In the thirteenth century, when Thomas Aquinas lived, the works of Aristotle, largely forgotten in Western Europe, began to be available again, partly from Eastern European sources and partly from Moslem Arab sources in Africa and Spain. These works offered a new and exciting way of looking at the world. Many enthusiastic students of Aristotle adopted him quite frankly as as an alternative to Christianity. The response of many Christians was to denounce Aristotle as an enemy of the Christian Faith. A third approach was that of those who tried to hold both Christian and Aristotelian views side by side with no attempt to reconcile the two. Aquinas had a fourth approach. While remaining a Christian, he immersed himself in the ideas of Aristotle, and then undertook to explain Christian ideas and beliefs in language that would make sense to disciples of Aristotle. At the time, this seemed like a very dangerous and radical idea, and Aquinas spent much of his life living on the edge of ecclesiastical approval. His success can be measured by the prevalence today of the notion that of course All Christian scholars in the Middle Ages were followers of Aristotle.
Aristotle is no longer the latest intellectual fashion, but Aquinas's insistence that the Christian scholar must be prepared to meet other scholars on their own ground, to become familiar with their viewpoints, to argue from their premises, has been a permanent and valuable contribution to Christian thought.
Some Christian scholars today are undertaking, with varying degrees of success, to explore the relations between Christianity and various contemporary studies or world-outlooks that have been used as weapons by opponents of Christianity. Examples that come to mind include the following:
William G Pollard, Anglican priest, nuclear physicist at the Oak Ridge Laboratory (government-connected), Executive Director of the Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies (not government-connected), and author of Chance and Providence and Physicist and Christian (both out of print).
John Polkinghorne, Frs, Anglican priest, head of Queen's College, Cambridge, nuclear physicist, and author of Science and Creation, Science and Providence, and various other works, including most recently The Faith of a Physicist, now (Jan 1997) on display at your local bookstore. (For non-scientists, I will point out that "Frs" denotes a Fellow of the Royal Society, a member of the elite of British scientists.)
G B Sanders, author of Christianity After Freud. (For a brief summary of his thesis, send the message Get Gen04 Ruff to the address LISTSERV@ASU.EDU, or consult the Web page at
http://www.aber.ac.uk/~spk/christia.htmlVarious writers on "liberation theology" who have undertaken to show that Marxism, properly interpreted, does not imply the falsity of Christianity.
Almighty God, who hast enriched thy Church with the singular Learning and holiness of thy servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray thee, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular Learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas: Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.