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BASTA 2015

At the Bay Area St Thomas Aquinas Association (BASTA) 2015 dinner, Dr. Michael Torre (University of San Francisco) delivered a compelling lecture that delved into the philosophical depths of beatitude, or ultimate happiness, and how it is understood and sought by humans. Drawing from the works of Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, and other medieval philosophers, Dr. Torre constructed an argument that revolved around the natural human desire for beatitude and the understanding of what it truly consists of.


Dr. Torre began by discussing the concept of beatitude, stating that "“mature” men (i.e. true philosophers) realize it lies in a spiritual good. Thus, as he later argues, while all men naturally incline to or have an appetite for beatitude insofar as all seek their perfection or their perfect good, not all men recognize in what that consists." This statement underscored the idea that true beatitude lies in a spiritual good, and that merit comes from discerning what beatitude truly is and directing oneself towards it.


Moving forward, Dr. Torre introduced the concept of the Beatific Vision, which is the ultimate direct self-communication of God to the individual. He argued that even philosophers “maintained that man’s ultimate happiness is to understand immaterial substances.” He cited the medieval philosophers Alfarabi, Avempace, Avicenna, and Averroes to support this point.


Dr. Torre then turned to the philosophical views of Aristotle and how they contrast with those of Thomas Aquinas. He criticized Aristotle for giving an inadequate philosophical account of our happiness and argued that Aquinas provides a more comprehensive understanding of our end and final happiness. He stated, "His first treatment of this matter is in the Sentences. He begins be declaring that beatitude “since it is naturally desired by all men, designates the ultimate end of human life.” Since this end will be “arrived at through its proper activity,” and since philosophers know that this consists in an activity of the soul, “even according to philosophers it is necessary to locate beatitude in the goods of the soul [not the body].”


He concluded his lecture by discussing the views of Neo-Platonists, who believe in an absolute happiness that awaits the just beyond the grave, in union with God. He noted, "There is One God, the source of all being and all good. The human soul comes from God and seeks to ascend back to Him, and Plotinus even speaks of those moments of mystical rapture in which this union is achieved, even if momentarily."


In response to Dr. Torre's lecture, Fr. Bryan Kromholtz (Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology) offered a critique, focusing on areas that, in his view, deserved clarification. He agreed with Dr. Torre's central point that the vision of God is the proper final end of man and that in which his perfection is found, belongs to man’s nature as an intellectual creature. However, he suggested that this end is natural, knowledge of it as end is accessible to reason alone, as at least the Platonist and Neoplatonist pagan heritage testifies. He also raised questions about the structure of the Summa Theologiae, suggesting that Thomas’s belief that the visio Dei is the end of man is accessible to reason could explain why he structured the Summa Theologiae the way he did.


In essence, Dr. Torre's lecture at "BASTA 2015" was an inquiry into the philosophical underpinnings of beatitude, drawing heavily from the works of Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, and the Neo-Platonists. The response by Fr. Bryan Kromholtz added a layer of critique and further inquiry, suggesting that the structure of the Summa Theologiae could be understood in light of the belief that the visio Dei is the end of man and is accessible to reason.

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