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Philosophy of Evolution: Human Apex

The Thomistic Foundations


St. Thomas Aquinas has a different view of human progress than the merely biological. 



Does St. Thomas hold that man is the apex of creation and the goal of the world? Yes, he does, and this would imply that biological evolution is man has attained its goal. St. Thomas teaches that man is the goal of creation: "It was necessary for the perfection of the universe that some intellectual natures exist" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 2. 46).36 Both Mondin and Benignus note the teaching of St. Thomas: "...and finally the life of man. After this no later and more noble form is to be found in things that are generated and corrupted. Therefore (the appetite whereby matter seeks a form must tend to the last and most perfect act to which matter can attain as to the ultimate end of generation), the last end of all generation is the human soul and to this does matter tend as its ultimate form. Man therefore is the goal of all generation" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 3. 22).37 Only human beings are persons, and Aquinas teaches that the present exiting man is already the most perfect (perfectissum) in all of nature, so there appears to be no room for a more perfect man: "Person signifies what is the most perfect in all of nature" (Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1. 29. 3; confer Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1. 30. 4).38 St. Thomas does not use the term "Anthropic Principle" but these citations affirm it, since the Anthropic Principle affirms that the creation of the universe has man as its goal. This principle attributes to man a particular weight in understanding the structure and the evolution of the universe. Mondin is explicit that the Antropic Principle involves evolution.39

Does St. Thomas hold that man is responsible for the world? Yes, he does, and this would imply that man has some control for responsibility over the world. In other words, cultural evolution directed by rational man has taken the place of biological evolution in man. St. Thomas teaches about all creatures: "Every creature functions according to its proper action and its own perfection. Secondly, less noble creatures are in the service of the more noble, as creatures lower than men are in service of man. Further, every creature is in service of the perfection of the universe. Finally, the totality of the universe with all its parts is ordered to God as its goal" (Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1. 65. 2).40 Thus, man is in service of the perfection of the universe, but rational man has obligations. St. Thomas gives the foundation of human reason for men to cooperate in building up the perfection of the universe: "It is necessary to conclude absolutely speaking that every will discordant from reason, either right or wrong, is always evil" (Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1-2. 19. 5).41 Man can overvalue self, with a personal egoism, the tendency to allow the personal "Ego" to supercede every other person or thing. St. Thomas does not condemn egoism absolutely, but notes that the cause of all sin "is the disordered love of one’s own self," but there is a due and legitimate love of self (Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1-2. 77. 4. ad 1).42 Mondin correctly comments that the anthropology of St. Thomas is not perfect because he says too little about the cultural and historical dimension of man.43 It is precisely this cultural dimension that is discussed here.

Does St. Thomas teach a human destiny greater than happiness in this world alone? Yes, he does, and this would imply that man’s responsibility for the world and man’s morality lead to a goal beyond this world. St. Thomas teaches "that the ultimate happiness of man is not in this world" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 3. 48).44 Mondin comments that the anthropology of St. Thomas is an optimistic humanism with faith in the destiny of man.45 St. Thomas notes that even if man fails in his obligations, man still has the possibility of a destiny beyond this world: "Man, then with the power of God, is able to be restored to goodness, and so with the help of grace can obtain remission of sins" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 3. 156).46 St. Thomas teaches that the ultimate human destiny is to see God: "And because the soul is immediately made by God, therefore it is not able to be happy unless it immediately would see God" (Aquinas Quaestiones Quodlibetales 10. 17; confer Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1-2. 3. 8).47 This is a natural tendency of every human intellect: "...every intellect naturally desires the vision of the Divine Substance" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 3. 57).48 Accordingly, St. Thomas teaches that God is the principle and goal of every thing" (Aquinas De Veritate 20. 4).49


Does St. Thomas hold that the human soul is immortal? Yes, he does, and this would imply that man can personally enjoy life even after bodily death. St. Thomas followed Aristotle, who acknowledged the intellective soul to be intrinsically independent of matter, and so acknowledged its subsistence and immortality (Aristotle De Gener. Animal. 2. 3. 736 b 28).50 St. Thomas uses all the classic and Patristic arguments for the immortality of the soul.51 St. Thomas argues that the natural desire for beatitude would be vain without immortality, in Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 2. 79. St. Thomas argues from the spiritual activity of the soul that it is immaterial without parts, in Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 2. 79. and also Aquinas Scriptum in Liber Sententiarum 2. 19. 1. 1. ad 3. St. Thomas argues from the intellective nature of the soul, noting that every intellectual substance is incorruptible, in Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 2.79. St. Thomas argues from the knowledge of truth, that definitions are known abstractly, in Aquinas Scriptum in Liber Sententiarum 1. 19. 5. 3. ad 3. St. Thomas argues from the proportion between act and essence: "Nihil potest per se operari, nisi quod per se subsistit" (Aquinas Summa Theologiae 1. 75. 2). Thus, without a doubt, St. Thomas teaches the immortality of the soul of man.

Does St. Thomas hold the resurrection of the body? Yes, he does, and this would imply the dignity of the body and the possibility of the body to share immortality. Mondin notes that the resurrection of the body is a theological belief, the last article of the Nicean Creed, an article of faith.52 However, in the anthropology of St. Thomas it is a truth profoundly conformed to the witness of the human heart. St. Thomas teaches: "We saw that the souls of men are immortal; and they remain separate from the body after death. But we know that the soul has a natural tendency to remain with the body because of itself it is the form of the body, so to remain divided is against its nature. Now nothing contrary to nature is able to endure perpetually: so the soul will not always remain divided from the body. It is in fact immortal, and through this perrogative it must one day be rejoined to the body. This is nothing else but the resurrection (of the body). If it is demonstrated that man, by natural desire, tends to felicity, then that is the ultimate perfection of man. But whoever is deprived of something pertaining to his perfection, doe not yet have perfect felicity, because his desire is not completely fulfilled. In fact, every imperfect being tends naturally to acquire the lacking perfection. But the soul separated from the body is in a certain way imperfect, as every part outside its whole is imperfect and the soul is naturally part of human nature. So man cannot attain ultimate happiness if the soul is not rejoined to the body; even more than we have demonstrated how man cannot in this life be joined with the ultimate felicity" (Aquinas Summa Contra Gentiles 4. 79).53

Author:  John Edward Mulvihill, S.T.D., D.Min., Ph.D.
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