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Chapter IV -- 3

Let us now turn to St Thomas’ anthropology.

St Thomas Aquinas’ anthropology has, seemingly, all the basic features of the anthropology that we have already seen in St Gregory of Nyssa and St Macrina, and even, to an extent, in Evagrius Pontikos.

For in St Thomas Aquinas, man is composed of body and soul; the soul is an intelligible substance; the soul is composed of intellect and appetite; the appetite is subdivided into the concupiscence and the irascible part; it is the intellect which gives man his particular character; body and soul are naturally made to exist together, but the soul can exist outside the body; the soul is immortal and will be rejoined with the body at the General Resurrection. These are all positions, evidently taken from traditional Roman Catholic theology having its origin in the works of St Augustine, that are recognizably the same as the positions we have already seen in Chapters I, II and III to be those of St Gregory of Nyssa and of his sister, St Macrina: the intellect of St Thomas Aquinas is to be identified with the mind (nous); the appetite with the passionate part of the soul; the concupiscence with the desire (epithumia); and the irascible part with the temper (thumos). But, as we shall see, the concepts have undergone a transformation in St Thomas’ hands, so that his system is no longer speaking exactly the same language.

That St Thomas Aquinas, drawing on St Augustine, would have these positions is a very strong historical argument that these positions of St Gregory of Nyssa and of his sister, St Macrina, were in fact the positions of the whole Church in their age, and not the Origenist deviations of St Gregory of Nyssa himself. For it would be foolish to accuse St Augustine or St Thomas Aquinas of Origenism, and recognizably they have the same anthropology as St Gregory of Nyssa. Certainly there is an influence, not slavish, of Platonism or Neoplatonism in St Gregory of Nyssa, St Macrina and St Augustine. But although these authors took concepts they found useful from the Greek philosophers, they did so as Christians, and, moreover, the Church endorsed their positions.[1] While the Fathers of the Church did not follow the anthropology of the Hebrew Old Testament, as some authors today understand that anthropology, the Church endorsed the point of view of the Fathers. And it is the Church that is normative for the interpretation of Scripture, not a modern presumed interpretation of Scripture that is normative for the belief of the Church.

We will now present St Thomas Aquinas’ anthropology and psychology, bearing in mind that we are interested in issues both of bioethics and of ascetical psychology. We will follow the presentation of the Summa Theologiae.[2] St Thomas’ presentation, as one would expect, is clear and systematic: in mediæval Scholastic theology, anthropology and psychology were basic presuppositions of moral theology, and every mediæval theologian was obliged to address those fields in expounding his system. Moreover, St Augustine’s own preoccupation with anthropology and psychology left a legacy of concern over these issues to Western theology. The only problem arises from St Thomas’ metaphysics: he is very rigorously grounded in Aristotelian categories of thought. We cannot hope to present an introduction to Thomist or Aristotelian philosophy: such an undertaking is too difficult and beyond our knowledge; it is also beyond both the scope of this work and what can be expected of our beloved Orthodox reader.[3]

We will avoid as much as possible—for it is not completely possible—discussion of the metaphysical dimensions of St Thomas’ anthropology and psychology: our interest is in presenting St Thomas’ anthropology and psychology by contrast and comparison with the anthropology of St Gregory of Nyssa and St Macrina that we studied in Chapters I and III, with his psychology we studied in Chapter II, and even with the anthropology and psychology of Evagrius Pontikos that we studied in Chapter III. We will find some striking similarities—more than we ourselves expected—and some important differences. As we proceed, we will indicate the important similarities with and differences from the anthropology and psychology of St Gregory of Nyssa and St Macrina that we have already studied, and also the implications of some of St Thomas’ positions for both bioethics and ascetical psychology. Since we will discuss the anthropology of St John of Damascus in Chapter V, we will not discuss it here in relation to St Thomas’ system except in passing. St John is also an Aristotelian, but one from whom St Thomas differs on significant points in anthropology, even though he quotes St John as an authority in matters on which he is in agreement. However, it will be easier for the reader to follow the presentation of St Thomas’ system if we leave St John of Damascus out of the matter as much as possible.

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[1] Here we are referring only to the anthropology under consideration.

[2] Summa.

[3] The interested reader is directed to several standard introductions to Thomist thought: A History of Philosophy, (Copleston Volume II), and Aquinas (Copleston A), both by Fr F. C. Copleston SJ; and Le Thomisme by Étienne Gilson (Gilson F), translated into English as The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (Gilson E), although from an earlier edition. Fr Copleston is certainly both a Thomist and an expert in the history of philosophy. In A History of Philosophy, he is speaking to the Roman Catholic seminarian or university student who requires a good grounding in Thomism, and he takes the time to explain difficult concepts. The work also has the singular advantage of placing St Thomas in his historical philosophical context. It might be remarked that it is at first hard to grasp the principles of St Thomas’ metaphysics (his basic categories of thought) and that Aquinas and Le Thomisme are somewhat more obscure than St Thomas himself. Fr Copleston’s discussion in Aquinas, pitched to the layman in philosophy who is not necessarily a Roman Catholic, addresses important issues of Thomism from a contemporary point of view, although somewhat apologetically. And, of course, Gilson is an authority on mediæval philosophy. However, being largely a digest of quotations and paraphrases of St Thomas, Le Thomisme is rather more advanced than Fr Copleston’s two works.


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