Developments In The Theology Faculty From The 13th Century Onward

In the prologue to his Summa aurea [Golden Summa], William of Aux-erre, writing around 1230, summarized under three headings the various tasks that theologians have undertaken throughout the centuries: They have provided arguments that increase and strengthen the faith in Christian believers; they have defended by the use of arguments the faith of the Christian community against heretics; and, finally, they have led some unbelievers through arguments to accept the faith of the Church. Arguments, for William then, are important for a theologian to fulfill his offices. Yet the arguments are not the theologian's principal center of gravity. A theologian is primarily a person of faith. Faith itself, he insists, is an illumination of the mind that helps the believer to see God and divine things. He notes that "the more one's soul is illumined by faith and then enlightened by the arguments he considers, the more a believer sees not just that something is as he believes it to be, but how it is as he believes it to be, and why it is as he believes it to be." In effect, William is here pointing to a fourth task for the theologian, the role indicated by Saint Anselm: simply to understand. This, he continues, is what Isaiah (Isaiah 7:9) was speaking about when he said, "Unless you have believed, you shall not understand."

Twenty-some years later, when Thomas Aquinas was studying and teaching theology, the Arts Faculty, as we have seen, was on its way toward becoming an Aristotelian philosophy faculty. The general approach to theology enunciated by William of Auxerre, and followed by many other Parisian masters, encountered a dramatically different philosophic atmosphere in which it needed to develop. The very word "theology" was coming into use and it was taking on an association found in Aristotle's Metaphysics. Aristotle's Metaphysics, at least in its last book, was theology in the sense of being a science that dealt with the divine realities. Christian revelation also dealt with the divine realities. Could such Christian teaching in any legitimate way be a science like Aristotle's "theological science"? It is a question Thomas posed at the very beginning of his Summa theologiae: Can sacred teaching be a science? His answer was not a flat-out yes or no.

Thomas Aquinas knew that Aristotle himself had made a distinction about "science" in the Posterior Analytics. Sciences could be of two kinds: a simple science that could stand on its own, justifying its own principles or starting points, and a subalternated science, like optics, that received some of its basic principles from another science, a simple science, such as from geometry, which deals with lines. Aristotle considered optics to be a science not in the stronger simple sense of the term, but rather in a subalternated sense. It depended on geometry, then developed its own conclusions concerning particular kinds of lines, which then demanded further special considerations, lines of vision.

Theology, for Aquinas, is a subalternated science. It borrows some of its premises or principles from the simple science that God and the blessed have of the divine realities that have been revealed in the Scrip-

tures. It then draws further insights and conclusions regarding these truths with the assistance of the things we know naturally. Theology is not a simple science, but it is a true, subalternated, science, that is, a science subalternated to the knowledge of God and the blessed. Aquinas developed his science of theology according to this pattern that he sensed an Aristotelian would respect. An Aristotelian presumably would respect it not primarily because it was Aristotelian but because it is our natural way of claiming to know divine things that are manifested in a twofold way: in the natural world of creation and in the biblical revelation.

Not all who were well trained in Aristotle's philosophy accepted Thomas's view of the nature of theology. For Godfrey of Fontaines, Aquinas certainly was a man to be respected. Godfrey even argued, in QuodlibetXII (1296 or 1297), that certain propositions that were associated with Aquinas and condemned at Paris in 1277 by Bishop Stephen Tempier should no longer be condemned in the sense that Thomas Aquinas meant them. Godfrey asked Nicholas Bar, the Bishop of Paris at the time, to correct some of the propositions condemned by his predecessor for the following reason: "The condemnation of such articles impedes students in their search for knowledge, since these condemnations keep them away from one [namely, Thomas] who deserves to have applied to him the Lord's words in Matthew's Gospel: 'You are the salt of the earth.' In fact, the teachings of all the other doctors are corrected by Thomas's teaching, and when Thomas is used as a corrector their teachings are given more taste and spice."

This respect for Aquinas is not a late development. Godfrey's student notebook, preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris, contains in his own hand the earliest and perhaps the most accurate copy we have of Aquinas's De aeternitate mundi [On the Eternity of the World]. Godfrey's extant Quodlibeta [Quodlibets] and Quaestiones ordinariae [Ordinary Questions] manifest Thomas's continual presence as a respected partner in debate. Respect and familiarity, however, are not identical with agreement. Godfrey can be, at the same time, one of Thomas's strongest critics. Godfrey's criticism is a critique that seems, generally speaking, to claim that Thomas has bent Aristotle far too much to make him fit the Christian vision of reality. This is certainly the case when Godfrey discusses the nature of theology in q. 10 of Quodlibet IV (1287).

For Godfrey, Thomas basically misses the point in his appeal to Aristotle's model of a subalternated science to defend his claim that theology is a science. The fundamental point to keep in mind is that science, in Aristotle's portrait of it, deals with evidence. If you have evidence, you can have science; if you do not, you cannot have science. Godfrey thus declares that science is a stable quality we develop in the soul that possesses both the certitude of evidence and the certitude of conviction. If the kind of theology linked to the Scriptures were truly a science, then its conclusions would have both these forms of certitude, that is, they would have both the certitude of evidence and the certitude of conviction. This, however, is not the case. What we find in theology are conclusions that are certain. However, when they are based on premises that are certain but not evident, as they are in the case of theological premises obtained purely from biblical revelation, then they have the certitude of conviction based on faith alone. Undoubtedly, the conclusions of theology that are based on the certitude of divine revelation are more solid than even the most probable of human opinions, since the latter lack both the certainty of evidence and the certainty of conviction. Insistently, Godfrey first asks, what benefit does it bring to a theologian who in this life would like to gain the certitude of evidence that the revealed premises he begins with are evident to God and the blessed? We might perhaps be able to speak of theology as science for God or the blessed, but can we justifiably speak of our human theology as scientific knowledge? Godfrey then responds in the negative. We still do not have the certitude of evidence that is required for our knowledge to be scientific.

Of course, theologians have spoken of their studies as science since the time of the Fathers of the Church. In doing so, Godfrey would argue, they must have meant science in an imperfect or less proper sense, not in a sense that would claim that we have evidence in any experiential way of the revealed principles of the Christian faith. So when theology is declared to be a science, the kind of evidence that a theologian may claim must be such that the excellence of the objects of Christian faith is respected and the weakness of the theologian's knowledge of such elevated objects is acknowledged. In short, it must be "science of the faith." Science is used here in a different sense than the proper sense that Aristotle gives to it. Science here is also a relational or comparative term: in comparison to the simple believer, a theologian has science. It is much more evident to one trained in theology than to the untrained believer that when he hears one of the articles of the Creed—for example, "He rose from the dead"—that it is Christ, both God and man, who rose from the dead, and he knows how this may be possible or he can at least explain how it is not impossible, and thus show that Christian beliefs are not irrational. The simple believer cannot do this. So there are some kinds of knowledge that the theologian possesses beyond the capacities of the person of simple faith.

For Godfrey, a theologian operates in the enigmatic manner that St. Paul ascribes to all believers: "We see now through a mirror in a dark manner" (I Corinthians 13:14). The theologian has some kind of evidence, but it is not the type that takes away faith. Because of the lack of proportion that exists between the highest revealed truths and the theologian's intellect, the theologian's grasp of evidence is not like his grasp of the principles of other sciences. Still, it is enough to justify the use of the term "science" in some broad sense to describe his knowledge. Theologians, as believers in the realities of the faith and sharers to some degree through divine revelation and their studies in some knowledge of them, participate now in the science that they will later enjoy in the light of glory. In their earthly life, by virtue of their science, they have a foretaste of that future knowledge when they are first assisted and enlightened by faith—an imperfect light when compared to the blessed's light of glory. Theologians then employ their sense knowledge and natural abilities to understand the revealed realities that they still do not see face-to-face.

Although a critic of Aquinas, Godfrey's view of the scientific status of theology is closer to Aquinas's than it is to that of his contemporary opponent, the other prominent critic of Aquinas, Henry of Ghent. Henry's approach to the subject is, at its core, Augustinian, unlike Aquinas's and Godfrey's, though it addresses Aristotle extensively. Seeking to restore the illumination theology of Bonaventure and Augustine, Henry stresses that God is the light ultimately sustaining all degrees and types of intellectual vision and that God can grant some theologians, like Augustine, some evidence of his revelation, such as his triune nature. Henry supports this attitude with a highly developed theory of knowledge that subordinates Aristotelian to Augustinian tenets. In this life, this theological evidence remains, compared to that of God and the blessed, imperfect. As an unclear glimpse of what God and the blessed see perfectly, this evidence, unlike other types of scientific evidence, does not by definition exclude belief, but rather is strengthened by both natural reason and faith. However, this theological evidence, being of God himself, who is simply first, cannot be obtained through a prior science.

Theology does not borrow its principles from a higher science in any Aristotelian meaning of science in the Posterior Analytics. Thus, theology does not fit Aristotle's model of subalternation. Those who want to make it fit, like Aquinas and Godfrey, are poor students of Aristotle. Subalternation takes place when a science knows the why (propter quid) about which another science merely knows the that (quia). But the principles of theology concern what is absolutely first, and the propter quid can only be known through what is prior; therefore, theology cannot be subalternate to any science. This is so even if God and the blessed know clearly and by vision what theologians know more obscurely and with assistance of faith. This is a distinction of degrees of cognitive clarity and not the subalternation that Aristotle had in mind. In fact, human theological wisdom, insofar as it grounds the truth of subalternate sciences through a discursive knowledge of what is prior to them, may be said to approach the definition of propter quid more than divine science, which is immediate, not discursive. Thus, Henry's strict adherence to Aristotle's text permits him to distinguish theology as a wisdom beyond any wisdom Aristotle had in mind, while at the same time showing how all other sciences are subordinate to theology. Henry's approach received strong criticisms from Godfrey and others who sought to approach theology as an Aristotelian science. On the other hand, it breathed new life into the Augustinian approach, influencing both Scholastics and mystics.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment