After restoring art to its place through a more exact appreciation of law, it is possible for the modern reader to return to the notion of moral "science" without being entirely misled.
At several points in the Summa, Thomas invokes an ideal of "moral science" (scientia moralis) to settle some problem of textual order. He invokes it first in regard to the location of the discussion of divine providence (1.22 prologue). The sequence of topics in moral science serves as paradigm or analogue - the relation is not stated - for the sequence of Questions about God. Later, as I mentioned in the last chapter, Thomas invokes moral science to postpone the discussion of appetitive powers into the second Part (1.84 prologue). Finally, and most obviously, Thomas recalls the order of "moral consideration," and the character of "moral speech" (sermo moralis), to justify the largest structural features of the two halves of the second Part (1-2.6 prologue).
The ideal invoked in these passages is a pattern for distinguishing and disposing teaching on moral matters. At its fullest, the pattern would presumably settle a number of issues: What individuates a moral science among other sciences? What ought a distinctively philosophical or theological moral science to treat and in what order? Medieval Latin writers were familiar with set lists of questions to be asked about moral science or any other science.30 Thomas uses one of these lists by way of introducing his literal exposition of the Nicomachean Ethics.31 Unfortunately, many of the lists are
29 The relation of theological writing to Scriptural interpretation or enactment is emphasized every time Thomas interchanges "holy teaching (sacra doctrina)" with "holy Scripture (sacra scriptum)" or "sacra pagina (sacred page) ."Writing theology is a way of reading Scripture. See on this point Valkenberg, Words of the Living God, especially pp. 9-11.
30 For samples of schematic analyses of ethics contemporary with Thomas, see Robert Kil-wardby, De ortu scientiarum 36 (de quo est, finis, definitio), ed. Albert G. Judy, Auctores Britannici medii aevi 4 (London: British Academy, and Toronto: PIMS, 1976), p. 126, no. 357; Albert the Great, Super Ethica: Commentum et quaestiones prologue (materia, finis, utilitas), ed. Wilhelm Kübel, Cologne Opera omnia 14/1:1.1-55. Dominic Gundissalinus, who provides one of the most elaborate schemes for analyzing sciences, does not apply it to ethics, which he passes over in a few lines. See his De divisione philosophiae "De partibus practice philosophie," ed. Baur, p. 140.
31 Sent. Ethic. 1.1, de quo est, modum tractandi, qualis debeat esse auditor.
mechanical, and even Thomas glosses over issues. We cannot use them to determine what an ideal of moral science would contain. Thomas's invocations of an ideal do show that it should decide the science's autonomy and disposition or order.32 Both autonomy and disposition are pedagogical concerns. They arise within that tension between knowledge and its learners that Thomas confesses at the end of the Summa's first prologue: "to pursue what pertains to holy teaching briefly and clearly, so far as the material permits" (1 prologue).
If the invocations of the ideal are too brief, and the prologues devoted to it elliptical or mechanical, where might one look to find depictions of it? The usual thing is to look in Thomas for explicit remarks about sciences or moral science. Explicit remarks can be useful, but they are not nearly so telling as the achieved organization of the texts in which moral science is offered. Thomas remarks on moral science rarely and then usually to repeat a commonplace. Outside his literal expositions of Aristotle, he has only a handful of things to say about it. He takes "moral sciences" generally as a name for the whole of practical knowledge. These sciences constitute one of the principal parts of philosophy.33 Thomas does not assign any singular, technical meaning to the phrase "moral science" and so regularly alternates it with "moral philosophy," "moral teaching (doctrina)," "moral consideration," or simply "moral things (moralia)." Moral science and its alternates designate the study of voluntary human acts, of their sources and ends.34 Any doctrine that denies voluntariness in human acting immediately abolishes moral science.35 Because moral science deals with voluntary actions, with contingent particulars, it cannot have the certainty of mathematics or metaphysics.36 Its lessons hold only for the most part.37 Moral instruction aims at the practical end of judging what ought to be done in particular circumstances.38 So its language is the language of the exemplum, the concrete and clarifying instance.39 It is
32 Under "autonomy" I include various issues in the individuation of the science - the source and character of its starting points, its relations with other sciences, its position in the order of study, and so on. Under "disposition" I include such issues as what is taught, in what order, and by what means of rational persuasion.
33 Scriptum Sent. 1. prol. 1.2. arg. 1 and 18.104.22.168.2 arg. 2; Super De Trin. 5.1 ad 4; Lect. Matt. 2.3.
34 Scriptum Sent. 22.214.171.124; Summa theol. 1.1.4 sed contra; De virt. comm. 2 ad 15. See also the early division of moral matter into delectabilia, dificilia, and communicabilia at Scriptum Sent. 126.96.36.199 sol. 1.
35 Contra gent. 2.60 (no. 1,374) and 2.76 (no. 1,579); De unitate int. 3 and 4; De malo 6.
36 Scriptum Sent. 188.8.131.52; Super De Trin. 6.1.1 ad 4,6.1.2; De malo 3.6; Summa theol. 1.86.3 sed contra, 1-2.30.1.
37 "In pluribus," Scriptum Sent. 184.108.40.206.1; De malo 8.1 ad 4.
38 Scriptum Sent. 1.prol.1.1 arg. 2, 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168 sol. 2.
39 Princ. 2, Scriptum Sent. 1. prol. 1.3.2; Summa theol. 1.1.2 ad 2.
also the language of exhortation.40 Of course, to possess moral science is not yet to possess virtue. Someone instructed in moral science can say what a particular virtue requires without possessing it.41
These are, as I said, commonplaces of the moral traditions that Thomas inherits. The inheritance is not empty. The commonplace remarks make clear, for example, that "science" is an analogous term for Thomas. Moral science cannot be science in the same way that physics is. It cannot have the same demonstrative necessity, universality, certitude, or kind of end. To say this positively, Thomas's ideal of moral science requires that it be self-limiting in ways that physics is not. It must resist temptations to overstate its certainty or comprehensiveness. Thomas prefers the quieter, structural means of self-limitation. So he multiplies terminologies, juxtaposes rival accounts, and places every utterance - his own included - within an ongoing dialectic. If his textual devices for self-correction are less obvious than Socratic irony or Maimonidean self-contradiction, they must still be appreciated if Thomas is not to be misunderstood badly.
Whatever the internal delimitations of moral philosophy, the limits on it discovered by moral theology are more severe. If we want to see Thomas's judgment on the ideals of moral science known to him, we had best look beyond his borrowing of philosophical commonplaces to a summary description, however tentative, of his deliberate composition of the second Part of the Summa.
In the hybrid structure of the Summa, Thomas gives the ideal of a clarified and unified theological ordering for moral matter. There is no mention of "moral philosophy" in the Summa, much less the labeling of any part of it as philosophy, moral or otherwise. It is all formally theology. Thomas sometimes draws explicit contrasts between the theologian's procedure, which is his own, and the procedure of the philosopher. Thus the theologian considers fault (peccatum) principally as an offense against God, while the moral philosopher considers it as contrary to reason (1-2.71.6 ad 5).42 Thomas elsewhere counts the word "ethics (ethica)" which does not appear in the Summa, a foreign term - not only Greek, but philosophical.43 The Summa is
40 Here the best evidence is from the Scriptural commentaries. See for example Expos. Pauli: in Rom 6.3, "moral exhortation (moralis exhortatio)"; in Phil 1.2, "moral admonition (moralis monitio)"; in Heb 13.1, "moral instruction (moralis instructio)," which requires commendation and exhortation.
41 Summa theol. 1.1.6 ad 3 and 2-2.45.2, to which compare Super De Trin. 5.1 ad 3.
42 Compare Scriptum Sent. 22.214.171.124: "not only according to the theologian, but even according to the moral philosopher."
43 Scriptum Sent. 126.96.36.199 sol. 2, where the "nos"is not so much "we speakers of Latin"as "we Christians."
not a philosophical ethics; it is theology that has at its center a moral part. The difference between the theologian and the philosopher makes for exclusions and shifts of attention in the Summa that we have already seen. Others are required so far as the second Part is a component of an integral theology. The ideal theological order, unified and clarified, is strongly selective. That is the first of its self-limitations.
The second self-limitation can be seen not in order, but in content. Thomas presents through the Summa a set of patterns for the analysis of moral life. One staple of Dominican moral preaching was the sermon ad status, the sermon concerned with the perils and opportunities of a particular profession or social class. The closest Thomas comes to that kind of direct address is in the final Questions of Summa 2-2 on the choice of religious life. In those sections, as throughout the whole part, Thomas keeps considerable distance from the particular. He offers no more than schemata for pastoral applications or analyses yet to be done. A few particular issues are treated, of course. Thomas considers whether it is licit to baptize nonChristian children against the will of their parents (2-2.10.12), how one is to proceed in fraternal correction (2-2.33.7-8), and when one is to fast (2-2.147.5-7). Still the overwhelming majority of Questions in this "more particular" section of the Summa concern the classification, causality, order, and opposition of virtues or vices. It is more taxonomy than exhortation, more causal classification than spiritual direction. So Thomas's ideal of moral science is self-limiting in a second way: it recognizes the intrinsic universality of moral teaching and does not pretend to particularity.
Then, third, Thomas reminds his readers in the Summa of the limitation of any theological teaching about morals. A complete life of virtue requires the personal gift of divine grace. The gift brings more vivid awareness of one's place under God's direct providence. It thus threatens the whole enterprise of moral science. What is the point of teaching a Christian moral doctrine if the enactment of that doctrine depends utterly on God?44 The Summa addresses the question with two explicit correctives to any over-estimation of the value of human teaching. One comes, prominently, at the end of the first Part (1.117.1). It is the opening Article in a set of three Questions "on human action" (1.117 prologue). Thomas argues that a human teacher can do no more than minister externally to the learner. The human teacher provides "helps and instruments," such as examples, analogies, disanalogies, or more proximate propositions. The human teacher proposes an order of learning, a
44 Thomas knows one formulation of this puzzle in Augustine's anti-Manichean writings: De correptione etgratia 1.2.3-6.9 (Migne PL 44:917-921).
path for the learner's insight. That is all. The Summas other reminder about teaching comes at the end of the second Part. In the final Question on special graces and conditions of life, human teaching itself is analyzed as a divine gift. The freely given grace of the "word of wisdom" or "of knowledge" (sermo sapientiae, scientiae) enables a human teacher to serve as instrument for the Holy Spirit.45
These remarks on teaching are not casual asides. They are deliberate reminders of a third self-limitation in the ideal of scientia moralis that Thomas embodies in the Summa. The Summa is neither Scriptural exegesis nor pastoral care. It is intermediate between them - dependent on Scripture, intended for the formation of pastors. The Summa is intermediate between divinely inspired books that embrace every important genre of teaching and the specialized genres of spiritual guidance. It is at once a clarifying simplification of Scripture for the sake of preaching or confessing, and a clarifying generalization of pastoral experience brought back under the science of Scripture, which is to say, under the whole of theology. Nothing more ought to be asked of a theologian's moral teaching. The ideal of moral science must insist first and last that it serves the workings of divine grace in individual human souls.
In drawing this conclusion, I have spoken of the whole Summa - and quite deliberately. Thomas wrote the Summa for the sake of the second Part, that is, in order to situate the moral component of theology within a properly ordered account of the whole. Thomas undertook the writing at the end of a series of experiments in comprehensive theological composition. Reading through these experiments, we can argue over Thomas's motives for moving from one project to another. Yet the largest contrast between the Summa and the earlier works stands beyond argument: it is the contrast created by the second Part, by the large and ingeniously arranged teaching of moral art and science at the center of theology. Any account of the Summa's purposes that fails to explain the unprecedented size and scope of the moral teaching is an inadequate account.
45 Summa theol. 2-2.177.1. Compare the remarks on teaching for the sake of saving souls in 2-2.181.3,187.1, and 188.4-5.
Was this article helpful?