Declarative And Deductive Theology

After the time of Godfrey and other critics of Aquinas, especially Henry of Ghent, theology seemed to take one of two paths. The main approach was the method of deductive theology. The center of attention in this procedure is on the truths of the faith with an eye to drawing out further insights, conclusions, and applications of these basic teachings. The habit or ability that one develops with this form of theology is deduc tive. The focus is on what further truths are involved in or can be deduced from the basic Christian truths, that is, from the articles of the Creed. The second, and less embraced approach is the method of defensive or declarative theology. In this arena, the theologian centers his attention on the articles of the Creed and attempts to explain, to defend, and to provide analogies that might clarify or make us see better the most fundamental Christian truths.

A Franciscan theologian whose career flourished in the second decade of the 14th century, Peter Aureoli (d. 1322), became the great defender at Paris of this so-called less common form of theology. He did not speak of theology in terms of science, but rather in terms of wisdom. And he interpreted wisdom, according to Book VI of Aristotle's Nico-machean Ethics, as a combination of science and intellect. Peter Aure-oli thus distinguished the deductive or scientific approach to theology from the declarative or premise-oriented theology that focused on the first principles or fundamental starting points of theology, that is, the Creed. His theology primarily concentrated on the premises or articles of the faith in themselves and not on the principles or premises as sources of further conclusions. It is helpful to remember that Aquinas, in his Exposition on the "De Trinitate" of Boethius, said that Aristotle defended his first principles by showing that to deny them led to self-contradiction and that he attempted to give analogies or examples that would confirm these first principles. This is what Peter Aureoli considered the primary task of the theologian: to explain key theological terms so that the articles of faith were understood as clearly as possible, to defend the articles of the faith against heretics, and to find suitable analogies to confirm these articles.

Peter was not primarily interested in extending the domain of Christian theology; he was principally concerned with finding ways of nourishing the faith of believers and confirming the main articles of the faith. These articles of the faith thus became the center of attention. Explaining the terms connected with a trinitarian God or with a divine mediator was one of the principal chores of the theologian. Another task was to develop the facility to answer the challenges of heretical thinkers concerning these truths. A further challenge was to discover the most suitable examples or analogies to illustrate as adequately as possible the faith content of the Church's belief or creed concerning the Trinity, Incarnation, or the other articles of the Creed.

Aureoli defended this declarative approach to the study of theology by appealing to St. Augustine and claiming that Augustine's De Trini-tate was a sure illustration of the clarification of theological terms, of the separation of true doctrine from heretical teachings, and of the search for sturdier analogies for the mystery of the triune God. In following the example of Augustine, the theologian develops a habit that is distinct from the habit of faith. It is a declarative habit, not a faith habit (which the theologian has in common with all believers). It does not cause faith; it brings understanding to a faith that is already firm.

In the 1340s, an Augustinian Hermit, Gregory of Rimini, commented on the Sentences of Lombard at Paris and opposed the declarative theology of Peter Aureoli. According to Gregory, a theologian does not principally search for analogies drawn from the natural world. He does not principally go to other sciences, or other teachings, or to probable propositions. His principal effort is to understand the Scriptures. He advances the knowledge of the faith by extending its explicit domain. Theology is deductive; it draws out what follows necessarily from the truths contained formally in sacred Scripture. The theologian's ability is not really distinct from that of the simple believer. He principally develops a faith habit. The difference is that his faith habit is one that holds more explicitly what the ordinary believer holds implicitly. All believers accept whatever God has revealed; a theologian is able to make explicit what most believers hold implicitly because of their trust in the First Truth, who is the guarantee of the Christian faith. In his advice to Peter Aureoli and other declarative theologians, Gregory instructs them to go back to Augustine and reread his texts. They have gotten it all wrong:

But it is established that every such element of knowledge either is expressly contained in Sacred Scripture or is deducible from what is contained there. Otherwise, the Scriptures would not suffice for our salvation and for the defense of our faith, etc. Yet, Augustine, in the last chapter of Book II of On Christian Teaching tells us that the Scriptures do suffice, when he says: "Whatever a man might learn outside of Scripture, if it is harmful, it is condemned in the Sacred Writings; if it is useful, then it is already found there." (Ariminensis, 1981, 19)

In short, theology is primarily about faith. Dependence on other sources is accidental or secondary, not essential or primary. As believers, Gregory argued, we do not accept something as true because of a probable argument supporting it; we accept it because it is divinely revealed. Theologians have as their main task to manifest what is divinely revealed, not to search for nonessential arguments to bolster the faith.

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  • LASSE
    What is "deductive theology"?
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