University. The word is derived from the Latin universitas magistrorum et scholarium, which roughly means "community of teachers and scholars." Prior to their creation, apprentices were taught in separate guilds; there was no "one place" you could go to for any and all learning. And most scholarly work (if you can call it that) took place in monasteries where Christian dogma was passed down unchallenged during the 500-600 years after the fall of Rome. Finally though, around 1080 AD, “scholasticism" was introduced into religious studies by Anselm who wanted to use reason to (ontologically) prove the existence of his god and thereby justify all the monastic work that had gone toward that belief. These new scholastics became focused on applying logic and facts about natural processes to biblical passages in an attempt to prove their viability. This became the primary mission of lecturers, and the expectation of students in monasteries. As more and more of the products of these monasteries interacted with the world though, reason finally leaked into the general public. All over Europe "rulers and city governments began to create universities to satisfy a European thirst for knowledge and the belief that society would benefit from the scholarly expertise generated from these institutions. Princes and leaders of city governments perceived the potential benefits of having a scholarly expertise develop with the ability to address difficult problems and achieve desired ends." The first universities in Europe were thus formed in Bologna (1088), Paris (1150), Oxford (1167), Modena (1175), Palencia (1208), Cambridge (1209), Salamanca (1218), Montpellier (1220), Padua (1222), Naples (1224), and Toulouse (1229). The rediscovery of Aristotle's works during this time (which we saw in the story of Averroes last week) also fuelled this general spirit of rational inquiry that had now re-emerged into the world.
Also emerging into this world, just after the 10th ever university was founded, was Thomas Aquinas. Born in 1225 in Roccasecca, a small village midway between Rome and Naples, Aquinas "lived at a critical juncture of western culture when the arrival of the Aristotelian corpus in Latin translation reopened the question of the relation between faith and reason that had remained intact for centuries." The fact that this crisis flared up just as universities were being founded meant that Aquinas (who came from a wealthy family intent on educating him) was well positioned to study these questions of faith and reason and ended up becoming the one to find a new way of coexisting between these two poles. The result was one that survived in secular society until the rise of physics tore the religious universe apart. Even today though, in the religious world, Aquinas is "honored as a saint by the Catholic Church and is held to be the model teacher for those studying for the priesthood. In modern times, under papal directives, the study of his works have long been used as a core of the required program of study for those seeking ordination as priests or deacons, as well as for those in religious formation and for other students of the sacred disciplines (Catholic philosophy, theology, history, liturgy, and canon law)."
This sounds crazy, relying on 13th century writings for modern education, until you realise that religion does not use evidence to progress and Aquinas led the way for that stagnation with quotes such as:
To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.
This perfectly illustrates the unbridgeable divide between the faithful and the secular that has kept religion mired in simplistic thinking for thousands of years. I sometimes grow weary of entering the religious debate over and over, but it is worth remembering this quote from Aquinas to find the strength to continue on:
Better to illuminate than merely to shine, to deliver to others contemplated truths than merely to contemplate.
Isn't that a good motto for philosophers to follow. And like the unsettled times that Aquinas lived in, when Aristotelean reason butted heads with Christian faith, our current information age is a new time of diverse ideas coming together. Like the universities that brought communities of scholars together for the first time, the internet is now bringing together vast new universes of knowledge that are mixing together and being distilled for truth. Those who take the time to open-mindedly contemplate the diverse beliefs that existed in their own niches for hundreds or thousands of years can eventually discover the truths that survive the competition of combination and appraisal. Once that task is done, those truths must, as Aquinas said, be shared to illuminate others who remain stuck in their secluded mindsets. I'll continue my own efforts now to illuminate—and to find others who can illuminate me—by sharing my analysis of how Aquinas fared in my survival of the fittest philosophers. Please point out to me where I am wrong so that I may cease being wrong as soon as possible.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 CE) was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism. The works for which he is best known are the Summa Theologica and the Summa Contra Gentiles. He is considered the Church's greatest theologian and philosopher.
Needs to Adapt
Aquinas was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology. Natural theology is a branch of theology based on reason and ordinary experience. Thus it is distinguished from revealed theology (or revealed religion), which is based on scripture and religious experiences of various kinds. At least this continued the crack in religious leadership that allowed the light of the scientific method to eventually shine through.
Aquinas defined the four cardinal virtues as prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. There are, however, three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. These are supernatural and are distinct from other virtues in their object, namely, God. The four cardinal virtues do fold into the six categories of virtue enumerated by positive psychology. Hope and charity are contained in two other categories. Faith, if defined as belief in positivity, is a virtue. The religious definition of faith though - belief without proof - is a detriment to life and therefore a vice. None of these virtues are supernatural. All are evolved behaviors that aid in the continued life of the species.
Thomas believed that the existence of God is neither obvious nor unprovable. In the Summa Theologica, he considered in great detail five reasons for the existence of God, which he termed the Quinque Viaa or Five Ways. (1) The argument of the unmoved mover. Infinite regression questions leave us with the same question, not god as an answer. We still don’t know how the universe began. (2) The argument of the first cause. This is the same infinite regression that leads us back to the question of what happened before the Big Bang. (3) The argument from contingency. Even if something has always existed, there is nothing to say that it is a god who designed the universe and watches over us. (4) The argument from degree. Actually, there is no evidence of varying degrees of perfection. There is only change and adaptation to the environment in order to remain alive. (5) The teleological argument. This precursor of intelligent design ignores the ignorance of life and the blindness of evolution. For those that cannot adapt, the universe is a changing place with no mercy. The search for a proof for the existence of god continues without success.
In Thomas's thought, the goal of human existence is union and eternal fellowship with God. Specifically, this goal is achieved through the beatific vision, an event in which a person experiences perfect, unending happiness by seeing the very essence of God. This vision, which occurs after death, is a gift from God given to those who have experienced salvation and redemption through Christ while living on earth. How sad that the purpose of life was thought to be death. The meaning of life is to live! With further definitions, religion can allow for long-term thinking and living a good life, but the false promises lead too often to wasted sacrifice, missed opportunities, and enabling self-destructive behavior.
Aquinas believed that truth is known through reason (natural revelation) and faith (supernatural revelation). Supernatural revelation (faith) and natural revelation (reason) are complementary rather than contradictory in nature, for they pertain to the same unity: truth. When supernatural revelations contradict each other, they cannot be said to contain any elements of truth. By definition, no supernatural revelation can ever be proven to be better than any other supernatural revelation. Reason is still the only path to truth.
Aquinas never considered himself a philosopher, and criticized philosophers, whom he saw as pagans, for always "falling short of the true and proper wisdom to be found in Christian revelation.” This philosopher is happy to exclude Aquinas from our ranks. Christian revelation falls well short of the wisdom and truth discovered by philosophy and science.
So the world went to university and Christianity immediately and forever found its highest thinker. But he wasn't very bright. Meanwhile, universities went on and on with their own discoveries, and so shall we...