Saint Augustine of Hippo, as he is most commonly referred, of the early fifth century and Saint Thomas Aquinas, of the thirteenth century, are considerably well-known for their philosophical and theological discoveries. Even though both are famous for venturing to integrate Christianity with their philosophical thoughts, they took completely different paths in doing so. Aquinas took an Aristotelian path, being a strong follower of Aristotle while Augustine, took a Platonic path, considering Plotinus as his mentor. Both delved deeply into the concept of ethics dichotomy, the human nature, and the human’s ability to know, and to do, the good. Christianity does hold true to the fact life after death exists. (Bray, 2003). Augustine’s view on the nature of the human beings states that each individual is “trapped by sin in immorality and untruth” (Clark & Poortenga, 2003, Pg. 39). A human being cannot access that after-life unless they devote themselves fully to God. It is only through the process of “illumination” and “divine assistance” that an individual can be truly fulfilled as a human being. Basically, only through the love of God can one reach to the ultimate truth about themselves and learn to see and do the good. “Divine assistance is necessary to rid us of vice, turn our hearts towards God and enable us to acquire virtue” (Clark & Poortenga, 2003, Pg. 42). He believed that the man’s “corrupted desire’s” to knowledge stemmed from the Garden of Eden, where man’s thirst to be “like God” led to feeling pride and then led to the fall of that individual. When an individual stirs their attention away from the realm of God is when they get plundered by temptations such as pride, power, wealth, fame, and even human love. He believed that an individual remains disordered if he places his temptations above the love of the God.
“Wherever the human soul turns itself, other than to you, it is fixed in sorrows, even if it is fixed upon beautiful things external to you…” (Vaught, 2005). As a result of these disorderly desires, or “cupidity” as he called it, Augustine came to reject a “man’s desire for common knowledge” concluding that such desire drives an individual away from God. This was a complete opposite the Aristotelian belief that “all men by nature desire to know” (Aristotle, 1966). He believed that these temptations blind an individual’s ability to know and to do the good. In simple terms, “that which was spiritual was good and that which was “of the flesh” was evil” (Campolo, 2007). As an alternative, Augustine emphasized on divine illumination, conversion and faith, which were the true means of happiness and salvation. (Clark & Poortenga, 2003, Pg. 40). It is important fathom that Augustine was against specifically to the type of knowledge that enticed the “lusts of the eyes.” In compliance with the views of Plotinus, Augustine maintained that it is through God that an individual inherits true knowledge. It is imperative for the human being to become reasonable and use that knowledge in limits. It is the only method that can help them disregard the temptations and strengthen their mind for divine illumination. In his book, Confessions, Augustine states that “If we love God first, we will love the right things in the right way, our loves will be properly ordered, and we will find fulfillment” (Clark & Poortenga, 2003, Pg. 41).
Aquinas on the other hand, believed that human goodness depends on the actions performed by an individual that are in agreement with our human nature, which also defines the morality of an individual. He further explains that an individual consists of a specific cognitive power, which is the “intellect” that enables us to fully comprehend the goodness of a thing. Human action’s are always in pursuit of human fulfillment, which Aquinas believes, is happiness, even though those actions may not always be right. “We desire what fulfills us as human beings although we might be wrong about what fulfills us. The right understanding of and orientation towards human fulfillment is the foundation of morality” (Crook & Poortenga, 2003, Pg. 45). Similar to Augustine’s temptations, Aquinas refers to “external goods” such as wealth, honor, fame, glory, and power and states that these are easily secured by evil individuals. “These cannot be the highest good because fulfillment is incompatible with evil and wicked people can secure any of these goods” (Clark & Poortenga, 2003, Pg. 45). “Internal goods” such as relationships, morals, and knowledge have the capability of providing fulfillment since such goods are infinite. Hence, Only God can completely satisfy such desires. Moreover, it is only God alone that is sufficient for human fulfillment.
Like Augustine, Aquinas believed that without a divine assistance, an individual is “morally incapable” to reach God since each person is in “bondance to sin.” Without divine assistance, no one can achieve happiness nor can get a vision of God. “So we must know God in order to be happy but we, by our natural powers cannot know God. The hope for attainment of fulfillment lies not in our natural capacities but must lie in supernatural grace to heal us and direct us toward God” (Clark & Poortenga, 2003, Pg. 46).
It is really hard to determine which philosopher I would agree with the most. Even though both took different routes in explaining their philosophies, their ultimate goal was to explain human fulfillment, which they further explained can only be attained by means of God. Even though each individual desires for knowledge, both philosophers, in one way and the other, theorized that “God is superior to any concept that we humans could understand or apply” (Clark & Poortenga, 2003, Pg. 39). God is the main origin of all happiness, intelligence and knowledge that exists in a human being. I would agree more with Aquinas’s view that a man’s natural desire for knowledge is the main supply to fully understand God and his capabilities.
All in all, both medieval philosophers cultivated their beliefs significantly influenced by Christianity even though they both satisfied their ideals by approaching them in completely different ways. Aquinas followed the footsteps of Aristotle whereas Augustine’s views relied upon the influences set forth by Platonius. Sovereignty of the ancient philosophers can clearly been seen in the works of both Augustine and Aquinas, whether it was human nature or the ability of the human knowledge to know and to do the good. Despite multiple differences in theory and the paths taken to explain their theories, it must be taken into consideration that God was the ultimate concept the two philosophers were in agreement with.
Aristotle. 1966. Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Grinnell, Iowa: The Peripatetic Press. Bray, G. (2003). AUGUSTINE’S KEY. Christian History, 22(4), 42. Clark, K. J., & Poortenga, A. (2003). The story of ethics: Fulfilling our human nature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. Campolo, T. (2007). How Jewish was Jesus? Tikkun, 22(6), 26-28. Vaught, C. G. (2005). Access to God in Augustine’s Confessions: Books X-XIII. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.
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