Understanding Society

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PhD Defense Mr. A.M. ten Klooster, MA

Title: Thomas Aquinas on the Beatitudes: Reading Matthew, Disputing Grace and Virtue, Preaching Happiness
Supervisors: Prof. H.J.M. Schoot, Prof. M. Sarot

Summary

What is happiness and how do we attain it? Is happiness a feeling, a state of mind, or does it have to do with finding the right path in life? Some of the most important choices we make depend on how we answer these questions.

In the Christian tradition, the Bible is the most important source to turn to when speaking of human life, its meaning and its challenges. One of the great thinkers of this tradition is saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 1226-1274). The question of happiness is at the heart of his theology. For Aquinas the person best able to answer it is Jesus Christ. In the beatitudes (Mt. 5:1-10) Jesus speaks of people who are “blessed”, or as we also might translate: happy.

Throughout his career Aquinas always returns to the beatitudes as the description of what it means to be happy. He reads them in the Bible and seeks to interpret them, he uses them as a foundational element for his moral theology, and he preaches about them to the academic community of the University of Paris. Such was his task as a master: to explain Scripture by reading it, discussing the questions that arise from it, and to proclaim its message.

In this dissertation Aquinas’ interpretation of the beatitudes is examined in all three genres of reading, discussion and preaching. A recently discovered manuscript was edited for the study of the genre of reading. This text is a report of Aquinas’ class and gives us a first-hand account of how he spoke of the beatitudes in terms of concrete human actions. Even though full happiness eludes us in this life, we can have some share in it. In his discussion also draws from the work of Aristotle, in which happiness is related to the exercise of virtues. Aquinas clarifies how this requires an orientation toward God. And the grace of God helps the human person to turn toward Him. The saints in heaven, Aquinas preaches, are the ones who have attained full happiness in heaven. Our life is a journey to share in what they already have.

This study demonstrates the centrality of the beatitudes for Aquinas’ ideas about happiness, highlighting his integration of Biblical interpretation, theological speculation and the proclamation of faith. It thus contributes to our knowledge of one of the greatest thinkers in the history of Christianity. He is a person of faith who considers the way toward happiness in light of God’s providential care. Even though it may elude us in this life, in light of the Bible it is no longer merely a puzzling notion. From the lips of Jesus, happiness is a promise.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Fr. Anton ten Klooster (1983) studied theology in Utrecht and Fribourg (Switzerland). He is a priest of the archdiocese of Utrecht. After six years of parish ministry he began working on his dissertation at the Thomas Instituut Utrecht of Tilburg University. He prepared part of this work during a semester as visiting scholar at the Catholic University of America in Washington D.C.


Location: Cobbenhagen building, Auditorium (access via Koopmans building)


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When: 06 June 2018 16:00

Where: Route description Tilburg University campus