When Aristotle’s works were rediscovered in the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas pulled together Aristotle’s thoughts with Christianity, beliefs that became known as Thomism. Aquinas primarily deals with man’s social impulse, government control, heresy, and monarchies.
Aristotle believed that man should live a good life according to his social station in the state. Aquinas agreed with Aristotle and combined this view with Christianity by claiming that man should live a good life beyond his life on earth: “through virtuous living man is further ordained to a higher end, which consists in the enjoyment of God” (Ebenstein, 224). Man is subject to his king who is subject unto Christ. Through following his king and living a good life, man can hope to attain a good life with God hereafter.
The issue of government rule based on Aristotle’s views was also addressed by Aquinas. Aristotle’s statement “the one to whom it pertains to achieve the final end commands those who execute the things that are ordained to that end” became the jumping off point for Aquinas’s belief in hierarchical government (Ebenstein, 225). Aquinas believed that the church was above government because government is subject to God. The church sought to save souls while government sought to constrain man’s sin natures. Therefore, man was subject to government which was subject to the church whose ultimate authority was God alone.
From Aristotle’s belief in state and church relations, Aquinas formed his own viewpoint of heresy. He believed that heretics deserved two reprimands before drastic measures should be taken. The church should excommunicate heretics, but the state has the power to put them to death. His philosophy centers on the aforementioned premise that the church tends for souls while the state deals with man’s body according to his social impulses. This philosophy gave the Catholic Church the grounds it needed for inquisitions against heretics in future years.
The major field where Aquinas went beyond Aristotle’s philosophy was on the issue of political authority. Aristotle claimed that monarchies were the essential form of government, regardless of good or bad rulers. Aquinas also liked the idea of monarchies because he said that God was the Head of the universe and even nature had one main leader for its various parts, like the heart to the body and the king bee to the hive. However, Aquinas hated the prospect that monarchies could become tyrannies. To safeguard the people, Aquinas suggests that Christian states hold to a limited monarchy or a constitutional one.
Thomas Aquinas’s adaptation of Aristotle and Christianity is significant because the Catholic Church was searching for a new philosophy to rest on. Augustine incorporated Plato into his works, but Augustine’s time of influence was gone. Aristotle’s works were rediscovered, and Aquinas’s writings gave the Church a new philosophy and champion. The Church now had an intellectual basis for its arguments as well as a theological one. These ideas could be applied to the physical church because it held spiritually-grounded arguments.
– Hannah S. Bowers
Ebenstien, W., & A. Ebenstein. Great political thinkers: Plato to the present. Harcourt College Publishers: Fort Worth, TX, 2000.