Aquinas: All that I have written seems like straw to me

Today, January 28th, is the Feast Day of Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Catholic Church. Albert the Great, patron saint of scientists, called him The Ox. And G.K. Chesterton says of him:

St. Thomas exalted God without lowering Man; he exalted Man without lowering Nature. Therefore, he made a cosmos of common sense; terra viventium; a land of the living. His philosophy, like his theology, is that of common sense.

Close to the end of his life, on the 6th of December 1273, it is said that he had a mystical experience and put down his pen, saying to his assistant who had encouraged him to continue writing, “Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”

While pious tradition has added the words, “… compared to what has been revealed to me” to these last recorded words of a theologian who is still required reading in all Catholic seminaries and any department of philosophy or theology in the world, it is best to take them at face value and ponder his intent.

If his intent was indeed pious (as is most likely), then it simply reflects his philosophy of the transcendent God and his hope of an imminent union with him:


Everlasting life is the full and perfect satisfying of every desire; for there every blessed soul will have to overflowing what he hoped for and desired. The reason is that in this life no one can fulfill all his desires, nor can any created thing fully satisfy the craving of man. God only satisfies and infinitely exceeds man’s desires; and, therefore, perfect satiety is found in God alone. As St. Augustine says: “You have made us for You, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” Because the blessed in the Fatherland will possess God perfectly, it is evident that their desires will be abundantly filled, and their glory will exceed their hopes.”

Basically, he is saying that even though we may see our human desires as vast and great, in fact, they are not great enough, and indeed they are nothing when compared to the infinite God; they would seem as straw. As Saint Paul would say, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)

On the other hand, if his intent was (as some would like to hope) the rejection of his own ideas as so much straw, of little value, then he ended in despair.

What motivates, then, the materialist scholar who spends his whole life debunking the idea of purpose, design, and transcendence? Will their works also end as so much straw? If they are correct, are their life, work and beliefs but brief miniscule flashes of purpose in a cosmos devoid of purpose? A brief local decrease in entropy in a universe destined to a cold entropic death?

Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems are very much related to the Liar’s Paradox (“this statement is false” ). Such a statement ultimately has no meaning, for it cannot be true nor can it be false. It has no value (except as a tool in logic and philosophy).

When the materialist says “the Universe has no purpose”, is he not rather trying to prove that “this statement is false” is true?

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