Dr Pravin Thevathasan reviews
Aquinas: On Reasons for our Faith,
against the Muslims, Greeks and Armenians.
Aquinas: On Reasons for our Faith, against the Muslims, Greeks and Armenians.
Translated by Fr Peter Damian Fehlner - Published by the Franciscans of the Immaculate, PO Box 3003, New Bedford, MA 02741 -3003, USA
This little masterpiece was written by St Thomas, probably in Orvieto in 1265. The Summa Contra Gentiles - which he frequently refers to - had been completed by then, as had his Against the Errors of the Greeks, concerning the procession of the Holy Spirit. St Thomas was thus very well prepared to write on the reasons for our faith against the Muslims, Greeks and Armenians.
The work is essentially a long letter addressed to an unknown "Cantor of Antioch," on how we ought to converse with Muslims who reject the dogma of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Redemption and the Holy Eucharist, and with Greeks and Armenians who deny the existence of purgatory (although prayers for the dead are considered acceptable by the Orthodox Church).
St Thomas has two chapters defending our belief in the One God - not three as the Muslims claim we do. For Muslims, Jesus is a great prophet but He is not the Son of God, for God does not have intercourse with human beings. St Thomas responds with two chapters on "the Reasons for the Incarnation of the Son of God," and, "How the saying, God was made man must be understood."
For Muslims, the idea that a prophet like Jesus could suffer and die undermines His greatness: St Thomas, though, shows us how "the assertion: the Word of God suffered and died, is to be understood, and that nothing unfitting is involved in affirming this." (page 69)
St Thomas has a certain respect for the cultured Muslims of his age. He argued that we ought to dispute with them by means of reason. However with the Greeks and Armenians we ought to have recourse to the authority of Holy Scripture.
Towards the end of the book, St Thomas responds to Muslims and even certain Christians who denied the existence of free will and merit. He writes: "God, viewing all things which to us are either past or present or future, knows all things infallibly and certainly, yet without imposing any necessity on contingent things."
The apologetics of St Thomas regarding the Holy Eucharist, purgatory and merit are surely relevant in our dialogue with our Protestant brethren: "To the very present day the Church of Christ continues to celebrate the memorial of His venerable passion throughout the world," and "The souls of those dying with venial sins suffer a cleansing fire after death" (pp. 54, 64).
The Encyclical Letter "On the restoration of Christian Philosophy according to the mind of St Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor," is found in an appendix to the book.
All in all, a classic work of Christian apologetics by the Angelic Doctor.
Dr. Pravin Thevathasan MRCPsych
Theotokos Catholic Books - Book Reviews Section - www.theotokos.org.uk