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Augustine vs. Aquinas

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message 1: by Peter (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:37PM) (new)

Peter | 6 comments Mod
Now, I'm reading them both, and I'm reading commentaries about both. And I can see the essential differences in their approaches. I'm even seeing the essential differences in their conclusions. What I'm not seeing is any essential difference in their significance to the development of medieval philosophy or theology.

This is not my normal milieu. What am I missing?


message 2: by Coyle (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:37PM) (new)

Coyle | 10 comments If nothing else, the difference is in the fact that they're over half a millenium apart. Augustine was much more influential to the development of early medieval philosophy, and Aquinas to later thought.
But even more than that, the differences between the two in approaches and conclusions lead to huge clefts in medieval thought, which culminate in the Reformation (largely Augustinian) and the Counter/Catholic Reformation (largely Aquinan).


message 3: by Peter (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:58PM) (new)

Peter | 6 comments Mod
Yes, yes, but (at the risk of being contentious) why?


message 4: by Coyle (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:00PM) (new)

Coyle | 10 comments It might be possible to say that Aquinas was a response to Augustine (not so much a "result"), but I don't think you can argue that the Middle Ages was an Augustinian world. If it had been, Luther and Calvin would have had less fodder for their arguments against the Scholastics.
You're absolutely right to say that Augustine's concerns were different- how does the sinner touched by grace live in a fallen world (especially a fallen world that was actively being destroyed), compared to Aquinas' question of how the slightly fallen man lives in a Christian world ("Christendom").


message 5: by Peter (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:04PM) (new)

Peter | 6 comments Mod
Here's what I'm still not seeing: it's easy to see, for instance, the differences between Aristotle and his teacher Plato. While they shared a method (dialectic) in common, the focus of their investigations could not have been more different. Plato's dualistic approach looked to the world of forms for answers about physical reality. Aristotle believed in a monistic nature that would open itself up to us through observation and reason.

Augustine (and the Church) adopted the Platonic approach. I've never heard Aquinas referred to as a Platonist, but he sure isn't (to my eyes and ears) an Aristotelian.

Now (and I'm already saying a prayer of thanks for your patience), I'm just not seeing any fundamental difference between Augustine and Aquinas. Or perhaps it is this: if I do "see" such difference, it is more intuitive than rational, and I can't put it into words.

Can anyone help me?


message 6: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 10 comments I suppose I could be polemical and say that the difference between the two is that Augustine's thought was Christian and Aquinas' thought was Aristotlian ;)
Seriously, Peter, I do think you've got your finger on or near the real difference between the two. Even though he saw much in Plato's thought that he respected and sympathized with, ultimately Augustine rejected Plato and pagan philosophy in general as incompatible with Christianity. Aquinas not only accepted the Platonism that had come to dominate the medieval church, but integrated the newly rediscovered Aristotle into his theology as well.
Maybe if you're having trouble seeing the differernce between the two in theoretical terms, it might be useful to look at the practical application of their different approaches. Augustine knew he was a sinner saved by grace. Aquinas new he was saved by grace, but saw it as a perfection of a nature more Aristotlian than fallen (hence "grace perfects nature"). This resulted in Augustine understanding that salvation is the work of God alone; while Aquinas believed that salvation was the result of a cooperation between God and man.
Does that help?


message 7: by Peter (last edited Dec 13, 2007 02:12PM) (new)

Peter | 6 comments Mod
Actually, yes, that and the reading I've continued doing over the last few weeks. Thanks Coyle. When I've got my thoughts a bit more organized, I'll throw them out and see if they make sense to anyone.


message 8: by Mark (new)

Mark | 8 comments New to the Group hi.
"This resulted in Augustine understanding that salvation is the work of God alone; while Aquinas believed that salvation was the result of a cooperation between God and man." Aquinas affirms that salvation is the work of God alone too, humanity 'participates' in that work through a grace perfected nature. The 'cooperation' between God and man is never a formal cooperation, even humanity's ability to cooperate is brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit in a 'exitus' of GOd's love and a 'reditus' of humanity's love for God. It is God (Trinitarian act) all the way down even for Aquinas.


message 9: by Mark (new)

Mark | 8 comments Oh...and i realize i am a little late in the conversation, sorry.


message 10: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 10 comments No worries about being late Mark- it's still a great conversation :)
I've got to enter this with the very large caveat that reading Aquinas makes my eyes bleed, so I've stuck mainly with secondary sources for him...
Certainly Aquinas taught that God is at work in all aspects of salvation. The difference between the two seems to come in two main areas:
First, exactly what man is being saved from. Augustine saw man as a ruined corpse, which only the work of God could do anything about. It was only after and by means of grace that man can be said to be saved. Aquinas sees man not so much as a corpse, but as a cripple. Nature for Aquinas is not "fallen" but rather "marred." Hence, even the fallen human person might be able to reason his way to God by means of all of humanity's access to the revelation of the natural law.

Second, the place of cooperation. Augustine saw cooperation as contingent on the grace of God. God chooses people, who in turn are given new natures which then cooperate by faith with a salvation already accomplished.
Aquinas sees cooperation as, well, cooperation between grace and man's nature through free will. In other words, man's cooperation is the sine non qua of salvation. For Augustine, the necessary component of salvation is grace, not human free will.

I think a large part of the problem of trying to figure out the difference between these two guys is almost certainly Augustine's fault. He was primarly a pastor, not a systematic theologian, and consequently you can basically find anything you want in his writings (hence, both Catholics and Protestants can claim him as their founding theologian).


message 11: by Mark (new)

Mark | 8 comments Thanks for the response.
1."Hence...the natural law." Aquinas makes clear in the Prima Pars that humanity can reason 'that God is' without the light of faith, but not 'what God is'(This is formal distinction not one that exist in God, God existence and essence are the same for Aquinas). Part of salvatiion is the revelaing of the mystery of who God is, quite apart from reason.
2. "Second...not human free will." Aquinas uses free will in a similar manner to Augustine. Free will for both is not the ability to choose or not to choose God, but free will is the freedom of the will to choose God. The will post-lapsarian is curved inward toward the self. It is not free; rather it is continually bent inward. But God frees the will through operative grace. Free will is then not the ability to choose between opposites but the freedom to chose God. This is completely Augustine and Aquinas follows suit. The difference arises in the distinction of grace, operative and cooperative; a distinction that is not used by Augustine. But salvation is still the work of grace for both.
3. I think you are right in pointing out the vocational differences between Aquinas and Augustine. Another reason it is so hard to distinguish differences between the two is because not once (that i can find) does Aquinas ever disagree with Augustine, he knows to well the dominance of Augustinian theology and, quite frankly, he holds the traditions of the father as authoritative. In dealing with Augustine Aquinas will do one of two things when encountering his writings. One, he will make a distinction that Augustince does not make, therfore not disagreeing with Augustine just clarifying. And/or two, he will reinterpret Augustine in such a way that does not disagree with Augustine but incorporates Aristotle or some other material. These two moves are not exclusive and they are a very seductive way to deal with theological distinctions. Of course this is what most of the scholastics had mastered.
I have come to view Aquinas not as an exclusive Aristotelian nor as an exclusive Augustinian NEO-platonist (Augustian learned Plato through the Neo-platonist). But he may be more Augustinian than Aristotelian.
4. Augustine's style of writing differed greatly from the scholastics and Augustine's more peotic and pastoral theology of grace and free will often left room for debate and greater misinterpretation (cf. the debates between Luther and Erasmus of the sixteenth century). Aquinas nuances and fills out Augustine with for example a metaphysics of being. By drawing on a coherent metphysics of being Aquinas was able to clarify Augustine's more 'poetic' account of grace and free will with the language of operative and cooperative, this is not a disagreement just a "filling out." (Some more strict Augustinians would probably cringe at that, sorry).
5. "I think...theologian)" Your last point is right, but I would not fault him for being primarily a pastor/bishop or for being more poetic. St. Thomas was truly trying to be faithful to the faith Augustine expressed so well.


message 12: by Mark (new)

Mark | 8 comments Sorry for the spelling problems.



message 13: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 10 comments Mark,

No worries about spelling- I'm pretty dependant on spell check myself, and goodreads doesn't have one!

You're right about not criticising Augustine for being a pastor- I shouldn't have said that it's his "fault." I certainly don't want to blame anyone for being a pastor :)
Another problem -certainly no one's fault- is that both of them just wrote so much that there are always going to be contradictions and conflicts even within their own works.

But, I still think that at the end of the day there are major differences between the two. Aquinas was caught up in the rampant semi-Pelagianism that had come to dominate the West at that time (though it admittedly doesn't touch all of his thought- as I understand it, his Questions in the Summa on justification and election are pretty clear of this particular kind of error).
Augustine, on the other hand, takes a solid stand across the board against semi-Pelagianism (at least, towards the end of his life when it came to his notice).
Which differences express themselves again in the different views of the basic nature of man and of the work of grace. You're right to point out that Aquinas and Augustine agree on the effects of the work of grace on the will. But where they differ is on the nature of human response to that work of grace, as well as on the nature of the person being saved. For Augustine, not to respond to grace by willing "God" would be like not eating when hungry. For Aquinas, there is still ability to resist salvation after being touched by saving grace.
Likewise for Augustine, the man being saved is a rebel and a criminal being pulled off the line in front of a firing squad by Christ's taking his place. For Aquinas it's less a criminal with no part of him untouched by sin than a wayward son who needs to be called home.

Your point about Aquinas use of natural law (1) is well taken. Though I think Aquinas is a bit light on the application of that understanding that God is. Certainly all men can look at creation and know that there's a creator, but all men likewise look at creation and rebel against the creator. Knowledge of the Creator God is not the same as faith in the Savior Christ. In fact, the former is uniquely damning while the latter is uniquely saving.


message 14: by Mark (new)

Mark | 8 comments 1. What secondary sources on Aquinas are most significant for your interpretation? Augustine?

2. Where in the Summa Theo do you see a 'rampant' semi-Pelagianism? Particularly, which questions?

I could see that a cursory read of Aquinas may lead one to the accusation of semi-Pelagianism in some of his earlier works, but a sustained reading of St. Thomas' doctrine of grace in the Summa Theo or his commentary on Romans , both late works, would suggest otherwise in my own reading. Allow me some presumption: It seems that you are reading both Augustine and Aquinas through the eyes of the reformers. With the rise of the reformers in the sixteenth century we see for the first time a grace that saves humanity without changing his/her nature. Augustine in "De libero arbitrio" (pre-his encounter with Pelagius) and in "De gratia et libero arbitrio" argues for a changed nature not a strict substitution as your analogy suggests (Likewise...his place.) That is Luther and the reformer's Augustine. But, in fact, nature is changed in Augustine.

Good stuff, thanks.


message 15: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 10 comments Hey Mark,

Great discussion and comments!

1) Again, I can't claim to be a huge expert in Aquinas, just running on hearsay (always dangerous, I know). My major exposure to him has been through (in no particular order)
a) the Norton Political and Legal Writings of Aquinas and the (Hackett? I think?) edition of his moral and ethical writings, as well as having had to translate a few questions from the Summa for a Latin test; b) my professors out here at CUA; c) various works by James Schall, SJ; d) Niebhur's "Christ and Culture"; e) G.K. Chesterton's biography of him; f) various church history courses, at CUA, at my undergrad, and at Covenant online.

And you're right, I shouldn't have said Aquinas was "caught up in" the rampant semi-Pelagianism of the Middle Ages, "touched by" would probably be a better way to put it. If I remember correctly (don't have it in front of me) the questions in the Summa on the will and the nature of man after the fall are the best places to see it (though I don't remember which questions specifically those are in terms of their numbers).

Presumption completely allowed :)
And please, where I am wrong on Aquinas do correct me. I have to teach him from time to time (for politics, so the area of will and human nature doesn't really come up much) and I don't want to be teaching him incorrectly!
Though I might disagree slightly with one part of your presumption- I like to think that I at least try to read Augustine, Aquinas AND the Reformers through the eyes of the Bible... not that I can claim success with that, we're all shaped by our influences!

I do have to take slight issue with your read on the Reformers- they certainly did believe in the necessity of a changed nature, that's one of the major elements of the doctrine of Sola Gratia. In fact, without the doctrine of a changed nature, Sola Gratia basically loses its force. It would be mere subjective declaration without objective reality to back it up.
You're right though about Augustine, he wasn't always consistent in connecting his doctrines of grace with his doctrines of human nature through substitution- probably a result of his confusion of the Greek "dikiaho" (sorry if that's transliterated wrong) with the Latin "iustificare."

Mark, not to switch gears or anything, but I'd be curious to know what you think of B.B. Warfield's claim that the Reformation was really a conflict between Augustine's ecclesiology and his soteriology?


message 16: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 10 comments Mark,

p.s. What secondary source covering Aquinas' theology would you recommend? (Preferably something readable- you know how those theologians can be :)


message 17: by Jenny (new)

Jenny | 1 comments Peter wrote: "Here's what I'm still not seeing: it's easy to see, for instance, the differences between Aristotle and his teacher Plato. While they shared a method (dialectic) in common, the focus of their inves..."

I hope to join this discussion. I hope this helps and does not repeat something not in my string of the thread.
I am a philosophy and history teacher and I reside on the fluid border of the holist and determinist camps.
The determinist camp asserts that setting determines our experiences, our differences, and our mentality.
As a holist, I have to assert that it may be impossible to use any approach to the complete exclusion of all or any others.
As a member of any religion that accepts perfection as a possibility, i.e. a perfect God in the language of the Platonic forms, Aquinas and Augustine would have to be Platonists despite any favor to Aristotelian approaches.
When determining the differences between philosophical assertions and conclusions, I might suggest that we look at their settings. Why is Augustine such a pessimist? He is witnessing the end of the Empire. Why is Aquinas more comfortable and esoteric, despite his use of “Prove the thesis logic” He lives in a sanctuary protected by the literal and figurative walls of the early Gothic Cathedral and the medieval continuity of faith?
Aquinas’ comfort may be determined by setting and “The hand that feeds him” just as Augustine’s fury may be determined by the impending doom.





message 18: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 10 comments Jenny,

Certainly, as they say in hermeneutics, "context is king." There's no question that the "fall of Rome" vs. "the height of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy" were hugely influential in Augustine and Aquinas, to say nothing of the difference between Augustine's classically Roman education compared to Aquinas' Medieval Scholastic one.
Having said that, I'm not entirely convinced that if you were to switch the two men out and put each in the other's context, Augustine would write the Summa and Aquinas would write the City of God. At the end of the day, there are still some fundamental worldview and theological differences between the two and go beyond contextual questions. There's no rule that says Aquinas couldn't have been a pessimist and Augustine an optimist (as Jerome was, until Rome fell) despite their circumstances. As important as their contexts are to understanding how they wrote and why they wrote the way they did, there are still real differences that determine what they wrote and which reach beyond mere setting.


message 19: by Mark (last edited Dec 09, 2008 10:51AM) (new)

Mark | 8 comments Coyle,

1. I am not familiar with B.B. Warfield, sorry. That sounds like an interesting argument.

2. The Thomists that I read are, E. Gilson, J. Maritian, J.P. Torrell, D. Chenu, G. Lagrange, A. McIntyre to name a few. Journals: "The Thomist." I am always looking for good sources. I try to spend most of my time reading St. Thomas, as you know it can take much effort. I have been seriously working with St. Thomas for only a few years.
3. Your reading of Sola Gratia is good, I think. My reading of the Reformers may be too simplistic. I am still having problems finding semi-pelagianism in questions of the ST. If I run across questions that pertain to the will and the nature of man after the fall, I will be sure to read closely. Thanks. But my affinity to St. Thomas and brands of Thomism will most likely lead me to rigorously defend St. Thomas:) Which may not always be the best course of action. HAHA!




message 20: by Mark (new)

Mark | 8 comments Jenny,

1.Good points. It is always very wise, it seems to me, to keep in mind the contexts of writers.
2."As a member of any religion...Aristotelian approaches." I think you are correct. There is little doubt in my mind that St. Thomas received his understanding of the analogy of participation, in regards to perfection outside/beyond one's nature, from Neo-platonists. In Aristotle the notion of lower beings participating in the perfection of higher beings is wholly absent, it seems to me. In the hierarchy of being there seems to be no upward movement. This may underscore that as soon as I think I have St. Thomas pinned down as a neo-Platonist or an Aristotelian, I find a phrase or concept that keeps me searching, maybe that is why I find St. Thomas so fascinating.



message 21: by Odel (new)

Odel | 1 comments Hi,

I hope that I can contribute to the conversation, even if I only read some of both authors works. It might be a cliché but one crucial difference about them is the different approach to philosophy and the way they see the relation between philosophy and theology. This is very well formulated in the first chapter of Etienne Gilson's "The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy" entitled "The problem of christian philosophy": Whereas for Augustine it is faith that is the primary source of knowledge (being a necessary condition for the good use of reason), for St. Thomas faith has no place in philosophy. A philosophical system has to be built solely on reason. Of course the results of our reasoning have to match the truths of faith but this is by virtue of them being true. (so we will reach the same conclusions by faith and reason, if we use our reason rightly, BUT that does not require faith)

Another point I want to make is about the classification of St. Thomas as an Aristotelian and Augustine as a neo-platonist. It is a fact that the 2 thinkers were mostly influenced by the above-mentioned schools of thought. However even in the time of Augustine christian theology was already intermingled with greek philosophy so theology already contained both Atistotelian and platonic elements which both authors took for granted.



message 22: by A.J. (new)

A.J. Deus (ajdeus) | 3 comments Better late than never.
Augustine and Thomas fit neatly into the evolution of thought. They both reflect their zeitgeist, and it is with this that both can best be understood.

The City of God was written after the Goth Alaric had invaded Rome and after a famine and plague had turned Rome into a city of death. Augustine’s thinking paralleled his former Manichaean faith. Riding on the failure of the Pagan gods to protect Rome, he would lay the intellectual framework for a new kind of totalitarian regime that would engage in radical control of its pupils, from their thoughts to their activities.

Thomas instead responded to the Catholic Church loosing power across the board and to a new age of rapidly evolving reason. Dante is exemplary for the time, who worked himself through endless arguments and always ended at the same conclusion: the papal dictatorship was fundamentally wrong. The church was again questioned whether or not it should submit to kings.

Without the zeitgeist, the lecture of both is painfully futile. The Great Leap-Fraud puts both authors in context of their time.

The Great Leap-Fraud Social Economics of Religious Terrorism, Volume 1, Judaism and Christianity by A.J. Deus


message 23: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 10 comments Interesting... I don't know that I've ever heard Augustine called a "Totalitarian" before. I'd be curious to know where you were pulling this from? Are you basing your conclusions on The Confessions or City of God or something else?


message 24: by A.J. (new)

A.J. Deus (ajdeus) | 3 comments I guess that would have needed clarification. Unconditional submission to the will of God is synonomous for "totalitarian". It is based on my own study of the City of God (in context with many others that constitute the zeitgeist). It is laid out in The Great Leap-Fraud.


message 25: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 10 comments Hmm, interesting, Karl Popper makes a similar argument in The Open Society and Its Enemies.
It would be interesting to start a thread running through City of God at some point (maybe this summer- I'm re-reading it with a friend). I do find it a bit... problematic to claim that Augustine calls for "unconditional submission", given that his arguments form the backbone for Martin Luther's doctrine of "believer's freedom", and that his own oft-repeated credo was "Love, and do what you will." (See especially his sermons on 1 John and Genesis.)


message 26: by A.J. (last edited Feb 20, 2011 04:03PM) (new)

A.J. Deus (ajdeus) | 3 comments I am well aware that Augustine can be looked at from two differnt angles. It depends on what you are looking for. If I look for a spiritual message, then I end up with your conclusions. If I look for a religious message (as in the doctrinal message), then the read is different. I think that I can accomodate both views but quite intentionally stress the alternative because I am looking for the doctrines that may have altered the behaviour of societies.

The same holds true for Thomas and, above all, for Luther. From the doctrinal point of view, I find a message of hatred against the Jews and the Turks. This interpretation was taken by Hitler and was his intellectual foundation for the Holocaust.

I be more than happy to be part of a thread. May I recommend The Great Leap-Fraud written by me? There you see the doctrinal view carved out of all three together with the primary evidence for you to follow the trail.


message 27: by Johann (new)

Johann | 1 comments Hi, I'm also new to this conversation and I'm not native in English.

But what I would suggest as a major difference between Augustinus and Aquinas is that they lived in completely different times.

The 4th and the beginning of the 5th century where a time of transformation. A time where earthly Jerusalem was established as a locus sanctus. With this, there came Churches, the veneration of all kind of holy sites throughout the Middle East and later on Western Europe. Before Constantine there was no place holier than another, people where close to god everywhere and not just closer because of some saint or martyr died at a specific place and his body parts where treaded as relics.
After Constantine everything changed more to how we now know catholic christianity. As Augustinus -what I know of him - was more concerned about the heavenly Jerusalem and not earthly life, Aquinas is more rational, this life oriented.
So as in their teachings they might not seem as different, but comparing the times or you can say the christianity they lived in, their teachings seem different to me.
But anyway, it's just a guess, as I'm not well versed in medieval philosophy.


message 28: by Colin (new)

Colin Heber-Percy | 1 comments In very general terms one can characterise the differences between Augustine and Aquinas as an echo/reflection of the difference between Plato and Aristotle. These are, essentially, two entirely distinct (though not necessarily incompatible) ways of looking at reality. For this reason, comparing the two will yield no philosophically valuable insights.
How Aquinas received Augustine is much more interesting. Thomas's reception is not unproblematic: Aquinas often finds himself twisting, distorting Augustine in order to bring this 'auctoritas' into line with his Aristotelian worldview.


message 29: by Peter (new)

Peter | 6 comments Mod
The Metaphysics of Media: Toward an End of Postmodern Cynicism and the Construction of a Virtuous Reality

Thanks to all for great discussions. Thought you might be interested in (at least part of) the results of some of those discussions.


message 30: by Mark (new)

Mark | 8 comments Just read this thread again, 4 years later. What great fun. Thanks.


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