David B. Burrell
These reflections intend to explore the range of relationships obtaining between theology and other disciplines, or less stringently put, between faith and culture. Yet astute readers will immediately perceive that the terms themselves are far richer and more fluid once we begin to detach them from their conventional role of naming established academic disciplines. Or put more constructively, the perennial vigor of those very disciplines attests to the fact that they are always reaching beyond settled modes of discourse to discover new approaches to their subject. In short, a discipline like theology is constantly transforming itself, and the key to that transformation lies in the way in which the very terms it must employ inevitably carry considerable cultural freight. So it should prove illuminating if we let the word "philosophy" in the title stand for ways of understanding which the current cultural milieu considers acceptable. So in Aquinas's time, the commanding way in which the writings of Aristotle had broken open new ways of understanding, constrained Aquinas to open his Summa theologiae by asking whether theology could be a scientia, that is, a mode of knowing. The way in which he proceeded to answer that question would open up avenues hitherto unsuspected by Aristotelians, as we shall see, yet more significant for our purposes is the way he put the question. For if theology could not be considered to be a form of knowledge, then faith would at most be a matter of the heart and not of the mind, whereas for Aquinas it had to address both if it were to be a fully human perfection.1
Faith indeed provides the initial principles proper to theology, as rational reflection on the data of our senses provides the first principles of philosophy, and therein lies the mark distinguishing one from the other. Yet we could also address the main topic by asking what relation theology bears to faith, for the conception we have of theology will depend a great deal on the ways we have seen those initial principles of faith being elaborated into a theology. Presuming that the principles of faith come from revelation, and so differ categorically from the deliverances of our senses, are they treated as given there, much as some empiricists were wont to treat "sense-data" as given, so generating what philosophers like Wilfrid Sellars were later to caricature as "the myth of the given"? Or does the use of reason to inquire into the meaning of revelation issue in a dramatic to and fro of interpretation, which we call theology, so that this mode of inquiry becomes a quest for understanding not unlike continuing rational reflection on our sense experience? I shall indeed argue that a picture like this latter one best reflects the work of the great spirits who have shaped the discipline of theology, and who have given us the working definition of "faith seeking understanding." I shall also show how theology executed in this way belies the conjunction of the title of this part of the book, "Theology and ..." with our title, "Philosophy," which suggests that we are faced with two adequately distinct endeavors.
But it were best not to jump to such a conclusion, but to begin with what the title does indeed suggest: that theology is one thing and philosophy another. And the time-honored way of marking the difference is by whether one employs data (or premises) from revelation or not: philosophy does not do so while theology must, for that is what sets it apart. A simple enough distinction, certainly, yet difficulties begin when we note the recurrent presumption that what supplies the paradigm for understanding is philosophy, so that whatever we might claim to "know by faith" must pass that bar. This presumption is often implicit, but what lends it credence is the original contention that knowing-by-faith adds something to what we have come to call "knowing." Now if that is so, how can we assess whether or not knowing-by-faith is properly a form of knowledge? That is, how can we determine whether or not what theology asserts is true? Notice how easily this conundrum is generated by the image of faith as something added, or better, the deliverances of revelation as adding something to knowing tout court. For what is added must then measure up to that to which it has been added. Yet such an image has been congenial to both sides of the faith/reason debate; it has long represented a time-honored way to distinguish these two disciplines. As we shall see, however, everything turns on the way in which the "additive" image is employed. Without critical attention to actual practice, the additive image will reinforce the implication of the original conjunction: that these are two separate things, each originally and necessarily quite extrinsic to the other. But how else can it be taken?
It may help to place this apparently intractable issue in two contexts which in fact envelop it. Think first of Aristotle's own reflections on knowing (or episteme) in his Posterior Analytics, and how those explicit methodological prescriptions are often quite at variance with his own practice. In fact, Aquinas will later note that his rules for constituting bona fide knowledge can only characterize a constructed science like geometry. So explicit pictures of procedures for relating bodies of knowing, or even rules for constituting knowledge itself, can often shipwreck on actual practice. Another more theological context would be the vexed history of the relation of natural to supernatural orders. Is the latter something added to nature, with the resulting picture of a universe constructed of two stories, which theologians must then busy themselves relating to each other? This is the baroque picture which Henri de Lubac succeeded in dismantling, so opening the way for that mode of theology which animated Vatican II.2 A similar mindset among Thomists of the time divided Aquinas's treatment of God into two parts: de Deo uno and de Deo trino, with that which treats of God's oneness proceeding in a philosophical mode, while theology enters only when triunity is at issue. Aquinas does indeed divide his treatment of God into two parts, but the division is pedagogical rather than ideological; moreover, the entire treatment takes place in his Summa theologiae (ST), and only after he confirms its title as a work of theology by explicitly showing how theology can be a mode of knowing, a scientia.
So one begins to feel the need for a critical way of appropriating the time-honored distinction between philosophy and theology. Let us look more closely at the combinations and permutations which result when we factor in the implicit presumption that philosophy sets the norm. Two diametrically opposite inferences can result, as can happen, for example, when one either reads Aquinas that way, and so hears him saying that knowing-by-faith exalts knowledge properly speaking, or reads a modern rationalist like Freud, and thereby finds it redundant. Moreover, one could go on to ask the Aquinas so figured: how will knowing-by-faith exalt ordinary knowing? And the answer could be at least two-fold, reflecting two very disparate views of transcendence. The first response would be closer to Aquinas but arrived at only by re-configuring the distinction in a more critical fashion: knowing-by-faith can enrich or fulfill human understanding; while the second would construe knowing-by-faith as allowing us to escape the limitations of human understanding and of human life - a view of transcendence roundly (and rightly) criticized by many an ancient or contemporary thinker. And the charges of redundancy can be understood quite differently as well: as Freud does, that faith not only adds nothing cognitive but even retards critical acumen to keep believers in an infantile relation to reality; or as new age folks might claim for "spirituality," that what the humdrum world finds redundant is actually ecstasy for the initiated.
Another set of responses is generated when the additive picture is left intact and believers undertake to reverse the presumptive normativity of reason, embodied in philosophy, to replace it assertively by theology. Then it would be faith which sets the norm, and does so precisely to make up the deficiencies of reason. While this strategy more properly captures the Reformers than medievals like Aquinas, traces of it can be found in him as well. In both cases, the deficiency of reason can either be de facto, given the extreme difficulty in adjudicating issues surrounding divinity; or de jure, reflecting different views of the effects of original sin on human understanding. The logical difficulties which such a strategy elicits, as displayed in Karl Barth's increasingly self-critical elaboration of it, point to the incoherence of any merely additive picture: the very terms required to articulate the norm of faith must be taken from reason. So it becomes increasingly clear how pointless it is to try to identify the norm in theological matters either with faith or with reason; both must be operative, and theologians can be ranked by the way their work displays this mutual normativity.
Such will be my contention, in any case, and it should prove the more persuasive if the arguments for it display that rhetorical structure which properly befits theological inquiry. That is, arguments purporting to establish the mutual normativity proper to theology can only proceed indirectly, by noting how a mode of argumentation which rests on reason alone cannot adequately articulate its subject. The subject here is the understanding proper to human beings, which cannot but be curiously open-ended. In the global terms we have been using to this point, one can propose that philosophy points beyond itself in such a way that theology fulfills it, or correlatively, that philosophy cannot ground itself, so that philosophical reflection "begins and ends in wonder"
- as Aristotle noted in an uncharacteristically rhapsodic passage initiating his Metaphysics. Wonder offers an opening for revelation, which theology will proceed to elaborate precisely to thematize the wonder itself, for if a revelation cannot be seen to be doing just that then it can be dismissed as redundant. So it is the very picture of the sufficiency of reason to express the human condition which theology must use reason to undermine, in a way proper to it and best described as rhetorical. Interestingly enough, it is this very mode of argument which Aquinas displays at the opening of his Summa Theologiae, in the second question, often mistaken as offering five "proofs" for God's existence. Following Aquinas's own explicit comments, all responsible commentators have recognized that these cannot be proper demonstrations, but many have attempted to make them probative in some other sense. Yet the careful way in which he structures them presents them as argument-forms which show how we might put to the test (and in that sense, probe [probari]) any attempt to offer a complete explanation of the universe and its order. If we can be brought to see how our attempts to do just that continue to fail, then we might be able to open our minds (and eventually our hearts as well) to that One "whom we call God."
Aquinas's Approach to Mutual Clarification
The upshot of "turning around" (the Hebrew metaphor rendered metanoia in the New Testament) the usual presumption that "philosophy" sets the norm is to discover that the understanding available to us needs to be completed, fulfilled. But how? By adding something to it, some additional propositions, perhaps? Were that the case, as it appears to be for many philosophers of religion, there would be no mode of understanding proper to knowing-by-faith, nor would the additive picture require any critical appropriation. Aquinas offers another way of identifying what might be added: images from revelation to supplement what the world supplies to our senses, plus a perspicacity by way of divine light which enhances our capacity to perceive the import of these "God-given images" (ST 1.12.13). No divinely proffered propositions here, for propositions are of human making; rather, multivalent images awaiting our probing and elaboration. Just as what the world affords our senses causes us to wonder, so these images offer a yet more ample field for wonder. Alternatively, and this is John Henry Newman's tactic, what if the actual use of reason always involved faith of some sort? If that were the case, then the faith corresponding to a purported divine revelation would not be totally foreign to us, even though it would clearly be of a different order than the native trust which animates anything we do. Yet a revelation which could offer the best help in articulating that native trust would thereby flesh out and enrich our operative understanding, and notably our understanding of the very reaches of human understanding. One clear presumption of this argument is a robust realism: that there is something to know. The issue then becomes: how can we best know it?
Yet does not Aquinas also say that faith adds propositions as well? In an especially prescient response to the query whether God's triunity can be attained by reason without the benefit of revelation, he gives reasons why that could never be the case, reasons which reinforce his keen appreciation of just how "negative" is the knowledge that creatures can have of the creator (ST 1.32.1). In brief, accustomed as we are to tracing causal pathways in seeking explanations of any sort, it is quite another thing to try to trace the way to a cause of being, to the "universal cause of all existence" (ST 1.45.2). Even armed as he was with Aristotle's rich phenomenology of "four causes," it is problematic which one of these, if any, could answer to the "cause of being." So even should we stretch human reason to arrive there, with the help of intervening thinkers like Plotinus (relayed to him by pseudo-Dionysius), we could know little or nothing about that One, since it would completely escape Aristotle's mode of defining things, as Moses Maimonides had so clearly shown.3 So a fortiori, the very inner life of God, revealed in the person of Jesus, and so intimated in the Christian scriptures but articulated within that community only after four centuries of struggle with diverse formulations, could hardly be proposed as a proper object for rational inquiry. Yet Aquinas goes on to note that once revealed and formulated, such a revelation can serve as a powerful corrective to apparently inevitable errors regarding the relation of the "cause of being" to beings: namely, that it could only be an impersonal and necessary emanation. This quite unexpected response (in the context of showing how God's triunity surpassed the powers of reason [ST 22.214.171.124]) unveils the deeper roots of Aquinas's own treatment of creation, wherein the inner-divine processions of Word and of Spirit serve as the eternal exemplars of an utterly free action on God's part: free because it was a fully intentional activity of expression (Word) and of ecstatic love (Spirit).4
What emboldened Aquinas to identify what had been the prevailing philosophical picture of the origin of all things - impersonal and necessary emanation - as an "error"? Precisely what had come to be revealed to him, through a revelation formulated in a tradition, about the creator. It was this revelation-tradition which allowed him to put to question the only account which philosophers until that time had deemed creditable.5 Besides being used to gain critical purchase on alternative accounts, the same tradition had also built these hard-won propositions into theological account in its own right. In our time we have distinguished these two efforts, dividing them into philosophical and systematic theology, yet as we have seen, Aquinas engaged in both efforts with equal grace. Indeed, properly executed, one informs the other, and the result can be called "mutual clarification," in a phrase which captures the way Gilles Emery has characterized Aquinas's method in theological inquiry (Emery 1995:285341). If this account offers a both accurate and attractive picture of properly theological inquiry, note how it formulates nicely the mutual normativity of faith and of reason, so leading us away from that "foundational" model of knowing which had insisted on a clear separation of theology from philosophy, while presuming that "philosophy" provided the norm by which any purported assertion had to be assessed.
Bernard Lonergan regularly contrasted these alternatives as the "need for certitude" versus the "quest for understanding," identifying what philosophers call "foundation-alism" with the need for certitude.6 Another look at Descartes' Discourse on Method as expressing a deep-seated need for certitude helps to underscore the import of this contrast, especially when one notes what different dimensions of the human psyche are reflected by needs rather than by quests. The quest for understanding formulates Augustine's classical definition of theology as "faith seeking understanding" in an philosophy 39
idiom which alludes as well to Aristotle's intellectual virtues, thereby reminding us that understanding in divinis will always involve growth in understanding. This idiom also alludes to the fact that faith is ever a journey, and that the propositions which attempt to formulate "articles of faith" are at best guideposts along that way, which opens as a way to wisdom for those intent upon the quest. In that aspiration to wisdom, of course, reason needs all the help it can get, so pressing the quest for understanding to serve the journey of faith affords philosophy its medieval distinction of being the "handmaid of theology." We have seen how critical a role creation, and indeed the proper account of creation, plays in this synthesis, so it will not be surprising to note how the subsequent drive to "liberate" philosophy to an autonomous status involved disregarding the link to a creator. Indeed, the dramatic movement inherent in modernity did more than effect a return to Aristotle's insouciance about the question of origins, for it presented itself as a post-medieval alternative to a created universe.7 The key to the "mutual clarification" which philosophy and theology can provide for each other lies in articulating creation.
To mention the shared goal of wisdom returns us to the etymology of the term "philosophy" - something easily forgotten when either of our key terms are identified via current academic disciplines. Rendering "philosophy" as Socrates presented it, as the desire for wisdom rather than its achievement or possession, reminds us that both disciplines are fated never to achieve their goal. Indeed, that is the reason why Clement of Alexandria explicitly pre-empted the classical name "philosophy" for Christian theology, calling it the "true philosophy." Here again the testimony of a rich tradition reminds us that distinctions cannot be separations, and that each one needs the other. Indeed, we have been correcting the additive picture all along to show at once how the very formulations of theology require continual assistance from reason, and how the presence of revelation can release philosophy, regarded as a particular way of using intellectual skills, to serve its animating purpose of a search for wisdom by questing for understanding. Using Aquinas as a paradigmatic thinker, the additive picture has been enhanced, if not replaced, by one of "mutual clarification." Other theologians will offer parallel testimony, corroborating the mutuality inherent in those disciplines which were presented at the outset of this inquiry as separate and so needing to be linked. In fact, the linkage is already present, even though often implicit, in the conceptual care with which theologians must proceed in their rarefied atmosphere, as well as in the original faith which must be present to animate any philosophical inquiry, once one has discarded a foundational picture of rational inquiry.
Just as those who thought themselves modern could not escape being post-medieval, so we are fated to be postmodern once we reject a foundational account of inquiry. Yet the way beyond rejection to a constructive account has already been suggested by alluding to Newman's Grammar of Assent, composed as a direct riposte to modernist conceptions of philosophical inquiry in their heyday.8 The strategy of mutual clarification outlined here has been structured by Alasdair MacIntyre's elaboration of Newman's prescient suggestions into a general account of inquiry as invariably "tradition-directed."9 His observations prove particularly enlightening for theological inquiry and its internal relation to a tradition focused on articulating revelation. If the actual use of reason to pursue a substantive inquiry inevitably presupposes something akin to faith (which Alvin Plantinga characterizes as "basic beliefs"), then a tradition like that of Christian theology offers abundant illustration of this path of mutual clarification, for it has found it opportune from the beginning to mine Hellenic modes of thought to elaborate its key doctrines of divine incarnation and triunity.10 Indeed, it now appears that the medieval understanding of philosophy as a handmaid of a yet richer understanding may suggest a way to liberate philosophical skills from the pretensions of complete comprehension to their proper role of facilitating human understanding. What is at stake here is a conception of philosophy which is not inflated, which answers to its originating impulse of wonder while retaining a properly self-critical edge. The work of Pierre Hadot may well show us a way of coming to a renewed appreciation of those dimensions, for his unveiling of the critical role which "spiritual exercises" played in ancient philosophy suggests a context within which to place the modern notion of "propositional attitudes" in order to bring out some features of understanding which that conception can easily overlook.11
That context is, of course, that of intellectual virtues. It can perhaps best be illustrated by invoking another thinker in the Christian tradition who should prove enlightening in his own way: Aurelius Augustine. Readers of the Confessions steeped in modernity find it odd when, in his struggle for intellectual clarification detailed in the seventh book, he feels it necessary to decide between Platonism and Christianity. Why can't he think of himself as a Christian Platonist; certainly many have done just that? Yet Pierre Hadot's familiarity with the demands which ancient philosophy makes on philosophers themselves reminds us that they could only see this mode of thinking as involving the entirety of a person's relation to the universe, and so comprehending not just a "set of beliefs" but a way of life as well: a way of life embodied in a set of practices which embraces one's life and forms one's attitudes. Now this is precisely what Christian liturgical formation is intended to do: introduce us into a world which should become more and more an alternative to the world in which we live; indeed, into the "kingdom of God." If the Platonism of his time pretended, as philosophies tend to do, to offer a complete comprehension of the universe, then it would come replete with practices as well, and some of these would inevitably clash with the mystagogy of Christian initiation. That is, at least, a plausible reconstruction of what faced Augustine. What is more telling for us is the need to reconstruct our own conception of philosophy to appreciate his dilemma, yet that reconstruction may bring us closer to an authentic understanding of the role of philosophy in human existence than its modernist frame of a set of beliefs (or "propositional attitudes").12
Yet more constructively, however: can we mine this same thinker for a positive conception of the mutual clarification which reason and faith can bring to one another? The answer is contained in an attentive reading of the Confessions themselves, for the final word is not one of opposition, but one which reshapes the Plotinian directions which initially gave him a way of entering the world of spirit as the domain of mind and of mind's internal good, God. That reshaping will follow the form of the incarnation of the Word made flesh, to bring human beings into a tensive relation between time and eternity, flesh and spirit, precisely there where Platonists tend to oppose them.13 What allowed him so to reconceive philosophy and its role was the fresh context that revelation provided, an illumination which the Confessions puts in disarmingly simple terms: "the mystery of the Word made flesh I had not begun to guess. . . . None of this is in the Platonist books" (7:xix, xxi). He would not even be able to "guess" such a mystery, of course; nor indeed can we, for that very thought exceeds our imagination for what is possible - even when imagination for what is possible is the very thing on which philosophy has long prided itself! These final chapters of Book 7 of the Confessions offer a paradigm instance of "faith seeking understanding," the celebrated formula of Augustine's which animated the work of medieval philosophical theologians, beginning with Anselm.
Book 7 documents the discovery of the idiom which Augustine needed to find a proper way of conceptualizing God, not as another being among beings, but as the "life of the life of my soul" or the wisdom which grants wisdom to the wise - in short, the source of all that is, and hence should never be thought of as standing over against anything that is.14 It was probably the Enneads of Plotinus which offered him this idiom, and chapter 16 notes why it recommended itself: "I asked myself why I approved of the beauty of bodies, whether celestial or terrestrial, and what justification I had for giving an unqualified judgment on mutable things. . . . In the course of this inquiry why I made such value judgments as I was making, I found the unchangeable and authentic eternity of truth to transcend my mutable mind" (7:xvi).15 The text goes on to describe how he appropriated that idiom for his own quest:
And so step by step I ascended from bodies to the soul which perceives through the body, and from there to its inward forces . . . [and] from there again I ascended to the power of reasoning to which is attributed the power of judging deliverances of the bodily senses. This power, which in myself I found to be mutable, raised itself to the level of its own intelligence, and ... at that point it had no hesitation in declaring that the unchangeable is preferable to the changeable, since unless it could somehow know this, there would be no certainty in preferring it to the mutable. So in the flash of a trembling glance it attained to that which is. At that moment I saw your "invisible nature understood through the things which are made" (Rom 1:20). (7:xvi)
It should be clear how intimately this description relies on the neoplatonic structure of the mind's capacity to return to its origin, yet equally clear how that logic now actively structures Augustine's own search for the truth. The description is just that: an account of language put to use and becoming a trusted tool for discovery. This is indeed faith seeking understanding, by utilizing a mode of understanding made available to it, yet pressing it on to hitherto unsuspected reaches. The final citation from scripture indicates what animates that extension and potential transformation of the original idiom: this is reason at the service of an understanding offered by revelation and available through faith - indeed, otherwise unimaginable, yet one which human beings need to articulate by using all the resources available to us.
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