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Dear Father,

I have learned that in Christianity there are basically  two currents , two strands: the Platonic-Augustinian one and the Aristotelian- Thomistic one.

I have not yet fully understood to what extent the two are compatible Can you help me?

Certainly Saint Thomas differentiates us from the Protestants, who reject him while accept Augustine, right?

Thank you very much, Father, I will pray for you.

Priest’s answer

Dear friend,

  1. The Sacred Scripture in the Book of Wisdom says “there is an intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle spirit” (Wisdom 7:22).

How this intelligent and holy spirit is unique and multiple at the same time can be seen admirably in St. Augustine and St. Thomas

 The same doctrine is presented both  by St. Augustine and by St. Thomas  but with a different method  which depends on their  distinctive culture and temperament.

2. The differences between the two great doctors were emphasized in the Middle Ages, especially by the so-called medieval Augustinism.

But it must be said that especially in theology the doctrine of St. Thomas is the same as that of St. Augustine.

The thought of both is rooted in the same source, the Divine Revelation which is expressed in the Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

What  is read in one (Augustine) is found in the other (Thomas).

3. In all doctrinal  matters it seems that St. Thomas’ first concern is to know (consult) the thought of St. Augustine and to present it as an authoritative source of his thought and argument.

It seems that St. Thomas does not want to resolve any question without  taking in consideration the thought of St. Augustine.

The doctrine of Grace on which St. Thomas develops the distinction between sufficient grace and effective grace is based on the thought of St. Augustine.

4. Both support the primacy of charity in spiritual life.

St. Augustine says: “I call charity that movement of the soul that makes one enjoy God for oneself and oneself and one’s neighbor for God” (De doctrina christana, III, 10, 16).

And speaking of charity toward one’s neighbor he says that “one does not love one’s neighbor with a charity other than that with which one loves God” (Sermo 285,8,9).

With different words, but with the same meaning St. Thomas says that “the reason for loving one’s neighbor is God: in fact, in one’s neighbor we must love his insertion in God: from this we deduce that the act by which one loves God is the same as that by which one loves one’s neighbor”. (Theological Sum, II-II, 25, 1).

And again: “Our neighbor is loved with love of charity because God lives in him and because God lives in him. Consequently, it is clear that with the same habit of charity we love God and our neighbor. But if we loved our neighbor for himself and not for the love of God, our love would belong to another order: for example, natural or political love” (Quaest. disp. de caritate, a. 4).

5. A great Dominican who lived at the turn of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Father Massoulié,  writer of authoritative treatises on mystical theology, affirms that St. Thomas followed in all and sundry the footsteps of St. Augustine so that the Theological Summation of St. Thomas is in a certain way the compendium of all the doctrine of St. Augustine, exposed however according to the method of Scholasticism.

6. Someone else has stated that no one has understood St. Augustine’s thought as precisely and profoundly as St. Thomas.

To the point that the statement that “Ad Augustinum non iri tuto nisi per Thomam (one cannot truly  grasp the thought of St. Augustine except through St. Thomas) has become famous.

The Dominican Ceslao Pera, a great connoisseur of the Fathers, especially the Greeks, and also of St. Thomas, says that one can legitimately overturn this aphorism and affirm that one cannot truly understand St. Thomas except through St. Augustine.

7. Certainly the style of the two is different: St. Augustine’s one is more beautiful, more elegant, more pleasant and more  energetic. It should not be forgotten that before his conversion Saint Augustine was professionally formed in rhetoric  . He was a rhetorician and therefore an expert in the art of  performing and captivating.

More tightened, more precise, simpler, more resigned although with equal convincing power is the style of St. Thomas.

8. The greatest differences are found in the philosophical sphere.

Battista Mondin writes: “To understand well what the relationship between St. Thomas and St. Augustine actually is, these two great geniuses of Christianity must be considered distinctly in the fields of philosophy and theology.

= The two  are great philosophers and theologians, and both have been intensely involved in  either  the philosophical and theological fields. But while in theology St. Thomas largely repeats the thought of St. Augustine, the same cannot be said in philosophy.

St. Augustine’s philosophy is strictly platonic: platonic is his metaphysical scaffolding, platonic is his gnoseology, platonic is his ethics, platonic is his language. From Plato St. Augustine takes up the doctrine of eternal truths, of reminiscence/illumination, of psychophysical dualism; from Plato he borrows the method of interiority and dialectics.

Instead, in philosophy, St. Thomas gives his preference to Aristotle, from whom he largely assumes the metaphysical categories, the doctrine of knowledge, moral language, the conception of man and the method of rigorous demonstration, enlivening everything with his brilliant intuition, the intensive concept of being, perfectio omnium perfectionum.

It is clear that with such different philosophical systems the two intellectual buildings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas cannot be equal. Although they largely express the same truths, they do not do   it in the same way.

St. Thomas knows perfectly well Saint Augustine, who is his favorite and most quoted author. His documentation reveals a knowledge and use of all his works”.

9. On the Protestants who would cling to St. Augustine I refer you to an answer published on our website: “But is St. Augustine really the forerunner of the  Protestant doctrine as my text of philosophy claims?

I wish you all the best, I thank you for your prayer, in my turn I remember you to the Lord and I bless you.

Father Angelo