Miscellany: St. Thomas

Article 1. Whether St. Thomas is rightly called Thomas ‘The Man’ Aquinas

To the first we proceed thus: 1. It seems that Aquinas is not rightly called ‘The Man’. For a predicate must be commensurate with its subject. But Aquinas is called ‘The Angelic Doctor’, and angels are higher in the order of creation than men. Therefore it is not fitting that he be called ‘The Man’.

2. Furthermore, this title refers to one in authority and high esteem, such as a popular employer, or the captain of a sporting team. But doctrines of St. Thomas are no longer considered authoritative or estimable by the general population.

3. Furthermore, the Philosopher, when speaking of various kinds of changes, says [in Physics VI.5], ‘Of these The Man and the time are divisible’. Since St. Thomas’s time has passed away, he has been divided from the title ‘The Man’.

4. Furthermore, the Apostle writes, ‘For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, “The Man” Christ Jesus.’ This implies that just as there is one mediator, there is also only one who is fittingly called ‘The Man’, Christ Jesus.

On the contrary, Pope John Paul II speaks of St. Thomas as deserving of ‘a quite special place’, and uses the terms ‘radical’, ‘freedom of spirit’ and ‘pioneer’ to describe him. And all these things are comprehensively summarised by the title ‘The Man’.

To answer this question, we must first realise that there are two meanings of the phrase ‘The Man’. The first is in a phrase of clarification, such as ‘Socrates, the man from Athens’, or in apposition to a name, as ‘the man Socrates’. The second is as a title indicating, as has already been said, a person of authority and high esteem, as in ‘Mr. T is The Man’. In the first sense, it is certainly correct that the term ‘the man’ be used with the name of St. Thomas, just as it may with any other man. But it would be strange to call the phrase a ‘fitting title’ in this case. However, it is clear that if St. Thomas fulfils the criteria for the second sense of the phrase, it can be fittingly used. And indeed, this is so, as can be seen by considering the two points of the definition, his authority and his high esteem.

To see his authority, we must distinguish between different kinds of authority. There is political authority and the like, such as kings and elected leaders exercise, which St. Thomas clearly does not have. There is doctrinal authority, which compels believers to consent to certain teachings. This type of authority St. Thomas has only imperfectly, for though most of his teachings are considered correct and useful for theological and philosophical pedagogy, he lacks the infallibility enjoyed by a bishop; moreover, as has already been pointed out, his opinions are not shared by those who are not believers. But there is a third kind of authority which St. Thomas does possess, namely, that which proceeds from one well versed in his discipline, as of a scholar with a broad knowledge of his subject; such a one is called ‘an authority’, regardless of how his particular opinions are accepted. And in this sense we may consider Aquinas an authority.

The estimation of St. Thomas we can address in a similar way. Though many do not esteem his particular opinions and doctrines, he is universally admired for the greatness of his intellect and precision in philosophy. And that many believers to consider his teachings estimable in themselves only augments his general esteem.

Therefore, 1. This objection is raised with the first definition of ‘the man’ in mind. But it is the second definition that we have shown to be appropriate in this situation. With this understanding, there is no conflict between the titles ‘Angelic’ and ‘The Man’.

2. This objection has been answered above, where we distinguish between authority and estimation given to the person distinct from his opinions.

3. The philosopher does not mean that this or that time causes one to be The Man or not The Man, but rather that there is no necessary connexion between the time and being ‘The Man’.

4. As in the first objection, this is due to a misapplication of the definition of ‘The Man’.