The Metaphysics of Theism

Print ISBN 9780199246533, 2001 pp. [36]-[40]

provisos. First, it is about God and about everything other than God as everything other than God relates to God as its source and its goal. Second, it is about everything other than God as related to God in those ways, but especially about human beings, whose study of theology should be motivated by the claim about the special nature of their well-being. Theology is about God considered in himself and considered in the fundamentally explanatory source-and-goal relationships—the relationships of efficient and final

causation—to everything else, especially to the rational creature.

17 See also his consideration of the theologian's special concern with human behaviour in ST IaIIae.7.2: 'Are the circumstances of human acts an appropriate concern for a theologian?'

And so the business of theology is the single ultimate explanation of

everything, the Grandest Unified Theory.

18 It is this conception of theology that warrants Aquinas's description of its practitioner as one 'whom all the other arts diligently serve' (IaIIae.7.2, ad 3).

And, Aquinas insists, universal scope is just what one should expect in a rational investigation of the truth about God: 'All things are considered in sacra doctrina under the concept of God, either because they are God, or because they have an ordered relationship to God as to their source and goal. It follows from this that the subject of this science is really God' (la.1.7c), even though the intended explanatory scope of the science is universal.

We have already seen Aquinas referring more than once to sacra doctrina as a 'science', by which he means a systematic, reasoned presentation of an organized body of knowledge consisting of general truths about some reasonably unified subject-matter. And yet his argument supporting the need for sacra doctrina really supports, at best, a need only for revealed truths themselves, not also for a science devoted to expounding those truths and extrapolating from them. I'm inclined to think that he takes our need for the science to grow out of our rational nature, which impels us to try to understand what we're confronted with. (We'll soon be seeing some evidence for this view.) I'm also inclined to think that he uses the term sacra doctrina easily and naturally for either of those referents, primarily for the content of revelation itself in the first Article of Question 1, thereafter usually for the

science constructed on the basis of that content.

19 For a review of the controversy over the univocity of sacra doctrina, see van Ackeren 1952: ch. 1, 'Interpretations of the Meaning of Sacra Doctrina'.

In the broad, broadly Aristotelian sense in which Aquinas uses end p.36

the word 'science', it isn't obviously wrong to think of theology as a science (as it would be in the narrower twentieth-century sense of'science'). But, says an objector, an Aristotelian science 'proceeds on the basis of principles known perse', and since sacra doctrina is revealed theology, it 'proceeds on the basis of the articles of faith, which are not known perse, since not everybody grants them. . . . Sacra doctrina, therefore, is not a science' (la.1.2, obj. 1). Aquinas defends sacra doctrina against this denigration by providing for revealed theology the status of a subordinate science, one whose starting-points are simply accepted on the authority of someone who has mastered the corresponding primary science. And every earthly instance of a primary science does proceed, he thinks, on the basis of'principles known by the natural light of intellect. . . . Thus, just as music takes on faith (credit) [its] principles, passed on to it by the arithmetician, so sacra doctrina takes on faith [its] principles, revealed for it by God' (la.1.2c). Music is a science subordinate to the primary science arithmetic, but the music theorist in doing her work does not draw directly from the Aristotelian science of arithmetic. Considered simply as a music theorist, she has no access to that science itself, and so depends not on arithmetic but rather on 'the arithmetician', who authoritatively supplies—that is, reveals—the ratios the music theorist needs in order to get started. Analogously, Aquinas suggests, the practitioner of sacra doctrina is dependent directly on God, the consummate authority regarding scientia Dei et beatorum, relative to which sacra doctrina is a subordinate science. Scientia Dei et beatorum—the scientia to which only God and those who see God face to face have access—obviously could not be some celestial version of an Aristotelian science considered as an enterprise proceeding demonstratively on the basis

of principles known perse.

20 Any rational investigation, any enterprise of developing or mastering a network of propositions proceeding on the basis of principles, would be impossible in heaven—whether for God, who has the relevant scientia necessarily, immediately, essentially, eternally, or for the blessed, considered as direct participants in the beatific vision.

It must be, instead, God's perfectly complete and ideally unified knowledge (scientia) of himself and everything else, aspects of which have been selectively imparted to practitioners of sacra doctrina as the starting-points for their enterprise.

Having received these authoritative principles through divine end p.37

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© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved revelation, a theologian can engage in the subordinate science that is sacra doctrina. The first achievement of that enterprise will be dogmatic theology, extracting from Scripture the articles of faith and giving them an ordered formulation, summarized in creeds—as a music theorist might collect and suitably reformulate and organize the authoritatively revealed mathematical truths essential to her theorizing.

A further achievement within sacra doctrina is philosophical theology, supposedly analogous to music theory.

21 Methodologically, the development of this subordinate science resembles that of an ordinary primary science: 'Arguments (rationes) derived from [the writings of] the saints to prove things that belong to the faith are not demonstrative but are, rather, persuasive arguments that show that what is claimed in the faith is not impossible. Alternatively, [such arguments] proceed on the basis of the principles of the faith—i.e. authoritative passages of Holy Scripture (as Dionysius says in De divinis nominibus 2). But from the believers' point of view something is proved on the basis of those principles in just the way something is proved from everybody's point of view on the basis of principles that are naturally known. It is for that reason that theology, too, is a science, as was said at the beginning of this work' (IIaIIae.1.5, ad 2).

But I think Aquinas's analogy would have broken down if he had tried to extend it that far explicitly. The enterprise of philosophical theology can't be accurately characterized as simply accepting the divinely revealed propositions in order to do something else with them, as music theory produces something specifically relevant to music on the basis of the non-musical propositions supplied for it by the arithmetician. Instead, philosophical theology is devoted to clarifying, supporting, and extending the very propositions that are supposed to have been revealed as starting-points for theology. It's as if all that was left of mathematics was the bit contained in a primer of music theory, and someone (who would certainly not be acting as a music theorist in that case) were to try, on that meagre basis, to gain some understanding of the mathematics in the primer and to reconstruct portions of mathematics itself. Such attempts at understanding and reconstructing would be more nearly analogous to the operations that characterize philosophical theology: attempting to explain revealed propositions, providing generally acceptable evidence for them, and systematically working out their implications. So dogmatic theology appears

to fit Aquinas's analogy pretty well, and philosophical theology doesn't.

22 In a later Article of his Question on sacra doctrina Aquinas describes its dependence in a way that may avoid the difficulty of the original analogy. Sacra doctrina, he says, 'gets its starting-points not from other sciences, but directly from God through revelation' (la.1.5, ad 2). And since Aquinas maintains that God's knowledge, the scientia Dei et beatorum to which sacra doctrina is subordinate, has God's own essence as its immediate object (la.14.5c), it may seem more illuminating to think of the practitioner of sacra doctrina as analogous to a biographer who has been supplied with some of his subject's letters and diaries and is endeavouring to verify claims made in those documents and to construct on their basis an account as full and coherent as possible.

But Aquinas end p.38

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© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved had already observed elsewhere, in a passage that helps to present the need for a science of theology as natural to us, that in this respect the nature of sacra doctrina is not that of an ordinary subordinate science: 'For us, however, the goal of faith is to arrive at an understanding of what we believe—[which is] as if a practitioner of a subordinate science were to acquire in addition the knowledge possessed by a practitioner of the higher science. In that case the things that were only believed before would come to be known, or understood' (In BDT 2.2, ad 7).

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