Read Thomas And See For Yourself

I was led to think that Thomas had been more or less mugged by Aristotle, indeed, I was given to think that Thomas was the source of much that ailed Christianity. In one tour de force, Van Til jumps from Aristotle, to Aquinas, to Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).[3] The two main things that I really took away from my brief early encounters with Thomas (mea culpa) were that he sought to demonstrate the existence of God in the “five ways” (ST, 1a.2, art. 3) and that he taught a “nature-grace dualism.”

When I began reading the orthodox Reformed writers for myself, however, I was surprised to see how favorable they were to Thomas. It put before me a choice: the neo-Calvinist account of our relations to Thomas (and others) or the classical Reformed approach to Thomas. Eventually, after reading Thomas more deeply for myself, I chose the latter. Read More»

R. Scott Clark | “Why I changed my mind about Thomas Aquinas” | June 24, 2022

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14 comments

  1. Just curious – Why do you refer to Aquinas by his first name? Sounds like you used to play golf with him. 🙂

    • Aquinas is not a surname in the modern sense; it is a toponym associating him with the town and vicinity of Aquino in Lazio. This would be a normal way of referring to someone from the nobility in the Middle Ages and, indeed, was still common in the Renaissance. ‘da Vinci’ is not Leonardo’s surname — it’s where he came from.

  2. Yes, nice scholarly answer, but I trust you’re trying to communicate with modern people. So there’s Thomas the disciple, Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Edison, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Crown (fictional, but great movie!), Tom Selleck, Tom Cruise, and even Thomas the train. Since we don’t generally say “John” for Calvin or Knox, and we don’t say “Martin” for Luther or Bucer, etc., I hope you would agree that it’s a bit awkward to refer to Aquinas as “Thomas.” By the way, I need more cowbell in your podcast! 🙂

    • Steve,

      It doesn’t take a PhD to click on a link, where one finds the following:

      “Why I changed my mind about Thomas Aquinas

      Even easier is to read the citation at the bottom of the post, where the title of the article is given. So. were someone to be genuinely to puzzle over the Thomas in question, the answer does appear.

      Thanks for listening.

      More cowbell forthcoming.

  3. Thank you. While I cannot agree with Thomas Aquinas on Purgatory and the sacraments, the little exposure I had to him looked familiar after reading Calvin.

    Further, please correct me if I’m wrong, for I have not had a chance to explore Thomas in depth. But, do you suppose that the “Thomistic” bifurcation of the realms of nature and grace may not actually be a misreading by Van Til, Schaeffer, and others, who mistook Thomas’ account of Averroes’ philosophy for that of Thomas himself?

    • Peter,

      No confessional Protestant, least of all Zanchi, Vermigli, and Turretin, agreed with Thomas on purgatory and on a number of other issues.

      Thomas certainly distinguished between nature and grace. Grace, he wrote, perfects nature. Nature only leads to natural ends, even before the fall.

      Thomas’s nature/grace distinction presupposed that nature is inherently defective but CVT (followed by Schaefer) didn’t understand that the classic Reformed writers affirmed a nature/grace distinction—which the neo-Kuyperians rejected. I don’t know that CVT read Averroes. Honestly, he doesn’t seem to have read much in Thomas. Schaefer didn’t know anything about Thomas that he didn’t learn from Van Til.

  4. Is it true CVT and Bavinck differ from Thomas in that they see grace renewing or recreating nature vs perfecting it? What does the bible say on the grace/nature subject, Dr. Clark?

    • Michial,

      The traditional Reformed position on nature and grace is formally identical to Thomas’: gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit (grace does not destroy nature but perfects it). Where the Reformed differed from Thomas was in their understanding of quality of nature before the fall. Behind Thomas’ view of nature and grace was his neo-Platonic assumption that nature per se (as such) cannot lead to the supernatural, e.g., the beatific vision. Nature is, because it is finite, inherently broken. For Thomas, Adam was in a state of grace even before the fall. He needed grace not to sin and when he sinned he fell from grace.

      The Reformed mostly rejected the notion that nature is inherently broken. Some of our writers spoke about grace before the fall but not in quite the same way as Thomas. Most taught the covenant of works and some (e.g., Rollock) were explicit that Adam needed no grace before the fall. The Heidelberg Catechism says nothing about grace before the fall even though there is language in Ursinus that tends in that direction.

      The Reformed agreed, however, that nature and grace are distinct and they quoted the Thomistic formula against the Anabaptists, whose over-realized eschatology tended to destroy nature as a category.

      I can’t speak to Bavinck but the neo-Kuyperians, including CVT, rejected the distinction between nature and grace altogether. They speak derisively about a “dualism” between nature and grace. After rejecting the traditional Reformed position (without interacting with it—when I became Reformed no one was distinguishing nature and grace) the neo-Kuyperians tended to speak more like the Anabaptists. Creation, they write, needs to be “redeemed,” and “sanctified,” and “transformed.” Ultimately, the Thomistic view, that nature needs to be “perfected” ontologically (in regard to being) is not massively different from Anabptist view.

      The Reformed view, that human nature needs to be perfected in glorification, not as a matter of being but in view of sin and redemption, is much to be preferred. To distinguish the Reformed from the other two, I say that the the Reformed view is that human nature needs renewed not obliterated (Anabaptists) or divinized (Thomas and possibly the E. Orthodox tradition, depending on what a writer means by “theosis in a given case).

      As to what Scripture says, please see the resource page on the nature/grace distinction.

      • Thank you Dr. Clark. That is a lot for me to chew on, but it’s a topic I’m interested in. I am just now getting into the whole apologetic debate between the classical and presuppositional positions. I’ve always held to the Gerstner/Sproul position. I take it their differing views are closely tied to the relation between nature and grace.

        I remember sitting in on some Riddlebarger lectures on Scottish Common Sense Realism in Anaheim years ago, but wasn’t ready for them at the time. Dr. Riddlebarger didn’t agree with CVT from what I recall. I just bought some CVT books to read but it all seems over my head. I’ve even tried watching some Reformed Forum videos but feel I need a doctoral degree to understand what they’re talking about sometimes. They talk of Thomistic thought negatively but I don’t understand why and what they mean. I’m still learning.

        Thanks again for your reply. I will look at the resource link you provided.

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