Thomas Aquinas Says We Are Children of Wrath. Is He Right?

In the fourth book of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles, chapter 52, there is quite a dark vision of the world on display. At one point, for example, Aquinas, echoing the apostle Paul, speaks of all humanity as “children of wrath.” God, in other words, is mad at us and is actively allowing our ongoing punishment for original sin (the sin of Adam and Eve).

According to Thomas, there was a time when God supernaturally and actively protected Adam and Eve from corruption, suffering, and death. It was a grace, a gift that God gave his two new creatures. God didn’t have to do it, but he actively, in each moment, did it.

Then they sinned.

From that point forward, God withdrew this grace from even their descendants, placing the whole species “under wrath.” It’s a bleak view of God. It’s a bleak view of humanity.

And in this same chapter, Aquinas asks whether Jesus got infected (as we have) with Adam and Eve’s corruption. He argues not (the Virgin birth, and all).

Thomas also makes reference to intercourse, and discusses whether it is protected from being a sinful act. He says it is, but only if a person has taken certain personal graces from Christ and the Church.

But what if Thomas has started his reasoning about what’s essential about humanity in the wrong place? What if Thomas’s essentialism is FAKE ESSENTIALISM as opposed to REAL ESSENTIALISM (what we really are, and what things really are)?

So much depends on how you start the engine of your syllogisms to running.

If death has always been in the cosmos (long before Adam and Eve hit the scene), and there was in fact no Adam and Eve who lived in Mesopotamia 6,000 years ago (as science clearly tells us), then what’s really essential about us? Really, really essential?

Maybe it’s something quite different from what Aquinas ever imagined. Maybe God’s not mad at us. Maybe God’s not there at all.

Which is worse, to imagine oneself a child of wrath with an escape hatch in salvation through Christ and the Church (however delusional this belief is), or to imagine oneself as a vulnerable primate in a vast and ancient cosmos without design or God?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Thomas Aquinas Says We Are Children of Wrath. Is He Right?

  1. Atheists make such a hash out of the Bible, it’s hard to image what they would do with Saint Thomas Aquinas.

  2. Aquinas did not echo Saint Paul, he quoted him.

    From Book 4: Salvation, Chapter 52, Paragraph 10:

    “Accordingly, the Apostle says: ‘We were by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3).”

    Aquinas, using the rules of systematic thinking (unlike atheists) never uses himself as the authority for his own arguments.

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