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Part Eight: an Imaginary Conversation between Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas Part Eight: an Imaginary Conversation between Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-05-08 09:21:56
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Thomas Aquinas: Good morning Professor Aristotle. May I join the  conversation you have been conducting on the existence of God?

Aristotle: and who better than you, as the supreme doctor and philosopher of the Catholic Church has a right to participate in this discussion?

T: I see that you have heard of the Summa Theologiae.

A: And who hasn’t? While the scaffolding of your opus is my philosophy, yours is a unique philosophy on its own based on faith and reason, or better a harmonization between faith and reason, a synthesis which remains unmatched to this day.

T: thank you for your kind words professor. Indeed you will find many echoes of your philosophy in mine but search as one may I have not found in your philosophy the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity; that is something uniquely Christian. But you are quite right in stating that one of the aims of my philosophy was to show that faith does not have to contradict reason and vice versa. As you know I wrote the Summa for beginner philosophy students whom I was teaching at the University of Paris when I was only 18 years old.

A: indeed, and that makes the work all the more impressive. I surely appreciate the risk you took in choosing my philosophy as foundational for Christian thinking rather than Plato’s which since St. Augustine had been the norm. That almost landed in the hands of the Inquisition.

T: Indeed but fortunately I died at a relatively young age and so the Church has had time to change its mind on that issue. But I am here not in the role of thinker or doctor of the Church, or even Saint of the Church, but as a mystic. You know that shortly before my death I had a mystical vision and saw all I had accomplished as so much straw to be burned, which I almost ended up doing.

A: good thing you refrained from carrying that out Professor Aquinas or philosophy would be much the poorer for it.

T: Be that as it may, I am here to inform you that religion for a mystic is not based primarily on rationality even if rationality is pre-eminent in my Summa. In fact I would have to disagree with most rationalists when they insist on the centrality of rational arguments for proving the existence of God. As you know I listed five of them myself but I would be the first one to admit that they are not completely satisfying because such an existence cannot be proven by direct empirical experience. However I am convinced that God can be experienced. In fact I have had those experiences.

A: and what are they like?

T: well, here is the paradox. Those experiences are indelible and unforgettable but also ineffable and cannot really be described literally via language. The closest we mystics come to describing them is to use a poetical and figurative language. It is not really a description but an expressive poem about it. An example in the Bible is Solomon’s The Song of Songs; another example could be the poems of St. John of the Cross in his The Dark Night of the Soul, a doctor of the Church in mystical theology. The reality described there is symbolical; the physical love between husband and wife expresses the love of God for his creation and creatures. It is a reality that can be experienced but not in the guise of the physical senses. You cannot rationalize or think about it intellectually or say something about it that is clear cut or enlightening.

A: and what good is that to philosophers who rely on reason? I know about contemplation and the life lived in the intelligible realm, in fact in my book on the soul I describe God as the one who contemplates his own thoughts, but mysticism is something I know not.

T: several mystical traditions affirm that one can prepare for a mystical experience, develop the capacity for it. Usually they involve deep meditation, fasting, even some natural drugs.

A: in ancient Greece we had the Aleutian mysteries where it is believed drugs of some kind were taken which brought about hallucinations in people so disposed. How is one to know that those experiences come from God and they are not simply hallucinations?

T: I suppose the experience of God cannot ultimately be proven empirically to others, but subjectively these experiences are so vivid that one does not need any further convincing of the reality of God.

A: but unless you can reason to God, that is no reason for anybody to accept that God exists. Sure, you may have had some sort of abnormal experience; I suppose you’d call it supernatural nowadays but how do we know that it has not been brought about by those kind of exercises that result in hallucinations?

T: in that respect I really have no evidence or argument and I would simply recommend that you peruse my five proofs for the existence of God arrived at rationally. I know all about rationality and rationalism but for me as a mystic those arguments are not that important.

A: Much to think about Professor Aquinas but for the moment I need to deliver a lecture in the Lyceum; my students are waiting for me. Good day Professor Aquinas.


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