Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 567
Summa Contra Gentiles is less widely known and much less widely read than Saint Thomas Aquinas’s later, longer Summa theologiae (c. 1265-1273; Summa Theologica, 1911-1921). Summa Contra Gentiles is simpler in its structure and in that sense more readable and less involved, but the Summa Theologica has become better known, perhaps because it is more widely used in church dogmatics. Summa Contra Gentiles is the more philosophical of the two works, as its author intended, and more likely to be of more interest to the non-Catholic reader. It is an earlier work, but Thomas’s ideas did not change radically, and a comparison of the basic doctrines does not reveal any wide discrepancy.
Whereas Summa Theologica begins with an apologetic approach, explaining the relation of philosophy to theology and arguing for the existence of God, Summa Contra Gentiles begins immediately with God as he is in himself. As a work directed to the non-Christian, the reverse might have been expected. However, Summa Contra Gentiles is less doctrinal in style and does not base its arguments on a prior acceptance of Scripture as authoritative, as the Summa Theologica does. The earlier work is more directly metaphysical, defining the “wise person” as one who deals with the first beginning and the last end of the universe. Truth is conceived of as the final end of the whole universe, and the treatise begins directly with a consideration of the divine nature as that which must be delineated if one is to explain first and last things.
Thomas agrees with classical philosophy in holding that the chief aim of humanity is to achieve wisdom. In his case, however, this consists specifically of a knowledge of God. Because the Bible must be accepted as authoritative in order to be convincing, it cannot be used to prove any question about God’s nature. With Jews, of course, a Christian may use the Old Testament as a basis for argument, and even heretics may recognize the New Testament as valid evidence; they simply do not agree with the orthodox interpretation. For those who are neither heretics nor Jews, all argument must be based solely on natural reason. The first thing to establish is what mode of proof is possible where God is concerned. Some things true of God are beyond the scope of human reason, as, for example, that God is three in one. Other things, such as the unity and existence of God, are demonstrable under the light of natural reason. Yet human reason cannot go on to grasp God’s substance directly. Under the conditions of present natural life, the knowledge understanding can obtain commences with sense-data.
To discover anything true about God is exceedingly difficult, and not many have either the time or the natural capabilities for such arduous work. Some people devote themselves to business affairs and never study theology seriously. Furthermore, first of all, one must master philosophy, which means that a study of divine nature requires a lot of preparation. Thus, in one sense, it is a study better suited to old age, when some naturally disturbing influences have subsided. Theology is difficult, restricted, and demanding; therefore, faith was provided so that all people need not find out about God for themselves. It was necessary, Thomas argues, for the real truth about divine things to be presented to people with a fixed certainty by way of faith.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 368
Reason and faith must agree, however, and Thomas begins by asserting that it is impossible for the truth of faith to be contrary to principles known by natural reason. No opinion or belief, Thomas is sure, is sent to humanity from God as an item of faith that is contrary to natural knowledge. For one thing, although for human beings...
(The entire section contains 3580 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Summa Contra Gentiles study guide. You'll get access to all of the Summa Contra Gentiles content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.