John Owen’s Usage of Thomas Aquinas, Part 2

John Owen’s Usage of Thomas Aquinas, Part 2

This is a follow up to Part 1 in this blog series where I will go through the works of John Owen detailing where he has mentioned Thomas Aquinas. I hope that this series is helpful.

In this second part, I would like to look at a couple of different types of usage that we find. First will be some cases where there is an editorial footnote that mentions Thomas Aquinas. Secondly, there will be a mention of a story that Thomas wrote about. Again, note that these first two posts do not deal with Owen’s usage of Aquinas in the Hebrews volumes. I believe I will begin working through those in part 5, I believe.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, 20 books out of the 36 works do not have any mention of Thomas Aquinas (not even in editorial footnotes). And from the other 16 books there are only 36 mentions of Thomas Aquinas. The first part covered 5 of those 36 mentions and this post will cover an additional 6.

Mentions of Thomas Aquinas in Editorial Footnotes

In “Owen’s Works, Volume 03, Part 1 – Pneumatologia”, we have the following mention in Chapter 5. In a discussion of “disputes managed by some of the ancients” which Owen saw as “altogether needless”, the editor refers us to where both Aquinas and Ambrose discussed this. The context does make it appear that Owen had Aquinas in mind here as you can see from the footnote.

The same work is assigned to both as causes of a different kind — it is assigned to the Holy Spirit as the active, efficient cause, who by his almighty power produced the effect. And the disputes managed by some of the ancients (350) about “de Spiritu Sancto” and “ex Spiritu Sancto” were altogether needless; for it is his creating efficiency that is intended. And his conceiving is ascribed to the holy Virgin as the passive, material cause; for his body was formed of her substance, as declared before. And this conception of Christ was after her solemn espousals to Joseph, and that was for various reasons;

Footnote 350: For example, Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Third Part, ‘Treatise on the Incarnation,’ q. 32, point 2. Reply to Objection 1: Christ’s body, through not being consubstantial with the Holy Ghost, cannot properly be said to be conceived “of” [de] the Holy Ghost, but rather “from [ex] the Holy Ghost,” as Ambrose says (De Spir. Sanct. ii.): “What is from someone is either from his substance or from his power: from his substance, as the Son who is from the Father; from his power, as all things are from God, just as Mary conceived from the Holy Ghost.”

And in “Owen’s Works, Volume 03, Part 2 – Pneumatologia”, Owen mentioned the schoolmen and there is a footnote defining what Scholasticism is and who some of them were.

Schoolmen: Scholasticism is a method of critical thought taught in medieval universities in Europe c. 1100-1700. Practitioners were called “scholastics” or “schoolmen.” They included Aquinas, Anselm, Abelard, Scotus, Bernard of Clairvaux, et al.

In “Owen’s Works, Volume 10, Part 1 – Display of Arminianism” we have two mentions in Chapter 14 of Aquinas in footnotes only (later we will see him mentioned in the text along with other footnotes to the Summa).

In this first one, Owen stated that Diego Alvarez demonstrated something the schoolmen “universally consented to this truth” about. And in the footnote, it is just stated that Aquinas’ commentaries were often used in opposition to Molinism.

So certain is God of accomplishing all his purposes, that he confirms it with an oath: “The LORD of hosts has sworn, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand,” Isaiah 14:24. And indeed it would be a very strange thing if God intended what he foresees will never come to pass. But I confess this argument will not be pressing against the Arminians, who question that prescience of God. Yet, they should also observe from the Scripture that the failing of wicked men’s counsels and intentions is a thing that God is said to “deride in heaven,” as in Psalm 2:4. He threatens them with it. “Take counsel together,” he says, “and it shall come to nothing; speak the word, and it shall not stand,” Isaiah 8:10. See also chapter 29:7-8. And shall they be enabled to recriminate, and cast a similar aspersion on the God of heaven? No, surely. Says St. Austin, “Let us take heed that we are not compelled to believe that Almighty God would have anything done which does not come to pass.” 149 The schoolmen have universally consented to this truth, also, as shown by Alvarez, Disput. 32, pro. 3. 150

Footnote 150: Probably Diego Alvarez (1550-1635), who represented the Dominicans in a dispute concerning the heretical teachings of the Spanish Jesuit Luis de Molina (from whom ‘Molinism’ arose, c.1558). A debate ensued (Congregatio de Auxiliis) that didn’t end until 1607 when the Dominicans and the Jesuits agreed to disagree. By decree of the Inquisition in Dec 1611, intended to keep the peace between these two factions, no book could be published pro or con about efficacious grace without the consent of the Holy See. That prohibition lasted through most of the 17th century – although Thomas Aquinas’ commentaries were often quoted by the Dominicans in opposition to Molinism.

In this second example from Chapter 14, the Summa is given as an example where Aquinas was citing Augustine and discussing how the number of the elect is set. It would appear that Owen does have Aquinas in mind by the language used by Owen and that provided in the editorial footnote.

The article is clear that the object of this predestination is some particular men chosen out of mankind; that is, it is an act of God that concerns some men in particular. It is taking them aside, as it were, from the midst of their brothers, and designing them for some special end and purpose. The Scripture also abounds in asserting this truth, calling those who are so chosen a “few,” Mat 20:16 – which must denote some certain persons; and the “remnant according to election,” Rom 11:5; those whom “the Lord knows to be his,” 2Tim 2:19; men “ordained to eternal life,” Acts 13:48; “us,” Rom 8:39; those whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life,” Rev 21:27. All of these verses and various others, clearly prove that the number of the elect is certain – not only materially, as the Arminians say, that there are only so many [unspecified persons], but formally also: they are these particular persons and no others, which cannot be altered. 160 The very nature of the thing itself so demonstrably evinces it, that I wonder that it could possibly be conceived of under any other notion. To apprehend an election of men that is not circumscribed to particular persons, is such a conceited, Platonical abstraction, that it seems strange for anyone to dare profess to understand that there can be predestination, and yet none are predestined; an election, and yet none are elected; a choice among many, and yet none are left or taken; a decree to save men, and yet salvation by that decree is destined for no one man – either in deed or in expectation.161 In a word, asserting that there can be a purpose of God to bring men to glory, which stands inviolable, even though no one ever attained the purposed end, is such a riddle that no Oedipus can unfold it.

Footnote 160: Aquinas Summa Theologica, Quest 23, Predistination; Art. 7 Obj. 3: Augustine says (De Corr. et Grat. 13): “The number of the predestined is certain, and can neither be increased nor diminished.” I answer that, The number of the predestined is certain. Some have said that it was formally, but not materially certain; as if we were to say that it was certain that a hundred or a thousand would be saved; not however these or those individuals. But this destroys the certainty of predestination; of which we spoke above (Article 6). Therefore we must say that to God the number of the predestined is certain, not only formally, but also materially. It must, however, be observed that the number of the predestined is said to be certain to God, not by reason of His knowledge, because, that is to say, He knows how many will be saved (for in this way the number of drops of rain and the sands of the sea are certain to God); but by reason of His deliberate choice and determination.

Mention of story that Thomas Aquinas wrote about

In both “Owen’s Works, Volume 08 – Sermons to the Nations” (Sermon 1) and “Owen’s Works, Volume 10, Part 1 – Display of Arminianism”, we see that Owen related a story that Thomas wrote about. As his wording is quite similar in both volumes, I will just cite from Volume 10, Chapter 11 below.

It is true, indeed, that some of the ancient fathers, before the rising of the Pelagian heresy, had so put on Christ, as Lipsius put it, that they had not fully put off Plato. They unadvisedly released some speeches seeming to grant that various men before the incarnation, who were living “according to the dictates of right reason,” might be saved without faith in Christ. This is well-shown by the learned Casaubon in his first Exercitation on Baronius. But let this be accounted part of that stubble which shall burn at the last day, with which the writings of all men who are not divinely inspired may be stained. It has also since (and what has not?) been drawn into dispute among the wrangling schoolmen. And yet (which is rarely seen) their verdict in this particular almost unanimously affirms the truth of it. Aquinas tells us a story of the corpse of a heathen that was to be taken up in the time of the Empress Irene and her son Constantine; he had a golden plate on his breast, in which was this inscription: “Christ is born of a virgin, and I believe in him. O sun, you shall see me again in the days of Irene and Constantine.” But the question is not whether a Gentile believing in Christ may be saved, or whether God revealed himself and his Son extraordinarily to some of them. For shall we straiten the breast and shorten the arm of the Almighty, as though he might not do what he will with his own? The question is whether a man may come to heaven by the conduct of nature, without the knowledge of Christ,? This is the assertion which we condemn as a wicked, Pelagian, Socinian heresy. We think it was well said by Bernard, “That many laboring to make Plato a Christian, prove themselves to be heathens.”

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