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Thomism n : the comprehensive theological doctrine created by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century and still taught by the Dominicans

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  1. philosophy theology The philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas.

Extensive Definition

Thomism is the philosophical school that arose as a legacy of the work and thought of Thomas Aquinas. The word comes from the name of its originator, whose Summa Theologica is arguably second only to the Bible in importance to the Roman Catholic Church. In the encyclical Doctoris Angelici, Pope Pius X cautioned that the teachings of the Church cannot be understood scientifically without the basic philosophical underpinnings of Aquinas's major thesis.
The capital theses in the philosophy of St. Thomas are not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church.
The Second Vatican Council described Aquinas's system as the "Perennial Philosophy" .

Thomistic philosophy


Aquinas worked to create a philosophical system which integrated Christian doctrine with elements taken from Aristotelianism. Generally, he augmented the neoplatonic view of philosophy which, after Augustine, had become tremendously influential among medieval philosophers, with insights drawn from Aristotle. In this he was greatly influenced by his reading of earlier and contemporary Islamic philosophers, especially the works of Avicenna (see Avicennism), Algazel, and Averroes (see Averroism), though he rejected Averroes' primary conclusions and themes. Aquinas is, therefore, generally agreed to have moved the focus of Scholastic philosophy from Plato to Aristotle. The extent to which he was successful in doing this is still debated.

Distinctive ideas

With the decree "Postquam sanctissimus" of 27 July 1914, Pope Pius X declared that 24 theses formulated by "teachers from various institutions ... clearly contain the principles and more important thoughts" of Aquinas. They represent an admirable summary of Aquinas's system.
1 . Potency and Act divide being in such a way that whatever is, is either pure act, or of necessity it is composed of potency and act as primary and intrinsic principles. 2. Since act is perfection, it is not limited except through a potency which itself is a capacity for perfection. Hence in any order in which an act is pure act, it will only exist, in that order, as a unique and unlimited act. But whenever it is finite and manifold, it has entered into a true composition with potency. 3. Consequently, the one God, unique and simple, alone subsists in absolute being. All other things that participate in being have a nature whereby their being is restricted; they are constituted of essence and being, as really distinct principles. 4. A thing is called a being because of "esse". God and creature are not called beings univocally, nor wholly equivocally, but analogically, by an analogy both of attribution and of proportionality. 5. In every creature there is also a real composition of the subsisting subject and of added secondary forms, i.e. accidental forms. Such composition cannot be understood unless being is really received in an essence distinct from it. 6. Besides the absolute accidents there is also the relative accident, relation. Although by reason of its own character relation does not signify anything inhering in another, it nevertheless often has a cause in things, and hence a real entity distinct from the subject. 7. A spiritual creature is wholly simple in its essence. Yet there is still a twofold composition in the spiritual creature, namely, that of the essence with being, and that of the substance with accidents. 8. However, the corporeal creature is composed of act and potency even in its very essence. These act and potency in the order of essence are designated by the names form and matter respectively.
9. Neither the matter nor the form have being of themselves, nor are they produced or corrupted of themselves, nor are they included in any category otherwise than reductively, as substantial principles. 10. Although extension in quantitative parts follows upon a corporeal nature, nevertheless it is not the same for a body to be a substance and for it to be quantified. For of itself substance is indivisible, not indeed as a point is indivisible, but as that which falls outside the order of dimensions is indivisible. But quantity, which gives the substance extension, really differs from the substance and is truly an accident. 11. The principle of individuation, i.e., of numerical distinction of one individual from another with the same specific nature, is matter designated by quantity. Thus in pure spirits there cannot be more than individual in the same specific nature. 12. By virtue of a body's quantity itself, the body is circumscriptively in a place, and in one place alone circumscriptively, no matter what power might be brought to bear. 13. Bodies are divided into two groups; for some are living and others are devoid of life. In the case of the living things, in order that there be in the same subject an essentially moving part and an essentially moved part, the substantial form, which is designated by the name soul, requires an organic disposition, i.e. heterogeneous parts.
14. Souls in the vegetative and sensitive orders cannot subsist of themselves, nor are they produced of themselves. Rather, they are no more than principles whereby the living thing exists and lives; and since they are wholly dependent upon matter, they are incidentally corrupted through the corruption of the composite. 15. On the other hand, the human soul subsists of itself. When it can be infused into a sufficiently disposed subject, it is created by God. By its very nature, it is incorruptible and immortal. 16. This rational soul is united to the body in such a manner that it is the only substantial form of the body. By virtue of his soul a man is a man, an animal, a living thing, a body, a substance and a being. Therefore the soul gives man every essential degree of perfection; moreover, it gives the body a share in the act of being whereby it itself exists. 17. From the human soul there naturally issue forth powers pertaining to two orders, the organic and the non-organic. The organic powers, among which are the senses, have the composite as their subject. The non-organic powers have the soul alone as their subject. Hence, the intellect is a power intrinsically independent of any bodily organ. 18. Intellectuality necessarily follows upon immateriality, and furthermore, in such manner that the further the distance from matter, the higher the degree of intellectuality. Any being is the adequate object of understanding in general. But in the present state of union of soul and body, quantities abstracted from the material conditions of individuality are the proper object of the human intellect. 19. Therefore, we receive knowledge from sensible things. But since sensible things are not actually intelligible, in addition to the intellect, which formally understands, an active power must be acknowledged in the soul, which power abstracts intelligible likeness or species from sense images in the imagination. 20. Through these intelligible likenesses or species we directly know universals, i.e. the natures of things. We attain to singulars by our senses, and also by our intellect, when it beholds the sense images. But we ascend to knowledge of spiritual things by analogy. 21. The will does not precede the intellect but follows upon it. The will necessarily desires that which is presented to it as a good in every respect satisfying the appetite. But it freely chooses among the many goods that are presented to it as desirable according to a changeable judgment or evaluation. Consequently, the choice follows the final practical judgment. But the will is the cause of it being the final one.
22. We do not perceive by an immediate intuition that God exists, nor do we prove it a priori. But we do prove it a posteriori, i.e., from the things that have been created, following an argument from the effects to the cause: namely, from things which are moved and cannot be the adequate source of their motion, to a first unmoved mover; from the production of the things in this world by causes subordinated to one another, to a first uncaused cause; from corruptible things which equally might be or not be, to an absolutely necessary being; from things which more or less are, live, and understand, according to degrees of being, living and understanding, to that which is maximally understanding, maximally living and maximally a being; finally, from the order of all things, to a separated intellect which has ordered and organized things, and directs them to their end. 23. The metaphysical motion of the Divine Essence is correctly expressed by saying that it is identified with the exercised actuality of its own being, or that it is subsistent being itself. And this is the reason for its infinite and unlimited perfection. 24. By reason of the very purity of His being, God is distinguished from all finite beings. Hence it follows, in the first place, that the world could only have come from God by creation; secondly, that not even by way of a miracle can any finite nature be given creative power, which of itself directly attains the very being of any being; and finally, that no created agent can in any way influence the being of any effect unless it has itself been moved by the first Cause.

Thomistic Metaphysics

Proving God's Existence

In his Summa theologiae (Ia, q. 2, a. 3), Aquinas offers five "ways" of proving the existence of God. Since these ways are mere sketches, they are best understood within the context of his complete philosophical system. What follows below, therefore, is a mere summary of each way. Aquinas offers far more metaphysical explanations for the existence of God in De Ente et Essentia and elsewhere.
The First Way
(Prime Mover) "It is clear that there are in this world things which are moved. Now, every object which is moved receives that movement from another. If the motor is itself moved, there must be another motor moving it, and after that yet another, and so on. But it is impossible to go on indefinitely, for then there would be no first motor at all, and consequently no movement" ("Contra Gentiles," ii. 33). This proof, like much of Thomas Aquinas's thought, is taken from Aristotle, whose "unmoved mover" forms the first recorded example of the cosmological argument for the existence of God.
The Second Way
"We discern in all sensible things a certain chain of efficient causes. We find, however, nothing which is its own efficient cause, for that cause would then be anterior to itself. On the other side, it is impossible to ascend from cause to cause indefinitely in the series of efficient causes....There must therefore exist one self-sufficient , efficient cause, and that is God" ("Contra Gent." i. 22).
The Third Way
"We find in nature things which may be and may not be, since there are some who are born and others who die; they consequently can exist or not exist. But it is impossible that such things should live for ever, for there is nothing which may be as well as not be at one time. Thus if all beings need not have existed, there must have been a time in which nothing existed. But, in that case, nothing would exist now; for that which does not exist can not receive life but from one who exists; . . . there must therefore be in nature a necessarily existent being."
The Fourth Way
Any category has its degrees, such as good and better, warm and warmer. Each also has one thing that's the ultimate of that measure, like good and "best", warm and "hottest". And whatever is the most of that category is the source of that category, as fire (or, in modern terms, energy itself) is the source of heat, and God must therefore be the source of goodness.
The Fifth Way
Everything, sentient or otherwise, progresses in an orderly way. Planets move in their orbits, light breaks from and combines into its spectrum, et cetera. Reality has a natural order, which could not have come from nothing, yet which precedes mere humans.
This is essentially the teleological argument for God's existence. Some believe that the Fifth Way is equivalent to what is now called Intelligent design. However, this is not an accurate presentation of Aquinas' thought, and is subject to the Cosmogonical Fallacy

Demonstrating God's creative power

In order to demonstrate God's creative power, Thomas says: "If a being participates, to a certain degree, in an 'accident,' this accidental property must have been communicated to it by a cause which possesses it essentially. Thus iron becomes incandescent by the action of fire. Now, God is His own power which subsists by itself. The being which subsists by itself is necessarily one" ("Summa Theol." i. 44, art. 1). This idea is also expounded by Bahya ibn Paquda in his "Duties of the Heart."

Impact of Thomism

Saint Thomas was important in shifting the influence of medieval philosophy (also known as Scholasticism) away from Plato and towards Aristotle. In this he was influenced by contemporary Islamic philosophy, especially the work of Averroes. The ensuing school of thought, through its influence on Catholicism and the ethics of the Catholic school, is by any standard one of the most influential philosophies of all time, also significant due to the sheer number of people living by its teachings.
Thomism's affirmation was not at all easy and quick. Even before Aquinas's death, Stephen Tempier, Bishop of Paris, forbade certain positions associated with Aquinas (especially Aquinas's denial of both universal hylomorphism and a plurality of substantial forms in a single substance) to be taught in the Faculty of Arts at Paris. Through the influence the more traditional Augustinian theologians, some theses of Thomas were condemned in 1277 by the ecclesiastical authorities of Paris and Oxford (the most important theological schools in Middle Age Europe). The Franciscan Order vehemently opposed the ideas of the Dominican Thomas, while the Dominicans quickly and institutionally took up the defence of his work (1286), and soon thereafter adopted it as an official philosophy of the order to be taught in their studia. Early opponents of Aquinas include William de la Mare, Henry of Ghent, Giles of Rome, and Jon Duns Scotus.
Early, noteworthy defenders of Aquinas were his former teacher Albert the Great, the ill-fated Richard Knapwell, William Macclesfeld, Giles of Lessines, John of Quidort (a lay master), Bernard of Auvergne, and Thomas of Sutton. The canonization of Thomas in 1323 led to revoking the condemnation of 1277. Later Thomas and his school would find a formidable opponent in the via moderna, particularly in William of Ockham and his adherents.
Thomism remained for quite a long time a doctrine held principally by Dominican theologians, such as Giovanni Capreolo (1380–1444) or Tommaso de Vio (1468–1534). Eventually, in the 16th century, Thomas found a stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, through for example the Dominicans Francisco de Vitoria (particularly noteworthy for his work in natural law theory), Domingo de Soto (notable for his work on economic theory), John of St. Thomas, and Domingo Báñez; the Carmelites of Salamanca (i.e., the Salmanticenses); and even, in a way, the newly formed Jesuits, particularly Francisco Suárez, and Luis de Molina. The Modern Period brought considerable difficulty for Thomism. By the 19th century, Aquinas's theological doctrine was often presented in seminaries through his Jesuit manualist interpreters, who often adopted his theology in an eclectic way, while his philosophy was often neglected altogether in favor of modern philosophers. And in all this, the Dominican Order, was having demographic difficulties. Pope Leo XIII attempted a Thomistic revival, particularly with his 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris and his establishment of the Leonine Commission, established to produce critical editions of Aquinas's opera omnia. This encyclical served as the impetus for the rise of Neothomism, which brought an emphasis on the ethical parts of Thomism, as well as a large part of its views on life, humans, and theology, are found in the various schools of Neothomism (which arose in response to the 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris encouraging the revival of Thomism). Neothomism held sway as the dominant philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church until the Second Vatican Council, which seemed to confirm the significance of Ressourcement theology. Thomism remains a vibrant and challenging school of philosophy today, and influential in Catholicism, though "The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others"(Fides et ratio 49). According to one of its most famous and controversial proponents, Alasdair MacIntyre, a Thomistic Aristotelianism is the best philosophical theory so far of our knowledge of external reality and of our own practice.

Connection with Jewish thought

Jewish philosophical influences on Aquinas

Aquinas did not disdain to draw upon Jewish philosophical sources. His main work, the Summa Theologiae, shows a profound knowledge not only of the writings of Avicebron (Ibn Gabirol), whose name he mentions, but also of most Jewish philosophical works then existing.
Thomas pronounces himself energetically against the hypothesis of the eternity of the world. But as this theory is attributed to Aristotle, he seeks to demonstrate that the latter did not express himself categorically on this subject. "The argument," said he, "which Aristotle presents to support this thesis is not properly called a demonstration, but is only a reply to the theories of those ancients who supposed that this world had a beginning and who gave only impossible proofs. There are three reasons for believing that Aristotle himself attached only a relative value to this reasoning. . . ." ("Summa Theologiæ," i. 46, art. 1 In this Thomas copies word for word Maimonides's Guide for the Perplexed, where those reasons are given (I:2,15).

Aquinas' influence on Jewish thought

Aquinas's doctrines, because of their close relationship with those of Jewish philosophy, found great favor among Jews. Judah Romano (born 1286) translated Aquinas's ideas from Latin into Hebrew under the title Ma'amar ha-Mamschalim, together with other small treatises extracted from the "Contra Gentiles" ("Neged ha-Umot").
Eli Hobillo (1470) translated, without Hebrew title, the "Quæstiones Disputatæ," "Quæstio de Anima," his "De Animæ Facultatibus," under the title "Ma'amar be-KoḦot ha-Nefesh," (edited by Jellinek); his "De Universalibus" as "Be-Inyan ha-Kolel"; "Shaalot Ma'amar beNimẓa we-biMehut."
Abraham Nehemiah ben Joseph (1490) translated Thomas' "Commentarii in Metaphysicam." According to Moses Almosnino, Isaac Abravanel desired to translate the "Quæstio de Spiritualibus Creaturis." Abravanel indeed seems to have been well acquainted with the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, whom he mentions in his work "Mif'alot Elohim" (vi. 3). The physician Jacob Zahalon (d. 1693) translated some extracts from the "Summa Theologiæ Contra Gentiles."

Scholarly perspectives on Thomism

Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion

"Aquinas's two most important qualities were his great talent for systematizing and his power of simple and lucid exposition. The work of preceding generations, especially of Alexander of Hales, had lightened the task of selection and ordering of the material; on the other hand, it had added to the number of problems and expanded the argument enormously, impairing the unity and clarity of the progress of thought. It was Thomas who made a single connected and consistent whole of the mass. His Aristotelianism, with its Neoplatonic elements, should also be noted. He owed not only his philosophical thoughts and world conception to Aristotle, but also the frame for his theological system; Aristotle's metaphysics and ethics dictated the trend of his system. Here he gained the purely rational framework for his massive temple of thought, namely of God, the rational cause of the world, and man's striving after him. Then he filled this in with the dogmas of the Church or of revelation. Nevertheless he succeeded in upholding church doctrine as credible and reasonable. The final characteristic of Thomas to be noted is his blameless orthodoxy. This position as the teacher of the church grew stronger from Pope Leo X (1520) to Leo XIII (1900); even to-day the Roman Catholic Church preserves the inheritance of the ancient world-conception and the old church dogmas in the form which Thomas Aquinas gave them."

G. K. Chesterton

In describing Thomism as a philosophy of common sense, G. K. Chesterton wrote:
"Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox; a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson, to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confident man, that if we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind...
Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkelian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists, since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God." (Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 136).



See also

Thomism in Czech: Tomismus a novotomismus
Thomism in Danish: Thomisme
Thomism in German: Thomismus
Thomism in Estonian: Tomism
Thomism in French: Thomisme
Thomism in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Thomismo
Thomism in Lithuanian: Tomizmas
Thomism in Dutch: Thomisme
Thomism in Norwegian: Thomisme
Thomism in Polish: Tomizm
Thomism in Portuguese: Tomismo
Thomism in Russian: Томизм
Thomism in Slovak: Tomizmus
Thomism in Finnish: Tomismi
Thomism in Swedish: Thomism
Thomism in Ukrainian: Томізм
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