Asceticism in Thomas Aquinas

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Reformed Covenanter

Puritanboard Commissioner
While the first sentence in this extract from Thomas Aquinas is reasonable enough, the remainder of it, and the fact that it occurs at the beginning of a work that promotes celibacy and poverty as part of the "contempt of earthly things", renders his thesis badly mistaken. Thank God the Reformers liberated us from this sort of thing:

The religion of Christ appears to aim chiefly it diverting the attention of mankind from material things, in order to concentrate their thoughts on the spiritual. Therefore Jesus, “the Author and finisher of our faith,” at His coming into this world, proposed to His faithful followers the contempt of earthly things. He taught this lesson both by His life and by His words.

Thomas Aquinas, Liber contra doctrinam retrahentium a religione (1261), C1.n69829.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
While the first sentence in this extract from Thomas Aquinas is reasonable enough, the remainder of it, and the fact that it occurs at the beginning of a work that promotes celibacy and poverty as part of the "contempt of earthly things", renders his thesis badly mistaken. Thank God the Reformers liberated us from this sort of thing:

The religion of Christ appears to aim chiefly it diverting the attention of mankind from material things, in order to concentrate their thoughts on the spiritual. Therefore Jesus, “the Author and finisher of our faith,” at His coming into this world, proposed to His faithful followers the contempt of earthly things. He taught this lesson both by His life and by His words.

Thomas Aquinas, Liber contra doctrinam retrahentium a religione (1261), C1.n69829.

Most of Church history suffers from an excess of ascetism. The Patristics were shot through will this kind of stuff with all kinds of false dichotomies. Our time is marked by having fallen off the other side of the horse. A few years ago a popular Reformed teacher, pastor and scholar railed at the idea of Christians fasting today in a podcast conversation because fasting "wasn't New Testament." I couldn't believe my ears. Luther and Calvin likely ruined their health due to over fasting.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Read Edward Gibbon on monastic ascetism. It is a laugh riot.
Wasn't asceticism an "overload" of neo-platonic thinking? You know earthly stuff bad, heavenly stuff good. My question is Aquinas was influenced by Aristotle whom I didn't think was that platonic in his thinking to be ascetic, but I could be wrong.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Wasn't asceticism an "overload" of neo-platonic thinking? You know earthly stuff bad, heavenly stuff good. My question is Aquinas was influenced by Aristotle whom I didn't think was that platonic in his thinking to be ascetic, but I could be wrong.

You find both neo-Platonism and Aristotle in Aquinas. In any case, almost all of the medievals held to the spirit = better, body = lower dualism. Partly why Aquinas only grudgingly admits that married people can go to heaven. Still better than Methodius of Olympus or Tertullian.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Somewhere in the Summa Aquinas does say, hypoethetically, that if Adam hadn't have fallen, the sensations in his sexual organs would have been more intense. That's speculation, but still a big improvement over Augustine.
 

JM

Puritan Board Doctor
I believe the East argued against St. Thomas on this issue believing that we remake our passions for the cause of Christ because, after all, theosis is the Gospel.

Yours in the Lord,

jm
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Somewhere in the Summa Aquinas does say, hypoethetically, that if Adam hadn't have fallen, the sensations in his sexual organs would have been more intense. That's speculation, but still a big improvement over Augustine.
I read that one of the reasons Aquinas was sainted was that he fended off a naked prostitute hired by his brothers all night with a hot poker I think.
 

JM

Puritan Board Doctor
I read that one of the reasons Aquinas was sainted was that he fended off a naked prostitute hired by his brothers all night with a hot poker I think.
I read the same.

Last year I was given a two volume set of St. Thomas's Summa last year and I have to admit, I enjoyed what I read.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Graduate
I read that one of the reasons Aquinas was sainted was that he fended off a naked prostitute hired by his brothers all night with a hot poker I think.

Yes. Another anecdote, Aquinas was in his room when another friar walked in and said, "Thomas, look out the window! There are pigs flying." Thomas got up and went to the window. The friar asked Aquinas, "I can't believe you looked." Aquinas replied, "I'd rather believe that pigs can fly than a Domincan would lie."
 

JM

Puritan Board Doctor
Yes. Another anecdote, Aquinas was in his room when another friar walked in and said, "Thomas, look out the window! There are pigs flying." Thomas got up and went to the window. The friar asked Aquinas, "I can't believe you looked." Aquinas replied, "I'd rather believe that pigs can fly than a Domincan would lie."

I followed a few lectures for free, here. https://aquinas101.thomisticinstitute.org/

The Reformed Forum podcast/youtube had Dominic Legge from the above institute on a few years back. It's worth watching.


 

BottleOfTears

Puritan Board Freshman
Wasn't asceticism an "overload" of neo-platonic thinking? You know earthly stuff bad, heavenly stuff good.
I think some would view it as the opposite. Asceticism could also be viewed as the defeating of sin and the devil in our bodies. Christ took on humanity and defeated Satan through it, and therefore he now fights Satan in us, who are part of his body, in our own bodies. In Athanatius' "Life of Anthony", Anthony physically wrestles with the devil and demons in a cave and emerges victorious.

Now, there may be some merit to the claim of dualism sneaking in, but it cannot just be reduced to that. Athanatius was the one who wrote "On the Incarnation" after all, I think it unlikely that he could hold a completely negative view of the body.

Another interesting point is that some Gnostic groups were not ascetic at all, but thinking physical matter so unimportant that one could not even sin via means of the body, indulged in all manner of fleshly lusts. So if being anti-body can be twisted into both sinful excesses or an acsetic hell, it seems reasonable to conclude that being pro-body could lean in two directions as well, perhaps depending on which kind of gnostic dualist was the more imminent threat.

he fended off a naked prostitute hired by his brothers all night with a hot poker I think
It was his parents I believe. His dad had him lined up for a lucrative career and was rather annoyed that he choose monkhood instead. He was further annoyed by the fact that he had not chosen a more presitigious religious order, as at the time the Dominicans were a newer order that was seen as rather insignificant.

A rather interesting parallel to Martin Luther actually.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
I read the same.

Last year I was given a two volume set of St. Thomas's Summa last year and I have to admit, I enjoyed what I read.
I've only bits and pieces. Never had the inclination to tackle that work. Kind of like Barth's dogmatics.
 
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