FAITH MATTERS: Catholic Intellectual Tradition (Part 2)

Throughout history there have been specific people who have embodied the Catholic intellectual tradition. In the 1st century the question arose about who could become Christian. Did Gentiles and non- Jews need to become Jewish to become Christian? The discernment of this inquiry question led to the church being open to everyone which saw the inclusion of Gentile Greeks, this brought into the mix a Greek culture and way of thinking.

Saint Augustine is often attributed with beginning the Catholic intellectual tradition centring his own story of faith with the contours of philosophical thought greatly influenced by Saint Ambrose and the Platonist thinker Plotinus. Augustine contended that human beings were by nature sinful people who could be redeemed only by God's sovereign grace. In his most influential works Confessions and City of God, Augustine works to answer the questions of where human beings might find happiness, in the end he determines that only God offers true happiness. What Augustine finds in God leaves a solid beginning of Catholic intellectual tradition as his writings indicate an understanding and appreciation of the complementary aspect of human reason and faith.

In the 11th century St Anslem of Canterbury embraced the idea that reason could help explain Christianity.  His ontological argument for the proof of God's existence in the philosophy of religion claimed that God is that then which nothing greater can be conceived.

By the 12th century when centres for learning began to rise, the works of Aristotle were translated, his mode of questioning became accessible in the West and was an established part of university studies.

The most influential person in the Catholic Intellectual Tradition is Thomas Aquinas, being a Dominican, he was always in search for truth and set out to recognise the complementary relationship between faith and reason. While the use of Aristotelian thought was initially seen as contradictory to Christian beliefs and outlawed, it was not long before it became excepted as an alternative way to thinking.  Aquinas’, Summa Theologica, focuses on a wide variety of theological topics and applies Aristotelian reasoning to create a disputation.

His method and philosophical foundation fundamentally influenced Catholic thinking and even its doctrine. By integrating Christian teaching with Aristotelian reasoning, he provided the soundest basis to date for reasoned reflections on belief in God. He showed that one can reason from the existence of the world to the existence of God, and that this move did not depend on individual faith or subjective experience.

The impact of Aquinas on Catholic Intellectual tradition is tremendous, so much so that a philosophical movement known as Thomism was born. The basic elements of Thomism reveal that while humans cannot fully grasp supernatural truths, such as the Trinity, by natural reason, there is no opposition between natural law and God given faith, reason leads to truth and truth leads to God.

In 1917 the Code of Canon Law established by Benedict XV, required all theology and philosophy courses in Catholic institutions must include Thomism.



The Catholic Intellectual Tradition What is it? Why should I care? Barry University. (2008)

O’Donnell, M,E. The Catholic Intellectual Tradition, A Classification and a Calling, ProQuest Ebook Central. (Fordham University Press, 2011)

Haughey, John. The Catholic Intellectual Tradition: Part II. Where is Knowing Going?: The Horizons of the Knowing Subject, Georgetown University Press, ProQuest Ebook Central, (2009).

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