Man occupies a very special place in the Divine Economy, as the only creature willed for his own sake as the Catechism, quoting Vatican II’s Gaudium et spes so eloquently puts it. The entire, material universe, as the book of Genesis relates was created just for him so that he would have a home, and so that through the wonders of creation which proclaims the glory of their maker, he may come to know the wonder of his Creator.
Neither purely spiritual, like the angels, or purely material, like inanimate things, vegetative or animal life, he stands, as it were, on the confines between time and eternity, as St. Thomas Aquinas says in his commentary on the Sentences.
But the true image of man, created in the image of God, has suffered many distortions throughout history and in our world today, much confusion surrounds what man is, and what is the end of man.
To this end, as part of our intellectual formation, the Thomistic Studies for this academic year focused on this most important topic. Divided into 2 part, the historical section surveys the development of anthropology in the history of philosophical thought.
Plato’s conception of man as a soul trapped in the prison of the body for example, made Paul’s preaching of the resurrection an absurdity and foolishness for the Greeks and it meant putting the soul already freed by death back into captivity. Thisd shows how the conception of man can even be a hindrance to the preaching of the Gospel and the importance anthropology holds.
Tracing the history of philosophical reflection on man, which culminates in the great achievement of St. Thomas Aquinas who melds together the revealed truths of the nature of man with what we can discover by natural reason, we can see the beginnings of the decadence and distortion of the image of man, beginning with Ockham’s nominalism, Luther’s view of man as not only wounded in his nature but totally depraved, the garbled image of man from the Fathers of the French Revolution, Kant’s denial of man’s capacity to know reality, and the reduction of man and his dissolution in Marxist thought, with all it’s catastrophic implications and the resulting deaths that followed.
Among these, there stands a light in the anthropology of Søren Kierkegaard, who manages to breach the immanence of the philosophical thought of his day, which, typified by Hegel, dissolves the individual in the Absolute. Kierkegaard, especially in his work on freedom, faith and man reaching as a creature before God, beholding himself truly only in the mirror of the word and his emphasis on the role of the will through which man participates in the creativity of God in choosing his own concrete end and thereby creating himself, so greatly influenced renowned Thomists such as Fr. Cornelio Fabro and whom Pope St. John Paul II numbers with the Fathers of the Church and St. Paul in his encyclical Fides et ratio.
We hope that the second part of our Thomistic Studies in January will complete the picture of man in the true light of natural reason and faith.