Cosmology, Science & A Spirituality of Matter in Aquinas

We have been meditating on Aquinas as a proto-feminist, a practitioner of Deep Ecumenism, a lover of creation and cosmology. He honored science and the scientific vocation, and his embrace of Aristotle scandalized many. 

A 1661 chart illustrating the heliocentric model of the planets, which overturned previous belief that the Earth was the center of the cosmos. Chart by Andreas Cellarius. Wikimedia Commons.

Aquinas wrote an elaborate commentary on the cosmology of Aristotle’s day, where he both explains and critiques in detail the theories of Eudoxus, Callipus, Plato, Aristotle, and others on planetary movements.  

I reproduce that text as an Appendix in my Sheer Joy book, and do so, as I say, not because I understand it all, but because to read it is to appreciate how passionately and critically involved Aquinas was in the questions of science.

One can imagine on reading this, how fully Aquinas would be throwing himself into today’s science, and especially the new creation story of the universe.Indeed, Aquinas has been a major influence on both Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, champions of the new cosmology in our time. I have probably heard Berry lecture 25 times, and not once did he fail to cite Aquinas.

Fr. James Brent, O.P., explains how Aquinas proved God’s existence from the world’s order. Video by The Thomistic Institute. 

Père Chenu, who ushered in a critical historical approach to understanding Aquinas, summarized his vast contribution to Western culture, when Aquinas moved away from the put-down of matter by philosophical dualists, and toward honoring the reality and sacredness of matter (and therefore of Incarnation in all its aspects). Chenu writes:

In the finest hour of the University of Paris, in the emancipated world of the Communes, Thomas Aquinas roused the anger and disdain of intellectuals and religious people, by proclaiming the importance of matter in the metaphysics of the universe, in the constitution of man and in the evolution of society.

Women marching for all matters related to the common good. An estimated half-million marched on Washington DC on January 21, 2017, with 5 million, worldwide, also marching in solidarity. Photo by Mobilus in Mobili. Wikimedia Commons.

Yes, the importance of matter (which derives from the word mater, mother). Is that not something to celebrate this Women’s History month?

Matter is not something to flee from, in the name of spirituality, but to enter into and to celebrate and to explore more fully. And this applies to the history of matter—what we call evolution—and our story as humans with a 13.8-billion-year history. It also applies to society itself, where the common good is all about issues of “matter:” housing, health care, economics, freedom, justice, fairness, gender, sexuality, our bodies, Mother Earth, and all her creatures. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 48, 521-529.

And M. D. Chenu, “Body and Body Politic in the Creation Spirituality of Thomas Aquinas, in Matthew Fox, ed., Western Spirituality: Historical Roots, Ecumenical Routes, pp. 193-214.

And Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom For Hard Times, pp. 1-32.

Banner Image: An illustration demonstrating the relationship between the Sun’s emissions over time, and its quantitative effects at the biological level. Graphic by Wales. Wikimedia Commons. 

Queries for Contemplation

Do you recognize a connection between mater (mother) and matter? Is misogyny frequently born of a dualism that separates spirit from matter? How do Aquinas and science and you resist that aberration?

Recommended Reading

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

Western Spirituality: Historical Roots, Ecumenical Routes

In this book, Fox gathers scholars from various cultures and traditions such as Helen Kenik, Jon Sobrino, Nicolas Berdyaev, Rosemary Ruether, M. D. Chenu, Mary Jose Hobday, Ronald Miller, Monika Hellwig, James Kenney, Justin O’Brien and others to approach creation spirituality from many traditions and many angles. 
“An exciting and important book…a pleasant alternative to the oppressive burden of the fall/redemption tradition.” ~ New Review of Books and Religion 

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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5 thoughts on “Cosmology, Science & A Spirituality of Matter in Aquinas”

  1. Avatar

    Excerpt from the Daily Meditation –
    “Matter is not something to flee from, in the name of spirituality, but to enter into and to celebrate and to explore more fully. …. It also applies to society itself, where the common good is all about issues of “matter:” housing, health care, economics, freedom, justice, fairness, gender, sexuality, our bodies, Mother Earth, and all her creatures. ——–

    Comment –
    How is it that ‘society and common good’ are ‘all about (implies exclusively) to issues of ‘matter’ per the wording above? Does society and issues of matter not also contain and benefit from spirituality? ‘Matter’ is just a denser form ‘of light’ is it not? — BB.

  2. Avatar

    A connection between mater (mother) and matter developed instinctually for me as a young child living on my grandparent’s farm at the edge of the tall grass prairie. My sister and I would lie in beds of the grass with the sun on our faces, munching sweet clover, being cradled by the Mother; a serene feeling of belonging to where we lived. A rich smell and teeming soil in my hands greeting these small creatures.
    Then, my grandparents were told by the experts to change their old ways. To survive they must squeeze the last 20% of productivity from the land. The soil was putrid. No worms, or crawling things. The soil became rock hard, the air hazy with dust and poisons, the water a mirror to what was lost from the land begat a spiritual loss that I’m still trying to heal.
    Every day, I do some grateful honoring of the Mother. A thank you to oaks in my yard, to brave shoots of new life in Spring, a humble silence to the sunrise and sunset, a salute to the pair of Bald Eagles circling above my house, a song in their language to the Sandhills returning to their nesting grounds. Life is precious. God and Creation is full of the Mother spirit. May we all emerge wild again. Amen.

  3. Avatar

    Yes, we have a long human history of dualism, separating spirit and matter, consequently creating our spiritual imbalance of patriarchy, misogyny, and destructiveness/suffering toward humanity and Mother Earth in many of our past and present societies and institutions.
    Our mystical spiritual traditions, indigenous peoples, and now quantum science, have been informing us of the Sacredness and Diverse ONENESS of All Creation, especially spiritual beings, in Our multidimensional-multiverse Co-Creative~Evolving LOVING Beautiful COSMOS….

  4. Avatar

    From the point of view of the actual (official Christian/”Neoplatonic”) Mystical Revelation, with its multiple facets of non-dualism in both form and content, you would think that all its mystics would be egalitarian, and that all religions centering around it would be likewise.

    The opposite is true.

    This teaching was severely restricted to a small number of select males. In the West, NONE of this information was shared with the “commoners”, except in veiled poetry, hints, tidbits or infantile oversimplifications. Females were almost never allowed to learn about this sacred theology and Path.

    Therefore, ONLY a few elite males interpreted and conveyed its ideas. They invariably twisted it into simplistic, dualistic, patriarchal forms that conveniently preserved social hierarchy and the church/temple’s function as “necessary channels/intermediaries” between people and God.

    And heaven forbid if women were equal to high priests! If the lowest is equal to the highest, then who rules house and kingdom?

    So females were condescendingly pushed/allowed ONLY to be the most emotional/vision-prone type of generic, “lesser” (dualistic) mystics, which also preserved the stereotype of women’s weakness, emotionality, and submissive adoration.

  5. Avatar
    John Crittenden

    I am so inspired in the thinking through all your posts, what are pragmatic foundations for approaching the world of experience and motivation, that Paul wrote the below verse which places us in a systemic relationship with God and creation. The evolution of the experience of this cosmic sense of being initiated through Christ’s intervention, springing forth in a continuity through time.
    I am chilled to the bone, even as I am warmed by your gentle revelations!!

    Philippians 2:12 (NRSV)

    12Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.☺️

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