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Philosophy has in most cases contradicted theological works particularly the church doctrine and the scriptures. From the thirteenth century, there emerged a large number of philosophers whose writings and ideology constantly clashed with the church doctrine.
These philosophers most of the time raised strong arguments to support their claims about God, religion, the Bible and the broader theological spectrum, and their works have been immensely influential throughout history. In this paper we will look at some of the philosophers whose works have either contradicted or supported the church doctrines.
Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274)
Aquinas in his ideology and writing was greatly influenced by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. He believed the church doctrine was a science which was founded on scripture; reason together with natural studies was the only way one could understand God. One of the most authoritative works by Aquinas is Summa Theologica, in which he gives his ideas on God, Jesus and ethics. On God, he puts forward the argument that God has no body, shape or soul, and is one within himself (Doniger 20).
He goes on to say that love is what truly links the perfect and rational nature of God to the world. He concludes that God exists in his essence and mankind does not know God because we do not know his essence. On ethics, he argues that sin is original and is neither perpetuated by God nor the devil, rather sin is driven by the will of man (Christian 29). Aquinas believes that Jesus was of rational thought bearing a body and soul, yet still divine.
This made Jesus unique because he simultaneously had a human and divine nature in one body. The life and suffering of Jesus according to Aquinas had two significant implications. First was to provide a form of example to human beings on the right way to live and the second is that the death of Jesus was to provide satisfaction to mankind who had been condemned to death because of their sinful nature.
Aquinas therefore uses the scripture to support some of his ideas like the ideas of the incarnation of Jesus (Goring 39). He however deviates from scripture when arguing about God, asserting the views that God is simple and without a soul. This can be easily interpreted to mean that he refutes the scriptural claims that God is a living spirit.
Niccolò Machiavelli (1469—1527)
Machiavelli was a political philosopher who sharply contradicted the church doctrine in terms of powers wielded by rulers. The church believed that an acceptable ruler was one who had high moral values and carried himself in a virtuous manner.
In The Prince, Machiavelli argues that as long as one has authority, they have power to command regardless of their moral values (Christian 16). He goes on to argue that being good does not mean that one will have power in any way hence goodness does not pave way for authority.
Power then is a political activity whose proper application will assert a ruler’s authority over a state. Machiavelli also observes that enforcement of law only needs force, so it is better to strengthen force and govern with fear rather than affection which is easily broken. Therefore fear is imperative if a ruler is to maintain power and create order in a state, since subjects will lose their life or property if they break the law (Goring 12).
In The Discourses, Machiavelli portrays his republican ideology and mainly focuses on the French form of governance. He argues that dedication to the law by the king and the kingdom at large is by far the greatest quality the French kingdom can acquire (Doniger 22). He supports the institutionalization of government and independent parliaments.
The function of parliament then is to apply the law on the king and nobles who may use the power they wield to oppress their subjects, hence providing a form of balance to the monarchy. He also argues that subjects should not be armed lest they turn on the nobles and the crown, but such a state is rendered weak in defense from external aggression (Christian 33).
Machiavelli in both writings argued that the scriptures were not necessarily the guide to a cohesive state; rather a strong leadership and good governance were primarily responsible for establishing a proficient and effective state. According to him, morality had no basis in creating a harmonious state and the introduction of law and a constitution was the only viable option by which a state could be effectively governed and secured.
Galileo Galilei (1564—1642)
Galileo Galilei was a scientist and philosopher, and his writing; Letter to the Grand Duchess, was one of his controversial works that constantly put him at loggerheads with the church. The ‘Letter to The Grand Duchess Christina’, written in early 1615 but was finalized and renamed in late 1615.
It was inspired when Galileo was introduced to the Copernicanism discussions by his former student Benedetto Castelli. Benedetto had a heated debate with a philosophy professor Cosimo Boscaglia and both had a different opinion on the motion of the earth and the position of the sun (Doniger 17).
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During that period, he had managed to make a number of discoveries that shed more light on the physical operation of the motion of the earth round the sun. His argument in the letter was that the Bible was written long before and was meant for the understanding and interpretation of the people of that time as a guide towards religious acknowledgement.
With the new discoveries in science Galileo argued, “The truth was finally being revealed but was contradicting to that of the Bible” (Christian 65). He therefore suggested that the Bible be revised in a way that the scientific truth was incorporated into it. This put Galileo in conflict with the church and he was eventually accused of heresy (Goring 42).
Philosophers in most cases always contradicted the church doctrine in their works. These contradictions could either have been intentional or not. Considering the Bible and the church doctrine were established prior to the thirteenth century, it is possible that some philosophers used the scripture as a starting point to base a formidable opposing argument. Philosophers like Thomas Aquinas were however deeply religious in their ideology and only deviated slightly from scripture.
Niccolò Machiavelli mainly contradicted with scripture in terms of governance and moral acceptability whereas Galileo Galilei totally disagreed with scripture and offered to have the whole Bible reviewed on grounds of new scientific discoveries. They all have strong arguments to support their ideas and managed to increasingly convince a great number of people.
Christian, Peter. D. Philosophers and religious leaders. New York: Greenwood publishing group, 1999.
Doniger, Wendy. R. Merriam-Webster’s encyclopedia of world religions. London: Webster publishers, 1999.
Goring, Rosemary. P. Dictionary of Beliefs and Religions. New York: Macmillan publishers, 1995.