Dialectical Spiritualism: Thomas Aquinas, Part 4

By editor - 27.12 2016

Conversations wtih HDG A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, excerpted from  Dialectical Spiritualism: A Vedic View of Western Philosophy.

Thomas Aquinas (1257 - 1274)

Hayagriva dasa: For Aquinas, all earthly powers exist only by God's permission. Since the Church is God's emissary on earth, the Church should control secular power as well. He felt that secular rulers should remain subservient to the Church, which should be able to excommunicate a monarch and dethrone him.

Srila Prabhupada: World activities should be regulated so that God is the ultimate goal of understanding. Although the Church, or the brahmanas, may not directly carry out administrative activities, the government should function under their supervision and instructions. That is the Vedic system. The administrators, the ksatriyas, used to take instructions from the brahmanas, who could deliver a spiritual message. It is mentioned in Bhagavad-gita (4. 1) that millions of years ago, Krsna instructed the sun god in the yoga of Bhagavad-gita. The sun god is the origin of the ksatriyas. If the king follows the instructions of the Vedas or other scriptures through the brahmanas, or through a bona fide church, he is not only a king but a saintly person as well. The ksatriyas should follow the orders of the brahmanas, and the vaisyas should follow the orders of the ksatriyas. The sudras should follow the instructions of the three superior orders.

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning the beauty of God, Aquinas writes: "God is beautiful in Himself and not in relation to some limited terminus It is clear that the beauty of all things is derived from the divine beauty God wishes to multiply His own beauty as far as possible, that is to say, by the communication of His likeness. Indeed, all things are made in order to imitate divine beauty in some fashion."

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, God is the reservoir of all knowledge, beauty, strength, fame, renunciation, and wealth. God is the reservoir of everything, and therefore whatever we see that is beautiful emanates from a very minute part of God's beauty. yad yad vibhutimat sattvam srimad urjitam eva vd tad tad evavagaccha tvaih mama tejo'rhsa-sambhavam

"Know that all beautiful, glorious, and mighty creations spring from but a spark of My splendor." (Bg. 10.41)

Hayagriva dasa: Concerning the relationship between theology and philosophy, Aquinas writes: "As sacred doctrine is based on the light of faith, so is philosophy founded on the natural light of reason If any point among the statements of the philosophers is found contrary to faith, this is not philosophy but rather an abuse of philosophy, resulting from a defect in reasoning."

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is correct. Due to material conditional life, every man is defective. The philosophy of defective people cannot help society. Perfect philosophy comes from one who is in contact with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and such philosophy is beneficial. Speculative philosophers base their beliefs on imagination.

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas concluded that divine revelation is absolutely necessary because very few men can arrive at the truth through the philosophical method. It is a path full of errors, and the journey takes a long time.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is a fact. We should directly contact the Supreme Person, Krsna, who has complete knowledge. We should understand His instructions and try to follow them.

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas believed that the author of sacred scriptures can be only God Himself, who can not only "adjust words to their meaning, which even man can do, but also adjust things in themselves." Also, scriptures are not restricted to one meaning.

Srila Prabhupada: The meaning of scriptures is one, but the interpretations may be different. In the Bible it is stated that God created the universe, and that is a fact. One may conjecture that the universe was created out of some chunk, or whatever, but we should not interpret scripture in this way. We present Bhagavad-gita as it is without interpretation or motive. We cannot change the words of God. Unfortunately, many interpreters have spoiled the God consciousness of society.

Hayagriva dasa: In this, Aquinas seems to differ from the official Catholic doctrine, which admits only the Pope's interpretation. For him, the scriptures may contain many meanings according to our degree of realization.

Srila Prabhupada: The meaning is one, but if we are not realized, we may interpret many meanings. It is stated both in the Bible and Bhagavad-gita that God created the universe. aharh sarvasya prabhavo mattah sarvarh pravartate

"I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me." (Bg. 10.8) If it is a fact that everything is an emanation of God's energy, why should we accept a second meaning or interpretation? What is the possible second meaning?

Hayagriva dasa: Well, in the Bible it is stated that after creating the universe, God walked through paradise in the afternoon. Aquinas would consider this to have an interior, or metaphorical, meaning.

Srila Prabhupada: If God can create, He can also walk, speak, touch, and see. If God is a person, why is a second meaning necessary? What could it possibly be?

Hayagriva dasa: Impersonal speculation.

Srila Prabhupada: If God is the creator of all things, He must be a person. Things appear to come from secondary causes, but actually everything is created by the Supreme Creator.

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas seems to have encouraged individual interpretation. He writes: "It belongs to the dignity of divine scripture to contain many meanings in one text, so that it may be appropriate to the various understandings of men for each man to marvel at the fact that he can find the truth that he has conceived in his own mind expressed in divine scripture. "

Srila Prabhupada: No. If one's mind is perfect, he may give a meaning, but, according to our conviction, if one is perfect, why should he try to change the word of God? And if one is imperfect, what is the value of his change?

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas doesn't say "change."

Srila Prabhupada: Interpretation means change. If man is imperfect, how can he change the words of God? If the words can be changed, they are not perfect. So there will be doubt whether the words are spoken by God or by an imperfect person.

Hayagriva dasa: The many different Protestant faiths resulted from such individual interpretation. It's surprising to find this viewpoint in Aquinas.

Srila Prabhupada: As soon as you interpret or change the scripture, the scripture loses its authority. Then another man will come and interpret things in his own way. Another will come and then another, and in this way the original purport of the scripture is lost.

Hayagriva dasa: Aquinas believed that it is not possible to see God in this life. He writes: "God cannot be seen in His essence by one who is merely man, except he be separated from this mortal life The divine essence cannot be known through the nature of material things."

Srila Prabhupada: What does he mean by divine essence? For us, God's divine essence is personal. When one cannot conceive of the Personality of Godhead, he sees the impersonal feature everywhere. When one advances further, he sees God as the Paramatma within his heart. That is the result of yoga meditation. Finally, if one is truly advanced, he can see God face to face. When Krsna came, people saw Him face to face. Christians accept Christ as the son of God, and when he came, people saw him face to face. Does Aquinas think that Christ is not the divine essence of God?

Hayagriva dasa: For a Christian, Christ must be the divine essence.

Srila Prabhupada: And didn't many people see him? Then how can Aquinas say that God cannot be seen?