Skip to comments.St. Thomas [Aquinas] and the Keeping of Pets
Posted on 04/19/2012 11:56:14 AM PDT by marshmallow
There is a wonderful story about St. Thomas, teleology and a bunch of birds. It goes like this. A grand duke was visiting St. Thomas in the convent of St. Jacques in Paris and wanted to express his appreciation for St. Thomas and the Dominican Order by offering some sort of gift. The two went for a walk along the Left Bank of the Seine River and came upon a number of birds in cages being sold to passers-by. (I am told you can still buy birds at the spot today!) At this point, Thomas has an idea: will the duke buy him all these birds? The duke is more than happy to purchase the whole lot, and after the transaction is complete he asks what St. Thomas would like to do with his feathered friends. Thomas responds: Open the cages.
Why? Well, St. Thomas wanted to make a point about the birds natures. They have wings, and therefore their perfection is served, not by being cooped up in a cage, but by exercising the natural abilities God gave them.
This is a charming story illustrating Thomas teleological philosophy. A creature finds its perfection in its end. As Aristotle said, nothing in nature is without purpose; the wings of a bird are to be used in flight, not looked at through bars. Unfortunately, for me, and, I imagine, for a number of others, this story is Janus-faced. I appreciate the philosophical point, but it also makes me uncomfortable. Was St. Thomas against pets?
This might seem absurd, but for someone who grew up with over 120 animals in the house, ranging from fish written about in the New York Times to trained lizards, this is a real concern. Was I wrong to have all these animals? Are pet-lovers really animal-haters?
(Excerpt) Read more at dominicanablog.com ...
God has blessed my family with some wonderful pets. The two cats and dog we have now came to our yard, though I suspect the pup had help. They are a part of our family, and we are thankful for them.
C. S. Lewis also talked about this. He cautioned against loving pets too much. After all, he argued, what’s NOT to love? Those we keep are loyal, they need us, they work freely for us, they don’t gossip, betray, or steal. They’re perpetual innocents. Unlike mankind. There’s no virtue, in other words, in loving such utterly lovable beings. (Wish I could remember where it came from—That Hideous Strength?)
If you could give a cat or a dog rationality for 10 minutes, and told him that the deal is that you can be well fed and cared for for all of your days, you will never know true want, if you get sick, and it can be reasonably treated it will, but you will not be free to leave the premises (defined as house or yard depending on pet) and you have to make that special trip to the vet, most cats and dogs would nod, and say, “Okay, it’s a deal.”
Creatures from man on down often have perfections that will never be realized. The NFL player who becomes an opwera singer cannot be fit for both tasks if he puts in the right amount of practice.
Some ends are subordinate to higher ends. I doubt St. Thomas Aquinas would have a problem with carrier pigeons used t send messages, for instance. Certainly a cat who is a mouser on a farm is filling his end, but is also a pet. Even an old hound dog who is nothing more than a companion is doing that which the dog is uniquely suited for.
St. Dominic, the order’s founder’s, life was saved by a mysterious grey dog, and his mother had a vision of St. Dominic as a black and white dog carrying a torch around the world to set the world on fire with love for Our Lord. So, after Franciscans, I would say that Dominicans are next in appreciation for animals.
I like you point and would go further. I believe, in the case my dog, it is a natural partnership willingly entered into on my part, willingly continued on the part of my dog.
Watch the russian silver fox vids on youtube. They bred wild silver foxes in cages until they became tame like dogs. They even got floppy ears, white patches on their coats, and started barking like dogs.
Cages are home to domesticated dogs and humans as well. A cage is only a prison if you don’t want to be there. How many people spend their days confined to a cubicle at work? Or confined to an apartment at night? what is the difference? Do yo think a Cro magnon man would enjoy sitting in a cubicle by day and in an apartment by night? I would suspect a cro magnon man would do the same kinds of destructive things in an apartment that a champion herding border collie would.
No! He was pro-business. He knew the shop keeper (or, more likely, his suppliers) would eventually recapture the birds whereupon they could be resold. The Duke could express his gratitude, Thomas could prove a theological point, and the wheels of commerce could turn. Deo Gratias!