|The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas.|
Thomas Scarborough unravels links between metaphysics and theology in the writings of Fr. Cornelis (Kees) Thönissen.
About the size of a modern A4 sheet of paper, a painting of Benozzo Gozzoli (1471) hangs in the Louvre in Paris. Titled The Triumph of St. Thomas Aquinas, it depicts St. Thomas, seated with a completed metaphysic on his lap, flanked by Aristotle on the left, and Plato on the right. At his feet lies the Arabic philosopher Averroes.It happened chiefly through the influence of St. Thomas Aquinas: through Aquinas' writing, the thought of the Roman Catholic Church was tainted by barren metaphysics – which further opened the door, in time, to Enlightenment rationalism and scientific-technological reason. Such reason is linear, mathematical, geometric, and finally, analytic. It is epitomised by Newtonian logic, which works on universal laws. This means that everything rests on experiment, and thus the (observing) senses.
Such rationality, while it is rightly a part of the universal structure of what we are and who we are, has limitations of narrowness. Reason in its fulness, wrote Pope Benedict XVI, is far larger than that. It is the all-meaning logos, which is the reason of the mind of God. This includes the reason which asks: What is the meaning of all things? Why do things ‘hold together’ in the way that they do? Why are we here? To what personal purpose, and what end?
We may approach such questions in two ways:
1. By broadening our idea of what reason really is, and
2. By taking into account our human relationality.
THE FIRST APPROACH: Is our reason really capable, through the mind alone, of finding the ‘big’ answers tolife? The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally held: Yes. Yet what kind of ‘reason’ might this be? It cannot be the same as the narrow reason we have just described. Or does the Church's ‘reason’ really include insight as intuition – into and behind reality? Such a human capacity would lie beyond linear reason – beyond physics – a capacity which was partly perceived by Aristotle in his Meta-physics.
What then should we call this capacity or faculty ‘beyond reason’ – this something that we naturally, innately possess – this capacity which is somehow tied back to the ‘Being’ behind the universe: the religious spirit, the Jewish heart, the Greek pneuma, the breath of life, and the Christian soul? Aha, now we have passed further than the ‘mind alone,’ so that we need to rethink how we are constituted by our anthropological capacities, which are more than just a brain and a body.
The Roman Catholic tradition, when it speaks of reason, has failed to adequately distinguish reason in its fulness, as logos, from narrow Enlightenment reason or scientific-technological reason. Yet ‘reason’ clearly includes the insightful, spiritual capacities, or spiritual intuition. And there’s the debate set out for us! If we are content with rationalism coupled to our brains, we fool ourselves into shallowness. And such shallowness, as postmodernism has pointed out, cannot save us, or our planet.
What, then, is ‘the more’ of me and you about?
THE SECOND APPROACH: Most of all, each of us is heavily involved in relationships – or relationality. We find that what is most precious to us is our relations, which is the foci (persons!) that consume our energies. Aristotle and St. Thomas were more involved in things. So was Kant. Thus the category of relation was downgraded. So why has the Church pressed so heavily for thinking ourselves towards God (although this is valuable as far as it goes)?
We can think about relationships, but we do not think them. Those who are ‘in love’ don’t start there. They start with the experience of self-giving. The Judaeo-Christian religion begins with the Revelation of God, set in human history – above all through the Son of God on earth. A fresh, ‘humble’ metaphysics begins, not so much with God in himself as we think about him, but with God who is in relationship with me. It reverses the Church's traditional path. Through reason in its fulness, as logos, we may know God directly. This even a child can do. We’ve only made it hard because we double-think everything.
Relationality holds everything together in meaning. Therefore relationality has to be an essential category of our existence. Relations, then, occur in our experience – which makes experience an essential category, too. And we need to be able to intuit these relations, which requires a spiritual intuition or capacity beyond the brute force of narrow reason. Spiritual intuition, therefore, is as basic to our existence as scientific-technological reason.