Philosophy Thomas Aquinas' Philosophy of Religion
by
Paul O'Grady
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 August 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0279

Introduction

Thomas Aquinas contributed to all the main areas of philosophy, but his work is especially relevant to the philosophy of religion. Given that he would not have used such a category, there is some hermeneutical work to be done in distinguishing Philosophy and Theology in Aquinas’s oeuvre. What is clear is that he articulated a sophisticated and highly developed version of classical theism, a position that united the religious intuitions of the Abrahamic religious traditions with classical Greek metaphysics. He articulated a realist, pluralist ontology and defended an account of existence that brought together elements of Aristotelian and Neoplatonic thought. His work was highly systematic, deploying a basic set of distinctions that he used imaginatively across a wide range of topics. His metaphysical system leads to the postulation of a first cause, which differs significantly with the rest of reality. These differences are spelled out in some detail in his discussion of the divine attributes. In the 20th century this position came under increasing pressure, with many philosophers and theologians of different persuasions challenging several of the characteristics of classical theism; these include the views that God is simple, unchanging, and eternal. And such criticisms come from those who hold to theism, let alone atheist critics. Hence Aquinas has much of interest to say about the relationship of philosophy to theology and of faith to reason. He presents a number of Arguments for God’s Existence and has lengthy explorations of the divine nature, all of which are relevant to contemporary philosophy of religion. He also has much of philosophical interest to say about topics specific to Christianity, including the metaphysics of the Incarnation and the Trinity, the afterlife, providence, Heaven and Hell, theological virtues, and sacraments. However, these topics are usually treated under the heading ”philosophical theology.” In this article on Aquinas’s philospohy of religion, I shall restrict myself to dealing with topics that are not specific to Aquinas’s Christian beliefs.

Works by Aquinas

Aquinas wrote a bewildering amount in his brief half-century-long life. There is no complete critical edition of his works, but the Leonine Edition continues, with new volumes appearing sporadically. A full collection of his works, in the most up-to date-editions, is available and searchable online at the Corpus Thomisticum. There are many English translations of his works and the following are those most relevant to those interested in philosophy of religion. Sources available on the Web include St. Thomas Aquinas’s Works in English, which has English translations of all his major works, and also New Advent, which is a very useful literal English translation of the Summa Theologiae. The monumental Aquinas Summa Theologiae by various translators, a sixty-one-volume English translation, is the standard modern English translation, with each volume containing useful introductions, notes, and appendices. However, since it is a multiauthor translation, there is an unevenness in the quality. Pegis, et al. 1955–1957, a similar multiauthor translation of Summa Contra Gentiles, is available in five volumes. Of special interest to students of philosophy of religion is Shanley 2006, which contains a highly informative commentary. McDermott 1993 is a great collection of thematically selected readings drawn from different works—each contextualized in terms of genre of writing, date and central ideas—many of which are relevant to philosophy of religion discussions. Aquinas’s commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate has important discussions about knowledge of God and the methodological distinctions among different disciplines dealing with God, and is translated in Maurer 1982 and Maurer 1986.

  • Corpus Thomisticum.

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    An invaluable site, containing the complete Latin texts of all Aquinas’s works, as well as variously scholarly tools, including search engines and a lexicon.

  • Maurer, A. Super Boethium De Trinitate (St. Thomas Aquinas: Faith, Reason, and Theology). Toronto: PIMS, 1982.

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    A translation of the first part of Aquinas’s Commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate (Questions 1–4). It is especially useful for understanding Aquinas’s epistemological views on knowledge about God and the respective roles of Philosophy and Theology. This edition has a useful thirty-page introduction.

  • Maurer, A. The Division and Methods of the Sciences. Toronto: PIMS, 1986.

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    This continues the translation of Aquinas’s Commentary on Boethius’s De Trinitate (Questions 5–6). He outlines the divisions and methods of speculative science, distinguishing mathematics, physics, and divine science. The useful introduction has a discussion of Aquinas on methodology.

  • McDermott, Timothy. Thomas Aquinas: Selected Philosophical Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

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    An excellent collection of texts representing the full chronology of Aquinas’s writings and translated in a brisk and accessible manner, including the full texts of On the Principles of Nature, and On Being and Essence.

  • Pegis, A. C., J. F. Anderson, V. J. Bourke, and C. J. O’Neil, trans. Summa Contra Gentiles: On The Truth of the Catholic Faith. 5 vols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1955–1957.

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    Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles is of special interest to philosophers, as the first three books were written without reliance on theological sources. Its style and content are different than the Summa Theologiae.

  • Shanley, Brian. The Treatise on the Divine Nature: Summa Theologiae 1.1–3. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2006.

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    This is a good translation of the first thirteen questions of the Summa Theologiae with an excellent commentary and a very useful bibliography.

  • St. Thomas Aquinas’s Works in English.

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    A very useful site with English translations of many of Aquinas’s works.

  • Summa Theologiae, various trans. 61 vols. The Blackfriars Edition. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1964–1981.

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    This is the current standard English translation of Aquinas’s major work. An older literal English translation is available online.

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