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Invisiblemillzy
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Registered: 05/12/10
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the pragmatism of st. thomas aquinas - a paper i wrote
    #15697745 - 01/21/12 02:25 PM (12 years, 4 months ago)

i'm submitting this for a job as a writer and figured since it's a philosophy paper some of you may find it interesting.

to give some background, this was for a philosophy of religion class i took last spring. in this assignment i'm arguing in favor of thomas aquinas's positions in the sense of their ingenuity.

it's important to note that i'm not christian.

the head of the department taught this class. i received an a on this paper and for the class. i consider this to be some of my best work.

enjoy.


Quote:

The Pragmatism of Thomas Aquinas

Europe, late thirteenth century: A world poised on the brink of The Renaissance. The rise of the merchant class in Tuscany foreshadowed the end of feudalism and marked the birth of the modern city. Gothic cathedrals, with their other-worldly opulence, dominated the landscape and offered sanctuary for the people in the face of the Black Plague‘s indiscriminate carnage. Meanwhile, unprecedented strides in learning were taking place in the Universities, with the writings of Augustine in addition to the classical Greek philosophers Aristotle, Ptolemy and Euclid being amongst the central components of the curriculum.

However, these academic advances were not without cost. During the previous century, logician Peter Abelard’s challenge to the Church’s authority along with his infamous carnal scandal sewed the seeds of discord, and the burgeoning popularity of Greek Pagan texts in the classroom further threatened the Papal hegemony. Thomas Aquinas, a shrewd Dominican monk, sought to establish a new Christian paradigm by reconciling the growing divide between the realms of spirit and matter through the wisdom of the ancients.

In “Summa Theologica”, Aquinas’s principal work, a methodology for imparting the tenets of Christianity is established. Through the employment of Aristotelian logic, Aquinas casts a foundation from which the principles of sacred doctrine can be argued from. Aquinas posits that human reason, as defined by the philosophers, is limited in its ability to contemplate the mysteries of the Christian tradition. Faith, based on the “first truth” of the existence of God, is set in the mind by divine revelation, and is a stepping stone by which reason ascents.

Upon the stepping stone of faith, the articles of faith provide a boundary in which discourse on the subject of sacred doctrine can take place, and allows the teacher to address a student’s disputations from a place of authority. Additionally, further truths regarding sacred doctrine can be demonstrated from the principal of faith and its respective articles through the cumulative lessons of scripture.

The language of scripture employs the use of metaphors. For Aquinas, “all our knowledge originates from sense” (Aquinas, Ninth Article), and the order of the physical realm is reflected in the metaphysical realm. The use of metaphors in scripture uses references to corporeal, sensory objects in order to demonstrate this harmony. Aquinas understands that “God is above whatsoever we may say or think of him” (Aquinas, Ninth Article), and language is but a mere tool used in order to train the mind to know His existence. Metaphors preserve sacred doctrine by masking them in a type of language that allows the faithful to extract doctrinal truth from them without error. An individual with faith utilizes the denotation of a metaphor in order to raise their understanding to the divine connotation that it encapsulates.

Moreover, in Aquinian terms, the metaphors of scripture can be interpreted in two primary senses: The literal and the spiritual. The literal sense is the Archimedean point the faithful must first establish in order to contemplate the spiritual sense of the metaphor. From the literal, the faithful can determine a metaphor’s figurative, spiritual dimensions. Within the spiritual sense of the metaphor lie the moral lesson of the metaphor, and that which alludes to the mysteries of the soul, Christ and The Trinity.

The innovation of Thomas Aquinas’s scientific approach to illuminating the principles of sacred doctrine is only rivaled by its pragmatism. Through his method of instruction, Aquinas provides a cohesive system that is not only useful in conveying sacred doctrine to aspiring clergy, but for the priesthood to convey their learning to the masses as well. Through Aquinas’s scholastic method of teaching, the students become teachers themselves.

Aquinas’s meticulous attention to detail grants his system considerable rhetorical supremacy. Faith is the key element in accepting any aspect of sacred doctrine, and its primacy renders the truths born of it hidden from an individual not graced by it, as illustrated by Aquinas in Question One, Eight Article of “Summa Theologica”.

“…the inferior sciences neither prove their principles nor dispute with those who deny them, but leave this to a higher science; whereas the highest of them, viz., metaphysics, can dispute with one who denies its principles, if only the opponent will make some concession; but if he concedes nothing, it can have no dispute with him, though it can answer his arguments.”

If one has faith, and merely disputes certain articles of faith, a priest can correct them within the bounds of sacred doctrine. If one does not any have faith, their philosophical objections can only be acknowledged.

Further, by enshrouding the divine concepts of scripture in metaphorical language, the concepts themselves are protected from misrepresentation by those lacking faith. Aquinas expounds on this in Question One, Ninth Article of “Summa Theologica”.

“For then it is clear that these things are not literal descriptions of divine truths, which might have been open to doubt had they been expressed under the figure of nobler bodies, especially in the case of those who could think of nothing nobler than bodies.”


According to Aquinas, the faithless are blind to the true meaning of scripture. They are unable to transmute its encoded messages because they cannot conceive anything beyond the language of the metaphor itself. This leaves sacred doctrine undisturbed and left in the proper hands of the clergy who possess the means to rightfully catechize it.

The manifold nature of scripture unites all of the faithful, as stated by Aquinas in the Sixth Article of the Second Question.

“…It is written (Job i. 14): The oxen were ploughing, and the the asses feeding beside them, because, as Gregory expounds this passage, the simple, who are signified by the asses, ought, in matters of faith, to stay by the learned, who are denoted by the oxen.”

Within the sacred space of the chapel, through the ritualistic divulgement of the divine truths by the priesthood, waves of information wash across the minds of followers. The simple are able to derive the moral aspect of its message in addition to the basic concepts of the soul, Christ and The Trinity, while the learned are able to contemplate the deeper, esoteric aspects of the tradition. In the dualistic sense of it being a place of worship as well as an organization, Aquinas understands that the Church itself is a vehicle for spiritually evolving humanity.

However, 700 years after the completion of its first two components, and in spite of its place as a cornerstone of Christian theology, the intellectual ambition of Aquinas’s “Summa Theologica” remains lost on an abounding number of Christians living today. The rise of fundamentalism, from the previous century into the present, has rendered the tradition for many as what Alan Watts has described as “a religion about Jesus, and not the religion of Jesus” (Watts, “Myth and Religion“).

Pining for the “End of Days” and waging wars, both domestically and militarily, solely over ideological differences, Christian fundamentalists remain tragically ensnared by the denotative aspects of scripture. The source of this disconnect is unclear, but the implications of its consequences are deeply troubling. In the spirit of Thomas Aquinas, the only remedy for this disharmonious world view, is philosophical argument.





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I'm up to my ears in unwritten words. - J.D. Salinger

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Offlinefalcon
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Re: the pragmatism of st. thomas aquinas - a paper i wrote [Re: millzy]
    #15698393 - 01/21/12 05:10 PM (12 years, 4 months ago)

Thanks for sharing this, I think your use of the written word has improved since you wrote this. :cheers:

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Invisiblemillzy
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Re: the pragmatism of st. thomas aquinas - a paper i wrote [Re: falcon]
    #15698609 - 01/21/12 05:58 PM (12 years, 4 months ago)

thanks! :awesome:


--------------------
I'm up to my ears in unwritten words. - J.D. Salinger

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OfflineMarkostheGnostic
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Re: the pragmatism of st. thomas aquinas - a paper i wrote [Re: millzy]
    #15700290 - 01/22/12 01:10 AM (12 years, 4 months ago)

I studied some of the Summa ''way back when I was in seminary school," (for real), and the most impressive statement of his, towards the end of his life, after he'd finally had a mystical experience, was (in reference to the entire Summa Theologica) - "it's all straw." My professor had to concede, yes, it was worthless, but only after he had exhausted his intellect. My professor saw the Realization as some kind of reward for some intellectual life well-lived. He was wrong. The truth is, that all intellection is transcended by high intuition.

It is admirable that you would take the time to explore the 'Father of Scholasticism,' if only as a historical study of the human development of Western civilization, and its painful transformation of mythic thinking into empiricism. Personally, I find the transition between Medieval and Renaissance alchemists demonstrating this same transition. Like Aquinas, the Arabic alchemists revered Aristotle, and their own schism occurred when alchemy split into physical chemistry, and mystical alchemy. Unfortunately, in the establishment of the scientific method, we lost the magickal-mystery tour of the psyche. In my own development, I have trained my empirical mind, then my magickal mind, then my mystical mind, and then my mythical mind. Now, in late adulthood, the Ouroboric serpent has taken tail-in-mouth as I attempt to integrate all of these stages of my personal development into a wholeness. I hope that this process occurs on a macro level. "Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny."


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γνῶθι σαὐτόν - Gnothi Seauton - Know Thyself

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Invisiblemillzy
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Registered: 05/12/10
Posts: 12,417
Re: the pragmatism of st. thomas aquinas - a paper i wrote [Re: MarkostheGnostic]
    #15701381 - 01/22/12 10:54 AM (12 years, 4 months ago)

we studied him in order to understand what faith is, at least from the scholastic point of view. while i think the model is brilliant, i don't think that faith is necessary in contemplating the divine aspect of being. that being said, the trinity and the tenets of the christian faith are another story, because as thomas says faith is the only thing you must have in order to be able to try to understand those things. but to me, faith is "super reason", and is really just a clever rhetorical construct devised in the interest of maintaining the church's hegemony.


--------------------
I'm up to my ears in unwritten words. - J.D. Salinger

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OfflineMarkostheGnostic
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Re: the pragmatism of st. thomas aquinas - a paper i wrote [Re: millzy] * 1
    #15704768 - 01/22/12 10:39 PM (12 years, 4 months ago)

Quote:

millzy said:
we studied him in order to understand what faith is, at least from the scholastic point of view. while i think the model is brilliant, i don't think that faith is necessary in contemplating the divine aspect of being. that being said, the trinity and the tenets of the christian faith are another story, because as thomas says faith is the only thing you must have in order to be able to try to understand those things. but to me, faith is "super reason", and is really just a clever rhetorical construct devised in the interest of maintaining the church's hegemony.





Everyone has faith in something. Faith is an a priori assumption of essential reality. The materialist has faith in the senses and in reason, but this kind of faith is not transcendental or trans-rational. Given certain chemicals (like the JB agents, one of which Ram Dass reports on in BE HERE NOW), entire realities can be hallucinated. Faith is a contemplative attitude, and as such is non-rational, which is not to say, irrational.

Doctrines like the Trinity were clearly devised from inferences in biblical writ, which were assumed to be divine revelations. Tertullian, who first used the word trinity, became a Montanist, which was a heresy, and was made anathema by the RC Church. There is no trinitarian doctrine in Judaism, and the entire Augustinian elaboration of trinitarian thought (and later by Dionysus the Areopagite in the 6th century) were both heavily informed by Neoplatonism (both Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysus were Neoplatonists or Christian Neoplatonists). I thoroughly enjoy the mental masturbations of theology (I hold a Masters of Theological Studies degree), but thee are the attempts to fill a spiritual void with intellection, instead of by initiatory mystical experience. Not everyone is able to have such experiences, but as BE HERE NOW put it, "Painted cakes do not satisfy hunger." Neither does theology.


--------------------
γνῶθι σαὐτόν - Gnothi Seauton - Know Thyself

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