Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 228

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Thomas Aquinas' Summa Theologica, written in the thirteenth century, stands as a hallmark of the High Middle Ages. It is distinct from its predecessors in the fields of philosophy and Scripture (chiefly Aristotle and St. Augustine, respectively), by addressing itself jointly to philosophy and church doctrine, and suggesting that these two realms are not mutually exclusive.

Aquinas also brings together faith and reason, and encourages that followers use them to reinforce one another. Put another way, Aquinas discourages a belief in Christianity informed by faith alone. In a related fashion, Aquinas distinguishes between religion and science. He concludes that Scripture is not a science as it cannot be tested, but is nonetheless superior to science, because it affords closer access to God.

Aquinas also has a fairly unique eschatological (end of the world) point of view: a new heaven and earth will be created after the apocalypse of this world. Other notable points include Aquinas' opinion on the permissibility of marriage, but with the acknowledgement that it is inferior to ordained service of God (such as a bishop, priest, or monk). Additionally, Aquinas declares himself against contemporary unsavory church practices such as the practices of usury and granting indulgences.

In general, Aquinas' legacy is that of a scholar and religious devotee, who approached his great treatise on Christianity, Summa Theologica, with equal parts scholastic rigor and religious zeal.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 403

According to Aquinas, no division exists between the “revealed” truth known by faith and the general, “natural” revelation known by reason; truth itself is a unity, because ultimately the same God authors all that is true. Grace does not destroy nature but rather perfects it; consequently, supernatural revelation certainly will go beyond natural revelation but will not contradict it. For example, one may know of God’s existence simply because the Bible declares it, but one may also know of God’s existence rationally by the Five Ways (motion, causality, contingency, degrees of perfection, and teleology). By reason, one may also know some of God’s attributes, such as his unity and perfection. However, some aspects of God, such as his Trinitarian nature, may be known only by faith.

Likewise, Aquinas says moral laws may be known directly by God’s commands but are also accessible to all by the “natural law” written in the human heart. God’s “eternal law” disposes all things by means of God’s perfect knowledge and will, and is therefore identical with what is meant by the theological term “providence.” Humans cannot, of course, know completely this eternal law, but what humans can grasp of it through their reason is the natural law. The human law (civil law, criminal law) should be based on the natural law; for example, criminal penalties for murder are based on the natural law prohibiting murder.

Human nature is a hylomorphic union of soul and body, with the intellectual soul providing the human “form.” The material of the body is provided by one’s parents, but the intellectual soul is infused directly by God. Original Sin causes the loss of humanity’s original gift of righteousness and effects the perpetual inclination toward evil within humans but does not destroy the soul’s innate powers such as rationality and freedom of the will.

Aquinas’s teleological vision, in some respects quite similar to Aristotle’s, sees all things as directed toward some end. Humans themselves have a single last end toward which they direct their activities and desires, even if they are mistaken in how to achieve this end. The general term for this last end is “happiness,” but final perfected happiness can be attained only by the beatific vision of God. Ultimate happiness therefore depends on redemption through Christ, and so Aquinas’s philosophical discussion is ultimately a theological discussion as well.

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