Why Ignatians study Philosophy and Theology with St. Thomas Aquinas as their North Star?
Ignatians Choose St. Thomas because He is Anti-Dictatorship of Relativism
The Society of Ignatians, for the foreseeable future, will fight for Christ and the salvation of souls in a world largely dominated by the “Dictatorship of Relativism” (Benedict XVI). In a society from which absolute moral truths have been expelled, there is no longer any North Star to guide men in their decision-making. Right and wrong become subject to individual determination, based upon one’s own judgment with the winds of passion allowed to blow freely. Such a society is already mentally conditioned for the rise of would-be dictators with their characteristic arbitrary mode of government.
Both political dictatorship and the culture of relativism owe much to a long line of philosophers and theologians stretching back to Duns Scotus (c.1266-1308), William of Ockham (c. 1287-1347), Martin Luther and Rene Descartes. All of these thinkers were philosophical voluntarists: they held that an action is not good or bad on account of its nature but because God willed it to be good or evil. This idea of the dependence of good and evil on the will was taken up by modern philosophers, notably Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900) with his “will to power” theory, so influential among the Nazis. Contemporary society is soaked in this mentality because it holds that right and wrong are determined by the laws of the majority.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in sharp contrast, demonstrates that an action is good or evil depending on whether or not it respects the nature of the realities involved. And since each nature’s reality participates in a certain way by the fact of its divine creation in the very being and goodness of God, not only is the action evil but it is an offense against the Creator. This ethics of St. Thomas is of course grounded on his realist metaphysics which is radically opposed to the nominalism of thinkers like William of Ockham, Martin Luther, and many modern philosophers.
St. Thomas’s philosophy is therefore a bulwark against the offspring of voluntarism ‒ authoritarianism and a theory of obedience that has even at times been a policy (praxis) though never a principle within certain Catholic groups, even religious communities. Hence, the Society of Ignatians wholeheartedly founds its understanding of the vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity on the philosophy and theology of the Angelic Doctor.
Other Reasons Why Ignatians Choose St. Thomas
Ignatians give priority to St. Thomas ( Ignatians are realists and St. Thomas Aquinas is preeminently the realist philosopher and the one most suitable for the technological, materially-minded culture we move in today).
Ignatians will develop the various courses of philosophical studies taking into account contemporary urgencies but always confronting the questions not only according to the judgment of St. Thomas but also according to his line of reasoning.
All in the light of St. Thomas’s doctrine because “This doctrine thus appears as being the only one with the energies powerful and pure enough to act effectively…on the entire universe of culture; in order to reestablish order in man’s understanding, and thus, with the grace of God, to lead the world back into the ways of the Truth, “qu’il se meurt de ne plus connaitre” (J. Maritain, Revue des Jeunes, n.5, 1924)
“St. Thomas is important for us today precisely because of our lack.”
“Timeless truth is always timely, of course, but some aspects of truth are especially needed at some times, and it seems that our times badly need seven Thomistic syntheses: (i) of faith and reason, (2) of the Biblical and the classical, the Judeo—Christian and the Greco—Roman heritages, (3)of the ideals of clarity and profundity, (4) of common sense and technical sophistication, () of theory and practice, (6) of an understanding, intuitive vision and a demanding, accurate logic, and (5) of the one and the many, a cosmic unity or “big picture” and carefully sorted out distinctions. I think it a safe judgment that no one in the entire history of human thought has ever succeeded better than St. Thomas in making not just one but all seven of these marriages which are essential to mental health and happiness.
“For some reason, many people seem so threatened by St. Thomas that they instantly label any admiration for, use of, or learning from him as slavish, unoriginal, and authoritarian—something that they do with no other thinker. Of course St. Thomas cannot be the be-all and end—all of our thought. He cannot be an end, but he can be a beginning, like Socrates. Of course we must go beyond him and not slavishly confine our thought to his. But there is no better bottom story to our edifice of thought.” (Dr. Peter Kreeft)