The felicitous* inconsistencies of St. Thomas

29 Jan
St. Thomas Aquinas by Fra Bartolomeo

St. Thomas Aquinas by Fra Bartolomeo

Or maybe it is just Stephen Pfurtner, author of “Luther and Aquinas on Salvation” which I am reading (I have not read too much straight Thomas, but I’m guessing Pfurtner represents Thomas reliably).

This quote about Thomas’ teachings (I’ve left out most footnote references) bowled me over:

“To the external vocation of preaching there must be added an internal, ‘which is nothing other than a kind of mental instinct, though which man’s heart is moved by God to assent to the things that are of faith’ (Thomas on Rom. 8:30, lect. 6.).  Only God can [‘move us to the assent of faith’], and then in so far as he bears witness to himself within us.  Or we may say with the Apostle (Gal. 1:16): the Father must reveal his Son in us.  Faith is the sending of the Son to man’s soul, it is the Son himself dwelling within us.  We are united by faith with the power of Christ.  This word alone, which is uttered by God himself in the soul, finally and definitively establishes our faith.  How strikingly close this is to Luther’s theology, according to which faith is Christus in nobis!  And how much light is here thrown upon what veritas prima [Aquinas’ “First Truth”] with its effect on us, means to Aquinas!” (80, Pfurtner, italics his, bold mine)

And I think “No wonder [the great 17th century Lutheran theologian] John Gerhard liked this guy” (as one of my church history profs said was the case) – even if Luther did not.

On the other hand, let’s talk about that “added internal” that must go hand in hand with preaching.  Certainly, it involves grace: the heart’s inclination to believe, Thomas tells us, comes not from hearing, but from the gift of grace (79).  Still somewhat permissible perhaps…  But then, elsewhere Pfurtner, evidently echoing Thomas, talks about things like the following:

  • The soul’s powers to produce biblical saving faith (74)
  • Salvation is man’s conscious and free response to God’s call (62)
  • The main attention of Thomas’ systematic writings is to “define faith as the work of intellect and will” (75, see 83, paragraph 2 as well)
  • The subjective decision in the act of faith (76)
  • Faith has no evidence of the truth it affirms (76)

So as much as Aquinas sometimes sounds like Augustine when it comes to this matter of initial conversion to God, he (or at least those who represent him!) also sound(s) a lot like a Greek philosopher at times (see this comment I made at a blog for more).  In addition, one cannot read Thomas on the matter of grace – without reading what others say about Thomas – and not get the impression that he was determined to make one’s personal faith in God uncertain (see article V here).

When death drew near, we can hope that Thomas had no desire to focus on his soul’s powers to produce anything meritorious in the present or the future, but rather simply clung to the mercy that was offered to him in the One who chose Him.  Betting all the “blue chips” on Christ.

*felicitous as in pleasing or fortunate, not as regards his theology but as regards his person

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