Pope Francis: Thomas Aquinas’ thought more relevant than ever

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On the 750th anniversary of Thomas Aquinas’ death, Pope Francis praises the thinker’s “fresh and valid insights about our globalised world, dominated by legal positivism and casuistry.”

What does the thought of one of the most distinguished theologians in the history of the Church have to do with the development of social sciences? The work of a philosopher with the ways in which human relationships are articulated and grow?

More than you might think, as the Pope has pointed out in a letter to the participants in a workshop organised by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

Taking place from Thursday to Friday of this week, the conference is considering the theme “Aquinas’ Social Ontology and Natural Law in Perspective”.

Faith and reason: a contradiction?

“To be sure, Saint Thomas did not cultivate the social sciences as we know them today,” Pope Francis remarks.

Nevertheless, he was a precursor to the modern discipline, because for him it was evident, as he affirmed in the Summa, that the human person, as a creature of God, represents “the most perfect thing in all nature.”

Since Aquinas maintained, moreover, that God is “the truth and the light that illuminates every understanding,” it followed, for him, that there can be “no fundamental contradiction between revealed truth and that discovered through reason.”      

Humanity’s “innate capacity” to discern the good

Pope Francis also stresses the attention that the Angelic Doctor dedicates to issues of justice, especially in his Commentaries. These demonstrate, the Pope said, “his influence in shaping modern moral and legal thought.”

Aquinas, the Pope recalls, affirms “the intrinsic dignity and unity of the human person” – both the virtues of the body and those “of the rational soul” – which enable us to distinguish between true and false and between good and evil.

This is what Saint Thomas calls the “innate capacity” of human beings “to discern and to order or dispose acts to their ultimate end through love,” otherwise known as “natural law.”

A vision that is always relevant

And here lies Aquinas’ modernity.

Today, Pope Francis asserts, it is essential to consider anew what Thomas calls our “natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society,” in order to “shape social thought and policies in ways that promote, rather than hinder, the authentic human development of individuals and peoples.”

Aquinas’ trust in the natural law inscribed in humanity’s heart can offer, the Pope insists, “fresh and valid insights to our globalised world” which is “dominated by legal positivism and casuistry,” even though – he acknowledges – it “continues to seek solid foundations for a just and humane social order.”

The birth of Catholic Social Teaching

As a Christian thinker, Thomas Aquinas recognises the action of the “redeeming grace” brought by Jesus in human action, which possesses, Pope Francis notes, “rich implications” for understanding the dynamics of “a solid social order based on reconciliation, solidarity, justice, and mutual care.”

Here the Pope cites Benedict XVI, who, in Caritas in Veritate, affirmed that men and women, as objects of God’s love, become in turn subjects of charity, called to reflect such charity in service of justice and the common good.

This is a dynamic of “charity received and given” which – the Pope observes – gave rise to the Social Doctrine of the Church.

Pope Francis concludes with a Lenten thought: alongside reflection, practical demonstrations of Christian love are always necessary.

“In these years of my pontificate,” the Pope writes, “I have sought to emphasise the gesture of washing the feet,” which is “undoubtedly an eloquent symbol of the Beatitudes” and “their concrete expression in works of mercy.”

Because “Jesus knew that when it comes to inspiring human action, examples are more important than a flood of words.”

Source: vaticannews.va

Photo: ©Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.