I wonder who would make the best patron saint for the Science and Faith column. The first candidate who springs to my mind is Thomas Aquinas (13th century). And I have several good reasons for this.
I like his instinctive refusal to accept establishment ideas lying down; his objective was the truth. While he was expected to become an abbot to swell his family’s coffers, he joined the Dominicans – an order taking a vow of poverty. He was even kidnapped by his relatives, but succeeding in escaping.
Both the Dominican and Fransiscan, mendicant orders, were very unpopular with a church which had become fat and comfortable in its position of power and profitable revenue. Not only was Thomas frequently attacked during his life, he was condemned after his death – although this was corrected before long.
Intellectually he was something of a rebel. Much of the philosophy and the theology of his time was NeoPlatonist. That is, it focussed on the ideals of mystical perfection, and regarded the world as very second rate. But Thomas was not afraid of taking a pagan philosopher, Aristotle, as his starting point. Much truth, he believed, could be learnt from studying the realities of this world, because it was a fundamentally rational example of God’s work. What we knew from Revelation would then deepen and complete the picture.
He welcomed the work of recent non Christian philosophers – Islamicists like Avicenna and Averroës, and the great Jewish philosopher, Maimonides. Indeed he referred to Averroës simply as “The commentator” – because of his superb commentaries on Aristotle.
But I reserve my highest admiration for the methodology of his work. The scholastic approach was characterised by adversarial debate. You proceeded by pitching different points of view against each other, and seeing which view survived the test. Thomas developed this to its highest form. Typically he would start by presenting the very strongest arguments against the position he held. And he had to do this genuinely, giving himself the least quarter. He would explain his points, giving full reasons. Finally, he would take the objections one by one and demonstrate their inadequacy.
But you can see what I mean by Googling Summa Theologica, and reading for yourself. It’s challenging and stimulating reading. Dip where you like.
In his early day, his teacher Albertus Magnus said: “We call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.”
Finally, right at the end of his life, he reported that he had had a vision. He had been shown that everything he had written (over 8 million words) was so much straw. He was not told that his teaching was untrue – merely that it has fallen infinitely short of the full reality of truth.
On this blog we would not dare to compete with Aquinas, but we can share his readiness to question establishment positions, if that is where truth seems to lead. We do believe that good science leads us towards the wonder of God and not away. We are enthusiastic to look at contributions from any quarter – Catholic or otherwise. We are set up in such a way that objections and debate are strongly encouraged. And our friend Advocatus Diaboli is growling in the wings if he feels we aren’t being tough enough on ourselves. But withal, we acknowledge that however hard we try we shall always fall short of the truth that we seek
I wonder whether you agree that Thomas Aquinas is a good patron saint for us. And perhaps you have some sub patron saints to add. I look forward to your suggestions.