Church Doctrine and St. Thomas Aquinas
Church Doctrine and St. Thomas Aquinas contributed by Eric Maurer, MClass, Director of Classical Education at Regina Angelorum Academy.
Happy feast of St. Thomas Aquinas! Today RAA celebrates our church’s premier theologian. He himself a classical educator leading seminar-style classes in which students would pepper him with questions. Aquinas defended church doctrine and considered countless heresies in his summation of theology, the Summa Theologica and in his Summa Contra Gentiles, written for non-Catholics. Using the strongest objections to Catholic doctrine that he could find, Aquinas answered each of them one at a time. By not arguing against paper tigers, this fair approach is most persuasive.
Aquinas Questioned Well
Aquinas’ reason for being as immaculately clear and rigorous as he was, considering and refuting many objections when considering a question, was his emulation and understanding of Aristotle. Fulfilling the Dominican mission to contemplate thoroughly, Aquinas strove to bene dubitare (“question well”), as the Philosopher, his nickname for Aristotle, had recommended in Metaphysics. Aquinas uses Aristotle’s elegant metaphor of a knot to describe how one must work his way through confusion and objections before coming to know. Explaining his teaching approach Aquinas writes:
For just as one whose feet are tied cannot move forward on an earthly road, in a similar way one who is puzzled, and whose mind is bound, as it were, cannot move forward on the road of speculative knowledge. Therefore, just as one who wishes to loosen a physical knot must first of all inspect the knot. Then the way in which it is tied, in a similar way one who wants to solve a problem must first survey all the difficulties and the reasons for them.
Aquinas Combined Faith and Reason
Popes Leo XIII, in his Aeterni Patris, and John Paul II in Fides et Ratio, each credited Aquinas with combining faith and reason. He did so as no man has since. Aquinas’ works were so beautifully ordered and argued that his intellect was compared to that of an angel. Thus Aquinas earned the sobriquet of The Angelic Doctor. So renowned was the thought of Thomas Aquinas that he even had the requirement for a miracle waived during his canonization process, as his theological writings, which had become the exemplar of sound theology, were considered a miracle enough.
The fourteenth-century Pope Urban V wrote to the University of Toulouse, “It is our will… that you follow the doctrine of the Blessed Thomas as true and Catholic and strive to unfold it with your whole strength.” Cited constantly, even today in papal encyclicals, Aquinas remains the premier Catholic theologian. Long after his death, he was so often quoted and paraphrased in the writings of the church councils, that it was as if he was in attendance.
Aquinas and the Councils
Aquinas’ thought was most helpful during the Protestant Reformation. This occurred during the 19 year council of Trent. Pope Leo XIII writes:
The ecumenical councils are where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom. The ecumenical councils have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honor. He took part in the Councils of Lyons, Vienna, Florence, and the Vatican. One might almost say that Thomas took part and presided over the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers. St. Thomas Aquinas was contending against the errors of the Greeks, of heretics and rationalists, with invincible force. Also with the happiest results. But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he has shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent made it part of the order of conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek counsel, reason, and inspiration. (Aeterni Patris, 22)