“So those who use the works of philosophers in sacred doctrine, by bringing them into the service of faith, do not mix water with wine, but rather change water into wine.”
– St. Thomas Aquinas
“The scanty conceptions to which we can attain of celestial things give us, from their excellence, more pleasure than all our knowledge of the world in which we live; just as half a glimpse of persons that we love is more delightful than an accurate view of other things, whatever their number and dimension.”
Thomas Aquinas was a theologian. Sacred science—a systematic, ordered
understanding of divinely revealed truths—was his focus. For him other sciences or
studies have real importance, especially inasmuch as they form habits of insight and
provide the necessary conceptual framework for theology. Philosophy has a unique
place as the handmaid of theology.
Aristotle was a philosopher. For him wisdom culminating in knowledge of the first
cause is the greatest perfection of the human person. And he too cultivated the other
sciences, holding their greatest dignity to be in their fruitful relation to philosophy.
A millennium and a half apart, these two men have a remarkable kinship. It’s as
though in the works of Aquinas they form a team, an incarnation of the relationship
of theology and philosophy. The water of Aristotle irrigates and animates the fertile
field of Aquinas’ mind. And in that field it turns to wine.
For in the worldview of Aquinas, the highest cause, the celestial reality of which
Aristotle was grateful to have some little knowledge from afar, is in fact a person that
we love. This person condescends to offer man more than half a glimpse, and indeed
he offers not only an accurate, but an intimate view of himself.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) is considered one of the greatest of medieval theologians. He called Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) ‘the Philosopher’ and wrote commentaries on all his major works.