August 05, 2006

Augustine, St. Thomas, Aquinas, Scotus

Friday, July 21, 2006 Part I, Augustine: Ozment on Theories of Salvation in the Middle Ages
Interestingly, Ozment paints a picture of Augustine’s view that seems to resonate with classical and Greek views of reason being the key to an ordered life (e.g., think of the Platonic view of the tripartite soul). “In Paradise, man was a model of willed self-control. Augustine suggested that even sexual intercourse occurred without lust, the organs of reproduction activated by calm rational volition, not by uncontrollable passion. The classical ideal of man and the Christian view of his original perfection were here joined: habitual order reigned over prelapsarian man, who has reasoned control over his faculties. […] The Fall reversed everything; thereafter fallen man lost his self-control and become a ‘slave to lust.’ He now obeyed and enjoyed the world, his desires having become the rider and his will the horse, and God was to all intents and purposes forgotten” (The Age of Reason, p. 26)...
As Ozment emphasizes, for Augustine the great advantage of Christianity over Platonism centered on the healing power of the sacraments, which the Platonists did not know. “Christians did not contemplate truth at a distance, […], but grasped it directly by faith; nor did they look for strength to a deity who remained beyond this world, but found it in one who had become flesh and dwelt among men. The power to heal the will and restore man to self-control was tangibly present in the Incarnation of Christ and the sacraments of the Christian church. posted by Cynthia Nielsen at 8:14 AM
Saturday, July 22, 2006 Part II, Aquinas: Ozment on Theories of Salvation in the Middle Ages
Pulling from Aristotelian philosophy, Aquinas devised the following solution: grace is in the soul as an accidental, not a substantial form. According to Aristotelian philosophy, a substantial form is primary and speaks of that which makes a thing to be what it is. E.g., the substantial form of a human being is reason; hence, the definition, a human being is a rational animal. To be a human being entails rationality, as it is reason that differentiates humans from other animals. An accidental form, on the other hand, does not define what a thing is, though it accurately describes it. E.g., that a person is musical, though accurately describing an aspect of that individual, is nonessential to what that person is as a human being, viz., a rational animal.
How does all this relate to St. Thomas’ solution? Utilizing the example above, in order to become a musical person, I would need to acquire the habit of becoming musical through instruction, practice, etc. Yet, whether or not I do in fact become musical, I am still a human being because my becoming musical is nonessential (and hence accidental) to my being a human being. Similarly, grace exists in the human soul just as the habit of becoming musical exists in person (accidentally). posted by Cynthia Nielsen at 9:20 AM
Sunday, July 23, 2006 Part III, Scotus: Ozment on Theories of Salvation in the Middle Ages
Duns Scotus (ca. 1265-1308) was highly critical of St. Thomas’ position regarding the infused habit of grace. Scotus saw himself continuing the Augustinian tradition and in light of Augustine’s teaching on predestination, Scotus wanted to avoid any doctrine that seemed to suggest that God saved human beings because of something intrinsic within them. For Scotus, God’s freedom and omnipotence must not be compromised; consequently, Thomas’ idea of an accidental form of grace within the human soulsthat might obligate God to save those who, e.g., attempted to love him habitually, was unacceptable (The Age of Reason, p. 33). God’s will and God’s will alone was “primary in the definition of the Christian. What God decreed in man’s regard was far more important to his salvation than any quality of soul he might come to possess; people were saved only because God first willed it, never because they were intrinsically worthy of it” (Ibid., p. 33). posted by Cynthia Nielsen at 6:21 PM

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