Yesterday we got busy with the first two “Ways Aquinas Surprised Us (With Proofs!).” Today, we punch out Ways #3-5:
Way #3. He lived in a deadly world – Life in those Medieval Italian city-states was no joke. Men carried weapons; women didn’t travel. When Aquinas worries about the immortality of the soul it’s because bodies are dying all around. His oldest brother joined a Crusade and was kidnapped by a warlord in Cyprus. Another brother was executed for treason. A sister was literally hit by lightning. Ten students of a lecturer on Aristotle in Paris were burned at the city gates. Aquinas argued against Cathars and the Pope declared a Crusade on behalf of France against these people … who were French!
Way #4. He worshipped a pagan – Calling Aquinas an Aristotelian is really understating it. He adopted Aristotle into Christianity with a Xerox machine. It’s harder than it looks. The Philosopher – as Aquinas called him – was not particularly religious. Yet Aquinas bought Aristotle’s view that knowledge starts with our senses, we can look at effects and get causes, the soul is what gives life to the body, and practice makes good habits (ethics). His primary proof for God’s existence, the “Unmoved Mover,” comes right out of Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” (Book XII) and “Physics” (Books VII and VIII).
Way #5. The end of his life was bizarre – In 1273, when Thomas was 49, teaching and finishing up the “Summa” in Naples, he attended the Mass of St. Nicholas. Something happened there. What? We don’t know. But he stopped writing. Just stopped. And told his assistant: “Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to be like straw.” Three months later, he was dead.
* For a really great fictional treatment of life in Medieval Italy, try to find Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho” – it’s a well-known Gothic written around 1800 and has castles, devious Catholics, women in distress, shifty noblemen … delicious 😉