Lecture 23

Session 23

First two chapters of Dooyeweerd’s In The Twilight of Western Thought assigned to read. Then read Roots of Western culture Introduction and chapter 1.

Start where we left off with Thomas Aquinas (1225-1275)

A new scheme arose in the thirteenth century with the recovery of Aristotle’s writings. They had been translated from Greek into Syriac and then into Arabic and now into Latin. All had heard that Aristotle was the last of the great Greek philosophers and his writings summed up all of intellectual wisdom. They wanted to know what it was. They crossed the Pyrenees on donkeys and got the Jews to translate it into Latin.
Thomas was a pious fellow for all his life. He gave his life to the service of God as a monk. He took over Aristotle’s philosophy.

There was a trend (c. 200 AD) to make Christianity as reasonable as possible to those Greeks trained in philosophy. In the nineteenth century there began to be a renewed intent/ investigation in biblical studies in Old and New Testaments. It became evident that the structure of thought (paradigm) of the OT and NT was so different from Greek – there is no compatibility. It raised a problem for twentieth century the whole Christian church had made it a point to make message ‘reasonable’ to those trained in Greek thought patterns. The gospel was accommodated to Greek philosophy – the gospel walked out and Greek philosophy took over.

Philosophy deals with the total structure of thought.

Plato held that everything in this world is changing, but he felt the need for changeless forms. A world behind the world, a world of pure ideas – purely intelligible and not subject to change. The question was how do we know? So scepticism arose.

The fifth academy, the leader said Plato was wrong in asserting a background world – but what Plato was driving at those entities/ ideas don’t exist there – but exist a priori – natural law.
Book by former student called Law and Revolution he maintained that since 1900 legal instruction abandoned natural law and substituted utilitarianism and pragmatism. So there is no ground for assuming, no fundamental principles

Right up to World War I natural law was an a priori. We gave up the idea of soul, of absolute knowledge. Many Christians think that we need to get back to natural law. But natural law is a christianised paganism! We have got to see the foundations, not to see the crisis in 1900, so we have to get back to before 1900.

When we talk about sphere sovereignty, organic functioning never changes into physical. There is a lot of change – but no change across boundary. History is the study of cultural formation.
Change is everywhere – but change within limits. The pagan mind changes everything. Man has no order, except what man changes. Man refashions, he can do what he pleases.
The change man can make is within fixed ordinances – there are sets limits and bounds.
For Aquinas there was the realm of nature and supra-nature (grace). Grace was added on – a donum supra additum.
In the Twilight of Western Thought p.45 describes this Thomism as: ‘Gratia naturum non tollit, sed perficit’, ‘Grace does not cancel nature, but perfects it.
That’s the idea of grace as an addition, added above to what is nature.

Nature = natural + cultural

For Aquinas this is what Aristotle knew, what we know by reason.
How do we know things? For the Greeks we open our eyes, we observe things and out mind organises it.

For the Greeks we all belong to one community of mind – headed by the State. During the time of the Roman Empire, the State was headed by the Emperor. The State is the supreme organisation of natural life.

The church was seen only in an institutional sense – it was not subordinated to the State
Renaissance threatened the role of the church. The Reformation stemmed the Renaissance for a while, but it failed das it became accommodated.

In the eighteenth century Enlightenment the Renaissance broke out with greater strength. Science and technology began to rule. Man creates utopia for himself. Man is autonomous, does it by methods of science and by technology extends interest over nature.

Faith for Aquinas becomes a gift. (Yet faith is part of human nature – it is unavoidable that we believe something – be it the scientific method or democratic voting. ) It is not true to say it is a gift.

For Aquinas or essential nature is bodily functions plus reason. At creation we have a gift of faith in addition. At the fall faith was lost the gift was removed.

This meant that for the first time in history all life has been withdrawn from the guiding light of the word of God!

Philosophy is done with the rational mind – ‘natural’ science, a matter of reason and not faith.
Theology comes from faith, it is supernatural. A different kind of science.
In the thirteenth century philosophy was withdrawn from the governing influence of the word of God – an important moment in the history of philosophising.

It meant, at best, only an external harmonising. Of course, our minds are God’s creation, so we must be harmonised.

It didn’t deal with the effects of sin in our thinking. We can’t assume that the mind exhibits creational normality, but that’s what Aquinas does. Philosophy now arises out of rational thinking and not the word of God.

If we don’t know God and yet we were made to rely upon him – we are dependent creatures – we have to find some satisfaction, something to rely upon, somewhere else, ie within this world. This is what Dooyeweerd calls immanentism.

Calvin – even the best of Greek philosophers lost himself in his own globe. This is what we mean by man is essentially a religious being.

There is no place for philosophy as an expression of that integral life man knows before the face of God in terms of his covenant.

Back to our question: is there a place for philosophy in the lives of Christians? It depends on what we mean by philosophy. What place does it have in life? It can’t be what it can be for unbelievers, it takes the place of religion, it can be a special science.

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