Friday, August 21, 2009

Three Things Necessary for Salvation

"There are three things necessary for the salvation of man: to know what he ought to believe; to know what he ought to desire; and to know what he ought to do."

St. Thomas Aquinas, Two Precepts of Charity (1273)


Derek the Ænglican said...

Someone asked Abba Antony, “What must one do in order to please God?” The old man replied, “Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the Holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

I'm struck by how much less "knowing" is going on here than in the Aquinas formulation...

Bryan Owen said...

Please say more, Derek. I'm not sure I get your point.

Christopher said...

Derek's approach and that of the Elder are monastic rather than scholastic. It's much less about how than what, knowledge than practice. Anglicans have tended to take up the latter as the most important questions in distinction to both Roman Catholics and Continental Reformation traditions.

Bryan Owen said...

I prefer to hold knowledge and practice together. I don't see this as an either/or, but a both/and. And actually, that's how I see Anglicanism, at least at its best.

Derek the Ænglican said...

It just struck me how gnostic the Aquinas quote can seem; each of the three necessities for salvation begin with the word "to know" rather than, say, the words "to do," "to will," or "to be."

I think Aquinas would agree that all of them are needed and thus I prefer Abba Antony's formulation which seems like a less cerebral way of expressing things. It's a good guard because I think protestants tend to make the faith be about thinking and believing (vs. doing/being) and Episcopalians in general tend towards over-intellectualizing (I know I sure do).

Bryan Owen said...

While I agree that Aquinas tends towards the cerebral side of things, I don't think there's anything gnostic going on here. Perhaps this quote would indicate a kind of gnosticism if the things we need to know for salvation were things that only a spiritually elite were privy to.

I'm reminded of another quote from Aquinas which I cited in an earlier posting entitled "Thomas Aquinas: A Radical Theologian":

And this is also clear: not one of the philosophers before the coming of Christ could with all his strivings, know as much about God and the things needed for eternal life, as would an old woman, by faith, after the coming of Christ.

No doubt, many today would accuse Aquinas of sexism in this quote. But I think it demonstrates a willingness to counterbalance his tendencies towards over-intellectualizing, not to mention a rejection of even the appearance of gnosticism.

plsdeacon said...

I remember this story from Joan Chittister's commentary on the Rule of Benedict

A young novice monk asks the Master of Novices: "Master, what must I do to attain God?"

The master replies: "To attain God, you must do two things."

"Two things?" the novice thinks to himself, "I can do two things."

The master continues: "First, you must know that nothing you can do or think or know will ever help you to attain God."

Somewhat broken and afraid, the novice asks: "And the second?"

The master responds: "The second is that you must live as if you don't know the first."

There is nothing we do to earn salvation. So, what do we do in response? We act as if salvation depends on our work.

Phil Snyder