle of natural law, wrote Aquinas, was that "good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided." Aquinas stated that reason reveals particular natural laws that are good for humans such as self-preservation, marriage and family, and the desire to know God. Reason, he taught, also enables humans to understand things that are evil such as adultery, suicide, and lying.

While natural law applied to all humans and was unchanging, human law could vary with time, place, and circumstance. Aquinas defined this last type of law as "an ordinance of reason for the common good" made and enforced by a ruler or government. He warned, however, that people were not bound to obey laws made by humans that conflicted with natural law.

Government and the "Common Good"

In 1267, Thomas Aquinas completed a work on government inspired by Aristotle’s Politics. Aquinas asserted, "Yet it is natural for man, more than any other animal, to be a social and political animal, to live in a group." He presented logical proofs of this such as the self-evident fact of human speech to allow individuals to reason with one another.

Aquinas further observed that people tend to look only after their own self-interest. "Therefore," he concluded, "in every multitude there must be some governing power" to direct people toward the "common good."

Thus, Aquinas did not agree with St. Augustine that the main purpose of government was simply to keep the sinful in line. Aquinas saw government as also helping to work for the "common good" that benefits all. The common good included such things as protecting life, preserving the state, and promoting the peace. Aristotle would have called this "the good life."
Aquinas addressed the problem of unjust rulers who might be a king, the few rich, or the many poor. Aquinas noted that when rulers make laws that violate natural law, they become "tyrants." Aquinas went on to conclude, "A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, as the Philosopher [Aristotle] says."

What should the people do about a tyranny? Aquinas agreed with St. Augustine that the subjects of unjust rule are not obliged to obey the laws since they are not legitimate. But Aquinas went far beyond St. Augustine and virtually all other medieval thinkers on this matter.

Aquinas argued that the subjects of a tyranny, acting as a "public authority," might rebel and depose it. Aquinas cautioned that the people should not do this hastily, but only when the damage done by the tyranny exceeds what may occur in a rebellion. This was one of the first justifications for revolution in Western thought.

Aquinas further developed the meaning of "just war" that had been discussed by the Roman statesman Cicero and by St. Augustine. For a war to be just, there must be these three conditions:

1. A declaration by the ruler to defend the "common good" against enemies.

2. A "just cause" for an attack on an enemy "because they deserve it on account of some fault" such as avenging wrongs they have committed.

3. A "rightful intention" to advance good or avoid evil such as punishing evil-doers and not simply grabbing land or goods.

These conditions for a "just war" later influenced the development of international laws of war.

Aquinas wrote thoughtfully about the best form of government. He, like Aristotle, preferred a mixture of government forms. Aquinas recognized the value of a king, "a shepherd seeking the common good of the multitude." But he opposed an absolute monarch.

The nobility, Aquinas argued, should advise the king and limit his power. Furthermore, the king’s laws must result from the "deliberation of reason" and have the consent of both the nobility and the common people. These were radical ideas for a time when kings claimed no one but God could hold them accountable.

The Legacy of St. Thomas Aquinas

Aquinas spent his last years teaching and writing in Italy. He died in 1274 at age 49 from an illness he developed while walking to France to attend a church conference.

At first, the Roman Catholic Church rejected Aquinas’s massive effort to reconcile human reason with Christian faith. In 1277, the church condemned some of his writings based on Aristotle’s ideas. About 50 years after his death, however, the church revived his works and made him a saint.

The writings of St. Thomas Aquinas combining reason and faith became the basis for official Roman Catholic doctrine (known as "Thomism"). In addition, his forward-looking political ideas regarding natural law, unjust rulers, and rebellion influenced European Enlightenment philosophers such as John Locke and even Americans such as Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King.


Thomas Aquinas Quotations

“Fear is such a powerful emotion for humans that when we allow it to take us over, it drives compassion right out of our hearts.” 

“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.” 

“How is it they live in such harmony, the billions of stars, when most men can barely go a minute without declaring war in their minds?” 

“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.” 

“It is not theft, properly speaking, to take secretly and use another's property in a case of extreme need: because that which he takes for the support of his life becomes his own property by reason of that need.”

“Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.”
“The soul is like an uninhabited world that comes to life only when God lays His head against us.” 

“Beware the man of a single book.” 

“Wonder is the desire of knowledge.” 

“Most men seem to live according to sense rather than reason.” 

“The Stone is one, the Medicine is one, to which we add nothing, only in the preparation removing superfluities.” 

“Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.” 

“The happy man in this life needs friends.” 

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” 

“The things that we love tell us what we are.” 

“We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.” 

“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” 

How can we live in harmony” First we need to know we are ll madly in love with the same God.

It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.

Love takes up where knowledge leaves off.

A man has free will to the extent that he is rational.

Thomas Aquinas defined a miracle as " whatever God does outside and beyond the order commonly determined or observed in nature". 

The Only-begotten Son of God, wanting us to be partakers of his divinity, assumed our human nature so that, having become man, he might make men gods.

"The good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided" is not very helpful for making actual choices. Therefore, Aquinas believes that one needs one's reason to be perfected by the virtues, especially prudence, in order to discover precepts of the Natural Law that are more proximate to the choices that one has to make on a day to day basis.

“All that I have written seems like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me.”

Remarks on being requested to resume writing, after a mystical experience while saying mass on or around 6 December 1273, as quoted in A Taste of Water : Christianity through Taoist-Buddhist Eyes (1990) by Chwen Jiuan Agnes Lee and Thomas G. Hand


Alan: Here are five quotations in which Aquinas is wrong.

“The blessed in the kingdom of heaven will see the punishments of the damned, in order that their bliss be more delightful for them.” 

“In the old law, God was praised both with musical instruments, and human voices. But the church does not use musical instruments to praise God, lest she should seem to judaize.” 

If... the motion of the earth were circular, it would be violent and contrary to nature, and could not be eternal, since ... nothing violent is eternal .... It follows, therefore, that the earth is not moved with a circular motion. Commentaria in libros Aristotelis de caelo et mundo

 It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a "helper" to man; not, indeed, as a helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation. This can be made clear if we observe the mode of generation carried out in various living things. Some living things do not possess in themselves the power of generation, but are generated by some other specific agent, such as some plants and animals by the influence of the heavenly bodies, from some fitting matter and not from seed: others possess the active and passive generative power together; as we see in plants which are generated from seed; for the noblest vital function in plants is generation. Wherefore we observe that in these the active power of generation invariably accompanies the passive power. Among perfect animals the active power of generation belongs to the male sex, and the passive power to the female. And as among animals there is a vital operation nobler than generation, to which their life is principally directed; therefore the male sex is not found in continual union with the female in perfect animals, but only at the time of coition; so that we may consider that by this means the male and female are one, as in plants they are always united; although in some cases one of them preponderates, and in some the other. But man is yet further ordered to a still nobler vital action, and that is intellectual operation. Therefore there was greater reason for the distinction of these two forces in man; so that the female should be produced separately from the male; although they are carnally united for generation. Therefore directly after the formation of woman, it was said: "And they shall be two in one flesh" (Gn. 2:24).  Summa Theologica

As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power of the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of a woman comes from defect in the active power.  Summa Theologica
Alan: Here is a quotation whose veracity I can neither attest nor deny. I suspect knowledge follows love.

“Love follows knowledge.” Aquinas

"We know to the extent that we love." Augustine

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