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Simon Gaine #4: How has saint Thomas helped you in your theological work?


How has saint Thomas helped you in your theological work? Saint Thomas is always helping me really in any kind of theological work that I’m doing. But two things I can mention in particular are two books that I’ve published while I’ve been working as a theologian in the Dominican order. The first one, “Will there be free will in heaven?” – again, it’s asking a question, something I’ve come to see as very important – The question wasn’t asked by me though. I came across a journalist who’d sent ten questions around to politicians, judges, teachers and so on – it was one Christmas time, I think, or around Easter – and among the questions were things that you could easily guess, like “is the virgin birth true?”, “Is the resurrection true?”, “Are the Ten Commandments still relevant today?”. But one of the questions was a bit more unusual – at least I found it unusual – and that was: “Will there be free will in heaven?” So as I was investigating what theologians and philosophers today had to say about it, there seemed to be a problem, because if you could no longer sin in heaven and you aren’t free anymore, then why would you want to go to heaven if freedom is something that we really value? And some people seem to be saying: “Well, heaven can have an end and you can choose to leave heaven”, as it were or “Maybe there’s no longer any freedom in heaven if you can’t leave it by sinning”. And by looking into saint Thomas’ view of freedom which he uses very much in his understanding of how the human person makes their way towards God there’s a way in which freedom is opened up, in which freedom is enlarged – say through discipline or in another ways – we become able to do so much more good; our freedom grows for good. And as we progress, our freedom to do evil somehow lessens. A freedom to sin is somehow a defect in our freedom, it’s not really part of the perfection of freedom. When we come to heaven, our freedom has grown so much that we’re free to do good in the presence of God forever, and the defective part of freedom to do evil is no longer there for us. So I found that I could approach this question, and I think give a much more satisfactory answer than some of the answers I was coming across by looking at what saint Thomas has to say about freedom and how that freedom comes to perfection in the vision of God. Another book that I’ve written more recently is called “Did the Saviour See the Father?” And again it’s about that same vision of God that I’ve just mentioned, the vision that we will come to in heaven. It’s about the idea that saint Thomas and other theologians have taught that Jesus had this vision of God even during his early lifetime. Lots of people have asked me about what Jesus knew; did Jesus know he was God? Did Jesus know he was the Messiah? And I think I wanted to take the question to a slightly different level and ask not so much what Jesus knew as how did he know it. Did he have a special way of knowing God that we don’t have – at least a way that we don’t have yet? And that’s where the idea of the beatific vision as part of Christ’s knowledge comes in. So again I was using saint Thomas coming to talk about the way in which Jesus had a special knowledge of God but in the context of theology today, in the context of some of the questions that are asked today. I think since the Enlightenment we’re a lot more conscious about the difficulties in making a claim to Revelation, in believing things on faith, in believing by authority. And I think that we can draw out a lot of Aquinas’ ideas to show how we can believe because Jesus knew and his divine knowledge had a kind of an impact in his human mind, so that we are able to receive the benefit of the heavenly knowledge that Jesus had even while on earth. Those are some of the ways in which in the theological work that I’ve been doing I’ve been using Aquinas and using his insights to enter into theological debates that are going on today.

Otis Rodgers

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