Philosophy and Theology
I ended the first lecture with the remark that Thomas's great achievement was that he had established this relationship between reason and faith which had to be reestablished because of the loss of the hegemony of the liberal arts tradition with the arrival of Aristotle. Not to mention there was something anomalous about the master of theology occupying himself with the writings of Aristotle, which Thomas did over a five year period towards the end of his life when he commented on eleven or twelve, depending how we count, works of Aristotle. And I said this is moonlighting. What was he doing in his day job, so to say, during this period? What did the theologian do?
The training in theology in the Medieval universities was a two-track system. On the one hand it was a training in Scripture, in the the books of the Old and the New Testaments, so that what the fledgling theologian listened to was a master explaining the book of the Old Testament, the book of the New Testament, and so forth, and progressing through the books of the Bible in that way. Of course the master would be availing himself of the things that the Fathers of the Church, Saint Augustine, for example, had had to say about this book or this teaching, and the lights of this accumulation of past interpretation as well as the first reading of the book of the Old or of the New Testaments.
That was one track. The other track was the lecturing on and interpretation of a work called the Sentences, which was a compilation of Christian doctrine that had been put together by a man named Peter Lombard, who ended up as Bishop of Paris -- a twelfth century figure. This is four chubby volumes, and it was influenced enormously by Saint Augustine.Lombard divides his works into four books, and the books are divided into "distinctions" in which, for example, the Incarnation or the Trinity or problems associated with the Trinity would be dealt with, and the fund of interpretation and learning over the Christian tradition would be brought to bear on this.
This work was considered to be such a useful compilation that it became a textbook -- in effect in the second track of theological education at the University of Paris. Eventually, in order to establish himself as a master, as part of the apprenticeship that went on over some dozen years, the fledgling theologian would have to comment on and then produce a written commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. So we find in and after the thirteenth century,among the works of any great medieval theologian is a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. And so too do we in the case of Thomas Aquinas. This is the sort of thing that Thomas would have been lecturing on in Paris when he came back in 1269.
He also would have been engaged in dispute. It was a feature of a medieval university that a master would post a thesis that he proposed to defend some days before he intended to do that, and this enabled people to think up all kinds of difficulties for maintaining the position that the master wanted to maintain. And then on the great day there would be a coming together in the aula of the masters and students in theology, and the difficulties would be thrown at the master who was proposing to defend a thesis. The first response to it would be given by one of his assistants. Again, this is part of the apprenticeship fledgling theologians went through. But then there would be the magisterial reply to the difficulties that had been raised. Within a few days after that event the master had to submit to the university stationer a written form of that disputation so that those who could afford it, the vellum and the copying fees, could get a copy of it. That was what publication amounted to.
Besides disputing and lecturing, there was a third task of the master of theology, usually given in terms of three Latin infinitives, Disputare, Legere, and Praedicare, preach. So that the theologian, the master of theology, the regent master, the teaching one, would also be preaching at liturgical events in the university. Thomas was a busy man. Any master of theology was. And we have a lot of Disputed Questions by Thomas. We know he engaged in this a lot. We have other commentaries he posed on Scripture, and so forth, that date from the second period in Paris. And as I mentioned he was writing the Summa Theologiae, which wasn't something that was a product of his formal teaching -- and then as well writing these commentaries on works of Aristotle. A busy man, a very busy man, and one who clearly saw the necessity of putting together, of understanding, of fighting through the difficulties that were posed by the arrival of Aristotle and figuring out what is the relationship between these claims of reason on the one hand and of revelation on the other.
Today I want to sketch for you Thomas's views on the relationship between faith and reason or philosophy on the one hand and theology on the other. Now if you were to look at the very first question of the first part of the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, and the first article of that first question, you would find Thomas asking this: What need is there for any discipline beyond the philosophical discipline? Why do we need any discipline beyond what Aristotle, for example, had developed -- the Ethics, the Metaphysics, the Physics, and the Politics, and so forth. Doesn't that sum up learning? And if we say, Well what about God? he would say, In the Metaphysics of Aristotle the question of God is treated: God is seen as the first cause of everything else; therefore there is nothing missing. Why do we need something else?
I mention that now because it tells us something very important about Thomas's understanding of what theology is. He says in his prologue to the Summa that he is going to try to put as much order as he can into this presentation of Christian doctrine. Perhaps it's an implicit criticism of the ordering, or the lack of it sometimes, in the Sentences of Peter Lombard. When you compare it with the Summa it can sometimes seem to be almost random in the order of the topics as they are taken up. Thomas says, "I'm writing this book for beginners, and I'm going to give them milk first before they go on a meat diet." So these neophytes in theology are going to be given a formula, a milk formula, in order to get them into theology. But that first article, the first question of the first part of the Summa, tells us that these may be neophytes in theology, but it's clearly presupposed that they already know philosophy. What would the question mean to them if they didn't know what those philosophical disciplines are?
The first point that I would like to make about the relationship between philosophy and theology for Thomas Aquinas is that theology presupposes philosophy. That, of course, is not to say that religious faith presupposes philosophy. Theology, as we see, presupposes the faith and builds on it and certainly doesn't produce it -- nor does philosophy. We'll come back to that. What is the relationship between faith and theology? Because otherwise you can look at it as if faith depends on philosophy, and of course Thomas says nothing as nonsensical as that. So that's the first and simple thought. Theology presupposes philosophy. Neophytes or beginners in theology are considered to be adept in philosophy, and when we think of the structure of the university that's exactly what we would expect. In order to get into the Faculty of Theology one would of had to pass through the Faculty of Arts. He would have to be a Master of Arts. As the thirteenth century developed and the liberal arts were seen not to be sufficient, that meant mastery of the great deductions of philosophy as they were taught by Aristotle.
The question then is this. Thomas holds, in answering one of the objections in that first article of question one of the first part, that there is a theology that we learn from the philosophers, that is their teachings about God. Aristotle tries, and succeeds in the eyes of many of us, to prove the existence of God. So there is a theology -- and as a matter of fact, what Thomas would have learned from reading Aristotle is this, that what philosophy means etymologically is the love of wisdom, a quest for wisdom. It involves a variety of disciplines, as that first article that I've been referring to mentions: what need is there for any discipline beyond the philosophical disciplines (in the plural). But they are ordered to a culminating discipline which is called wisdom or metaphysics, or in terms of its chief concern it is called theologia, theology. One of the questions that Thomas is going to put to himself, and was presented to him by this feature of Aristotle's work, is: what is the relationship between the theology of the philosopher and the theology that is based on Sacred Scripture?
So when I begin by saying I want to talk about the relationship between theology and philosophy as we find it in Thomas Aquinas, there is another sense in which we can say we are concerned about the relationship between the theology based on Scripture and the theology of the philosopher. And where would that theology of the philosopher be found? It would be found in the culminating inquiry of philosophy, the ultimate discipline, that towards which all of the other disciplines move, as we will be seeing when we look at the opening of the Metaphysics of Aristotle as Thomas understood it.
What we see in Thomas when he recognizes the importance of understanding philosophy etymologically as the quest for wisdom is that there is going to be what Jacques Maritain called in his masterpiece Degrees of Wisdom. And the first wisdom will be that which is sought by, and according to Thomas achieved by, such philosophers as Aristotle. Aristotle's Metaphysics begins, as you may know, with the ringing generality that all men by nature desire to know. And this might seem to be one of those excessive remarks that philosophers make when they are not thinking of ordinary human affairs. We might think we know a person or two who doesn't exhibit this supposedly universal desire for knowledge. But what Aristotle does in the text is to illustrate the claim that all men by nature desire to know everything. A sign of this is the pleasure that we take in our senses, particularly in the sense of sight. He says even when we're not looking in order to do something, when we are just looking, we take delight in this. So the initial claim becomes much less surprising, because everybody is curious, everybody wants to see and hear and find out about things. It no longer sounds so preposterous a claim.
It might sound as if everybody wants to sign up for philosophy courses when we hear all men by nature desire to know.Unpacking that sentence will lead on to an understanding of what the philosophical thrust is. But it will be tied to something that is considered to be a feature of human life as such and not a peculiarity of a certain kind of sophisticated person who devotes himself to arcane subjects and so forth. What Aristotle does is to move through the external senses, the imagination and memory, and then talk about the arts and finally get around to mathematics. And he notes that an experienced person can show us how to do something but may not know why what he's doing has the results that it does. He just knows that it does. Whereas what Aristotle means by techne or art is someone who can tell us why a certain process has the effect that it does. And Aristotle suggests we think the one who knows the why is wiser than one who merely knows the fact that.
So there emerges this notion of understanding why, the cause of the thing. This is the mark of knowledge. And the analysis in this opening of the Metaphysics moves to the view that to understand everything in terms of the ultimate causes is the drive that is implicit in that opening claim of the Metaphysics that all men by nature desire to know. This desire, this thirst, is only going to be fulfilled completely when we know the primary cause of everything that is -- in short when we have a knowledge which is divine. It is divine in the sense that its principle concern is with God as the ultimate cause of all things. And it is divine in the sense that if there's any knowledge that God has it must be like this.The movement of the quest for knowledge through the various arts and sciences culminates in this wisdom whose principle concern is knowledge of the divine. So wisdom and theology in Aristotle come together. This is what philosophy is trying to do.
Then the question becomes what is the relationship between that kind of theology and the theology based on Scripture? You see, the problem has changed considerably from that of the liberal arts tradition where the relationship between secular learning was merely a matter of how we put together grammar rhetoric and logic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy. How do we put those together on the one hand, and on the other how do we put together two seemingly rival theologies. The theology of the philosopher on the one hand and the theology based on Sacred Scripture, which had been developed by such figures as Augustine and Peter Lombard, bringing together the writings of the Fathers but chiefly of Saint Augustine. What's the relationship between that on the one hand and the theology of the philosophers? That's what had to be determined. Was this in conflict with or complementary to what believers believe? And Thomas's view, as I said in our first lecture, is that there is a complementarity between the two.
But of course you couldn't just say that, you had to show it. And the writings of Thomas are a sustained effort to establish and to sustain that view that there is this compatibility. But we have a wisdom, a philosophical wisdom which culminates in theology, in knowledge of the first cause of whatever is. I mentioned the Jacques Maritain's masterpiece,The Degrees of Wisdom. You have this philosophical wisdom and then you have the wisdom of theology and then beyond that you have the wisdom that is the gift of the Holy Spirit. This would be the living of the Christian life in all of its fullness. And the mark of Thomas's thought is not that these things are just piecemeal and you can relate to them in some way, but that they come together in a great synthesis that is usually what people are referring to when they talk about Thomism -- not just what he had to say in philosophy, not just what he had to say in theology, but this notion that all of this is moving towards a deeper and deeper living of the Christian life, and in the gifts of the Holy Spirit wisdom would emerge. This is what the mystic, this is what the contemplative person is guided by, this gift of the Holy Spirit.
So you have these degrees of wisdom, and by calling them degrees as Maritain did you are suggesting a continuity and not just "you could do this, you could do that, you could do the other thing." What we have here then is a kind of unifying but the unifying of things which do have their autonomy. And philosophy for Thomas is something that has autonomy. Now how would he characterize the wisdom of the philosopher? I mentioned that in that opening article of the Summa he's asking about the philosophical disciplines in the plural and wondering why you would need anything beyond them. The sense of the question is, we have a theology in philosophy: what are we doing in the Summa Theologiae, why are we duplicating effort, as it might seem. But Thomas is suggesting that things have been accomplished in philosophy in order to get to this culminating and defining wisdom with theology. And what are they? Well Thomas on several occasions, in reflecting on what he has learned from Aristotle, suggests that there is an appropriate way in which we should learn the various philosophical disciplines. This is a matter of learning not of discovery. He is not saying this is the way the human mind hit on these things first of all, but that in the teaching and learning process where you have the master who is leading someone from not knowing to knowing and is speeding up the process that could conceivably have been achieved by way of discovery, he is moving us along and taking us through stages that will lead us more surely to the goal that we want to go to. All that is great fanfare for saying the order of learning the philosophical sciences that Thomas proposes is this. First of all we should learn logic. Then we should learn mathematics. Then we should learn natural science. Then we should learn ethics and then finally the wisdom that is the culminating and defining activity of the philosopher. And this is something which is dependent for our being able to do it on our learning these other disciplines first. That's the point of the order.
So the theology that the philosopher manages to come up with, he comes up with not when he is a boy. He might do well in mathematics when he is young, but wisdom of this kind could only come with age. Not necessarily: you can get old without getting wise, but you can't get wise without getting older. So it takes a lot of time, and this underscores the quest, the way in which philosophy is seen as a way of life, and the goal is this wisdom which is such knowledge of the divine as the human mind can achieve on its own. We have in Thomas not simply the recognition that there's something called philosophy, but I'm a theologian. He's saying: what I do as a theologian is dependent on those philosophical disciplines, and those philosophical disciplines are ordered in a particular way, and if you don't learn them in that order, if you don't know these sciences, you are not going to be able to handle the culminating science.The text of Aristotle in which that goes on is called the Metaphysics, coming after the Physics as the very title of the work suggests, after the books of the Physics.
So philosophy is not just a name for some single activity for Thomas. We could say, looking at it from the university point of view, it is the sum total of those disciplines that should be learned in the Faculty of Arts. There is an order in which those disciplines ought to be learned, and only if they are learned in that order will one have achieved the goal of philosophizing. As I said it's an astounding and not always emphasized fact that when he begins theology and is addressing himself as he says to beginners, Thomas is nonetheless assuming that they are not beginners in philosophy, but they know what the philosophical disciplines are, and ideally of course would have achieved the goal of philosophy.
I mentioned the task of Thomas as a theologian and in passing at least the sum total of his writing. I have here volume fifty in the Leonine edition of writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas, the complete works. It is not yet complete. It has been going on since Leo XIII in the nineteenth century, but it is nearing completion now. This particular volume contains commentary on Boethius, the man I mentioned who had done translating from the Greek to the Latin of some works of Aristotle.
Boethius also was a theologian and produced a number of theological tractates, and these attracted a great deal of attention in the Middle Ages. Thomas commented on two theological tractates of Boethius when he was in his first professorial stint at the University of Paris. I mentioned that he commented on eleven of the works of Aristotle, yet he did a tabula of the Ethics which we can count as the twelfth contribution to our understanding of Aristotle. In theDisputed Questions that I've mentioned these are gathered together. I mentioned that the master had to present a written copy of that dispute, go to the university stationer for possible copying, so there are disputed questions. There are also things called Quodlibetal Questions, much more of a free-for-all as the adjective suggests. There are commentaries on book of Scripture. We have a Summa Contra Gentiles from Thomas Aquinas which is the only one of the three summaries of theology that he began that he actually finished. This was begun during his first professorship at Paris and finished during that Italian interlude that I referred to in the first lecture.
So we could get some sense of the scope of Thomas. The Summa Theologiae of course was another effort on Thomas's part to put order into the discipline of theology, and this is not completed. And he also did a Compendium Theologiae which is incomplete, which was to turn on the three theological virtues, faith, hope and charity. He was a very productive scholar. I have actually held in my hands manuscripts of Thomas. In the Ambrosiana Library in Milan they have portions of the third book of Summa Contra Gentiles on vellum that Thomas himself wrote. And once when I was there this was actually put in my hand, and I had the sense of physical contact between me and this thirteenth-century author. It's very difficult to read Thomas's handwriting, and only during the early part of his career does he write himself. His handwriting came to be known as the unreadable hand. I think he was left handed. But in any case he wrote in a kind of Latin shorthand, and it just looks like chicken scratches when you see it. He is writing obviously with great rapidity.
Finally they assigned people to undertake dictation. We rely on one of them, Reginald of Cuperno, for much of our information about Thomas, the man. And then we find much more legible texts of Thomas. Sometimes we find a text which was written by one of the people to whom he is dictating and then there will be a section written in Thomas's own very distinctive hand. Often you will find this in the margin but sometimes in the column there will be this unreadable hand of Thomas. Perhaps the secretary, another Dominican, excused himself for whatever purpose for a time and Thomas didn't want to waste the time of his absence, just picked up the pen and went on by himself. There is a wonderful book on this by a man named Tom Dean called The Secretaries of Saint Thomas in which he goes into this at great length and produces many photographic pages of text to give us some sense of Thomas's mode of operating after the first stint in Paris, where he had someone to dictate to and sometimes several. There are stories about Thomas being able to comment on different works at the same time moving from one secretary to the other. I think people are trying to figure out how someone could have been as productive as he was. Many Medieval masters were extremely productive. If you looked at the collected works of Saint Albert the Great, for example, you would be equally impressed or at least similarly impressed. Saint Bonaventure the same thing. Thomas's scope and quality is certainly noticeable, but beyond that is the central achievement of his intellectual life, and that is to argue for the complementarity of philosophy and the faith, not just generally but in detail in terms of texts that were problematic.
What for Thomas would be the difference between philosophy and theology? We said some things about it. But is there some way we can characterize the difference that would enable us to distinguish between philosophical discourse on the one hand and theological discourse that is based on Scripture on the other? Of course that is one of the elements of the answer.
In a philosophical argument, in philosophical discourse, one man is addressing other men in terms of what anybody can know. And if somebody is trying to persuade us of something philosophically, what he has to do is to hook it onto what we already know and show that what we already know and these considerations and those considerations force us to accept something that we hadn't hitherto thought or known, at least explicitly. Philosophical discourse appeals to those principals and starting points which are in the public domain, which can be considered to be the natural patrimony of any human being as a human being. So a philosophical argument that would purport to be based on some vision that I had last night wouldn't be a philosophical argument. How do I know or how do you know whether I had a vision like that? If I'm making a philosophical argument I have to be able to hook anything novel, that I want to put forward and to get your assent to, I have to hook it up with what you already know. If I can't do that I lose. I mean it's a failure of communication.
So then on the one hand the starting point or principles of philosophy are in the public domain; they are knowable by any human being simply by dint of being a human being. Philosophy goes very far away from what most of us are thinking about all of the time, but it has to be hooked up with that -- otherwise it would simply be speculation. For example, in the understanding of philosophy as the quest for wisdom, as the drive toward such knowledge of God as we can achieve by our own power, that knowledge has to be put forward as derived from what anyone could know about the world around him. Aristotle's famous proof for God at the end of the Physics of the Prime Mover is arguing what? The argument can be stated very crisply. Whatever is moved is moved by another. It is impossible that there should be an infinite series of moved movers. Therefore there must be a first unmoved mover, and that's God. That's the proof. Now there's a lot that has to be said about that; it's not based on self-evident premises, so the premises have to be established and so forth. And this occurs at the end of Aristotle's eighth book of the work called the Physics. What I'm pointing to is the way in which the premises from which the conclusion is derived are anchored in an experience that anyone can replicate. There's nothing private about it, there's nothing special about it, there is no claim to a knowledge that isn't in principle available to anyone else. This is philosophical discourse.
As opposed to what? As opposed to accepting as true what God has revealed in Scripture and then deriving other truths from those that are implicit in them and connecting them to one another and so forth. This kind of discourse, if it's an argument for some new truth from truths that had been found in Scripture, can only be a vehicle for a new truth for one who accepts the premises of the argument. And the only way you can accept the premises of the argument is not simply in terms of what anybody can know but in terms of what God has revealed about himself. So the two theologies that emerge from the comparison of reflection on Scripture and the culminating task of the philosopher can be distinguished in terms of the premises that operate in discourse about God in philosophical theology on the one hand and the way in which theology in this now Scriptural sense operates. So philosophy and theology differ from one another in terms of their principles or starting points, in terms of what counts in order for the argument to work so that the believer knows that someone who does not accept Christian faith is not going to be persuaded, perhaps not even interested in the argument that he is developing, let's say about the Trinity of persons in God or the union of the human and divine nature in Christ. The theologian is worried about these or concerned with them, reflects on them, ponders them because this has been revealed, that Christ is God and man, that there are three persons. What does this mean? What the theologian wants to do is to reflect on that to show that it does not involve any incoherence in the way in which it comports with other things that have been revealed and so forth. None of this is going to be of interest or make much sense to someone who is not a Christian believer.
So the presupposition of theology in this sense is faith. And faith is the acceptance as true of what God has revealed because God has revealed it, not because I comprehend it or grasp it. That's obvious. Sure there are three persons in the divine nature. That becomes familiar to us as Christians. But what's the profession of our faith for example, in the Nicene Creed? We don't comprehend what that means. But we realize that this is a testing kind of situation; we believe what we do not presently see in the expectation that the time will come (or when time ceases to be) that we will see even as we are seen. So the promise is that this faith, this dark knowledge, an enigmatic knowledge, will eventually give way to knowledge -- but not in this life. Sometimes Thomas puts this relationship in this way. He would say there are two kinds of truths about God. Those that can be known on the basis of ordinary human thinking in terms of principles of knowledge available to anyone on the one hand and those truths about God which are accepted only on the basis of divine revelation. The usual examples of those would be the Trinity, the Incarnation, or we might say any one of the Articles of the Nicene Creed would be something to which we give our assent and we do so not because we comprehend or establish the truths of these things by ordinary kinds of argumentation but because God said so. It's revelation but it's an authoritative warrant that one has for the truths of these things. The theologian is in the same position as all believers with respect to that but unlike many other beliefs he reflects on them, and he brings to bear on his reflection on the truths that have been revealed everything that he knows in philosophy.
So one of the features of theology as it develops into thirteenth century scholastic theology is that it looks a lot in terms of its procedure like a philosophical science. And in fact Thomas when he begins the Summa Theologiae uses the methodology that Aristotle developed to talk about philosophical sciences in talking about this new science based on Sacred Scripture. Now that can mislead someone with the thinking that the theologian when he argues in this way about the persons of the Trinity, or the relationships between the persons of the Trinity, when he asks how do we attribute things to God, to the divine nature or to one person or the other and so forth, he is establishing these truths as if these arguments were meant to establish that there is a Trinity of person in the divine nature. And that of course would be a terrible mistake.
Sometimes throughout the history of Christianity you have an outburst of impatience with theological speculation. Usually it's because people think it's attempting to reason our way into the truths of faith in the way in which we would reason our way into views of the cosmos or the composition of physical objects and so forth. That would be a mistake. If the theologian thinks that is what he is doing, as perhaps Haeckel did in the nineteenth century, well he's confused. There is no way in the world in which one could establish the truths of the Trinity of person on the basis of things anyone could know or the union of the divine and human nature in Christ on the basis of what anyone knows. For the believer, of course, there are signs that point to this that he interprets in that way; he doesn't just pick it out of the air someplace. But he knows that it is not a clinching kind of argument and that what clinches his faith is the authority of God. A very different starting point for the two theologies. And if there is a relationship between philosophy and theology it's going to look methodological, it's going to be some kind of dependence. What is the dependence of theology on philosophy? In part it would be depending on it for such questions that are raised at the outset in the first question of the Summa: what is the subject here, what are we going to try to prove, can we use metaphor for language? For all these problems arise out of a kind of philosophical background.
But there is another issue that Thomas drew attention to, and I want to end this lecture with a sketch of that. And that is this, when you talk, as Thomas will, about truths about God which can be known on the basis of reason alone. What would be examples? that God exists. That there is only one God. That God is intelligent, he knows what he's doing. And so forth. These are things that philosophers have established on the basis of argument. Thomas finds those arguments, and others that he devised on the same level of philosophy, convincing.
So there are certain truths about God which can be established using simply natural reason. There are other truths about God which we accept, as I've been saying, only because God has revealed them. The Trinity, the Incarnation, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and so forth. What will occur to us when we see that kind of contrast made is this: the things that the philosopher is said to prove about God are part of the package of revelation. I mean if what the philosopher is reasoning about God is that God exists, of course a believer believes that God exists. He believes a lot more than that -- that he is one nature in three persons. But underlying that is, of course, God exists, and this is the way he has described himself. So too with respect to the fact that there is only one God. Monotheism is absolutely essential to Christian belief and thought. So what can puzzle us perhaps is the fact that though we begin by talking in terms of two sets of truths about God, seeing Him in terms of revelation actually means two fused into one.
Of course then the question arises, why are they doing that? Thomas spent a lot of time reflecting on this: if the fact that God exists and that God is one, that God is intelligent, and so forth, if these are revealed as law, as normal, why would God tell us something that we could know on our own? That he would tell us about the Trinity of Persons, or the resurrection of the dead, that makes sense because we would never figure that out on our own. But these other things put forward initially -- well, this is what philosophers were able to know, and are able to know about God. Why did God reveal that He's naturally knowable? Thomas's reason we could predict. When we looked at the order of learning the philosophical sciences we mentioned that in order to be wise one would have to spend a lot of time acquiring these preliminary sciences in order to do anything like philosophical theology. An enormous background of knowledge in the other disciplines is required. One is growing old as he pursues all those disciplines. But if God exists, that is the truth so important for the lives that we lead that it is a tremendous indication of the divine mercy that we, by way of faith, immediately have that settled for us along with the specific truths of Christianity. The believer doesn't worry about that; he has the conviction of faith. Yes, of course God exists. This enables him to lead his life in the light of that conviction.
Whereas Thomas imagined someone saying, maybe when I get to be fifty or some other enormously old age, and I study metaphysics, maybe then I will be able to determine whether or not God exists. What are you supposed to be doing in the meantime? There will be a lot of sociological answers to that. But you can see the problem that Thomas is putting, so to speak, and he is saying: isn't it marvelous that God should have told us not only things that we could not have known about Him apart from His telling us, but also things that we could have known and can know apart from his telling us. What Thomas then suggests is this. If we look at the package, the revelation, we can say generally that it's made up of truths that are mysteries for us. We accept them not because we comprehend them but because their truth is vouched for by God as revealer. But now Thomas is aware of the fact that included in this package of revelations are those truths about God which philosophers once and now and in the future can establish about God. Thomas says although these are believed by the believer, they are unlike the Trinity and the Incarnation. It's not necessary that they be believed. It's wonderful that we've been told these truths as well as the others.
But Thomas said: let's distinguish these from the mysteries of faith proper and call these preambles of faith. This enables him to mouth one of his most powerful arguments for the reasonableness of believing the mysteries of faith. That is, the reasonableness of accepting as true what God has told us about himself what we cannot comprehend or determine the truth of those things independently of accepting them on God's word. The reasonableness of this, Thomas argues, can be seen in the fact that some of the things that have been revealed, these preambles of faith, can be known to be true. That God exists, that's there is only one God, that he is intelligent and so forth. And from that we can conclude what? If some of the things that have been revealed can be understood and comprehended and proved,it's reasonable then to think that the other revealed truths, the mysteries, are intelligible in themselves. That doesn't prove they are true, but it shows the reasonableness of accepting them as true. And this for Thomas is an extremely important point, because if there is anything he would dread it is the suggestion that there is something irrational about Christian belief. That's a very tricky point. We'll be coming back to it, because he is not going to be suggesting that Christian faith can somehow be established on the basis of philosophical argument, but rather that there is a compatibility and a complementarity between philosophical truths and the truths of faith.
But that notion of the preambles of faith does have good argument coming from it. If some of the things that have been revealed are knowable, although the believer has believed in that faith since childhood, he might see it now. I know that God exists, I've got this argument. Or, now I know that the soul is immortal, I've got this argument. I believed it all along, and so I've believed a lot of other things attached to it, but this is something that can be known. That underwrites the reasonableness of the whole package even though it is not comprehensible by us now. So for Thomas faith is an intellectual virtue: it's a perfection of our intellect and not a kind of vacation from it. But this is very complicated in some respects, complicated in the sense that many people have seen it as implying things that Thomas did not want to imply. What it is not saying is that we are able on the basis of philosophical argument to establish a mystery of faith.
Purchase This Course << Previous Next >> Return to Top