We were talking about G. K. Chesterton’s mini-classic Saint Thomas Aquinas: ‘The Dumb Ox’, joking at us from the depths of Depression Era England. Chesterton claims Aquinas as a revolutionary after a millenium of Neoplatonism, and Augustine looms over Chesterton’s church as the Christian philosopher who forgot about Christ:
“[T]he Thomist was free to be an Aristotelean, instead of being bound to be an Augustinian. But he was even more of a theologian; more of an orthodox theologian; more of a dogmatist, in having recovered through Aristotle the most defiant of all dogmas, the wedding of God with Man and therefore with Matter.”
There you have Chesterton’s big So-What: that in arguing against the Paris schoolmasters for the orthodoxy of Aristotle — in applying the rigorously inductive method of observation, seansation and inference, always starting with the world of matter — Aquinas was, in fact, recovering the meaning of Christianity: that God became Man.
Or: “[A] Christian means a man [or girly-whirly] who believes that deity or sanctity has attached to matter or entered the world of the senses.”
So matter can be divine (in Christ), and so the scientific method can be a form of divination. In fact, Chesterton claims Aquinas as a kind of proto-scientist who rescued Catholicism from modern Evangelical pinheadedness by recognizing “that the meaning of Scripture is very far from self-evident and that we must often interpret it in the light of other truths.” Our senses can be deceived — but so can our pastors.
In the last few chapters, Chesterton summarizes basic Thomism for us; and since I haven’t seen it done quite like this before, I’ll lay it on you:
- “There is an Is” — that is, if we don’t believe that something exists, we don’t believe anything
- “[T]here instantly enters with this idea of affirmation the idea of contradiction” — where there is Yes, there is No; where there is True, False
- Everything that Is is “in a state of change, from being one thing to being another”
- However, this flux implies incompleteness, moving toward a potential that is never quite reached: “Being is often only Becoming; beginning to Be or ceasing to Be; it implies a more constant or complete thing of which it gives in itself no example”
- So: “The defect we see, in what is, is simply that it is not all that is. God is more actual even than Man; more actual even than Matter; for God with all His powers at every instant is immortally in action.”
QED: “[T]here is a Great Being, in whom all potentialities already exist as a plan of action.” (Now, I’m not sure how he gets from potentialities to “a plan,” but perhaps you do?)
There you have it: God — The Action Hero!