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Author Topic: Aquinas and The Early Fathers (philosophy)  (Read 3556 times) Average Rating: 0
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Seekingthetruth
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« on: August 29, 2007, 08:32:01 PM »

Why is the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas and the Philosophy of the Holy Fathers different?
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« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2007, 08:35:50 PM »

Because Aquinas incorporated Aristotelarian thought into his work.
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« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2007, 08:46:49 PM »

I don't know that I'd use the word 'philosophy' when talking about the Fathers' teachings, but Despina is correct. The Father's never tried to pin down God's existence using logic and reason. The trouble with Aquinas' theories are that if you knock down his foundation, you can disprove the existence of God because his theories are built upon one another. The Father's (and the whole of Orthodox Tradition) uses the word 'Mystery'. A couple of terms that will help you with your question are 'Scholasticism' and 'Apophatism'. Hope that helps....

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« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2007, 04:49:59 PM »

I think that Aquinases work helps us to address a serious question: "If we can't know that God exists, then why believe in him at all?" I think its an excellent question. If I don't know that there is one God, and not many, how can I honestly be a Christian? How can I honestly say I am following the truth if I don't know its the truth? Some might say that we can know the Christian faith is true because of an exerience of God or seeing God in another. However, I don't think that this is good enough. People from every religion claim to have life changing experiences of their gods or spiritual ideas just as Christians do.What Aquinas attempted to do was establish an arguement so that we can be sure that there is one God who is omnipotent, omniscient, unchangning, eternal, perfect, good, loving, etc. Once we know this we can see that this God bears a remarkable resemblance to the God of the Judeo/Christian bible. Whether or not he was successful in doing so is another debate. But his work is an honest attempt to answer an honest question.
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« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2007, 05:09:12 PM »

I think that Aquinases work helps us to address a serious question: "If we can't know that God exists, then why believe in him at all?" I think its an excellent question. If I don't know that there is one God, and not many, how can I honestly be a Christian? How can I honestly say I am following the truth if I don't know its the truth? Some might say that we can know the Christian faith is true because of an exerience of God or seeing God in another. However, I don't think that this is good enough. People from every religion claim to have life changing experiences of their gods or spiritual ideas just as Christians do.What Aquinas attempted to do was establish an arguement so that we can be sure that there is one God who is omnipotent, omniscient, unchangning, eternal, perfect, good, loving, etc. Once we know this we can see that this God bears a remarkable resemblance to the God of the Judeo/Christian bible. Whether or not he was successful in doing so is another debate. But his work is an honest attempt to answer an honest question.
I agree with you that it is a serious question. I've read in a few places that God loves to be investigated, which is obviously what Aquinas was honestly doing. I don't wanna seem callous with the work of a seemingly genuine man; and I think his work has merit. Certainly Orthodox Christians, at some point, should at least look at his work so that they can see the differences with their own theological approach and then they will be able for themselves the original post of why Thomas Aquinas and the Holy Fathers' approach differ...
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« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2007, 05:12:41 PM »

I agree with you that it is a serious question. I've read in a few places that God loves to be investigated, which is obviously what Aquinas was honestly doing. I don't wanna seem callous with the work of a seemingly genuine man; and I think his work has merit. Certainly Orthodox Christians, at some point, should at least look at his work so that they can see the differences with their own theological approach and then they will be able for themselves the original post of why Thomas Aquinas and the Holy Fathers' approach differ...
It is interesting to note that from a Catholic perspective, St. Thomas Aquinas is seen as a Summa of the Fathers. In fact, he often uses the Fathers to support his views.
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« Reply #6 on: August 30, 2007, 06:06:00 PM »

I seem to agree with Papist.  I have trouble seeing why some Orthodox don't see the value in what St. Aquinas was trying to do, even though I may disagree with some of the things he may have written, he does write a lot of valuable works.

I've always advocated the integration of rational, emotional, spiritual, and physical relationship with God.  While the Holy Fathers tended to be spiritual, we cannot forget that they had a rational component into their ideas in trying to prove things like God's existence, that there is one God, that there is no God of evil and God of good, etc.  All these things seem to be based on rational arguments of their times (St. Athanasius commented on how if there was no God, there would be no diversity in creation).  To say that they solely talked about experience would be quite naive, if not downright annoying.  Imagine how much you have to convince someone who already "feels great" praying to Zeus, feeling that peace and grace of Zeus, and saying "well, you probably feel false peace, I pray to the true God, the King of Peace."  In our local church, we had someone who I consider a very influential person who repented from a miserable life of sin, and later on left the Orthodox Church to become Protestant because he just feels the grace of God more there (I looked up to this man too and thought he would make an awesome priest).  Is that the type of "experience" we're encouraging?  I argued with him saying that you can't just have an emotional experience, but a rational one too.

Unless I'm wrong in how the Orthodox consider experience with God and knowing God, I just have trouble understanding that point of view.

God bless.
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« Reply #7 on: August 30, 2007, 06:36:09 PM »

Because Aquinas incorporated Aristotelarian thought into his work.
The reason that I don't have trouble with this is that Aristotelarian logic not just Aristotelarian. It is simply logic. The reason that it is named after him is that he is the first to describe and codify logic in a systematic way.
Another reason that I don't have a problem with this is because his metaphysics need not been seen as "pagan" or "aristotelian". He simply gave names to things that are. For example he describes appearance and apparent outward behavior as accidents. We know accidents exist whether we call them this or not. He termed what a thing really is as substance. Its just a good word to describe something that we know is. He also discusses things like nature and existence and essence. All words he used to describe things that we know are.
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« Reply #8 on: August 30, 2007, 06:49:53 PM »

I seem to agree with Papist.  I have trouble seeing why some Orthodox don't see the value in what St. Aquinas was trying to do, even though I may disagree with some of the things he may have written, he does write a lot of valuable works.

I've always advocated the integration of rational, emotional, spiritual, and physical relationship with God.  While the Holy Fathers tended to be spiritual, we cannot forget that they had a rational component into their ideas in trying to prove things like God's existence, that there is one God, that there is no God of evil and God of good, etc.  All these things seem to be based on rational arguments of their times (St. Athanasius commented on how if there was no God, there would be no diversity in creation).  To say that they solely talked about experience would be quite naive, if not downright annoying.  Imagine how much you have to convince someone who already "feels great" praying to Zeus, feeling that peace and grace of Zeus, and saying "well, you probably feel false peace, I pray to the true God, the King of Peace."  In our local church, we had someone who I consider a very influential person who repented from a miserable life of sin, and later on left the Orthodox Church to become Protestant because he just feels the grace of God more there (I looked up to this man too and thought he would make an awesome priest).  Is that the type of "experience" we're encouraging?  I argued with him saying that you can't just have an emotional experience, but a rational one too.

Unless I'm wrong in how the Orthodox consider experience with God and knowing God, I just have trouble understanding that point of view.

God bless.

I see this situation happen with a lot of converts in christianity people come in because it is the true church but people leave because they have an "emotional" experience somewhere and decide to leave, satan gives these people ideas that if there not "feeling God" here it must be wrong!
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« Reply #9 on: August 30, 2007, 06:56:54 PM »

A big part of the issue with Aquinas (and those who followed in that tradition) is in how people interpret his writings.  There is the danger of believing in God because of an argument. 

Western philosophy has for some time grappled with theistic arguments (cosmological, teleological, and so on).  These are fine to consider, but many (most?) people today misinterpret them as being necessary to faith.  When I was in college, I saw more than one person lose his faith after encountering atheist philosophical arguments for the first time.  We're not talking about particularly good arguments either.  The issue was that these people based their belief on naive philosophical arguments, and were unprepared for the existence of counter-arguments.

There is truth in many of the theistic arguments, such as Aquinas's.  However, they become dangerous if we accept the view that they are in some way necessary for "rational belief". 
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« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2007, 09:43:22 PM »

The reason that I don't have trouble with this is that Aristotelarian logic not just Aristotelarian. It is simply logic. The reason that it is named after him is that he is the first to describe and codify logic in a systematic way.
Another reason that I don't have a problem with this is because his metaphysics need not been seen as "pagan" or "aristotelian". He simply gave names to things that are. For example he describes appearance and apparent outward behavior as accidents. We know accidents exist whether we call them this or not. He termed what a thing really is as substance. Its just a good word to describe something that we know is. He also discusses things like nature and existence and essence. All words he used to describe things that we know are.


It may be commonly labeled as Aristotelarian because of other [popular] logic of the day, such as neo-Platonic (even though it's popularity didn't reach 'til about 100-200 years post-Aquinas).
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« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2007, 09:48:01 PM »

A big part of the issue with Aquinas (and those who followed in that tradition) is in how people interpret his writings.  There is the danger of believing in God because of an argument. 

Western philosophy has for some time grappled with theistic arguments (cosmological, teleological, and so on).  These are fine to consider, but many (most?) people today misinterpret them as being necessary to faith.  When I was in college, I saw more than one person lose his faith after encountering atheist philosophical arguments for the first time.  We're not talking about particularly good arguments either.  The issue was that these people based their belief on naive philosophical arguments, and were unprepared for the existence of counter-arguments.

There is truth in many of the theistic arguments, such as Aquinas's.  However, they become dangerous if we accept the view that they are in some way necessary for "rational belief". 
I agree with a great deal  of what you have said. However, I am just curious. What do you mean "rational belief" and what do you believe is necessary for such faith.
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« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2007, 11:18:50 PM »

I agree with a great deal  of what you have said. However, I am just curious. What do you mean "rational belief" and what do you believe is necessary for such faith.

Basically I mean a belief that a person is justified in holding.  An evidentialist will say that you need to be able to produce public evidence for belief in God, and will treat Aquinas' arguments as some sort of mathematical proof.  Some people think that Christian philosophers have produced such proofs (as in the Cosmological Argument).  But even if they have, accepting the "evidentialist challenge" means that the vast majority of Christians throughout history have believed irrationally, since they did not have access to the arguments. 

Belief in Christianity can come about through methods which can't be examined by others at all.  For instance, many people have been converted by experiences or visions (St Paul, for instance).  There are many examples of such conversions in modern times, particularly of former atheists in the USSR.  To someone who thinks that philosophical proofs are required, these people are not justified in their belief.
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« Reply #13 on: August 31, 2007, 08:49:43 AM »

Belief in Christianity can come about through methods which can't be examined by others at all.  For instance, many people have been converted by experiences or visions (St Paul, for instance).

There were also many people who converted because of the "philosophy of Christianity," like Athenagoras or Clement.  St. Catherine of Alexandria converted pagans through her reasoning and arguments before being martyred.  St. Justin Martyr by rational means saw how the Christians were unafraid from death, which means there had to be something going on, and then he converted St. Tatian.  St. Paul himself converted people by his strong and philosophical speeches.  People have used phrases like "agreeable to reason" to justify certain moral decisions.  Pope St. Sextus for instance writes, "The eating of animals is a matter of indifference; but to abstain from them is more agreeable to reason."

While Aquinas developed a different method of using reason, this by no means does not prove all Christians before him were irrational.  Papist also makes the point that Aquinas is considered "summa," in that he utilizes the Holy Fathers as part of his reasoning.

God bless.
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« Reply #14 on: August 31, 2007, 11:10:49 PM »

There were also many people who converted because of the "philosophy of Christianity," like Athenagoras or Clement.  St. Catherine of Alexandria converted pagans through her reasoning and arguments before being martyred.  St. Justin Martyr by rational means saw how the Christians were unafraid from death, which means there had to be something going on, and then he converted St. Tatian.  St. Paul himself converted people by his strong and philosophical speeches.  People have used phrases like "agreeable to reason" to justify certain moral decisions.  Pope St. Sextus for instance writes, "The eating of animals is a matter of indifference; but to abstain from them is more agreeable to reason."

While Aquinas developed a different method of using reason, this by no means does not prove all Christians before him were irrational.  Papist also makes the point that Aquinas is considered "summa," in that he utilizes the Holy Fathers as part of his reasoning.

God bless.
Brothers and sisters, I never meant to insinuate that Thomas Aquinas' works are to be avoided by Orthodox. Reason does, and must, play an important part in our theology. Father Kalistos Ware rightly says in The Orthodox Church that the West has relied too much exclusively on reason where the East has perhaps relied too much exclusively on experience. I forget the analogy that he uses, but basically he says that we need both and I agree. I still feel that the exclusive use of one, while downplaying the other, isn't a wise decision. No doubt reasoning can help a person make a more informed decision, but it will only take one so far. I can talk with you all day about a mango, but sooner or later you'll have to experience the taste first hand before you 'understand'.
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« Reply #15 on: September 01, 2007, 01:27:03 AM »

Brothers and sisters, I never meant to insinuate that Thomas Aquinas' works are to be avoided by Orthodox. Reason does, and must, play an important part in our theology. Father Kalistos Ware rightly says in The Orthodox Church that the West has relied too much exclusively on reason where the East has perhaps relied too much exclusively on experience. I forget the analogy that he uses, but basically he says that we need both and I agree. I still feel that the exclusive use of one, while downplaying the other, isn't a wise decision. No doubt reasoning can help a person make a more informed decision, but it will only take one so far. I can talk with you all day about a mango, but sooner or later you'll have to experience the taste first hand before you 'understand'.
AMEN!!! I couldn't agree more.
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« Reply #16 on: September 01, 2007, 04:21:53 PM »

Brothers and sisters, I never meant to insinuate that Thomas Aquinas' works are to be avoided by Orthodox. Reason does, and must, play an important part in our theology. Father Kalistos Ware rightly says in The Orthodox Church that the West has relied too much exclusively on reason where the East has perhaps relied too much exclusively on experience. I forget the analogy that he uses, but basically he says that we need both and I agree. I still feel that the exclusive use of one, while downplaying the other, isn't a wise decision. No doubt reasoning can help a person make a more informed decision, but it will only take one so far. I can talk with you all day about a mango, but sooner or later you'll have to experience the taste first hand before you 'understand'.

I totally agree too!  Amen to that brother!
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« Reply #17 on: September 11, 2007, 10:47:02 AM »

For what it's worth, here is St. Gennadios Scholarios' introduction to his summary of St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa contra Gentiles:

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"The present book is a summary of two books, on of that against the Gentiles, or those heresies which oppose the truth, the other the first part of the Summa Theologiae of which there are three parts.  We have taken up the labor of such a summary on account of our great love for these two books.  We have put these things together which we had written out before our captivity, and later rediscovered in the diaspora.  Since they are in no wise of an easily transportable size on account of the breadth and size of the chapters and questions, and of the fullness of the precise arguments contained in them, and since this our unfortunate life after our national disaster lavishes on us wanderings and distasteful goings and comings, and being unable to carry about so great a weight of books, of necessity and for no other ambition we have made a project of this summary so that it can suffice for us and for anyone else who is well versed in them, in place of the complete books.  The author of these books is a Latin by birth and so he adheres to the dogma of that church as an inheritance; this is only human.  But he is a wise man, and is inferior to none of those who are perfect in wisdom among men.  He wrote most especially as a commentator of Aristotelian philosophy, and of the Old and New Testaments.  Most of the principal conclusions of both Sacred Theology and philosophy are seen in his books, almost all of which we have studied, both the few which were translated by others into the Greek language, and their Latin originals, some of which we ourselves have translated into our own tongue.  (But alas! All our labor was in vain, for we were about to suffer along with the fatherland which perished on account of our wickedness, the divine mercy being unable to hold out any longer against the divine justice.)  In all the aforesaid areas this wise man is most excellent, as the best interpreter and synthesizer in those matters in which his church agrees with ours.  In those things wherein that church and he differ from us-they are few in number-namely on the procession of the Holy Spirit and the divine essence and energies, in these not only do we observe the dogma of our fatherland, but we have even fought for it in many books.  Our zeal even to the shedding of blood for our dogmas is evident to all men, both friends and enemies, and the whole world is filled with the books we have produced against those who deny them.  Glory be to God in all things!"

also, from the same work:

"Would O excellent Thomas that you had not been born in the West.  Then you would not have needed to defend the deviations of the church there…you would have been as perfect in theology as you are in ethics."

In light of such pronouncements, I'm perplexed by the opposition the neopatristic synthesizers brook against a theologian working very much in the spirit of St. Photios, or St. John of Damaskos.

I'd recommend reading Fr. Hugh Barbour's article (http://www.balkanstudies.org/1998/barber.htm#_ftn4) where he treats of this theme.
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« Reply #18 on: September 11, 2007, 11:42:03 AM »

Thank you for that quote.  That was very interesting.
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« Reply #19 on: December 25, 2012, 04:08:10 PM »

It may be commonly labeled as Aristotelarian because of other [popular] logic of the day, such as neo-Platonic (even though it's popularity didn't reach 'til about 100-200 years post-Aquinas).

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