Aquinas, Augustine and Aquinas’s View of God
In advancing arguments for the existence of God, three of the biggest names in Catholic Church theology could be called the three As—Anselm, Augustine and Aquinas. While both came to the conclusion that God could be proved, they approached the argument in different ways that were reflective of their world view and view of God. This essay examines each thinker’s view of god and argument for his existence.
Augustine, also known as Augustine of Hippo, and known in The Church as St Augustine, was influence both in Christianity and philosophy. One contemporary of him, St Jerome said of him that he “established anew the ancient faith.” (TeSelle, 343). Augustine believed that God created the universe, ex nihilo, which is a Latin phrase that means, “out of nothing.”
Much of Augustine’s view of the world and consequently religion came from Plato’s influence on his thinking. As a New-Platonist, he saw the physical reality in the world as being able to be known and discovered through the senses and then he appealed to a higher world of eternal realities, what Plato would have called the realm of forms, that could only be known through a cognitive exercise of the mind. As he saw it, things such as mathematics, and the indisputable claims such as 1 + 1
He believed in an objectivity of thought, and that these truths, the most important being God, the maker of all other truths, were and could be known through the mind. He advanced a fairly simple syllogism. The premises were that people have ideas of eternal truths, they arrived at these on their own, and there for they must need the illumination of God to have arrived at them, which means that God exists.
Aquinas, who came after Augustine advanced a different view that was derived more from Aristotle’s influence than Plato’s.
A lot of Thomas Aquinas’s “genius” did not rest in his own thoughts, but in his ability to Christianize the ideas of the ancient Greeks such as Aristotle and Plato’s school of thoughts. In his Summa Theologiae, he presents five arguments that he believes demonstrates logically the need for the existence of God. Aquinas laid down in his Suma Theologica, five proofs for the existence of god, while some are similar, each was a different means using the mind and reason that he saw as “proving” the existence of God.
Aquinas’s first proof for the existence of God was centered on motion. The parallel to the Aristotelian physics is apparent. Under that system, an arrow moved because wind behind it pushed it. Anything moving needed a driving force behind it or initial cause. This initial cause could be traced back to an original cause and orgin. Aquinas writes that “Whatever is in motion is moved by something else: for nothing undergoes motion except in so far as it is in a state of potentiality.” (Aquinas, 350).
His second proof relies on efficient cause. In a serious of causes one could go back ad infinitum. For “each ordered series of efficient causes, the first item is the cause of the next.” (Aquinas 350). IN order for the series to begin in motion though, one bust go to a primary moving, a d necessary cause, this is what Aquinas sees as God. This is very similar to the argument.
The third proof goes to a more abstract and metaphysical realm away from physics. It is the “Possibility and necessity” argument. Basically, all things that are were once not and when they were not they obviously had a potential of being since we encounter them in a state of being. He looks at that in a perfect being there would be a potential for it to be, and it is a necessary condition that a perfect being exists. “There must be something in the world which is necessary” is the basic tenet of the argument. This though is a big jump. Aquinas once this to be true as a a priori axiom. This argument is founded on that argument, which seems invalid since the premise is rather dubious.
Like the second was like the first, so the fourth is a similar to the third argument for the existence of god. Aquinas looks at the gradations and ranks them by being less good or more good. He says “things which are truest are greatest in being.” (Aquinas, 351) He sees things than on a pathway to a mountain and assumes there must be something at the peak of it. This thing he calls God. Once again, I have trouble following with my modern lens this line of reasoning. Things in the universe, I don’t believe can be ranked as better or worse, they simply are.
The fifth way has to do with an inner code or law of things. Aquinas observed that things have direction; they are reaching for their ends. He then wonders what directed them towards this and calls that God.
Anselm, also known as Anselm of Canterbury where he was an Archbishop was a Benedictine monk. Anselm advanced an ontological arugment. argument in the sense that he believed the answer rest within the individual. Anselm’s a priori testimony of God likewise shared with Feuerbach that experience was not the means to knowing God.
Briefly, Anselm’s proof is as follows: 1) Take as given that God (in terms of a supreme being who is infallible, omniscient, and omnipresent) exists only in a person’s understanding. 2) This means that the greatest possible, conceivable being exists only conceptually within one’s understanding. 3) One can conceive of this entity existing in reality. 4) It is great to exist really rather than only conceptually. 5) The conclusion is that we can conceive of a being greater than the highest being that is capable of existing. 6) This is illogical. 7) Therefore, premise (1) must be false and it follows logically and rationally that God must exist in reality and not just conceptually within the understanding.
Anselms premise rested in the ability of man to use his powers of reasoning. Unlike Anselm who saw the human intellect as the basic vessel by which God can be shown to exist without doubt, Feuerbach sees the concept of god as more associated with who a human being is and how he exists. Rather than logic, he’s relies more on the “feeling.”
TeSelle, Eugene (1970). Augustine the Theologian. London. p. 343. . March 2002.
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