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Home » Church History » “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years” by Diarmaid MacCulloch » Chapter 12: A Church for All People? (1100 – 1300)

Chapter 12: A Church for All People? (1100 – 1300)

December 18, 2013


The Dominicans

Amazing that they were started as a more better way to serve the people.  To be a better example they shunned the extravagance that was associated with the Catholic Church and embraced living simple lives in poverty to promote the Christian message of love.  Dominicans also avoided owning property so they wouldn’t build up wealth, the organization itself would be poor.  To help keep themselves honest they supported themselves by begging.  This helped ensure they actually helped the people instead of living in an ivory tower mesmerized by the contemplation of God.

Dominicans were not only loving by feeding the body and soul, but also the mind.  They prized education and even though their message was simple they valued intelligence to rigorously defend it.  Interesting that the similar institution of Franciscans have the reputation for kindliness while Dominicans seems to be stern.  Perhaps a great part was due to their participation in inquisition, there would be a need for well trained analytical mind that could reason and investigate.   Even though their message is love, Dominicans aren’t particularly seen as warm and cuddly.




The first paragraph (plus the first sentence of the second one – p396) reveals to us the genesis of the rest of the chapter and the reasons for much of what has already transpired. Here MacColloch identifies 4 topics forcing the Church to change. These are:

  1. Western Europeans anxiously searching for salvation.
  2. Lay folk yearning to participate in the life of their Church.
  3. Outside forces especially economic evolution.
  4. Religious dissent especially among the prosperous and those under distress.

All 4 merit deep consideration. I will address 2 of them, one I feel negative and one positive. They are: the ‘searching for’ salvation and the deep desire for ‘ordinary’ folk to participate in their Church. I will ask questions and make comments.

Before I begin, I would be negligent if I did not give honorary mention to the ongoing economic evolution within the society. The movement of production from farming to manufacturing forced the Church to change. Cities were now on the rise. The parish system was becoming outdated. Church finance had to come from other sources. As in all ages, ‘money makes the world go around’.


It saddens me to see the paranoiac level to which the Church and its people descended over the issue of gaining salvation. While the question is critical and even seems innate to mankind, the answers of elaborate systems of penance are just the same old ‘salvation by works’ around since the dawn of man.

What happened to the understanding and doctrine of the first century Church and down through Augustine et al of salvation by grace? Is it even possible for man to atone for his sins? What is the relationship between revelation and reason? Furthermore, are we any different today?

It seems to me the same old ‘Babylonian Mystery Religion’ in different clothing.


On a positive note, no matter what the situation, it seems that God’s people naturally and enthusiastically flock to active participation in their Church. I think we would be much better off if we defined (i.e. looked at) the Church as the NT writers and first century Church did as PEOPLE – Ecclesia, the called out Ones. Then it would be clear that what the Church is is what we are. Organization and rules may be needed with growth but each individual has a vital role in the ‘building and operation of his/her Church.

In this yearning to participate, I see a real glimmer of hope in the midst of a Church gone astray.

Other topics I would like to discuss:

–          Heresies and the need for “Quality Control’.

–          The Western invention of Theology

–          The ‘borrowing and development of the Islamic University concept.

–          The age of Cathedrals.

–          The rise to prominence of cities such as Bologna and Paris.

–          The impact of Aristotle especially through Thomas Aquinas.





How important is the Mass to Catholicism? Well, to show you its importance, I quote the Catholic Catechism. Quote: “The Mass is the source of and summit of the Christian life.” That it is say it is the origin of the Christian life and it is the high point. It was Cardinal Ratzinger now calling himself Pope Benedict, who said, and I quote him, “The Mass is the sum and substance of our faith.” This is not peripheral, this is not on the edge, this is not one among many, this is the heart and soul of the system, even though there are seven sacraments by their definition, this is the main sacrament. But at the very outset, the Mass is a deception because, as I said, there are no more sacrifices, there are no more altars. There is no more temple in which God dwells, no more tabernacle and there is no more priesthood. It is therefore a false sacrifice on a false altar in a false temple by a false priest.

John O’Brien, a Catholic priest, has helped Roman Catholics to understand the importance of the Mass. He has written a book called The Faith of Millions, The Credentials of the Catholic Religion. It is a classic work. This is what he writes, John O’Brien, a very popular work.

“When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration…this is the Mass…he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the victim for the sins of man. It is a power exercised by the priest greater than that of saints and angels, greater than that of seraphim and cherubim. Indeed, it is a power greater even than the power of the Virgin Mary. While the Blessed Virgin was the human agency by which Christ became incarnate a single time, the priest brings Christ down from heaven and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal victim.”

You wonder why you always see a crucifix and not an empty cross?

The priest brings Christ down from heaven and renders Him present on our altar as the eternal victim for the sins of man, not once but a thousand times.

Stop there for a moment. You see the comparison?

Mary only brought Him into the world once, the priest brings Him down thousands of times. He has greater power than the Virgin Mary. It’s an amazing thing for a Roman Catholic to say since any study of Mary would indicate to us that they think that she has the very power of God. We wouldn’t expect a system like this to be consistent, would we?

“The priest…he goes on…speaks…speaks, and low, Christ the eternal and omnipotent God bows His head in humble obedience to the priest’s command.” And the last paragraph from O’Brien, “Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vice-regent of Christ on earth. He continues the essential ministry of Christ. He teaches the faithful with the authority of Christ. He pardons the penitent sinner with the power of Christ. He offers up again the same sacrifice of adoration and atonement, which Christ offered on Calvary. No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter priestosfor the priest is and should be another Christ.”

Now all of this goes back for its real ratification and clarification to the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century. The Council of Trent affirms so many things because they were reacting to the Reformation. But you go back to the Council of Trent and you’ll get a really good idea of how they fell about the Mass.

This is dogma, folks.

When the Council of Trent said something, the Church says it. When the Church says it, it’s infallible, therefore it can’t change. The Council of Trent met in its thirteenth session. The sessions went on for a long, long time. Met in this thirteenth session in October of 1551. They promulgated at that particular session a decree concerning, quote: “The Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist…the Mass.” At the end of the decree was a list of canons or laws and these laws provide anathemas or damnation, strongest thing that they can do, strongest word that they can use is to damn or anathematize. And the canons anathematized those who reject the Council’s teaching.

Canon number one, inside the decree concerning the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, canon number one, if anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ and consequently the whole Christ but says that He is in it only as a sign or figure or force, let him be anathema. Damnation is pronounced on anybody who says that Christ is not actually there, body, blood, soul, divinity, in the wine and the wafer.

Canon number two, if anyone says that in the sacred and holy sacrament of the Eucharist the substance of the bread and wine remains conjointly with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…that is they’re both there…and denies that wonder and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, the appearances only of bread and wine remaining, which changed the Catholic Church most apply calls transubstantiation, let him be anathema.

In other words, if you say the body and blood as well as the soul and divinity of Christ are not there in the wine and the bread, you’re anathematized. If you say He’s only there along with the bread and the wine, you’re also damned. What you have to say is He’s there and the bread and the wine are not there although they appear to be there.

Canon number eight, if anyone says that Christ received in the Eucharist is received spiritually only and not also sacramentally and really, let him be anathema. That is if you say that in taking the bread in, taking the host, as they call it, which the bread is the only thing given to the communicant, if you say that Christ is only there spiritually and not sacramentally and really, you’re damned.

Eleven years later in 1562 twenty-second session was held of the Council of Trent and this time the decree promulgated was entitled, “Doctrine Concerning the Sacrifice of the Mass.” And it’s important for you to know this, so let me just read what the second session of this decree says. “And inasmuch as in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass is contained and immolated in an un-bloody manner, the same Christ who once offered Himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, the holy Council teaches that this is truly propitiatory and has this effect, that if we contrite and penitent with sincere heart and upright faith with fear and reverence draw nigh to God, we obtain mercy and fine grace in seasonable aid.” In other words, the Mass is really Christ, it is really a sacrifice on a real altar by a real priest, just like priests in the Old Testament offered an animal on the altar as a sacrifice, the only difference is it is an unbloody one, that Christ is nonetheless immolated, or offered or sacrificed. And as a result of this, propitiation is achieved, actual satisfaction for sin is achieved.

Trent went on to say, “The victim is one and the same,” that is Christ is the victim as He was on the cross, “in this Mass, the same…that is Christ…now offering by the ministry of priests who then offered Himself on the cross.” So you’ve got tens of thousands, millions upon millions of sacrifices of Christ being made by priests and it is the same Christ, the real Christ, the actual Christ and not just a spiritual Christ but the real Christ, body, blood, spirit and divinity. And it is propitious…propitiatory.

He went on to say, Trent did, “It is well understood that it is an unbloody sacrifice, but it is no less a sacrifice. It is rightly offered for the sins, the punishments, the satisfactions and the other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those departed in Christ but not yet fully purified.” Where are they? Purgatory. So this is propitiation for the living and for the dead.

Now at the end of that decree which came eleven years later, there are more canons, more curses pronounced on those who would deny this. Here’s canon number one, “If anyone says that in the Mass a true and real sacrifice is not offered to God or that to be offered is nothing else than that Christ is given to us to eat, let him be anathema.” If you say we’re eating Christ, literally eating His body and blood and spirit and divinity but it’s not a sacrifice, you’re damned.

Canon number two, “If anyone says that by those words, ‘Do this in remembrance of Me,’ Christ did not institute the Apostles’ priests or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer His own body and blood, let him be anathema.” If you just say, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” is anything less than the institution of the Roman Catholic priesthood, you are damned.

Canon number three, “If anyone says that the sacrifice of the Mass is one only of praise and thanksgiving, or that it is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross but not a propitiatory one…that is it is not efficacious, that it is not a real sacrifice which God accepts so that He can forgive sin…if you say it’s anything less than that, or that it profits him only who receives and ought not to be offered for the living and the dead…that is, only the person who is there receiving it and not other living people and other dead people who aren’t there…for sins, punishment, satisfactions and other necessities, let him be anathema.” If you say that it doesn’t count for the living and the dead who aren’t there, you’re cursed.

Canon number four, “If anyone says that by the sacrifice of the Mass a blasphemy is cast upon the most holy sacrifice of Christ consummated on the cross, let him be anathema.” So we’re all damned. If you say that this sacrifice blasphemes the most holy sacrifice of Christ, then you’re blaspheming and you’re damned.

Canon number five, “If anyone says that it is a deception to celebrate masses in honor of the saints and in order to obtain their intercession with God, let him be anathema.” Masses are offered as some kind of offering to dead saints to get dead saints to intercede for us, the living, and dead.

And then just to make sure you can’t escape, “If anyone says that the canon of the Mass contains errors, let him be anathema.” I mean, they’ve damned you in every possible way. There is no way out. Now do you understand why Roman Catholic people are bound to this system? It is so full of damnation, there is no way out.

How can we summarize this? Just a few things.

One, Jesus Christ…this is Roman Catholic theology of the Mass, it’s from the Council of Trent, summary…one, Jesus Christ is truly really and substantially present in the sacrament following the words of consecration. It doesn’t show up till after the words of consecration. Two, Transubstantiation, that simply means to transform the substance. It started out as wine and bread, the substance, but the transforming of that substance into the actual body and blood of Christ is what transubstantiation means. Transubstantiation, secondly, involves the change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance into the body of Christ, the change of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of the blood of Christ. It is a real and actual change although it appears still to be bread and wine.

Three, since Christ is really present in the Eucharist, the elements themselves are worthy of worship. They’re worthy of worship.

Do you know that when a Catholic goes to Mass and passes the little box that the wafer and the wine is in, he worships?

Fourth, the sacrifice of the Mass is properly called propitiatory in that it brings about a real pardon for sin. Five, in the institution of the Mass at the Lord’s Supper, they think Christ instituted the Mass, He offered His own body and blood to the Father in the signs of the bread and the wine and in so doing He ordained the Apostles as the first priests.

Number six, the sacrifice of the Mass is properly offered for sins, punishments, satisfaction and other necessities, not just for living people but dead ones.

And finally, anybody who denies any of this is damned.

Now you might say, “Well, that’s a long time ago. You’re talking about sixteen centuries, that’s still the teaching of the Church?”

Absolutely still the teaching of the Church.

Pick up any Catholic Catechism, any Catholic writer, any modern writer on Catholicism, Karl Keating or anybody else, you’re going to find the same thing. Trent’s teaching remains the official dogmatic position of the Roman Catholic Church. Interesting, in the catechism of the Catholic Church there are nine paragraphs dedicated to the subject of justification. There are 84 dedicated to the Mass and fourteen summary paragraphs. In the current catechism of the Catholic Church, Trent is mentioned by name, the Council of Trent quoted as authoritative, its doctrines plainly presented as the Church’s teaching. Here’s one paragraph from the catechism.

“The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice. The victim is one and the same. The same now offers through the ministry of priests who then offered Himself on the cross only the manner of offering is different. In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered Himself once on the altar of the cross is offered in an unbloody manner repeatedly.” I added the word “repeatedly” for clarification.

Roman Catholic theology says the Mass is not a divine…is not a…what did I say…a dramatic reenactment. It’s not theater. Roman Catholic theology says it’s not a commemoration. It’s not a memorial. It’s not a remembrance. It is a real sacrifice that continues the eternal sacrifice of Christ, the eternal victim. It is not a separated sacrifice, but it is the same sacrifice as the cross continually being offered again and again and again and again and again. It’s really an amalgamation of pagan sacrifices ,which has found their way into Christianity very, very early. True Catholic devotion is measured by whether or not you genuflect and make the sign of the cross when you see the blessed sacrament. Roman Catholic catechism quotes Vatican II. Vatican II says, “As often as the sacrifice of the cross by which Christ has been sacrificed is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out. It is a redeeming sacrifice, as is the cross.”

What utter chaos and confusion is that? So where do you look for your salvation? To what sacrifice? The one you had today? Yesterday? The one you’ll have down the road? No wonder in Roman Catholicism there’s no such thing as assurance of salvation, how would you ever know?

Listen to Ludwig Ott, my favorite Roman Catholic theologian because I can find everything I need in that one book. Here’s Ott:

“The sacrifice of the Mass effects the remission of the temporal punishments for sin which still remain after the forgiveness of the guilt of sins and of the eternal punishment, not merely remitted by the conferring of the grace of Penance, but also immediately because the atonement of Jesus Christ is offered as a substitute for our works of atonement and for the suffering of the poor souls. The measurement of the punishments of sins remitted is proportional.”

Okay, you’re going to get your sins remitted but it’s proportional in the case of the living to the degree of perfection in their disposition. In the case of the suffering souls, the satisfactory operation of the sacrifice of the Mass is applied by way of intercession, as they are in the state of grace and thus oppose no obstacle. Theologians generally teach that at least part of their punishment for sins is infallibly remitted.

So now you’ve got not only the intention of the priest, but you’ve got the nature of the person’s attitude. On the same page he says, “As a propitiatory and impritiory(?), sacrifice, the sacrifice of the Mass possesses a finite external value since the operations of propitiation and impetration refer to human beings who as creatures can receive a finite act only. This explains the practice of the Church in offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass frequently for the same intention.”

What’s all that about?

It’s all saying this, we can’t be too sure about the intention of the priest, we can’t be too sure about the intention of the person for whom the Mass is being offered. And since we can’t really be sure about that, we have human limitations upon the Mass. Since the priest might not have a pure intention, and the person might not have a pure intention and it might not be really doing very much good, and so they throw in this little possibility at the bottom that there has to be somewhere a finite benefit. In fact, part of their punishment must infallibly be remitted. You’ve got to throw that in. Why? Because you have to pay for the Mass.

That’s right, you pay.

That’s how the coffers of the Catholic Church are filled, you pay for a Mass. There are inexpensive Masses and there are really expensive ones offered by a Bishop or a Cardinal. There is the votive Mass which is like the routine stuff of life. There is a requiem which is a Mass for the dead, that costs you more. There’s a nuptial Mass for a wedding, that will cost you more. And then there’s a super Mass offered by a hierarchical figure in the Church which will cost you a lot more. The Catholic Church admits that you could have Mass upon Mass upon Mass upon Mass and you can pay plenty of money. And if the intention of the priest, intention of the priest isn’t right and the intention of the person receiving the Mass isn’t right, it’s not going to have much effect. But they hurry to quickly add, quote, “Part of their punishment is infallibly remitted.” Why? Because that’s really a bummer to try to get people to pay money for something that might have no value. So you stick in a little finite value at the bottom and that makes them come back again and again and again and again to pile up those little finite values.

Roman Catholic theology teaches that a person can attend a thousand Masses and still leave this life not fully purified and go into Purgatory and have another thousand Masses read in their behalf and still not be fully purified because their attitude isn’t pure and the attitude of the priest isn’t pure either.

Now, to have a Mass you have to have a priest. You can’t have a Mass without a priest. That’s why the shortage of priests is a big problem…a big problem. Oh, I want to take you to a Mass for a moment here. This is kind of how it would float. This is Betner who wrote a classic book called Roman Catholicism, you’ll be interested in this. Stay with me. “The bread in the form of thin round wafers, hundreds of which may be consecrated simultaneously is contained in a golden dish. The wine is in a golden cup. The supposed body and blood of Christ are then raised before the altar by the hands of the priests and offered up to God for the sins both of the living and the dead.” By the way, the people are never more than spectators. They don’t sing. They don’t talk. They don’t pray. They don’t do anything. And the liturgy is so rigid that it’s carried out mechanically and the priests have to be trained to do it. And you’ve got to be…you’ve got to have a good memory to be a priest. There’s a lot of details. And the observants, after he’s lifted it up, the priest partakes of a large wafer, then he drinks the wine in behalf of the whole congregation. They never drink the wine. Traditionally they do not. Maybe some exceptions to that. The lay members go to the front of the church. And they kneel before a railing and they close their eyes and they drop their jaw into an open-mouth position, into which the priest places a small wafer. And the reason it never leaves the hands of the priest and goes to the hands of the parishioner is simply because this is the complete body and blood of Christ and they don’t want to drop it, they don’t want the people to touch it. Only the priest drinks the wine because the people might spill it and it would land on the floor and it would have a horrible situation.

It used to be in Roman Catholic tradition, you had to abstain from solid food since midnight if you were having a morning Mass, that’s why they always had early Mass. You know where early Mass came from? It came from that traditional law that you couldn’t eat anything between midnight and Mass and people didn’t want to wait till nine o’clock, ten-o’clock, eleven o’clock so they always had a six o’clock, five o’clock Mass because people were hungry. They weren’t hungry to eat the wafer, they were just hungry to have the wafer eaten and then to go eat. And the reason you weren’t allowed to eat before midnight was they didn’t want to mingle Christ with anything else. Now that’s been changed. I know…I understand the silliness of it. Now it’s down to an hour, I think. Strange, however, isn’t it that the Lord instituted the Last Supper immediately after they had eaten a huge meal that lasted for hours? Christ had no objection with the bread and the wine being mixed with whatever else they ate.

Then the pageant really gets going. It takes a lot of training and you’ll understand why. This is what happens. The priest then makes the sign of the cross sixteen times in his pageant. I’m not going through it step-by-step, I’m going to sum it up. He has to make the sign of the cross sixteen times. He has to turn toward the congregation six times, lift his eyes to heaven eleven times, kiss the altar eight times, fold his hands four times, strike his breasts ten times, bow his head 21 times, genuflect eight times, bow his shoulder seven times, bless the altar with the sign of the cross 30 times, lay his hands flat on the altar 29 times, pray secretly eleven times, pray aloud 13 times, take the bread and wine and turn it into the body and blood of Christ, cover and uncover the chalice ten times, go to and fro 20 times and in addition perform numerous other acts. What in the world is he doing? All this extended pageant is designed, writes Betner, to reenact the experience of Christ from the Last Supper in the Upper Room through the agony in the Garden, through the betrayal, through the trial, through the crucifixion, through His death, burial, resurrection and ascension. That’s why all that motions going on, some kind of dramatization. His bowings and genuflections are imitations of Christ in His agony and suffering and if the priest forgets one element of the drama, he commits a sin, technically invalidates the Mass. So you’ve got to be trained to do this. And you’ve got to have a good memory. Who could count all those? What you do is you go through it, it’s like a routine until you get it down.

Historically the Mass has been said or sung in Latin, which nobody understood. They didn’t need to understand. Priesthood, by the way, replaced preaching, and an altar replaced a pulpit. That’s how it is with sacramental religion. And Betner says, “Surely there was much truth in Voltaire’s remark concerning the Mass as practiced in the cathedrals of France in his day when he called it the Grand Opera of the Poor.”

After the adoration of the consecrated host, the uplifted hands of the priest pretend to offer to God the very body and blood of Christ who has come down for the sacrifice for the living and the dead. And then the priest pretends to eat Him alive in the presence of the people, also to give Him to the people under the appearance of bread though it’s not really bread to be eaten by them. When the Roman priest consecrates the wafer, it is then called the Host and they worship it as God. And that’s why they genuflect, and that’s why they bow and you know as well as I do that that piece of bread is nothing but a piece of bread. And if the soul and divinity of Christ are not present, then to worship it is sheer idolatry, no different than a pagan who worships a rock or a stick or a statue or a fetish. And remember, the efficiency of all of this when it’s all said and done depends upon the priest’s intention. If he doesn’t have the right intention, it doesn’t work. Council of Trent, “If anyone shall say that intention at least of doing what the Church does is not required in ministers while performing and administering the Sacraments, let him be anathema.”

When you try to nail down the Roman Catholics on what exactly is going on, they…they’re all over the map. And most of the poor folks who just go to the Catholic Church have no clue except they think this is Christ and they worship Him. In fact, this is so serious, skipping over to something, listen to Mother Teresa and I’ll stop here.

This is a quote from Mother Teresa, “It is beautiful to see that humility of Christ in His permanent state of humility in the tabernacle,” the little box where they put the wafer and the wine. “Where Christ has reduced Himself to such a small particle of bread that a priest can hold Christ in two fingers.” Vatican II said, “The blessed Sacrament should be given the worship which is due to God, the true God. It is not to be adored any less.”

What are they worshiping? Bread?

Churches promote the worship of the Blessed Sacrament. There are annual feasts in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. Special orders of men and women dedicated to continuous adoration of the Host. There is a group of nuns called, “The Nuns of the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.” There is the congregation of the Blessed Sacrament who are, quote, “Devoted to carry out before the Blessed Sacrament a perpetual mission of prayer and supplication.” Their whole lives devoted to worshiping a piece of bread in a box.


During the 1100’s, medieval Europe began seeing the displacement of monastaries by the rapid development of universities that were modeled, interestingly enough after having discussed the Crusades, after Muslim institutes of higher education.  Before, Plato had dominated much of Christian thinking for the early church but thanks to Islamic, the Eastern Church, and even Jewish scholars, who over the centuries, had preserved much of Aristotle’s works.   Through the Crusades, the Western Church came into contact with Aristotle.   His writings were quickly translated into Latin so that more Western scholars could have access to his writings.  His works were to have a profound effect on not only the Church but all of Western civilization.

When the Western Church first encountered Aristotle’s philosophy, they found that it clashed with Plato.  Aristotle had an analytical and logical approach to thinking, whereas Plato was more about ideals and abstractions.  Soon afterwards, debates ensued amongst scholars on how to relate human reason with divine revelation.  With Aristotle, there was no need for special divine grace or revelation in order to understand the world in general.  As you would expect, this aspect of Aristotle’s thoughts didn’t bode so well with traditionalists.  With Aristotle’s new methods of thinking, a new thought and educational system arose called scholasticism which emphasized a building up of knowledge through discussion, disputations, skepticism, and analysis; this would be heavily adopted later on, so much so that it became the main characteristic of Western thought.

Without saying, Aristotle’s philosophy had its greatest impact on one of the greatest minds of the medieval period – the Dominican theologian Thomas Aquinas.  His system of thought, Thomism, in the 13th century, represents a defining moment in theology of the medieval West.  Aquinas called Aristotle simply as ‘the Philosopher’ and encouraged all of Aristotle’s known works into Latin.  Aquinas was able to quell the fears the Church had about Aristotle being a threat to the Christian faith.  Aquinas demonstrated that Aristotle’s systems of thought and reasonable analysis did not deny the centrality of faith, but that it illustrated, and even proved, its veracity.  Using Aristotle’s philosophy, Aquinas would write that God had provided man with a rational soul that was naturally inclined to act with reason; and it was through reason that man could attain the most direct path to truth.  Aquinas found most useful Aristotle’s use of reasoned argument (particularly in his works on logic and metaphysics) when approaching topics of faith.  Aquinas saw God as the “First Cause” of everything when you link everything back in a chain of causation.

Aquinas’ greatest work was of course his Summa Theologica (a 61 volume work in modern publications) that remained unfinished when he died in 1274.   In the Summa, Aquinas presented a harmonious view of God’s work in creation (both on heaven and on earth), but he cautions the reader that there are limits to human reason and understanding in saying that there were no words that could be used to refer to God in his entirety.

MacCulloch writes, “It is a happy irony that one of the great expressions of the cultural unity of the Latin West, evolved in the age of the Crusades, had its roots in the culture which the West was trying to destroy.”  (loc. 7820)  In other words, it’s very ironic that Western Civilization today is highly indebted to the great intellectual culture and intellectual capital from Islam.  Much of this knowledge is lost to the Western mindset not only in terms of philosophy, but also in terms of mathematics (in our use of Arabic numerals), science, and medicine.  Both cultures share more things in common it seems than what separates us.  It is also very interesting that Christianity, a religion that had its roots in the ancient near east could be synthesized in a systematic way with Greek thought and philosophy.  Who knew back then that Aristotle’s philosophy would come to dominate practically all of Europe for the next several centuries, up until the time of the Enlightenment more or less.  A large part of this comes through the Catholic Church who adopted Aristotle’s teachings with theology which still finds great support in Thomism till this day.


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