Aquinas – 5 Arguments for the Existence of God

I read Aquinas’ three articles on the existence of God found in his Summa Theologica.  The following article I wrote as an analysis of his five arguments for the existence of God found in article 3.  To better understand and engage with this article, please read the linked selection above.  Thank you! 

Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar, born in Aquino, Italy, in the 13th century, is known as a master of systematic theology, with no one of great comparison before him besides Augustine.  He was a great influencer in the tradition of scholasticism, a school of thought that placed a high emphasis on reason.  As such, it is no surprise that Aquinas is well known for his contribution to natural theology, reasoned arguments from logic and natural experience that make the case for the existence of God.  These arguments are found in his work, Summa Theolgica, a text that Aquinas wrote as a summary of the Catholic faith.  His other two important works include the Summa contra Gentiles, written to postulate Christian theology in the context of the unbeliever, and the Compendium Theologiae, written for the lay beginner learning the faith.  In this paper I will briefly present and analyze his arguments to answer the question, “Whether God Exists?” as found in Aquinas’ Summa Theolica.

Aquinas’ purpose in this selection of his work is to show that God does exist in opposition to the objection to God’s existence on account of the presence of evil in the world (since God is infinitely good, it appears there should be no evil if he existed) and the objection that supposes it is reasonable that everything in the natural world can be accounted for by nature itself and that everything voluntary can be accounted for by the human will apart from God’s existence.

To answer how he knows that God exists, Aquinas gives five arguments from natural knowledge.  The first argument is that the observed motion in the world dictates a first mover to initiate the movement.  The second argument is that God alone has the necessary qualities to be the efficient cause of all things (to be that first mover), since a thing cannot bring itself into existence (existing before it existed).  The third argument derives from the possibility for things not to be, meaning it’s possible for nature to not exist, but at that point there would be nothing, and since nothing produces nothing, it then follows that nothing cannot be the explanation of the first mover. The fourth argument is that of gradation in which all aspects of nature have a comparable greater than or less than quality to them and that the maximum in any given classification (genus) is the cause of all in that category.  It follows that there must be something that is maximum to all beings from which everything derives: God.  Finally, Aquinas’ fifth argument for the existence of God is taken from the orderly and intended purposes found in all things of the natural world, thus pointing to an intelligent being that orchestrated this design.

Aquinas then uses these five arguments from nature to refute the two objections against the existence of God that he is striving to refute.  To the existence of evil being incompatible with God, Aquinas applies the principle that God is the highest good stating, “He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil” (Kerr, 114).  It is reasonable to say that the best of the best in the realm of goodness would be able to produce good out of evil.  To put the nail in the coffin for the objection that nature can produce all we see in nature, Aquinas simply works from the fifth argument he gave back to the first.

Aquinas adequately met his goal to defend the existence of God against these two objections, but I’m not sure who would have been making a case for naturalism in Aquinas’ day that would have been interacting with this work to warrant such an articulated effort on his part.  In today’s zeitgeist, numerous sophisticated arguments for atheism have emerged (Darwinian Evolution, multiverse theory, panspermia theory, and even redefining nothing as something).  However, all of these arguments (or mere theories) fail to answer the question of first causes and break down upon the same arguments Aquinas offered almost 800 years ago.  In fact, Aquinas’ arguments are essentially the same arguments from nature used today; they are just more refined and organized into syllogisms now (usually).  For example, William Lane Craig has in recent decades popularized the Kalam Cosmological Argument, stems back to Aristotle (who said everything has a cause), was then established by Aquinas (who said God is the uncaused cause), then repackaged by Islamic philosophers in the Kalam argument, which states: 1) Everything that begins has a cause.  2) The Universe has a beginning. 3) Therefore, the universe has a cause for its beginning.[1]  The personal creator God is that cause, since as Aquinas explained, the universe couldn’t cause itself and it couldn’t have been the product of nothing.  The argument of design and order that Aquinas presented, which in modern day is typically called the teleological argument, has garnered much more detailed support through our increased knowledge of the fine details of the building blocks of life (cells, DNA, etc.) and the intricacies of organ systems within living creatures and the interplay of ecosystems – all we know of the world (which is more than in Aquinas’ day) screams for a Creator, just as Paul said it does in Romans 1.

In closing, Aquinas’ work seems to be the foundation of much of modern day Christian apologetics concerning arguments from nature.  However, arguments from nature are arguments that any Theist can offer, as demonstrated by Craig’s reinvigoration of the Islamic Kalam argument.  I’d argue that it is far more important to focus Christian apologetics on revealed knowledge, pointing to the historicity of the Gospel narratives concerning Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that demonstrate not only that God exists, but tell us precisely who God is and what he thinks of us and what he has done for us.  Centering such arguments for the existence of God around the cross of Jesus of Nazareth and his subsequent empty tomb also better counter the problem of evil that Aquinas was ultimately addressing through his arguments for the existence of God.  Instead of just posturing that an infinitely good God isn’t incompatible with the existence of evil, because such a God can produce good from evil, Aquinas, and Christians today, can and should point to the certain assurance of God’s capabilities to do this through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  Out of the greatest evil that has occurred in human history (the death of the God-Man at the hands of his own creation) the greatest good was produced (salvation for all who believe as Jesus reconciled the world to the Father through the shedding of his blood).

 

 

[1] All About Philosphy. “Cosmological Argument”: https://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/cosmological-argument.htm accessed on Oct. 29th, 2018.

5 Influential Christian Leaders of the Medieval Period



Anselm of Canterbury

Italian-born, Anselm was a Benedictine monk and philosopher of great renowned and influence in the 11th century AD.   His life ended while holding the office of Archbishop of Canterbury in the first decade of the 12th century.  He is recognized as the father of Scholasticism, a philosophical movement that married theology and rational thought that emphasized the internal, logical consistency of the Christian faith through reasoned arguments and the presentation of succinct truth claims.  This school of thoughts was the model of learning in the first universities that were began to be established throughout the Holy Roman Empire during Anselm’s life.  A prolific writer of numerous dialogues and treaties, Anselm offered much to the theological discussion of his day, but his most recognized teachings are his satisfaction theory of atonement and his argument for the existence of God from reason alone, now known as the ontological argument.  The satisfaction theory for atonement stressed that Christ’s honor in his obedience to death won our salvation.  This theory’s emphasis was shifted by the reformers of the 16th century to the penal substitutionary theory of atonement that stressed that Jesus’ death was the penalty we deserved, instead of the honor that we cannot give.  His ontological argument shows the existence of God from reason alone, arguing that if it is possible for God to exist, then it follows logically that he does exist.  There are numerous premises in his argument that demonstrate God’s existence, forcing the atheist to demonstrate that it is impossible for God to exist in order to hold his position logically. Anselm’s influence and work in Scholasticism certainly helped pave the way for the reformers work in analyzing and systematizing the doctrines of the Bible, as well as helped pave the way for modern day Christian apologetics.


Peter Lombard 

Peter was born in Lombard, a place in northwestern Italy, near the dawn of the 12th century AD.  He became a professor of theology in Notre Dame in 1135 and was later ordained as priest and became the bishop of Paris in 1159, a year before he died.  His most important work of historical significance is his four book commentary series, Sentences.  It was a compendium of commentaries from Church fathers on Scripture and various theological topics.  Many commentaries were also written on Peter’s commentary.  Sentences became the quintessential theological textbook of the medieval ages and was studied and quoted by such giants as Aquinas, William of Ockham, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, that came after Peter Lombard.


Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux was a French abbot of the 12th century AD (1090-1153).  Clairvaux was the name of a monastery Bernard founded in 1115, one of as many as 300 monasteries he is credited with founding. He constantly operated on a high level of church and worldly activities, penning the structure and code of the Knights Templar, being called upon to settle the dispute over who should be the succeeding pope after the death of Pope Honorius II, as well as having a major hand in influencing and rallying the Second Crusade.  His work was influential in the Reformation, and it is said that he was an early reformer himself, since Bernard spoke against the growing predisposition to rituals and the numerous sacraments within the Church.  He also has written statements that reformers later used to support the doctrines of imputed righteousness and salvation by faith alone apart from human merit.  Interestingly enough though, the Roman Catholic Church also quoted Bernard during the theological scuffles of the Reformation, because Bernard also supported the selling of indulgences and viewed Mary as the co-redeemer with Christ.  For modern day Christians, we most likely know of Bernard of Clairvaux through his epic hymn, “Oh Sacred Head Now Wounded.”


Francis of Assisi

Francis was an Italian who lived from 1181 to 1226.  He is most known for his Franciscan Order, which is technically three orders; the Friars Minor, the Order of Poor Ladies (or Clares), and the Order of Brothers and Sisters of Penance.  The Franciscans who followed his order were known for their path of poverty; and with their chosen poverty they served those that were poor and sick.  The goal for Francis was the emulation of Jesus’ life – living as Christ lived.  He was through and through a Roman Catholic, though today he is still revered by Protestants that find Francis of Assisi’s life of self-denial and service to others as an ideal example of what it means to loving one’s neighbor.


John Duns Scotus

John Duns Scotus is placed alongside Thomas Aquinus and William of Ockham as one of the master philosopher-theologians of the High Middle Ages.  He lived from 1266-1308, born in Scotland. Duns Scotus was a Franciscan.  By John Duns Scotus’ day Lombard’s Sentences was a launching pad for presenting one’s own thoughts or answers to problems and questions.  Dun Scotus’ commentary on Lombard’s work is entitled, Ordinatio, and it contains the philosophical views that Duns Scotus is most known for: univocity of being, formal distinction, and his metaphysical arguments for the existence of God.  Of importance for Roman Catholicism, Duns Scotus formulated and defended the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, that teaches that Mary was born preserved from all stain of Original Sin.  This is now accepted doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that even teaches today that Mary never died due to her never sinning at all in her life.

Augustine – The Church in the World

Excerpts from Augustine’s The City of God, taken from New Advent:

Book 18, Chapter 49

“In this wicked world, in these evil days, when the Church measures her future loftiness by her present humility, and is exercised by goading fears, tormenting sorrows, disquieting labors, and dangerous temptations, when she soberly rejoices, rejoicing only in hope, there are many reprobate mingled with the good, and both are gathered together by the gospel as in a drag net; (Matthew 13:47-50) and in this world, as in a sea, both swim enclosed without distinction in the net, until it is brought ashore, when the wicked must be separated from the good, that in the good, as in His temple, God may be all in all.”

Book 18, Chapter 51

“Thus in this world, in these evil days, not only from the time of the bodily presence of Christ and His apostles, but even from that of Abel, whom first his wicked brother slew because he was righteous, (1 John 3:12) and thenceforth even to the end of this world, the Church has gone forward on pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God.”

Quotes in my analysis below of these two brief excerpts come from the translation found in Readings in Christian Thought edited by Hugh T. Kerr.

Christians Thrown to the Lions.jpg


Augustine of Hippo stands as one of the greatest theologians of all time.  His works are still appealed to as an authority in both Roman Catholic and Protestant tradition on numerous and diverse subjects across two-hundred and thirty-two works.  From Augustine’s Confessions, we learn of his conversion from paganism to Christianity after living a life of grandiose sinful indulgences in his thirties.  Born in 354 AD, he lived through the roughly last fifty years of the Roman Empire’s existence, the first half being a pagan, and the second half being a Christian.  Augustine lived roughly another quarter of a century after the fall of Rome in 410 AD.  His mother was a Christian and his father was a pagan until his deathbed. This life experience deposits him into an advantageous position of first-hand familiarity with the mind of both the pagan and Christian, in a world where Christianity is the religion of the State and in which it is not.  After the fall of Rome, Christians received the blame for the end of the Roman Empire and the calamity and suffering that followed.  To comfort Christians, as well as to defend against such blame, Augustine wrote The City of God, drawing from his well-spring of knowledge of the inner workings of both the pagan and Christian worldviews as he wrote, to demonstrate the tension, even battle, between the kingdoms of man that continually rise and fall and the eternal kingdom of God that forever stands.

In the above excerpt from The City of God, Augustine writes with the purpose to remind Christians that the world is not their friend.  Despite the appearance of it for a time when Constantine Christianized the Roman Empire, the days are evil, and Augustine argues that this is to the Church’s benefit, because Augustine writes, “through the lowliness she now endures is winning the sublime station she is to have in heaven.” He justifies this position with two key points: a summary of Paul’s words in Romans 5 on the fruit born through suffering and an appeal to the historical suffering of God’s righteous people.  Like Paul, Augustine argues that suffering produces a deep-seated joy in the hope to come and a willingness to wait out the evil days until Christ separates his own from the children of the devil.  To keep the Church from getting too near sighted, thinking their current plight is unique to them, he reminds them that the apostles and the Church fathers suffered before Constantine made Christianity the religion of the State and that in fact God’s people have always agonized under the oppression of evil men, tracing all the way back to the beginning of man, when righteous Abel was murdered by his wicked brother, Cain.  Augustine concludes that as it was in the beginning with Abel, it will continue to be until the end of this age.

Underlying the purpose of his writing to remind his Christian readers that cities of men inevitably fall but God’s city will always remain is the question, “What then shall we do?”  With the evidence and reasoning Augustine provided, the answer appears to be nothing but a single answer – what Jesus said to the seven churches of Revelation – “Stand firm until the end.”  This single answer is to give the Christian the necessary knowledge to live in sight of better things to come, to not be attached to the world that certainly will end in fire and destruction at Christ’s return – to pull one’s head out of the “now” and to hope in the “not yet” reality of the City of God.  There are of course many activities the Christian can be pursuing in this world of woe: loving God, serving one’s neighbor, helping the poor and widowed, comforting those who mourn, being a voice for the voiceless, speaking the Gospel to all in his life, and etc., but the knowledge gleaned from Augustine’s answer is that none of these activities will put an end to suffering.  They might lead to a relative life of ease if the work of the Church through the Gospel and the Sacraments wins over the State as what had occurred with Constantine and Rome, but such peace won’t last, because it’s only given when the City of Man adopts the veneer of the City of God.

I thought this small, two paragraph excerpt from The City of God provided great insight for today’s Church in America (potentially the West as a whole, but particularly the American Church).  From personal experience, I have heard many, Americans and non-Americans, express the notion that America was founded on Christian values and liberties, going so far to say that America is a “Christian nation.”  Many of these same people argue that America has fallen from these traditional Christian values, often times using the term, “Post-Christian,” to describe the nation.  I read an article a few years ago by a LC-MS pastor about the shift Christians have experienced in America from being a people of “privilege” due to their religious majority to now being a people “unprivilege.”  In many ways, the City of God veneer has stripped away from the City of Man in America, and the Church is now seen as a resistance, a stumbling block to the progress the City of Man wants to make in the realms of sexual identity and activity, abortion on demand, religious syncretism, socialized programs that put more trust and power in the City of Man than in God and the love of one’s neighbor to help out in times of need, and even science because of the common Christian rejection of Darwinian Evolution.  Augustine reminds us too – this is nothing new.  It’s always been.

In America, we have excesses in material wealth and luxuries in comfort that many in the world cannot even comprehend.  Our extravagances can lead us to be attached to this world, to love the City of Man, in a way that others with less wealth might not be tempted to cling.  I lived one summer in a Mexican town that had no running water, no washer and dryers, no water heaters, now showers, just outhouses, no pavement, just dirt.  It’s common for Americans to come back from such locales and say, “But they were so happy.”  That was my experience too.  They weren’t so attached to the City of Man, and many of the people I interacted with were members of the City of God.  Their hope was in the life to come; not having their best life now.  Augustine’s writing was a wake-up call for me; to not grow fat and lazy; hard times will come.  His use of Abel being slain by his ungodly brother is what shook me.  I have read that historical narrative to be an example of the damaging effects of sin in the world; not the pitting of war between God’s people and the devil’s as Augustine framed it.  It reminded me that there is a war between two cities raging on and that I really should adjust and align myself not so much as an American-Christian, seeking to Make America Christian Again, but as a Christian who is a wayfarer in this world of woe, awaiting my Lord to bring me home.

5 Biographical Summaries of Early Church Fathers

 


Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp lived through the second half of the first century AD and the first half of the second century.  From a statement he is recorded to have made at his martyrdom, it is assumed that Polycarp was baptized as a child and didn’t have a moment in his life where he did not know the Lord.   He had great influence in the early Christian Church, largely because he was a disciple of the Apostle John.  His apostolic connection helped land him the Bishop office of Smyrna, and it also placed him in a very important role of preserving the orthodox teachings of the Apostles, which he did with tenacity.  It is reported that he called Marcion out to his face in Rome, calling him “the first born of Satan.”  He also pulled believers away from Gnosticism.  His willingness to die as a 2nd generation Church Father was another way in which he carried on like the apostles (all except John that is).  Today his writings only have survived through a letter he wrote to the Philippians, which is an important text for the modern church since it is one of the earliest writings we have from Christendom outside of the Biblical texts.

Irenaeus of Lyons

Irenaeus was born in Smyrna in the first half of the second century AD and he lived to see the close of that century.  Having been a student of Polycarp in his youth, becoming the Bishop of Lyons late in his life, he carried on a chain of successive leadership tracing back to the apostles.  In fact, Irenaeus prescribed such connection to apostolic succession for all bishops, stressing that they all taught what the apostles had received from Christ and passed on to followers such as his teacher, Polycarp.  It is on this authority that he spoke against the Gnostics who claimed to have a knowledge from outside of direct revelation from Jesus.  His refutation of the Gnostics, in particular the flavor of Gnosticism that derived from the followers of Valentinus, has been preserved in his work Against Heresies.  It is from this work that the modern Church had the most information about Gnosticism before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls.  His writings also prove helpful to demonstrate the early formation of the New Testament Canon, since Irenaeus’s writings provide the first record of acknowledging a four-fold Gospel in Church writing and he references every text of the New Testament, except 3 John, in Against Heresies.  He may, or may not have died as a martyr.

Jerome

Jerome, AKA Eusebius Hieronymus, was born in Stridon just prior to the middle of the fourth century AD, dying around 420 AD.  In is lifetime he practiced monasticism as a desert hermit, was ordained a priest, served as a secretary to Pope Damascus, and helped found a monastery in Bethlehem.  Jerome was a prolific translator, translating numerous sermons and commentaries of Church Father Origen, for instance.  His greatest and most long-lasting impact on the Church was his translation of the Vulgate (Latin) Bible.  His translation work, in particular on revisions of the Septuagint (Greek version of the New Testament) led him to the understanding that the only inspired text of the Bible is that of the original text.  In addition to his translations, he added much to the Church’s collection of exegetical commentaries as well as throwing his hat into to the arguments of doctrinal discussion in his day concerning the value of virginity compared to marriage, the ever-virgin state of Mary, the value of asceticism, defending the use of the work of Origen, and writing against Pelagianism (though Jerome was likely a synergist himself).

The Cappadocian Fathers

Arius was an early fourth century priest who taught that Jesus was not eternal.  He taught that Jesus was a created being.  To formulate a catholic response to the teachings of Arius was the main reason Emperor Constantine I called the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.  This council rejected Arius’ teachings (Arianism) and formulated the Nicene Creed as a proper Trinitarian statement, which adopted the term “of one substance” to refer to describe the oneness in divinity that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all shared.  After the council, not every church bishop kept to Nicene Creed and fell back to Arianism.  Soon after the Nicene Creed, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil of Caesarea, and Basil’s brother, Gregory of Nyssa, were born.  All three were from Cappadocia and they were friends and worked together to advance and cement the formed language of the Trinity that God exists as three persons in one essence.  Their preaching and writing was significant in putting an end to Arianism in the fourth century and was crucial in the Council of Constantinople in 381 that re-affirmed the Nicene Creed.  Together these three men are known as the Cappadocian Fathers.

John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom (347–407 AD) was born John in Syrian Antioch.  He was appointed as the Bishop of Constantinople in 398. Chrysostomos means “golden-mouth” and is added to his given name as a result of his powerful sermons.  His homilies focused on living the crucified life and railed against the excesses and sinful indulgences of his day that were woefully present in the upper-echelon of the secular world and even the Church. Many loved his proclamations, but those on high did not appreciate his pointed applications at them, so he was deposed from this position and then sent into exile where he died.  Around 600 of his homilies survive today.

78. Evidence for the Christmas Star

>> Click Here to Listen to the Episode! <<
(Right click and “save as” to download)

Or Listen in iTunes!

venusjupiterconj
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”
(Matthew 2:1-2)

This star is often depicted as a bright, roaming globe that shines a spotlight directly on the house of Mary and Joseph for the magi to follow.  If this star actually appeared in this fashion, wouldn’t it be obvious to everyone, not just wise men from the east who studied the stars?  If this star didn’t exist, what would that mean for the truthfulness about the entire Gospel narrative?  Is there evidence outside of the Bible that this star existed?

These questions prompted Andy Reese to dig deep into astronomy, historical records, and the bread crumbs left in God’s Word concerning the historicity of this special star phenomenon.  In this episode he will answer these questions and many more.

Andy Reese is a church leader, teacher, and writer.  His website is andyreese.org.

Show Links:

Andy Reese’s Website

Magi – The True Story of the Star of Bethlehem – Video

A Christmas with the Stars – Video