Methodology

Aquinas is methodologically conscientious about his project in the first three books of SCG, as anyone engaging in natural theology should be. As we saw in Chapter One, his introduction to all of SCG in chapters 1-9 of Book I is devoted almost entirely to considering methods appropriate to theology generally, and to justifying the purely philosophical approach he means to take in Books I—III. Then, having argued in chapter 13 for the existence of a first source of being, he undertakes a detailed presentation of its nature, prefacing that new undertaking with a second discussion of methods, in chapter 14. There he explains the eliminative method and the need to adopt it (at least to begin with), and he shows how its negative results contribute to carving out the concept of'God considered in himself'.

But in that same chapter he also promises to introduce another approach as soon as applications of the eliminative method have achieved a certain cumulative effect. 'In this way, through negations of that sort, [derived] in order, [God] will be distinguished from everything that is other than himself. And then, when there is cognition of him as distinct from all [other] things, there will be a consideration focused on his substance. It will not be complete (perfects), however, because there will not be cognition of what he is in himself' (14.118). That consideration, focused on God's substance, or nature, turns out to be a systematic derivation of some affirmative predications on the basis of the eliminative method's distinctions between God and everything else. (But, as he carefully points out, even all those affirmative predications taken together cannot give us 'cognition of what he is in himself', cannot enable us to provide a full account of God's essence.) The transition end p.139

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com)

© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved to the new, less indirect consideration takes place in chapter 28, with Aquinas's linked arguments against every imperfection in the first source of being and for its universal perfection, the topic with which my Chapter Four ended. In recognition of this transition, Aquinas presents a third methodological discussion, devoting the next eight chapters (29-36) to providing a systematic basis for developing the consideration of God's i

'substance'.

1 In the light of Ch. Four there are two reasons for changing the designation of the subject from 'Alpha' to 'God' at this point in our investigation: (1) the special importance of'the metaphysics of Exodus' (Ch. Four, sect. 5) in conjunction with the philosophical identification of the first cause with its own necessary being (sect. 4); (2) the fact that the introduction of absolute, universal perfection (sect. 7) entails further attributes of which some, to be made explicit later, are unmistakably personifying. So switching from 'Alpha' to 'God' here in Ch. Five is to some extent Justified retrospectively. But the move also anticipates the results of unpacking 'universal perfection'.

As a consequence of chapter 28's arguments for the necessary elimination of all imperfection from God, Aquinas can now refer to divine attributes generally as perfections. Within the limits of natural theology there are, he observes, only two sorts of bases on which we can justifiably ascribe perfections to God: either '[1] through negation, as when we call God eternal [i.e. beginningless, endless, timeless], or infinite [i.e. limitless]; or also [2] through a relation he has to other things, as when he is called the first cause, or the highest good. For as regards God we cannot grasp what he is, but rather [1] what he is not, and [2] how other things are disposed relative to him' (30.278). Having used the first of these two bases for the eliminative method, he now develops the second as the basis for the more elaborately justified of his two specific methods for natural theology. This 'relational method', as I'll call it, governs most of Aquinas's philosophical account of 2

God's nature.

2 The relational method is essential also in Aquinas's systematic development of revealed theology. See e.g. ST la.13.2. For a very helpful survey of Aquinas's methods in theology generally, see Wippel 1992.

And since any philosophical account of God's nature must be based on inferences from the natures of things other than God, something more or less like Aquinas's relational method will have to be used by anyone undertaking natural theology.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Study Aid

Study Aid

This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Getting A Scholarship And Financial Support For Your Studies.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment