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Are the Orthodox opposed to Thomas Aquinas?


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#41 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 12:08 AM

The first comment makes no sense to me. As to the second, of course one does not need to read these to be saved but academic theologians might refer to Plato and Aristotle. Isn't there enough reading in Holy Scripture, the writings of the Holy Fathers, and the texts of the Divine Services to occupy a person?

#42 Owen Jones

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 12:58 AM

I myself have been struggling with the Posterior Analytics. Would my mind be better engaged in reading Holy Scripture and in prayer? No doubt, but that is no reason in and of itself not to work through some of the problems that Aristotle has examined. Only a reason not to sacrifice my prayer life by outside readings. Actually, I read genre fiction a lot more than I read Holy Scripture. I'm not justifying it...just saying.

Aside from that, there are some extremely important principles laid out in the Posterior Analytics which stand in opposition to and a refutation of modern progressivisms and nihilism. Perhaps some day the Lord will lead me to some useful implementation of this knowledge.

#43 Owen Jones

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 12:59 AM

Aquinas, on the other hand, being the primary Roman Catholic theologian, is a different kettle of fish. As I mentioned, one ought to read Aquinas only when one has mastered St. Maximos first, and has some specific reason for becoming more knowledgeable of RC deformations of the faith.

#44 Ryan

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 02:37 AM

The first comment makes no sense to me. As to the second, of course one does not need to read these to be saved but academic theologians might refer to Plato and Aristotle. Isn't there enough reading in Holy Scripture, the writings of the Holy Fathers, and the texts of the Divine Services to occupy a person?


Oh well, I guess St. Basil was a "syncretist" too then.

#45 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 09:53 AM

Oh well, I guess St. Basil was a "syncretist" too then.


Obviously no one would really think this. As is well known, St Basil and some other Church Fathers had a classical education and knew the pagan Greek philosophers. Thy made such use of them as they saw fit but particularly used them apologetically against their opponents. That is not syncretism which is the “attempted union or reconciliation of diverse or opposite tenets or practices, esp. in philosophy or religion” (OED). Holy Fathers such as St Basil were making no such attempt. In Homily 2 of the Hexameron, St Basil says, "The philosophers of Greece have much ado to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm, and unshaken, each being overturned by its successor. It is vain to refute them; they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another."

Western theology by contrast, from what I understand, based itself scholastically on Aristotle.

#46 Anna Stickles

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 12:53 PM

A critical sympathy for Aquinas or any other post-schism Latin writer is no more syncretistic than Sts. Nikodemus and Theophan's critical translations/ reworkings of Lorenzo Scupoli's work.


Lorenzo's work could be reworked because it was a manual for spiritual struggle. Some things were left in untouched, others were taken out, others were changed. However, Aquinas presents a theological system of thought. It is like a geometry proof in that each thing intimately links to the other. So if you change one thing the whole building falls apart.

I agree that as Christians we are called to sympathy in all cases., but being sympathetic and kind is not mutually exclusive with an attitude of no compromise on the essentials of the faith. We simply have sympathetic and kind firmness. Maybe as an apologetic a fair criticism of Aquinas is needed, who knows.

One can't read Aquinas as if he is a philosopher though, Etienne Gilson and several Catholic philosophers have tried to do this, and thus this whole Aristotle/Plato debate. Conservative Catholic theologians, particularly those from the monastic life are probably a better place to go for an honest modern presentation of Aquinas. Whatever mistakes Aquinas may have made, I think he has to be respected and admired as first and foremost a theologian whose life was dedicated to God pursuing this in the way that he understood this. He had some kind of vision or experience at some point, which made him exclaim that all his prior teachings were nothing but straw. But the medevial Catholic church was not in the spiritual shape at that time to recognize the difference between rational and noetic theology. They didn't have a base for knowing how to proceed. And having shut themselves off from any kind of correction from outside sources....

Seeking to bring Aquinas into Orthodoxy, is not the way to proceed. But more sympathy for the struggles that the Roman Church has suffered, even if to a large degree it is the result of their own pride, is something that we are called to as Christians. I mean we all suffer for our own sins and ought to be able to empathize.

#47 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 01:50 PM

If an Orthodox Christian is going to deal with Aquinas, I think it should be done in a similar manner to Origen or Tertullian. There may be much that is useful from an academic view, but we need to be aware that an uncritical adaptation of Thomism is not compatible with Orthodoxy and proceed accordingly.

#48 Ryan

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 01:57 PM

Obviously no one would really think this. As is well known, St Basil and some other Church Fathers had a classical education and knew the pagan Greek philosophers. Thy made such use of them as they saw fit but particularly used them apologetically against their opponents. That is not syncretism which is the “attempted union or reconciliation of diverse or opposite tenets or practices, esp. in philosophy or religion” (OED).


What opposite tenets is anyone attempting to reconcile here? A critical reading of Thomas Aquinas can perhaps yield good fruit, as St. Gennadios found. That does not mean that we need accept the filioque or any other errors.

Holy Fathers such as St Basil were making no such attempt. In Homily 2 of the Hexameron, St Basil says, "The philosophers of Greece have much ado to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm, and unshaken, each being overturned by its successor. It is vain to refute them; they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another."


Nevertheless, St. Basil exhorted Christians to study the pagan classics, critically, and glean from them knowledge complementary to the Christian faith, while rejecting what was wrong. He even suggests studying the pagan writings before attempting to tackle the scriptures, as the scriptures may be too difficult at first. Which is not to say we should read Aquinas before Orthodox fathers, but surely something of use can be derived from the study thereof. Or perhaps St. Gennadios, Vladimir Lossky, and others were in error.

#49 Ryan

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 01:58 PM

If an Orthodox Christian is going to deal with Aquinas, I think it should be done in a similar manner to Origen or Tertullian. There may be much that is useful from an academic view, but we need to be aware that an uncritical adaptation of Thomism is not compatible with Orthodoxy and proceed accordingly.


Very well. Nobody here is arguing for an uncritical adaptation of Thomism.

#50 Ryan

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 02:01 PM

Lorenzo's work could be reworked because it was a manual for spiritual struggle. Some things were left in untouched, others were taken out, others were changed. However, Aquinas presents a theological system of thought. It is like a geometry proof in that each thing intimately links to the other. So if you change one thing the whole building falls apart.


The same thing could be said of St. John Damascene (Fount of Knowledge) and even St. Dionysius the Areopagite where the philosophical assumptions of neo-Platonism are so essential (see, for example, his discussion of evil in "The Divine Names").

#51 Lakis Papas

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 02:12 PM

Regarding the reading preferences, I think classic works of culture, both ancient and those of more recent times, help in understanding the mind of the Christian faith - as expressed in the synods and in the texts of saints and fathers of the Church.

The historicity of the Church shapes the way and time that Christian answers took the form of doctrinal formulas. The Holy Synods of the Church were not just intra-Christian debates. The Synodicity was a dialogue of members of the Church with the society that resulted to apologetic doctrines. This debate provided answers to both Christians, and non-Christians.

I think, it is wrong to reject a world cultural heritage based on Christian theology. I believe that Christian theology provides true answers to any question. Global culture raised questions and tried to answer them, sometimes it did that successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully. The efforts of non Christian thinkers were awarded by including them in paintings in orthodox churches in Greece (their images are missing halo as they were not Christians).

For example, in the narthex of a church (entrance of a church) in the Holy Monastery of Iveron at the monastic state of Mount Athos in Greece there are some paintings of ancient Greek writers, like Aristotle, Sophocles, Cheilon Lacedaemonius. These ancient thinkers are presented holding a piece of paper with a small passage from their work that is consistent with Christian theology. Their images are painted next to representations from the "Judgement of the dead" or from the "Second Coming of Christ", carrying the message that men who were not Christians came close to christian doctrines by using the gift of intellect - even before the birth of Christ - so they are exemplified for all Christians.

#52 Ryan

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 02:14 PM

The wise man of China admonishes my soul to be peaceful and still, and to wait for the Tao to act within her. Glory be the memory of Lao-tse, the teacher and prophet of his people!

The wise man of India teaches my soul not to be afraid of suffering, but through the arduous and relentless drilling in purification and prayer to elevate herself to the One on high, who will come out to greet her and manifest to her His face and His power. Glorious be the memory of Krishna, the teacher and prophet of his people!

The royal son of India teaches my soul to empty herself completely of every seed and crop of the world, to abandon all the serpentine allurements of frail and shadowy matter, and then - in vacuity, tranquillity, purity and bliss - to await nirvana. Blessed be the memory of Buddha, the royal son and inexorable teacher of his people!

The thunderous wise man of Persia tells my soul that there is nothing in the world except light and darkness, and that the soul must break free from the darkness as the day does from the night. For the sons of light are conceived from the light, and the sons of darkness are conceived from the darkness. Glorious be the memory of Zoroaster, the great prophet of his people!


I trust that no one will accuse St. Nikolai of Zicha of syncretism.

#53 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 02:25 PM

Very well. Nobody here is arguing for an uncritical adaptation of Thomism.

Based on some of the quotes in evidence in this thread (not you specifically), I think this is not entirely correct and a cause of some concern. Perhaps it is worthwhile to remember that Origen was "well thought of" by the Church for a couple of centuries before some of his ideas were rejected.

I trust that no one will accuse St. Nikolai of Zicha of syncretism.

Well, we certainly don't accuse him of infallibility.

#54 Anna Stickles

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 02:37 PM

In having the training needed to undertake an Orthodox evaluation of Thomas Aquinas, I don't know about needing to have a complete grasp of St Maximos the Confessor, but the idea behind the statement is correct, and certainly one should at least have taken a seminary equivalent of theological training in both Church history as well as the subtleties of Orthodox Christology, anthropology, and soteriology. It is certainly not a job for the uneducated layman, nor even for the purely academic scholar. Another criteria would have to be some level of faithful ascetical life over a period of time which helps a person to mature spiritually, and gain that needed insight.

I also think that if one is approaching Aquinas with the idea that it is going to yield good spiritual fruit, when one has not first made the effort to be thoroughly grounded (not at the level of the typical laymen but more at the level of a monastic or priest in intensity) in the Orthodox Fathers and ascetical and liturgical life, then this is probably not realistic. At best it will turn into a purely intellectual exercise - the comparison to reading a novel or other secular literature is about right in this case. But then reading this way would not be a critical reading of Aquinas from an Orthodox perspective but merely a recreational reading of Aquinas. Not bad in itself. However, if the person doing the reading started to think that they were doing a critical reading then likely this would lead to bad results.

#55 Owen Jones

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 02:49 PM

Good summary of the issues, Anna. Thanks. With that said, I can only imagine the skewer St. Gregory the Theologian would have used on Thomas! Since the schism, it has not really been incumbent on Orthodox theologians to assess or critique Roman Catholic theologians (although Fr. John Romanides made a career of it). The two bodies were effectively cut off from each other, and of course you have the nasty business of the Crusades, then the Muslim Conquest, and then the Soviets, then the Nazis, all of which were historical disasters for Orthodoxy. Orthodox Christians have been occupied with a very different set of problems. So the question is really a very contemporary one in light of Orthodoxy's more or less resurgence and contact with the West in the last decades.

#56 Ryan

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 02:52 PM

On a side note, the idea of "mastering" St. Maximos the Confessor makes me smile.

#57 Owen Jones

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 02:56 PM

Which was intended, Ryan. As for St. Dionysius, do you have an online link? One thing I think we have to be careful about is making generalizations concerning neo-Platonic concepts in Orthodoxy. It doesn't quite work that way.

#58 Anna Stickles

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 03:02 PM

I am not sure what the fascination with the pagan philosophers is here. I think any critique of Aquinas would have to be along the lines of investigating his Christology, etc. not his philosophical assumptions or approach

#59 Ryan

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 03:15 PM

Which was intended, Ryan. As for St. Dionysius, do you have an online link? One thing I think we have to be careful about is making generalizations concerning neo-Platonic concepts in Orthodoxy. It doesn't quite work that way.


On the Divine Names can be read or downloaded here. I honestly don't think I would have understood it without having read Plato first.

#60 Owen Jones

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Posted 22 January 2013 - 04:49 PM

I read Plato long before becoming Orthodox myself, and believe I would not have sought out Orthodoxy or been initially attracted to it without that preparation. Identifying with the OT has always been a lot harder for me. With that said, we just have to be careful not to reduce Christian theology to a phase in Platonic intellectual history, as if there even is such a thing.




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