By Stuart P. Quint
“O foolish Galatians! Who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”[i]
Why are some leaders in Reformed circles uncritically imbibing the deceptive wine of the “Angelic Doctor” of Rome?
Thomas Aquinas is experiencing a revival in the 21st century. This unholy “revival” is occurring in conservative seminaries, many with a Reformed pedigree.
One example is the Master’s Seminary (where Richard Bennett preached once). The spring 2022 issue of The Master’s Journal[ii] featured an interview with Dr. Matthew Barrett of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary[iii]. He touted Thomas Aquinas as “the most useful scholar of the Middle Ages on the Trinity.”[iv] and an indispensable source for seminary education of Bible-believing ministers.[v]
The Master’s Journal includes other citations and even articles from other champions of Thomas Aquinas and the “Great Tradition” he represents. They include R.C. Sproul[vi], Dr. James Dolezal of Cairn University[vii], and Dr. Craig Carter of Tyndale University[viii].
Yet, other Reformed leaders such as Dr. James White[ix] and Jeffrey Johnson[x] have voiced grave concern about the influence of Aquinas and his “Thomist” philosophy in Christian circles.
The issue is not judging these leaders’ motives. The fruit of their recommendation is questionable.
The Epistle of James reveals that God holds teachers to a higher standard of judgment: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”[xi]
These leaders have great influence on the next generation. They are training the next generation of future pastors who will shepherd our children and grandchildren. Introducing them to the leaven of Thomas Aquinas is a grave issue.
“The teachings of Thomas Aquinas are the foundation of the Church’s socialistic teachings on economics, private property rights, and government social policy, but Thomas has deeply influenced the Roman Catholic Church in more areas than those just named, and he has influence outside the Roman Catholic Church as well.”[xii]
Believers need to beware and reject Thomas Aquinas even in the 21st century.
Personal Testimony from a Vatican Alumnus of the Ill Fruits of Thomas Aquinas
Let us consider the testimony of a man who actually studied and lived out the teachings of Aquinas – in the Vatican and in the Roman Catholic priesthood. His direct experience will shed more light than mere romantic sentiment speculated by academics with third hand exposure to Aquinas.
Were he alive on this earth today, Richard Bennett would be utterly dumbfounded at the blind attraction of Reformed leaders to the perilous doctrine of Thomas Aquinas.
Richard Bennett, the founder of the Berean Beacon ministry, completed his 8 years of study in the Dominican order at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome.[xiii] He originally intended to become a professor at a Catholic seminary. In His mercy, God had other plans for Richard’s life.[xiv]
Even as a devout Catholic with big dreams, Richard’s doubts began in his studies at the Vatican:
“Then, in 1963, at the age of twenty-five, I was ordained a Roman Catholic priest and went on to finish my course of studies of Thomas Aquinas at The Angelicum University in Rome. But there I had difficulty with both the outward pomp and the inner emptiness. Over the years, I had formed from pictures and books, pictures in my mind of the Holy See and the Holy City. Could this be the same city? At the Angelicum University I was also shocked that hundreds of others who poured into our morning classes seemed quite disinterested in theology. I noticed Time and Newsweek magazines being read during classes. Those who were interested in what was being taught seemed only to be looking for either degrees or positions within the Catholic Church in their homelands.”[xv]
About to complete his fourth year of study under the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas,[xvi] Richard prayed and decided not to complete his theological degree. Instead, he wanted to fulfill the ambition of his youth to become a Catholic missionary.
“The priest who was to direct my thesis did not want to accept my decision. In order to make the degree easier, he offered me a thesis written several years earlier. He said I could use it as my own if only I would do the oral defense. This turned my stomach. It was similar to what I had seen a few weeks earlier in a city park: elegant prostitutes parading themselves in their black leather boots. What he was offering was equally sinful. I held to my decision, finishing at the University at the ordinary academic level, without the degree.”[xvii]
Doubters might question, “Richard had an unpleasant experience with people centuries after Thomas Aquinas lived, but that does not implicate the doctor himself!”
Let us consider Thomas Aquinas himself. First, why are some people attracted to him?
“Thomas Aquinas was a genuinely brilliant man with an extraordinary intellect. He has been called the Angelic doctor. He was born probably in 1224 into nobility. He initially joined the Benedictine monks at the famous monastery in Monte Cassino where he first came into contact with the teachings of Aristotle. He later joined the Dominican order (the same order I was in myself). He wrote the Summa Theologica, which he finished in 1273. It was based on some things in the Bible, but also papal teaching, Roman Catholic theology, and ‘the philosopher’. He presupposed that people knew ‘the philosopher’ was Aristotle.”[xviii]
Yet the erudition of Thomas Aquinas turned into a stumbling block. A major influence in his life and teaching was the pagan philosopher Aristotle.
“He [Thomas Aquinas] was a genuinely brilliant man who based his search for and defense of truth on a pagan philosopher who lived 300 years before Jesus. The man was utterly abject of truth because he mixed this pagan philosopher with the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. A lethal and dangerous mixture of pagan philosophy and Catholic teaching with Scripture that is having its influence on people all over the world.”[xix]
The philosophy of Aristotle also served as a gateway to accepting the “mystery” of the Catholic sacraments, including the priesthood:
“All priests must study Aquinas for at least 2 years. I even could memorize many dictums in Latin… Aristotle [taught us] how the physical [sacrament] could give spiritual life.”[xx]
Thomas Aquinas elevated the human intellect over God’s revelation in Scripture:
“As he drew from Aristotle, he drew one of the famous principles: Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses. This idea that the intellect gets all its information first from the senses, which reveal to the intellect truth, is the human rationale that by experimental data we can know intellectual truth and be sure of it. That is the horrific base by which people go astray, because they look to their intellect for truth… Scripture alone is our source of truth. Intellect can give us data, but it cannot give us truth. Aquinas has devastated so many to our day [such as leaders in the emerging church movement].”[xxi]
Upon becoming a priest, Richard found Thomas Aquinas to be utterly wrong about Rome’s sacraments:
“In my first 14 years as priest (altogether 22 years) mostly on a small island off Venezuela called Trinidad… I was in parish work as a priest. I presupposed what I was taught about truth from Aquinas – it was the Bible plus our intellect, what we derived from our senses, plus what we learned from great philosophers such as Aristotle… When I baptized babies, gave absolution at the confession box, it grieved me to see people coming back with the same sins… All I could see evidently is that these sacraments were not working. Because I supposed physical things such as the sacraments must be true because of what I learned from Aristotle. But it wasn’t working.”[xxii]
Thomas Aquinas greatly hindered Richard’s confidence and ability to read the Scriptures. Richard had to undergo “spiritual deprogramming” from Thomas Aquinas to be able to hear and understand God’s Word:
“I was seriously damaged… Because I did not hold to Scripture alone, and was still damaged by the philosophy of Aquinas… my search of the Scripture did not add up to anything… Those first 14 years as a priest were really damaged because of my presupposition that Aquinas was right, Aristotle was right… I was amazed to hear Paul say that Scripture could not be broken… when I began to study what the Bible says about the Bible, then I said the Bible is what is true… If we do not have the Bible as the only authority, we are hopeless. That changed my outlook… Then in my last 7 years [as a Catholic priest], I was trying as desperately as I could to hold to Scripture as my authority alone.”[xxiii]
Another person whose thinking was damaged by Thomas Aquinas is Alan Jones, Deacon of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.[xxiv] A prominent speaker in the emergent church movement, Jones mixed mystical union with God and Roman Catholic doctrine into his talks. In his book Reimagining Christianity he wrote: “Aquinas studied a pagan philosopher named Aristotle. Why was he not afraid? Truth from whatever source is of the Spirit.”[xxv]
Another bad fruit of Thomas Aquinas was liberation theology, the root of today’s Communist woke ideology. For a time, Richard had fanatic, almost martial, devotion to liberation theology:
“Liberation theology was highly influenced by Aquinas. That quote [of Thomas Aquinas: “In a case of a like need a man may also take secretly another’s property in order to succor his neighbor in need.”[xxvi]] was in Vatican Council II that it is not a sin to take someone else’s property… I taught liberation theology from my pulpit. Some of the rich people were annoyed, but some of the poor people were happy with me… I took up a court case against a doctor who wanted bribes… Because of my involvement in liberation theology, I was threatened by a machete and a gun, I nearly lost my life because I lived by the principles of liberation theology, of Thomas Aquinas.”[xxvii]
Could this “evangelical revival” of Thomas Aquinas open the door for further spreading the revival of “woke theology”, critical race theory, and intersectionality to unwitting churches?[xxviii]
Thomas Aquinas Weaponizes Rome’s Hostility to the Reformation
The teachings of Thomas Aquinas enjoy great authority even today in the Roman Catholic Church.
“He is not just a doctor, but THE doctor, the ‘angelic doctor’ of the [Roman Catholic] Church… In 1923, Pope Pius XI required Aquinas as the guide for younger men preparing for the priesthood. That was the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church well before 1923. It was some time after his death [in 1274]. Not long after his death, he was recognized as the seminal and the principal doctor of the Church… It is interesting that in the Catechism of the Catholic Church… published in 1994… gives footnotes and citations from Thomas Aquinas, so this shows that the Papacy has unleashed upon the world the teachings of Aquinas… His teachings bear the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.”[xxix]
Thomas Aquinas had great impact on many ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church, even on the Council of Trent. In a papal encyclical “Aeterni Patris: On the Restoration of Christian Philosophy”, Pope Leo XIII stated:
“The ecumenical councils, also, where blossoms the flower of all earthly wisdom, have always been careful to hold Thomas Aquinas in singular honor. In the Councils of Lyons , Vienna ]1311-1313], Florence , and the Vatican [1869-1870] one might almost say that Thomas took part and presided over the deliberations and decrees of the Fathers, contending against the errors of the Greeks, of heretics and rationalists, with invincible force and with the happiest results. But the chief and special glory of Thomas, one which he shared with none of the Catholic Doctors, is that the Fathers of Trent [1545-1563] made it part of the order of the conclave to lay upon the altar, together with sacred Scripture and the decrees of the supreme Pontiffs, the Summa of Thomas Aquinas, whence to seek council, reason, and inspiration.”[xxx]
Claiming the relevance of Aquinas today, Romanus Cessano, OP, current chair of theology at Ave Maria University and ordinary fellow of the Angelicum, writes:
“…[Trent] occupies a central place in Catholic life. The disciplinary reforms and theological clarifications made by the college of bishops under the authority of the pope still shape Catholic teaching. Because of the development of the Thomist Commentatorial Tradition by the middle of the sixteenth century, Aquinas greatly influenced the thinking of the council’s leading participants The Summa theologiae and, especially, its commentary by Thomas de Vio, Cardinal Cajetan (d. 1534), who had held exchanges with Luther, helped to resolve many of the council’s most pressing agenda items… Toward this end, the articulation that Aquinas introduces into Catholic theology enabled the Council to distinguish authentic Catholic teaching from some of the distortions that appeared around the time of the Protestant Reform[ation].”[xxxi]
Contrary to the misconception of certain evangelicals, the Council of Trent is “central” to understanding today’s Roman Catholic Church. The whole purpose of the Council of Trent was to combat the revival of Biblical teaching inspired by the Reformation.
“If anyone shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified, let him be anathema [cursed].”[xxxii]
“If anyone shall say that by the said sacraments of the New Law, grace is not conferred from the work which has been worked [ex opere operato] but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices to obtain grace, let him be anathema.”[xxxiii]
True Christians have no business giving moral support to the Council of Trent! Neither should they lend any sympathy to its president “in spirit” Thomas Aquinas. Recall that Pope Leo XIII refers to Thomas Aquinas as the one who “took part and presided over the decrees and deliberations” of the Council of Trent!
Thomas Aquinas is no friend of Christ’s gospel. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God.”[xxxiv]
We have a responsibility to protect God’s church from infiltration by such as Thomas Aquinas. That includes not even entertaining false teachers with their teaching. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”[xxxv]
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”[xxxvi]
Thomas Aquinas embodies the essence of Roman Catholic philosophy placed on a par with Scripture. Indeed, Aquinas dilutes the authority of God’s Word.
So then how can professing Reformed teachers still justify their advocacy of Thomas Aquinas?
Conclusion: Brothers and Sisters, Beware of Thomas Aquinas
One might object. “Well, certain godly Christians have recommended Thomas Aquinas. Look at R.C. Sproul, who vehemently opposed ECT (Evangelicals and Catholics Together). He vouched for Aquinas.”
Indeed, this author praises God for having used R.C. Sproul for much good in his ministry.
However, we also need to consider what God commands about watching ourselves and our doctrine, especially as it might impact others watching us:
“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.”[xxxvii]
The hall of faith in Hebrews 11 lists two examples of leaders of God’s people who “subdued kingdoms, obtained promises.”[xxxviii] Despite being judges anointed by God with great responsibility, both suffered serious blemishes on their legacy in ministry.
Consider Samson. Out of utter carelessness, Samson fell for Delilah’s ruse.[xxxix] God’s Word does not deny the powerful way God used Samson, but the black mark in Samson’s legacy remained.
Consider Gideon. God used Gideon to break down the idol of Baal and rally Israel against their enemies. Yet, after God delivered through him a great victory over the Midianites, Gideon erected a golden ephod. Ironically, this ephod became a new idol that ended up ensnaring the people of Israel once again in idolatry.[xl]
The point is that you might strive to be a faithful servant of Jesus. Yet, you also have the potential to cause much damage to your own legacy, as well as to those whom you are serving.
The legacy of Thomas Aquinas has had global impact, especially on Roman Catholicism. However, unfortunately, leaders like Sproul have opened the door for this dark influence of Aquinas to penetrate evangelical Reformed circles generations after him.
This is not a unique case. Otherwise Biblically sound teachers such as A.W. Pink[xli] and Donald Grey Barnhouse[xlii] believed in “gap theory”, indirectly opening a door for those pushing ungodly and unfounded evolution through groups such as Biologos.[xliii] A.W. Tozer had a strange fetish for Catholic mysticism.[xliv]
Believers need to pray for and support their leaders. Remembering those who teach the Word of God, we are to consider the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith in action.[xlv]
However, believers must be on guard against false prophets who will come.[xlvi] Leaders also must guard their churches from false doctrine.[xlvii]
Thomas Aquinas is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He is not a Bible-believing teacher, but rather a purveyor of man-made philosophy. Thomas Aquinas represents the elite of Rome, not God.
Christ’s people must reject wolves of Rome such as Thomas Aquinas.
Church leaders and all believers should take seriously Christ’s goal for maturing His church:
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”[xlviii]
[i] Galatians 3:1. Unless otherwise noted, all Bible verses come from the King James Version, www.biblegateway.com accessed on May 30, 2022.
[ii] Matthew Barrett, “What Is Eternal Generation? (and Interview)”, The Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol. 33, Num. 1, Spring 2022, 185-94 on https://tms.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/TMSJ-Volume-33-Number-1.pdf accessed on May 31, 2022.
For other references in the same journal along with analysis, see James White, “Reformed Thomists?”, Dividing Line Podcast, Alpha and Omega Ministries, March 1, 2022 on https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=3122197281041 accessed on May 31, 2022.
[iii] Matthew Barrett and Michael Allen, “Podcast Throwback: Thomas Aquinas: Friend or Foe?”, Credo, May 24, 2022 on https://credomag.com/2022/05/podcast-throwback-thomas-aquinas-friend-or-foe-michael-allen-and-matthew-barrett/ accessed on May 31, 2022. See also James White, “Reformed Thomists?”, Dividing Line Podcast, Alpha and Omega Ministries, March 1, 2022 on https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=3122197281041 accessed on May 31, 2022.
For a discussion on the fruits of Bartlett’s attraction to Thomist methodology, as reflected in the top 10 recommended books at Bartlett’s seminary bookstore, including Catholic author Matthew Levering’s book on hermeneutic and denying Sola Scriptura, see James White, “6th Canon of Nicea, MBTS’s Triggering Book Display Examined”, Dividing Line Podcast, Alpha and Omega Ministries, May 12, 2022 on https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/the-dividing-line/6th-canon-of-nicea-mbtss-triggering-book-display-examined/ accessed on May 31, 2022.
[iv] Matthew Barrett, “What Is Eternal Generation? (and Interview)”, The Master’s Seminary Journal, Vol. 33, Num. 1, Spring 2022, 191 on https://tms.edu/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/TMSJ-Volume-33-Number-1.pdf accessed on May 31, 2022.
[vi] “R.C. Sproul once said that [Thomas Aquinas] is the greatest theologian the church has ever known.” Idem. See also https://lifecoach4god.life/2012/05/15/r-c-sproul-on-thomas-aquinas-was-he-the-most-brilliant-of-all-the-theologians/ accessed on May 31, 2022.
[vii] https://credomag.com/2021/06/credo-fellow-highlight-james-dolezal/ accessed on May 31, 2022. See also James White, “James Dolezal’s Biblical Evidence for DDS”, Dividing Line Podcast, Alpha and Omega Ministries, January 6, 2022 on https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=16221522527747 accessed on May 31, 2022.
[viii] https://www.craigcarter.ca/about accessed on May 31, 2022. Citations on Carter and “the Great Tradition” are on James White, “Let God Speak: Hermeneutics”, Dividing Line Podcast, Alpha and Omega Ministries, May 24, 2022, https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/the-dividing-line/let-god-speak-hermeneutics/ accessed on May 31, 2022.
[ix] James White, “Let God Speak: Hermeneutics”, Dividing Line Podcast, Alpha and Omega Ministries, May 24, 2022, https://www.aomin.org/aoblog/the-dividing-line/let-god-speak-hermeneutics/ accessed on May 31, 2022.
[x] https://gbtseminary.org/gbtseminary-faculty/jeffrey-johnson/ accessed on May 31, 2022. He is in the process of writing a book refuting the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. See also James White, “Live from GBTS with Jeff Johnson and Owen Strachan”, Dividing Line Podcast, Alpha and Omega Ministries, February 3, 2022 on https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=23222215406158 accessed on May 31, 2022.
[xi] James 3:1. NASB 1995.
[xii] https://bereanbeacon.org/the-influence-of-thomas-aquinas/ at 27 minute mark, accessed on May 29, 2022.
[xiii] The Pontifical Institute is also known as “Angelicum”, due to papal recognition of Thomas Aquinas as the “angelic doctor” of the Roman Catholic Church. Being the “Angelic Doctor of the Church” meant that “the catholic Church, besides naming certain individuals as saints, recognizing their extraordinary practice of virtue, popes over the centuries have singled out specific saints as Doctors of the Church.” See https://angelicum.it/ and https://aleteia.org/2022/01/28/why-is-st-thomas-aquinas-called-the-angelic-doctor/ accessed on May 29, 2022.
[xiv] See https://bereanbeacon.org/richard-bennett-from-tradition-to-truth-a-priests-story/ accessed on May 29, 2022.
[xv] Idem. Author’s emphasis.
[xvi] Technically, Richard studied 2 years at the Angelicum in Rome and 6 years in Ireland. However, the last 4 years were dominated by the teaching and influence of Thomas Aquinas.
[xviii] https://bereanbeacon.org/the-influence-of-thomas-aquinas/ minutes 28-30 accessed on May 29, 2022. Author’s emphasis.
[xix] Ibid., minute 32. Author’s emphasis.
[xx] Ibid., minute 39. Author’s emphasis.
[xxi] Ibid., minutes 44-5. Author’s emphasis.
[xxii] Ibid., minutes 46-8. Author’s emphasis.
[xxiii] Ibid., minutes 49-50. Author’s emphasis.
[xxiv] See https://bereanbeacon.org/alan-jones-reimagining-christianity-the-way-back-to-rome/ accessed on June 5, 2022.
[xxvi] Summa Theologiae, 11-11, 7th article.
[xxvii] https://bereanbeacon.org/the-influence-of-thomas-aquinas/ , minutes 52-55 accessed on May 30, 2022. For more information on Richard’s experience with liberation theology, please read https://bereanbeacon.org/liberation-theology-infused-in-western-thinking/ . Author’s emphasis.
[xxviii] See https://bereanbeacon.org/unholy-vatican-alliance-social-justice-and-the-society-of-jesuits/ .
[xxix] Ibid., minutes 31-34. Author’s emphasis.
[xxx] Aeterni Patris, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the Restoration of Christian Philosophy, 22 on https://www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_04081879_aeterni-patris.html accessed on May 30, 2022. Author’s emphasis.
[xxxi] Romanus Cessano OP, Abstract, “Sixteenth-Century Reception of Aquinas by the Council of Trent and Its Main Authors”, The Oxford Handbook of the Reception of Aquinas (January 2021) on https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198798026.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780198798026-e-11 accessed on May 29, 2022. Author’s emphasis.
[xxxii] Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, Tr. by Roy J Deferrari from Enchiridion Symbolorum, 13th ed. (B. Herder Book Co., 1957), #822, Canon 12. Author’s emphasis.
[xxxiii] Ibid. #851, Canon 8. Author’s emphasis.
[xxxiv] 2 John 1:9.
[xxxv] 2 John 1:10-1.
[xxxvi] Colossians 2:8.
[xxxvii] 1 Timothy 4:16. Author’s emphasis.
[xxxviii] Hebrews 11:33.
[xxxix] Judges 16.
[xl] Judges 8:27.
[xli] A.W. Pink, The Sovereignty of God, Chapter 4 cited in https://epagonizesthai.blogspot.com/2010/10/did-aw-pink-promote-gap-theory.html accessed on May 31, 2022.
[xlii] Barnhouse illustration of gap theory quoted in James Boice, “Series: Genesis – Part 7” on https://lifecoach4god.life/tag/donald-grey-barnhouse-illustration-of-the-gap-theory/ accessed on May 31, 2022.
[xliii] For more information on Biologos and the harmful deception of “theistic evolution”, see https://bereanbeacon.org/who-is-dr-francis-collins-and-should-you-be-concerned/ accessed on June 5, 2022.
[xliv] Tom Riggle, The Unbiblical Mysticism of A.W. Tozer on https://idoc.pub/documents/the-unbiblical-mysticism-of-a-w-tozer-1430ydywwj4j accessed on May 31, 2022.
[xlv] See Hebrews 13:7.
[xlvi] See Matthew 7:15.
[xlvii] See Acts 20:28-31 and 2 Timothy 4:1-5.
[xlviii] Ephesians 4:14-5.