As the winter winds grow ever more bitter and our breath becomes more and more visible in the air around us, we know only one thing could be true – the winter semester is upon us. Just as we have finished recuperating from last semester, we hop in our cars, buses, trains or planes and begin the process all over again.
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, another few months of calculus and all of its formulae. There is another semester of physics, full of free-body diagrams, right-hand rules and the like. Or perhaps you are taking a writing course, brushing up on high school’s best forgotten memories of five paragraph essays, how to write a bibliography and, most importantly, the difference between “its” and “it’s.” Last but certainly not least, you maybe – just maybe – have the joy of taking a philosophy class. If you were like me back when I was an undergrad, you probably have a great disdain for philosophy. Being a more methodical, deductive, black-and-white kind of person, I cringed at what I thought was a bunch of “namby-pamby” nonsense. I managed to get out of taking philosophy courses because of my alma mater’s flexible general curriculum.
My friends, who were either of ill fortune or odd taste, walked around campus with philosophy books heavy and thick enough to make their arms fall off. Some were reading Marx’s travesty, “The Communist Manifesto.” Others were reading up on Nietzsche and how life was essentially without value. One close friend was drawn in by Sartre, who is best characterized by the title of his 1943 piece, “Being and Nothingness.”
As is frequently the case with man’s distastes, he often seeks to affirm his pre-existing beliefs by peeking into that which he dislikes, thereby reinforcing and strengthening his attitudes. I am certainly no exception to this rule.
One day, upon engaging in a debate with my anonymous philosopher friend on the existence of God, he mentioned in a footnote that he did not particularly care for Thomas Aquinas’ proofs of God’s existence. As a Catholic, I had of course heard of this saint, referred to by the Church as the Angelic Doctor. I never actually read any of his writings. However, if my existentialist friend disliked Aquinas, I knew I would probably like him. So, soon enough, I took a look at Aquinas’ most famous work, the “Summa Theologica.” All it took was one paragraph to get me hooked!
St. Thomas Aquinas was like nothing I had ever seen in philosophy. He was clear, crisp and concise. Every paragraph presented a clear and coherent thought, with every subsequent paragraph deductively derived from the previous. Most astonishing, Aquinas never dwelled on arcane and pathetic rants on the lack of meaning or existence. Instead, he provided splendid ideas with a rigid and deductive form.
Though the “Summa” is notoriously long, not one drop of ink was wasted. St. Thomas Aquinas did not present anything to you that you did not need.
Most authors today, aided by the expediency of computer typing and paid by the page, lead their readers into elliptical orbits of thought, devoid of structure or brevity. In short, Aquinas offers modern man sensibility, thoughtfulness and coherence in the chaotic world in which we live.
Modern philosophy and theology tell us that all religions are equal, that there is no absolute truth, that ecumenism of ideas and beliefs is the only way to go, that all inequality is unjust and so forth. Some unfortunate and unknowing souls buy into this. Others, much like myself once upon a time, shun this sort of thinking and dismiss the important and necessary discipline of philosophy.
For Western man, and the collegiate in particular, I sound a resounding plea for a return to the black-and-white basics that made our civilization so great once upon a time.
Toss aside the books on social justice and pick up Augustine’s “The City of God.” Put Nietzsche to rest and enjoy the wonders of Aquinas.
Most importantly, study philosophy. Do not let the poor chefs of philosophy of the past few centuries distort a most valuable tool in the life of man.
The greatest gift of God to man, that which separates him from beast, is reason. While modern philosophers and false prophets lead us astray by distorting our reason, it behooves us to stand firm. Rightly employed, our reason can lead us to the fundamental knowledge and truth that our souls rightly seek.
Indeed, this knowledge is so properly summarized by Aquinas himself: “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do” (Opuscule II, De Regno). Now, the choice is in your hands.
Ramey is a graduate student.