Week 3 Summary

St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas.




Augustine and Aquinas  

A. The transition between classical Greece and the Christian world:

1. General issues raised: the relationship between Church and state (from ‘separation’ to ‘theocracy’). The source of ethical values (Christianity – or what?). Natural laws.


2. Limitations of Plato’s and Aristotle’s ideas in a changing world: city-state (vs empire), individual (vs community). Reason vs. faith/revelation.


3. Epicureans (Epicurus: 341 – 270 BC and the Roman poet Lucretius: 1st century BC): individual happiness comes from detachment, because we cannot control the world, which is random/unpredictable. Lucretius: “great wealth consists in living on a little with a contented mind.” Self-control à ataraxia (tranquility).


4. Stoicism (Zeno: 342 – 270 BC, and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius 121 – 180 AD): nature is cyclical and life is a burden or a pilgrimage. Doing good is its own reward (emphasis on deeds/action). The ‘order’ or ‘logos’ is a ‘world-soul’ and is wholly good, and it represents reason. Hence all men are brothers, and there is a world-city (earthly cities should try to be based on reason). We get composure from accepting the ‘lot’ we are given. Individual life is separate from public life.


5. Early Christianity: Monotheism, and all are equal - spiritually - before God. Hence: separation of spiritual from the worldly. Christ and forgiveness from sin. Human sinfulness (Adam’s disobedience) means there is a need for higher laws. We can only be good with God’s help. St Paul: association of flesh/the world with sin. The (apocalyptic) Day of Judgment. Constantine (4th C. AD): a Christian world? Pope and Emperor.


B. St Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 AD):

1. Life and importance. His conversion (from paganism and Manicheism: Good is opposed by Evil). City of God: Augustine’s response to blaming of Christians for the fall of Rome. Christian values: caritas (love), vs. Roman values: virtu (manliness), superbia (pride).


2. The need for “justice” – Extracts IV.4.


3. The “Two Cities”: “The Heavenly City outshines Rome beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity.” (XV 1): the distinction. (XV 4); why the Heavenly City is superior.


4. The “flesh” and the “spirit” – and that God’s will cannot be known: (XIX 13 & 4). “Faith” is fundamental.


5. A rejection of earthly empire? (XIX 6, [21]).


6. War; peace, the relationship between church and state: (XIX [6], [13], 14, 17).

7. The need for authority and control/regulation – obedience to earthly kingdom but more importantly to heavenly kingdom (XIX 21)


8. The individual and God’s power: “There is nothing so social by nature, so unsocial by its corruption, than this race... There is a little light in men – let them walk, let them walk in it lest the darkness overtake them.”  And: “Evil wills do not proceed from [God] because they are contrary to the nature which proceeds from him” (V 9)


9. The state has been instituted by God, as an “external” means to restrain us from bad behaviour…. Offences against God’s law are always wrong. Offences against man’s law are only sometimes wrong. Even a bad state must be accepted as punishment for our sin.


10. A “just war” is the lesser of two evils; Christian values are “higher” (above the state.)


C. St Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274).

1. Man was created to live in a community – we are naturally social creatures. We share with all living things the need for biological/physical and moral well-being. The community is the means to achieve well-being (a teleological argument, cf. Aristotle).


2. The world is accessible to reason – and reason can guide us to finding the good.  God has created a rational order, and given us the means to understand it through our reason.


3. Man’s ultimate perfection is ‘beatitude’: the joy that comes from the intellectual apprehension of the truth (Beatitudo est gaudium veritate.) When the intellect attains ‘the very essence of the first cause… it will have perfection through union with God’


4. This ‘apprehension of the first cause’ is the result of an activity that requires the whole of our person: intellect must be supplemented by Faith and Grace, and ‘for the perfection of contemplation, soundness of body is needed, to which all the arts of living are directed’.


5. Without some superior power to care for the common good, individuals would pursue their own ends, or act irrationally, or find that their interests conflict with others’.


6. There are four kinds or “levels” of “law” 

- eternal law: this is God’s plan for the direction of all things (material and living, rational and non-rational).

- natural law is that part of the eternal law that can be known by men (divided into ‘law of nature’ for non-living things, and ‘natural law’ for rational beings).  Rational because part of eternal law.

- human law is the existing legal code drawn up by men – we need this since no-one can grasp the whole of eternal law (apart from God!). The aim or purpose of existence (cf. Aristotle) is salvation and happiness (beatitude and eudaimonia).

- Divine law is God’s law as revealed through Revelation and Scripture (e.g. the Ten Commandments etc.) – its aim is to direct men towards eternal happiness (beatitude), but to reach this state, men need Faith and Grace.    s