History of Philosophy and Christian Thought - Lesson 35


The intellectual background of Thomas Aquinas was influenced by the discovery of ancient manuscripts, the rise of universities, the rise of religious brotherhoods and the rise of Muslim philosophy.

Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson 35
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Thomistic Philosophy

Part 1

I. Intellectual Background to Thomas Aquinas

A. The Rise of Muslim Philosophy

1. Averroes

a. Denied Creation

b. Denied Personal Survival After Death

c. Double Theory of Truth

2. Latin Averroists

a. Siger of Brabant

b. Paul Tillich (20th Century)

B. Discovery of Ancient Manuscripts

C. Rise of Religious Brotherhoods

1. Franciscans

2. Dominicans

D. Rise of Universities

  • Thales and Anaximander were two philosophers in the sixth century BC that lived in Miletus.

  • Heraclitus and Pythagoras lived into the 5th century BC.

  • Any worldview addresses the subjects of God, ultimate reality, human knowledge, ethics and human persons.

  • Fundamental beliefs of a naturalistic worldview is that nothing exists outside the physical universe and that all things evolved.

  • Plato was a student of Socrates and lived into the fourth century BC. He opposed hedonism, empiricism, relativism, materialism, atheism and naturalism.

  • Plato described the universe as having three levels: the world of particulars, the world of forms, and the form of the good.

  • Plato's view of the universe was dualistic.

  • One of Plato's fundamental arguments is that the human soul is immortal.

  • Evaluation of Plato's arguments and comparison of Plato's philosophy with biblical theology.

  • Empiricism teaches that all human knowledge arises from sense experience. Rationalism teaches that some human knowledge does not arise from sense. experience

  • Aristotle was a student of Plato and lived in the fourth century BC.

  • Aristotle rejected Plato's doctrine of two worlds.

  • Discussion of Aristotelian philosophy as it relates to the incarnation.

  • Aristotle's philosophy as it relates to attributes of God and fundamental assumptions about psychology.

  • Aristotle made a distinction between passive intellect and active intellect.

  • Discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the law of non-contradiction.

  • Discussion of the nature and substance of matter.

  • Hellenistic philosophy was an approach that was popular from the fourth century BC to the fifth century AD.

  • Stoics were determinists who believed in living according to nature.

  • Hedonism emphasized pleasure as the greatest good. "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we might be dead."

  • Philo's philosophy was based on a synthesis of Stoicism and Platonism.

  • Implicit "Logos" Christianity is an underlying theme in the book of Hebrews.

  • Plotinus lived in the third century AD and is considered the founder of Neoplatonism.

  • Augustine is a Latin church father, is considered by many to be one of the most important figures in the development of Western Christianity.

  • Augustine wrote Confessions as an autobiographical work to record his experience as a sinful youth and his experience becoming a follower of Christ.

  • Augustine wrote to refute some heresies of the day by focusing on the concepts of faith and reason.

  • Augustine writes about the problem of evil and describes evil as the absence of good.

  • Augustine writes to refute Pelagianism by focusing on the biblical teaching about sin.

  • Augustine writes to refute Donatism.

  • The fundamental idea of skepticism is that no one can know anything. Augustine this statement contradicts itself because the skeptic is claiming that you can know that you can't know anything.

  • When Augustine wrote "The City of God," he had a linear view of history.

  • In Augustine's theory of knowledge, he says that eternal reason and human reason are two different levels of reason.

  • Augustine was personally convinced of the importance of divine illumination.

  • The intellectual background of Thomas Aquinas was influenced by the discovery of ancient manuscripts, the rise of universities, the rise of religious brotherhoods and the rise of Muslim philosophy.

  • Aquinas describes faith as whatever a human can know through special revelation, and reason as whatever a human can know outside of special revelation.

  • Aquinas attempts to prove God's existence.

  • Aquinas describes four kinds of law as eternal, divine, natural and positive.

  • The rationalists and empiricists set the stage for Kant and other philosophers of the modern era.

  • Kant argued that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he dubbed the “Categorical Imperative."

  • Kants two worlds are the phenomenal world and the noumenal world.

  • Discussion of criticisms and questions about Kant's ideas.

  • Similarities between Kant's ideas and postmodernism.

  • The dialectic is a central idea in Hegel's philosophy.

  • Ideally, Marxism begins with class struggle, then revolution, dictatorship of the proletariat, withering away of the state, and a utopian classless society.

  • Discussion of four faces of Marxism.

  • Nietzsche proclaimed that, "God is dead." His cure was to live life knowing there is no ultimate meaning. Kierkegaard emphasized a worldview based on true faith.

In this class, you will explore the rich history of philosophy and its relationship with Christian thought. The course begins with an introduction to the definition and importance of philosophy in Christian theology. You will then delve into the evolution of philosophical thought from the Pre-Socratic era, through the Classical Greek philosophers, and into the Hellenistic period. As you progress, you will discover how early Christian thought emerged and developed during the Patristic period, with a special focus on Augustine. The class continues with an examination of medieval Christian thinkers, such as Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, and concludes with an analysis of modern philosophers like Descartes, Kant, and Kierkegaard, and their influence on contemporary Christian thought.

Dr. Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
> th620-35
Lesson Transcript


Let us now turn our attention to Thomas Aquinas. You've got a very important chapter on Aquinas. That's chapter seven of your textbook. I have that way back in 1977. Many of you were not born then. Okay. Or was it 76? Christianity Today, which used to be a Christian publication back then. They had a fine editor back then. They had a fine editorial staff back then. And it was, let me see, Aquinas was born in 1224 and he died in 1275. So 1975, I guess that's when it was would have been the 700 anniversary of Aquinas death. So they approached me and they said, This is the seventh bicentennial of of Aquinas death. Would you write an article for us, Christianity Today? So I did. Frankly, there are other people they could have approached. They could have approached R.C. Sproul, who knows a whole lot more about Aquinas than I do. But they didn't. They approached me. Who am I to criticize their good taste 30 years ago, good taste that they have lost during those 30 years? Okay, so this is a pretty good article. I called it an evangelical Thomas Aquinas, an evangelical over evaluation or appraisal or something. You can still find it in the stacks here. Obviously, our copies, of course, go back that far. I think it was finally published. Well, obviously, it must have been published in 75. I provided in that article material that I still think is essential, crucial to understanding the milieu. Not everybody can pronounce that word. Let's see if I can spell it. Oh, there it is. The milieu, the the.


[00:02:36] The intellectual environment within which Aquinas lived and wrote and thought. Okay. And that's what I want to give you for the next 40 minutes or so. So let's call this in your notes, the intellectual background to acquaintance work. Remember, he was born in 12. What did I say? 1225, 12, 24, 12, 25 to 1274. Is that it? Okay. Yeah. I knew there was one year difference there. 1225 to 1274. So my article must have been published in 1974. Let's talk, first of all, about the rise of Muslim philosophy. This is an important element to the background of understanding Aquinas after the Western world was plunged into the dark ages. And what a horrible time this was, where books were lost, where people could no longer read, where there was no serious scholarship except maybe for a little bright light in a in a Catholic monastery in Ireland, or a little flicker of light in Charlemagne's school in France. This was just a horrible time to live. No one no one knew how to read outside of certain select Catholic circles, Roman Catholic circles. And even if people knew how to read, there were no books to read. But that was in the West, in the Middle East. Islam had not only conquered all of this enormous territory, but the Muslims developed an incredible civilization. And I think it goes without saying that between, let's say, 529 A.D., which would which would be the death of both theists, a philosopher we don't have time to discuss here, who was hardly no great shakes as a philosopher. And let's say 1000 A.D., probably the best philosophers in the world were Muslims. I could give you their names here, but you can. You can get that by picking up any good history of philosophy book.


[00:05:25] Now, the particular philosopher who has a special relationship to acquaintance was a man named a very wise. He was actually a Spaniard. Earlier, Muslim philosophers tended to come from Iran, Persia, but Averroes was Spanish, which put him right in the territory of Catholic Christianity. Catholic Christendom. Okay. Now, a very Veronese had come under the influence of Plotinus. But for a variety of reasons, there was great confusion as to what Plato taught, what Aristotle taught, and what Plotinus taught. And I'll say more about that is under point two. For example, there began to be circulated a work under the name The Theology of Aristotle. And naturally, given that title, people believe this was really something that Aristotle had written. But it was actually a compilation of things written by Plotinus. It was pantheism. It was the world being an eternal emanation. And this is really this. So this is really heresy. This is heresy within the Muslim Muslim religion. Now, there were three major elements to Averroes theory. First of all, because of the influence of Plotinus, a very always denied creation. He said the world was eternal. It had always existed. Moreover, of always denied personal immortality. I prefer the term survival after death. You understand? I told you the problems with using the word immortality in a loose way. Personal survival after death. He got this from Plotinus because for Plotinus, the world is an eternal emanation from God. He got his denial of personal survival after death as a result of his peculiar interpretation of the active intellect. Remember, the active intellect is immortal, separable, and without it, nothing thinks. And Plotinus had interpreted that passage by Aristotle to mean or to refer to the cosmic noose. And you'll recall, a couple of weeks ago, I gave you all.


[00:08:07] I gave you the example of a tornado that descends from the clouds and how every human mind and how every human soul is simply an extension of the cosmic soul. And the cosmic news event always bought that. Both of these doctrines are heresy in the in in Islam. Now, do I need to tell you what Muslims do with heretics? They hurt them. If they cut off the hand of someone who has stolen something, what do you suppose they do to the head of someone who was thinking bad thoughts? I have thought about a country music song. This would be an Afghanistan country music song. It's titled When the Mullahs Come Calling. No, you don't have to laugh. Okay? Because it's not funny when the mullahs come knocking on your door and they think that inside, behind that door, there's a heretic. This is time to start asking, should I change my opinion? Okay, so here's what a very wise here's what a very wise did. And this is his third belief. He developed a double theory of truth. A double theory of truth. This was his reply to the mullahs. If there were many mullahs in Spain, maybe they call them something else. He said, Gentlemen, you are making one serious mistake. You're assuming that when I say God did not create the world, the world is eternal. That I'm offering that as a theological opinion. No, that's not theology. That is philosophy. And when I deny personal immortality, you're interpreting that as a theological, theological doctrine. No, it's a philosophical doctrine. You see, something can be true in philosophy, but be false in theology. And something can be true in theology, but false in philosophy. A double theory of truth. Now, this these three beliefs right here were picked up at the University of Paris by a group of people who were called the Latin of terrorists.


[00:10:51] This Muslim heresy was picked up and was propagated by a group of Christian heretics who were teaching at the University of Paris. Now, what is that got to do with Aquinas? Aquinas taught at the University of Paris. And he viewed these Latin of terrorists as a threat to the integrity of the Christian faith during his century. And he was absolutely right. The ringleader of the Latin of terrorists was a man named Seguir, a Brabant. Now, I'm embarrassed to write this man's name on the board because I'm well aware of the fact that at this late time in the course, there are literally hundreds of philosophers names that I have not talked to you about. I may have talked about Posidonius, but I never wrote his name on the board and other philosophers. And here I am writing on the blackboard the name of one of the most shallow thinking idiots in the history of Christendom, Sega of Brabant. Now, why is this man significant? Because he was the ringleader of this group of left. Now, what do we mean by calling them Latin of terrorists? They were followers of several ways in the book The World of Christendom. Latin was their language, not Arabic. So a very wise Signora Brabant denied creation. They were pantheistic. They denied personal survival after death. And according to many scholars, although not all, he also a very I'm sorry, figure of Brabant and the Latin Navarro was taught the double theory of truth. Now, let me give you some names of contemporary 20th century philosophers and theologians who also taught the double theory of truth. Okay. Paul Tillich, maybe you don't know that name. Paul Tillich was a famous German theologian who fled the Nazis, who came to the United States, who taught at Union Theological Seminary.


[00:13:08] Then he went to Harvard, then he went to University of Chicago. He was an immoral man. We don't need to just read the biography of Paul Tillich, but his wife wrote, This is an immoral man. But he also wrote a book called The Word Faith, as in the title. And I've I've lost it. But Tillich point was, the truth in history can be different from truth and science. And truth and science can be different from truth in religion. And this was such an important element of liberal theology for most of the second half of the 20th century. And so you would find seminarians, graduates of liberal seminaries who would get up in their pulpits and they would they would, in their minds, say, Jesus Christ never rose from the dead. He never died for the sins of the world. They would deny he was not the son of God. They would say no to every basic Christian doctrine. But they would get up on Easter Sunday morning and they would preach about the resurrection. But what they meant by the resurrection was not the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. What they meant by resurrection was the fact that at this time, every year, the flowers come back, they come out of the ground, the flowers, the resurrection of nature. You're too young to remember that kind of idiotic liberalism. Double theory of truth as far as science is concerned. Jesus Christ is still in the gray as far as religion is concerned. We can talk about the resurrection, we'll use the term. But of course we do not believe, nor could we believe, that Jesus actually rose from the dead. That double theory of truth. Now, I've told you that there is a difference of opinion as to whether the Latin Navarro, with such a seguir actually taught the double theory of truth.


[00:15:28] I've read a lot of scholars who have said this. They've said it is reputed that Seguir taught the double theory of truth, but surely he didn't. But every time I see someone, some scholar claiming that singer never taught the double theory of truth, they never provide any textual support for that. They just say, No, he didn't do it. And I stand there and I say, Why? Prove it to me. And you know, the reason. The reason is this. Anybody who taught a double theory of truth would be an idiot. To which I say, amen. QED. All right. Which means apply this to Seger, a brass band. Anybody who would teach a double. But they have. The world is full of people who have taught a double theory of truth. Why? Either because they're trying to fool people or because they're mixed up mentally, philosophically, or whatever else. Sega taught a double theory of truth. Remember that? Because you're going to find the Thomas Aquinas refutes all three of these beliefs, to which I can only say to Aquinas. Amen, brother. The discovery of ancient manuscripts. Where were the greatest libraries in the world? During the eight hundreds? The nine hundreds? Answer They were in territory that had been conquered by the Muslims. And those libraries certainly would have included Alexandria, Egypt, and probably Antioch in Syria. Okay, now here's the point. In the Western world, in Christendom, hardly anybody can read anything. There was no French language. There was no German language. All right. But in Islam, you've got people, scholars who are beginning to study the Greek writings of Plato and Aristotle and Plotinus. And you know what they do? They translate from the Greek into Arabic, totally different languages, you know. Then what happened was a number of a small number of Christian scholars, people in Christendom, began to translate from Arabic into Latin.


[00:18:15] But you know what happens when you translate an original Greek source from an Arabic translation? A whole lot of things get lost in the translation. And so these Latin translations from the Arabic were very misleading or even more ambiguous than than the originals. And that would and this this movement here would explain the rise of things like the Latin Navarro lists. Finally, finally, last of all, we had scholars who would who would ignore the Arabic, and they would go back to the Greek and they would translate directly from the Greek into Latin. Then you had much more reliable manuscripts. But in the process, there was there were still other writings that were lost. For example, the first major writing by Plato that reached the West was Plato's timeless t I am a e U.S.. That was the work in which we have Plato's Theory of Creation. This was a very late writing. People did not yet have the Republic. They didn't have the. They didn't have some of the early manuscripts, the early other early dialogs. There was confusion as to what Plato taught. Aristotle taught, Plotinus taught. So everything was a mess. Okay. Now, the third factor, the rise of religious brotherhoods within, let's call it Catholic Christendom. You get such religious orders as the following being created and then developing. You have, first of all, the Franciscans. Then you have the Dominicans. So the two major religious orders and during the lifetime of Aquinas were the Franciscans who were who came out of the early work of Saint Francis of Assisi, the guy who talked to birds. Remember, he talked to the animals. The Franciscans were augustinians. By and large, they were. They were augustinians. Their major thinker was Saint Bonaventure. If you're still looking for a research paper, a research paper that would contrast Thomas Aquinas with Saint Bonaventure would be, you know, a good paper.


[00:20:37] I guarantee no one else is going to have those books out of the library. Okay. Now, Thomas Aquinas, as a young boy, was committed to the Dominicans. They were Aristotelian for the most part. Now, notice these are generalizations. There were elements of Aristotelian ism in the Franciscan thinking, and there were some elements of Platonism and Augustinian ism in the in the Aristotelian. The major representative of the Dominican school became Saint Thomas Aquinas. What is the rise of these religious order? What is its significance? Simply this that you now had people who were controlling the thinking, the philosophy and the teaching of the Christian faith who were far removed from the Vatican. Remember, at this time in history, we didn't have a Saint Peter's Cathedral and anything like that. So it meant in some sense a diffusion of ecclesiastical authority beyond the confines of the city of Rome. It could take you a month to travel from Paris to Rome. You'd have to go by foot or by on the back of a mule or something like that. So the leaders of these ecclesiastical orders played an important role in controlling what happened. So you have these religious and then finally you have the rise of universities. Now, what is the significance of this? Until the development of the universities. Most education was available only in a monastic setting, in a setting that was that was controlled by heavily controlled by the Roman Catholic Church of the Middle Ages. Now, to be sure, when these universities started, there was a heavy Catholic, heavy Catholic influence. Now we're talking here Oxford, which was and is still a collection of colleges and Cambridge and the University of Paris. Once again, thinking is, is the linkage between education and the Catholic Church per say is slowly loosening, which creates an atmosphere and an environment in which the heretics of the Latin Navarro Estates in Paris can proceed without any real checks from the church.