Sacra Doctrina and Natural Theology

Where do these considerations leave natural theology? Natural theology must be based, ultimately or immediately, on 'principles known by the natural light of intellect'. The possibility of developing a metaphysics of theism, of beginning a systematic presentation of philosophy with natural theology, depends on that feature of it, which it has simply in virtue of being one of what Aquinas calls the 'philosophical studies'. If natural theology when developed as a philosophical study in its own right is thought of as a science, it clearly can't be a science subordinate to scientia Dei et beatorum, just because as a philosophical study it can't be dependent on revelation. Only (Aristotelian) metaphysics, which, as we'll see, Aquinas sometimes presents as the science of the most fundamental truth, could be the primary science to which natural theology might be considered subordinate. Everything we've seen so far—everything we'll see in the rest of this investigation—suggests that Aquinas would have had no difficulty accepting natural theology in that role.

But perhaps Aquinas's arguments designed to show the need for sacra doctrina leave the impression that, at least in his own view, a full development of natural theology should appear foolhardy. It end p.39


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved may seem that natural theology transcending its traditional role as the perfunctory culmination of metaphysics and developing as a subordinate science in its own right would have to be viewed by him as both dangerous and pointless. It looks dangerous because it leaves the indispensable account of the essentials of 'all human well-being' up to 'a few', whose work would take 'a long time' and even then be 'tainted with many mistakes'. And it seems pointless because revealed theology is supposed to provide, authoritatively and at once, all the propositions essential to human well-being that natural theology could ever hope to provide, and then some. Even if I'm right in claiming that Aquinas's own SCG consists mostly in a novel attempt at a full development of natural theology in its own right, it's certainly possible that by the time he began ST, a couple of years after finishing SCG, he had changed his mind about such a project.

SCG itself will provide the best evidence on which to assess Aquinas's attitude toward natural theology. But ST offers help, too, when, well into its Second Part, Aquinas makes clear that any such condemnations he might have offered of natural theology on its own would be pertinent to it primarily as it had been carried out in Greek antiquity. Drawing heavily on Augustine's

account of ancient natural theology,

23 In De civitate Dei VI.5. See also the discussion of Augustine's sources in Webb

he alludes to unnamed ancient (Stoic) philosophers who reasoned their way to pantheism, and also to (neo-)Platonists who 'maintained that there is one highest god, the cause of all things', among which are lesser superhuman, spiritual beings, some of whom they also called gods. He says that such views have been classified as physica theologia. This physical theology, he says, was a theology 'that philosophers used to speculate about

(iconsiderabant) in connection with the world, and to teach in their schools'; and he contrasts these ancient philosophers' physical theology with two other old pagan theologies that had nothing to do with philosophy: the one underlying the state religion ('civil'), the other embedded in the work of the poets and dramatists ('mythical'). All three of these ancient theologies he repudiates as idolatrous superstition, although physical theology, at least, doesn't deserve repudiation in those terms (Ilallae.94.1c).

end p.40

Kretzmann, Norman , (deceased) formerly Susan Linn Sage Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Cornell University, New York

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  • lukas
    How do metaphysics and natural theology?
    6 months ago

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