|Article 1: Is it necessary to have
over and beyond the philosophical disciplines?
The objections here point to the alleged fact that (a)
the philosophical sciences exhaust the range of reason and (b) in their
matter the philosophical disciplines exhaust the range of
Hence, there is nothing more for any other science to be about, and
would be no mode of cognition capable of approaching it even if there
were something else to be talked
St. Thomas answers both counts in one fell swoop:
happiness or flourishing (which amounts to salvation in our
state) requires a sort of knowledge about God and his actions that is
accessible in itself to our natural cognitive faculties.
even though we can have some inadequate cognition of God through
reason, the possibility of this knowledge depends on a few very
philosophers who would come to it only after a long time and with error
mixed in with it. But this is insufficient, because it is
important to us to be able to order our actions and intentions--in
our lives--in a way that will lead us to true happiness.
So we stand in need of God's self-revelation both with
is in principle inaccessible to us (the articles or mysteries
of the faith) and with regard to what is in principle accessible to us
through natural reason (the preambles of the faith).
there is a forum for intellectual inquiry that takes us
beyond what reason can devise on
its own and that is based on God's self-revelation.
Article 2: Is sacred doctrine a
What's more, there can be a science--in the sense in
is used by the classical philosophers, especially Aristotle in the Posterior
Analytics--with respect to divine revelation. That is, what
doctrine does is to systematize the contents of divine revelation in
a way that, beginning from starting points or first principles many of
which are revealed
to us by God, we can proceed by way of argument to exhibit the inner
of this revelation along with its metaphysical and moral implications.
The main objection to this claim has to do with the
Shouldn't the starting points of a science be epistemically firm and
in themselves, apart from their relation to other propositions?
how can this be the case with sacred doctrine if some of its starting
inaccessible to us except through revelation?
In reply, St. Thomas points out that even most of the
by human reason take their starting points from conclusions in higher
on which they are dependent. That is, they take for granted
points that are not evident in themselves but have been proved in
sciences to which they are epistemically subordinate. This is
way it is with sacred doctrine. Its starting points are, as it
borrowed from the knowledge (scientia) had by God Himself and
rational creatures who see God face-to-face in the beatific
So sacred doctrine is related to this higher science (which is
and non-discursive, a sort of limiting case for science as we know it)
in the way that, say, the science of music is related to the
Furthermore, even though sacred doctrine treats the
particulars of salvation
history, its principal objects are stable and eternal general truths
God and His dealings with us. (This is in part why the
sciences are important to theology. Theology must by its nature
systematic if it is to fulfill its task of making known the truth of
faith in an ordered and comprehensive manner, and extra-Christian
has historically provided models of science and scientific methodology,
along with many substantive philosophical concepts and conclusions,
can aid sacred doctrine in its task.)
Article 3: Is sacred doctrine a
The problem here arises from the fact that sacred
seems to talk
about a range of things that are treated in diverse philosophical
If it were a single comprehensive system covering everything, this
seem to make it too disparate to fulfill its task. Thus, the
goes, we must think of it as a series of sciences related to each other
in a way that mirrors the relations among the philosophical
This is really an important question once we consider
the philosophical disciplines toward fragmentation. This
seems to exist today; for instance -- and unfortunately -- hardly
anyone nowadays seems to think that
there is a symbiotic relationship between, say, metaphysics and
ethics or between metaphysics and natural science.
So when St. Thomas defends the unity of sacred doctrine, he is really
at the same time a classical conception of the unity of the
disciplines. However, this does not commit him to any form of
rather, it commits him to the claim that the
and moral aspects of sacred doctrine will fit together in a coherent
mutually reinforcing way.
In any case, St. Thomas's reply is that the unity of a
on the sameness of formal object throughout the science.
the formal object of sacred doctrine is that which is subject to divine
revelation. This gives unity to sacred doctrine as a whole.
Article 4: Is sacred doctrine a
This article is just a continuation of the last
that revelation includes moral and political truths, it is a practical
science. However, it is principally a speculative or theoretical
science in that our understanding of practical human affairs is dealt
insofar as it fits into the cognition of divine things that God has
to us. More precisely, since it is face-to-face knowledge of God
that constitutes ultimate human beatitude or flourishing, even the
aspect of sacred doctrine is ordered to the speculative aspect.
Article 5: Is sacred doctrine more
the other sciences?
Nobility as defined here and by the classical
of the ultimacy of the end of the science. In this sense, sacred
doctrine is the most noble of the sciences. However, at first it
might not seem that sacred doctrine can play this role. For the
element involved in playing this role is certitude; that is, the classical
take it for granted that greater certitude goes with more
But sacred doctrine seems to have less certitude than, say, metaphysics
(at least in principle). The second factor is independence or autonomy. But sacred doctrine
seems to borrow
from other sciences, and this seems once again inconsistent with its
with the most ultimate end.
No problem, replies St. Thomas. The certitude of sacred
comes from the sunlight of God's revelation rather than from the
light bulb of human reason. (This is so despite the fact that we
intellectually defective cave-dwellers might not be able to take in the
and might have doubts about what it reveals.) Furthermore, the
is not of first principles which sacred doctrine absolutely needs in
to do its job, but rather of subsidiary concepts, theories, etc., which
help in the derivations and clarifications characteristic of
inquiry. Such borrowing is a function of the fact that our mode
of understanding moves from sensible things to intelligible
things. This is a constant theme in St. Thomas's work and one
that must be taken with absolute seriousness if we are to understand
his mode of proceeding. For instance, it is this very mode of
understanding that helps explain why the Summa begins in q. 2 with the
proofs of God's existence by natural reason. Even God's
revelation is such that it presupposes, and has to mesh with, our
natural mode of understanding.
An interesting sidelight to this last comment is that it
for competing attempts to systematize revealed truth and to gain
into it. Especially given the elevated and intellectually elusive
nature of the content of revelation, it is to be expected that any such
attempt, while falling short of the ideal, will nonetheless add
to the ongoing communal project of systematizing Christian
This is a point made by Pope John Paul II in Fides et Ratio.
Article 6: Does sacred doctrine
What St. Thomas argues here is that sacred doctrine best
definition of wisdom, since (a) it is about divine things, (b) it
judges in terms of the absolute first causes, and
(c) it stands in judgment on the other sciences.
This status is not undermined by the fact that sacred
its first principles from the science had by God and the blessed; a
would arise only if it depended on some human science for its first
Again, it is not the task of sacred doctrine to prove the principles of
other sciences, but simply to stand
in judgment on them.
What status do metaphysical principles such as the principle of
have within sacred doctrine?)
Finally, St. Thomas makes the important distinction
being wise by
way of inclination (i.e., having the gift of the Holy Spirit called
wisdom) and being
way of cognition (i.e., being a
inquirer). It is the latter that sacred doctrine aims at, though
how far it can get without the former is an interesting question -- not
too far, I think, especially in moral theory.
In fact, this very distinction invites the question of how the saint
the philosopher are related,
and whether it is better, all other things
being equal, to be both a saint and a philosopher rather than just to
without being a philosopher.
Article 7: Is God the subject of the
of sacred doctrine?
The reason for hesitation here is that we don't even
of God which would serve as the minimal conceptual grasp needed to
begin building a science about God. In addition, sacred doctrine
of things that are not God but creatures instead. So how can God
be its subject?
No problem, replies St. Thomas. First of all, it
obvious that God is the principal subject of sacred doctrine, since
else this doctrine talks about is such that it is talked about in its
to God. This is what he means by saying that the formal
under which things are talked about in sacred doctrine is God.
Second, in sacred doctrine we use God's effects in place of a real
just as in other disciplines we often use the subject's effects in
of a real definition. To be sure, it is more desirable to
attain a knowledge of a cause's essence, and this we will do (we hope)
in the next life. But sacred doctrine is the best we can do in
Article 8: Does sacred doctrine make
Like any other science, sacred doctrine makes use of
with its first principles and moving on to its conclusions.
there seems to be a wariness of such argumentative style among
This may take the form either of a general uneasiness about using
where, in one sense, they seem inappropriate to the subject
Or it may be a worry, like that expressed in the second objection, that
the arguments will be weak ones, proceeding either from authority, the
weakest of all types of argument, or from reason, which is
as a source of first principles for sacred doctrine.
St. Thomas first of all points out that the first
to sacred doctrine come from revelation, and so in this sense all
in sacred doctrine proceed from the authority of that revelation.
However, since the authority involved is God's as a truth-teller and
mere human reason, the first principles are more firm and trustworthy
anything delivered up by natural reason, i.e., any first principles or
conclusions in the other sciences. (We should note here the
ordering of the authorities that St. Thomas uses. First of all,
the very fact that he makes use of authorities shows that his notion of
philosophical inquiry differs from that of the enlightenment
philosophers. Second, there is a strict ordering, with Sacred
Scripture accorded the highest place, and then the Fathers of the
Church, and then various theological and philosophical
writers. You should pay attention to the writers cited on
various topics. Augustine is the one cited most frequently.)
Now as long as an adversary
the authenticity of the Catholic claim to revelation, arguments can be
used to show that he misreads Sacred Scripture or that an article of
he denies is necessarily connected with other articles that he assents
to. Even in cases where the adversary concedes none of the first
principles, it is still possible to show that his arguments against the
faith are not demonstrative. This follows from the fact that
false cannot be demonstrated and the fact that divine revelation cannot
be in error.
One might also add, as St. Thomas does in Summa
1, chap. 8, that God is the author both of divine revelation and of our
natural cognitive faculties, so that neither can be systematically
It follows that naturally known first principles cannot be false and,
cannot entail what is false. (This is so, even though an
individual's grasp of a first principle or conclusion might not have
the highest degree of certitude.) But given the unquestioned
of divine revelation, it follows that nothing contrary to what is
revealed can be
from naturally known first principles. Any purported
of the contrary of a revealed truth cannot be a genuine
Hence, it is in principle possible to find some logical or substantive
flaw in such an argument. Of course, it does not follow that just
any Christian is capable of detecting the relevant flaw. This is
one reason it is important for the Church as a community to cultivate
study of philosophy and to make sure that a sufficient number of those
who are capable of philosophical inquiry become philosophical
It is also worth pondering the analogy St. Thomas draws
to the second objection: "Nonetheless, sacred doctrine uses human
reason as well—not, to be sure, in order to prove the faith,
would destroy the meritoriousness of faith, but rather to make clear
certain other things that are dealt with in this doctrine. For since grace perfects nature and does
not destroy it, natural reason must serve the faith, just as the
natural inclination of the will likewise serves charity.
This is why in 2 Corinthians 10:5 the Apostle says, "..... bringing
into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ."
the natural inclination of the will serve charity? By directing
toward the good for human beings. Even though we do not have the
supernatural love of God by nature, this love, which we receive as a
from God, brings to fulfillment the desire for beatitude or perfection
that we have by nature. In the same way, our intellect is
toward truth, and the gift of faith is the fulfillment of our natural
for saving truth, an inclination which provides us with or leads us to
of the philosophical disciplines and which can lead us to some of the
that God has revealed to us.
Article 9: Should Sacred
use of metaphors?
The problem here is that, on the surface, metaphorical
to be too inexact and inexplicit to be of use in a higher
if we are to learn anything about God by comparing creatures to Him,
it seems that we should at least compare the most noble corporeal
(e.g., celestial bodies) to him rather than lowly beings (e.g., rocks,
fortresses, lions, soft breezes, etc.)
From St. Thomas's perspective, the use of various
(metaphors, similes, parables) is God's way of trying to accommodate
understanding of Him to our way of knowing things--both in general
the weakness of even the most acute human intellects--"for what He is
is clearer to us than what He is") and in the case of simple people
a lot of philosophical sophistication. St. Thomas insists,
that what is said metaphorically in one place in Scripture is always
more explicitly in other places.
Furthermore, it was important that God use comparisons
to teach us about Himself, since no one will be tempted to take such
non-metaphorically. This might not have been the case with some
if he had used the more noble corporeal creatures, e.g., the sun,
This chapter helps explain a few otherwise puzzling
that occur in the next few questions. Why prove the existence of
God, if God's existence is already part of revelation? Why bother
to prove God's simplicity and perfection, if these doctrines -- or key
elements of them -- are already among the articles of the faith?
The fact is that we need help in understanding and interpreting divine
revelation. In particular, we need to be able to distinguish
literal from metaphorical attributions of properties to God. To
some extent, we can do this by an internal comparison of seemingly
conflicting Scriptural attributions and an attempt to discern the sense
of what Scripture is saying about God. But this task is aided by,
and indeed demands,
a philosophical articulation of God's nature -- at least one that
proceeds by way of denying of God various imperfections found in
creatures. This is in essence the role of questions 2-4 in
particular and of questions 2-11 in general.
Article 10: Does Sacred Scripture
senses underlying a single passage?
Here St. Thomas gives an orderly account of the
Scripture. The foundational sense is the literal or historical
sense, though even here we have to be careful about how we identify
sense. (See reply to obj. 3 on parabolic speech.)
Given this basic sense, the other (so-called spiritual
fall into place:
- When something in the Old Testament is understood to
of something in the New Testament, there is the allegorical sense.
So, for instance, many things that happen to Joseph in the book of
are figures of Christ; the passover is a figure of Christ's sacrifice
of the Mass, etc.
- When something in either Testament is put before us for
imitation in our
lives, this is the moral or tropological sense.
- When something prefigures eternal glory, this is the anagogical
sense. (Take, for instance, the promise of a land flowing with
and honey to the Israelites.)