Did Thomas Aquinas Believe that Sin Affected the Intellect?

Without question one of the greatest Christian minds of the church was Thomas Aquinas. Unfortunately, his thought is often misunderstood and misrepresented. In Chip Ingram’s new book, Culture Shock, he makes the following statement about Aquinas:

“At its core, the Enlightenment was deeply influenced by philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas, who taught that all aspects of man were fallen (affected by sin) except the intellect. Man’s ability to reason now became the focus. If given enough time, education, and resources, man can fix the world on his own.” (Emphasis his. 31-32)

In his acknowledgments Ingram expresses appreciation to Francis Schaeffer. I’m willing to guess that Ingram’s opinion of Aquinas is influenced by Schaeffer. In his popular book on Aquinas Norman Geisler made this observation:

“Francis Schaeffer blames Aquinas for the rise of modern humanism. He charges that Aquinas bifurcates faith and reason, giving autonomy to the latter. Further, Schaeffer claims that Aquinas denies the depravity of humankind, thus making perfectibility possible apart from God. In this way the stage was set for later humanists to affirm that reason alone is sufficient to resolve our dilemma, Aquinas’s separation of faith and reason is an ‘incipient humanism’ where ‘reason is made an absolute rather than a tool.’ Due to his wide influence in conservative Protestant circles, Schaeffer’s position is taken as gospel by much of evangelicalism.” (Thomas Aquinas, Baker Publishing Group, 1991. p. 12)

Geisler says it is a “mistaken view that Aquinas believes the mind is finite but not fallen.” (Thomas Aquinas, 65) He clarifies Aquinas’s position as saying that “sin cannot destroy man’s rationality altogether, for then he would no longer be capable of sin.” (66) Here are a couple of quotes from Aquinas.

“For human reason is very deficient in things concerning God. A sign of this is that philosophers in their researches, by natural investigation, into human affairs, have fallen into many errors, and have disagreed among themselves. And consequently, in order than men might have knowledge of God, free of doubt and uncertainty, it was necessary for Divine matters to be delivered to them by way of faith, being told to them, as it were, by God Himself Who cannot lie.” (II-II Q2.A4)

“Unbelievers cannot be said to believe in God as we understand it in relation to the act of faith. For they do not believe that God exists under the conditions that faith determines; hence they do not truly believe in a God, since as the Philosopher observes to know simple things defectively is not to know them at all.” (II-II Q2.A2)

Aquinas was clear that faith must come from God. He says the work of faith requires an external cause and an internal cause. The external cause may be seeing a miracle or hearing an argument. He says this is insufficient in itself since someone may see the same miracle or hear the same argument and not believe. An internal cause is required. “The Pelagians held that this cause was nothing else than man’s free-will: and consequently they said that the beginning of faith is from ourselves, inasmuch as, to wit, it is in our power to be ready to assent to things which are of faith, but that the consummation of faith is from God, Who proposes to us the things we have to believe. But this is false, for, since man, by assenting to matters of faith, is raised above his nature, this must needs accrue to him from some supernatural principle moving him inwardly; and this is God. Therefore faith, as regards the assent which is the chief act of faith, is from God moving man inwardly by grace.” (II-II Q6.A1)

Fianlly, he writes that “As a result of original justice, the reason had perfect hold over the lower parts of the soul, while reason itself was perfected by God and was subject to Him. Now this same original justice was forfeited through the sin of our first parent, as already stated; so that all the powers of the soul are left, as it were, destitiute of their proper order, whereby they are naturally directed to virtue; which destitution is called a wounding of nature.” (I-II Q85.A3)

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
This entry was posted in Catholic, Church History, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Did Thomas Aquinas Believe that Sin Affected the Intellect?

  1. Pingback: Really Recommended Posts 9/19/14- Aquinas, the “Gospel” of Barnabas, Poverty, and More! | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"

  2. Willow says:

    Thank you for this clarification. Schaeffer also gets Orthodox iconography completely wrong and draws ridiculous conclusions based on his ignorance. It’s terrible to realize that many Protestants have been misled by Schaeffer.

    Like

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