Prima Facie reservations on Thomism

Reasons why I won’t commit to Thomism.  And why a “Reformed Thomism” is an uneasy alliance.

  1. Does Thomas hold to Aristotle’s view that two contrary principles can’t coexist?  Would this rule out the Incarnation?
  2. Thomas’s view of habitus is incompatible with the Reformed view of imputation.
  3. Thomas’s view of punishment and mortal sin demands Purgatory.
  4. If the soul is the form of the human body and a subsistent thing (aliquid subsistens), then Aquinas is hard-pressed to maintain the immortality of the soul.  (I know that sounds “Greek,” but all Christian positions must affirm that the soul survives the death of the body).
    1. I know Aquinas says a “subsistent thing” exists in its own right (ST I, q. 75, a.2).
    2. But if this is his argument, then what precisely has he advanced that the Augustinian-Platonic tradition had not yet advanced?
  5. I’m uneasy with his take on individuation.  Initially, matter is the principle of individuation.  But this is problematic for angels, since they are immaterial.  So he says each angel is its own species. So we have a tension.  Angels can’t be form + matter, yet the nature of divine simplicity seems to suggest that an angel can’t be identical with its existence.  So an angel is rather an admixture of act and potency.  What is immaterial potency?
  6. Much better to stay with the Augustinian-Platonic tradition on this one.  Or even the Greek fathers for that matter.
  7. Does Thomism demand transubstantiation?  How do Reformed guys square with that?

Christ in the Summa Theologiae

Notes from Fergus Kerr’s After Aquinas: Versions of Thomism (Wiley/Blackwell)

ST recast traditional works about vice and virtue in terms of the human being’s progress toward beatitude (Kerr 163).

Prima pars: mystery of the Godhead

Secunda pars:   enjoyment of divine beatitude

Tertia pars: mystery of Christ

religio = religious life.  On a broader level, the Christian religio detaches us from earthly things to focus on heavenly glories.

The Fittigness of God’s Becoming Flesh

  1. Good as self-diffusive.

Motive of the Incarnation:

  1. The incarnation took place to deal with the Fall
  2. Incarnation
  3. There is a tension, though:  Aquinas holds that God is the diffusive Good, which seems to suggest that The Incarnation would have happened anyway.  Yet most fathers hold that it came about because of sin.

The Singular Man:

  1. Was the man Jesus sanctified/transformed by grace?  Aquinas says yes, appealing to Isaiah 61.
  2. The Passion
    1. Cry of dereliction on the cross: The Father withdrew his protection but maintained the union (ST 3.50.2).
    2. Jesus was simultaneously viator and comprehensor.  Thomas says there must have always been a continuous union because of the Trinity.
    3. Then what do we make of death, which is the severing of soul and body (if Christ maintains both human nature and divine nature, which the latter is still in union with the Father)?
      1. Neither Christ’s soul nor body was separated from the Word of God (3.50.3).

Aquinas on sin

This is an outline of the latter half of ST I-II on Sin.  It should also be a warning to the Reformed Thomists that want to accept Thomism uncritically.  Thomas’s views on sin demand Purgatory.  Good luck.

Part 1 of the Second Part, questions 79ff
God is not the cause of sin.

    1. Sin is a tending to disorder.
    2. Yet God brings all things to order.
  1. God’s will is the cause of the act of sin.
  2. God is not the cause of hardening, but the cause of actively witholding grace.


Question 80: Of the cause of sin as regards the Devil.

  1. The devil can move us internally to sin only in the sense of cooperating with the sensitive appetite.


Question 81: Of the cause of the sin on the part of man

  1. Article 1 affirms original sin. All men born of Adam are “one man” as a common nature.
  2. Granted that good is more self-diffusive than evil, and granted that our nearer ancestors merits aren’t transmitted to us, neither is the guilt for their other sins.


Original sin is transmitted through the semen, which is how Jesus wasn’t born with original sin.


Question 84: on one sin being a cause of another

  1. capital vices are those which give rise to others.
    1. man’s good is threefold
      1. certain good of the soul
      2. good of the body
      3. external good, to which covetousness is referred.


Question 85: Of the effects of sin

  1. Death is not natural to man
    1. What is natural cannot be called a punishment.
    2. Matter is proportionate to form, and everything to its End.  Man’s end is happiness in God.


Question 86: On the stain of sin

  1. the stain is a privation in the soul, not a tainting of it.


Question 87: On the debt of punishment

  1. Since sin is temporal, how can it merit an eternal punishment?
    1. (art. 3) Sin incurs a debt by disturbing an order.
    2. Sin is punished in respect to the severity of the fault.  Sin is not punished with respect to the duration.
  2. Once we are punished from the sin, how come we still owe a debt?
    1. We still have the stain of sin on our soul.  This can’t be gotten rid of until we are united to God, which can only happen by accepting his judgment.
    2. Punishment heals the other powers of the soul.
  3. The sins of the fathers can be punished in the children, since the children are more likely to commit those sins, having grown up in that environment.


Question 88: Of venial and mortal sin

  1. A sin can be called mortal if it impairs the end of the spiritual life.
  2. The soul needs to be ordered in order to get to that end, and mortal sin throws the train off of the track, if you will.


But I’m not a Thomist

I’ll try to make clear where I stand on Aquinas and Thomism.  I consider myself in “general conversation” with the Thomist tradition.  I find Thomas remarkably clear on the doctrine of God, quite profound on Christology, and very tantalizing in epistemology.

I commit myself to none of his positions, though.

And it is entertaining to watch Neo-Thomists tell you which Thomisms are the good guys and bad guys.  I lean closer to Kerr and De Lubac.

I am hesitant to commit to Thomas’s view on the soul.  I remain too much of a Augustinian/Platonist/Bonaventurian/Bernadian to commit myself on that point.

So, about that Lent…

I try never to talk about Lent, pro or con.  I think Lent is an example of Christian liberty at the most basic (St Paul: why value one day over another?).  The reactions to Lent, for and against, however, are most interesting.

Practically, I am not celebrating Lent this year in the sense of “giving something up.”  Especially food.  I have several dietary issues, along with other logistic problems that make “fasting from meat/eggs/cheese/milk” problematic.

However, my own reading takes a turn during Lent.  I read a lot more of the medievals than I normally do (slugging through the latter half of Aquinas’s ST at the moment).

But enough about me.  I want to call attention to all of the hipster Reformed/YRR attacking Lent, and attacking Lent by what is basically “food porn.”  Uploading pictures of the latest kegger or six pack and big cigars.

If you want to attack medieval interpretations of Lent that “bind consciences,” go at it.  Have fun.  I fear that many have thrown the baby out with the proverbial bath water.   Spiritual disciplines in the sense of “disciplining the body” is very good and should not be abandoned.  Yet we don’t see this among the Hipster/Bro Reformed.

But someone would say, pointing to Colossians 2 and Galatians 4, that we are no longer under the seasons and stoichea.  True, which is why I don’t believe tying Lenten discipline to a cosmic calendar is necessary.  But…we still live in God’s world and he made seasons and rhythms.

If you haven’t figured it out, yet, I am alluding to the Facebook group Reformed Pub.

A List.

*Fr Seraphim Rose read through Augustine’s Confessions during each Great Lent.  Not a bad idea.

*As noted earlier, I am reading as much of Thomas’s Summa as I can.

*Reread the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of English People.

*Memorize some medieval prayers written in Latin.  Nothing magical about Latin, but this could be a mental training exercise.

Some Good Lenten Resources and Ideas:

Chant Blog.

St Bede Blog.

A Clerk of Oxford.

Audio of BCP Daily Prayer.

St Bede Breviary.