Friday, June 9, 2017

Bite Size Aquinas: Question 1-The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine; Article 2

In Article 1 of his Summa, St. Thomas asked whether, besides philosophy, any further doctrine is required. He answered that it was necessary for there to be other forms of knowledge outside of pure philosophy, namely divine revelation which exceeds mere human reason. In today's post, he is pondering the question of whether Sacred Doctrine can be considered a science.

As a reminder, Thomas always poses the side he disagrees with first in the form of "objections" to the question posed by the article.

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Article 2: Whether Sacred Doctrine is a Science?

Objection 1: It seems that sacred doctrine is not a science, for all knowledge proceeds out of principles known through themselves. But Sacred Doctrine proceeds out of articles of faith, which are not known through themselves because they are not conceded by all, "Truly all do not have faith" (II Thess 3:2). Therefore sacred doctrine is not a science.

Objection 2: Besides, science is not of a singular subject. But Sacred Doctrine is discussed as a singular subject, for instance the deeds of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and such like. Therefore, Sacred Doctrine is not a science.

But on the contrary, it is that which Augustine says (On the Trinity, 14), "This knowledge is associated with only that healthiest faith which is begotten, nourished, defended, and strengthened." This, however, pertains to no knowledge except to Sacred Doctrine. Therefore, Sacred Doctrine is a science.

I respond that Sacred Doctrine is to be called a science. But it must be remembered that the family of science is twofold. For some proceed out of known principles from the enlightened intellect, just as math, geometry, and the like. Some specifically proceed out of known principles enlightened by superior sciences, just as perspective springs out of principles from geometry and music out of principles from math. And this Sacred Doctrine is a science which springs from known principles enlightened by a superior science, which is the science of God and blessed things. Hence, the musician believes the principles delivered to himself by math, so Sacred Doctrine is believed by the principles revealed by God.

To the first objection, therefore, the principles of science is that either they are known by themselves or are subjugated to a known superior science.

To the second objection, it is to be stated that singular facts are transmitted in Sacred Doctrine, not because it is concerned with them principally but they are introduced as examples for lives, just as the science of ethics; furthermore to declare the authority of men through whom divine revelation appeared to us, from which Sacred Scripture and serious doctrine are poured out.
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Christians typically draw a distinction between general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is God revealing himself through the created order. When one looks at a beautiful sunrise and they begin to ponder the miracle of the sun consistently rising and setting, they begin to wonder where the laws which cause these natural events to occur came from. When they appreciate its beauty, they begin to wonder where their sense of awe came from. The answer: God.

Special revelation, on the other hand, is direct communication from God to people. The Burning Bush is an example of Special Revelation. So is Sacred Scripture. Special revelation climaxed with Christ on the Cross, the ultimate message of love from God to us.

Some Christians, especially those from the Reformed school of thought elevate special revelation above natural revelation. While this is not inherently problematic, sometimes it concurs with an almost exaggerated degradation of natural revelation.

Thomas certainly elevates special revelation. God has spoken directly to us so that he might establish relationship with us! But what he also believes that all Truth in the world is united in Christ. So math, as an intellectual discipline, may be a form of general revelation but it flows out of the very nature of God and, through its Truths, points us back to him.

At the end of the day, Aquinas argues that yes, Sacred Doctrine is a science in the same sense music is (to Medieval thinkers, music was a part of the Quadrivium and therefore a science; it is a consequence of Modernist thought that we would fragment the idea of "science" and "art" the way we do today). It is not a "higher science" like math which is self-evident. It is a "lower science" (though in no way less dignified" because it is enlightened by God and his divine revelation--a "higher science" that is self-evident.

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