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Excerpts: Why Aquinasnext

street map
Illustration of medieval Paris in the time of Aquinas with still extant medieval streets shown in yellow.

Church and Monastery of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, Rome

quoteNext to St. Paul and St. Augustine, no one has had a bigger impact on Christian thinking than Aquinas. It’s hard to get any more orthodox. Yet for anyone who loves science and the way it illuminates the world, he is also a great find. In counterpoint to much that pours forth from the upper reaches of the Church’s hierarchy, he says that the world is good and holy—a joyous, rationally coherent place. He says that as thinking creatures, we must use reason to understand the world. He says that when we do, what we learn will always be coherent with faith; if it isn’t, then we’ve either got a bug in our reasoning or a misunderstanding of our faith. He says truth cannot contradict truth. He says that morality consists of rules for flourishing. He says our conscience must always be our guide. He sees healing as the first step of grace.


If you don’t think that God is an old guy on the throne, that’s fine, neither does Aquinas. For him, God is the mysterious cause of our very being, thinking us into existence. Do you think that the world is a good and majestic place? Good. So does Aquinas. He thinks that it is in fact a holy place, since it is God’s creation, and God is present everywhere and in everything. His concept of providence, which sees the universe in the process of a constant unfolding, fits quite nicely with what science tells us about evolution. And how about human flourishing to the happy state of knowing and loving God as our ultimate purpose, with morality designed to get us there? Seeing happiness as the ultimate purpose of morality is a remarkably clarifying idea, a fine way to scrutinize and reevaluate so much of what has been taken to be Catholic orthodoxy. He’s just what we need to provide the coherent framework we’ve been missing to make faith intelligible.


He was a master of the medieval technique of disputation, a method of debate requiring opponents to not only articulate their own arguments, but state opposing arguments, and accept or refute them point by point. ... The medievals were way ahead of us with this style of debate. Imagine if disputations took place today on all those “forbidden” topics not dealt with at Vatican II—birth control, mandatory celibacy, the reform of the Roman Curia, the formation of an ongoing collegial organization for bishops, the ordination of women. What a different Church it would be.