Monday, March 8, 2010

Newman or Aquinas

I was sitting at my university doing Latin homework today when I overheard an interesting discussion. A girl and a guy were talking about Creation and the essay they were writing. The girl began talking about Aquinas' arguments for God's existence and she kept saying that he believed in the eternality of the universe (a belief Aristotle held, but which Aquinas opposed vehemently), it made me really annoyed - to the point that I almost got up and said something to her. But I waited patiently trying to understand that life would go on, and that all over the world people were misunderstanding the scholastics. At the end of their conversation, she said something to the effect of: 'but it's all ridiculous speculation anyway, your mind can't even wrap itself around the concepts, I'm just trying to get the paper done'.

As a converted Thomist I took great affrontery to such a claim - that the Thomistic 'proofs' for God were meaningless in everyday life. Though as I sat there it reminded me of another thinker who I respect equally (whether this is right ethically or not) to Aquinas, the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman.

He was a man of the people and as Catholic Encyclopedia says "a mystic not a skeptic". Even as a convert, he had no great love for the Scholastics and Medievals and indeed said very little about them. His most philosophical work was his essay usually called "Grammar of Assent" which took him 30 years to write. Now in Aquinas, Kant, and Heidegger, there is a complete phenomenology and ontology, a 'way of knowing' statements about belief and reason, etc.

Contrary to all of this, Newman set out what he believed to be - not the 'proper' or most logical way - but the real way people came to believe things. He argued that we actually have alot more faith than one might imagine, and that in all sorts of things we act using "Illative Sense" which bridges the gap between what we logically are certain of, and what we think is probably true and act on.

His whole point in "Grammar of Assent" (according to the summaries I've read) is that you don't need a volume on how to believe, because you already know how to do it.

This philosophy appeals to me greatly because it's something that everyone can understand. It's not removed to ivory towers and complex irrelevant discussions about Being and Time. It's a sort of everyman apologetics. I haven't read it yet - it will take a while. But I think perhaps I might end up switching my philosophical structure from 'pure'(?) Thomism to a sort of Thomistic Personalism which Newman and Papa JP II espoused.


  1. Did she mean everlasting or immortal? I think one can say the earth/creation will last into the eschaton, but not that it is eternal because it had a starting point. (It is a ray, not a line, in mathematical terms). Aquinas might have said something along those lines and she might have misunderstood...

  2. Ya she kept talking about the beginning of time, and whether or not time had a beginning. So I think it was the Eternality of the Universe. She thought it more likely that we - like Aristotle - just accept time as eternal and ignore the infinite regress.

    But ya, if she was talking about endpoints then you definately could speak of Aquinas' belief in the eternality of creation.

    Nice (but also scary - due to the Marian posts) to know that you're still reading my stuff occasionally.