Thomas Aquinas (1225 - 1274)
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Aquinas was a cleric whose philosophy in the Christian Church released people from scruples about what humans might do to animals.
Thomas Aquinas was born in the Kingdom of Naples, became a philosopher, theologian and Dominican monk and studied and taught in the schools across medieval Europe. His synthesis of Greek philosophy and Catholic faith became the official doctrine of Roman Catholicism and, through the Church, on people's attitudes about harming animals. Aquinas' philosophy is called Thomism and its importance for animal rights is that it released people from misgiving and guilt about what they might do to animals.
Thomas Aquinas assuaged people's guilt about how they treat animals. Stained glass window, Cathedral of Saint-Rombouts, Mechelen, Belgium. Photo: e3000.
Aquinas convinced the Church Fathers that reason and faith are compatible, and set about absorbing the rational ideas of Aristotle and ancient Greek philosophy into the faith of the Catholic Church. Aquinas expounded his doctrines, including his opinions regarding animals, in Summa Theologica
(Summary of Theology
), his most widely read work.
Aquinas freed people from any troubled thoughts when they harm animals.
In it he writes that God made animals and plants for man; animals cannot reason, so people can use them as they wish; and killing animals is a violation only if they are someone's property. Aquinas quotes Genesis 9:3: "Everything that moves and lives shall be meat to you."
Thus, to quote Aquinas from the Summa Theologica:
"According to the Divine ordinance the life of animals and plants is preserved not for themselves but for man. Hence, as Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 20), 'by a most just ordinance of the Creator, both their life and their death are subject to our use.'
"Dumb animals and plants are devoid of the life of reason whereby to set themselves in motion; they are moved, as it were by another, by a kind of natural impulse, a sign of which is that they are naturally enslaved and accommodated to the uses of others.
"He that kills another's ox, sins, not through killing the ox, but through injuring another man in his property."
See Descartes in this section for more about negatively shaping people's attitude to animals. You can download Summa Theologica
free, from the Web.
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