The Pedagogical Motivation for SCG

Still, what motivates him to pursue that aim? Can we find him telling us SCG's practical purpose as plainly as he does ST's? I

end p.47


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved think so, although the clearest passages of this sort occur not in the first nine chapters of Book I, which introduce SCG generally, but in his introduction to Book II, where he shows plainly that the practical purpose of SCG also is pedagogical. The revealed theology which ST presents can be taught only to Christians, who will accept its doctrinal principles. What SCG teaches is theism. In Book IV, of course, this turns out to be Christian theism; but there is nothing distinctively Christian about it in Books I—III. SCG's overall subject-matter is identified not as sacra doctrina, but rather as doctrina (or instructio) fidei Christianae (e.g. II.2.863; 4.871), the appropriate audience for which is non-Christian. And, given SCG's highly argumentative, philosophically sophisticated presentation of doctrina fidei, its appropriate audience is made up of intelligent, educated non-Christians. A person who engages in teaching Christian theism in the style of SCG argues just as a philosopher ordinarily does, except, Aquinas says, that a philosopher presenting his view regarding created things of some sort 'draws his argument from the proper [immediate, natural] causes of the things', while the practitioner of doctrina fidei 'draws his argument [regarding the same things] from the first cause' (II.4.873), since he 'considers only those aspects of created things that are associated with them in so far as they are traced back to God' (872). On the basis of that description of this teacher's work, Aquinas shows that it's the very sort of work he envisaged for himself at the beginning of SCG, when he portrayed himself as essaying the role of a wise person. He points out that because the argumentation employed in this teaching of Christian theism is oriented as it is, 'it must be called the greatest wisdom, as considering the absolutely highest cause' (874).

Since what I've been calling philosophy generally and natural theology particularly seems to be what Aquinas in these passages calls teaching Christianity, I have some explaining to do. But not much. In saying what he says here, he is naturally thinking of SCG as a whole. But what he does in SCG can't count as teaching Christianity specifically without taking Book IV into account, and my characterization is meant to apply only to what he does in the first three books. It's true that the first three books can be described as teaching generic theism, constantly narrowing and refining the genus by further argumentation, and that may seem odd enough as a characterization of anything that could properly be called philosophy. But this superficial oddity in the notion of the metaphysics end p.48


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved of theism can hardly come as a surprise. It is, after all, a presentation of philosophy differentiated from others by its beginning with arguments for the existence and nature of God.

The philosophical status of SCG I—III seems to be called into question more pointedly, however, when Aquinas carefully distinguishes in these same passages between doctrina fidei and philosophy, which in this context he sometimes calls phiiosophia humana. But just because the passages occur in his introduction to Book II, where he starts his systematic consideration of created things, the philosophy with which he is contrasting his approach in SCG is mainly natural philosophy (or what we would call natural science), as is clear from his examples. They focus on different accounts of fire that might be given by a (natural) philosopher and a practitioner of doctrina fidei, and the aim of those passages is to explain that it is no shortcoming in doctrina fidei that it does not provide detailed, systematic accounts of astronomy and mechanics (II.4.871-2). Contrasts of that sort don't at all set doctrina fidei apart from philosophy as twentieth-century philosophers conceive of philosophy.

The last of the contrasts Aquinas draws between them might, however, appear to go directly against what I've been saying about the metaphysics of theism: 'the two kinds of teaching do not proceed in the same order', he says. Tor in teaching philosophy (doctrina philosophiae), which first considers created things in their own right and leads on from them to a cognition of God, the consideration of created things is first, and the consideration of God is last. On the other hand, in teaching the faith (doctrina fidei), which considers created things only in their systematic relationship to God, the consideration of God comes first, the consideration of created things afterwards. And so it is more perfect, as being more like God's cognition, who observes [all] other things in cognizing himself'

35 For an account of God's apparently introspective cognition of everything else, see

Stump and Kretzmann 1995.

As I've been saying, I conceive of the metaphysics of theism as a particular systematic, argumentative exposition of philosophy. And, of course, such an exposition is just what 'teaching philosophy' amounts to—or might amount to, if we teachers of philosophy were more ambitious and our students had no other courses to take. But Aquinas here identifies the teaching of philosophy a little more precisely by specifying its standard end p.49


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved format: philosophy from the bottom up. What I'm calling the metaphysics of theism, or philosophy from the top down, he identifies as doctrina fidei-. 'sometimes divine wisdom proceeds from human philosophy's starting-points' (II.4.875).

I've already pointed out that my leaving SCG's Book IV out of account reduces that identification from teaching the faith to teaching an increasingly specified theism. Philosophy from the top down teaches theism but nevertheless counts as philosophical, because the starting-points and ultimate justifications of its arguments are all accessible to 'natural reason', and because it never uses revealed propositions as more than occasional guides to its agenda. Since Aquinas does this work at great length before taking up distinctively Christian doctrines in Book IV, it might look as if he must have considered it to be the most efficacious introduction to teaching Christianity to educated Muslims who, unlike heretics or Jews, share no acknowledged revelation with orthodox Christians. And, indeed, the topics covered in the natural theology of SCG I—III, all accessible to natural reason, are those he characterizes elsewhere as 'the preambles to the articles of faith' (ST la.2.2, ad 1). But nobody, and certainly not Aquinas, could suppose that Muslims needed to be argued into perfect-being theism of the sort developed in those first three books. As far as I know, they contain

nothing contrary to Islam.

36 My views on Islamic doctrine are pretty ill-informed, and I would welcome correction on this point. But the explicit plan of SCG I—III and IV is such that if anything in I—III should turn out to be contrary to Islam itself, its occurrence there would, I think, surprise Aquinas, too. He does, however, argue against philosophical theses maintained by Islamic philosopher-theologians—e.g. in 1.63-71.

If Aquinas had intended SCG as a manual for missionaries to educated

Muslims, Jews, or Christian heretics, he would have wasted the enormous

effort represented in the 366 chapters of Books I—III.

37 In commenting on this claim in 1994 Anthony Kenny offered me an interesting alternative: 'I don't think Books I—III are wasted even if the whole thing is meant for Jews and Muslims. They can be regarded as a softening-up exercise, designed to show how much the great monotheistic religions have in common. "You're with me so far? Now let me show you the little extra step you have to take in order to be saved.' "

For the practical purposes of proselytizing, he should have undertaken no more than the contents of Book IV. The appropriate audience for the teaching attempted in all the arguments of all those chapters in the first three books would be made up of intelligent, educated atheists, and I don't believe Aquinas ever met an avowed atheist.

end p.50

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

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