“On the Wisdom of the Angelic Doctor”
January 28th was the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, arguably the most influential philosopher and theologian of the Middle Ages. As some of his quotes are very relevant for contemporary discussions, I’d like to share a few of them with you.
1) “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 lamentable that many Christians have neither substantial knowledge of dogma nor significant scientific knowledge. I have been guilty of this charge, as well. The great philosopher Rene Descartes was keen on speaking only about the topics in which he was well-versed. We would do well to mimic him. Now, I do not mean to say that the Christian must be an expert in cosmology, evolutionary theory, and biblical scholarship (though it would help…); however, I do mean to say that uninformed Christians should not masquerade as if they were experts in these fields of inquiry.
2) “Hold firmly that our faith is identical with that of the ancients. Deny this, and you dissolve the unity of the Church.”
In one of my current classes in the Department of Religion at Wake Forest, we are discussing various post-modern scholars who claim that the Church has “changed” its dogmatic teachings over the years in accordance with discovered secular truths. At first sight many of these arguments seem convincing, but I’ve found that they do not stand the test of rigorous fact-checking. In other cases these faulty arguments from secular professors fail to do justice to Catholic theology, so they are setting up straw men that appear easy to knock down. Of course, it is not difficult to dismiss an idea that I define for myself! The authors of What Is Marriage? write in one of their footnotes, “With the right (unfair) description, any view can be ridiculed,” (pg. 27). For further information on these faulty arguments that claim that the Church has “changed” its dogma over time, please leave a comment. I’ll be sure to outline the specifics for you.
3) “Beware of the person of one book.”
Many university students self-identify as experts on a given topic after reading just a single work on that topic. These students are often bigoted and prideful, not real pursuers of the truth. I have most definitely been guilty of this sin!
4) “How can we live in harmony? First we need to know we are all madly in love with the same God.”
Since the Enlightenment and especially after the advent of post-modern thought, we have been floundering for unity in truth, particularly in moral truth. Father Robert Barron has written, “Removing God is tantamount to removing the ground for the basic goods, and once the basic goods have been eliminated, all that is left is the self-legislating and self-creating will.” Without God and His Church, there is no foundation for moral truth apart from the self. (And we know to what extent post-modern philosophers debate the commonality of the billions of human “selves”!) Frankly, our selves are so conflicted at the moment that we will have a difficult time arriving at the basic moral truths that are inherent in the natural law. Our only recourse is the Lord, who complements the natural law with his divine law.
In sum, St. Thomas Aquinas can help us to better understand ourselves in contemporary society. Personally, I need to commit to a deeper study of this extraordinary man’s writings. St. Thomas is the rational believer in the fullest, and isn’t it true that the world could use some rational believers today!?
May God bless you!
–David J.W. Inczauskis