Edith Stein

Edith Stein – reconciling Phenomenology with Thomas Aquinas

Edith Stein Knowledge and Faith

One of the many philosophical rushing, whitewater rapids Edith Stein helped me cross safely is that of reconciling Thomas Aquinas with my more Platonized (Augustinian) worldview. Is not Thomas the Angelic Doctor who baptized Aristotle, notably in his Summa Theologica? Should Aristotelianism now supersede Platonism as the natural paradigm through which we understand the supernatural? It seems that Edith asked the same questions.

Early in Knowledge and Faith, she sets the record straight. Even Thomas himself was not necessarily a “Thomist” in the modern use of the term. A wide variety of ancient thinkers whose bodies of work were being rediscovered in the Middle Ages influenced him.

“This is how Plato, Aristotle, and St. Augustine were St. Thomas’s teachers (note well: not only Aristotle, but Plato and Augustine as well )…”

“…In the calm assurance that he could avail himself of a series of lawful ways of acquiring knowledge, he felt free to use all of them to gather the greatest possible wealth of philosophical knowledge. What mattered to him was the what, not the how. Phenomenology calls that procedure ‘dogmatic.’ Thomas’s spirit of synthesis welcomed any way as long as it led to the truth.”

Why was Thomas involved with this endeavor?

“An abundance of hitherto unknown knowledge had been brought to his age. Exciting questions were being asked: may we assimilate some of this knowledge and what may we assimilate? The only way to serve the cause of truth and people’s peace of mind was to gather up the whole stock of knowledge of the time and put it to the test.”

In other words, Thomas was not seeking an Aristotelian revolution to overthrow the Christianized Platonism of the early Church. Thomas was using Aristotle’s philosophical approach to provide guidelines as to what were the boundaries, where were the guardrails, on the pathway of that Platonized worldview.

That explanation is both pleasing and satisfying; it allowed me to cross those beautiful yet dangerous waters with ease.

Quotes taken from Stein, Edith. Knowledge and Faith (The Collected Works of Edith Stein, vol. 8) . ICS Publications. Kindle Edition.

Edith Stein

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