Saturday, April 25, 2015

Confessions and Summa Theologica - Augustine, Aquinas

(Sorry, I thought I hit 'publish' on this earlier in the week.)

I don't really have a lot to say about the readings for April.  This is unfortunately becoming a theme for the year.  So much of the readings seem to be simply beside the point.

Take book eleven of 'Confessions'.  Augustine tries to understand the nature of time and how such a thing as time would coexist with an omnipotent God.  This quickly looks like a game of verbal puzzle making.
I find pretty much all attempts to logically (or physically) prove the existence of God to be fruitless.  An omnipotent God can defy any such proof simply by the virtue of having the power to overcome any obstacle.  Meanwhile, the spiritual element, the most important, is necessarily reduced.
Which isn't to say that there isn't some value to Augustine.  His worshipful approach is often beautiful, though it tends to blend together with time.  The first half of Confessions is Augustine's personal story of conversion and I found it much more compelling than the second half.

The readings from Aquinas suffer from much the same fault.  When we talk about the soul, we're off into some pretty uncharted territory.  We don't really know what the soul is or how it interacts with the rest of the person.  This means that discussing the exact method that the soul uses to gain knowledge is simply impossible.  Much of this section was similar in terms of actual usefulness.
I remain in awe of the style that Aquinas uses.  For those that aren't familiar, he first poses a general question and then breaks that question down into six or so smaller questions.  Each of these is then given a statement and then arguments against that statement.  Aquinas then responds to those arguments with his full understanding.  Then he finishes up with rebuttals to the arguments. 
You can't say that he doesn't give each question a full hearing.  I would love to see some modern writers adopt the very same method.

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