Philosophy within Theology

Thomas likens the theologian's use of philosophy to the miraculous transformation of water into wine. In context, he is answering an Old Testament admonition read allegorically with a New Testament miracle read literally.53 He makes a point about arguing from Scripture, but he also suggests that a

53 See Super De Trin. 2.3 arg. 5 and ad 5, where the objector cites Isaiah 1.22 and Aquinas replies with an allusion to Jesus's miracle at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-11).

miracle of grace gives a theologian confidence to illuminate what philosophers labored so hard to see so partially.

Thomas offers the image of substantial change seriously. Just as the water became wine, so the philosophical materials become something else when taken up by Christian theology. This image from John is stronger than the Pauline one with which Thomas juxtaposes it: "subjugating" philosophy to Christ. I suggested above that "subjugation" could refer to several rights that theologians might exercise over philosophy: to own philosophical truths, to correct philosophical errors, and to redirect philosophical motivation. The image of turning water into wine promises more. It urges theology to strengthen philosophical reflection and to improve philosophical discoveries.

We have seen as much in the two examples from the Summa. The theologian's definition of virtue is ampler and more properly ordered than the philosophers' definitions. The theologian's notion of causality both embraces more kinds of causes and deepens the accounts of causes already recognized. What the philosopher thought of as virtues and causes are now seen to be only particular and incomplete cases of each. The theologian's acceptance in faith of the discourses of revelation encourages a thorough revision of what philosophers thought they understood only too well.

Thomas prepares two responses for a contemporary reader's question about the relation of philosophy to theology in the Summa. The first response is that the question must be reformulated so that it asks about theology's transforming incorporation of philosophy. The second response is that a Christian theology done well ought to speak more and better about matters of concern to philosophy than philosophers themselves can. If a work of Christian theology cannot do this, Thomas would not count it theology written well.

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