restricted access A Dionysian/Thomistic Framework for the Integration of Science and Catholic Tradition
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A Dionysian/Thomistic Framework for the Integration of Science and Catholic Tradition


Bishop Fulton Sheen called Book 4, chapter 11 in the Summa contra gentiles by St. Thomas Aquinas among the most brilliant works in all of human thought and the implicit answer to most problems in science and many problems in modern philosophy and theology.2 This chapter, titled, “How generation is to be understood in divinity, and what is said of the Son of God in Scripture,” concerns how we are to understand the generation of the Word from the Father in the Trinity.3 To answer, Aquinas, in part, reaches back to the opposite end of existence and works from minerals (non-living things) up the hierarchy of being to plants, animals, men, angels, and finally God, who exists infinitely and transcendently above his creation. Defining life as “that which moves itself,” he discusses the type of movement or “operation” found at each level of being, giving a profound insight into the ultimate nature of life. Life, he answers, is an interior act ultimately synonymous, in God, with intelligence (and will4). Created beings are arranged hierarchically due to their participation in a greater or lesser degree in this perfect interior act of their Creator. The intellect and knowing capacity become the [End Page 87] framework, or cosmology—defined as one’s total view of reality, both spiritual and material—to organize reality, one that knows no modern alienation between the material and spiritual world.

Today, discussions about the nature of reality are conducted within the framework of modern science, which is seen as the archetype. Central to its strength is that these discussions typically take place in a materialist (atomistic/evolutionary) cosmology. Herein lies the key. The cosmology under which one works leads to the questions asked and the answers received. This is particularly the case with science, which is a collection of facts about reality that of themselves do not contain an inherent philosophy.5 These facts in a materialistic cosmology lead to scientism, the view of a purely material universe that dominates modern thought.6 Attempting to fuse this cosmology with one more compatible with religion and higher reality is counterproductive. A defective union results, as the overarching cosmologies are not compatible in the end. What is needed is a new cosmology in which to think, one where science, and by implication, all of modern knowledge is properly ordered. This article proposes such a cosmology, one that is thoroughly compatible with Catholic tradition, and shows how the data of science, removed from the secular paradigms under which it is presented, positively contribute to the Catholic Faith and our understanding of the material world in which we live.

The Dionysian/Thomistic Hierarchy

In his SCG 4.11, Aquinas provides the needed cosmology, rooted deeply in Catholic tradition—the hierarchy of being (types of being created by God: minerals, plants, animals, men, angels) based on the operations proper to each being. This cosmology implicitly contains the whole of Catholic thought and is fully capable of assimilating all legitimate modern thought and discoveries, including that of science. This framework gives rich meaning, purpose, and completion to our understanding and places that understanding at the service of [End Page 88] the Church. Initially synthesized by St. Dionysius the Areopagite7 and commented on by Aquinas, it prepares a natural foundation for the spiritual life and ultimately leads the mind to receive the deepest teaching of the end and purpose of man: deification and union with God.

In his “Commentary on the Divine Names of Dionysius,” Aquinas, writing on the incomprehensibility of God, states, “Therefore, it is necessary that we understand divine things according to this union of grace, not, as it were, dragging divine things to make them fit us but rather by us standing completely outside ourselves in God, so that we are completely deified through the aforementioned union.”8 To stand outside ourselves and in God is nothing other than a concise summary of the Catholic tradition of the mystical life; everything must be given up so only God alone remains and is sought as he is...