"Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The Silent Bull"

Categories: PhilosophyReligion

In G.K. Chesterton’s brief introduction to Thomas Aquinas, titled he describes the key elements of Aquinas’ life and how he understood the world to be. Chesterton emphasizes Aquinas’ thoughts about common sense, creation, rationality and reason. These things branded Aquinas’ work, as well as embodied what the centuries to come greatly desired. Chesterton states that the purpose of this book is to make St. Thomas Aquinas more popular than he is and that it is not his intention to thoroughly explain St.

Thomas' philosophy. He does not really make an effort to discuss theology, which he believes should come after philosophical understanding. Avoiding these discussions makes his book manageable and less intimidating to the typical reader.

This book details St. Thomas' role in influencing Catholic thought by bringing Aristotle’s philosophy into the Church and fighting those who challenged it. Chesterton begins by telling the story of how a teacher, St. Albert, recognized St. Thomas’ talent and how he continued to succeed in his understanding and education.

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His main focus was unifying Catholicism with the ideals of Aristotle against the opposition of the Augustinians, those who followed St. Augustine’s philosophy. Chesterton describes Aristotelian belief as a philosophy linked to the material world. One of St. Thomas' last arguments was to draw the boundaries of theological and scientific exploration. Science and faith cannot contradict each other. For this reason, St. Thomas argued that the understanding of the Scripture could be influenced by scientific discoveries and likewise, science could be influenced by faith.

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While St. Thomas was in Paris, he met a Franciscan friar. The Franciscans were interested in the mystical aspect of the spiritual life, and not so much in trying to establish religion in philosophy. The Dominicans, like St. Thomas, believed the opposite. These friars were pleased and content with the fact that they were both right even if the rest of the world thought they were wholly wrong. St. Thomas’ defense of the Friars was his first great accomplishment, which garnished him fame and prestige. This is also probably what protected the Friars from eventually being abolished.

Chesterton claims that revolutions are really only counter-revolutions; revolutions against previous revolutions. People respond to things that their predecessors bring about. He says it’s wrong to think that there is huge progress in this since there is no moving forward, but moving back and forth. Chesterton believes that only in the case of a strong and new revolution, can it eventually come to feel like it has always existed. Much like Aristotelianism, which eventually did become institutional and worn-out. So, understanding the Renaissance as just a period where Aristotle was rejected in preference of Plato is wrong. St. Thomas and St. Albert were revolting against Platonism as it was the old way of thinking. Platonism was dangerous because it could lead to Manicheanism, which viewed the material world as evil and that the spiritual realm alone was good enough.

Chesterton does talk about St. Thomas Aquinas’ role in today’s world and the revival of interest in writings. It is very clear that Chesterton is attempting to engage his readers and make them interested in St. Thomas by showing how relevant he is to modern times. He says that all saints effect the world because they challenge it and greatly contradict the modern world. St. Thomas’ deep belief in the importance of reason was becoming popular because the 20th century completely abandoned the idea of reason. People turned to Aquinas in hopes that they could bring peace into this chaotic world.

According to Chesterton, it is not right to perceive St. Thomas as a figure that lead to the Renaissance, which was a movement coming away from religion. St. Thomas, by placing more value on the material world, reiterated the central principle of Christianity – that God came into the material world by becoming man. Before, Christians focused too much on spiritual Christianity rather than the fact that man is from the material world and is material himself. By changing this way of thinking, St. Thomas brought Christianity back to its rightful origin. Aquinas saw men as a combination of body and soul, where previous thinkers saw them mainly as a soul.

Chesterton then details how St. Thomas' thought also reflects political thinking of the modern era. When St. Thomas talks about God showing man the “truth”, he is troubled about mentioning the common, less educated man. Because while a scholar can spend all their time figuring out those “truths,” the common, working man does not have that luxury. Therefore, God chose to directly reveal many of those things to mankind. St. Thomas also spoke of free will and his worry about the dignity and liberty of each person. He thought individuals had true freedom and independence, even being able to separate themselves from God.

St. Thomas also was an advocate of common sense and the simple question of what reality really is. Some people think that reality is made up of separate entities that are too distinct to be connected, while others believe the opposite; that everything in reality is connected and cannot be distinguished. St. Thomas’ thoughts on the subject fall somewhere in the middle; there are distinct things in reality but they are similar enough to still be connected. This may be simple common sense but it is connected to the Christian idea of creation; the notion that it was God who created everything the way it is and that everything was not created from nothing for no reason.

St. Thomas spent much of his intellectual life writing because of his commitment to arguing life’s biggest mysteries. He felt obliged to respond to any protests thrown at him, but he was never rude or self-righteous. Even if he was the greatest mind of his time, he would discuss his ideas with anyone, of any intellectual level. This led to a huge amount of communication with other throughout his life, which confirms his patience and willingness to speak with anyone without his pride getting in the way.

This most remarkable tale in St. Thomas' life was when he claimed that Christ himself had spoken to him and praised his writings and offered him anything he wanted. Chesterton explains how there are many stories that have been told about Aquinas being offered anything he desires in the world, but claims that he does not want anything. His whole belief system declared the goodness and reality of things, so it is hard to imagine that he does not want anything. It is not likely he would seek wealth or power, but one might think perhaps he would seek that which may benefit him intellectually: an answer to a philosophical question or insight into a particular field of science. Nonetheless, despite his love for the natural world, Aquinas replied modestly but also confidently, 'I will have Thyself'.

St. Thomas believed that, based on the Church’s teaching, the universe had a beginning and an end. Chesterton argues that modern science is proving this to be true. Even so, none of St. Thomas’ so called “proofs” of God’s existence are based on this theory of a beginning and end to the universe. He thought even if there is no beginning, there must still be a creator. Ordinary beings are flawed. They are not autonomous - they need reason for their existence. Aquinas believed that this imperfection would not change if there were or were not a beginning and an end. Rather, the imperfection suggests that there is a more perfect being.

While today St. Thomas is known largely for his work in philosophy and theology, it is worth noting that his primary focus was in his love for God, not in intangible matters. It seems to be the norm for history to remember individuals for their philosophy or ideology or grand ideas, rather than their religious beliefs. However, especially when it comes to saints, you cannot solely focus on theology because they all share the same fundamental set of beliefs. St. Thomas’ philosophy largely molded his theology and perhaps in that sense he may have been slightly different from other saints.

Updated: May 23, 2022
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"Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The Silent Bull". (2022, May 23). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/saint-thomas-aquinas-the-silent-bull-essay

"Saint Thomas Aquinas: "The Silent Bull" essay
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