A Return to Thomism

This is the third article in my anthropology series, “Created in the Image and Likeness of God”.

Modern man has lost sight of himself.  He walks down the city pavement searching for success, fame and fortune, but without knowing how to get there or whether it will really bring him happiness in the end.

And when I say he has lost sight of himself, for many modern persons, it is not that they have completely lost sight of themselves.  For many people today, it’s not that they have lost sight of their whole selves.  But what they have done, is they have focused so much on one aspect of themselves to the exclusion and neglect of other facets of their person.

Many people turn to self-help books, psychology, psychoanalysis, philosophy, meditation, mindfulness and other trendy movements in search for guidance on what it means to be a human being.  But what many of these disciplines lack is a complete, coherent account of the human person.  Some of them provide partial accounts but do not give the whole picture, like psychology.  Others, provide a momentary sense of relief from the anxiety and pain caused by questions of existence, like meditation, but do not result in conscious knowledge and awareness of who and what we are.

Even many of today’s religions, valuable as they are for the spiritual and ritual practices they provide that bring structure and order to life, do not address the problem of man directly: who is man?  Where does he come from?  Where is he going?  Why was he created?

Christianity in particular has been lacking in the answers it has provided to these questions.  Reluctant to open itself to the modern discipline of psychology, it has tried to provide cookie-cutter solutions to problems that require a multi-faceted approach and a broad understanding of the human person.

In particular, many theologians and philosophers have been reluctant to theorize new philosophies that address the many ethical and spiritual problems that modern man faces.  Furthermore, they have not even attempted to develop and further the tried and tested philosophies provided to us by antiquity or the medieval ages.  I think they have lacked courage, but they also have not allowed themselves to be moved by the Holy Spirit.

For surely, it can only have been God’s Spirit that moved the Wisdom writers of the Old Testament.  Only an inspiration from God could have given Plato the insight to write his dialogues and compose the beautiful ode to love found in the Symposium.

Similarly, only God’s Holy Spirit could have guided the great medieval philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas, while he was writing his Summa Theologiae.

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“St Thomas was called the Doctor Angelicus, perhaps because of his virtues, in particular the loftiness of his thought and purity of life.” – Pope Benedict XVI.

This work in particular has been neglected by modern philosophers, theologians and intellectuals.  Sure, there have been notable champions of Thomism in the likes of Etienne Gilson and Karl Rahner.  But their dedication and commitment to intellectual rigor seems to be the exception rather than the norm.  Their voices drowned out amid a chorus of phenomenologists, existentialists and materialists.

I am not bashing these more modern philosophies.  They have introduced many new concepts to Catholicism, and have yielded fruit in the works of Dietrich Von Hildebrand and St. John Paul II.  But I am saying that the willingness of Catholic theologians to adopt philosophies, some of whose fundamental principles are in contradiction with the truth as revealed by faith and Scripture, may be the cause of the shallowness of our anthropology and the resultant confusion among the faithful.

St. Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy is very balanced, and can provide answers to many of the questions posed by modern man.

So far we have looked at his doctrine of the unity of body and soul.  Man is a unity.  He is a single being.  Because of the first sin, there was a disintegration in this unity, but this unity is restored in the Crucifixion.  Christ destroyed sin, and payed the price of sin for us, in his own body.  And because of this payment, and His Resurrection, he has bought our safety and opened eternal life to human kind.  As St. Paul, says “You surely know that your body is a temple where the Holy Spirit lives.  The Spirit is in you and is a gift from God.  You are no longer your own.  God paid a great price for you.  So use your body to honour God” (1 Corinthians 6: 19 – 20).  His body and blood, living after the Resurrection, now provide us with life and sustenance in our spiritual journey.

We have also looked at the division of powers of the soul.  The five powers of the human soul are the vegetative, the sensitive, the locomotive, the appetitive and the intellectual.  We will look a little further at each of these powers as they relate to man in the next article.  After that, we will focus on the appetitive and intellectual powers, and how we can integrate these with the rest of our nature, to practice virtue and grow in the universal call to perfection in charity.

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