Psychohistory: St. Thomas Aquinas
If you review your notes on the history of psychology, there were many scholars who contributed significantly to what the field of psychology has become. St. Thomas Aquinas is considered a great contributor to psychology with his focus on the reconciliation of supernaturalism with rationalism He also developed the teachings of the Church and recovered the works of Aristotle.
In addition to being a great scholar, Aquinas was also a Christian saint. It is reported that his sermons were marked by simplicity and sobriety. Below I provide some web links that you can visit that will give you detailed information about his life and how he grew up. In this lesson, what I will primarily focus on are his contributions to psychology.
St. Thomas Aquinas was a Dominican theologian. He studied at the University of Naples (1239-1244) in liberal arts. He then joined the Dominican Order in (1244). He went to Paris to study under Albertus Magnus, commonly called Albert the Great. Thomas also began to study at the University of Paris and began his career as a teacher. He received a Bachelor's degree in Theology from the University of Paris in 1256.
According to regulations, he could not receive his magistrate (doctorate) in theology until after his 34th birthday, but a papal dispensation was granted him, and he received his doctorate at 31 years of age. As a Regent Master in Theology at Paris, he continued to teach for 3 additional years. For ten years after that he was a teacher of theology in various places in Italy, including becoming a Regent Master in Rome (1265-68) and a Regent Master in Naples ((1272-73). In January 1274, he received instructions from Pope Gregory X to attend an ecumenical council in Lyons. On the way he fell ill and was forced to break the journey at the Cistercian Abbey of Fossanova, which was not far from his place of birth. He died there on March 7, 1274. Less than 50 years later Thomas was canonized by Pope John XXII. He was considered a leading medieval thinker (living during the middle ages) and the Catholic church was greatly influenced by his thinking.
It is reported that Aquinas was even smarter than his teacher, Albert the Great. His intellectual output was incredible. He wrote and published many articles, commentaries and treatises, including commentaries on the Bible, and on the work and views of Aristotle.
Aquinas could dictate to several people at the time and worked all day long and prayed all night. He got very little sleep. He could pray to the point of levitating off the ground. Other theologians witnessed this as they observed him in prayer. It was through prayer, meditation and contemplation that he received his insights and wisdom.
Other works written by Aquinas include: "On Being and Essence," "Principles of Nature," "On Power," "On Evil," "On the Unity of the Intellect," "On the Eternity of the World," "On Truth," "Commentary on the De Trinitate of Boethius," "Quodlilbets."
His most famous works are the "Summa Contra Gentiles," or the summation of learning, where he thinks through the wisdom of the Greek world; and the "Summa Theologiae," which represents his mature views with a heavy emphasis on moral theology. His summa theologiae was an attempt to show what the world looked like to God. It is a lengthy treatise, written in the form of a series of questions, and it contains 3 parts. It is reported that Aquinas never completed the summa theologiae. It is reported that the year 1273 marked the end of his academic career because he had a mystical experience. He had been saying Mass that morning when a great change came over him. Afterward, whenever he was urged to continue writing his Summa he would respond by saying, "I can do no more; such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as straw, and I now await the end of my life." (Watson & Evans, 1991, p.131). Other reports indicate that he experienced "burnout." He died a year later.
--THE SUMMA CONTRA GENTILES--
Between 1261 and 1264, Aquinas wrote the "Summa Contra Gentiles." The treatise was designed for use in the church's missionary work. The translation of the title means the "Summary Against the Gentiles." It is written for "nonbelievers who are philosophically skilled and unimpressed by a call to believe and whose rationalism prevents an acceptance of revelation" (Watson & Evans, 1991, p.130).
The Summa Contra Gentiles talks about faith and reason. And, a key point that Aquinas makes in the 4 Books is that faith has nothing to fear from reason. In Book I: Of God As He Is In Himself, he discusses such subjects as the function of the wise man, the nature of good and evil, the nature of truth and knowledge, the nature of love and happiness. In Book II: God The Origin of Creatures, he discusses such subjects as the nature of free will, wisdom, subsistent intelligences, the intellectual soul, the mind of Aristotle, the immortality of the human soul, the souls of animals, and more. In Book III: God The End of Creatures, he discusses such subjects as divine goodness, human happiness, pure and created intelligence, the motion of the will, the nature of miracles, guidelines for men, the institution of marriage, human sexuality, punishment, and more. In Book IV: Of God In His Revelation, he discusses such subjects as sin and immortality, among other subjects.
Theology can be interpreted as teaching from divine revelation. Reality comes from revelation. Theology for Aquinas is a faith-based opportunity. For Aquinas, theology is also an act of love and pulls everything together in the context of God. He believed that theology is the noblest of the sciences because of the worth of its subject matter. In the Summa, he states that "the knowledge that we arrive at from the evidence of our senses is not enough to know the essence of God, but what we sense does come from God and this permits us to know that He exists" (Aquinas, 1266, First Part, Q.12). He said often that the reason for his writing was to understand and know more of what the world must have looked like to God. Therefore, this was the purpose of the Summa.
The Summa Theologiae has 3 parts:
PART I includes: Sacred Doctrine. The One God. The Blessed Trinity. Creation. The Angels. The Six Days. Man. The Government of Creatures.
PART II includes: Man's Last End. Human Acts. Passions. Habits. Vice and Sin. Law. Grace. Faith. Hope. Charity. Prudence. Justice. Fortitude. Temperance. Acts Which Pertain to Certain Men.
PART III includes: The Incarnation. The Life of Christ. Sacraments. Baptism. Confirmation. The Holy Eucharist. Penance.
THE SUPPLEMENT includes: Penance. Extreme Unction. Holy Orders. Matrimony. Resurrection. Appendices.
In the first part, his major treatise on psychology is placed between a discussion of the six days of creation and a study of the individual in the state of original innocence. Later parts are concerned with moral life. It is reported that the work is more theological than the "Summa Contra Gentiles," but part of "The Treatise on Man" is a detailed account of his psychology. His psychology can also be found in "The Treatise on Human Acts" and the "Treatise on Habits."
An interesting overall explanation provided by Aquinas was that God created human beings so that God had someone who loved him/her. Also, that man should live to enjoy their existence in God. Aquinas also believed that the human person is a soul-body unity. That the soul is in the body because it is necessary to know. The soul is immortal. This is the same belief that the Greeks had when they developed the 2-aspect theory of the soul.
Aquinas also outlined a list of virtues in the Summa Theologiae. He believed that a key virtue is "charity." He indicated that "charity" was a kind of friendship between God and man. God makes us his equal and allows us to have a friendship with him. Charity transforms every other single virtue. God is our ultimate happiness. God is our end. This transforms everything that we do. At the heart of a divine life is charity. So, the fundamental law and principle of Aquinas is virtue. The virtues that transform us as humans.
--PSYCHOLOGICAL CONCEPTS IN THE WORK OF AQUINAS--
NOUS: The Immortal Soul
Nous, or active reason is a primary feature of Aquinas's view of the individual in general and relative to psychology in particular. Nous was capable of a separate existence. Therefore, it was considered to be the counterpart of Aristotle's immortal soul. Aquinas followed Aristotle in much of his psychology.
SOUL AND BODY
Human beings have one substantial form - the rational soul. The individual is neither soul or body alone, but a united or composite substance. The person is a unity, and this rational soul encompasses the vegetative and sensitive functions. The rational soul is united and operates as a totality to carry on its natural functions.
Aquinas believed that the soul is neither imprisoned in the body or carrying out a sentence of punishment. It resides in the body because this is natural and good. Its union with the body is not to the detriment of the soul but to its enrichment. The soul completes human nature and confers the incidental benefit of allowing the achievement of knowledge through the senses (Summa, Q76; Watson & Evans, 1991, p.135).
SOUL AND ITS FACULTIES
The soul consists of faculties: the rational faculty, the sensitive faculty and the nutritive faculty.
The rational faculty is higher than the sensitive faculty and the sensitive faculty is higher than the nutritive faculty.
The rational faculty includes the active and passive intellect and the will. The sensitive faculty is the sensible body and has 5 exterior senses and 4 internal senses. The nutritive faculty includes the powers of nutrition, growth, and reproduction.
The interior sense pertains to operations at the level of sensitive life and to psychological functioning not involving reason. This sense includes estimative powers for animals and cognitive powers for humans. Animals are dependent on it because they can not reason. Humans us it through their instinctive estimating because they can reason. This sense in humans leads to imagination and sensory memory.
The senses also involve appetites or emotions. Aquinas indicates that the power of appetite is twofold and involves sensitive appetite at the sensitive level and volition or will at the rational level. Sensitive appetite desires objects that are sensed. The two major kinds of sensitive appetites are: 1) the concupiscible, because they desire the objects of sensible pleasure, and 2) the irascible, whose function is to urge a fight for the objects in questions when there are difficulties securing them. The concupiscible emotions include love, desire, joy, hatred, aversion, and sorrow. The irascible includes, hope, despair, courage, fear, and anger. Aquinas calls the act of a sensitive appetite a passion. (Watson & Evans, 1991, p.137).
Aquinas also attempted to describe free will. He says that it arises from freedom of the intellect. For him free choice is free judgment. Free will is evidenced in voluntary activities about which judgments are made. We desire happiness, which is found in the good, by our very nature, proceeding from the will. The desire comes from the will itself and is not imposed on us from without, as is the case of violence. Aquinas believes that we can not help desiring because we are the creatures that we are. In comparing intellect and will, Aquinas believes that will is subordinate and intellect is dominant.
According to Aquinas, sense experience provides the stimulus for setting into operation the "agens intellectus - the fact that human beings alone possess the power of abstraction. He believed that for any person possessing the ability for abstract thinking was an act of God. Therefore, the intellectual process resulting from abstraction becomes an aspect of revelation. Aquinas also believed, similar to John Locke, that prior to man having sensory experience the possible intellect is like a "tabula rasa," a blank slate, devoid of ideas.
Aquinas believed that the "nous" or active reason or active intellect in man is immortal or deathless. He made a distinction between the soul and its faculties. He believes that for the rational faculties, the body is not necessary as the organ of activities because these faculties are not dependent on the body. But when these rational faculties are used in the body, they also draw on the sense experience.
For Aquinas, the soul is a unity. But the human soul can not be said to depend on the body, intrinsically, for its existence. The unity of the soul can survive separation from the body.
Self-consciousness is the ability of the active intellect to reflect on itself. Although the lower functions may be lost, we do not perish. Self-awareness, reason, and the will, which are integral aspects of the rational soul, so survive.
The work of Aquinas strengthened the concepts of rationalism and empiricism. The senses were describes as the means by which the individual attained the basis of knowledge. In accepting and understanding the senses was for Aquinas humans' ability to use the knowledge obtained from them. He also implied that a person's reason was sovereign while they were in the human state.
"The world may be transitory, but reason does have its own domain. Reason supplements faith; it does not deny it -- and since empiricism is a useful tool, rationalism is paramount." (Watson & Evans, 1991, p.139)
According to scholars, the fact that human reason was of value and was not in conflict with doctrines of faith was a great contribution by Aquinas. Aquinas's influence was called the Age of Thomism. The Thomist philosophy was eventually established as the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church. The Papal Encyclical of 1897 confirmed the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas as the true Catholic philosophy (Watson & Evans, 1991, p.139).
Chenu, M.D.,O.P. (1964). Toward Understanding St. Thomas. Chicago: Regnery.
Davies, Brian, O.P. (1992). The Thought of Thomas Aquinas. Oxford.
Watson, Robert I. and Rand B. Evans (1991). The Great Psychologists: A History of Psychological Thought. New York: Harper Collins, pp. 128-139.
Related Web Links:
A comprehensive listing of the works of St. Thomas Aquinas in English, as well as references to those available on the Internet.
A homily (sermon) from the Dominican House of Studies, written by Brian J. Shanley, O.P., a Dominican Friar and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America. He specializes in the thought of Thomas Aquinas. This homily was prepared for the annual Catholic University Mass in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas.
**This site is no longer online at the current time. Friar Shanley is now President of Providence College and perhaps his writings are being transferred. If I can relocate this article, I will post the new address.
Links about St. Thomas Aquinas.
A site on the life and works of Aquinas from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
An overview of Aquinas from the Journal of Religion and Society.
Provides a picture and biographical sketch of Aquinas, along with a list of related web links to biographies, books, essays, translations, and Aquinas web sites.
An annotated translation, with some abridgment, by Joseph Rickaby (London). Includes an English translation of the 4 books and each of its parts by title, so you can click on the titles you are interested in.
Presents 38 treatises of St. Thomas.
An English translation of the Summa and all its parts. Translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province.
More on the summa by the New Advent.
From the Medieval Sourcebook. The complete treatise by Aquinas on the metaphysical interpretations of being and essence.