Power Made Perfect in Weakness: Aquinas’s Transformation of the Virtue of Courage
Konyndyk De Young, Rebecca (Calvin College)
Medieval Philosophy and Theology 11 (2003)
In Plato’s Republic, the moral education necessary to live the just life requires a transformation of the learner, a transformation that is both moral and intellectual. The result of the transformation, ideally, is a new understanding of power—one that subverts conventional ideas about power and one that requires nearly a lifetime of moral education to cultivate. When the eye of the soul has been turned toward the Good, Socrates teaches, we see that political power alone is powerless to satisfy our deepest longings; our ambitions for political power are destined for frustration unless they are redirected by philosophical wisdom. Moreover, wisdom teaches that worldly power is just the appearance of power; real power lies in knowledge of truth.
St. Thomas Aquinas takes his readers on a remarkably similar pedagogical journey in the ethical part of the Summa Theologiae ; however, there, the transformation required is even more radical, for the learner’s goal is to attain not only philosophical wisdom, but Christlikeness.