Thursday, May 23, 2013

What sort of thing is theology?


1. Having established that some kind of knowledge beyond philosophy is necessary, St. Thomas now sets about determining what the qualities of that knowledge are. Since, as we said in our discussion of the Proemium, St. Thomas is interested in discussing things according to their inner order, he generally begins by asking whether a thing exists, or whether it's necessary to distinguish it from other similar things (An est?) and then afterwards asks about its particular qualities, what exactly it is, etc. (Quid est?) The first article was the "An est?" for sacred doctrine, and now he wants to figure out "Quid est?"
2. Thomas wants to determine first of all whether sacra doctrina qualifies as a science. What is a science? A body of knowledge is a science if it considers a single sort of object, through its causes, by means of demonstrations. Since demonstration can't proceed to infinity (i.e., in a series of derived principles, something must be first), a science will have at its root certain ideas or judgments that are known not through reference to some other fact or thing, but simply through themselves (per se nota). Ordinarily these are definitions or axiomatic statements about the subject of the science. Things like "a dog is an animal" are understood through themselves inasmuch as the fact of animality is basic to the definition of a dog. Assuming we were to establish a science concerning dogs (cynology), that proposition and others which established the definition of "dog" would lie at its root.
3. Thomas's first problem, then, is that sacra doctrina doesn't seem to work like other sciences: its principles are not understood through themselves (per se nota), but are revealed truths. Furthermore, sacra doctrina deals at times with the particulars lives of historical individuals, where other sciences deal only with universals. 
4.  The solution to both of these difficulties is fairly straightforward.  A comparison is made to music.  Musical harmonies are based on arithmetic proportions, and so the theory of music is dependent on mathematics for its principles.  That is to say, in music at least some of the principles are not known through themselves, but are the conclusions of a higher science, so that someone could still use the principles of musical harmony without knowing their mathematical basis.  Thomas suggests that the principles of sacra doctrina, while not known through themselves by us, flow readily from the divine self-knowledge by which they are revealed to us.
5.  As for the second difficulty, Thomas points out that sacra doctrina deals with the lives of historical characters mainly because they serve to illustrate the consequences of the revealed truth about God or to direct the moral life or to confirm the dignity of revelation.

Outline of Article

–The first principles of a science are per se nota.
–Sciences don't deal with historical particulars.

Corpus: There are two kinds of science:
–Some proceed directly from principles immediately intelligible to the intellect.
–Others receive their principles from a higher science.

Sacra doctrina receives its principles from a higher science, namely divine self-knowledge.
Sacra doctrina deals with individual facts as examples, moral illustrations, or testimony to the authority of divine revelation.


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