The second in a series of articles where the author discusses briefly of insights had in his History of Christianity class and its relation to Mormon thought. Much scripture wresting and possibly inaccurate historical brevity involved.
My current Christian hero at the moment is Thomas Aquinas, great Scholastic philosopher-theologian whose landmark work Summa Theologiae combined the Nomalist and Realist philosophies, Aristotelian thinking, and Catholic doctrine into a systematic examination of the Catholic Church using the natural reasoning and logic of man.
Aquinas was convinced that God could be approached through reason. When discussing the knowledge of God, Aquinas writes, “The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles.” While Aquinas understood the difference between reason and revelation, he also believed them to be inseparable. Both came from God, both needed to be used to come closer to Him.
At the time of Aquinas’ life, Aristotle’s texts had just been re-discovered. The Church had known about Plato and his philosophy for centuries now – countless apologetics and theologians reconciled Platonic thought with Catholic theology several times over. Aristotle’s writings excited Aquinas, however, who had trouble understanding the Church through a Platonic lens. For Aquinas, Aristotle was the answer.
Why such a focus on intelligence and reason? Influenced with Aristotle, Aquinas did not believe that a soul in the traditional sense existed. He argued that the soul with the body is substantial, but when the body perishes, the soul perishes. However, human beings have unique intelligence that encompasses understanding, and this understanding will live forever in eternal life with God. Intelligence, according to Aquinas, was eternal, not the traditional concept of “the soul.” Because of this fact, Aquinas firmly believed that the purpose of life is to learn as much as we can and gain understanding of knowledge in this life.
Does this sound familiar? It should:
Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.
– Doctrine and Covenants 130:18-19
Joseph Smith obviously cared intensely about intelligence in general and especially education within the Church. Brigham Young, his successor, also believed strongly in education and intelligence. After all, the glory of God is intelligence (Doctrine and Covenants 93:36). This loss of Mormon scholasticism within the general population of the Church may deny us many gifts and advances in developing Mormon thought. The prevalent Mormon culture today seems to rely on revelation through emotion, supported by an occasional scripture (usually found by “opening the Book of Mormon at random” to find the right verse). This dearth of systematic, studious research in the scriptures and the vigorous application of reason and logic has reduced our General Authorities to begging us to read just one verse a day and widespread “faith-promoting” rumors with very little to no grounding in the standard works whatsoever (i.e., Bigfoot is Cain). For a Church population that continually asserts that we know things, like how we know that the Church is true, we know that Joseph Smith is a true prophet, we know paying tithing brings blessings, we know that the Word of Wisdom is a true principle, we sure don’t know a lot about anything sometimes when it comes to our Church history, theology, and cosmology. While we talk about how our Primary children and youth know such pure, soul saving principles that theologians and scriptorians most undoubtedly wrestled over for millennia, apparently we stop learning after that age. The general Church population may be experiencing a widespread arrested development in religious intellectual thought.
As predicted, Thomas and his teachings troubled the Church, especially those who disliked his marriage of reason, faith, and revelation. The Church threatened to excommunicate him several times – one time they succeeded briefly – and were it not for Aquinas’ association with the Dominican Order, the Church most likely would have successfully squashed Aquinas and his work. Instead, the powerful Dominican Order successfully lobbied the Catholic Church to accept Aquinas’ work as doctrine, and what is now known as Thomistic thought became the prevalent Church theology until the arrival of William of Ockham (developer of Occam’s Razor), who challenged Thomism and the Church’s embrace of it.