Monday, May 27, 2013

Theology and Wisdom


1.  St. Thomas continues his investigation of the relationship between sacra doctrina and the other sciences, asking whether theological science is itself wisdom (sapientia).  For Thomas, wisdom is a technical term denoting the special dignity of a particular body of knowledge as forming the basis of other bodies of knowledge.  It belongs to wisdom to order and govern, and to judge everything else.  If we conclude that sacra doctrina is wisdom, it will follow that it is not merely nobler than all other sciences, but that it orders and prefects them as the norm against which they are judged.

2.  Against calling theology "wisdom," St. Thomas proposes three objections.  First, it cannot be wisdom because the principles of theology are received from a higher science (divine self-knowledge), and it is proper to wisdom not to depend on any other sciences, since then it would be subject to the ordering activity of a higher body of knowledge.  Second, if theology is wisdom, then it should prove the principles of other sciences.  But theology does not prove the principles of other sciences (e.g. mathematical proofs cannot be done on the basis of theological data).  Third, wisdom is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and thus ought to be received without study.  However, one can cultivate theological science through study.

3.  In the Corpus of this article, St. Thomas repeats and expands the content of the previous article.  Generally redundancies of this sort function as markers of significance for Aquinas, meaning that the extended commentary given on the previous article is worth revisiting.  Again he tells us that theology stands above all other disciplines by virtue of the perfection of its object, God, who is the cause of the objects of all the other sciences, so that he who knows this wisdom is capable of ordering and judging all other disciplines.  And where at some points philosophical knowledge touches upon the knowledge of God, this philosophical knowledge, based on inferences from the nature and existence of creatures, is always proportioned to mere creatures, and shows us only a shadow of divinity.  But sacred doctrine considers God as he is in himself, as he has revealed himself, and thus far exceeds what natural knowledge can say about God, and even about the ultimate significance of its own proper objects.  (E.g. Theological knowledge perfects the knowledge an ichthyologist has of fish, albeit very indirectly, because theology tends to know better how fish relate to and reflect the providential order of the world and the eternal principle by which they came into being.  The ichthyologist, on the other hand, sees fish only through their contingent materiality.)

4.  The resolutions to the objections are fairly simple, but extremely significant.  To the first, St. Thomas points out that the principles of theology are received not from another human science, but from divine science: the eternal self-knowledge of the Godhead, which is the cause not only of revelation, but of the very being of every object, and therefore of every philosophical science.  Finding its principle in this knowledge directly, sacra doctrina far outstrips the foundational purity and primacy of any other doctrine.

5.  To the second, Thomas points out that the principles of the highest sciences available to us naturally are evident to the mind by its natural light, as the mind is inclined to grasp and understand sensible realities and the quantity of perceived matter.  We do not require a demonstration of these principles, though their truth does not flow from their natural intelligibility to the human mind, but from the divine government executed in things, and thus from the nature and truth of the Godhead.  The pure principle of all the sciences is the divine nature, and thus a body of knowledge based on the self-revelation of that nature will be more reliable than the indirectly abstracted conclusions of other sciences.  Hence it is against theological truth that all other truth is to be judged, and not the reverse.

6.  To the third, Thomas distinguishes between two modes of judgment, and two different varieties of knowledge which correspond to them, using virtue has his example.  On one hand, virtue can be said to be the rule by which all actions are judged, inasmuch as the virtuous man is the norm, who knows what is best and demonstrates it in act.  On the other hand, virtue can be called the rule inasmuch as a well-trained ethicist could judge the quality of an act in abstract, though he might not be virtuous himself.  Just so with wisdom.  There is first of all the wisdom which is given by the Holy Ghost, in which by grace an individual receives in himself the ability to apprehend the truth and judge all else accordingly.  But beneath this there is the wisdom which is attained through study, by reasoning and deduction.  This lesser wisdom can still judge rightly of divine things, but is less noble, as this knowledge is bolstered by and mediated through, reasoning and deduction.

Outline of Article

–Wisdom does not receive its principles from a higher science.
–Wisdom is supposed to prove the principles of all other sciences.
–Wisdom is a gift of the Spirit and not gained through study.

–Wisdom considers the highest cause, which gives the rule to all other things, and thus is the principle of their order.

–The science from which sacra doctrina receives its principles is above all others.
–The principles of natural knowledge are naturally intelligible to the human mind and need not be proven by theology, though it can still judge their conclusions.
–The gift of wisdom allows individuals to realize more perfectly by a particular grace what can be derived through reason from what has been given in general revelation.  The gift of wisdom is higher than theological study, but they tend toward the same truth.

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