Friday, August 13, 2010

Interface between Theology and the Other Sciences

In previous posts, I asked "[W]hy does it seem the truths of theology do not help the lower sciences like physics, chemistry, and biology, or vice versa?" (Believe, that you may understand.) and:
It is no wonder that we moderns—who eschew God and a true study of God, Thomistic theology, from universities—often have little desire to seek absolute truth and beauty and often have a very primitive aesthetics


Skepticism and the denial of an absolute truth toward which the various sciences strive renders knowledge once obtained meaningless. If there is no real connection between the objective world viewed by physicists and psychologists, e.g., than what use is knowledge in either field? Is it even knowledge or a fabrication, perhaps self-consistent but isolated in itself? This connection between the sciences is called theology, and the lack of theology in schools—especially the "perennial philosophy" of St. Thomas—is really a bigger issue than one may think.

Relation of truth, beauty, and reason

Here, I ask: "Can one (e.g., an angel, an intelligent being) come to knowledge of anything, even something particular, solely from the articles of faith?" And:
In Aristotle's Posterior Analytics bk. 1 ch. 3, he says:
Some hold that, owing to the necessity of knowing the primary premisses, there is no scientific knowledge. Others think there is, but that all truths are demonstrable. Neither doctrine is either true or a necessary deduction from the premisses. [...] Our own doctrine is that not all knowledge is demonstrative: on the contrary, knowledge of the immediate premisses is independent of demonstration.
To which St. Thomas Aquinas says in his Expositio Posteriorum, lib. 1 l. 7:
Therefore, if someone were to ask how the science of immediate principles is possessed, the answer would be that not only are they known in a scientific manner, but knowledge of them is the source of a science. For one passes from the knowledge of principles to a demonstration of conclusion on which science, properly speaking, bears. But those immediate principles are not made known through an additional middle but through an understanding of their own terms. For as soon as it is known what a whole is and what a part is, it is known that every whole is greater than its part, because in such a proposition, as has been stated above, the predicate is included in the very notion of the subject. And therefore it is reasonable that the knowledge of these principles is the cause of the knowledge of conclusions, because always, that which exists in virtue of itself is the cause of that which exists in virtue of something else.
Does this mean that the "science of principles is possessed" by faith? Would not this be fideism, since it "affirms that the fundamental act of human knowledge consists in an act of faith" (Sauvage, G.)? Since St. Thomas says that "faith is more certain than science and the other intellectual virtues" (Summa Theologica IIª-IIae q. 4 a. 8), which is good if "demonstration must be based on premisses prior to and better known than the conclusion," as Aristotle said in the above-cited chapter of his Posterior Analytics, is it proper to say "Science, therefore, is grounded on faith?" Is this a type of fideism?

Is science grounded on faith?

Is this related to the regress problem? Also,
In Summa Theologica, I, q. 32, a. 1 ad 2, St. Thomas Aquinas quotes St. Augustine, who says that:
per fidem venitur ad cognitionem, et non e converso.
[by faith we arrive at knowledge, and not conversely.]

Is science grounded on faith? — St. Augustine seems to think it is.

There is also Summa Theologica IIª-IIae q. 2 a. 4 co., which says that "it is necessary to believe those things which can be proved by natural reason" because, e.g., it "is necessary to believe that God is one and incorporeal: which things philosophers prove by natural reason." Yet this seems to contradict the maxim "Habitus scientiae et habitus fidei non possunt esse simul in eodem intellectu respectu ejusdem objecti" ["The habit of science and the habit of faith cannot be the same time in the same intellect with respect to the same object."] (cf. Summa Theologica IIª-IIae q. 1 a. 4 co.). To answer these questions, we treat first
  1. the bearing of theology on other branches of knowledge (cf. Card. Newman's Idea of a University part 1, discourse 3);
then we treat
  1. the bearing of the other branches of knowledge on theology (cf. idem, discourse 4),
followed by some
  1. concluding remarks.

The Bearing of Theology on Other Branches of Knowledge

Commenting on Summa Theologica Iª q. 1 a. 2, the article on whether sacred doctrine is a science, which answers saying:
Sacred doctrine is a science. We must bear in mind that there are two kinds of sciences. There are some which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry and the like. There are some which proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science: thus the science of perspective proceeds from principles established by geometry, and music from principles established by arithmetic. So it is that sacred doctrine is a science because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed. Hence, just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.

Summa Theologica Iª q. 1 a. 2 co.

Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange writes, carefully distinguishing between natural and supernatural reasoning:

Fourth doubt. What theological conclusions are definable by the Church as dogmas of faith, such that their contradictory propositions would not only be erroneous but heretical? All know the difference between these two terms: erroneous and heretical. A proposition is said to be erroneous when it is against a theologically certain conclusion, and heretical when it is against the faith.

In answer to this we say:

  1. All theologians are agreed that the theological conclusion improperly so called is definable as a dogma. The reason is that it is not a question here of a new truth that has been deduced, but of a truth that has already been formally but confusedly or implicitly revealed, such as the infallibility of the Supreme Pontiff when our Lord said: "Thou art Peter. ..." Then the discursive reasoning is only explicative, or at most subjectively but not objectively illative. In this case the discursive method explains only the subject or predicate of the proposition that is expressly revealed Thus it has been revealed that Christ is truly God and truly man. But for true humanity a rational soul is an essential requisite.. Therefore Christ had a rational soul. This conclusion defined against Apollinaris.

    For this same reason particular propositions included in an expressly revealed universal proposition are definable as dogmas of faith. Thus we conclude that Abraham contracted original sin, for the universal proposition that has been expressly revealed, "in whom (Adam) all have sinned," covers all particular cases. This assertion is generally admitted by theologians.

  2. A conclusion deduced even by a truly illative process of reasoning from two principles that are of faith, is also definable as a dogma of faith. The reason is that, although the conclusion is reached by the illative process, yet specifically as such it is of faith. It is impllicitly revealed, indeed, in the two revealed premises; for a new idea is not introduced, and the connection between predicate and subject can be affirmed by reason of the formal revelation. It is, as it were, the logical explanation of the two propositions taken together that are of faith.

  3. A theological conclusion that is deduced by an objectively illative process of reasoning from one premise that is of faith, and another founded on reason, is not of faith in itself, nor can it be for us defined as a dogma of faith. The reason is that this is a new truth that is not simply revealed, but is simply deduced from revelation and is only virtually revealed.

    We have an example of this in the following syllogism: being is consequent upon person, so that there is only one substantial existence for each person; but in Christ there is only one person; therefore in Christ there is only one being, namely, the one and only substantial existence for the two natures.

    In this discursive method, the major is founded on reason, and the minor is of faith. Hence in the conclusion the connection between the predicate and the subject cannot be affirmed solely on account of the authority of God revealing, but partly because of the revelation contained in the minor, and partly on account of the light of natural reason, by which we are impelled to give our assent to the major premise. Therefore this conclusion belongs directly to theology and not to faith.

    In other words, this conclusion is not simply revealed (not even implicitly), but it is simply deduced from revealed principles and is only virtually revealed. Hence if the Church were to propose it as a dogma of faith, the contradictory of which would be heresy, the Church would be uttering what is false, because it would propose as simply revealed and to be believed on the authority of God revealing, what is not simply revealed but merely deduced from what is revealed. But the Church can condemn infallibly as erroneous the denial of such a deduced conclusion.

    Another example: infused knowledge is necessary so that the human intellect may not remain imperfect but may know, for instance, various languages not known by one's natural powers; but it was not to be thought of that Christ's human intellect even in this life should be imperfect; therefore Christ even in this life had infused knowledge. This conclusion is not of faith, nor is it definable as a dogma of faith.

    In these truly illative processes of reasoning a new truth is inferred in that from the premise known by the natural power of reason (especially if this premise is the major), a new truth is introduced, and we have not merely an explanation of the subject or predicate of the revealed proposition. Such conclusions - (if not otherwise equivalently revealed in Sacred Scripture or tradition) are not defined by.the Church. But the Church sometimes condemns, and even infallibly, as erroneous, opinions that deny theologically, certain conclusions.

    For a more complete explanation of the conclusion just stated, we must add that, according to the Vatican Council, "all those things are to be believed with divine and Catholic faith which are contained in the word of God written or handed down, and which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by her ordinary and universal teaching, proposes for our belief as having been divinely revealed." This is the definition of dogma. But that which is only connected with what is revealed, cannot be said to be simple and strictly revealed, but is distinguished from what is revealed as being deduced from it.

    Moreover, if the Church defined as a dogma such a conclusion, it would not only be infallibly guarding and explaining the deposit of the faith, but it would be perfecting the teaching that is of faith and would be establishing new dogmas; for by this definition it would be declaring of faith what before was not of faith, either in itself or for us.

    Finally, if the above-mentioned theological conclusions were definable as dogmas of faith, then all theologically certain conclusions, even those most remote, would be equally definable as dogmas, and all conclusions condemned as erroneous could be condemned as heretical in the strict sense of the term. thus a great part of the Theological Summa and, especially so, practically the whole treatise on God and His attributes, rigorously deduced from revealed principles, could become dogmas of faith.

    We must therefore carefully distinguish between a theological conclusion that is only virtually connected with what is revealed, and a truth that is formally and implicitly revealed. Yet in individual cases it is not always easy to make this distinction. For what seems to the majority virtually connected with that which is revealed to one of prodigious and keener intellect appears to be formally and implicitly revealed. There are Thomists who see in the words of St. Paul, "It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will," a formally implicit revelation that grace is efficacious of itself and not because God foresees our consent. They come to the same conclusion from the following words of our Lord: "My sheep . . . shall not perish forever, and no man shall pluck them out of My hand . . . and no one can snatch them out of the hand of My Father." In accordance with these texts, for many Thomists, an explicative process of reasoning, and one that is objectively illative, suffices to show that grace is of itself efficacious, because it concerns not a new truth that is deduced, but the same truth more explicitly formulated."

The One God, ch. 1, article 2

Bearing of Other Branches of Knowledge on Theology

St. Thomas Aquinas writes, inquiring whether sacred doctrine is nobler than the other sciences:
Since this science is partly speculative and partly practical, it transcends all others speculative and practical. Now one speculative science is said to be nobler than another, either by reason of its greater certitude, or by reason of the higher worth of its subject-matter. In both these respects this science surpasses other speculative sciences; in point of greater certitude, because other sciences derive their certitude from the natural light of human reason, which can err; whereas this derives its certitude from the light of divine knowledge, which cannot be misled: in point of the higher worth of its subject-matter because this science treats chiefly of those things which by their sublimity transcend human reason; while other sciences consider only those things which are within reason's grasp. Of the practical sciences, that one is nobler which is ordained to a further purpose, as political science is nobler than military science; for the good of the army is directed to the good of the State. But the purpose of this science, in so far as it is practical, is eternal bliss; to which as to an ultimate end the purposes of every practical science are directed. Hence it is clear that from every standpoint, it is nobler than other sciences.

Summa Theologica Iª q. 1 a. 5 co.

Of particular importance is this article's second objection:
Further, it is the sign of a lower science to depend upon a higher; as music depends on arithmetic. But sacred doctrine does in a sense depend upon philosophical sciences; for Jerome observes, in his Epistle to Magnus, that "the ancient doctors so enriched their books with the ideas and phrases of the philosophers, that thou knowest not what more to admire in them, their profane erudition or their scriptural learning." Therefore sacred doctrine is inferior to other sciences.

Summa Theologica Iª q. 1 a. 5 arg. 2

To which he replies:
This science can in a sense depend upon the philosophical sciences, not as though it stood in need of them, but only in order to make its teaching clearer. For it accepts its principles not from other sciences, but immediately from God, by revelation. Therefore it does not depend upon other sciences as upon the higher, but makes use of them as of the lesser, and as handmaidens: even so the master sciences make use of the sciences that supply their materials, as political of military science. That it thus uses them is not due to its own defect or insufficiency, but to the defect of our intelligence, which is more easily led by what is known through natural reason (from which proceed the other sciences) to that which is above reason, such as are the teachings of this science.

Summa Theologica Iª q. 1 a. 5 ad 2

Garrigou-Lagrange elaborates:

Second doubt. How is it that sacred theology is nobler than the sciences from which it accepts anything? It accepts a number of principles from metaphysics and therefore seems to be inferior to it; as optics, accepting something from geometry, is inferior to this latter, as being a subalternate science.

In the reply to the second objection it is stated that sacred theology does not accept its principles from other sciences, for these principles are revealed by God; but it accepts from them a certain means for the better manifestation of revealed truths, and thus it makes use of these sciences as being inferior to it and ancillary. It makes use of them, indeed, not because of any defect on its part but on that of our intellect, which is more easily led by means of natural things to acquire a certain understanding of supernatural truths.

This reply is profound and contains several points worthy of note. If sacred theology were to accept its principles from metaphysics, it would be subordinated to this latter, as optics is to geometry. But it accepts them only as the means for the greater manifestation of the revealed truths.

Thus sacred theology makes use of the natural sciences in accordance with the proper meaning of the word "use." In the strict sense of the term, only the superior makes use of the inferior, that is, ordains the action of the inferior in co-operating with the superior's action, which is ordained to a higher end. Thus the writer uses his pen, the painter his brush, the general of the army his soldiers, the finer arts the inferior, as the art of navigation avails itself of the constructive art of shipbuilding. In like manner sacred theology, as the superior science, makes use of metaphysics as the inferior and the handmaid. Thus metaphysics, for instance, the metaphysics of Aristotle, serves a much higher end. The Aristotelian notion of predicamental relation, for instance, is for us instrumental in acquiring a certain knowledge of the Trinity. Aristotle could not for see so great an honor and glory for his metaphysics that it would serve the uses of the higher science of God. Thus metaphysics is not despised but is honored, just as that citizen is honored who is at the king's immediate disposal; for it is better to obey a king than to rule over a household, and this because of the high end in view for the attainment of which this collaboration is given.

Hence, as John of St. Thomas correctly observes, when sacred theology makes use of natural premises, a metaphysical truth, example, it makes use of this as a means. But a means, such a pen or brush, acts in virtue of the power transmitted to it by other, and is at the same time applied to its act and elevated by the motion of the principal agent, so as to produce an effect that transcends its own power. Thus by means of the motion imparted to the pen by the writer, it not only deposits the ink on the paperbut it writes something intelligible; and the brush not only puts the colors on the canvas, but arranges them most beautifully and artistically. In like manner, according to the navigator's instructions, the shipwright constructs a vessel that is seaworthy. So also sacred theology uses the natural premise taken, for instance, from metaphysics. It first approves of the premise for this purpose under the guidance of the divine light of revelation, at least negatively, according as this natural premise is not in opposition to what has been revealed. Then it makes use of this premise not only by a motion that applies the same to act but also by a motion that is instrumental in the attainment of its higher end. This end is a certain understanding of the supernatural mysteries either in themselves (if it is a case of an explicative process of reasoning), or as regards their consequences, corollaries (if it is a case of an illative process of reasoning). Therefore the theological conclusion thus obtained, although it has less certainty than a proposition of the faith, has more certainty than a natural premise as such, because it is deduced from this premise which has been elevated and clarified by a higher light. Thus also in this case, the instrument produces an effect that transcends its own power and it operates by way of disposing for the effect of the principal agent.

It must be noted that great doctors, such as St. Augustine, produced even with a most imperfect instrument, for instance, with Neoplatonic philosophy, a wonderful theological work. It was in his way that St. Augustine wrote his books on the Trinity. Thus great painters sometimes paint a beautiful picture with a most impcrfect brush. And besides, in these great doctors, faith, illuminated by the gifts of understanding and wisdom, makes up for thedeficiency of the instrument, or of philosophy. [Cf. J. Maritain, Les degres du savoir (The Degrees of Knowledge), Part II, chap. 7.]

The philosophy, however, to which St. Thomas had recourse was more exact because Aristotle enunciated with great precision the philosophical notions and metaphysical principles, as Euclid did the elements of geometry. Thus St. Thomas excels in both kinds of wisdom, namely, acquired wisdom which is the result of the perfect functioning of reason, and infused wisdom which proceeds according to a connaturalness of judgment with things divine under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

In other words, a natural premise is in some way elevated , so as to manifest the supernatural order and it receives a somewhat greater certitude than it would have in its own right; for it is judged by faith and theology, corrected (if it needs to be) and approved by them. Thus St. Thomas in his treatise on the Trinity approves of and in some measure corrects the Aristotelian distinction between principle and cause, by showing that in the divine Persons the Father is the principle of the Son but not the cause. We have some evidence of this from experience. We are conscious of assenting with greater certainty to natural truths discovered by us, when we see that they have the approval of the leading doctors, especially when we see that they have divine confirmation and approval.

Even a natural premise which in itself would be only probable would not become certain by reason of its connection with a principle that is of faith, nor would it lead to a theologically certain conclusion; it would only be probable. But if it is certain in itself, it becomes more certain in proportion as it is clarified by a higher light. Thus the philosopher who already has metaphysical certainty of God's existence before he receives infused faith, is after its reception more certain of this truth, since infused faith confirms from on high this metaphysical certitude. These statements are true even for the strictly illative process of reasoning, and more so for the explicative process.

From what has been said it is evident that sacred theology is a science subordinated not to metaphysics but solely to the science possessed by God, and by the blessed; for, as regards its own intrinsic principles, it depends solely upon divine revelation. But theology from its exalted position makes use of natural principles as strangers to it, and it makes use of them not because of any deficiency in itself, but because of the deficiency of our intellect, which is incapable of knowing the truths that are implicitly and virtually contained in the revealed principles solely by the light of faith. Now the angelic intellect, since it is not discursive, does not thus stand in need of this additional natural knowledge so that it may have a certain understanding of supernatural mysteries. For the angel immediately sees the conclusion contained in the principles, the properties in the essence, and thus it immediately knows all the properties of man from the very concept of the human nature. Hence the angel, without any discursive process, immediately understands in this revealed truth, "The Word was made flesh," what we deduce only by a slow process of reasoning.

It follows from this that the certitude of a strictly theological conclusion is less than the certitude of infused faith, but it is greater than the certitude of the natural sciences, even of metaphysics. The certitude of the theological conclusion improperly so called, of the conclusion that is obtained by the explicative process of reasoning, is less than the certitude of faith; but it acquires the certitude of faith, if by the special assistance of the Holy Spirit it is defined by the Church. Then it must be firmly accepted not because it has been proved by an explicative process of reasoning, but because "it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost."

The One God, ch. 1, article 5

Concluding Remarks

How is St. Thomas not expressing fideism? Since an "entire science is virtually contained in its principles (in principiis scientiae virtualiter tota scientia continetur)" (Summa Theologica Iª-IIae q. 3 a. 6 co.) and the principles of theology are the articles of faith (Summa Theologica Iª q. 1 a. 7 co.), it still seems one could arrive at discoveries of how the physical universe works starting with the supreme science, theology, from which all other sciences—e.g., modern physics—must ultimately take their principles. But, as St. Thomas keenly notes, this is difficult for us humans due to the effects of original sin, especially our darkened intellects, and so we need the lower sciences to illuminate theology, whose principles, the articles of faith, are self-evident and better known only to those who have faith. Hence, even to scientists—e.g., for the greatest genius after Christ, St. Thomas Aquinas, who said that he learned more at the foot of a crucifix than in all his secular studies, a real testimony to the fact that faith gives one great knowledge—did Jesus address Doubting St. Thomas the Apostle when He said: "blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed." (John 20:29).

Related to this is again the question of why intellectual knowledge must come through the senses (Nothing is in the intellect that is not first in the senses: Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius in sensu.). The faithful hold by faith that:
For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity.

Romans 1:20

As well as these:
If anyone shall have said that the one true God, our Creator and our Lord, cannot be known with certitude by those things which have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema

Denzinger 1806

The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason from created things; "for the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made" [Rom 1:20]; nevertheless, it has pleased His wisdom and goodness to reveal Himself and the eternal decrees of His will to the human race in another and supernatural way, as the Apostle says: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all, in these days hath spoken to us by His Son" [Heb. 1:1].

Denzinger 1785

Most relevant is this:
All knowledge of God, even natural knowledge, even in the pagan philosophers, cannot come except from God; and without grace knowledge produces nothing but presumption, vanity, and opposition to God Himself, instead of the affections of adoration, gratitude, and love.

Denzinger 1391

How does the study of God's creatures, by doing physics in the broad sense of studying the natural world, lead to knowledge of Him? St. Thomas elucidates this:

Chapter 1


“I meditated upon Your works: I meditated upon the works of Your hands” (Ps. 142-5).

[1] Of no thing whatever can a perfect knowledge be obtained unless its operation is known, because the measure and quality of a thing’s power is judged from the manner and type of its operation, and its power, in turn, manifests its nature; for a thing’s natural aptitude for operation follows upon its actual possession of a certain kind of nature.

[2] There are, however, two sorts of operation, as Aristotle teaches in Metaphysics IX [8]: one that remains in the agent and is a perfection of it, as the act of sensing, understanding, and willing; another that passes over into an external thing, and is a perfection of the thing made as a result of that operation, the acts of heating, cutting and building, for example.

[3] Now, both kinds of operation belong to God: the former, in that He understands, wills, rejoices, and loves; the latter, in that He brings things into being, preserves them, and governs them. But, since the former operation is a perfection of the operator, the latter a perfection of the thing made, and since the agent is naturally prior to the thing made and is the cause of it, it follows that the first of these types of operation is the ground of the second, and naturally precedes it, as a cause precedes its effect. Clear evidence of this fact, indeed, is found in human affairs; for in the thought and will of the craftsman lie the principle and plan of the work of building.

[4] Therefore, as a simple perfection of the operator, the first type of operation claims for itself the name of operation, or, again, of action; the second, as being a perfection of the thing made, is called making so that the things which a craftsman produces by action of this kind are said to be his handiwork.

[5] Of the first type of operation in God we have already spoken in the preceding Book of this work, where we treated of the divine knowledge and will. Hence, for a complete study of the divine truth, the second operation, whereby things are made and governed by God, remains to be dealt with.

[6], In fact, this order we can gather from the words quoted above. For the Psalmist first speaks of meditation upon the first type of operation, when he says: “I have meditated on all your operations”; thus, operation is here referred to the divine act of understanding and will. Then he refers to meditation on God’s works: “and I meditated on the works of Your hands”; so that by “the works of Your hands” we understand heaven and earth, and all that is brought into being by God, as the handiwork produced by a craftsman.

Chapter 2


[1] This sort of meditation on the divine works is indeed necessary for instruction of faith in God.

[2] First, because meditation on His works enables us in game measure to admire and reflect upon His wisdom. For things made by art are representative of the art itself, being made in likeness to the art. Now, God brought things into being by His wisdom; wherefore the Psalm (103:24) declares: “You made all things in wisdom.” Hence, from reflection upon God’s works we are able to infer His wisdom, since, by a certain communication of His likeness, it is spread abroad in the things He has made. For it is written: “He poured her out,” namely, wisdom, “upon all His works” (Eccli. 1:10). Therefore, the Psalmist, after saying: “Your knowledge is become wonderful to me: it is high, and I cannot reach it,” and after referring to the aid of the divine illumination, when he says: “Night shall be my light,” etc., confesses that he was aided in knowing the divine wisdom by reflection upon God’s works, saying: “Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows right well” (Ps. 138:6, 11, 14).

[3] Secondly, this consideration [of God’s works] leads to admiration of God’s sublime power, and consequently inspires in men’s hearts reverence for God. For the power of the worker is necessarily understood to transcend the things made. And so it is said: “If they,” namely, the philosophers, “admired their power and effects,” namely of the heavens, stars, and elements of the world, “let them understand that He that made them is mightier than they” (Wis. 13:4). Also it is written: “The invisible things of God are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made: His eternal power also and divinity” (Rom. 1:20). Now, the fear and reverence of God result from this admiration. Hence, it is said: “Great is Your name in might. Who shall not fear You, O King of Nations?” (Jer. l0:6-7).

[4] Thirdly, this consideration incites the souls of men to the love of God’s goodness. For whatever goodness and perfection is distributed to the various creatures, in partial or particular measure, is united together in Him universally, as in the source of all goodness, as we proved in Book I. If, therefore, the goodness, beauty, and delightfulness of creatures are so alluring to the minds of men, the fountainhead of God’s own goodness, compared with the rivulets of goodness found in creatures, will draw the enkindled minds of men wholly to Itself. Hence it is said in the Psalm (91:5): “You have given me, O Lord, a delight in Your doings, and in the works of Your hands I shall rejoice.” And elsewhere it is written concerning the children of men: “They shall be inebriated with the plenty of Your house,” that is, of all creatures, “and You shall make them drink of the torrent of Your pleasure: for with You is the fountain of life” (Ps. 35:9-10). And, against certain men, it is said: “By these good things that are seen,” namely, creatures, which are good by a kind of participation, “they could not understand Him that is” (Wis. 13:1), namely, truly good; indeed, is goodness itself, as was shown in Book I.

[5] Fourthly, this consideration endows men with a certain likeness to God’s perfection. For it was shown in Book I that, by knowing Himself, God beholds all other things in Himself. Since, then, the Christian faith teaches man principally about God, and makes him know creatures by the light of divine revelation, there arises in man a certain likeness of God’s wisdom. So it is said: “But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image” (2 Cor. 3:18).

[6] It is therefore evident that the consideration of creatures has its part to play in building the Christian faith. And for this reason it is said: “I will remember the works of the Lord, and I will declare the things I have seen: by the words of the Lord are His works” (Sirach 42:15).

Chapter 3


[1] The consideration of creatures is further necessary, not only for the building up of truth, but also for the destruction of errors. For errors about creatures sometimes lead one astray from the truth of faith, so far as the errors are inconsistent with true knowledge of God. Now, this happens in many ways.

[2] First, because through ignorance of the nature of creatures men are sometimes so far perverted as to set up as. the first cause and as God that which can only receive its being from something else; for they think that nothing exists beyond the realm of visible creatures. Such were those who identified God with this, that, and the other kind of body; and of these it is said: “Who have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon to be the gods” (Wis. 13: 2).

[3] Secondly, because they attribute to certain creatures that which belongs only to God. This also results from error concerning creatures. For what is incompatible with a thing’s nature is not ascribed to it except through ignorance of its nature—as if man were said to have three feet. Now, what belongs solely to God is incompatible with the nature of a created thing, just as that which is exclusively man’s is incompatible with another thing’s nature. Thus, it is from ignorance of the creature’s nature that the aforesaid error arises. And against this error it is said: “They gave the incommunicable name to stones and wood” (Wis. 14:21). Into this error fell those who attribute the creation of things, or knowledge of the future, or the working of miracles to causes other than God.

[4] Thirdly, because through ignorance of the creature’s nature something is subtracted from God’s power in its working upon creatures. This is evidenced in the case of those who set up two principles of reality; in those who assert that things proceed from God, not by the divine will, but by natural necessity; and again, in those who withdraw either all or some things from the divine providence, or who deny that it can work outside the ordinary course of things. For all these notions are derogatory to God’s power. Against such persons it is said: “Who looked upon the Almighty as if He could do nothing” (Job 22:17), and: “You show Your power, when men will not believe You to be absolute in power” (Wis. .12: 17).

[5] Fourthly, through ignorance of the nature of things, and, consequently, of his own place in the order of the universe, this rational creature, man, who by faith is led to God as his last end, believes that he is subject to other creatures to which he is in fact superior. Such is evidently the case with those who subject human wills to the stars, and against these it is said: “Be not afraid of the signs of heaven, which the heathens fear” (Jer. 10:2); and this is likewise true of those who think that angels are the creators of souls, that human souls are mortal, and, generally, of persons who hold any similar views derogatory to the dignity of man.

[6] It is, therefore, evident that the opinion is false of those who asserted that it made no difference to the truth of the faith what anyone holds about creatures, so long as one thinks rightly about God, as Augustine tells us in his book On the Origin of the Soul [De anima et ejus origine, IV, 4]. For error concerning creatures, by subjecting them to causes other than God, spills over into false opinion about God, and takes men’s minds away from Him, to whom faith seeks to lead them.

[7] For this reason Scripture threatens punishment to those who eff about creatures, as to unbelievers, in the words of the Psalm (27:5): “Because they have not understood the works of the Lord and the operations of His hands, You shall destroy them, and shall not build them up”; and: “These things they thought and were deceived,” and further on: “They did not esteem the honor of holy Souls” (Wis. 7:2122).

Chapter 4


[1] Now, from what has been said it is evident that the teaching of the Christian faith deals with creatures so far as they reflect a certain likeness of God, and so far as error concerning them leads to error about God. And so they are viewed in a different light by that doctrine and by human philosophy. For human philosophy considers them as they are, so that the different parts of philosophy are found to correspond to the different genera of things. The Christian faith, however, does not consider them as such; thus, it regards fire not as fire, but as representing the sublimity of God, and as being directed to Him in any way at all. For as it is said: “Full of the glory of the Lord is His work. Did the Lord not make the saints declare all His wonderful works?” (Sirach 42: 16-17)

[2] For this reason, also, the philosopher and the believer consider different matters about creatures. The philosopher considers such things as belong to them by nature-the upward tendency of fire, for example; the believer, only such things as belong to them according as they are related to God—the fact, for instance, that they are created by God, are subject to Him, and so on.

[3] Hence, imperfection is not to be imputed to the teaching of the faith if it omits many properties of things, such as the figure of the heaven and the quality of its motion. For neither does the natural philosopher consider the same characters of a line as the geometrician, but only those that accrue to it as terminus of a natural body.

[4] But any things concerning creatures that are considered in common by the philosopher and the believer are conveyed through different principles in each case. For the philosopher takes his argument from the proper causes of things; the believer, from the first cause—for such reasons as that a thing has been handed down in this manner by God, or that this conduces to God’s glory, or that God’s power is infinite. Hence, also, [the doctrine of the faith] ought to be called the highest wisdom, since it treats of the highest Cause; as we read in Deuteronomy (4:6): “For this is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of nations.” And, therefore, human philosophy serves her as the first wisdom. Accordingly, divine wisdom sometimes argues from principles of human philosophy. For among philosophers, too, the first philosophy utilizes the teachings of all the sciences in order to realize its objectives.

[5] Hence again, the two kinds of teaching do not follow the same order. For in the teaching of philosophy, which considers creatures in themselves and leads us from them to the knowledge of God, the first consideration is about creatures; the last, of God. But in the teaching of faith, which considers creatures only in their relation to God, the consideration of God comes first, that of creatures afterwards. And thus the doctrine of faith is more perfect, as being more like the knowledge possessed by God, who, in knowing Himself, immediately knows other things.

[6] And so, following this order, after what has been said in Book I about God in Himself, it remains for us to treat of the things which derive from Him.

Contra Gentiles, lib. 2 cap. 1-4

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