Monday, September 20, 2010

Thomas Aquinas

Biographical Information

The birth year of Thomas Aquinas is debated, most commonly documented as 1225, though some will argue 1227. Aquinas was born to father, Landulph who was Count of Aquino, and mother, Theodora who was Countess of Teano. It was foretold of Thomas’ future that, “He will enter the Order of Friars Preachers, and so great will be his learning and sanctity that in his day no one will be found to equal him".  At age five, Thomas first began to study with the Benedictine Monks and was noted as having been strong in devotion and meditation. Around 1236 it is noted that Thomas went to University of Naples by the request of Monte Cassino. Before long, Thomas was able to retell the lessons from his professors with more detail and description than that which was originally used. Between 1240 and 1243 Thomas joined the Order of St. Dominic under the guidance and influence of a prominent preacher from Naples, John of St. Julian. The order feared that Theodora would capture Thomas, and thus they sent him away but two of his brothers were soldiers, and they were able to capture him during this process. Aquinas remained captive for two years in which his family attempted to ruin his vocation, before he was released. Through this time, he was able to obtain copies of the Holy Scriptures, Metaphysics by Aristotle, and Sentences by Peter Lombard. IN the year 1245 Thomas went to Paris as a student under the care of Albertus Magnus, the best professor within the Dominican Order. The pair returned to Cologne in 1248 and Thomas began to teach as an apprentice. While teaching a course on Sentences, Thomas Aquinas produced the base plan for his own interpretation Summa Theologica. When it was time for Thomas to receive his Doctorate degree, there was great debate among the church and the school officials. In 1257 Thomas Aquinas received his doctorate. This is when Thomas Aquinas life became to focus on prayer, writing, teaching, and spreading the word of God. Aquinas greatly enjoyed the ability to do such and continued until December 6, 1273 when a vision came to Thomas saying that he could write no more. Aquinas made the statement that, "I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be of little value". At this point, Thomas is said to have began preparing for death. It was March 7, 1274 when Aquinas fell to his death. Because of the many miracles that were proven from the life of Thomas Aquinas, he was canonized a saint by John XXII on July 18, 1323. The body of Thomas Aquinas was given to the Dominican Order through the command of Urban V in 1369. In 1628 a shrine was erected in Thomas’ honor, only to be destroyed during the French Revolution. The body was erected at this point and moved to the Church of St. Sernin where a gold and silver sarcophagus holds the body. The Cathedral of Naples, and the University of Paris also have relics of bone from Thomas Aquinas.


Kennedy, Daniel. "St. Thomas Aquinas." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 26 Apr. 2010 <>.

Does God exist? Why or why not?

Yes, God most certainly exists for Aquinas. His whole theory not only relies on God’s being, but is also entirely rooted in principles surrounding his existence. Aquinas outlines a “Hierarchy of Being” in which God is listed as number one, angels second and humans directly below the supernatural realm at three. This order recognizes that the higher up on the list, the greater capacities/abilities are available. This list, therefore, attributes to the fact that God is the most supreme good in this life, so his existence is implied. Aquinas argued that we do need God for the good life in order to show us what the good life is, thus, enabling us to live it.

What is the connection between God and human fulfillment? Do we need God to be happy, or not?

After stating his 5 proofs for the existence of God, Thomas Aquinas goes on to describe the appropriate relationship we are to have with God, and how this relates to human flourishing and happiness.  Aquinas believes that human fulfillment can only come through God, and also having a personal relationship with him.  The ultimate flourishing for humans on earth is knowing and loving God, and the highest good is knowing God’s truth and emulating it. 

He does, however, realize that this is an unachievable task! God is all good and perfect in his ways.  Because we are imperfect beings, we will never be able to reach true happiness here on earth.  We will always have something to strive for or a flaw we need to improve.  Because we cannot be perfect, we cannot truly be in God’s prefect image, and therefore we can never truly be happy here on earth.  This is because we as humans are in between the material and immaterial world, which Aquinas spells out in his hierarchy of being.  The immaterial world contains God and all of the angels, and the immaterial world contains animals, plants and inanimate objects.  Humans are unique in the fact that we are in both worlds, having both a physical body and an immaterial soul.  As long as we are attached to the material world, we cannot achieve the highest good of emulating the character of God because we are flawed creatures.

This does not mean, however, that we should not attempt to copy his perfection.  Everything we do should be grounded in a desire to know and love God.  We can increase our knowledge of and likeness to God through the development of our capacities such as intellect and will.  As we grow closer to God, and increase our knowledge of God, we are better able to know and understand his truth, and therefore we are better able to imitate his nature.  This brings us closer to our ultimate goal of emulating God’s perfection, which Aquinas states is the highest form of human flourishing, which eventually leads to our closest form of happiness here on earth before we can reach true happiness in its perfection in the afterlife after we completely enter the immaterial world.

He also points out several things that are not related to human happiness.  He specifically states that happiness does not come from wealth, honors, fame, glory, or power.  An aquinas state that these cannot be keys to happiness because evil men can have all of these things, but evil is not compatible with true happiness.  Also, a man can obtain all of these things yet still be unhappy.  Aquinas points out that everything on the list depends, at least to some extent, on fortune.  Some men are more fortunate than others, yet fortune cannot dictate happiness.  Aquinas believes that happiness can be achieved by anyone no matter what their status or wealth is in this world.  Essentially, happiness is a completely internal good.  This differs from the views of Aristotle who believed there are several external needs for human happiness.

What practical advice does your philosopher give for how to live a good life?

Aquinas would define a good life for humans as recognizing and exercising the rational capacity of the soul. The rational capacity of the soul is considered the greatest facet of human character according to Aquinas, simply because it moderates all of the other capacities and is continually striving towards the greatest good, which is God. Recalling that God is at the apex of the “Hierarchy of Being” previously addressed, it is suggestive to the fact that there is nothing greater for one to seek. Aquinas advocates that an individual who continually strives toward knowing and loving God is ultimately progressing towards a good life, which leads to a happy life. Aquinas defines happiness in two different forms, though both clearly recognize God as being the necessary center. First, there is the sort of happiness that is a mere reflection of the better sort, this defined in article 7 of Aquinas’ The Treatise On The Last End. Think allegory of the cave sort of happiness, which is represented by Aristotle's works (i.e. contemplation of God's thoughts, striving for virtuous living, etc.). This pseudo-happiness is a mere impression of true happiness which cannot be achieved in this life, only imitated. The true and perfect sense of happiness, however, is exhibited in the Divine Essence of Him. Aquinas writes in article 8 of The Treatise on The Last End:
It is impossible for any created good to constitute man's happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man's appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man's will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Ps.102:5: "Who satisfieth thy desire with good things." Therefore God alone constitutes man's happiness. (Christian Classic Ethereal Library)

The final aim consists of supernatural communion with us and God, this far surpassing any capacities possessed by humans. If we recall the foundation of these forms of happiness, we naturally understand that Aquinas believes God is the key to a good life and happiness in all its variations. For this reason, the only possible method for attaining a pseudo sense or mere reflection of flourishing in this life can be achieved through pursuing the sentiment of knowing and loving God. This involves perfecting the intellect in accordance with the will so as to skew them towards the things of the divine.

In order to fashion such a lifestyle so as to yield the most fulfilling and greatest good, Aquinas outlined various virtues to aid in the process. According to him, it is imperative that we cooperate with God and allow him to transform our very nature so that we might be better equipped to embrace the divine beatitudes. The Cardinal Virtues, namely: prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance, are all necessary to constitute a moral lifestyle. These characteristics are exemplary for how to approach various situations in life so as to capitulate the best outcome. Aquinas also presents the Theological Virtues of faith, hope and charity to encourage partaking of the divine nature. These virtues aid in keeping individuals oriented towards the things of God. They also stress the immense dependence placed upon God by humans. By implementing these virtues into a lifestyle, a reflection of God is exemplified and this naturally draws us closer to Him. With all of this in mind, it would seem reasonable to argue that Aquinas believes human happiness cannot be constituted by any created human good. In the text he indicates that the ultimate aspiration is indeed happiness, "For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him" (Christian Classics Ethereal Library). It seems that happiness is an innate goal for everyone; in fact, the ULTIMATE good. Clearly, only God is truly capable to fulfill this void because he totally embodies and exhibits what happiness is all about. Any created human good simply would not suffice since God is happiness and happiness is the ultimate goal.  


Aquinas, Thomas. "Christian Classic Ethereal Library". Calvin College Computer
Science. April 12, 2010 <>

How would your philosopher define human happiness, or the good life for human beings? What ethical standards, character traits, and principles are most relevant?

Aquinas believed that human flourishing comes from knowing and loving God and that everything we do should be ultimately grounded in our desire to know and love Him. As part of this quest, there are certain standards and principles deemed important by God that we as humans are responsible for possessing and upholding. Aquinas believed that the supreme moral principle in God’s eyes was to ‘love one’s neighbor as oneself’, much like the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In order to carry out this principle or to follow the Golden Rule, one must be virtuous.

Aquinas thought a virtue to be a habit that makes a person and his or her actions good, and an action could be considered good if it brings us closer to God. He divided the different virtues into two categories. The first category encompassed the Cardinal Virtues and the second category included the Theological Virtues. The Cardinal Virtues were four virtues that could be acquired by humans during their lifetime and could be very dependent on situations and life experiences. The Theological Virtues, on the other hand, were virtues given directly from God and infused by His grace.

According to Aquinas, the four Cardinal Virtues were prudence, fortitude, justice, and temperance. Prudence focuses on one’s ability to use reason when governing oneself, and the ultimate goal of prudence is to look for the good that one can do. Fortitude is the virtue concerned with the strength and courage one has when facing obstacles or adversity. Justice is the virtue that deals with a person being just, impartial, and fair in their decisions no matter the circumstances. A just person uses reason to make these decisions. Finally, temperance is concerned with showing moderation in action, thought, or feeling and a temperate person is satisfied with the simplicity of things. Again, the Cardinal Virtues were thought to be acquired thanks to different situations and life experiences. For example, we’re not always born to be the strongest and most courageous of individuals but sometimes we endure situations that give us these traits, or the virtue of fortitude.

The three Theological Virtues were faith, hope, and charity and these virtues were thought to be given directly to us from God. Faith is the virtue concerned with the firm belief one has in something for which there may be no proof. To narrow this down and compliment Aquinas’ view, faith is the belief and trust in and loyalty to God. When one has faith, they are ultimately searching for the truth, and in this context the truth could be viewed as the way the world came to be. Hope is the virtue that focuses on a desire to obtain something and in this context hope is the desire to obtain that which is good since what is good is closely related to God. Finally, charity is the act of showing goodwill and selfless love toward others. Aquinas believed charity to be the ultimate good and linked this virtue closely to God and His will.

With all of the virtues, it is easy to see how they correlate to the supreme moral principle of ‘loving one’s neighbor as oneself.’ Each virtue is related to either closely monitoring one’s own behavior to create more positive relationships with those around them or showing the selfless love toward others that God deems to be incredibly important. 

How would your philosopher describe human nature and its relevance to morality and happiness?

According to Aquinas, human nature includes two parts of the human which includes the body and the soul. He describes how human brains do not think, but the soul in fact is the part of the human that contemplates. Aquinas statest that “In the present state of life in which the soul is united to a passible body, it is impossible for our intellect to understand anything actually, except by turning to the phantasms” (Summa Theologiae, Treatise on Man, Question 84, Article 7). What he is saying is that the soul processes sensory data by obtaining “phantasms” or mental pictures, which will in turn lead to forming abstract universal concepts. Overall, the aim in life for humans he says is to contemplate these universal concepts that are formed by phantasms. Since this is so, and since God is a type of universal concept, then human nature is to contemplate God.  Aquinas believes that what God does is contemplate his own existence, so if humans contemplate God, then they are being like God.

Aquinas also speaks on the original sin of man being the downfall of human nature.  According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Aquinas believes that  the original sin of Adam and Eve caused many consequences on the nature of man. It states, “the consequence of this loss is the disorder and maiming of man’s nature, which shows itself in “ignorance, malice, moral weakness, and especially in concupiscentia, which is the material principle of original sin” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Aquinas sees human nature as not being completely corrupted by sin, but that it is passed down through generations of man stemming from the original sin in the garden of Eden. Because of the fall of man, human nature includes such things that stray from the definition of moral, so Aquinas believes that we need God’s help in order to restore the good of our nature and bring us into conformity with His will. God gives us his grace which comes in the form of divine virtues and gifts.

Aquinas also sees human’s as rational beings and their reason is comprised of two powers which are the cognitive and appetitive powers. The cognitive power is the intellect which makes it possible for us to know and understand, as well as makes us able to capture the goodness of a thing. The appetitive power is the will which is the native desire for the understood good.  According to Aquinas, “since good is the object of the will, the perfect good of a man is that which entirely satisfies his will” (ST, Treatise on the Last End, Q5, A8).  The intellect must supply the will with the object, and when the intellect tells the will that something is good or bad, the will can then follow through with the correct action.

According to Aquinas, human morality is properly actualizing the capacities we have by our nature as human beings. Those humans who truly seek to understand and see God will necessarily love what God loves. This type of love requires morality, which is given to humans through God’s grace. He also goes on to say that true happiness for humans “consists in the vision of the Divine Essence” (Summa Theologiae, Treatise on the Last End, Question 5, Article 5). True happiness for Aquinas is being in God’s presence and seeing Him with his/her own eyes. However, the way that humans can find the best happiness as humans is to contemplate God and His existence, while also loving and becoming like God. He shows this by stating, “But it did give him free-will, with which he can turn to God, that He may make him happy” (ST, Q5, A5 ). This shows that man may become happy in this world’s definition of happiness simply by choosing to turn to God and love Him.

1 comment:

  1. WOW! it is good to hear someone that is not afraid to tell the world of his believe in our God!