Friday, January 9, 2015

Thomas Aquinas, Mortimer Adler, the Great Books, and Critics

I am rereading a book that I love by Arvin Vos, Calvin, Aquinas, and Contemporary Protestant Thought. I am also reading Peter Kreeft's new book, Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from ST. Thomas Aquinas. This new book is a good companion to Kreeft's Summa of the Summa. I am a great admier of Thomas Aquinas and have been reading him for several years.

In my morning reading of Vos's book I came on a passage from Aquinas that was quite interesting. Aquinas distinguishes knowing Gog from reason and faith. Vos argues that Protestants falsely accuse Aquinas of saying reason is superior to faith. Instead, Aquinas argues for the superiority of faith. WE know much more about God from faith through revelation than we know through the human intellect. A second way faith is superior is that it is more certain than reason. This is because the origin of the revelation is infallible. Another distinction is that reason knows God from His effects.

This brings me on to the point I want to emphasize. Aquinas said that the path of the philosophers is cumbersome with many errors. This is just to say that philosophers are finite knowers.  Aquinas says in this passage that there are very few issues that Philosophers are in agreement. I find this interesting since this is a complaint to reading the Great Books.  A typical complaint is that the authors of the Great Books disagree with each other and the reading of the Great Books lead to relativism. This is a strong argument and has some justification. On the other hand, the disagreements help you to see the different sides of the issue. It also brings you into a conversation that been going on for at least 3,000 years.

It is interesting that Aquinas makes this comment about the disagreements about philosophers and how he organizes the Summa Theologica. He could have wrote the Summa as an exposition of  sacred theology. Instead, he did something different. He introduces different questions people ask about theology. For example, was revelation necessary since we can know something about God based on reason. He lists different answers and objections to the thesis he will argue. He responds to the objections. Personally, I think it is a better educational experience the way he did it.

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