The Corner

Aquinas on God and Man’s Destiny

Today is, in the Catholic Church, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, considered by most to be, along with St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the two greatest theologian/philosophers in Catholic history. Quite serendipitously, I am reading a forthcoming book, The Religion of the Future by Roberto Mangabeira Unger, in which Aquinas makes this bracing appearance:

In his sermon on the Feast of Corpus Christi, Aquinas wrote: “Since it was the will of God’s only-begotten Son that men should share in his divinity, he assumed our nature in order that by becoming man he might make men gods.” Were it not for the worshipful language of the Christian preacher-theologian and the sense of untroubled orthodoxy in the ensuing discourse about the Incarnation and the Eucharist, we might suppose that we were reading from Feuerbach or Emerson rather than from Aquinas.

I think Aquinas had hold of a radical truth in that statement, and I would suggest that what is true in such thinkers as, e.g., Emerson, is what Aquinas is expressing in orthodox form. But my interest here is not so much in saying which one is more right, because whichever side I argued for, my view could simply be dismissed as the special pleading of a pro-Thomist Catholic or of a pro-Emersonian Transcendentalist. No, what I want to stress here is that both of these schools of thought are pointing in the same general direction — of Man as having a destiny beyond Man, a destiny of the kind that a reductionistic materialist philosophy would deny him. C. S. Lewis liked to refer to Christianity as the event in which “myth became fact”; Aquinas discussed — with what Unger calls “untroubled orthodoxy” — how, specifically, this envisioned destiny of Man may become fact. Is this provable? Perhaps not. But that thinkers so diverse could point in the same direction is suggestive.

(Incidentally, Unger was Barack Obama’s professor at Harvard Law School, and supported him in 2008 — but, in 2012, called for his defeat because he was, in Unger’s view, not progressive enough. In addition to his work at Harvard, Professor Unger has been a prominent political figure in his native Brazil.) 

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