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Tony Fahey's Philosophy Blog

In this forum I have posted some of the 'big ideas' of those thinkers that have most influenced the way we think today. From the various postings you will see, notwithstanding the esteem in which their 'philosophies' are held, that these thinkers do not always hold corresponding views. It is important to realise that the philosophy does not ask you to surrender your beliefs:your own 'worldviews', only to ensure that those you hold so dear are worthy of esteem in which you hold them.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Aquinas and his writings of straw

I was recently asked that, on the approach of his demise, whether it was true that Thomas Aquinas said to his secretary, Reginald of Piperno, words to the effect that all he had written seemed to him as if they were of straw. By way of response, I had to admit that it is reported that he did say such a thing. I suppose in fairness to him he was comparing his writings to that which he believed had been given to him in divine revelation, or as he put it 'in prayer'. It should be remembered that for Aquinas, philosophy or reason was always a poor second – a handmaiden - to theology or orthodox Christian teachings. Much the same way as Augustine is credited with ‘Christianising’ Plato, Aquinas is credited with doing the same for Aristotle. Notwithstanding the fact that reason dictated otherwise, he firmly believed he could use Aristotle’s philosophy to underpin his five proofs for the existence of God. The bottom line is Aquinas was primarily an ultra orthodox Christian theologian. So much so, indeed, that he went along with the Inquisition’s view that anyone who rejected the Christian doctrine should be seen as a heretic and treated as such. So much so, indeed, that he went along with the Inquisition’s view that anyone who rejected the Christian doctrine should be seen as a heretic and treated as such. Quoting St Jerome, he held that the Church should 'cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die'. Even decades before papal infallibility became enshrined in Christian doctrine in 1870, Aquinas, as early as the thirteenth century, held that anybody who did not accept the Pope’s declarations as infallible, or who did not accept as infallible the authority that the Pope invested in his loyal servants, should be condemned as a heretic. Adding to that, for Aquinas a heretic was also anyone who did not believe in Christ, or who, as we say today, behaved as 'a la carte' Christians. That is, to restrict belief to those points of Christian doctrine that one finds most suitable to oneself.

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