Seminarians at St. Joseph’s College Seminary major in Philosophy, and their studies extensively cover the two greatest influences of Catholic Theology – St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.
God’s Grace Swooping Down
Augustine, a fourth century Bishop, spent a rebellious childhood avoiding his mother’s Christian influence. As a young man he even joined Manichaeism, a religion which encouraged a hedonistic lifestyle. It is said that his devout mother, St. Monica, rejected him in righteous anger over these actions. But after a vision, she reconciled with him. Her greatest wish was to see her son become a Christian, and she spent seventeen years tearfully begging God for his conversion. Through her persistent prayer, God’s grace eventually broke through to Augustine’s hardened soul. He chronicled his story of conversion in the classic, “Confessions of St. Augustine.”
As a priest, Augustine spent four decades living an austere lifestyle that was a complete change from his wayward youth. He advocated for education, and he fought tirelessly against harmful ideologies, especially Manichaeism and the schismatic Donatists. His writings helped to solidify the Church’s teaching on the doctrines in question at the time, such as original sin, the importance of grace, the Holy Trinity, free will and predestination, and what constitutes a just war.
Heavily influenced by the works of Plato, Augustine’s philosophy explored the hierarchy of the spiritual to the physical. Because of his own experiences during his sinful youth, Augustine had a tangible understanding of God’s grace, reaching down to elevate humanity from its concupiscence.
Man’s Mind Looking Up
St. Thomas Aquinas, on the other hand, grew up quite piously during the 13th century. When he wanted to join the poor, young Dominican order, his family abducted him and sent a prostitute to his room in an attempt to sway him from his vocation. Thomas never succumbed to their tactics, however, and scared the woman from his room by grabbing two burning logs from the fireplace to form a cross. Eventually, his mother “allowed” him to escape one night, and he pursued his vocation.
Thomas was a large man, and not very sociable. He was often lost in thought, which made him an absent conversationalist. Mistaking his silence for stupidity, his classmates nicknamed him the Dumb Ox. This nickname is now ironic, as it refers to one of the most brilliant minds in all of Church history. Throughout his life, Thomas wrote key documents of Church teaching, most notably, the Summa Theologiae.
Heavily influenced by the works of Aristotle, Thomas sought to reconcile the human-based approach to understanding with Divine Revelation. At the time, it was believed that all higher knowledge came from God, but Thomas was fascinated by the fact that the pagan Aristotle could use reason to explore intricate sciences and even uncover information about the human soul. In his extensive writings, Thomas used this logic-based reasoning to defend key truths of the Faith. In the 19th century, Pope Leo XIII positioned Aquinas’ writings as the basis for seminarians’ education.
For St. Joseph College seminarians, studying these great philosophers covers two poignant approaches to theology. Augustine teaches us the awe of God coming down to sanctify man, while Aquinas starts with the proper understanding of man and how that leads us up to God. Centuries later, both of these great thinkers are forming the base of a solid, orthodox foundation for our future priests.
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Augustine teaches us the awe of God coming down to sanctify man, while Aquinas starts with the proper understanding of man and how that leads us up to God. Centuries later, both of these great thinkers are forming the base of a solid, orthodox foundation for our future priests.How are Aquinas and Augustine similar? ›
They are both known for trying to prove that ancient philosophy and Christianity were connected, they both took two different paths. Augustine is known for following a Platonic path and Aquinas an Aristotelian. The two both talked about faith, reason ,and knowledge.What are the main similarities and differences between St Augustine's and St Thomas Aquinas political theories? ›
The views of Thomas of Aquinas and Saint Augustine contain many similar points. However, some difference exists between the two thinkers. Aquinas and Augustine had different attitudes to philosophy. While Augustine offered individual ways to cognize God, Aquinas presented logical proofs that God exists.Who is St Thomas Aquinas and what is his contribution in ethics? ›
Thomas Aquinas was the greatest of the Scholastic philosophers. He produced a comprehensive synthesis of Christian theology and Aristotelian philosophy that influenced Roman Catholic doctrine for centuries and was adopted as the official philosophy of the church in 1917.What is virtue ethics according to Aquinas and Augustine? ›
According to one very general account, a virtue is a habit that “disposes an agent to perform its proper operation or movement” (DVC 1; ST IaIIae 49.1). Because we know that reason is the proper operation of human beings, it follows that a virtue is a habit that disposes us to reason well.What are the 3 main points of Aquinas theory? ›
Aquinas's first three arguments—from motion, from causation, and from contingency—are types of what is called the cosmological argument for divine existence. Each begins with a general truth about natural phenomena and proceeds to the existence of an ultimate creative source of the universe.What is happiness according to Aquinas and Augustine? ›
Thomas Aquinas is uncompromising in his view that our true happiness can only be found in knowledge of God. No other worldly good or pleasure can truly provide us with the ultimate good we seek. As he argues in the Summa Theologica: It is impossible for any created good to constitute man's happiness.What is the theory of Aquinas? ›
The master principle of natural law, wrote Aquinas, was that "good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided." Aquinas stated that reason reveals particular natural laws that are good for humans such as self-preservation, marriage and family, and the desire to know God.What was the role of government according to Augustine and to Aquinas? ›
Aquinas quotes Saint Augustine: “If justice is taken away, what are kingdoms but massive robberies?” According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, the proper role of government is to protect the life and property of its citizens from domestic and foreign violence.What is the main moral philosophy of St Aquinas and St Augustine? ›
Both Augustine and Aquinas focused on issues of justice, saw humans as innately political beings, and sought to define the relationship between human and divine law. One of the most influential of their political theories was the concept of the just war, or the morally acceptable use of state violence.
While Aristotle thinks that a political life gives us the opportunity to fulfill our nature and that such activity is bested only by a life of philosophy (1325b 19-20), Augustine holds firmly to the idea that politics is a thing of utility that, apart from the Fall, would have no place in the city of God (City, 14.28), ...What is the difference between theology and philosophy according to Thomas Aquinas? ›
Theology as Superior to Philosophy
Theology concerns itself with knowledge that has been revealed by God and that man must accept on faith. Philosophy, at least as defined by Aristotle, is concerned with knowledge that man acquires through sensory experience and the use of the natural light of reason.
Aquinas believes that we should always follow our conscience, even when it is wrong or causes great harm. Since we have no way of knowing whether our consciences are wrong, they are the best guide we have as to what is the moral thing to do.What did St Thomas Aquinas believe about God? ›
Not only does Aquinas think that God is not a material composite, he also insists that God is not a metaphysical composite (Vallencia, 2005). In other words, God is not an amalgam of attributes, nor is he a being whose nature or essence can be distinguished from his existence. He is, rather, a simple being.What is St Thomas Aquinas's definition of morality? ›
For Thomas Aquinas, as for Aristotle, doing moral philosophy is thinking as generally as possible about what I should choose to do (and not to do), considering my whole life as a field of opportunity (or misuse of opportunity).What is Augustine's understanding of ethics? ›
Augustine regards ethics as an enquiry into the Summum Bonum: the supreme good, which provides the happiness all human beings seek.What lesson have you learn in the life of St Augustine? ›
The Helplessness of Humanity
Augustine has also taught us that the human race is united in sin and rebellion against God and cannot save itself. Those who have met with Christ have learned that they must trust him completely and not rely on their own efforts, qualities, or inheritance for their salvation.
The ultimate objective remains happiness, as in Greek ethics, but Augustine conceived of happiness as consisting of the union of the soul with God after the body has died. It was through Augustine, therefore, that Christianity received the Platonic theme of the relative inferiority of bodily pleasures.What are the 4 kinds of law according to St Thomas Aquinas? ›
Aquinas's Natural Law Theory contains four different types of law: Eternal Law, Natural Law, Human Law and Divine Law.What are the two types of law according to Aquinas? ›
Aquinas distinguishes four kinds of law: (1) eternal law; (2) natural law; (3) human law; and (4) divine law.
The arguments are often named as follows: (1) argument from motion, (2) argument from efficient cause, (3) argument from necessary being, (4) argument from gradations of goodness, and (5) argument from design.What does St Augustine think about the importance of human happiness? ›
According to Augustine, the key to happiness, to true human fulfillment, is properly ordered love.What did Thomas Aquinas believe about reason and faith? ›
In the wider context of his philosophy, Aquinas held that human reason, without supernatural aid, can establish the existence of God and the immortality of the soul; for those who cannot or do not engage in such strenuous intellectual activity, however, these matters are also revealed and can be known by faith.What are the two main views of happiness? ›
In psychology, there are two popular conceptions of happiness: hedonic and eudaimonic. Hedonic happiness is achieved through experiences of pleasure and enjoyment, while eudaimonic happiness is achieved through experiences of meaning and purpose.What is Augustine's concept of God? ›
At this point Augustine just affirms, as an act of faith, that God is good and just and hence cannot be the cause of evil. “If you know or believe that God is good—and it is not right to believe otherwise—then he does no evil.”6 As creator, God is the cause of everything, and everything insofar as it exists, is good.What were Augustine's beliefs? ›
Augustine proposed that evil could not exist within God, nor be created by God, and is instead a by-product of God's creativity. He rejected the notion that evil exists in itself, proposing instead that it is a privation of (or falling away from) good, and a corruption of nature.What type of government does St Augustine preferred? ›
His influence extends even beyond the confines of his legacy in theology and philosophy, to the realm of political theory, where Augustine seems to be an early proponent of limited government, a view grounded in large part on his philosophy of history and his realistic conception of human depravity.What was the main idea and the purpose of Saint Augustine's The Confessions? ›
The unifying theme that emerges over the course of the entire work is that of redemption: Augustine sees his own painful process of returning to God as an instance of the return of the entire creation to God.What did Augustine believe about faith and reason? ›
But Augustine went even further. For him, the necessary concordance between faith and reason means that faith is needed not only in such things that are beyond reason, but also in things that reason could quite adequately handle, though not without error. For true faith also has an illuminative role.What is the difference between Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas? ›
Aristotle is known to be the father of biology and politics, while St. Thomas Aquinas is known to be the greatest theologian-philosopher in medieval time. In addition, Aristotle is considered to be an outstanding philosopher, influencing different thinkers to their ideas, one of them is St. Thomas Aquinas.
Aristotle and St. Augustine both wrote philosophical works in order to teach us something that they have learned, in hopes that we will apply it to our own lives. However, Augustine uses a type of autobiographical style in addition to treatise in his works, while Aristotle only uses the treatise style in his works.What kind of philosopher is St Augustine? ›
Augustine is perhaps the most significant Christian thinker after St. Paul. He adapted Classical thought to Christian teaching and created a powerful theological system of lasting influence. He also shaped the practice of biblical exegesis and helped lay the foundation for much of medieval and modern Christian thought.What are the contribution of Thomas Aquinas to education? ›
One of the foundations of Aquinas' philosophy is rationality, which is related to the idea of scientific inquiry and empirical knowledge. His ability to consider faith and reason in the same context has contributed to the ability of faith-based schools and colleges to also focus on scientific inquiry.What is human person according to St Augustine? ›
Like most ancient philosophers, Augustine thinks that the human being is a compound of body and soul and that, within this compound, the soul—conceived as both the life-giving element and the center of consciousness, perception and thought—is, or ought to be, the ruling part.How did St Thomas Aquinas prove that God exists? ›
The Argument from Efficient Cause: Because nothing can cause itself, everything must have a cause or something that creates an effect on another thing. Without a first cause, there would be no others. Therefore, the First Cause is God.How did St Thomas Aquinas define religion? ›
His argument from a different objection is also illuminating and reads as follows: “Religion is not a theological nor an intellectual virtue, but a moral virtue since it is part of justice. It observes a mean not in the passions, but by establishing an equality in actions directed to God.What is the famous saying of St Thomas Aquinas? ›
“To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”What does St Thomas Aquinas believe about virtue ethics? ›
Aquinas himself, moreover, expressly denies that all actions, just in virtue of their natural kind, must be either good or bad – some actions, he says, can be morally neutral in kind (18.8). But he does not think that all actions are intrinsically neutral, and in this article his example is theft.What is the difference between human law and natural law according to Aquinas? ›
The natural law is law with moral content, more general than human law. Natural law deals with necessary rather than with variable things. In working out human laws, human practical reason moves from the general principles implanted in natural law to the contingent commands of human law.How are Aristotle and Aquinas different? ›
Thomas Aquinas, much like Aristotle, wrote that nature is organized for good purposes. Unlike Aristotle, however, Aquinas went on to say that God created nature and rules the world by "divine reason." Aquinas described four kinds of law. Eternal law was God's perfect plan, not fully knowable to humans.
At the basis of Augustine's conception of law and order is the “eternal law” (lex aeterna), that eternal plan of the world, reason, and the divine will, where the divine order respects the divinely created natural order and is inscribed in the human soul as the “natural law” (lex naturalis).What is the relationship between human law and natural law according to Aquinas? ›
For Aquinas, human laws are derived from natural law which is a participation in the eternal law.  Therefore, eternal law is at the top, followed by natural law, and then human law. Divine law is the revealed law of God to man, while natural law is the imprint of eternal law on the hearts of men.How do you understand Aquinas concept of natural law? ›
The natural law is comprised of those precepts of the eternal law that govern the behavior of beings possessing reason and free will. The first precept of the natural law, according to Aquinas, is the somewhat vacuous imperative to do good and avoid evil.What was characteristic of Augustine's philosophy? ›
According to Augustine, the earth was brought into existence ex nihilo by a perfectly good and just God, who created man. The earth is not eternal; the earth, as well as time, has both a beginning and an end. Man, on the other hand, was brought into existence to endure eternally.What is virtue ethics According to Aristotle and Aquinas? ›
Virtue ethics is a philosophy developed by Aristotle and other ancient Greeks. It is the quest to understand and live a life of moral character. This character-based approach to morality assumes that we acquire virtue through practice.What did Thomas Aquinas believe? ›
Thomas Aquinas believed "that for the knowledge of any truth whatsoever man needs divine help, that the intellect may be moved by God to its act."What do Aristotle and Aquinas have in common? ›
Aristotle and Aquinas have many similar thoughts on the way that the human person should live. Both of them believe that humans are rational beings. They also believe that because humans are rational they can follow their instincts and live a life of moral goodness.How does Augustine define faith? ›
De Civ. 19, 1. But faith is not just the mere theoretical assent to certain truths, but also a fundamental commitment to acting on such truths, that are not only believed to be true, but are also believed to be good to believe.