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Article 1. Whether Christ should have preached not only to the Jews, but also to the Gentiles?

By Matthew A. Foreword by Pim Valkenberg. Processing, please wait.. Wipf and Stock. My Account Log In Search:. You have no items in your shopping cart. Aquinas on Israel and the Church. Add to Cart. About - The question of whether or not Thomas Aquinas's theology is supersessionist has elicited deep disagreement among scholars.

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Around the Wicket Gate - eBook. The Joy in Praising God - eBook. Let me quote him in full, because the text runs so directly against contemporary sensibilities and understandings. To read this text, we must clarify what Aquinas means by heretic. He does not mean a Muslim or a Jew, an unbeliever or an infidel. He means a Catholic who has chosen to deny his faith, in whole or in part.

For Jews and Muslims, Aquinas argues for toleration, not only of their persons but also of their public rites. It is true that from his viewpoint their faiths are incomplete and to that extent erroneous. It is also true that for Thomas toleration is a means for gaining respect for the true faith, rather than an end in itself, a duty simply owed to the conscience of others. But he does argue for toleration for Jews and Muslims in an emphatic way, as he does not for heretics.

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These are by no means to be compelled, for belief is voluntary. Similarly, Aquinas shows a great deal more respect for unbelievers, such as his beloved Aristotle, who knew nothing whatever about Christ and His revelation than he does for heretics. He admires in unbelievers how much of the truth about man revealed by Christ they had come to simply by studying the laws of their own being. For Aquinas, it is inconceivable that there are two truths, one learned from the things that are, the other learned from faith. For him, the one God, the Creator, is the sole source of truth.

For that he respects them, acknowledging that by fidelity to truth they served the God they did not know, and so are dear to God. The student of Aquinas already familiar with his teachings on individual personal responsibility, conscience, and the role of reason and will in free choice is likely to be surprised by his unremitting hostility to heretics. In a typical passage, Thomas wrote:. By heretic, again, Aquinas meant a person of Catholic faith who deliberately and resolutely, even after having been called to reflect on the matter, has chosen to renounce that faith in some important particular.

Aquinas points out that the word heresy comes from the Greek word for choice. Heresy for him is not a mistake of the intellect but a choice of the will. It is a choice of adherence to a proposition, or set of propositions, known by the chooser to contradict the Catholic faith. It is a choice to cut oneself off from communion in the Catholic faith, to put oneself in a sect— a thing cut off. It is right, insists Aquinas, that such choice be dealt with harshly.

But what about the thousands throughout France and Italy and Spain falsely accused of heresy, or wrongly caught up in the machinery of heresy-hunting? Cloistered Aquinas might be, but he could hardly have helped knowing at least a little about the role that some Dominicans of his day were playing in the inquisition of heretics. I n the thirteenth century, all sorts of cruelties were common.

The popes themselves committed ten of nineteen descendants of Frederick II to prison, one of his daughters for forty-eight years, and saw to the deaths of others in battle or capture. For suspicion of stealing from him, Frederick seized his other chief advisor, the poet della Vigna later celebrated by Dante , had his eyes burned out, and threw him into a dungeon.

There the poet killed himself by pounding his head against the damp stone walls. In southern France, men and women alike were accused of being heretics, given no way to defend themselves except by enduring torture, and if found guilty covered with pitch and set aflame. Swords aloft, soldiers were set free upon entire settlements of heretics, which they torched.

During the lifetime of Aquinas, all of Provence was swept by violence against heretics-some of whom were living, according to their own lights, admirable evangelical lives. Yet the cold words of Aquinas stand there, approving of the use of the secular arm, describing heresy as a pestilence to be blotted out, diseased cells to be cut away. And Aquinas concludes with the terrible ruthlessness of the words of St. Jerome: Arius and the sons of Arius should be extinguished before their contagion spreads.

How could the medievals—even such defenders of conscience as Aquinas—think this way? As we have seen in the case of Frederick II, the reasons that kings and emperors, even those at war with the papacy, listed heresy first among the crimes against the state were several and profound. For one thing, kings claimed power from God according to the Christian faith and, often enough, especially in that age of exaggerated papal claims to universal worldly power, their power was tangibly and visibly legitimated directly through coronation by the pope of Rome.

Heresy directly undercut kingly power. For another thing, thirteenth-century societies were highly fragile. Beyond ties of kinship, many citizens experienced little to bind them to others. Most were subjects of a few—and one ruling aristocrat was often overturned by another. Sharing in the local horizons of small cities or villages might bond people in intimate memories, and participating in guilds or trades might offer some association outside of family or neighborhood life. But geographical isolation was often intense, and shifting patterns of warfare, baronial allegiance, and foreign occupation awakened acute local insecurity.

Under political anarchy, the common people and the poor suffered much. Under all these uncertainties, the chief consensual bond among people was Catholic faith and Catholic ritual. Virtually all unifying conceptions of relationship and social weight, meaning and order, came from that faith. Neither the rich nor the nobility increasingly, as trade and commerce grew, these were not necessarily the same could trust one another. Barons and counts were obliged to protect themselves against each other by dwelling within heavily armed fortresses. Even the Aquino family had three castles, with knights sufficient to defend them; the novelist Louis de Wohl imagines that the Aquinos could bring one hundred knights to the service of the Emperor.

An immediate and common form of justice was the vendetta. The politics even of princes was first and chiefly about naked power, and princes were thrown back upon shifting alliances based upon self-interest. The struggle to build national, let alone international, systems of justice, reason, and legality was still in its infancy.

A new class of lay professionals led by trailblazers such as Albertanus of Brescia was setting the foundations of a civic order.


But the emergence of a true civil society lay far in the future. In the thirteenth century, there still seemed to be something like the war of all against all. Emperors, kings, barons, counts, and even bishops and popes seemed to be in perpetual strife with one another. The time was not yet ripe for the impulses of modernity, or even for the reformation of the Church.

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The precariousness of life, under threat from famine and plague as well as from war, was signalled in the apocalyptic feelings and expressions of the time. The still greater precariousness of civilization, now barely emerging from centuries of illiterate tribal barbarism, was widely felt. Monastery schools and libraries, professional schools and universities, were still relatively new institutions frequented only by a few.

This was the context within which, no matter how horrendous the measures being practiced to keep it in check, heresy was perceived as the primal threat to social order, both by ecclesiastics and by secular rulers. What Thomas Aquinas argued against heretics had already been codified in both civil and ecclesiastical law for at least two generations. Perhaps, though, an even greater moral and civil anarchy would have resulted than people were then already experiencing.

Perhaps their sense of precariousness was already stretched beyond human tolerance.

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