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Aquinas defends non-dualism, defines spirit as “the vitality in everything”

From Matthew Fox 18 March 2024. His highly recommended daily meditations are at Also encourages us to look back at Rosemary Radford Ruether!Ed.

In my major study on Aquinas, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, I devote several pages in the Introduction both to Aquinas’s “clay feet” where he cites the mistaken biology about women by Aristotle, and to his being a precursor of the feminist movement. I call him a “proto-feminist.” Why do I do that?

The late Catholic feminist theologian Dr. Rosemary Ruether has written how the foundation of Patriarchy is dualism: the dualism of matter vs. spirit, soul vs. body, and all that follows from that, culminating in male dominating female. Much of that dualism is traceable to Plato and the Neo-Platonists including, in the Christian tradition, St. Augustine who was a Neo-Platonist. He said such things as “the soul makes war with the body,” and “spirit is whatever is not matter.”

Aquinas spent his entire adult life putting distance between himself and such dualism, insisting that “we ought to cherish the body” and “celebrate the wonderful communion of body and soul.” That is why he was so eager to bring Aristotle into the corpus of Christian theology, in preference to Plato. And he paid a great price for doing so. Upon his death, he was condemned three times by bishops of Paris (where he taught for many years) and of Oxford—for teaching about the “consubstantiality of body and soul,” that is to say, non-dualism.

Aquinas rejected Augustine’s understanding of spirit as “whatever is not matter,” and instead Aquinas defined spirit as “the vitality in everything.” Thus a blade of grass contains spirit and a tree, a fish and all creation. (Moving beyond dualism: Eden Amadora describes what it’s like to embody the Divine Feminine in the modern world. Video by Eden Amadora. )

By committing himself to non-dualism, Aquinas pulls the rug out from under the foundation of Patriarchy itself (as Ruether has defined it). Therefore, he is a champion of all those women and men who want to move beyond dualism and take a stand with the spirituality of matter.

This movement has exploded in our time with the help of science. By proving that matter and light are one and the same, science has undone dualism once and for all, if we listen.

See Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 36-48, 149-156.

And Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom For Hard Times, pp. 57-64.

And Rosemary Ruether, “Patristic Spirituality and the Experience of Women in the Early Church,” in Fox, ed., Western Spirituality: Historical Roots, Ecumenical Routes, pp. 140-163.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video meditation, click HERE.

Banner Image: An art installation at the Middelheimmuseum in the Netherlands, depicting the unity of Heaven and Earth. Art by Adrien Tirtiaux, photo by Funkyxian. Wikimedia Commons. 

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