Friday, February 27, 2015

"Summa Theologica" [Questions XC-XCVII] - Thomas Aquinas

Hello dear readers. It has been another long break since my last entry and, one again, I feel the need to assure you that I am alive and fully intend to finish the Great Books of the Western World. School and other distractions have been keeping me busy. I don't know when I will get done, though I now suspect it will take longer than the suggested 10 Year Plan, but I will get done or I will die in the attempt.

I found Thomas Aquinas far more interesting than Tacitus, but his writing is still very dense and that is art of the reason this reading took so long. Although Thomas Aquinas's Christianity provides the framework of his thought, this selection wasn't about theology per se, but about the nature of law.

Thomas Aquinas divides law into for types: 1) The eternal law i.e. the unwritten law of God, 2) The natural law i.e. a shadow of the eternal law written on our hearts, 3) Human law i.e. Civil law, and 4) Divine law i.e. the Old Law of Moses and the New Law of Christ. Natural, human, and divine law are all derivative of the eternal law. Importantly, Thomas Aquinas notes that human law shouldn't be a full reflection of eternal law and that human law permits some things that the eternal law condemns.

By the way Thomas Aquinas makes a statement that, to my mind at least, reveals the Euthyphro dilemma to be a false dilemma. The Euthyphro dilemma, named after the Plato dialogue that it appears in, is as follows: "Does God command things because they are good, or are things good because God commands them?" Either "good" is subjective (e.g. God could just as easily deem murder good) or good stands apart from God and therefore, because God answers to a higher standard, God isn't God. To me Thomas Aquinas's statement "[God's] law is not distinct from Himself" settles the whole thing. God commands good because He is good.

While reading Thomas Aquinas it was easy to see the faith in the authority of books that medieval people had. He often quoted an author as an objection to or as evidence for one of his points as if the fact that the statement was found in a book must mean that it's true! And this applied to both Christian and Pagan books. Thomas Aquinas was known for his reconciliation between Christian theology and Aristotelian philosophy, one representing faith and the other reason.

Of course, I don't bring up Thomas Aquinas's sometimes blind faith in authority to belittle him. The way he organized and reconciled all of the ideas he was dealing with really was awe inspiring, and I ultimately agreed with most of his conclusions. I've also read some of Thomas Aquinas's other ideas, that weren't necessarily in the short segment that I read, that I think are brilliant. He definitely is one of the great thinkers of the West.