“Ask a Priest: Was Aquinas’ Summa Theologica Considered Heresy?”

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Q: I am going through RCIA and am not great at defending the faith yet. I just had an interesting conversation with a Baptist who told me that the Catholic Church routinely condemns people to hell. This did not seem right to me, and I was under the impression that the Church teaches that, although there are people who go to hell, the only one that we can be certain of is Lucifer. If I am wrong, I apologize. He also claimed that the Summa Theologica was considered heresy by the Church for a few hundred years and then finally accepted. As a fan of St. Thomas Aquinas, this also struck me as odd. The Baptist also had a lot to say about the Catholic Church not being the historical Church and the Bible not being accurate. If you have any resources you can direct me to on these issues I would very much appreciate it. – T.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s good to hear that you are in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Don’t feel bad if you aren’t up to speed defending the faith. The art of apologetics, or reasoned defense of the faith, takes time to development.

Let’s turn to the points you raise.

First, the Church doesn’t condemn anyone. God alone is the judge of a soul. And if a soul rejects God through mortal sin and dies in that state, the person faces eternal damnation.

For instance, Jesus says of those who ignored the demand of charity: “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

The Church doesn’t say that any specific person is lost, not even Judas, who betrayed Jesus.

The comment about the Summa Theologica (also called the Summa Theologiae) is unfounded.

The Baptist might be thinking of the Condemnation of 1277 by the bishop of Paris, Stephen Tempier. His condemnation targeted 219 philosophical and theological theses being debated within his jurisdiction. Though St. Thomas Aquinas was not named, the condemnation was evidently aimed at some of his ideas.

Now, opinions in regard to philosophical and theological issues can shift and evolve. The upshot is that Thomas Aquinas’ name was eventually cleared, and he was canonized a saint in 1323.

And if canonization wasn’t enough to restore Thomas’ good name, Pope Leo XIII in his 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris aimed to revive Scholastic philosophy, according to the mind of the Angelic Doctor. This cemented the works of St. Thomas as a key point of guidance for many seminaries and theologians.

As for resources about the Catholic Church as the Church founded by Jesus, you might check out:

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/one-holy-baptist-and-apostolic-church

https://www.catholic.com/tract/apostolic-succession

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-church-of-the-apostles

https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/the-church-christ-founded

As for “the Bible not being accurate,” I’m not sure what your Baptist friend has in mind.

The Bible is a complex anthology of books with various styles of writing that need to be understood in context.

Like any text, the Bible has to be interpreted correctly. We rely on Sacred Tradition, the oral teaching of Christ and the apostles passed down through the ages, to help us here.

A document that touches on Scripture within the context of Divine Revelation is Dei Verbum. Also helpful: https://opusdei.org/en-us/article/what-sort-of-historical-credibility-does-the-bible-have/.

In any case, the Bible is the inspired word of God. What is in it, is there because God wanted it there. I hope some of this helps.

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