Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church. Born in 1225 and living less than 50 years, his mark on the Church is indelible. He has traditionally been called the “Angelic Doctor”, but is also named the “Common Doctor” which comes from the writings of Pope John XXIII:
His teaching was, more than any other, fully in keeping with the truths that God has revealed, with the writings of the Holy Fathers, and with the principles of right reason and therefore Holy Church has adopted it as her own, and has given the name of common or universal teacher to its author. (TPs, 1960, p 325K)
So much has been written about Saint Thomas Aquinas that I would do little justice to attempt to improve upon it. Two things, however, come to mind when I think about Thomas Aquinas: 1) Faith and Reason, and 2) the Declaration of Independence. You may think these strange bedfellows, but let me explain.
1) Faith and Reason: St. Thomas was a brilliant man, a man of faith and a man of great intellect. He lived at a time when the writings of the ancient Greeks were being “rediscovered” in Europe, St. Albert the Great having translated Aristotle’s body of writings. Great controversy arose in the Church and in the culture. St. Thomas studied these texts while at university and clarified them in his teaching, writing, and preaching in his defense of the Faith and the development of doctrine:
As a philosopher, the great contribution of Aquinas was his use of the works of Aristotle to build up a rational and ordered system of Christian doctrine, his method of exposition and proof being scientific and lucid. He would first state the problem or question under consideration, next, one by one, fairly and objectively, the arguments against his own point of view, often citing the authorities on which they rested. Then came a statement of his own position with the arguments to support it, and, finally, one by one, the answers to his opponents. The general tone of his arguments was invariably judicial and serene. To him faith and reason could never be contradictory, for they both came from the one source of all truth, God, the Absolute One. The most important of his books were the <Summa Theologica> and the <Summa Contra Gentiles>, which were written between 1265 and 1272. Together they form the fullest and most exact exposition of Catholic dogma yet given to the world. Over the former he labored for five years, and left it, as we have said, unfinished. Almost at once it was recognized as the greatest intellectual achievement of the period. Three centuries later, at the momentous Council of Trent, this work was one of the three authoritative sources of Catholic faith laid down before the assembly, the other two being the Bible and the Decretals of the Popes. No theologian save Augustine has had so much influence on the Western Church as the “Angelic Doctor.” (Source: EWTN.com)
Man has great capacities to understand, and faith must be reasonable in order for man to believe. Modern elitism suggests that people of faith are intellectual midgets, following the bible or Rome without thought like lemmings. Of course, none of them question their own lemming ways. I think the greatest example of this is the Theory of Evolution. The more I investigate this “scientific” teaching, the more I see the need for blind faith to believe it. Yes, parts of it are reasonable and based on evidence. But, there are some pretty huge holes in it and places where the theory is modified to fit the evidence. Occam’s Razor: If a theory is valid, then shouldn’t all evidence support it consistently? Well, yes. If a theory is valid, then shouldn’t the need to modify the theory midstream be unnecessary? Well, yes. Then wouldn’t that make it a questionable theory that shouldn’t be presented as scientific fact? Well, yes. But we’re the lemmings. (For further reading, check out The Case for the Creator by Lee Stroebel.)
Pope John Paul the Great’s 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio, Faith and Reason, echoes St. Thomas’s teaching in his opening paragraph:
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2).
Reason directs us to Truth, which is God, in whom we put our Faith.
2) The Declaration of Independence is based on Natural Law, “that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” The Declaration demonstrates that a higher law exists beyond political law protecting and guaranteeing individual rights beyond what the state can impose or deny. Those rights exist simply because we are human beings. We know them naturally, instinctively. They are written on the human heart.
Aquinas did much to build upon the Natural Law philosophies articulated by Aristotle. His writings were both influential and instrumental to the Council of Trent and the Counter-Reformation. The growth of Catholic understanding of Natural Law and the dignity of the human person upheld the rights of the individual and put forth that legitimate government is based on the consent of the governed. Cardinal Saint Robert Bellarmine wrote much about this in his treatise, De Laicis, in the late sixteenth/early seventeenth century. Contrary to what uninformed people may think, the Middle Ages “doctrine” of the Divine Right of Kings had nothing to do with the Catholic Church, but rather came from James IV of Scotland prior to his elevation as James I, King of England. In my opinion, this particular “doctrine” was simply a justification for an earthly king to do whatever he wanted. But, I digress… Evidence suggests that our Founding Fathers’ philosophies, particularly those of Thomas Jefferson, were influenced by the writings of St. Robert Bellarmine. We know, as faithful Catholics, that as political power increases and adherence to Natural Law decreases, human life becomes less and less valued and more vulnerable.
So today, let us pray in thanksgiving for the gift of St. Thomas Aquinas and his influence on the world. Let us pray, too, for a return to obedience to Natural Law and to a respect for the dignity of each and every human person.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us! Anne
To read Saint Robert Bellarmine’s Treatise on Civil Government click here De Laicis