Summa Contra Gentiles

by Thomas Aquinas
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In reviewing chapters 1–9 of Summa Contra Gentiles and the prologue to Thomas Aquinas's exposition on the Apostles' Creed, how do the structures compare? How do they treat the theological theme of faith?

In chapters 1–9 of Summa Contra Gentiles and the prologue to his exposition on the Apostles' Creed, Thomas Aquinas provides a definition of faith and an explanation of its necessity, its benefits, its relationship to natural reason, and its confirmation through miracles. He also refutes arguments against faith. As always, Aquinas does all of this in a well-organized, logical fashion.

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Let's begin by looking at the first nine chapters of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Contra Gentiles. In his usual organized, logical manner, Aquinas begins with a definition. Wise men, he says, “put things in their right order and control them well” (chapter 1). They “consider the highest causes” and the last ends; in other words, they seek truth (chapter 1). They also, he continues, reveal and refute errors.

With this definition in place, Aquinas continues by stating his own purpose: the pursuit of wisdom (which is the most perfect, sublime, useful, and agreeable of all human undertakings) and the refutation of error (as far as possible using natural reason, even though this is limited with regard to truths about God) (chapter 2). Indeed, some truths about God are known by human reason, but others are “beyond all the competence of human reason” (chapter 3). Only God can know Himself fully. Humans are limited by their nature in what they can grasp about God by reason alone. The rest requires Divine Revelation and faith.

Even some truths that we humans can know by reason are revealed by God anyway and presented to us as items of faith (chapter 4). Why? The human mind is limited, and people often need much time and effort to figure things out. Sometimes, out of lack of ability, laziness, or the weakness of sin, they don't bother. Sometimes they get things wrong. So God reveals truths that we need to know even if we could potentially learn them ourselves.

Aquinas then goes on to argue that God proposes items of faith (especially those that are not accessible to reason) as a benefit to us (chapter 5). He does this so we can desire the truth more eagerly, humbly recognize that we don't know everything, and reach for the perfection of our souls through faith. Our faith is strengthened by divine inspiration and confirmed by miracles (chapter 6).

The truths of the Christian faith, Aquinas asserts, are never contrary to the truths of reason (chapter 7). God stands behind both of them, and He never lies, nor does He present us with contrary “truths.” He may let us learn the truth through both faith and reason, but these do not contradict each other. In fact, God has conditioned human reason to show a likeness to the truths of faith and the mind of God, even though it cannot grasp them completely (chapter 8).

Finally, Aquinas declares the “order and mode” of Summa Contra Gentiles (chapter 9). He will present arguments according to natural reason, refute the errors of his opponents, present the truth that “faith professes and reason searches out,” and show how reason can reach out to understand, in part, the truths of faith.

Now let's turn our attention to Aquinas' prologue in his exposition on the Apostles' Creed. He covers much of the same ground as he does in the beginning of the Summa, but his structure and purpose are different. He begins by proclaiming that faith is “necessary for every Christian” and effects four goods: unity of the soul with God through Baptism, the beginning of eternal life (knowing God), “right direction” for “our present life,” and assistance in overcoming temptations.

Aquinas then responds to an objection that it is “foolish to believe what is not seen.” He explains that the human intellect is weak, imperfect, and sinful and therefore cannot see much. God is so much greater than our knowledge that we need Him to reveal His truths to us that we may grasp them by faith. After all, he continues, we take many things on faith every day, believing other humans without demanding proof of everything. Why, then, should we not believe God, Who is more trustworthy than any human being? God even proves these truths of faith through miracles. Therefore, he concludes,

we are more certain...in believing the things of faith than those things which can be seen, because God's knowledge never deceives us...

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