, AguinasContemporary Thinkers: Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aguinas
Question #1 : Please discuss the political organization of the Greek city-
states, particularly Athenian democracy at the time of Pericles, Plato, and
Aristotle. Also discuss the backgrounds of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and
the fate of the Greek city-states historically.
During the time of Pericles, Plato, and Aristotle, Greece was divided
into city-states with a wide variety of constitutions, ranging from Sparta’s
military dictatorship to Athens’ direct democracy.
Most city-states had about 300,000 people, each divided into one of
three classes : citizens, metics, or slaves. The citizens represented a total
of one – third the population. The members of this class participated directly
with politics in the various institutions, and decisions were derived by popular
vote, known as direct democracy. This class was further divided into three
councils : Assembly of Ecclesia, Council of 500, and the Council of 50. The
largest council was the Assembly of Ecclesia, which was a body of all male
citizens over the age of twenty. The Council of 500 consisted of 500 members,
chosen from lottery and election from the Assembly of Ecclesia. The Council of
50 was made up of 50 members chosen from the Council of 500. The second class
of people in the city-states was the Metics. This class was made up of people
that were not citizens, either because they were not born in the city-state, or
they were prevented from being citizens. The third class were the slaves.
These people were captured from wars and subject to serve the city-state without
pay. The interesting observation in the organization of the Greek city-state is
that only one-third the population had any power. The other two thirds (made up
of metics and slaves) were subject to the decisions derived by the citizens, and
contained no power nor voice in the political system. Athenian Democracy had
such a division of classes. This democracy had a minority who ruled over the
majority, each citizen participated directly in the affairs of the city. The
Greek city-state contained a body of up to 500 jurors who would try cases.
There also existed a body of ten elected generals who would oversee
foreign policy and war. One such elected general of Athens was a political
idealist, Pericles. Pericles had singular control of the Athenian democracy and
was involved in a war against Sparta and its allies that was concluded in 446-
445 B.C.. After peace was declared, he tightened Athenian control of the empire.
“He crushed major rebellions, imposed democratic government, dispatched colonies
of Athenian citizens to strategic areas, and made tribute collection (the main
source of Athenian wealth) more efficient. Convinced of the inevitability of war
with Sparta and the Peloponnesians, Pericles made an alliance with Corinth’s
enemy, Corcyra , knowing that it could lead to armed hostilities. He refused
Sparta’s demand that he revoke the Megarian decree, which denied Megara access
to the harbors of the empire. These actions led to the Peloponnesian War .
Pericles, who was relying on the fleet and the empire’s resources, planned to
avoid a pitched battle with the Peloponnesians and to abandon the countryside to
them. He fell victim to the plague, however, never to know that the war he
initiated would result in the disastrous defeat of Athens. “(GME “PERICLES”)
Socrates, was a Greek thinker whose work marked a decisive turning point
in the history of philosophy. He invented a method of teaching by asking
questions (the Socratic method), pioneered the search for definitions, and
turned philosophy away from a study of the way things are toward a
consideration of virtue and the health of the human soul. Socrates believed that
to do wrong is to damage one’s soul, and that this is the worst thing one can do.
From this it follows that it is always worse to do wrong than to be wronged, and
that one must never return wrong for wrong. He was born in Athens and lived all
his life there, leaving only to serve as a soldier in the Peloponnesian War. He
attracted a number of prominent disciples in his role as a teacher of wisdom.
One such disciple was Plato.
Plato was born in Athens around 430 BC. Both his parents were of
distinguished Athenian families, and his stepfather, an associate of Pericles,
was an active participant in the political and cultural life of Periclean Athens.
Plato seems as a young man to have been destined for an aristocratic political
career. The excesses of Athenian political life, however, both under the
oligarchical rule (404-403) of the so-called Thirty Tyrants and under the
restored democracy, seem to have led him to give up these ambitions. In
particular, the execution of his friend and teacher Socrates had a profound
effect on his plans. Greatly influenced by Socrate’s teachings, he founded the
Academy, an institution devoted to research and instruction in philosophy and
A student of Plato at the Academy was Aristotle. He was born in Stragira,
a Greek colonial town on the Macedonia coast. In 367, Aristotle went to Athens
to join Plato’s Academy, first as a student, then as a teacher. He traveled
widely and spent several years as a tutor for Philip of Macedon’s son, Alexander.
The fate of the Greek city-states historically is grim. The
destructive conflict, the Peloponnesian War, marked the end of the Greek way of
life. The Spartans, now leaders of the Greeks, soon aroused widespread enmity
by their high-handed rule. A monarchy in the north soon arose to dictate the
fortunes of the Greeks. The brilliant statesman and warrior Philip II became
regent of Macedonia in 359 and its king in 356. Under his leadership, this
newly centralized kingdom gradually overwhelmed the disunited land. By easy
stages Philip advanced into central Greece, winning control of Delphi as a
result of the Third Sacred War (355-47) against Phocis. In 338 he destroyed a
Theban and Athenian army on the field of Chaeronea. He imposed a short-lived
federal union on the Greeks and made himself their commander in chief in
anticipation of a war against Persia. He was assassinated in 336, however,
before the war could be fought.
The defeat of the Greek city-states at Chaeronea ended an era of Greek
history. Neither Sparta, Athens, nor any other city-state had proved capable of
uniting Greece under its leadership. Intense mutual jealousies, sharpened by
the egoistic abuse each polis dealt the others whenever circumstances permitted,
made unity a hopeless dream.
Question #2 : Please compare and contrast the political thought of Plato and
Aristotle, in particular their competing conceptions of an ideal polity. Which
do you prefer and why?
Central to Plato’s thought is the power of reason to reveal the
intelligibility and order governing the changing world of appearance and to
create, at both the political and the individual level, a harmonious and happy
life. His ideal society was outlined in the Republic. The search for truth is
predominant in his society. In order to find this truth, Plato divides his
society into three classes. The first class is the Guardians. These members are
the political leaders of the society, and live entirely different from the other
classes. “The preparation of the rulers begins before they are born, as the
very pairing of the parents is arranged by a preconceived plan that is to insure
the highest physical and mental qualities of the offspring to be bred. Nothing
is left to personal whim or accident from infancy on, and the process of
education, both theoretical and practical, continues until the age of fifty.
Literature, music, physical and military instruction, elementary and advanced
mathematics, philosophy and metaphysics, and subordinate military and civilian-
service assignments are the stages of the planned program of training
philosopher-rulers.”(E. & E. , pg 7) This class of people exclude individual
interests, such as private property, material possessions, and love. This class
puts wisdom above all else, and eventually this class will figure out what is
the best way to run the society, called by Plato as “the Truth.”
The second class, called the Auxiliaries, are in charge of keeping the
peace militarily both internally and externally. They too exclude individual
interests. They are to place courage first. The Auxiliaries are subject to the
Guardians, and are picked and trained by them. Some of these members become
The third class, called the Artisans, is the largest class. They make
up the working population. Their primary concern is appetite, and by working
they satisfy that need. They do not participate in politics. They are to run
the society economically as the Guardians and Auxiliaries run the society
Another interesting aspect of Plato’s Republic is the use of a medicinal
lie. In order for the people to believe in the class system, Plato uses a fable.
According to this fable, God put gold into those who are fit to rule, silver
into the auxiliaries, and iron and brass into the farmers and craftsmen. This
was to make each class think of each other as “brothers born of the same soil.”
Each element serves a purpose and thus makes each class feel useful and
Aristotle, on the other hand, has a much broader way of looking at
things. He traveled much thought the known world, and thus has seen other
political theories in action. He divides government into three types : kingship,
aristocracy, and constitutional government. He prefers kingship, or monarchy,
as the best. He believes that if a man is found “preeminent in virtue”, then he
should rule. Because of the superior virtue and political capacity, it gives
him that right. He also believes that only people of leisure should participate
in politics because these people have the free time to study, learn, think, and
thus are better qualified. Unlike Plato, however, he defends property rights.
Aristotle believes that owning property gives incentive and progress, pleasure
that the ownership gives, generosity, and has been a custom for ages. He
defends slavery as well by stating that some people were destined for certain
things, one of which being slavery, referred to as “a tool with a voice.” He
believed that equality is justice. He also divides the human race into two
categories : Greeks and Barbarians.
On the whole, I would have to agree with Aristotle. Plato is
excessively skeptical about democracy, which I am a firm believer in, and also
is too idealistic. I don’t believe that anyone will swallow a medicinal lie.
The people are divided so harshly: one group is trained for politics, another
for war, and another for production. This is wrong. This division will lead to
turmoil. The Guardians are so far detached from the people that they will not
be able to serve them justly. Maybe the Guardians would reach “the Truth,” that
the people should have the right to decide their own destinies, that no one
should be classed and separated from the others. The people should have the
right to own property and to choose who they have sex with. A small aristocratic
group with the control over an army is not my idea of government. The
Auxiliaries are nothing more than the Guardians’ dogs. That is why I would have
to agree with Aristotle. He believed that equality is justice, that
constitutionalism is the way to go. I want to have the right to own property
and decide my own destiny.
Question #3 : In two or three pages briefly describe the philosophies of
Epicureanism and Stoicism, especially in terms of how they vary from Plato and
Aristotle’s conceptions of human behavior and ideal societies. Please explain
what you find to be useful or distasteful about Epicureanism and Stoicism and
discuss the influence of Stoicism on Christianity and Roman legal thought.
The Epicureans believed that the purpose of government is to keep people
from interfering with each other’s “pursuit of happiness.” The major belief of
Epicureans was to remove worry to cultivate personal happiness. They disagreed
with Plato’s belief of public satisfaction. They believed that there is no
satisfaction in politics, only in reason, friendship, and moderation of material
possessions. The most important thing according to Epicureans was finding
satisfaction in personal relationships. Laws are only necessary to avoid pain,
worry and anxiety. The laws should merely protect man and thus serves a purpose.
This violates Plato’s belief that only an elite class of highly trained people
should rule and decide what is best for the people. This also violates
Aristotle’s belief that only through a compromise of freedom and wealth can
justice be served.
The Epicureans also believed that absolute justice is nonexistent and
the only justice is legal convention. Plato and Aristotle would disagree, that
through reason one could reach “the Truth,” as Plato would put it, or that
through reflection one may find absolute justice, that equality is justice.
Religion and superstition was merely a dream and worried man unnecessarily.
This contradicts Plato’s medicinal lie. Death is nothing, and thus should not
be dwelled upon.
Another words, let the people do what they want as long as they don’t
hurt anybody else and follow a very limited set of laws. Live life to it’s
fullest, enjoy it, and don’t worry about anything. This philosophy is indeed
different from Plato’s Republic and Aristotle’s constitutional monarchy.
Stoicism divides mankind into two types : the wise and the fools. The
wise act according to reason and self control while the fools do not. The
Stoics believed that there was more to life than just pursuing happiness. They
believed that man was predestined by a higher power to a role in society and
that man should not only accept his role, but also to partake in his role the
best he can. This belief encouraged endurance, fortitude, and courage. The
Stoics believed that men are different in learning but equal in reason. Plato
and Aristotle would argue that only through education can one obtain reason.
We all have the ability of deciding what is right from wrong, regardless of
education. The Stoics also believed that the law should be obeyed by the rulers
and the ruled. Plato’s Republic was just the opposite : the Guardians decided
how the artisians would live. They believed that all of mankind were brothers
and that we should love all men as we love ourselves. Aristotle believed that
you were either a Greek or a Barbarian, thus there existed no common brotherhood.
Plato divided his society so drastically that there is no way any Guardian
could view a member of the class of pigs as a brother. The Stoics believed that
what goes on in the world is because of some divine providence or a god. Plato
would disagree stating that there is no providence or god, only reason.
Aristotle would say that the state is the highest which only through them can
the highest good be obtained.
I would have to agree with the idea that satisfaction is derived from
the personal satisfaction of reason, friendships, and moderation of material
possessions. I do not think that satisfaction is a public matter. I disagree
with the Epicurean belief that religion is a waste of time. Sure, some people
really get wrapped up in it, but I believe that there is something better, that
I am part of some plan, that I am here on earth to serve a purpose. This
conception gives me hope, it gives me a sense of belonging, it makes me want to
do what is right. I don’t follow all of the strict rules and regulations of my
religion, but I still believe, I still have faith. I don’t believe that
religion is a waste of time, rather, that religion is a method of learning to do
the right thing, and a way to tie all of mankind together. As far as Legal
convention is concerned, I agree. What is Absolute Justice, anyway? There is
no absolute justice, only popular vote. If it hurts, it’s wrong. Everyone has
their own interpretation of what is justice, but only by vote can a fair
decision be drawn. What is right now may not be right twenty years from now.
This is because what people think is just changes, hence, no Absolute justice
For me, Stoicism sounds great. I believe that all of mankind are
brothers(we all have minds and blood), that we should all get along in order to
provide a better world in which to live. I disagree with the idea of accepting
things the way they are. I believe that if a person doesn’t like the way things
are, that he should do what ever possible within reason to change it for the
better. If everybody accepted things the way they were, then progress would
cease to exist and the world would become a stagnant pool of waste. It is human
nature to want better things out of life, and I think people should act on it.
It gives people hope, it gives them a goal, it gives them something to work for.
As far as knowing what is right and what is wrong I must disagree with. Reason
is not a universal trait among mankind, rather, it is an individual analysis of
the world around them. For example, one may feel it is right to help those in
need. Another may feel that it is wrong to do so, in that it destroys
initiative of the those in need. The needy person will grow to depend on others
for help, and the needy person will never do anything for himself. Look at it
this way : two children, each brought up in different households are brought up
in two distinct ways. Child A is given everything he wants and never has to do
anything for himself. Child B is brought up with the idea that if he wants
something, he must work for it. Child B will appreciate things more because his
hard work shows results, while child A thinks that everything can be handed to
him without any effort on his part. Everyone is different, and everyone’s
interpretation of what is right and wrong differs as well. I agree with the
Stoic belief that one should love man as they love themselves. We may not be
the same, but that isn’t a reason to be at each other’s throats. We should all
appreciate another’s ideas, and work together for the good.
The influence of Stoicism on Christianity is easily seen in the belief
that one should love all men as we love ourselves. The Christian version of
this same belief is the golden rule : “Do unto others as you would have them do
unto you.” Also, the belief that there existed something higher in life than
mere pursing of pleasure. The Christians believe that heaven exist, which is
something higher than pursing pleasure. The Stoics often made reference to a
higher power, such as Pliny, “God is man’s helping hand.” The ideal of Aurelius,
“man should depart from lying, hypocrisy, luxury and pride,” is a shared belief
with Christians as well.
The influence of Stoicism on Roman legal thought existed as well. The
Roman legal system under the influence of Stoicism placed much more emphasis on
civic duty, social responsibility, the importance of good law, and the equal
basic rights of all human beings.
Question #4 : Please describe St. Augustine’s background and his conception of
the two city states. Also, explain Plato’s influence on Augustine and provide
your opinion of the philosophy of the most renowned of the early Church fathers.
Augustine was born at Thagaste , a small town in the Roman province of
Numidia in North Africa. His mother was a devout Christian, but his father never
embraced the Christian faith. He received a classical education that both
schooled him in Latin literature and enabled him to escape from his provincial
upbringing. Trained at Carthage in rhetoric , which was a requisite for a legal
or political career in the Roman empire, he became a teacher of rhetoric in
Carthage, in Rome, and finally in Milan, a seat of imperial government at the
time. At Milan, in 386, Augustine underwent religious conversion. He retired
from his public position, received baptism from Ambrose, the bishop of Milan,
and soon returned to North Africa. In 391, he was ordained to the priesthood in
Hippo Regius and five years later he became bishop.
After the fall of Rome and the pagan attacks that blamed Christians for
it, St. Augustine set out to meet the challenge. In 413 he started the City of
God which was completed in 426, twenty-two books later. In his books, St.
Augustine divides the human race into two parts, “the one consisting of those
who live according to man, the other of those who live according to God. And
these we also mystically call the two cities, or the two communities of men, of
which the one is predestined to reign eternally with God, and the other to
suffer eternal punishment with the devil.”(E & E pgs 117-118)
According to St. Augustine, there exists two cities: the Earthly and the
Heavenly city. ” two cities have been formed by two loves : the earthly by the
love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even
to the contempt of self.” (E.E. pg 117) The heavenly city symbolically
represents the church, and the Earthly city represents the state.
St. Augustine sees value and function in the state in terms of justice
and reason. “But the earthly city, which shall not be everlasting (for it will
no longer be a ciy when it has been committed to the extreme penalty), has its
good in this world, and rejoices in it with such joy as such things can afford.”
(E.E. pg 118). The state provides social tranquility here on earth, but it is
not as important as the tranquility that awaits those in the heavenly city. He
does not see the Earthly city as evil. In fact, he believes that the state is
necessary for providing earthly tranquility. However, St. Augustine believes
that this earthly peace is not nearly as important as the peace that awaits
those of the Earthly city. “But the things which this city desires cannot justly
be said to be evil, for it is itself, in its own kind, better than all other
human good.” (E.E. pg 119). The only real difference between these two cities
is that the people of the Earthly city “neglect the better things of the
heavenly city, which are secured by eternal victory and peace never-ending, and
so inordinately covet these present good things that they believe them to be the
only desirable things, or love them better than those things which are believed
to be better- if this is so, then it is necessary that misery follow and ever
increase.” (E.E. 119).
Plato influenced St. Augustine, and can be seen in his writings. For
example, Plato addresses the problem of the just society, that each individual
has his own version of what is just. Plato writes that, ” But in reality
justice, though evidently analogous t this principle, is not a matter of
external behavior, but of the inward self and of attending to all that is, in
the fullest sense, a man’s proper concern… Justice is produced in the soul,
like health in the body, by establishing the elements concerned in their natural
relations of control and subordination…” (E.E. pgs 43-44) St. Augustine agrees
with Plato’s idea that justice is an individual case and writes that, “all men
desire peace with their own circle whom they wish to govern as it suits
themselves. For even those whom they make war against they wish to make their
own, and impose on them the laws of their own peace.” (E.E. pg 123)
On the whole, I admire St. Augustine for his answer to the pagan charge
that the fall of Rome was because of the Christians. I don’t think anyone could
have chosen a more tactical and impressive rebuttal than him. He felt that Rome
fell because the people running Rome lived in the earthly city. That because
the rulers ruled for themselves and not for God, that God punished them. And to
write twenty-two books is simply amazing. I agree with St. Augustine on the
slavery issue. St. Augustine felt that slavery is wrong, that God intended man
to rule over the beasts, not for man to rule over fellow man. Slavery is a sin,
and I agree with St. Augustine that every man in the eyes of God is equal, that
all men are of the same blood.
Question #5 : Please review the various conceptions of the proper role of the
relationship between Church and State discussed in class. Write a short
explanation for why you agree or disagree with the various conceptions.
The issue of the relationship between Church and State has been a major
issue that faced European man for centuries. Many theories and ideas have been
presented, with logical and illogical ideals to support them. To this day it is
still a topic of debate. Simplistically there exist four possibilities : State
over Church, Church over State, an even division of Church and State, or a
combination of Church and State together.
The doctrine of the relationship of church and state has undergone, and
is undergoing, constant modification. Its origins long predate the wars of
Plato and Aristotle argued that only through reason and through politics
can truth be found. They preferred the State over religion.
The Epicureans saw no use in religion, arguing that “man’s belief in
gods arises from dreams and the realization that gods play no role in human
affairs constitutes a human awakening.” (Manning)
Jesus Christ had made a clear focus on religion above politics when he
said, “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to
this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to
the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.”(NAB pg 1163) Jesus also makes
a call for a separation of Church and State when he says, “Then repay to Caesar
what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”(NAB pg 1126)
Saint Augustine considered all earthly governments, regardless of their
form, as representative of the fallen and imperfect “city of man” or Earthly
City. The state provided the “sword” to discipline sinful man through law and
education. The church, for Augustine, represented the perfect and eternal “city
of God,”, or Heavenly City, preserving the divine, otherworldly values of peace,
hope, and charity. Church and state were separate but related: they occupied
different realms and held different values, but both existed in this world. Not
only does Augustine make the clear division of Church and State, he also states
that only those in the Heavenly City shall be saved, thus preferring Church over
State. He wrote, ” And therefore the wise men of the one city, living according
to man, have sought for profit to their own bodies or souls, or both, and those
who have known God glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful, but became
vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened; professing
themselves to be wise’- that is, glorying in their own wisdom, and being
possessed by pride – they became fools, and changed the glory of the
incorruptible God into an image made like the corruptible man…’ ” (E.E. 117)
Saint Thomas Aquinas defined the state as author and executor of human
law, whose charge is the punishment of vice and encouragement of virtue. The
church is the interpreter of divine law through natural law, of which human law
is an inferior part.For Aquinas, the church properly advises the state on many
matters, especially those relating to moral legislation. He said, “The ministry
of this kingdom of God is not in the hands of earthly kings, but of priests,
and- above all – the chief priest, the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of
Christ, the Roman Pontiff, to whom all kings are to be subject as to Christ
himself.” (E.E. pg 137) Aquinas thus makes a blend of Church and State. Each
serves its purpose, and both are needed. The Church acts as a guide for the
State, allowing the State to make the correct decisions and to act according to
the will of God. Again, Aquinas sees the Church superior to the State.
Saint Paul viewed the State as an obstruction to the Church, and
therefore the Church should be superior to the State. In one of many letters he
wrote to the Philippines, he wrote, “For many, as I have often told you and now
tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory in their
shame. Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in
heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (NAB pg
1290) He makes the rulers of the Earth and everything they have to offer
insignificant to what awaits them in heaven, and therefore the State is not
important when compared to the Church.
Tertullian took a very radical view toward the relationship between the
Church and State. He argued that the State was evil, and opposed to the ways of
God. He stated, “The fact that Christ rejected an earthly kingdom should be
enough to convince you that all secular powers and dignities are not merely
alien from, but hostile to, God.” (Manning) He believed that Christianity and
philosophy were irreconcilable, that “heresies are the result of philosophy, and
that there was the danger of a mottled Christianity’ of Platonic, Aristotelian,
and Stoic elements.”(E.E. pg 132)
As a Christian, particularly a Roman Catholic, I agree with the idea of
a clear separation of Church and State. I believe that the purpose of the state
is to provide social order here on earth, and the purpose of the Church is to
provide certain guidelines for people to follow in order to have a peaceful,
enjoyable life. Christianity teaches morals and helps those who are confused.
It gives people hope. The state provides a similar set of guidelines for people
to follow in order to have a peaceful, enjoyable life. So to answer the
question as to where the two stand, I would have to argue that they are both
important and should be separated from each other. A person should have the
right to decide whether or not to believe in an after life, how to live there
lives, or how to go about doing things. Therefore, it is the responsibility of
the State to insure that that right is not obstructed nor oppressed. History
has shown us what happens when one is above the other. During the days before
the fall of Rome, the State was above the Church. Rome was corrupt, destructive
of other civilizations, and unmerciful. During the Middle Ages the Church took
control, and learning and progress was slowed considerably. Thus, I would have
to agree with Aquinas’ belief that through the guidance of the Church, the State
can provide the necessities of man kind. In our own country people have the
right to decide what religion to follow or to follow none at all, and it is
working. Let the Pope handle spiritual matters and the President handle
politics. It is very similar to the checks and balances theory. Only together
can the progress of mankind go on. The Church guides the State, but never
should one be superior to the other. A clear separation but compromise between
the Church and State seems to me the best and safest route to take.
Question#6 : Please describe the background of St. Thomas Aquinas and compare
and contrast his views with those of Augustine. Discuss how Aquinas
incorporates Aristotlianism into Catholicism.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican theologian, met the challenge posed to
Christian faith by the philosophical achievements of the Greeks and Arabs. He
effected a philosophical binding of faith and reason.
Thomas d’Aquino, the son of a count, was born in his family’s castle at
Roccasecca, central Italy, in 1224. At about the age of five, Thomas was placed
by his parents in the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino. His uncle had
been abbot of the monastery, and his family had similar ambitions for Thomas.
When Monte Cassino became the scene of a battle between papal and imperial
troops Thomas withdrew and enrolled at the University of Naples. There he came
into contact with members of the Dominican order and, against the violent
opposition of his family, became a Dominican friar. He then went north to study
at Paris and Cologne under Albertus Magnus.
His Summa contra Gentiles was written in 1258-60, and his greatest work,
the Summa Theologiae, occupied him from 1267 to 1273. Thomas also wrote a
series of commentaries on Aristotle and the Bible. “Unlike many theologians, he
welcomed the Latin translation of Aristotle’s complete writings, although he
opposed the radical advocates of Aristotelianism, the so-called Latin Aviarists.
The views of Saint Thomas Aquinas are both alike and different from
those of Saint Augustine. Saint Augustine met the allegations and challenges of
the pagans and concerned mostly with the view of Church and state as separate
but related spheres: they occupied different realms and held different values,
but both exist in this world. Saint Aquinas reconceptualized the relationship
between faith and reason, and argued that “man is a social animal and that the
superior wisdom of the ruler makes legitimate his rulership.” (E.E. pg )
Augustine’s thought was that through faith one may attain an
understanding. This concept is exposed when he said, “Seek not to understand
that you may believe, but believe that you may understand.” (E.E. 132) He
believed that reasoning originates in the act of faith. He also believed that “
because of Original Sin, no one can entirely govern his own motivation and that
only the help of God’s Grace makes it possible for persons to will and to do
Saint Thomas Aquinas’ thought embodied the conviction that faith and
reason are aspects of a single truth and cannot be in conflict with one another.
According to Aquinas, “people know something when its truth is either
immediately evident to them or can be made evident by appeal to immediately
evident truths.”(GME “Aquinas”). They believe something when they accept its
truth on authority. Religious faith is the acceptance of truths on the
authority of what God tells them. Despite the fact that this seems to make
knowledge and faith two utterly distinct realms, Thomas held that some of the
things God has revealed are in fact knowable. He called these “preambles of
faith,” including among them the existence of God and certain of his attributes,
the immortality of the human soul, and some moral principles. The rest of what
has been revealed he called “mysteries of faith,” for example, the Trinity, the
incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, the resurrection, and so on. He then argued
that, “if some of the things God has revealed can be known to be true, it is
reasonable to accept the mysteries as true.”(GME “Aquinas”).
Saint Thomas Aquinas incorporated Aristotlianism into Catholicism. For
example, Aristotle classifies government into pure and perverted forms of
government, and from that makes a choice of the best type based on that
classification. He chose a monarchy as the best choice based on the fact that if
a person is found to be “preeminent in virtue,” then that person is fit to rule.
Aquinas also classifies government into good and bad types and agrees that
monarchy is the best choice. However, he “derives his preference for the
monarchical form of government from his religious view of the world.”(E.E. pg
Aristotle’s philosophy that the end, or good, of humankind is not merely
to live, but to lead a good, flourishing life that “manifests the rational
nature of humanity and thus satisfies human needs”(GME “Aristotle”) was
incorporated by Aquinas and tied in with Christianity in his four forms doctrine
Aquinas distinguishes four forms of law : eternal law, natural law,
divine law, and human law. The pursuit of happiness is a search for the good
life, which is composed of virtuous actions and falls under the realm of divine
law. Generosity consists in giving neither too little nor too much. Aristotle
also describes intellectual virtue and moral virtue, which correspond to the
soul, or as Aquinas classified it, part of the Eternal law. The effort to
perform virtuous acts creates the desire to do the right thing for its own sake
and also creates practical wisdom. Because human beings are not purely rational
a flourishing, happy, human life demands the exercise of both the intellectual
and the moral virtues, all of which are interpreted by Aquinas and classified
1. (E.E.)Introduction to Political Thinkers William Ebenstien and
Alan O. Ebenstien Harcourt Brace College Publishers 1992 by Holt, Rinehart and
2. (NAB) The New American Bible for Catholics World Catholic Press 1970 by the
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine
3. (Manning) Dr. Kerry James Manning
4. (GME) Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1995 by Grolier Electronic Publishing,