On what Thomas does not do

What, then, are we to say in a preliminary manner are the methodological principles underlying questions 2-25 of the Summa? First of all, even if we are to read Thomas's 'five ways' as being offered as a rational demonstration of the existence of God, he is not to be represented as setting out on a venture of such proofs from a definition of 'God' in some neutral terms of'natural theology'. This is at least for the reason that if Thomas has a 'natural theology' the first thing it knows is that the nature of God is unknown, and unknowable, to us. Of course, just how this 'unknowability' of God is to be reconciled with the reading of the 'five ways' as formal proofs remains to be seen, and in any case as much needs to be settled as to whether Thomas does indeed think of the 'five ways' as proofs at all. Secondly, it is not the case that, for Thomas, you need some philosophical definitions and proofs of God, a natural theology, before you enter the domain of revealed theology, as if the latter were in some way built up only on the strength of its philosophical foundations; that, in view of his scepticism about the attainment of philosophical certainties, would in any case be, for Thomas, to build houses on foundations of sand.41 Nor is it that, for Thomas, the formal object of revealed theology, what is to count as the ratio Dei, had somehow to be authoritatively refereed by some pre-theological and purely philosophical demonstration, as the condition on which theology was to be guaranteed its own authenticity.

41 ST laql al corp.

Nor yet is it that those first twenty-five questions are to be construed as a philosophical treatise de Deo uno, as if philosophical theology and revealed theology were to be distinguished by their subject-matters, the one confined to the divine unity, the other adding something further, on the trinitarian nature of God. Nor, again, when Thomas says, in the prologue to question 2, that he will deal first with the 'divine essence' and then with the distinction of persons, does he propose to embark upon some preliminary work of definition of an 'abstract philosophical' God with which the trinitarian God will have to be made to fit. Nor yet again is Thomas's quite startlingly 'negative' account of our knowledge of God confined to reason's potential, as if to say, as some do: by reason we know God's essence to be unknowable, but by faith that ignorance is made good by the revelation of the Trinity of Persons. Finally, neither does the reverse hold, as some might think: that the God who can be known by reason is a 'knowable' God - indeed, perhaps, all too knowably placed within our human grasp to be 'God' - by contrast with the mysteriously unknowable trinitarian Godhead given to us by faith.

My account concerning what Thomas is proposing in these early questions of the Summa carries us thus far. First, you cannot be guaranteed to be doing Christian theology just because you quote Scripture and use a lot of Christian theological terms unavailable to non-believers: there are plenty of Christian idolaters. Second, you are doing theology when you enquire into what has been revealed to us sub ratione Dei. Third, if we are to do our theology with any assurances at all that it meets with its distinctive responsibilities, we need some account of what it is to think within that revealed truth sub ratione Dei, to do which is to be drawn par-ticipatively into the divine unknowability. Fourth, then, what Thomas is engaged with in these preliminary questions is an essentially theological task, even if it is also a meta-theological42 one of cutting down the odds on doing theology idolatrously; he is conducting a properly theological enquiry into the nature of theology's own formal object, into that which determines its character as theological. And if doing that requires engaging also with what others than Christians would recognise as doing

42 Note that, for Thomas, a meta-theological task is also, and necessarily, a theological task. A meta-mathematical discussion is not a mathematical discussion; a meta-scientific discussion is not a scientific discussion. But a meta-theological discussion has nothing higher than theology to appeal to: not even the divine self-knowledge itself (scientia), in which, by faith, it participates. Theology just is that participation: there are other participations in that divine science, but none higher which can function as a court of appeal to settle theological disputes or uncertainties, not even the church's magisterium. For the magisterium may have greater authority than the theologian has, but it has access to no repository of higher knowledge.

philosophy, and even if we can make the case for the view that within that philosophical enquiry room is made for the possibility and necessity of proofs of God, then that philosophical enquiry is engaged in simply as the necessity of faith's own theological self-clarification: fides quaerens intel-lectum sui. In short, Thomas is doing as theologian what the first Vatican Council was doing as magisterium.

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