Doctrine on the Image of God: Comparison of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae to Augustine Earlier Writings

March 11, 2022 by Essay Writer

In patristic thought, the philosophers St. Thomas Aquinas and Augustine agree on the philosophy that God is the exemplar of all created things likeness; that creation is an imitation of God’s image. According to their writings, St Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae and Augustine Earlier Writings other concepts of man’s likeness to the image of God are elaborated showing comparisons between the doctrines but also subtle differences. Saint Aquinas and Augustine are prominent for their major contribution to theology and philosophy. Aquinas was influenced by Aristotle while Augustine was more inclined to the philosophies of Plato, the influences of their inspirations are seen in their philosophies of the soul, knowledge, incorporeal and theoretical thinking on reason and faith. Augustine’s views and philosophies influenced some of Aquinas’ ideals in his beliefs. They both agree that God is the entity of ultimate knowledge and man can know God through reason even though they cannot fully understand Him. Augustine’s philosophy elements found in man such as reason, intellect, existence, memory are also seen in Aquinas’ works. In regards to the image of God both the philosophers hold that human beings have an imperfect likeness to God because perfect likeness can only exist in an identical entity. They hold that the perfect image can only exist in the firstborn of creation as it is the most identical. They concur that human beings have the image of God different from other creations such as animals because we have minds. The analysis centers on their philosophical approaches and conclusions regarding their views of faith and reason and the image of God. The analytical comparison of the philosophers’ perceptions of the image of God is conveyed based on their incorporeal and theoretical thinking in their beliefs illustrating the correlations.

In Summa Theologiae, Aquinas belief in the image of God is that man is in the likeness of God through his mind and intellectual capacity. Aquinas states that “God’s likeness in the manner of an image is to be found in man as regards his mind; but as regards his other parts only in the manner of a trace” (Thomas, 2006). The philosophy states that the mind is what makes us the image of God and all other things such as the body only have traces of likeness. Aquinas focus on the mind as the entity with God’s image is consistent in his writing. Aquinas believed in the imperfect likeness because the image of God cannot be equally matched to a human being. The only entity that had a perfect image of God is the first born son of creation. In his philosophy, man is not only in the image of God simply by understanding and having a mind but also a mind that acts, thinks and loves similarly as God. He states that “…thus the image of God is more perfect in the angels than in man because their intellectual nature is more perfect” (Thomas, 2006). The philosophy is stating that angels are more inclined images of God than a man because of their intellectual capacity. Aquinas states that all creatures have the likeness of God to some extent. Every creation has some likeness, but only human beings possess the image of God fully because we have a mind, unlike an animal. Aquinas incorporated both the dynamics of reason and faith in his philosophies more than other philosophers such as Augustine. The amalgamation of both divine and natural worlds made his beliefs on the image of God distinct from other philosophies.

Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae further evaluates the nature of the mind as the locus of God’s image through observing the three properties of the mind which are intellect, memory, and will, an extension of Augustine’s Trinitarian concept. The three aspects encompass the activities of understanding, remembering and loving to be in the likeness of God fully. The aspects transitioned from simply awareness, mind and love because the philosophy had to include the activities of thinking and remembering to be in the image of God fully. Aquinas concludes that the image of the trinity in man had to be shown in the three properties of the mind, intellect, memory, and will (Thomas, 2006). The incorporation of these aspects gave him the ability to understand what proportion creations have the likeness of God. Aquinas states that “Thus it is clear that only intelligent creatures are properly speaking after God’s image” (Thomas, 2006). He comes to the conclusion that creations have a proportion of God’s likeness, but only beings with intellectual capacity are a direct image of God. Aquinas’ philosophies are supported by the belief that faith and reason are not distinct but should always go together. He believed that knowledge is very crucial when it comes to the act of faith. He affirms that faith is an act that involves rationale to an extent since its purpose is the truth. People cannot grasp God as an entity with faith only, but through reason, we can comprehend his being directly. Aquinas thought that all worlds, both divine and natural, originated from God and hence revelation and reason are not supposed to conflict.

Augustine’s philosophy also asserts that humanity exists in the mind hence it is the locus of the image of God. Augustine states, “Some things are made conformable to that first form such as rational and intelligent creatures, among whom a man is rightly said to be made in the image and likeness of God” (Augustinus, 1953). He states that man is in the image of God because God gave him intellect which makes him superior from the animals. He asserts that the image of God is not seen in the mind merely because it understands or loves itself but because it also understands and loves God its creator (Augustinus, 1953). For him, the mind does not exist without self-love, knowledge, and faith in the being. He identifies the aspects that enable us to imagine God is on knowledge, mind, and love; the trinity possesses mutual relations that make it inseparable. The knowledge of oneself is nonexistent without the mind and self-love, and love of oneself cannot exist without the mind or knowledge. Augustine asserts that the trinity is the reason for the image of God to be seen in human beings.

Augustine asserts that to know God through our mind’s ability to know itself makes us in the image of God. He holds that images of things in our minds is better than the things themselves. The human mind is the locus of knowledge and reason, and God’s image living in our minds holds a connection with him. He continues that we can only be in his image and can never be God because we can never be able to know him as he knows himself (Augustinus, 1953). The mind has a unique connection with itself because of the ability to understand and remember. Augustine insists that only man is in the perfect image of God because he is more connected to God than any other being. He believes that even angels are not more in the image of God than a human being. He states “…every natural being, that is, every spiritual and corporeal existent, is good by nature” (Augustinus, 1953). According to Augustine, in the beginning, God created human nature as good after his own likeness. He believes in the goodness of humanity as it was originally molded in the image of God. Augustine also attributed other aspects of the mind to God’s original image of human beings which are conscience and free will. The ability of man to know good and evil through his conscience is human nature in the image of God. He asserts that the ability of the mind to know itself and know it has will are God’s designs in his likeness.

In assessing Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae comparable elements with Augustine’s patristic thought, the text holds similar rudiments and also subtle differences in their understanding of God as the original image that all were created after. They both believe that God is the exemplar of all created things likeness; that creation is an imitation of God’s image. They have different understandings in some of their philosophies due to their perceptions of reason and faith. Augustine solidified the Trinitarian formula of the image of God which includes intellect, memory, and will whereas Aquinas extends the structural definition in the man’s intellectual capacity and reason. Summa Theologiae further elaborates that the trinity comprises of love, awareness and the mind. They agree that the image of God is in the mind and when we know and love God we are to the utmost perfection of His image. They both consider God to be the ultimate entity of the acts of will and intellect. Despite the comparisons, Aquinas perception on the source of the knowledge originates from senses whilst Augustine relies on the divine illumination and goodness of humanity. Aquinas is more inclined to the direct relation of both reason and faith while Augustine believes in faith first before reason comes into play. Summa Theologiae expounds on intellectual capacity and the seamless amalgamation of both faith and reason hence the most perfect intellectual nature is closest to the image of God. In general, their philosophies have been comprehensively important to the metaphysical development as their understanding and ideas of the image of God have assisted in the advancement of theology and philosophy.

Works CitedAugustinus, A. (1953). Augustine Earlier Writings. (J. H. Burleigh, Ed.) London: Westminister Press. Retrieved June 24, 2017

Thomas, A. S. (2006). Summa Theologiae: Volume 13, Man Made to God’s Image. (E. Hill, Ed.) New York: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved June 24, 2017

Read more