Tag Archives: Summa Theologica

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Culture of Life – January 24, 2018

Upon this 45th annual March for Life, I read a line of attack against the Church’s pro-life stance that I had not heard before now. Some pro-choice advocates use the Church’s greatest theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, to argue in favor of abortion. Nicholas Kristof did it in a May 2017 N.Y. Times column about Dr. Willie Parker, an oxymoronically called “Christian Abortion Provider.” Mr. Kristof falsely claimed that St. Thomas Aquinas “believed that abortion was murder only after God imbued fetuses with a soul, at 40 days or more after conception.” Moreover, Aquinas even made it into the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, citing “the 40-80 day view, and perhaps to Aquinas’ definition of movement.” What they are both referring to is the mistaken notion that the unborn baby receives its soul (“ensoulment”) 40-80 days after conception depending upon gender. In the pre-scientific mind, this was generally thought to be recognized in the baby’s movements, or “the quickening” around 20 weeks after conception. Aquinas’ apparent false opinion was based upon the primitive science of his day (13th century), which was notably still rooted in the ancient writings (4th century B.C.) of Aristotle.

St. Thomas actually never wrote anything explicitly on abortion. So, to say that he approved of abortion is utterly false. In fact, he did condemn it implicitly in his magnum opus, Summa Theologica. For example, in his commentary on murder, he states: “He that strikes a woman with child does something unlawful: wherefore if there results the death either of the woman or of the animated fetus, he will not be excused from homicide.” (ST II-II, q.64, a.8) In another section he addresses various scenarios of whether to baptize a baby in the mother’s womb, saying: “If, however, the mother die while the child lives yet in her womb, she should be opened that the child may be baptized.” (ST, III, q.68, a.11) St. Thomas’ underlying philosophy is correct: to kill an unborn baby is murder. He ran into some ambiguity with his era’s limited understanding of embryology. It is very clear that if St. Thomas had lived in the modern scientific age of biology, genetics and sonograms he would have concluded beyond a doubt that life begins at conception. Natural science clearly demonstrates the existence of a new genetic individual at fertilization. He was, in this respect, a victim of his time.

Nevertheless, St. Thomas did touch on this indirectly again in the third part of Summa Theologica while discussing the Immaculate Conception of Mary. He certainly argued that the human soul is present by the time of the quickening. On the other hand, he did not think philosophy itself could say definitively whether or not the soul is present before any observable body movements in the fetus. To reiterate, he did not say the soul was definitely not there, only that he could not prove it was there. In the case of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception, he argued that we do not know exactly when she was sanctified (i.e., received her soul), so the Church correctly celebrates her sanctification from the time of conception. (ST, III, q. 27, a.2, ad.3) We can infer through his conclusion that he considered ensoulment possible from the moment of conception, and thus, making any abortion tantamount to murder.

The idea of “delayed ensoulment” is a red herring, however. The Church has always taught that abortion is intrinsically evil, and is not dependent upon the idea of ensoulment. The Church’s position is built upon Scripture, Tradition, and natural law, which St. Thomas surely knew and accepted. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” (Jer. 1:5) The prophet Isaiah similarly wrote, “Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, who formed you from the womb.” (Is. 44:24) The Didache, a vade mecum written sometime near the end of the first century states, “Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion.” Abortion is similarly condemned throughout the writings of the Apostolic Fathers, from Clement to St. Jerome, and so many more. St. Basil the Great wrote in the fourth century that those who have “deliberately destroyed a fetus has to pay the penalty of murder.” St. Thomas knew extraordinarily well all of these ancient Church teachings on abortion, and that it was forbidden at any stage of development.

The Catechism too is clear on this: “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion . . . is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (CCC 2271) St. Pope John Paul discussed ensoulment too as a red herring in Evangelium Vitae: “Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about the moral condemnation of abortion.” (EV, 61) In our era today, with the force of modern scientific evidence of D.N.A. analysis and 3D ultrasounds, we can understand without question a person is a person from the moment of conception.

This is why in light of modern science the permissive acceptance of abortion is so scandalously pernicious. This callous perniciousness of the culture of death is crystallized in the fascinating case of Dr. Stojan Adasevic. Dr. Adasevic was an infamous Serbian doctor who performed abortions in the communist country of Yugoslavia for a couple of decades, killing in utero somewhere between 48,000 to 62,000 babies. His abortion mill even killed up to 35 babies in one day.

That all changed one night when he began to have a profound reoccurring dream that haunted him for weeks and weeks on end. In the dream he was in a beautiful sunlit meadow full of flowers with many children playing and laughing. All of the children were from four to 24 years of age. Whenever he would try to approach and speak to the children they would run away screaming in terror. Despite the idyllic setting of the dream, he felt oppressed and would wake up in a cold sweat each night. The recurring scene was watched over by a figure in a black and white habit who would stare silently at him.

Eventually one night, he was able to catch one of the children, and the child cried out in terror: “Help! Murderer!” At that moment, the man in the black and white habit turned into an eagle and swept down to pull the child away. The next night the doctor decided to ask the man who he was. The man replied, “My name is Thomas Aquinas.” Stojan then asked, “Who are these children?” St. Thomas answered, “These are the ones you killed with your abortions.” With that, Stojan woke up in shock, refusing to participate in any more abortions. There were many other details involved revealing this as something more than just a dream. Since that time, Dr. Adasevic became heavily involved in the pro-life movement and reverted back to the Orthodox faith of his childhood. Stojan has since apparently had a great devotion to St. Thomas Aquinas. He wonders now, having read the Summa Theologica and St. Thomas’ ambiguous writing on Aristotle’s idea of ensoulment, if “the saint wanted to make amends for that error.”

Whether or not that was, in fact, one of St. Thomas’ errors remains debatable. Clearly, he thought ensoulment was possible from the moment of conception, but he left some ambiguity in regards to the provability of that belief. Unfortunately, the primitive “science” of St. Thomas’ day could not establish that as empirical fact. Yet, he unquestionably followed the Church’s teaching on the evils of abortion, so that those who use him to promote the culture of death are wrong. We can infer that St. Thomas, the Angelic Doctor, was unwaveringly pro-life, condemning abortion as murder. And, if he were alive today, St. Thomas would clearly stand with those who accept modern science that life begins at conception.

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Consoling the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Part I – 14 September 2015

“Jesus knew and loved us each and all during His life, His agony and His Passion, and gave Himself up for each one of us” (CCC 478)

Jesus, as a divine human being, had both a human nature and a divine nature. As such, He also had two modes of knowledge, one human and one divine. Traditional Catholic teaching on the types of knowledge that Jesus possessed fall into three categories: (1) Acquired knowledge; (2) Infused knowledge; (3) Beatific Vision. The knowledge Jesus possessed by way of His human nature and His human intellect is referred to as Acquired knowledge. This is the same experiential learning common to all humanity. The Gospel of Luke mentions this incidentally in reference to the childhood of Jesus when it says He “grew in wisdom and in years.” (Lk. 2:52) There are other inferences in the Gospels that allude to His humanly knowledge, such as when He asks His disciples how many loaves of bread there are; Or, when He asks His disciples who the people say He is. This acquired knowledge is part of Jesus being fully-human. He acquired human knowledge, as any human being does. As the letter to the Phillipians says, “but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form.” (Phil. 2:7)

But, this was not the only knowledge that Jesus possessed. He also had divine knowledge. By way of the hypostatic union, His human nature was united with the divine Word of God. Jesus, as the divine Word, had two different types of divine knowledge. One level of His divine knowledge was an Infused knowledge; that is, Christ knew “the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans He had come to reveal.” (CCC 474) Jesus was given to know all things necessary to His redemptive mission and for our salvation. Such is clearly the case when Jesus foretells that He must “undergo great suffering,” “be rejected by the elders,” “be killed,” and “after three days rise again.” (Mk. 8:31) He made other similar prophecies in the Gospels concerning His future passion, death and resurrection. The scripture also says Jesus knew “all the things that were coming upon Him.” (Jn 18:4) He announced beforehand Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. The scriptures point to Jesus also as being able to know peoples’ hearts and thoughts; for example, Jesus “knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe.” (Jn. 6:64) Again, after Jesus cures the paralytic, He reads peoples hearts, “and He said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts?” (Mk 2:8) When Jesus is speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well, He knew her background entirely without her telling Him. Jesus had direct knowledge, at first meeting, of people, their history, and their thoughts and hearts. He knew about their past, their present, and what they would do in the future. He also knew what was happening elsewhere. He was consistently telling His disciples about situations as they exist, or will exist, in other locations; such as, when He tells the disciples to “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. (Mk.11:2) Again, when Jesus was calling His apostles, He shows His divine insight in calling Nathanael. “Nathanael asked Him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” http://rnrorganisation.co.uk/blogs/smart-cities-smarter-vcse/  Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (Jn 1:48-49)

The second form of divine knowledge Jesus possessed was the Beatific Vision; that is, Jesus saw God face to face, and had direct knowledge of the Father. Jesus realizes from a young age the grace of union He has with the Father in the Beatific Vision. At the age of twelve, after Mary and Joseph could not find Him for three days and then subsequently find Him in teaching in the Temple, Jesus says, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Jesus is already aware of the unique relationship that He has with the Father. St.John clarifies this repeatedly, hinting at a beatific knowledge. Later, in His public ministry, Jesus says, order isotretinoin mastercard No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made Him known.” (Jn 1:18) And again, “The one who comes from heaven is above all. follow site   He testifies to what He has seen and heard.” (Jn 3:31-32) Then, in declaration of His divinity, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.” (Jn 10:30). The other Gospels also allude to the Beatific Vision: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son.” (Mt.11:27 & Lk.10:22) Of course, there are the numerous “I Am” statements too when Jesus equates Himself with the Hebraic name of God: I Am Who Am, Yahweh. “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (Jn 8:58) The scandal of Jesus’ divinity and the intimacy of His Beatific Vision are too much for some to handle. This is when the Pharisees begin to plot to kill Him. And for that matter, numerous modern theologians try to strip Him of His divinity. Yet, Jesus is telling us a truth about His divine nature and His divine knowledge. In His human nature, Jesus is united together with the eternal Word of God. And as the Word of God, Jesus is united together with the Father and the Holy Spirit in their eternal beatitude.

Who better to understand the nature of Christ than the angelic doctor, St.Thomas Aquinas? St.Thomas discusses in depth in his Summa Theologica the various levels of knowledge within Christ. In regard to Christ’s knowledge via the Beatific Vision, the angelic doctor refers to Colossians 2:3, that in Christ “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (S.T. III, Q.9.,a3)   St.Thomas continues to answer the question of what Christ knows, as the eternal Word of God united with the Trinity in their eternal beatitude. He says, “When it is inquired whether Christ knows all things in the Word, “all things” may be taken in two ways: First, properly, to stand for all that in any way whatsoever is, will be, or was done, said, or thought, by whomsoever and at any time. And in this way it must be said that the soul of Christ knows all things in the Word.” (S.T. III, Q.10.,a.2) Aquinas argues that Christ, as per the dignity of the eternal “Judge,” knows the “essence of every creature” and all that was ever said or done in the past, present or future.

Yet, how can Christ have at once both humanly Acquired knowledge and the Beatific Vision? To answer this, St.Thomas hearkens the idea of the Tome of Leo, a letter written by Pope Leo I (Saint Leo the Great) from the 5th century concerning Christ’s unity of natures. The letter was read aloud at the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. In the Tome of Leo, the pontiff enumerates what is now called the “Communication of Idioms (or Properties).” It states, “each of the natures retains its proper character without defect; and as the form of God does not take away the form of a servant, so the form of a servant does not impair the form of God.” St.Leo’s words became, from that point forward, the foundation for all of Christology, and the proper understanding of Christ’s natures. Christ’s human nature retains its humanity, and Christ’s divine nature retains its divinity. St.Thomas tries to show in this vein how Christ can have all three forms of knowledge without impeding upon either His human knowledge or His divine knowledge; in effect all three working harmoniously together. Although St.Thomas argues that Christ knows the essence of all finite creatures, He at the same time concedes, “it is impossible for any creature to comprehend the Divine Essence,” due to the fact that “the infinite is not comprehended by the finite.” (S.T. III, Q.10, a.1) So, according to the Summa, in Christ’s finite human soul He could comprehend the finite power of creatures, but not the full infinitude of God’s power. He states, so likewise, besides the Divine and uncreated knowledge in Christ, there is in His soul a beatific knowledge, whereby He knows the Word, and things in the Word; and an infused or imprinted knowledge, whereby He knows things in their proper nature by intelligible species proportioned to the human mind.” (S.T. III, Q.9, a.3) Therefore, in lay terms, Christ’s Infused knowledge and Beatific Vision would all have been there from the beginning of His life, and throughout His life, but extracting that knowledge would be proportionate to His age, experience and the limitations of His rational, human soul, albeit a perfect soul.

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