What did Thomas Aquinas write
In times of fake news we can learn a lot from the philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas: This is what Dominican Father Carsten Barwasser says and explains on the day of the saint's remembrance why the scholar is still relevant today.
domradio.de: Why is Thomas Aquinas still so important today that we are still talking about him 800 years later?
Father Carsten Barwasser (Dominican from the Holy Cross Monastery in Cologne): First of all, it has to be said that he was very important in his time. As a theologian and philosopher, he already managed to bring together the knowledge of the Christian and philosophical faith. The 13th century is still one of the most important centuries for us today. It is the century in which the confrontation with Islam, which is still very topical today, was very strong. It is interesting that this argument was about philosophy. About that of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. This dispute was led by Albertus Magnus, who is buried here in Cologne and who was Thomas Aquinas's teacher. This discourse eventually led Christian faith and theology into the modern age. It was a confrontation with a way of thinking that was strongly determined by the experience, the consciousness, the person and the subject of the human being. Thomas Aquinas was significantly involved in this and has thus shaped western thinking to this day.
domadio.de: What specifically did we learn from him? What do we know from Thomas Aquinas?
Father Barwasser: Thomas Aquinas showed that religious-Christian beliefs do not have to be opposed to Aristotelian philosophy, which comes from experience and material reality. That the freedom of God and the freedom of man are not opposed to each other, but quite the opposite: they are mutually dependent. Accordingly, God's freedom is the basis of human freedom. This leads to an understanding of the subject - that is, an understanding of the human being as a being of reason and freedom. This idea can still be found today in the European-Western understanding.
domradio.de: If we look in the lexicon, under the entry of "Thomas Aquinas" we quickly find the term "Scholasticism", because Thomas Aquinas is considered to be the father of this philosophical-theological school of thought. In the translation, scholasticism is explained as "science of reasoning". Is it true?
Father Barwasser: Indeed, scholasticism is first and foremost a method. It is a method of teaching, of school and of learning, of dealing with authorities. In the Christian sense, this is a grappling with the Holy Scriptures. So scholasticism is a method of questioning and arguing. If one looks at the main work of Thomas Aquinas, the "Summa Theologiae", one recognizes a fixed structure of the question of the article. He draws up theses and gives arguments to which he answers. What defines Thomas is that he does not deal with his theological or philosophical opponents where they are weakest, but where they are strongest. Thomas had incredible faith in common sense. He was of the opinion that man is able to align himself with the truth and to know truth. That is something that continues to do us good in the debates that are being waged to this day.
domradio.de: This is particularly relevant to the discussion we are currently having about fake news. Nevertheless, Thomas Aquinas is not entirely undisputed. For example, he saw the woman as a "prevented man". How is that to be understood?
Father Barwasser: Thomas is thus in the tradition of his time. One finds such misogynistic remarks again and again in the tradition of Greek philosophy and also in Christianity. At this point Thomas is a child of his time. When dealing with him one has to be aware that he is a 13th century man. An argument with Thomas can only be a critical one. It cannot be - as happened in the Catholic Church - that Thomas' teaching is elevated to a dogma and made into a theological or philosophical system that is self-contained and from which one cannot deviate. Up until the Second Vatican Council, Thomas' teaching was prescribed when it came to neo-scholasticism. This neo-scholasticism, however, has little to do with the original medieval scholasticism. It is more about defending oneself against modern thinking through a closed system. But with this Thomas' teaching was stylized to an ideology. You have to be critical of that. You have to deal critically with Thomas. There are a number of positions of his that one can no longer take on like this today.
domradio.de: If the basic doctrine consists in convincing people with strong arguments, but then dogmatically asserting that "there are no arguments against him", that sounds like a contradiction. How do you judge that?
Father Barwasser: Neuscholasticism did not actually have as much to do with Thomas as was claimed. Theologians like the French Dominican Marie-Dominique Chenu said this very specifically in the 1930s and 1940s. They were even reprimanded for this by the Holy Office in Rome. They lost their positions in universities and had to go into exile because they criticized neo-scholasticism.
domradio.de: Without Thomas Aquinas we would not celebrate the Corpus Christi procession, as we experience it every year here at Cologne Cathedral. Can you put it that way?
Father Barwasser: Thomas wrote the texts for the Corpus Christi procession and for the liturgy. However, he is not the one who "invented" Corpus Christi. He is the one who developed the theological basis for Corpus Christi as the feast of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Songs like "Tantum Ergo" were written by him.
The interview was conducted by Renardo Schlegelmilch.
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