While a philosopher in his own right, Aquinas was first and foremost a Dominican theologian, which may suggest to the secular reader a validity but unsoundness to his arguments, undercutting the normative force of his claims. « Indeed, God is, at once, the first efficient cause; and the final end of man, happiness, is the enjoyment of God » (ST I Q46). This apparent difficulty is particularly disconcerting when we consider what we might garner from Aquinas on the topic of contemplation, which is held to be the best possible mode of living in this life, yet only insofar as it is directed to a greater, more complete good in the next life, and as requiring certain gifts from God. In this presentation, I suggest that, with modest revisions, Aquinas offers keen insight into what this consists for the secular audience through an examination of the three key roles religion plays in contemplation in this life: as a precondition, as its proper end, and as a stabilizing force for the natural virtues.
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