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If I have understood the Supplement to the Third Part of Aquinas's monumental Summa Theologica correctly, Aquinas argues that, following the Last Judgement, the redeemed bask in the light of God's presence in the heavens, while the earth, stripped of all animal and vegetable life, and, as far as I can tell, uninhabited, is left as a sterile accretion of gemstones, glowing with divine power. To pick one of several passages where this is laid out:

Therefore plants and animals will altogether cease after the renewal of the world... Now animals and plants were made for the upkeep of human life; wherefore it is written (Genesis 9:3): "Even as the green herbs have I delivered all flesh to you [Vulgate: 'have I delivered them all to you']." Therefore when man's animal life ceases, animals and plants should cease. But after this renewal animal life will cease in man. Therefore neither plants nor animals ought to remain.

(Question 91, Article 5)

I have deep respect for Aquinas and his writings, but this seems to contradict my understanding of the resurrection of the body and the 'new heavens and a new earth' as laid out in the final chapters of Revelation. The biblical account - as I understand it - speaks of the redeemed being resurrected to enjoy - in addition to the spiritual bliss of God's presence - the glory of a re-created physical universe, complete with trees, meadows, lions, horses, waterfalls, and doubtless many other things - not purged, but renewed and perfected.

Is Aquinas being unscriptural at this point? Or am I misunderstanding either the philosopher or the Bible?

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  • Do you mean "contradict" or "render the body unnecessary for" being able to behold the beatific vision?
    – Geremia
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 23:09
  • @Geremia To the best of my knowledge there is nothing in Aquinas which contradicts Revelation in the narrow, straightforward. But my impression is that Aquinas lays out a vision of the world to come in which the non-physical, i.e. the beatific vision, is front and centre, and the physical, i.e. the resurrection of the body, is almost irrelevant; and that seems quite different to the vision that Revelation lays out. The purpose of my question was to test the correctness of that impression.
    – Tom Hosker
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 0:41
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    You should give the quote that you find problematic.
    – zippy2006
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 0:43
  • Related but different question Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 14:33

1 Answer 1

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Note: This is a provisional answer since I need to find support from books / journal articles about Aquinas's view of the new heaven and earth.

On the surface, the incompatibility stems from Aquinas's theory of the quality of the world after judgment (Suppl. IIIae Q91 Article 5) which seems to contradict Biblical description. But given that even the Biblical description itself is most likely metaphorical, Aquinas probably meant Article 5 to be within the realm of speculation based on Aristotelian/medieval cosmology that is now outdated.

The more pertinent concern that has a much more solid basis in Aquinas is our soul's relation to the Beatific Vision and to the new heaven and earth where our purified soul will be able to enjoy God more directly in heaven, and after judgment day through our glorified body also. There is no contradiction here, because in the new heaven and earth the glorified body is an extension of the soul that already had beatific vision after death (though needing purgatorial phase). The Catechism clarifies this point, which is consistent with Thomist teaching of beatific vision for the soul.

The remaining issue to be resolved is squaring Q. 91 Art 5 with the Biblical description of the new heaven and earth, which I think is secondary to Aquinas's account of the Beatific Vision, and even if it is irresolvable we can categorize this under Aquinas's outdated Aristotelian-based cosmology.

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  • I've just updated my question with a relevant quotation from the Summa.
    – Tom Hosker
    Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 14:05
  • @TomHosker Thanks, that quote helps a lot. On the surface it does look as if there is a contradiction between Article 5 and the description of new heaven and earth from the Bible. First, we need to remember that the supplement is not technically Aquinas's own, so we need to consult his other writings on the topic. I think I'll have to research journal articles that cover Aquinas's thinking on the new heaven and earth, and the exact level of certainty that he himself attributed to his theory. I'm somewhat busy in the next few weeks, so I may not update this answer soon. Commented Mar 9, 2022 at 14:25

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