Comments on St Thomas Aquinas

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss St Thomas Aquinas.

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Comments for this programme are now closed.


  • Per-Arne Öberg, Thomas Aquinas

    The description of the revelation that Thomas had late in his life and his subsequent silence remind me of how revelation is described in oriental philosophies like Zen Bhuddism and Taoism. In Zen it is called satori and is said to be beyond the reach of words. It can only be experienced. There is a saying ’those who speak don’t know, and those who know don’t speak’.I am also reminded by the immensely moving ending to George Herbert’s poem The Collar from the early 17th century:”But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wildAt every word,Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child!And I reply’d, My Lord.”Finally, may I suggest Montaigne as a topic for IoT.

  • Brian Kelly

    Excellent - very lucid, especially Annabel Brett's account of Thomas's thought and comparison/contrast with Plato and Augustine. Maybe something on Thomas' dispute with the Latin Averroists of Paris would have been helpful (on eternity of the world, perfection thru contemplation, and 'two truths' - why Aristotle couldn't be reconciled with Quran or Bible. In all, a very helpful programme.

  • Lars Arvidsson, Aquinas

    I detected no rustiness in you this Thursday (or Friday, since I listen to the podcast the day after). It was just brilliant. In our time is my favourite on the BBC. I teach chemistry and biology but I am also very interested in history. I am especially interested when your topic is scientific, though.I have also listened through The adventure of English as an audiobook at least twice. I was especially caught by the insights it gave me about the links there are between English and the Scandinavian languages, Swedish being my mother tongue. I got a reminder last summer when I was in Yorkshire and saw all those place names ending with -thorpe and -by. As you point out, the Yorkshire dialect has a lot more Scandinavian loans than there are in standard English. Why are they called loanwords, by the way? I am sure you have no intention to return them to us just like we will not return the loads of recent English loans we have. Swedish is also full of older latin, german and french "loans". Lars Arvidsson, Östersund, Sweden

  • Dr Michael Dunne, Aquinas

    Pity there was no mention of Aquinas's teacher, Petrus de Ybernia, who taught logic and natural philosophy at the University of Naples. Peter may well have been the first to have introduced Aquinas to the study of Aristotle and Averroesin the years 1239-44 and before Aquinas joined the Dominicans and went to study under Albert the Great.

  • Ben Jones - Thomas Aquinas

    Dear Melvyn Thanks, I agreed with your early challenge and was glad of it. The hyperbolic myths of great men, although undoubtedly in many legitimate or apocryphal historical records makes their remoteness often beyond exposure, excepting the application of common sense. Perhaps these myths appeal to some ancient but pernicious need to deify those we identify for the significance of their contributions. I can hear my father, attributing the thought of this or that man to his ability to read photographically or to some other supernatural quality of mind. Is it a magical protective, to make these men some whole worthy of a worship , otherwise unacceptable, or simply unassailable, or is it a salve to the collective ego. Whatever the reason it confuses the real achievements of these thinkers, prophets and teachers who suffer the good intentions and credulity of fanciful biographers and gullible devotees.Yours Ben

  • Jane - part 2

    It is also reasonable why, though words had become, in relative terms, redundant to him, it was appropriate that he left his legacy of writings to serve a certain function. If he was 'graced' by revelation (for it seems to come to us), in an instant he would have experienced, way outside the range of the intellect, the eternal sense and place and interconnection of everything...and its absolute and incredible perfection. Can't thank you enough for this wonderfully enjoyable programme and its effect on me....and it's so lovely to have Melvyn back in our lives.

  • Niall O'Malley - Thomas Aquinas

    Thomas was introduced to Aristotle by a Irishman lecturing in Naples University at the time. Just to enlighten you good Brits as to the extent of Irish scholarship at the time:) But the main point I would like to make is the commentators closing summary on Thomas's experience of God that leads hime to exclaim that -"its all straw". Therefore: The little old woman whom you see attending her prayers and daily religious services has access to greater wisdom than all of the philosophers put together. He/she becomes wise in the life of grace.Thanks for the discussion from the little old man and the little old woman in Dublin.

  • Ray Salmon - Thomas Aquinas

    Regarding Thomas Aquinas and his late religious experienceHaving a religious experience affords the person who has had the experience things which reasoning cannot afford. If you have an experience of a Divine Reality you know that a Divine Reality exists and you have an inkling as to the nature of that DivineReality. Reasoning, whether philosophical or scientific, cannot give rise to this knowledge. It cannot prove the existence of the Divine nor tell us what its nature is. Only an experience of the Divine can do this, which incidentally we cannot manufacture for ourselves. It comes by grace. And it has to be our own experience, since we are not open to persuasion by another person’s experience. This may be because we live in a sceptical society. It is okay to go on philosophising after a religious experience to develop our thinking about different matters. Perhaps Thomas Aquinas felt that, having had an experience of the Divine, he had arrived, and that he did not need to contribute further to the religious thought of his day.

  • Hugh L'Estrange - Excellent programme!

    Dear Melvyn, Thank you for the programme. Despite what you say about your nerves, etc, etc, I thought it was one of the best. The contributors - showing more signs of nerves than you from time to time - were excellent and the elucidation of Aquinas's philosophy and theology as well as setting the context for him and his age was very clear and illuminating.Shame your Newsletter concentrates so much on negatives and doesn't add some nice reflections from the conversations you had afterwards over coffee and croissants as you usually do. And your walk through the park ... I enjoy those bits.Warmest wishesHugh L'Estrange (ex-Dominican novice and student - many years ago)

  • John - Thomas Aquinas

    Brilliant episode. It seems it would be a good time to do a 4 parter, properly done, on the one prolific individual, that all theologians like Thomas Aquinas are compared to. This would be St. Augustan himself. Time to go there with Augustan and delve into his profound and amazing life. I think it would be a very good program!Thank you I.O.T. - Glad you are Back MelvynVery Best John.

  • Themistocles - Aquinas

    I felt extremely disappointed that the new season started with theology. All the points of note mentioned were from the Greeks. All the 'proofs' of God presented by Aquinas were Plato's. This is very clear. If you take Plato away, Aquinas has nothing to say. And since when the 'non mover' does not need to be created? All Aquinas said were said better by both the theoretical philosophers of Islam (they were not mere scholastics, they added value to the Greek philosophy, something that Aquinas failed to do). Compare for example Aquinas with the Proclos (4th century ac Athens): Proclos mentions that all beings need a creator therefore God has to be a non-being. This idea is totally incomprehensive for both Aquinas and today's theology. All theology is eventually based on apocalysis and hence cannot be logos. So the term itself is meaningless.

  • Tony - Acquinas

    Today's programme was brilliant. For the first time I developed a real sense of the relationship between Platonism and Aristotelianism and the radical porentialities that came within the latter tradition. The contributors were wonderfully clear.

  • Robert - Thomas Aquinas

    Very interesting discussion. I was surprised that none of the discussants suggested stroke as an explanation for the sudden change of behaviour after 6th December 1273. When I googled and got "thought of St. Thomas Aquinas by Brian Davies, 1993" I found "exactly what had happened is uncertain, though the explanation normally given nowadays is that Aquinal suffered a stroke or a physical or emotional breakdown caused by overwork".

  • Jonas - Thomas Aquinas

    Aquinas’ movement towards Aristotlewas to counteract the effect of Augustine’semphasis on Plato in Christian tradition, due to his teacher,Albertus Magmas ,wanting to have a more natural foundation for Christian theology. There was a need for a secular foundation for the understanding of the world not found in Platonism.In the platonic scheme the world is abstract.In the aristotelian schemewe can refer to the world itself to explain what goes on. Aquinas was a professional academic philosopher and lived his life within communities of friars.Both the volume (8 million words) and the rigour of his work (using strict logical rules) testifyto the body of knowledge he helped create amongst medieval philosopherswherein the works of Aristotle helped create the university syllabus. Aristotle founded many of the disciplines that grew into branches of philosophy and science.Medieval philosopher’s adherence to the Bible and Christian faith did not excludetheir curiosity, as God’s creatures, with human beings and the world. They thought God had said things to us not only through the Bible but through the story of Creation. Russell accused Aquinas of not being a realphilosopher because he was looking for reasons for what he already believed. Aquinas makes a distinction between his beliefsas a theologian and his beliefs as a philosopher. In one he defends the revelation of the scriptures, in the other, through the use of unaided reason, he discovers the world and its necessary truths. For instance he says,philosophically, there is no reason why the universe should not have always existed and go on existing for ever, but that as a Christian he does not believe this: he believes that God created the universe out ofnothing and will one day bring it to an end.You cannot prove it either way. When he can’t prove through reason he falls back on revelation. He adapted Aristotle to Christian dogma as he knew Aristotle thoroughly,so much more than earlier Catholic philosophers. The Summa Contra Gentiles is directed to people who are non-Christians, maybe Muslims,Jews or atheists. It aims to present them with reasons forbelieving that there is a God as part of its Christian duty. Aquinas’ Five Ways is a cosmological proof starting from features of the external world thus avoiding Anselm’s ontological argument. By observing the world, the ideas of movement and animation, we get to the idea of the Unmoved Mover, God and the First Cause.Aquinasis famous for the idea of the ‘just war’and when it is morally right to wage war. There are constraints on what you choose as targets and there are some values more important than life itself, important enough to defend. He also covered the idea of reconciling divine foreknowledge and freewill and the idea of popular sovereignty. However Plato was elevated over Aristotle with the advance of modern scientific enterprise.

  • St Thomas Aquinas

    Superb edition. Beautifully lucid discussion. Many thanks. SUGGESTION FOR FUTURE PROGRAMME: Personal Knowledge - Michael Polyani. Ways of knowing and the nature of 'truth': Motivated belief (John Polkinghorne); Inference to the best explanation; Intuition; etc.


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