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July 21, 2005

Angels and pinheads

I noticed that Cecil Adams (the Straight Dope writer) treated the question "Did Medieval theologians debate about the number of angels that could dance on a pin?" I was pleased to see that he gives a well-researched and responsible answer, namely that St. Thomas Aquinas worked to deduce some of the properties of angels, such as whether more than one of them can be in the same place at the same time (I know the article in the Summa), and the famous line about the pin (he says) came from Enlightenment wiseacres.

Indeed, when read out of context, some of the questions treated in the Summa seem to the average modern reader pedantic, strange or even outright goofy. But when you look into it, they have some rather practical motivation (just because you're too incurious or lazy to ask follow-up questions or reason things out to their logical conclusions doesn't mean other people aren't). Maybe some were just out of a desire to know everything that could be deduced about something, but the majority are either questions people actually did ask, or ones he thought people might ask given the answer to another one. For instance, people laugh, oh, ha ha, there's an article on whether Christ was a hermaphrodite (no). Yeah, go ahead and laugh, you person-who-has-no-pastoral-concern-for-the-common-sensically-challenged. Today there are quite a few people running around who think it's "unfair" or something to think that our Lord should became incarnate as a male human being, to the point of purposely making Stations of the Cross where the people in the pictures cannot be identified as men or women, or even refusing to refer to the Lord Jesus as "He." Maybe you didn't even know there were such people. But St. Thomas was so thorough (and so charitable) that he took the time, effort, and chance of being laughed at to correct them. Boo-yah.

Posted by Thomas A. on July 21, 2005 at 10:20 PM | Permalink


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Posted by: David L Alexander | Jul 22, 2005 10:21:52 AM

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