Tag: Thomas Aquinas

How to Raise a Sane Child

Rule Number One: Don’t be a Nominalist

My three-year-old son Jack received a menagerie of thirty-some plastic animals at Christmas to go with the dozen or so he already owned. He played with his “anmuls” constantly, carrying them around in different containers (wagon, bag, box, hat) and setting them up in odd places, like the piano.

One night he came running to me, terribly excited, saying I had to see a surprise in his room. It turns out that he and his big sister, Abbie (5), had put the animals on the dresser. But not in a haphazard fashion. In Jack’s awe-filled words: (the “r” is soft in Jack’s pronunciation): “See, yions, tigus, cheeeetahs! El’phants, then hippos. Dogs. See, yitto (i.e., “little”) anmuls then big anmuls, see!”

In short, Jack, with Abbie’s help, had arranged all the animals close together based on species and roughly in order of size. The elephants and hippos were first, followed by the various big cats, then horses and zebras and similar animals like deer and antelopes, then dogs.

It was riveting stuff for ol’ Jack.

Gilson and the Problem of Universals

By chance, I had just come upstairs after reading from Etienne Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophical Experience. I had been reading Chapter III, “The Road to Skepticism,” which deals with the problem of universals.… Read the rest

Sobriety is a Sin?

The Friday “Drinking Matters” Column (BYCU)

wine glass with red wine
Photo by Posawee Suwannaphati on Pexels.com

Sunday marks the Feast Day of Thomas Aquinas. Well, not really. It was his Feast Day until 1969, when “they” moved it to January 28th (apparently, so it wouldn’t fall during Lent).

In his Summa Theologica, he wrote that “if a man were knowingly to abstain from wine to the extent of molesting nature grievously, he would not be free from sin.”

Many years ago, when I was the editor of Gilbert Magazine, this passage prompted an email-chain discussion about whether Aquinas thought teetotalling is a sin. At least one of the participants said that wasn’t Aquinas’ position. Aquinas’ position is that every extreme that gives rise to sin must have a countervailing sin on the other extreme. So, for instance, cowardice is a sin, but so is reckless disregard for one’s safety. In this case, Aquinas pointed out that drunkenness is a sin, so there must be a sin on the other extreme, and that’s all he was saying. He wasn’t articulating what, exactly, that sin consists of, other than, if you abstain to the extent of molesting your nature, you’re in sin.

That makes sense to me.

Though it should be noted that tetotalling is a sin. Abstaining is not a sin, but teetotalling is. The difference is, tetotalling is refusal to drink alcohol on grounds that it’s evil. It’s a type of ancient Gnosticism (which thought creation evil). Abstinence, on the other hand, is a refusal to drink alcohol in pursuit of something better. The person who abstains doesn’t believe alcohol is evil, anymore than a person who declines to reads newspapers because he’d rather read more substantive fare thinks that newspapers are evil.… Read the rest

Pulling Thomas Aquinas Kicking and Screaming into the Twentieth Century

Josef Pieper’s views during the neo-Thomistic movement.

empty street in old town
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There are some authors who make you think, “I could read this guy, and just this guy, for the rest of my life. He’d bring me to greater and greater levels of wisdom and understanding.”

For me, the German philosopher Josef Pieper (1904–1997) is such a writer. He wrote in the Scholastic vein and was squarely within the Catholic neo-Thomistic movement of the mid-twentieth century.

A modernist might think, “How can a person steeped in Thomas Aquinas be relevant? Aquinas lived in the thirteenth-century, which was at least 50 years before Netflix.”

Pieper wrote for that kind of person.

Pieper, like Aquinas, was concerned about the truth: statements that correspond as closely as possible to reality. Truth is relevant to every age, including the modern one, contrary claims of our postmodernist friends notwithstanding. 

Granted, it’s necessary for the reader to take those truths and apply them to her life, to put them into the current cultural milieu. That’s not always easy, but the truths themselves are always relevant.

Fortunately, Pieper himself often put those truths into a modern context for his readers.

In his late twenties, he was fascinated by social problems and began to pursue studies in law and sociology, but it was the era of Nazi Germany. Such studies were, ahem, frowned upon.

So in 1934, he returned to his pursuit of Thomistic philosophy, but with the goal to make it comprehensible (relevant) to the modern person and social problems. 

Thick little books.” That’s how Hans Urs von Balthasar described Pieper’s works.

You can’t get through a Pieper book quickly any more than you can fly through poetry, or run through an art museum, or gulp fine wine. All such things are possible, … Read the rest

Twelve Aquinas Aphorisms

Simple observations from the medieval poster boy will give you new perspectives

The famous historian Will Durant ranked Thomas Aquinas as the fourth greatest thinker of all time.

When I saw that, I was shocked. Aquinas is the Catholic thinker extraordinaire. He is a canonized saint. His nickname is “The Angelic Doctor.”

Durant wasn’t impressed by such things, to say the least.

An Aside: Will Durant

A quick detour about Will Durant might be helpful to explain why it’s significant that he respected Aquinas so much.

Durant is best known for his monumental 11-volume The Story of Civilization, but he first made his name with the publication of The Story of Philosophy, which became an unlikely bestseller, selling 2,000,000 copies in the 1920s.

The book doesn’t have much Aquinas, and that’s an understatement. Its chapters jump from Aristotle (d. 322 BCE) to Francis Bacon (d. 1626 CE). The 2,000 years in-between receive only nine pages (out of 540). Thinkers like Epictetus, Augustine, Boethius, and Aquinas are mentioned only once or not at all.

It’s not surprising. Most of those missed years are conventionally known as the “Middle Ages” and they were in thorough disrepute during much of the twentieth century. If you told someone in the 1920s that you were studying the Middle Ages, she would’ve looked at you like someone would look at you today if you told her you’re studying VHS tapes.

Durant was raised Catholic. As a teenager, he planned on becoming a priest and enrolled at the Seton Hall University seminary in 1909. He spent a lot of time at the seminary library, diving into the likes of Darwin and Huxley, and lost his faith. Like many youngsters who lose their naïve faith, he embraced radical politics and atheism, turning against Catholicism.

So when … Read the rest