The Dominican monk Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) in Italy was a prominent Scholastic theologian--one of the most influential thinkers of the Catholic Church of his time. He greatly influenced later theologians. Aquinas moved away from allegorical biblical interpretation and promoted the literal reading of Scripture. He believed that Scripture alone is free from error, and while there might be words and ideas that stand for something else, Scripture can be easily understood. He rejected the method of seeking many different levels of meaning in one text, believing that Christian faith had a rational foundation, consistent with philosophical principles. Although his thinking was a dramatic change from previous thought, Aquinas may have avoided conflict because he considered the church infallible, and the pope the supreme teacher and authority.
Detail of "Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas"
by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) (original painting is in color)
Aquinas and the Scholastics relied heavily on the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, whose work came to the Latin West from the Arab world. Aquinas believed in a logical, natural order created by God, which included Christian history. Aristotelian thought was logical, and therefore should be compatible with biblical truths. When there were discrepancies, Aquinas assumed he had not understood Aristotelian thought correctly. In all cases, interpretation of the biblical truth came first, which was based on reason. Scholastics also claimed rational objectivity in reading biblical texts, where previously interpretation was believed to be inspired by God. They sought objective truth that was gleaned through accurate translation of the original languages. On the one hand, this rationalistic approach to Scripture laid important groundwork for modern scientific study of Scriptures. On the other hand, it diminished the concept of inner, metaphorical or symbolic meanings in Scripture.
*An excerpt from The Bible the Book the Bridges the Millennia by Maxine Clarke Beach Copyright © 1998 Maxine Clarke Beach.
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