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Keywords:

  • Aquinas;
  • embodiment;
  • ethics;
  • angels;
  • beatific vision;
  • human nature

Abstract

This article explores the role of the body in Thomas Aquinas’ ethical thought, focusing on the Summa Theologiae. Drawing on Thomas’ account of human nature, teleology and ethics, it traces Thomas’ account of human embodiment through his discussion of the relationship between human and angelic nature, the beatific vision, law and virtue, and the active and contemplative lives. Against several recent accounts which have presented versions of Thomas as a thinker who is generally positive in his assessment of the human body, it argues that there is a basic tension in Thomas’ thought between the desire to locate human distinctiveness in the conjunction of body and soul and the sense that after a certain point, embodiment is precisely that which obstructs progress towards God. This tension is inextricably connected to Thomas’ understanding of human calling and discipleship and poses serious challenges to any attempts to draw on Thomas’ work as an ethical resource.