Authority of St. Thomas's Summa Theologica
Are all the articles of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica to be accepted as the truth by every Catholic?
The Authority of St. Thomas Aquinas by Fr. Jacobus M. Ramírez, O.P., a famous Thomist, enumerated four "distinct categories of St. Thomas' doctrinal authority, namely, scientific and canonical, philosophical and theological" (p. 74). "II. Canonical Authority of the Doctor Communis of the Church" (p. 20-21) says:
This authority which may also be called dogmatic corresponds to the conformity of a theological or philosophical doctrine with divine revelation. It is measured by the approbation and commendation of the Teaching Authority of the Church whose function it is to judge such conformity. Thus the weight of this type of authority is wholly derived from the authority of the Church. As Thomas himself writes:
The teaching of Catholic Doctors has its authority from the Church; for that reason we must rely upon the authority of the Church more than upon the authority of an Augustine, a Jerome, or any other Doctor. [Summa Theologica II-II q. 10 a. 12. c.]
When the authority of the Church consistently and over along period approves and commends the doctrine of anyone for all the faithful, it makes that doctrine its own, and invests it with its own authority. The Church does not create the force and truth of that doctrine out of nothing but rather supposes its existence and recognizes it, authoritatively proposing it to be followed and imitated. The manner of such approbation is similar to that by which the canonization of one of the faithful by the Church does not create but supposes the sanctity of the person. The Church merely recognizes that sanctity, and authoritatively proposes it for veneration and imitation.
Primarily, the Church approves and commends theological doctrine which deals per se with divinely revealed truths. But secondarily, it can approve philosophical doctrine, which is properly concerned with truths of the natural order, insofar as that doctrine is in conformity with truths of the supernatural order. For this very reason Benedict XV called it "philosophy according to Christ." [Motu proprio, Non multo post, de Romana S. Thomae Academia, AAS 7 (1915), 6, Dec. 31, 1914.] And so the canonical doctrine of St. Thomas should be treated first in the field of theology and then in philosophy.
Regarding "the canonical doctrine of St. Thomas" "in the field of theology", Fr. Ramírez gives this example:
At the completion of the process of canonization, when more than 300 miracles performed by St. Thomas had been recounted, the Pontiff [Pope John XII, who canonized St. Thomas Aquinas] said:
Why should we seek more miracles? He has performed as many miracles as he wrote articles [in the Summa Theologica]. Truly this glorious Doctor, after the Apostles and the early Doctors, has greatly enlightened the Church. [P. Percin, Monumenta Conveiitus Tolosani Ord. Praed. cf. J. Berthier op. cit., 50.]
Also, St. Thomas's Summa Theologica was placed on the altar at the Council of Trent, and several of his teachings became, almost verbatim, defined dogma at that council.
Criticisms of the Summa Theologica
Are there any criticisms of the Summa Theologica within the Catholic Church?
Accusations of Denying the Immaculate Conception
Many have claimed that he wrote against the Immaculate Conception (cf. Summa Theologica III q. 27 "Of the Sanctification of the Blessed Virgin" and the editorial note at the top) and because of this, they claim his entire theology is flawed or outdated. For a defense of St. Thomas on this point, cf. Thomist Fr. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.'s Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought ch. 37 Mariology", art. 3 "Mary's Sanctity," §1 "St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception." (N.B.: The Immaculate Conception was not defined dogma in St. Thomas's time.)
See also this answer to the question "What is the basis for saying that Aquinas accepted the immaculate conception?"
Anti-Thomist Modernists and "New Theologians"
There are Modernist heretics like Henri Bouillard, S.J., who have criticized St. Thomas's theology as being outdated because, as the Thomist Fr. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., describes it in the beginning of his Essence & Topicality of Thomism:
Certain souls [like Fr. Bouillard] today think that “a theology which is not current is a false theology” and that the theology of Saint Thomas in some of its important parts—e.g., when it conceives sanctifying or habitual Grace as a “form”—is only an application of the notions of Aristotelian physics, of the distinction between matter and form. And it is added: “Renouncing Aristotelian physics, modern thought has also deserted the notions and schemes that have value only for Aristotelian physics. Because theology continues to offer meaning to the spirit and can fertilize and progress with it, it is necessary that it renounces these notions.”
The theology of Saint Thomas, however, from this point of view, would no longer be current. And elsewhere it is also said: “A theology that is not current is therefore false.”
But why, then, would the Church recommend the doctrine of Saint Thomas to the point of insisting that professors of philosophy and theology teach this discipline “ad Angelici Doctoris rationem, doctrinam et principia, eaque sancte teneant”? [“according to the arguments, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor, to which they must religiously adhere”] ( Codice Canonico, c. 1366). [cf. 1983 Code of Canon Law, can. 252 §3: “…students are to learn to penetrate more intimately the mysteries of salvation, especially with St. Thomas as a teacher.…”]
“The Christian truth, it is observed, is stuck in contingent notions and schemes which determine its rational structure. It is not possible to isolate it from them. It is not rendered independent from a system of notions but changing into another. History—nevertheless—does not lead to relativism. It permits the grasping, in the bosom of theological evolution, of an absolute. Not an absolute of description, but an absolute of affirmation. If the notions, methods, systems change; the affirmations that they contain remain, even if they are expressed in other categories.” [Bouillard’s condemned 1941 thesis Conversion et grâce chez S. Thomas d’Aquin]
Fr. Louis Bouyer, a Neo-Modernist, is another anti-Thomist.
The Nouvelle Théologie (New Theology) is an anti-Thomist movement which Pope Pius XII condemned in his encyclical Humani Generis (cf. "The structure of the encyclical Humani Generis" by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., the encyclical's ghostwriter). Nouvelle Théologie—New Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II (2010) by Jürgen Mettepenningen is a good overview of battle waged between the Thomists and the New Theologians in ca. 1940s.
Accusations of Misogyny
For an excellent overview of St. Thomas's views of women, see "The Philosophy of Woman of St. Thomas Aquinas" by Kristin M. Popik.
Individual woman as "defective and misbegotten [deficiens et occasionatum]"
Some criticize St. Thomas for being misogynistic, e.g., when he says, in Summa Theologica I q. 92 a. 1 ("Whether the woman should have been made in the first production of things?") ad 1:
As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten [deficiens et occasionatum], for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence;
"Occasionatum" means "caused accidentally," i.e., caused besides the intention of nature.
however, he continues:
On the other hand, as regards human nature in general, woman is not misbegotten [occasionatum], but is included in nature's intention as directed to the work of generation [i.e., procreation].
In response to the objection (arg. 1) that God "should not have made woman" because she "would be an occasion of sin to man," St. Thomas replies (ad 3) that
If God had deprived the world of all those things which proved an occasion of sin, the universe would have been imperfect.
Thus, women perfect God's creation. From this alone it's clear that St. Thomas is a philogynist.
"in man [homine] the discretion of reason predominates"
In that same article (Summa Theologica I q. 92 a. 1), St. Thomas writes (arg. 2 & ad 2), in the context of Gn. 3:16: "Thou shalt be under the man's power":
…woman is naturally of less strength and dignity than man; "for the agent is always more honorable than the patient," as Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. xii, 16). … [W]oman [femina] is naturally subject to man [viro], because in man [homine] the discretion of reason predominates. Nor is inequality among men [i.e., among humans] excluded by the state of innocence, as we shall prove (Question , Article 3).
This passage is often misinterpreted as meaning that men are more rational than women; however, it's not so clear from the Latin, where St. Thomas uses two different words (vir = man/husband; homo = human, male or female) that in English are both translated as "man." A better translation would be:
[W]oman is naturally subject to man/husband [viro], because in mankind/humans [homine] the discretion of reason predominates.
In other words: It it is reasonable, to both males and females, that there be an inequality and thus order regarding the relation between males and females.
This is in accord with what St. Thomas says in the body ("I answer that…") of that article, where he discusses how in the plants and animals the distinction and inequality between the sexes is not as pronounced as it is in humans, and this is due to humans being rational creatures.
Accusations that St. Thomas's Argument for a Male-only Priesthood is Misogynistic
St. Thomas, in Summa Theologica suppl. q. 39 a. 1 ("Whether the female sex is an impediment to receiving Orders?") c., writes:
Certain things are required in the recipient of a sacrament as being requisite for the validity of the sacrament, and if such things be lacking, one can receive neither the sacrament nor the reality of the sacrament. Other things, however, are required, not for the validity of the sacrament, but for its lawfulness, as being congruous to the sacrament; and without these one receives the sacrament, but not the reality of the sacrament. Accordingly we must say that the male sex is required for receiving Orders not only in the second, but also in the first way. Wherefore even though a woman were made the object of all that is done in conferring Orders, she would not receive Orders, for since a sacrament is a sign, not only the thing, but the signification of the thing, is required in all sacramental actions; thus it was stated above (Question , Article ) that in Extreme Unction it is necessary to have a sick man, in order to signify the need of healing. Accordingly, since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection [cf. Gen. 3:16], it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.
The same criticisms of misogyny levied against St. Thomas here are also levied against St. Paul in, e.g., 1 Tim. 2:12, "I suffer not a woman to teach (in the Church), nor to use authority over the man," and Eph. 5, where St. Paul says that wives be subject to their husbands.
Other Instances Where St. Thomas Demonstrates He is not Misogynistic
Man and woman both created in God's image
Objection 1: It would seem that the image of God is not found in every man. For the Apostle says that "man is the image of God, but woman is the image [Vulg. glory] of man" (1 Cor. 11:7). Therefore, as woman is an individual of the human species, it is clear that every individual is not an image of God.
St. Thomas's reply:
Reply to Objection 1: The image of God, in its principal signification, namely the intellectual nature, is found both in man and in woman. Hence after the words, "To the image of God He created him," it is added, "Male and female He created them" (Gn. 1:27). Moreover it is said "them" in the plural, as Augustine (Gen. ad lit. iii, 22) remarks, lest it should be thought that both sexes were united in one individual. But in a secondary sense the image of God is found in man, and not in woman: for man is the beginning and end of woman; as God is the beginning and end of every creature. So when the Apostle had said that "man is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man," he adds his reason for saying this: "For man is not of woman, but woman of man; and man was not created for woman, but woman for man."
For more information on this, see Dr. Pia de Solenni's award-winning book A hermeneutic of Aquinas's Mens through a sexually differentiated epistemology: Towards an understanding of woman as imago Dei (2003); she is a critic of the "New Feminism."
Adam's sin alone, not Eve's, is the reason Original Sin passes onto his children.
Answering the question "Whether if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would have contracted original sin?" (Summa Theologica I-II q. 81 a. 5), St. Thomas writes (c.):
The solution of this question is made clear by what has been said. For it has been stated (a. 1) that original sin is transmitted by the first parent in so far as he is the mover in the begetting of his children: wherefore it has been said (a. 4) that if anyone were begotten materially only, of human flesh, they would not contract original sin. Now it is evident that in the opinion of philosophers, the active principle of generation is from the father, while the mother provides the matter. Therefore original sin, is contracted, not from the mother, but from the father: so that, accordingly, if Eve, and not Adam, had sinned, their children would not contract original sin: whereas, if Adam, and not Eve, had sinned, they would contract it.
Thus St. Thomas in no way blames women, like Adam did, for sin.
Why the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became a man and not a woman
& St. Thomas's love for the Blessed Virgin
St. Thomas also addresses the question of why the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became a man and not a woman, in Summa Theologica III q. 31 a. 4 ("Whether the matter of Christ's body should have been taken from a woman?"):
Objection 1: It would seem that the matter of Christ's body should not have been taken from a woman. For the male sex is more noble [nobilior] than the female. But it was most suitable that Christ should assume that which is perfect in human nature. Therefore it seems that He should not have taken flesh from a woman but rather from man: just as Eve was formed from the rib of a man.
to which he replied:
Reply to Objection 1: The male sex is more noble [nobilior] than the female, and for this reason He took human nature in the male sex. But lest the female sex should be despised, it was fitting that He should take flesh of a woman. Hence Augustine says (De Agone Christ. xi): "Men, despise not yourselves: the Son of God became a man: despise not yourselves, women; the Son of God was born of a woman."
This is a very balanced teaching that is in accord with Holy Scripture; however, some anti-Thomists still think it is misogynistic.
Also, St. Thomas had a very good relationship with his five biological sisters, whom he taught from a young age and converted; he convinced one of them to become a religious.
St. Thomas's Views on Sex
Some have the misconception that St. Thomas is against sexual intercourse or even marriage; however, his teaching on sex is fully inline with Catholic teaching: sex that is for the procreation and education of children is good and even virtuous, sex passes on original sin, and it is sinful if sought for its pleasure alone (thus, he's against contraception):
I q. 98 a. 2 ("Whether in the state of innocence there would have been generation by coition?")
II-II q. 152 a. 4 ("Whether virginity is more excellent than marriage?")
III (suppl.) q. 41 a. 3-4 ("Whether the marriage act is always sinful?" & "Whether the marriage act is meritorious?")
III (suppl.) q. 49 a. 4-6 ("Whether the marriage act is excused by the aforesaid goods [fidelity, offspring, sacrament]?" & "Whether the marriage act can be excused without the marriage goods?" & "Whether it is a mortal sin for a man to have knowledge of his wife, with the intention not of a marriage good but merely of pleasure?")
St. Thomas on capital punishment
St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica II-II q. 11 a. 3 c., his answer to the question "Whether heretics ought to be tolerated?," shows that although heretics deserve death, the Church must show them mercy, and if they are stubborn, apply disciplinary means like excommunication, only handing them over to the State for capital punishment as a last resort.
With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.
However, he advocates mercy; he continues:
On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death [as a last resort]. For Jerome commenting on Gal. 5:9, "A little leaven," says: "Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die. Arius was but one spark in Alexandria, but as that spark was not at once put out, the whole earth was laid waste by its flame."
Thus, St. Thomas does not indiscriminately advocate the death penalty for heretics.
St Thomas Aquinas was canonized on July 18, 1323 and is commonly called the Angelic Doctor and the Universal Teacher. He is also the patron saint of Catholic academies, Catholic schools, Catholic universities, scholars, philosophers and theologians.
What have the Popes said on St. Thomas? Pope St Pius V in 1567.
St. Pius V declared him a Doctor of The Church, saying he was “the most brilliant light of the Church,” whose works are “the most certain rule of Christian doctrine by which he enlightened the Apostolic Church in answering conclusively numberless errors … which illumination has often been evident in the past and recently stood forth prominently in the decrees of the Council of Trent.”
It really was Pope Leo XIII who sealed the idea that St Thomas' teachings within the Summa Theologica was to be revered as the model for Catholic teachings, especially at the university level.
In his encyclical of 4 August 1879, Pope Leo XIII stated that Thomas' theology was a definitive exposition of Catholic doctrine. Thus, he directed the clergy to take the teachings of Thomas as the basis of their theological positions. Leo XIII also decreed that all Catholic seminaries and universities must teach Thomas' doctrines, and where Thomas did not speak on a topic, the teachers were "urged to teach conclusions that were reconcilable with his thinking." In 1880, Saint Thomas Aquinas was declared patron of all Catholic educational establishments.
Pope Leo XIII has the greatest praise in honor of St Thomas and his theological works!
Leo XIII stated that “this is the greatest glory of Thomas, altogether his own and shared with no other Catholic Doctor, that the Fathers of Trent, in order to proceed in an orderly fashion during the conclave, desired to have opened upon the altar together with the Scriptures and the decrees of the Supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas whence they could draw counsel, reasons and answers.”
Again from Leo XIII: “This point is vital, that Bishops expend every effort to see that young men destined to be the hope of the Church should be imbued with the holy and heavenly doctrine of the Angelic Doctor. In those places where young men have devoted themselves to the patronage and doctrine of St. Thomas, true wisdom will flourish, drawn as it is from solid principles and explained by reason in an orderly fashion … Theology proceeding correctly and well according to the plan and method of Aquinas is in accordance with our command. Every day We become more clearly aware how powerfully Sacred Doctrine taught by its master and patron, Thomas, affords the greatest possible utility for both clergy and laity.
The entirety of the Summa is to be taken as truth otherwise Pope Benedict XV would not have stated the following:
Benedict XV stated that “the eminent commendations of Thomas Aquinas by the Holy See no longer permit a Catholic to doubt that he was divinely raised up that the Church might have a master whose doctrine should be followed in a special way at all times.”
Even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI carries this very thought even farther.
Pope Benedict XVI said, “In his encyclical Fides et Ratio, my venerated predecessor, Pope John Paul II recalled that ‘the Church has been justified in consistently proposing St. Thomas a master of thought and a model of the right way to do theology’ (No. 43).
The writings of Aquinas were immensely popular from the time they were first composed. Manuscript copies circulated widely even before the advent of printing. Although Aquinas strove to be widely understood, his concepts are not always easy to grasp. Many critics have tried to ascertain and explain his theology; one estimate cites some 6000 commentaries on his works. Pope Leo XIII has praised Aquinas for gathering together dispersed doctrines and forming them into one whole: "He disposed them in marvelous order and increased them to such an extent that he is rightly and deservedly considered the preeminent guardian and glory of the Catholic Church." Leo has also acclaimed Aquinas for harmonizing reason and faith. Pope John Paul II declared that one of Aquinas's greatest qualities was that "he had a great respect for the visible world because it is the work, and hence also the imprint and image, of God the Creator." Edward A. Synan has called the Summa Theologiae a classic for its "order; lucidity; respect for sources, whether biblical, ecclesial, philosophical, or simply the dicta of classical authors in their fields; and especially the cogency of argument." Thomas Aquinas Essay - Critical Essays
We often hear that St Thomas Aquinas denied the immaculate conception. But these remarks must be looked at in the perspective of St Thomas' day!
Beyond the obvious fact that no good Thomist would ever hold that St. Thomas knew literally everything in the first place, and the fact that nearly every person in St. Thomas’ day who held the Immaculate Conception held the dogma in a heretical way (claiming that our Lady did not need a Redeemer), and also the further point that most of the best theologians of the 12th and 13th centuries also seem to have denied the doctrine (including Sts. Bernard, Anselm, Albert the Great, and Bonaventure, as well as Peter Lombard and Hugh of St. Victor); beyond all of that, there is this little point: St. Thomas did not (most probably) deny the Immaculate Conception after all.
In the Summa (ST III, q.27, a.1-2), fighting against the false idea of some who held both that Mary was conceived without sin and also that she did not need to be redeemed by the merits of Christ, St. Thomas refuses to commit himself to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. It seemed to most theologians (and also to St. Thomas) that, if Mary were conceived without sin, then she would not need a Redeemer – just as Adam would not have needed a Redeemer if he had not sinned. However, we know by faith that Mary was indeed redeemed by Christ, therefore, it seemed to St. Thomas that she could not have been conceived immaculate.
Still, in the Summa, he very clearly states that she was cleansed from sin shortly after conception and while yet in the womb. He holds that her sanctification was preeminent and singular.
While there is certainly some theological confusion in his thought, a good deal of the error in St. Thomas’ consideration of the Immaculate Conception stems from a mistaken understanding of the process of generation and the formation of the child in the womb. St. Thomas (together with others) believed that the body was conceived before the rational soul was created. Hence, his main argument is to prove that our Lady could not have been sanctified before the creation and infusion of her rational soul – and this we can still hold today, Mary was not sanctified before her animation because she was not immaculately conceived before her conception.
We must also keep in mind that Immaculate Conception was not defined until 1854 by Pope Pius IX.
It is worth to point out that the full content of the Catholic Doctrine is presented in the Enchiridion Symbolorum. This text includes teachings of popes and councils, and not of theologians, except through their influence on popes and councils. As such, Summa Theologica is not per se a compendium of inequivocal Catholic Doctrine, but only insofar as its dogmatic content is ultimately written in one way or another in the Enchiridion, which is not necessarily the case.
In other words, a method by which to check whether a dogmatic aspect of the Summa is part of the Catholic Faith is to search for it in the Enchiridion.
Notice also that what Catholics must accept as truth are, again, dogmatic writings. Not every aspect of a theological work is related to dogma.
No, not all the articles of St. Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica are to be accepted as the truth by every Catholic.
First of all, St. Thomas himself notes in some articles that he is stating his personal opinion on the subject, and that contrary opinions are also compatible with the Catholic faith. Two examples are:
Whether the personal property of innascibility, or unbegottenness, of God the Father had only a negative meaning, namely that the Father is from no one, or also a positive meaning, namely that the Father is the principle of others and also His plenitude as the source of all (ST I, q. 33, a. 4, ad 1). The opposite position was held by St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, who was made Doctor of the Church on the same year as St. Thomas.
Whether, if man had not sinned, the Son of God would have become incarnate (ST III, q. 1, a. 3). The opposite position was held by St. Maximus the Confessor, Abbott Rupert of Deutz, Bishop Robert Grosseteste, St. Albert the Great (DC), Fr. Alexander Hales, Bl. John Duns Scotus, St. Bernardine of Sienna, St. John of the Cross (DC), St. Francis de Sales (DC), and St. Lawrence of Brindisi (DC), of which those denoted (DC) are Doctors of the Church.
A subject in which Catholics should actually NOT follow St. Thomas' opinion is his attempt to defend the Aristotelian notion of "delayed hominization" against its straightforward falsification by several magisterial and patristic statements on the Incarnation of the Logos that St. Thomas himself quotes (ST III, q. 33, a. 2). It is easy to show that his defense fails because of an internal contradiction, not because of any notion deriving from modern biology.