History of Philosophy and Christian Thought - Lesson 36

Aquinas and Faith

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

Ronald Nash
History of Philosophy and Christian Thought
Lesson 36
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Aquinas and Faith

Thomistic Philosophy

Part 2

II. Faith and Reason

A. Definition

1. Augustine

2. Aquinas

a. Reason - Whatever a human can know outside of special revelation.

b. Faith - Whatever a human can know through special revelation.

B. Two Ladders

1. Ladder #1 - Science and Philosophy

2. Ladder #2 - Theology (Special Revelation)

C. Refutation of Averroists

1. Doctrine of Creation

a. Defending the Christian Faith

b. Defending Aristotle

2. Doctrine of Personal Survival after Death

  • 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

Aquinas and Faith

Lesson Transcript

[00:00:02] Thomas Aquinas comes along. He studies at a number of places. He studies in what is today Germany, studies at the University of Paris, studies in Italy. And he's heavily influenced by Aristotle because of who was teachers were. And then he finally goes to the University of Paris to teach. Aquinas develops a number of ways to combat the Latin Vera lists. And this this opposition becomes foundational, becomes basic to what we call tome ism, which is the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. Now, what I'm going to develop here, I'm going to talk about a gust acquaintances view of faith and reason, because it has a direct relationship to this horrible double theory of truth. Aquinas says the following There can never be a contradiction between faith and reason. If something is true in science, then it must be true in theology. And if something is true in philosophy, then it must also be true in theology. There can be no double theory of truth, to which we must say a man. Brother, these guys are heretics. Now, here's how. Here's what Aquinas did with faith and reason. He defined the two words differently than Augustine. Augustine defined faith. He. Augustine defined faith as in direct knowledge. Anything that you come to know on the authority of someone else is faith. That's Augustine. For Augustine, reason is direct knowledge. Okay, here's what Aquinas did. He defined reason as Now it seems like this is similar to Augustine's position, but it really is not. He defined reason as whatever a human being can come to know without assistance from God. Let's just right here no help from God. Humanly speaking. Now, Aquinas was no fool. He knew that obviously God's assistance in human knowledge is always possible. But what he's referring to here is, is this reason basically means science.


[00:02:44] Anything that humans can come to know without dependance. Every one of these sentences is important. Reason is whatever a human being can come to know without any dependance upon special revelation. No special revelation. That means no Bible. And among Catholics, no church tradition. Okay, No special revelation. What is faith? Faith is whatever we come to know through special revelation. Faith is whatever we come to know based upon what God has revealed in the Bible. And as Catholics are prone to say in church tradition and so on. And so this gives us not science, but this gives us theology. Read the book carefully. Okay. Read the book carefully. Now, I think the best way to understand acquaintances view of faith and reason is in terms of two step ladders. Call this the two ladder approach to human knowledge. Okay, here's the first step ladder. It is reason. It is whatever we can know on our own without dependance upon special revelation. This is science. This is also. I should have said this earlier. This is also philosophy. There are limits to what human beings can know on our own. Human knowledge can only take us so far. And the highest that philosophy can take us is to. Is to the knowledge of God's existence. Philosophy can prove to us that God exists, and that's the highest that philosophy or human knowledge can go. If you want to know more than the mere fact that God exists, then you've got to switch ladders. You've got to switch to the ladder of faith, which gives us theology, which is dependent upon special revelation. Now, listen to me. There's an element. There are there are important moments of truth in this. Moments of truth with which. All of us should agree.


[00:05:04] If you grant certain assumptions, let's assume that human thinking, human reasoning can take us all the way to the existence of God. We can quibble about that on some other context. All right. Maybe in the apologetics course or something else. But if philosophy can prove that God exists, then what about the rest of the information we need about God? Here are examples of things that we cannot get through Human philosophy. What is God like? What is God's nature? Aquinas said. We can only know God's attributes through special revelation. What about salvation? How can we achieve the forgiveness of sins and deliverance only through special revelation? That's theology. That's not philosophy. Now, there's a whole lot there that's worth thinking. Although, you know, if you care about my opinions, I think it is kind of problematic that philosophy can actually. Let me put it this way. Years ago. Yeah. Years ago, I thought it was problematic as to what philosophy could do with respect to God's existence. I have now a whole lot more respect for a lot of things I think that do enable philosophers to provide really good arguments for God's existence. I also think and here you might want to quibble with me, and you're free to do that because you know I'm not dogmatic. I do think that philosophy can help us understand a great deal about the nature of God, and maybe I can talk about that someday. I do talk about it in your intro text. That is, we really can know that God is a perfect being, that God is holy, then we can certainly know a whole lot of things about God's knowledge such that God knows that two plus two equals four. Okay, But now let me just bring this to a close and let me see if I can remember this without access, without cheating and looking at the book.


[00:07:20] Augustine's I'm sorry, Aquinas says faith and reason are logically compatible. It is impossible that faith and reason can ever contradict each other. To which I say, Amen. That would get rid of a whole lot of stupid nonsense in the church. But Aquinas then also says this faith and reason are psychologically incompatible. In other words, with one exception, you cannot know the same truth by both faith and reason, by both philosophy and theology. If you know something by theology, then you cannot know it by reason or science or philosophy and vice versa. But there is one exception of that, and that one exception is the existence of God. The existence of God is the one thing that some people can know through philosophy. But if you've got other people who aren't trained in philosophy, then they can come to know that God exists through an act of faith in the teachings of the church or the teachings of the Bible or something like that. I like this approach that I take to Aquinas because I think, for one thing, it humanizes the man. It helps the reader understand that a lot of the technical moves that he made were really an exercise in Christian apologetics, moves that he made in order to defend medieval Christendom. And listen, Aquinas was orthodox. The real heresies in the Roman Catholic Church that made the Reformation necessary. Those heresies were still, to some extent in the future when Aquinas was alive. But, boy, when those heresies arrived, we needed a martin Luther. We really did. And, you know, on the basis of R.C. Sproles Authority, he thinks that in the context of Aquinas Day, we could look at him as an evangelical. I mean, after all, he mean the Bible's the word of God.


[00:09:42] It's infallible. It's without error. He never even used the word inerrant. He believed in all of the major doctrines of the Christian church. R.C. Sproul thinks that Aquinas taught salvation by grace through faith alone. And I must. Confess that I haven't read everything that Aquinas wrote. But anyway, I like this approach. What I want to do now is I want to take those two other errors taught by the Latin of terrorists and show you how Aquinas view of faith and reason. There's two stepladder model or picture or paradigm provided the basis for acquaintances refutation of the other two doctrines, which was the denial of creation and the denial of personal survival after death. Incidentally, do not ever underestimate the importance of the doctrine of creation. The doctrine of creation. Zaniolo is one of the great divides that separates theistic views of God from every other false view of God in the universe. It separates us from animists, pantheistic, pantheistic, polytheists. It just does. Then we have to separate among the theists. We have to find a way of separating Allah, the Muslim God. And there's been a whole lot of stuff in the newspapers recently about that. Franklin Graham has gotten some heat from liberals because he has dared to call publicly Islam an evil religion, an evil religion, a religion of hate, which has made some American Muslims angry. But so be it. What are you going to do? And I'll tell you, the president of Southern Baptist Seminary, where I teach, you know, every other every other week, Mohler, has been on national television and thrown in his two bits. And, you know, whenever chapel is going on in Louisville, Kentucky, there are at least two police cars in front of the chapel.


[00:12:08] Yes, sir, two police cars. And we have security police in the main administration building and so on. So let's take care of the doctrine of creation. But as we do this, I guess I'd better add one more thing to the context. You need to understand that. Among the things that Aquinas wanted to do was not only defend the Christian faith from Plotinus heresies which had crept into Islam and then and into Christendom, but he also wanted to defend Aristotle. Defending Aristotle has never been a part of my calling in life. And you can gather that from, you know, the way I the lesser time that I gave Aristotle. Aristotle was a genius. One of the major thinkers in the history of human ideas. But he's not a brother of mine. He's not a friend of mine, except with respect to the law of non contradiction and essential properties. He had that right. Now, what made the various denial of creation so serious was this the heads of the Catholic Church, that would be the whole Vatican ensemble and other things. They hated Aristotle. They were afraid of Aristotle. They knew that Aristotle had denied creation. And so here was Aquinas, a major thinker of the day. But he was viewed with suspicion by his Catholic colleagues who were ready to throw out. Let me come up with an original expression here. They were ready to throw out the the bit, the baby with the bathwater. Thank you. Thank you. The baby with the bathwater. So how can we defend Christendom Christianity from overthrow ism? But how can we also defend Aristotle? Now, the truth is that Aristotle did deny creation. Aristotle did teach that the world is eternal. Here is acquaintances way out, he said.


[00:14:48] He said the truth of creation can only be known through theology. For those listening by the tape, I'm giving some pretty weird body language here. All right. You'd think that I'm a Baptist talking about the final judgment, but I do that. I can put myself into the thinking of another person. The only way you can know the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is through theology, is through special revelation, is through the Bible. Now, it is true that Aristotle denied creation, but his real mistake, his real mistake was not the error so much. His real mistake was where he placed our knowledge of creation on this two letters, on this two letter paradigm. Aristotle believed that philosophy could prove that the world was eternal, the world was eternal. So what Aquinas says is this Aristotle. Aristotle put the doctrine of creation in the wrong place. Down here, philosophy cannot prove, cannot. This is a Aquinas philosophy cannot prove that the world had a beginning in time. The only way anybody can come to know that the world had a beginning in time is through faith, theology and dependance upon special revelation. It's this higher ladder. So at the most, Aristotle's mistake here amounts to the fact that he simply didn't know about special revelation. He didn't know that human beings had access to important truths like this in any other way. And can't we forgive him for that? Or so Aquinas acted. Okay, so that's how we get rid of this and still leave Aristotle room for respect and influence within medieval Catholicism. If something and the upper ladder is true, and for a Christian that means it is taught in the Bible, or for a medieval Christian, it means it's taught by the church, then it must be consistent with what's on the lower ladder.


[00:17:21] Okay, now let's apply that to Galileo. All right. And Galileo's claim that the Sun. Now, I know Copernicus first taught this, but Galileo taught it and got an enormous trouble with the Catholic Church. Galileo taught that the sun is the center of the solar system. So what did the church do? The church said no. The Bible teaches that the Earth is the center of the solar system. Therefore, Galileo must be wrong. All right. How long did it take the Catholic Church to recognize that the sun was the center of the solar system? Well, probably until the day after Galileo died, which didn't help him at all. And so then what did the church do? They said they said the Bible doesn't teach that the Earth is the center of the solar system because there can be no contradiction. Okay. Now, what does Rudolf Boltzmann Have you studied him yet? Hmm? Rudolf Borman. He's dead, of course. But his writings. Bullmann says that the Bible really did teach that the world is flat. This is Borgman and has four corners, and the Earth is the center of the solar system. So for Bullmann, you've got a contradiction. And so what we modern Christians must do. There go my hips again, which means I'm talking nonsense. What we modern Christians must do is recognize that the astronomy of the Bible is a myth. And so we must de mythologize what the Bible teaches about. And of course, that's just nonsense, because the alternative to a guy like Boltzmann is this. You simply recognize that the Bible is describing things like this and what we call phenomenal language. It. Describes the way things appear to a human being on planet Earth. There are alternatives to that kind of hyper radicalism that you find in a boatman.


[00:19:31] The Bible does not teach that the world is flat and has four four corners. I mean, I heard just the other day Dan Rather and, you know, for many Americans, people like Dan Rather are are are holy men who are inerrant and everything they say. Dan Rather talked about the four corners of the earth and nobody got up the next day and said. Dan Rather believes the world is flat and has four corners. No. Saint Bonaventure argued that philosophy cannot only prove the existence of God. It can also prove that the world had a beginning and time. I am inclined to think that Bonaventure is right here. Okay. But of course, remember that Bonaventure was an Augustinian. Now, finally, this distinction between faith and reason wasn't necessary for regarding the doctrine of personal survival after death. Because I've already told you what Aquinas did there. He took that famous passage in the Animal Book three and interpreted it to mean that the act of intellect is a separate part of every human being who has ever lived. So you have an active intellect, and I have an act of intellect, and they're different, But each of them is immortal. That was Aquinas, his way of handling that last bit of business. Okay, Remember what the words said. The act of intellect is immortal and separable, and without it, nothing thinks. And Aquinas said, Just read it as it is. Read it literally. You've got an act of intellect. And that is the immortal part of a human being. See, that's how he. So Aquinas says, Aristotle really did believe in immortality. Only it wasn't the soul that's immortal. It's the act of intellect, for what it's worth.