The Purpose of SCG

But why would any philosopher-theologian in thirteenth-century Christendom undertake what could well have looked like a risky tourde force at best? As far as I know, Aquinas is the only one who tried it. If I'm right about SCG, why would Aquinas have bothered to write it?

There is a familiar, still widely accepted, but hardly believable, reply to that

particular question about Aquinas.

27 On this traditional account see R.-A. Gauthier's thoroughly informed, magisterial analysis in Gauthier 1961: 69: 'en un mot, ... la Somme contre les Gentils n'est en aucune façon un ouvrage missionnaire.' (Gauthier 1993, by far the best available historical study of SCG, is a thoroughly reworked, separately published version of Gauthier 1961.) See also Jordan's penetrating critical review of the tradition in Jordan 1986b.

An early fourteenth-century chronicle, written about seventy years after Aquinas began SCG and more than half a century after he died, claims that he wrote it in response to a request from a prominent fellow Dominican for'a work against mistakes made by unbelievers, a work by which the gloom of darkness might be dispelled and the teaching of the true Sun made manifest

to those who refuse [simply] to believe'.

28 The text as reproduced in the Leonine edn. of SCG (and trans, here) reads: . . . ut opus aliquod faceret contra infidelium errores, per quod et tenebrarum tolleretur caligo, et veri solis doctrina credere nolentibus panderetur (Sancti Thomae Aquinatis . . . Opera iussu impensaque LeonisXIII P. M. édita (Rome: ex Typographia Polyglotta, 1918), vol. XIII, p. vi). The same passage as reproduced in the (later) Marietti edn. (Turin: Marietti, 1967; vol. I, pp. 73 and 613) has volentibus for nolentibus, but with no indication that it is correcting the text quoted in the Leonine. (Gauthier expressly corrects nolentibus to volentibus: Gauthier 1961: 61 n. 146.) Either reading makes sense, but nolentibus strikes me as preferable, and not merely as the lectio difficilior.

And since thirteenth-century Dominicans were serving as missionaries to Jews and especially to Muslims in Spain and North Africa, most scholars have supposed, on the basis of this chronicle, that SCG was intended as a manual for their use. If that's so, then SCG's presentation of natural, instead of revealed, theology in its first three books was dictated by the practical purpose of communicating the truth about God and everything else to people who would not have acknowledged the revealed texts which Aquinas would otherwise have cited as the source of that truth. As he says very near the beginning of SCG, 'It is difficult to argue against mistaken views associated with particular people, . . . because some of them—Mohammedans and pagans, for instance—do end p.43


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved not agree with us about the authority of any scripture on the basis of which they can be refuted. . . . And so it is necessary to have recourse to natural

reason, to which everybody is compelled to assent,

29 This, then, is a misrepresentation of Aquinas's position: 'On his account, therefore, argument is possible with regard to sacra doctrina. We are, so he thinks, in no position to argue with someone who accepts nothing in the body of revealed truth. But we can argue with someone who accepts some of it' (Davies 1992: 14).

even though natural reason cannot do the whole job of dealing with divine matters'—that is, with God and everything else as related to God

30 My many references to SCG are in this form. Since the vast majority of them are to SCG I, the initial Roman numeral indicating the book is often omitted from the references. The two subsequent Arabic numerals indicate the chapter and then the section as numbered in the best available edition of the Latin text: S. Thomae Aquinatis, Doctoris Angelici, Liber de Veritate Catholicae Fidei contra errores Infidelium seu 'Summa contra Gen tiles' (Text us Leoninus diligenter recognitus), ed. C. Pera, OP, with the assistance of P. Marc, OSB, and P. Caramello, OSB, in 3 vols. (Turin and Rome: Marietti, 1961-7). In this book all quotations from Aquinas in

English are my translations, and those taken from SCG are based on this Marietti edn. Appendix II below provides a complete table of parallel references in SCG I for readers who want to consult the only readily available complete English translation, in which the sections of the chapters are differently numbered. The first volume of the 5-vol. complete translation (Pegis 1975) contains SCG I.

He takes natural reason to be a sufficient basis on which to do a very large part of the job—from establishing the existence of God through working out details of human morality—in Books I—III, the books that contain what I'm treating as the paradigm of a fully developed natural theology. The insufficiency of natural reason he mentions at the end of this passage accounts for SCG's Book IV, in which Aquinas, beginning again with God and working his way down through human beings, addresses in particular just those propositions to which reason would have no access without the revelation he accepts—propositions such as the doctrines of the Trinity, of the Incarnation, of the resurrection of the body. He does this, he says, with the aim of showing that even those propositions 'are not opposed to natural reason' (IV.1.3348).

When we look carefully at what Aquinas himself says about his purpose in writing this summa, I think it becomes clear that what he wrote had at least its formal cause not in any consideration of missionary activities but instead

within his thoughts about the interrelation of philosophy and Christianity.

31 See esp. Chenu 1950: 247-51. He begins SCG by writing about the role of a wise person, one of those 'who give end p.44


© Copyright Oxford University Press, 2006. All Rights Reserved things an appropriate order and direction and govern them well' (1.1.2). Obviously, such a person has to be concerned with purposes and causes, goals and sources, and so the wisest person will be 'one whose attention is turned toward the universal goal, which is also the universal source' (1.1.3). Therefore, the highest, most universal, explanatory truth must be wisdom's concern. And so anyone aspiring to wisdom will attend to metaphysics, since, Aquinas reports, Aristotle rightly identified metaphysics as'the science of truth—not of just any truth, but of the truth that is the origin of all truth, the truth that pertains to the first principle of being for all things' (1.1.5). But since it is the business of one and the same science 'to pursue one of two contraries and to repel the other, . . . the role of the wise person is to meditate on the truth, especially the truth regarding the first principle, and to discuss it with others, but also to fight against the falsity that is its contrary' (1.1.6). The truth regarding the first principle is the truth about God, supposing God exists. The explanatory truth associated here with metaphysics is, as we've already seen, the truth associated also with theology. And so Aquinas is speaking as both a philosopher and a theologian when he describes himself as intending in SCG 'to take up the role of a wise person, though that may exceed my powers', in order'to clarify, to the best of my ability, the truth that the Catholic faith professes, by getting rid of

mistakes that are contrary to it' (1.2.9).

32 ' ... ce que saint Thomas se propose en écrivant la Somme contre les Gentils, c'est tout simplement de faire son métier de sage' (Gauthier 1961: 88).

We've seen that when Aquinas is introducing ST, a textbook, he naturally discusses his role as a teacher of theology. On that model, his introduction to SCG, developed over its first nine chapters and focused on the author's undertaking to perform the office of a wise person, offers no support for the view that he conceives of it as a manual for missionaries.

Neither is it a book he would recommend for beginners in theology. While SCG's topical organization is very broadly the same as the one he advocates in ST for that pedagogical purpose, it is crucially different in its details. To take just the first significant difference of that sort, in ST the treatment of the doctrine of the Trinity comes early in its First Part, immediately after the presentation of the divine attributes that are supposed to be accessible to end p.45

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

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