The Metaphysics of Theism

Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. [31]-[35]

ambiguous phrase in its very first sentence. But when we take into account Aquinas's own carefully stated understanding of ^catholica', the theory-laden reading of catholica Veritas turns out to be exactly right. In his commentary on Boethius's De trinitate (In BDT), which he wrote before ST, he explains that the Christian faith deserves to be called 1catholica vel universalis' in respect of both sets of its 'subjects (materiae)'—those in which it occurs (the believers), and those with which it is concerned (its topics). First, it is intended to occur in all human beings, and so is catholica—that is, universal—as regards its potential believing subjects. Second, catholicity—or, as Aquinas says at this point, 'universality'—'is found in the Christian faith also in respect of the things believed', because they have to do with 'a person's whole life and everything pertaining to a human being in any way' (In BDT 3.3c). I take it that the catholica Veritas identical with the subject of theology and 'the things that pertain to the Christian religion' is, therefore, truth that is universal also in that second respect, in that way mandating the awesome scope of ST and warranting theology's inclusion under the genus of Grandest Unified Theory.

In his Prologue, Aquinas presents ST as innovative, but not in respect of its scope. Presumably he takes for granted the universality of theology's


13 Aquinas himself does not include the subject-matter of natural philosophy (the medieval precursor of natural science) within the scope of theology in this broad conception; but he omits it primarily because it isn't strictly required for the work of theology. The relevance of non-human nature to theology emerges occasionally, none the less, most strikingly in his various cosmological arguments for the existence of God. See sect. 8 below.

The most important pedagogical innovation of ST, as he sees it, is in its organization. He says he has noticed that students new to theology have been held back in their studies by several features of the standard teaching materials, but especially 'because the things they have to know are imparted not in an order appropriate to a method of teaching'—an order he proposes to introduce in ST—'but rather in keeping with what the exposition of books required, or what an occasion for disputation called for'. He prefaces his review of pedagogical shortcomings by remarking that 'these matters' pertaining to the Christian religion 'have been written about by various people', but the pedagogical shortcomings he picks out also characterize other theological works of his own.

end p.31


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In the theology faculty of a medieval university, an 'occasion for disputation' gave rise to two sorts of formal exchanges employing the scholastic method. Every 'regent master' (professor) in theology was obliged to conduct 'disputed questions', something like a cross between a twentieth-century graduate seminar and a public debate, detailed disputations on particular topics selected and arranged by the master conducting the disputation. In addition, a master might subject himself to 'quodlibetal questions', occasions on which he would try to provide considered replies to any and all questions proposed by members of the academic audience—occasions made available twice each academic year, during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. When he began writing ST, Aquinas had already produced several important sets of both sorts of questions—disputed questions on truth, on power, and on the soul, as well as five quodlibets—and nothing he says here suggests that he means to denigrate them or the practices that gave rise to them, except as inappropriate for the training of beginners in theology.

As for the books regularly subjected to exposition and commentary in the theology faculty, they were the Bible and the Sentences, and it's even more certain that Aquinas is not repudiating such work generally or his own contributions to it except, again, as introductions to theology. As we'll see, his only earlier theological work, large or small, that is not set aside pedagogically by these considerations of organization is SCG.

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