Introduction to Aquinas’ 5 Ways

I think it appropriate for me to share St. Thomas Aquinas’ 5 Ways. Aquinas was the greatest medieval philosopher, living around the 13th century AD. His influence is still substantial in Christianity, no matter what tradition you come from.

Thomism and Aquinas’ Influence

When people mirror Aquinas’ version of Aristotelian philosophy, they are often called Thomists. I would fit that category more often than not. He was a brilliant scholar and wrote an incredibly extensive systematic theology, called Summa Theologica, which is normally shortened to the Summa.

The “A’s” Among the Greats

He is among the big three Christian philosophers whose name starts with an A: Aquinas, Augustine, and Anselm. This mnemonic helps in remembering them. They all shaped the theology of the western church more than any other besides Luther and Calvin.

Aquinas’ Personal Challenges

Aquinas had a weight problem. He was nicknamed the Dumb Ox. This nickname was given to him by his classmates because of his quiet nature and large size. However, his teacher, St. Albert the Great, is said to have remarked, “We call this young man a dumb ox, but his bellowing in doctrine will one day resound throughout the world,” recognizing Aquinas’ potential for greatness in theological scholarship. Aquinas later became one of the most influential theologians and philosophers in the history of the Catholic Church.

The Timelessness of Aquinas’ 5 Ways

The 5 ways are significant as they have lost none of their power. They are all rational arguments for the existence of God mirrored in today’s cosmological and teleological arguments. It’s hard to think of a theologian who could surpass him in intellectual vigor. After all the years of studying Apologetics, I come back to these foundational truths. Aquinas got it right so long ago.

Aquinas’ 5 Ways Explained

1. The Argument from Motion: Aquinas argued that everything in motion is moved by something else, and there must be a First Mover, which is God. This is the same argument that Aristotle proposed. If there is no First Mover, you have a formal absurdity of an infinite regress. This is the Aristotelian Prime Mover Cosmological Argument.

2. The Argument from Causation: Everything in the world has a cause, and there cannot be an infinite regress of causes, so there must be an uncaused first cause, which is God. The Cosmological Argument from Causation.

3. The Argument from Contingency: Aquinas claimed that because things in the world come into and go out of existence, there must be a necessary being whose existence is not contingent on anything else, and this being is God. This is the Cosmological Argument from Contingency.

4. The Argument from Degree: Aquinas observed varying degrees of qualities like goodness, truth, nobility, etc. in the world. He posited that these degrees imply the existence of a maximum, which is God. This is influenced by the well-known Ontological Argument of Anselm, but it also crosses over with the Moral Argument and a Cosmological Argument.

5. The Argument from Purpose: Aquinas saw that non-intelligent objects act towards ends and argued that they must be directed by a being endowed with knowledge and intelligence, which is God. This is the Teleological Argument.

Aquinas’ Enduring Legacy

In conclusion, exploring Aquinas’ 5 Ways opens a window into the profound depth of medieval philosophical thought and its enduring impact on modern theological discourse. Aquinas’ arguments, deeply rooted in empirical observation and logical reasoning, offer a compelling case for the existence of God that transcends time and cultural shifts. His integration of Aristotelian philosophy with Christian theology not only shaped the intellectual landscape of his own era but also continues to challenge and inspire thinkers today.

Whether you are a Thomist, a student of philosophy, or simply a curious mind, Aquinas’ 5 Ways serve as a testament to our relentless pursuit of knowledge and the timeless quest to comprehend our existence and our God. As I said, his intellectual vigor and ability to blend empirical observation with theological inquiry remain as relevant today as they were in the 13th century. Aquinas’ insights, therefore, are not just transcendent historical gems but living ideas. They beckon us, inviting us to join in the great conversation about our world and its ultimate cause.

Whether or not you agree with some of his other theological points, the reality of his continued impact on our culture today is undeniable. This quiet “dumb ox” stands ten feet tall as a lasting figure, still serving us in the body of Christ today.


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    5 replies to "A Word About the “Dumb Ox” and His “Five Ways”"

    • Bibliophile

      I would not identify you as a Thomist, not even on your better days. The fact that you think any one of Aquinas’ “Five Ways” depends on overcoming the problem of an infinite regress; and that you would claim his argument from degrees was “influenced by the well-known Ontological Argument of Anselm” – which argument Aquinas rejected -; all of this suggests you are very far from Thomas and closer to Descartes (Descartes enjoyed Anselm’s argument because, like you, they both differed from Aquinas in that they held ideas to be separate from sense knowledge, while Aquinas saw nothing in the intellect that is not first in the senses).

      I love you, bro, but you are assuredly not a Thomist, despite how much you admire Thomistic philosophy. Indeed, if you really loved St. Thomas, you would most probably end up like so many of Norman Geisler’s former students who embraced the Catholic faith after he introduced them to Thomism 😁

      • C Michael Patton

        You have not given me a single reason I am not a Thomist. Anselm. Is it because I like OT? Everyone knows that he hated the OT.

        Two things, if I remember correctly, I said I would be closer identified as a Thomist. As well, if I remember, I thought I crossed this over with the OT, Teleological, and Cosmological. What I see as OT is the argument for a maximally great being, not from such. This one is a posteriori (which makes it more ided with that others)

        Btw, this app does not have the actual text of my blog. I would go test and change accordingly if it effected my argument.

        • Bibliophile

          How come this (your reply) is back, but none of my responses are showing up? Something wrong with your website?

    • Bibliophile

      “Behold! I stand at the door and knock!”

      • Bibliophile

        🤭

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