natural theology

This site is part of the The natural religion project
dedicated to developing and promoting the art of peace.

Contact us: Click to email
volume II: Synopsis

Part II: A brief history of dynamics

page 11: Thomas Aquinas


Aquinas combined ancient Greek and Medieval science with Christian belief to produce a theological classic, the Summa Theologiae For me the high point of the Summa is his treatment of the Trinity, the Christian belief that there are three divine Persons in the one God. Aquinas explains that although the relationships of knowledge and love are not real among us, they are so in God. Reading this set me thinking about one God with an unlimited number of personalities, many of which are visible to us, that is, a divine Universe. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas 160

Aquinas was a member of the Order of Preachers, founded by Dominic Guzman with the aim of combating 'heretics' on their own intellectual ground. Albert the great (1206-80) Aquinas' teacher, was a man of encyclopaedic knowledge of contemporary science, philosophy and theology. He realized that Christianity needed to be aligned with Aristotelian teachings if it was to maintain its credibility. Aquinas completed this task in the Summa. Aquinas remains the only theologian mentioned by name in Catholic legislation. Dominican Order - Wikipedia, Albertus Magnus - Wikipedia

Christian authors were able to discern three persons in God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Here they departed from the strict monotheism of the Jewish religion from which Christianity evolved. Each of the persons of the Trinity is assigned a specific role in the salvation of mankind, the Father Creator, the Son the Sacrificial Lamb who redeemed us and the Holy Spirit, who infuses us with knowledge of the ways of God. Trinity - Wikipedia

The existence of the Trinity was formally asserted by the earliest Christian creeds. These documents grapple with the problem of how to reconcile the unity of God with the Trinity of persons. To a large degree, this difficulty was overcome by asserting that it was simply a mystery to be believed.

Augustine of Hippo, in his treatise De Trinitate, was among the first to tackle the problem head on by developing a satisfactory explanatory model. Augustine developed the psychological idea implicit in the Gospel of John that the second person of the Trinity is the 'logos' or word of God referred to by the words 'The word was made flesh' John 1:14. Augustine modelled the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as the love between the Father and the Son. Augustine, John

Aquinas went further. He developed his model of God from Aristotle's Metaphysics which culminates with a discussion of the 'unmoved mover' that drives the world. The key idea is that something potentially existent cannot realize itself. It must be brought into being by something already actual. Since we often see potential events becoming real, there must be a purely actual being making this happen. This being, he concludes, we call God. Aristotle - Metaphysics, Aquinas 13, Unmoved mover - Wikipedia

From this property, that God is pure actuality actus purus, Aquinas derives the traditional attributes of God: simplicity, perfection, goodness, infinity, eternity, unity, omniscience, omnipotence and so on. Although God is eternal, and therefore from our point of view unchanging, Aquinas was able to show that a living God is consistent with the notion of 'pure act'. He then proceeded to develop the doctrine of the Trinity, following Augustine's psychological model.

Aquinas introduces the idea that it is the relationships between the divine persons that distinguishes them. In the world, he says, relationships are accidents, something superficial. In God, however, relationships are substantial or essential, making the the three persons really distinct while they yet remain one God. Aquinas 166

Aquinas' model of the Trinity provides a theological starting point for our hypothesis that the Universe is divine. Although Aquinas is bound by Catholic belief to limit the number of persons in the Trinity to three, there is no reason why the model of distinction by relationship should not be extended to any number of persons. Instead of just the three divine persons, we see the divine Universe distinguished by real relationships into all the distinct entities that we see around us. This distinction, however, does not mean that the Universe is neither one nor perfect, any more than the Trinity reduces the unity or perfection of God in the Christian model.

Second, if we model the universe as a layered communication network, we can see relationship as something established by communication. As in the classical theory of God, this relationship is essential rather than accidental to the network. We can understand this by analogy with our human relationships, all of which are established by communication. Jeffrey Brouwer - Relations

When we come to treat this idea in detail, we will see that the idea of differentiation by communication is an essential element of quantum mechanics, our fundamental theory of the Universe. Wojciech Hubert Zurek

Aquinas was and is the intellectual love of my life. Getting to know his original writings more than justified a few rather bad years spent in a religious order. Then I conceived the idea of revising his work in the light of modern science and fifty years later I am still on the track. Fundación Tomás de Aquino

(revised 28 March 2013)

Back to Synopsis toc


You may copy this material freely provided only that you quote fairly and provide a link (or reference) to your source.

Further reading


Click on the "Amazon" link below each book entry to see details of a book (and possibly buy it!)

Aquinas, Thomas, and Kenelm Foster, Sylvester Humphries (translators), Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima, Dumb Ox Books 1959 'A translation of William of Moerbeke's latin text of Aristotle's On the Soul (a brilliant little treatise on life written 2300 years ago) together with a latin commentary by the Angelic Doctor Thomas Aquinas. Here is an ancient foundation for the Christian belief in the immortality of the soul.' 
Aquinas, Thomas, and Richard J. Blackwell, Richard J. Spath, W. Edmund Thirlkel (Translators), Commentary on Aristotle's Physics, Dumb Ox Books 1999 An English translation of Aquinas latin commentary on the William of Moerbecke's translation of Aritotle's Physics. 
Aquinas, Thomas, and Ralph M. McInerny (Preface), John P. Rowan (Introduction), Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, Dumb Ox Books 1995 An English translation of Aquinas latin commentary on the William of Moerbecke's translation of Aritotle's Metaphysics. 
Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica (translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province), Tabor Publishing 1981 'Brother Thomas raised new problems in his teaching, invented a new method, used new systems of proof. To hear him teach a new doctrine, with new arguments, one could not doubt that God, by the irradiation of this new light and by the novelty of this inspiration, gave him the power to teach, by the spoken and written word, new opinions and new knowledge.' (William of Tocco, T's first biographer) 
Augustine, Saint, and Edmond Hill (Introduction, translation and notes), and John E Rotelle (editor), The Trinity, New City Press 1991 Written 399 - 419: De Trinitate is a radical restatement, defence and development of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Augistine's book has served as a foundation for most subsequent work, particularly that of Thomas Aquinas.  
Haberman, Jacob, Maimonides and Aquinas: A Contemporary Appraisal, KTAV Publishing House 1979  
Albertus Magnus - Wikipedia Albertus Magnus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'Albertus Magnus, O.P. (1193/1206 - November 15, 1280), also known as Saint Albert the Great and Albert of Cologne, was a Dominican friar and priest who achieved fame for his comprehensive knowledge of and advocacy for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion. . . . Albertus' writings collected in 1899 went to thirty-eight volumes. These displayed his prolific habits and literally encyclopedic knowledge of topics such as logic, theology, botany, geography, astronomy, astrology, mineralogy, chemistry, zoology, physiology, phrenology and others; all of which were the result of logic and observation. He was perhaps the most well-read author of his time. He digested, interpreted and systematized the whole of Aristotle's works, gleaned from the Latin translations and notes of the Arabian commentators, in accordance with Church doctrine. Most modern knowledge of Aristotle was preserved and presented by Albertus.' back
Aquinas 13 Summa: I 2 3: Whether God exists? I answer that the existence of God can be proved in five ways. The first and more manifest way is the argument from motion. . . . The second way is from the nature of the efficient cause. . . . The third way is taken from possibility and necessity . . . The fourth way is taken from the gradation to be found in things. . . . The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world. back
Aquinas 160 Summa: I 27 1 Is there procession in God? 'Our Lord says, "From God I proceeded" (Jn. 8:42).' back
Aquinas 166 Summa: I 28 2 Whether relation in God the same as His essence? 'Now whatever has accidental existence in creatures, when considered as transferred to God, has a substantial existence, for there is no accident in God, since all in Him is His essence. ...' back
Aristotle - Metaphysics Internet Classics Archive | Metaphysics by Aristotle 'ALL men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. For not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything, we prefer seeing (one might say) to everything else. The reason is that this, most of all the senses, makes us know and brings to light many differences between things. ' back
Catholic Church - Wikipedia Dominican Order - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The Order of Preachers (Latin: Ordo Praedicatorum), after the 15th century more commonly known as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Catholic religious order founded by Saint Dominic and approved by Pope Honorius III (1216-27) on 22 December 1216 in France. Membership in the Order includes friars, congregations of active sisters, and lay persons affiliated with the order (formerly known as tertiaries, now Lay or Secular Dominicans).' back
Dominican Order - Wikipedia Dominican Order - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The Order of Preachers (Latin: Ordo Praedicatorum), more commonly known after the 15th century as the Dominican Order or Dominicans, is a Roman Catholic religious order founded by the Spanish priest Saint Dominic de Guzman in France, and approved by Pope Honorius III (1216–27) on 22 December 1216. Membership in the Order includes friars,[1] nuns, active sisters, and lay or secular Dominicans (formerly known as tertiaries) affiliated with the Order.' back
Fundación Tomás de Aquino Corpus Thomisticum The Corpus Thomisticum project aims to provide scholars with a set of instruments of research on Thomas Aquinas, freely available via Internet. It has five parts: • A full edition of the complete works of St. Thomas according, where possible, to the best critical texts. • A bibliography covering all the studies on Aquinas and his doctrine, from the 13th century through our days. • An index of the main tools of Thomistic research, and the edition of the most important among them. • A database management system, implemented to search, compare, and sort words, phrases, quotations, similitudes, correlations, and statistical information. • A digital edition of the main manuscripts of Aquinas' works. back
Jeffrey Brouwer - Relations Medieval Theories of Relations (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) 'The purpose of this entry is to provide a systematic introduction to medieval views about the nature and ontological status of relations. Given the current state of our knowledge of medieval philosophy, especially with regard to relations, it is not possible to discuss all the nuances of even the best-known medieval philosophers' views. In what follows, therefore, we shall restrict our aim to identifying and describing (a) the main types of position that were developed during the Middle Ages, and (b) the most important considerations that shaped their development.' back
John Gospel of John '14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.' back
Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas: The medieval theological classic online : 'Because the doctor of Catholic truth ought not only to teach the proficient, but also to instruct beginners (according to the Apostle: As unto little ones in Christ, I gave you milk to drink, not meat -- 1 Cor. 3:1-2), we purpose in this book to treat of whatever belongs to the Christian religion, in such a way as may tend to the instruction of beginners. We have considered that students in this doctrine have not seldom been hampered by what they have found written by other authors, partly on account of the multiplication of useless questions, articles, and arguments, partly also because those things that are needful for them to know are not taught according to the order of the subject matter, but according as the plan of the book might require, or the occasion of the argument offer, partly, too, because frequent repetition brought weariness and confusion to the minds of readers.' back
Trinity - Wikipedia Trinity - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons (Greek: ὑποστάσεις) the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial (Greek: ὁμοούσιοι). Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being (Greek: οὐσία). The Trinity is considered to be a mystery of Christian faith' back
Unmoved mover - Wikipedia Unmoved mover - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 'The unmoved mover (ού κινούμενον κινεῖ oú kinoúmenon kineῖ) is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as a primary cause or "mover" of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the "unmoved mover" is not moved by any prior action. In Book 12 (Greek "Λ") of his Metaphysics, Aristotle describes the unmoved mover as being perfectly beautiful, indivisible, and contemplating only the perfect contemplation: itself contemplating. He equates this concept also with the Active Intellect. This Aristotelian concept had its roots in cosmological speculations of the earliest Greek "Pre-Socratic" philosophers and became highly influential and widely drawn upon in medieval philosophy and theology. St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, elaborated on the Unmoved Mover in the quinque viae.' back
Wojciech Hubert Zurek Quantum origin of quantum jumps: breaking of unitary symmetry induced by information transfer and the transition from quantum to classical 'Submitted on 17 Mar 2007 (v1), last revised 18 Mar 2008 (this version, v3)) "Measurements transfer information about a system to the apparatus, and then further on -- to observers and (often inadvertently) to the environment. I show that even imperfect copying essential in such situations restricts possible unperturbed outcomes to an orthogonal subset of all possible states of the system, thus breaking the unitary symmetry of its Hilbert space implied by the quantum superposition principle. Preferred outcome states emerge as a result. They provide framework for the ``wavepacket collapse'', designating terminal points of quantum jumps, and defining the measured observable by specifying its eigenstates. In quantum Darwinism, they are the progenitors of multiple copies spread throughout the environment -- the fittest quantum states that not only survive decoherence, but subvert it into carrying information about them -- into becoming a witness.' back is maintained by The Theology Company Proprietary Limited ACN 097 887 075 ABN 74 097 887 075 Copyright 2000-2018 © Jeffrey Nicholls