The Metaphysics of Theism

Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. [41]-[45]

Now it's worth noticing that the repudiated ancient physical theology does

not include anything attributed or attributable to Aristotle.

24 'D'ordinaire, saint Thomas ne nomme Aristote que pour s'appuyer sur lui: il est la grande autorité de la Somme contre les Gentils, puisqu'il y est ainsi invoqué plus de 400 fois, environ 10 fois plus souvent que saint Augustin!' (Gauthier 1961: 76).

The sort of theology with which Aristotle's metaphysics culminates (and which he argues for also in his physics) is of course carefully distinguished by Aquinas from revealed theology; but it is repudiated by him neither here nor anywhere else. Formally, he says, the subject of Aristotelian metaphysics is ens commune—being, considered as broadly as possible. But since 'a cognition of the causes of a genus is the goal to which a science's investigation is extended', and since the only cause that could conceivably be uncovered for ens commune would have to be God, it's quite all right to call

Aristotelian metaphysics'theology', Aquinas says (In Met. Prooemium).

25 For a fuller discussion of metaphysical theology and its formal relationship with revealed theology, see In BDT 5.4; also Wippel 1993a: 117 n. 5.

I don't want to make too much of what is probably a terminological accident, but it's clear that the repudiated physical theology, which went too far on the basis of misguided speculation about the natural world, is not to be confused with the sober Aristotelian metaphysical theology that appears to Aquinas as the inevitable logical consequence of the thoroughgoing rational investigation of ens commune. So not even all ancient, pagan varieties of natural theology are to be repudiated, considered as enterprises undertaken before the Christian revelation. Those efforts of ancient philosophers to provide philosophical backing for theological propositions in the absence of any knowledge of what Aquinas considers to be divinely revealed theology, those efforts at physical or metaphysical natural theology, surely did take a long time—600 years, at least—and in Aquinas's view their results surely were tainted with many mistakes. But what about the project of natural theology in his own time and place?

In thirteenth-century Western Europe the availability of divinely revealed truths was acknowledged in academic as well as ecclesiastical life, and in the arts faculty of the university as well as in its theology faculty. By Aquinas's day the (ecclesiastical) academic authorities had overcome their initial misgivings and officially acknowledged that a respectful study of Aristotelian physics and end p.41

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© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved metaphysics with its integrated minor component of natural theology was compatible with the universally acknowledged availability of revealed truths about God. But no philosopher in Aquinas's circumstances could justifiably undertake the project of natural theology heuristically, as ancient pagan philosophers had done in their physical theology. Although the old pagans had failed, in the total absence of revelation their attempt to uncover truths about God on the basis of observation and reasoning alone was justified, even commendable, as no such attempt could have been seen to be in the high Middle Ages. The unavoidable dangers that the practitioners of physical theology had faced and eventually succumbed to would have made the enterprise of heuristic natural theology obviously irrational for philosophers who believed in revelation.

However, no such irrationality would attach to natural theology taken up expositionally, with the aim of beginning a systematic presentation of the truth about God and about everything else in relation to God in a particularly perspicuous and logically natural order. Such an enterprise, well suited to the

model of an Aristotelian science,

26 'Aristotle does not pretend to be offering guidance to the scientist—or, for that matter, to the historian or the philosopher—on how best to pursue his researches or how most efficiently to uncover new truths. . . . Rather, it [Book A of the Posterior Analytics] is concerned with the organization and presentation of the results of research: its aim is to say how we may collect into an intelligible whole the scientist's various discoveries—how we may so arrange the facts that their interrelations, and in particular their explanations, may best be revealed and grasped. In short, the primary purpose of [Aristotelian] demonstration is to expound and render intelligible what is already discovered, not to discover what is still unknown' (Barnes 1975: pp. x-xi).

could not, of course, include any revealed propositions among its starting-points or appeal to divine revelation for support in the course of systematically presenting its all-inclusive subject-matter. But there was no reason why it shouldn't (and every reason why it should) use revealed propositions as guides to the selection and ordering of the elements of its systematic presentation (see Introduction, sect. 3). Its aim would be not to develop theology from scratch, but rather to show, in the spirit of Romans 1: 19-20, the extent to which what had been supernaturally revealed could, in theory, have been discovered—the extent to which the invisible things of God might be clearly seen, understood by the things that are made. Such an enterprise is what I think SCG represents.

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