G. K Chesterton (essay date 1933)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4513

SOURCE: "The Approach to Thomism" in St. Thomas Aquinas, Sheed & Ward, Inc., 1933, pp. 175-95.

[In the following excerpt, Chesterton describes Aquinas's philosophy as difficult but founded on common sense and practical, ordinary truisms.]

The fact that Thomism is the philosophy of common sense is itself a...

(The entire section contains 126886 words.)

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SOURCE: "The Approach to Thomism" in St. Thomas Aquinas, Sheed & Ward, Inc., 1933, pp. 175-95.

[In the following excerpt, Chesterton describes Aquinas's philosophy as difficult but founded on common sense and practical, ordinary truisms.]

The fact that Thomism is the philosophy of common sense is itself a matter of common sense. Yet it wants a word of explanation, because we have so long taken such matters in a very uncommon sense. For good or evil, Europe since the Reformation, and most especially England since the Reformation, has been in a peculiar sense the home of paradox. I mean in the very peculiar sense that paradox was at home, and that men were at home with it. The most familiar example is the English boasting that they are practical because they are not logical. To an ancient Greek or a Chinaman this would seem exactly like saying that London clerks excel in adding up their ledgers, because they are not accurate in their arithmetic. But the point is not that it is a paradox; it is that paradoxy has become orthodoxy; that men repose in a paradox as placidly as in a platitude. It is not that the practical man stands on his head, which may sometimes be a stimulating if startling gymnastic; it is that he rests on his head; and even sleeps on his head. This is an important point, because the use of paradox is to awaken the mind. Take a good paradox, like that of Oliver Wendell Holmes: "Give us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with the necessities." It is amusing and therefore arresting; it has a fine air of defiance; it contains a real if romantic truth. It is all part of the fun that it is stated almost in the form of a contradiction in terms. But most people would agree that there would be considerable danger in basing the whole social system on the notion that necessaries are not necessary; as some have based the whole British Constitution on the notion that nonsense will always work out as common sense. Yet even here, it might be said that the invidious example has spread, and that the modern industrial system does really say, "Give us luxuries like coal-tar soap, and we will dispense with necessities like corn."

So much is familiar; but what is not even now realised is that not only the practical politics, but the abstract philosophies of the modern world have had this queer twist. Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox; a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson, to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confidence man, that if once we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if once he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind.

It will be understood that in these matters I speak as a fool; or, as our democratic cousins would say, a moron; anyhow as a man in the street; and the only object of this chapter is to show that the Thomist philosophy is nearer than most philosophies to the mind of the man in the street. I am not, like Father D'Arcy, whose admirable book on St. Thomas has illuminated many problems for me, a trained philosopher, acquainted with the technique of the trade. But I hope Father D'Arcy will forgive me if I take one example from his book, which exactly illustrates what I mean. He, being a trained philosopher, is naturally trained to put up with philosophers. Also, being a trained priest, he is naturally accustomed, not only to suffer fools gladly, but (what is sometimes even harder) to suffer clever people gladly. Above all, his wide reading in metaphysics has made him patient with clever people when they indulge in folly. The consequence is that he can write calmly and even blandly sentences like these. "A certain likeness can be detected between the aim and method of St. Thomas and those of Hegel. There are, however, also remarkable differences. For St. Thomas it is impossible that contradictories should exist together, and again reality and intelligibility correspond, but a thing must first be, to be intelligible."

Let the man in the street be forgiven, if he adds that the "remarkable difference" seems to him to be that St. Thomas was sane and Hegel was mad. The moron refuses to admit that Hegel can both exist and not exist; or that it can be possible to understand Hegel, if there is no Hegel to understand. Yet Father D'Arcy mentions this Hegelian paradox as if it were all in the day's work; and of course it is, if the work is reading all the modern philosophers as searchingly and sympathetically as he has done. And this is what I mean by saying that a modern philosophy starts with a stumbling-block. It is surely not too much to say that there seems to be a twist, in saying that contraries are not incompatible; or that a thing can "be" intelligible and not as yet "be" at all.

Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkeleian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists; since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God.

Thus, even those who appreciate the metaphysical depth of Thomism in other matters have expressed surprise that he does not deal at all with what many now think the main metaphysical question; whether we can prove that the primary act of recognition of any reality is real. The answer is that St. Thomas recognised instantly, what so many modern sceptics have begun to suspect rather laboriously; that a man must either answer that question in the affirmative, or else never answer any question, never ask any question, never even exist intellectually, to answer or to ask. I suppose it is true in a sense that a man can be a fundamental sceptic, but he cannot be anything else; certainly not even a defender of fundamental scepticism. If a man feels that all the movements of his own mind are meaningless, then his mind is meaningless, and he is meaningless; and it does not mean anything to attempt to discover his meaning. Most fundamental sceptics appear to survive, because they are not consistently sceptical and not at all fundamental. They will first deny everything and then admit something, if for the sake of argument—or often rather of attack without argument. I saw an almost startling example of this essential frivolity in the professor of final scepticism, in a paper the other day. A man wrote to say that he accepted nothing but Solipsism, and added that he had often wondered it was not a more common philosophy. Now Solipsism simply means that a man believes in his own existence, but not in anybody or anything else. And it never struck this simple sophist, that if his philosophy was true, there obviously were no other philosophers to profess it.

To this question "Is there anything?" St. Thomas begins by answering "Yes"; if he began by answering "No", it would not be the beginning, but the end. That is what some of us call common sense. Either there is no philosophy, no philosophers, no thinkers, no thought, no anything; or else there is a real bridge between the mind and reality. But he is actually less exacting than many thinkers, much less so than most rationalist and materialist thinkers, as to what that first step involves; he is content, as we shall see, to say that it involves the recognition of Ens or Being as something definitely beyond ourselves. Ens is Ens: Eggs are eggs, and it is not tenable that all eggs were found in a mare's nest.

Needless to say, I am not so silly as to suggest that all the writings of St. Thomas are simple and straightforward; in the sense of being easy to understand. There are passages I do not in the least understand myself; there are passages that puzzle much more learned and logical philosophers than I am; there are passages about which the greatest Thomists still differ and dispute.

But that is a question of a thing being hard to read or understand: not hard to accept when understood. That is a mere matter of "The Cat sat on the Mat" being written in Chinese characters; or "Mary had a Little Lamb" in Egyptian hieroglyphics. The only point I am stressing here is that Aquinas is almost always on the side of simplicity, and supports the ordinary man's acceptance of ordinary truisms. For instance, one of the most obscure passages, in my very inadequate judgment, is that in which he explains how the mind is certain of an external object and not merely of an impression of that object; and yet apparently reaches it through a concept, though not merely through an impression. But the only point here is that he does explain that the mind is certain of an external object. It is enough for this purpose that his conclusion is what is called the conclusion of common sense; that it is his purpose to justify common sense; even though he justifies it in a passage which happens to be one of rather uncommon subtlety. The problem of later philosophers is that their conclusion is as dark astheir demonstration; or that they bring out a result of which the result is chaos.

Unfortunately, between the man in the street and the Angel of the Schools, there stands at this moment a very high brick wall, with spikes on the top, separating two men who in many ways stand for the same thing. The wall is almost a historical accident; at least it was built a very long time ago, for reasons that need not affect the needs of normal men today; least of all the greatest need of normal men; which is for a normal philosophy. The first difficulty is merely a difference of form; not in the medieval but in the modern sense. There is first a simple obstacle of language; there is then a rather more subtle obstacle of logical method. But the language itself counts for a great deal; even when it is translated, it is still a foreign language; and it is, like other foreign languages, very often translated wrong. As with every other literature from another age or country, it carried with it an atmosphere which is beyond the mere translation of words, as they are translated in a traveller's phrase-book. For instance, the whole system of St. Thomas hangs on one huge and yet simple idea; which does actually cover everything there is, and even everything that could possibly be. He represented this cosmic conception by the word Ens; and anybody who can read any Latin at all, however rudely, feels it to be the apt and fitting word; exactly as he feels it in a French word in a piece of good French prose. It ought only to be a matter of logic; but it is also a matter of language.

Unfortunately there is no satisfying translation of the word Ens. The difficulty is rather verbal than logical, but it is practical. I mean that when the translator says in English 'being', we are aware of a rather different atmosphere. Atmosphere ought not to affect these absolutes of the intellect; but it does. The new psychologists, who are almost eagerly at war with reason, never tire of telling us that the very terms we use are coloured by our subconsciousness, with something we meant to exclude from our consciousness. And one need not be so idealistically irrational as a modern psychologist, in order to admit that the very shape and sound of words do make a difference, even in the baldest prose, as they do in the most beautiful poetry. We can not quite prevent the imagination from remembering irrelevant associations even in the abstract sciences like mathematics. Jones Minimus, hustled from history to geometry, may for an instant connect the Angles of the isosceles triangle with the Angles of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; and even the mature mathematician, if he is as mad as the psychoanalyst hopes, may have in the roots of his subconscious mind something material in his idea of a root. Now it unfortunately happens that the word 'being', as it comes to a modern Englishman, through modern associations, has a sort of hazy atmosphere that is not in the short and sharp Latin word. Perhaps it reminds him of fantastic professors in fiction, who wave their hands and say, "Thus do we mount to the ineffable heights of pure and radiant Being:" or, worse still, of actual professors in real life, who say, "All Being is Becoming; and is but the evolution of Not-Being by the law of its Being." Perhaps it only reminds him of romantic rhapsodies in old love stories; "Beautiful and adorable being, light and breath of my very being". Anyhow it has a wild and woolly sort of sound; as if only very vague people used it; or as if it might mean all sorts of different things.

Now the Latin word Ens has a sound like the English word End It is final and even abrupt; it is nothing except itself. There was once a silly gibe against Scholastics like Aquinas, that they discussed whether angels could stand on the point of a needle. It is at least certain that this first word of Aquinas is as sharp as the point of a pin. For that also is, in an almost ideal sense, an End. But when we say that St. Thomas Aquinas is concerned fundamentally with the idea of Being, we must not admit any of the cloudier generalisations that we may have grown used to, or even grown tired of, in the sort ofidealistic writing that is rather rhetoric than philosophy. Rhetoric is a very fine thing in its place, as a medieval scholar would have willingly agreed, as he taught it along with logic in the schools; but St. Thomas Aquinas himself is not at all rhetorical. Perhaps he is hardly even sufficiently rhetorical. There are any number of purple patches in Augustine; but there are no purple patches in Aquinas. He did on certain definite occasions drop into poetry; but he very seldom dropped into oratory. And so little was he in touch with some modern tendencies, that whenever he did write poetry, he actually put it into poems. There is another side to this, to be noted later. He very specially possessed the philosophy that inspires poetry; as he did so largely inspire Dante's poetry. And poetry without philosophy has only inspiration, or, in vulgar language, only wind. He had, so to speak, the imagination without the imagery. And even this is perhaps too sweeping. There is an image of his, that is true poetry as well as true philosophy; about the tree of life bowing down with a huge humility, because of the very load of its living fruitfulness; a thing Dante might have described so as to overwhelm us with the tremendous twilight and almost drug us with the divine fruit. But normally, we may say that his words are brief even when his books are long. I have taken the example of the word Ens, precisely because it is one of the cases in which Latin is plainer than plain English. And his style, unlike that of St. Augustine and many Catholic Doctors, is always a penny plain rather than twopence coloured. It is often difficult to understand, simply because the subjects are so difficult that hardly any mind, except one like his own, can fully understand them. But he never darkens it by using words without knowledge, or even more legitimately, by using words belonging only to imagination or intuition. So far as his method is concerned, he is perhaps the one real Rationalist among all the children of men.

This brings us to the other difficulty; that of logical method. I have never understood why there is supposed to be something crabbed or antique about a syllogism; still less can I understand what anybody means by talking as if induction had somehow taken the place of deduction. The whole point of deduction is that true premises produce a true conclusion. What is called induction seems simply to mean collecting a larger number of true premises, or perhaps, in some physical matters, taking rather more trouble to see that they are true. It may be a fact that a modern man can get more out of a great many premises, concerning microbes or asteroids than a medieval man could get out of a very few premises about salamanders and unicoms. But the process of deduction from the data is the same for the modern mind as for the medieval mind; and what is pompously called induction is simply collecting more of the data. And Aristotle or Aquinas, or anybody in his five wits, would of course agree that the conclusion could only be true if the premises were true; and that the more true premises there were the better. It was the misfortune of medieval culture that there were not enough true premises, owing to the rather ruder conditions of travel or experiment. But however perfect were the conditions of travel or experiment, they could only produce premises; it would still be necessary to deduce conclusions. But many modern people talk as if what they call induction were some magic way of reaching a conclusion, without using any of those horrid old syllogisms. But induction does not lead us to a conclusion. Induction only leads us to a deduction. Unless the last three syllogistic steps are all right, the conclusion is all wrong. Thus, the great nineteenth century men of science, whom I was brought up to revere ("accepting the conclusions of science", it was always called), went out and closely inspected the air and the earth, the chemicals and the gases, doubtless more closely than Aristotle or Aquinas, and then came back and embodied their final conclusion in a syllogism. "All matter is made of microscopic little knobs which are indivisible. My body is made of matter. Therefore my body is made of microscopic little knobs which are indivisible." They were not wrongin the form of their reasoning; because it is the only way to reason. In this world there is nothing except a syllogism—and a fallacy. But of course these modern men knew, as the medieval men knew, that their conclusions would not be true unless their premises were true. And that is where the trouble began. For the men of science, or their sons and nephews, went out and took another look at the knobby nature of matter; and were surprised to find that it was not knobby at all. So they came back and completed the process with their syllogism; "All matter is made of whirling protons and electrons. My body is made of matter. Therefore my body is made of whirling protons and electrons." And that again is a good syllogism; though they may have to look at matter once or twice more, before we know whether it is a true premise and a true conclusion. But in the final process of truth there is nothing else except a good syllogism. The only other thing is a bad syllogism; as in the familiar fashionable shape; "All matter is made of protons and electrons. I should very much like to think that mind is much the same as matter. So I will announce, through the microphone or the megaphone, that my mind is made of protons and electrons." But that is not induction; it is only a very bad blunder in deduction. That is not another or new way of thinking; it is only ceasing to think.

What is really meant, and what is much more reasonable, is that the old syllogists sometimes set out the syllogism at length; and certainly that is not always necessary. A man can run down the three steps much more quickly than that; but a man cannot run down the three steps if they are not there. If he does, he will break his neck, as if he walked out of a fourth-story window. The truth about this false antithesis of induction and deduction is simply this; that as premises or data accumulated, the emphasis and detail was shifted to them, from the final deduction to which they lead. But they did lead to a final deduction; or else they led to nothing. The logician had so much to say about electrons or microbes that he dwelt most on these data and shortened or assumed his ultimate syllogism. But if he reasoned rightly, however rapidly, he reasoned syllogistically.

As a matter of fact, Aquinas does not usually argue in syllogisms; though he always argues syllogistically. I mean he does not set out all the steps of the logic in each case; the legend that he does so is part of that loose and largely unverified legend of the Renaissance; that the Schoolmen were all crabbed and mechanical medieval bores. But he does argue with a certain austerity, and disdain of ornament, which may make him seem monotonous to anyone specially seeking the modern forms of wit or fancy. But all this has nothing to do with the question asked at the beginning of this chapter and needing to be answered at the end of it; the question of what he is arguing for. In that respect it can be repeated, most emphatically, that he is arguing for common sense. He is arguing for a common sense which would even now commend itself to most of the common people. He is arguing for the popular proverbs that seeing is believing; that the proof of the pudding is in the eating; that a man cannot jump down his own throat or deny the fact of his own existence. He often maintains the view by the use of abstractions; but the abstractions are no more abstract than Energy or Evolution or Space-Time; and they do not land us, as the others often do, in hopeless contradictions about common life. The Pragmatist sets out to be practical, but his practicality turns out to be entirely theoretical. The Thomist begins by being theoretical, but his theory turns out to be entirely practical. That is why a great part of the world is returning to it today.

Finally, there is some real difficulty in the fact of a foreign language; apart from the ordinary fact of the Latin language. Modern philosophical terminology is not always exactly identical with plain English; and medieval philosophical terminology is not at all identical even with modernphilosophical terminology. It is not really very difficult to learn the meaning of the main terms; but their medieval meaning is sometimes the exact opposite of their modern meaning. The obvious example is in the pivotal word "form.". We say nowadays, "I wrote a formal apology to the Dean", or "The proceedings when we wound up the Tip-Cat Club were purely formal." But we mean that they were purely fictitious; and St. Thomas, had he been a member of the Tip-Cat Club, would have meant just the opposite. He would have meant that the proceedings dealt with the very heart and soul and secret of the whole being of the Tip-Cat Club; and that the apology to the Dean was so essentially apologetic that it tore the very heart out in tears of true contrition. For "formal" in Thomist language means actual, or possessing the real decisive quality that makes a thing itself. Roughly when he describes a thing as made out of Form and Matter, he very rightly recognises that Matter is the more mysterious and indefinite and featureless element; and that what stamps anything with its own identity is its Form. Matter, so to speak, is not so much the solid as the liquid or gaseous thing in the cosmos; and in this most modern scientists are beginning to agree with him. But the form is the fact; it is that which makes a brick a brick, and a bust a bust, and not the shapeless and trampled clay of which either may be made. The stone that broke a statuette, in some Gothic niche, might have been itself a statuette; and under chemical analysis, the statuette is only a stone. But such a chemical analysis is entirely false as a philosophical analysis. The reality, the thing that makes the two things real, is in the idea of the image and in the idea of the image-breaker. This is only a passing example of the mere idiom of the Thomist terminology; but it is not a bad prefatory specimen of the truth of Thomist thought. Every artist knows that the form is not superficial but fundamental; that the form is the foundation. Every sculptor knows that the form of the statue is not the outside of the statue, but rather the inside of the statue; even in the sense of the inside of the sculptor. Every poet knows that the sonnet-form is not only the form of the poem; but the poem. No modern critic who does not understand what the medieval Schoolman meant by form can meet the Schoolman as an intellectual equal.

Étienne Gilson (essay date 1937)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11869

SOURCE: "The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas" in The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by Edward Bullough, B. Herder Book Co., 1937, pp. 1-36.

[In the following excerpt, Gilson traces the history of philosophy to the time of Aquinas; discusses the difficulties Aquinas faced in adapting the obscured essence of Aristotelianism to theology; and explains Aquinas's function as Doctor of the Church.]

The Man and His Environment

All great philosophies present themselves at first sight and externally as closed systems uncompromisingly opposed to all concessions. The history of philosophy, however, very soon discovers in pursuing its analysis beneath that rigorously systematic appearance, a hidden spirit of conciliation. Indeed, the very concessions which a philosophy is no longer able to make once it exists, were bound to be made before it came into existence. For every philosophical system represents a more or less successful attempt to organise tendencies which, in their natural state, would have remained irreconcilable. The teaching of St. Thomas is no exception to this rule. Like all the richest philosophies, it is born of a compromise, in the mind of an epoch or of a person, between spiritualtendencies which recognise fairly each other's claims and thus order themselves in an harmonious equilibrium. The "thomistic problem" as such is the original conflict of these tendencies. It is therefore a matter of importance to define these, in order to understand the system which was designed to furnish the solution of this conflict, and to review in a general way the peculiarly complex conditions in the midst of which the system took shape.

A. The Life1 and Works2 of St. Thomas.

St. Thomas of Aquino was born towards the beginning of the year 1225 at the Castle of Roccasecca. The very name alone calls up the wildness and desolation of the spot where even to-day stand the ruins which indicate the site of his family seat. A little further, in the direction of Naples, lies the little village of Aquino,3 of which his father was count; further still rises the Benedictine Abbey of Montecassino, where he was brought as an oblate by his parents in 1230. It has been supposed, not without probability, that certain family ambitions concealed themselves behind this decision. Landolf, Count of Aquino, was the nearest Lord to the Abbey; in the year preceding, 1229, he had supported the Emperor Frederic II against the Pope by assisting him in seizing the monastery to hold it to ransom. In these circumstances the idea of establishing there one of his sons with the view to his later becoming Abbot and to a participation of his family in the revenues of the Abbey, barely even deserve to be called a ruse, so evident must have been the object of the game.4 Nor could he have discovered a more profitable way of making peace after the war which was then drawing to its close, and this, no doubt, was a consideration very present to the mind of Count Landolf. As to rearing a future saint in the Benedictine spirituality, or a future philosophical genius in a taste for science to which the austere and bare hill-top had for centuries offered a refuge, or a future theologian in the respect for the rights of the Church which the monks upheld against the Emperor and himself—that surely was an idea that never entered the head of Count Landolf; yet that was precisely what he did.5

The child remained for nine years in the care of his first teachers there, near a library which was almost unique at that time, covering under the guidance of excellent masters the classical road of the "trivium" and introduced to the Latin tongue by the writings of St. Gregory, St. Jerome and St. Augustine. The fact, moreover, that he remained from the age of five to fourteen under the influence of a Benedictine environment in which humanism, science and religion formed an indivisible whole, cannot have failed to leave deep traces upon his mind.6 In 1239 this happy existence came to an end. Frederic II, still engaged in war against Gregory IX, expelled the monks from Montecassino in order to break the opposition which these uncompromising supporters of the Papacy offered to his designs. The boy had to return to his parents and to put off the Benedictine habit; he remained at home until the autumn of that same year, when he proceeded to the University of Naples which Frederic II had just founded.7

Accurate information of what the University milieu was like and of the directions which the new student may have received from his teachers there, would be most valuable; unfortunately none is available or at least so sparse that it would be very unwise for us to draw any definite conclusions from it. It is of little use to be told that a certain Master Martin there taught the "trivium" or that Peter of Ireland gave instruction in the "quadrivium."8 What biographers tell us of the successes achieved by the young student, does not go beyond the simplest conjectures. On the other hand, it is certain that the Neapolitan student world was open to the scientific and philosophical works recently translatedfrom the Greek and Arabic, and was eminently suited to awaken the curiosity of a mind like that of the boy.9 We should gain little by exchanging this modest certainty for the study of hypotheses which recent years have shown to have yielded perhaps but little profit.

In the course of the year 1244 a decisive change occurred in the life of St. Thomas. Of age by now, since he was in his twentieth year, and free since the death of his father on December 24th, 1243, the young man decided to enter the Order of St. Dominic. The meaning of this decision is clear, if we bear in mind the examples which had inspired it. The Dominicans, established right in the centre of University life, at Naples as well as in Paris, presented the wholly new spectacle of religious whose special vocation it was to cultivate the sciences and to teach them publicly. Men whom previously one had been accustomed to find within massive walls of fortress-like Abbeys, were here mixing freely in the crowd of teachers and students, learning from the former in order to teach the latter in their turn. The Dominican vocation, born in the midst of a medieval University, is, therefore, above all the resolve to serve God by teaching and in absolute poverty. To be a religious and a Doctor, such remains until the last months of his life, the ideal of St. Thomas of Aquino.

In taking the Dominican habit, the young man definitely disappointed a family hope: he renounced the dignity of Abbot of Montecassino. Anticipating opposition on the part of the family, the Master-General of the Order, John the Teuton, decided to take him away at once to Bologna, where he had to attend a General Chapter, and to send him to the University of Paris, which was then the most important centre of University studies, not only of France but of the whole Christian world. It was during this journey that the famous incident occurred when his brothers attacked him and locked him up, in anger at his decision to enter the Dominican Order. After having been kept in confinement for about a year, which he spent in prayer and studies, St. Thomas, having defeated all the schemes and wearied the obstinacy of his persecutors, recovered his freedom towards the autumn of 1245 and was at last able to proceed to Paris.

The young Dominican stayed there for a first period from 1245 till the summer of 1248,10 and came under the influence of Albert of Cologne, the famous teacher who later was to be called Albert the Great. That the impression made by such a teacher upon such a student must have been deep and lasting admits of no doubt; much more difficult, however, than one thinks, is it to know precisely in what it consisted. In a general way, it is held that the genius of Albert the Great, possessing as he did a prodigious power of assimilation, was then collecting the materials, and was beginning to sketch the outline of a doctrinal synthesis which he was never to complete; and that the young Thomas of Aquino, gifted with a genius, if less extensive in its curiosity, yet more constructive and better ordered, and, as it were, supported and carried along by the efforts of his master, immediately grasped the plan of the latter's work and undertook its realisation.11 This is a view which certainly contains an element of truth but requires a good deal of modification. What the pupil found in such a teacher was no doubt an erudition which was the vastest as well as the deepest that the 13th century had known; and again, a taste for science and the right feeling of what a rational explanation means and, lastly, perhaps the most precious gift of all, the powerful impetus which a mature and fully developed mind can impart to a young and budding genius. But it is by no means certain that the thomistic system was more necessarily preformed in the teaching of Albert the Great than in that of Alexander of Hales, for instance, or that, in consequence, the work of Albert the Great can be considered as a sketch, of which that of St. Thomas is to be taken as the finished picture.12 To define and measureexactly the influence of the master upon the pupil will no doubt remain for ever an inaccessible ideal of history; we are lacking too much information to lay any claim to be able even to approach it. At any rate, the effect of Albert the Great upon the young Thomas was certainly very deep. On leaving Paris in order to set up in Cologne a "studium generale," i.e. a centre of theological studies for a whole province of the Order, the celebrated master took his disciple with him in order to keep him under his direction for another four years. It may be said that in these six years of intensive work and in daily intercourse with Albert the Great, St. Thomas assimilated the essential parts of all the materials which had been amassed by the encyclopaedic erudition of his master and was to be recast in turn by him in a new philosophical and theological system.

In 1252 St. Thomas returned to Paris, where he passed, though not without incidents, through the regular stages leading to the degree of Master in Theology. He therefore commented on the Bible (1252-1254), then on the Sentences of Peter the Lombard (1254-1256) and obtained the degree of Licentiate in Theology.13 He was then a young man with his future before him, even then enjoying the esteem of his equals and of his superiors. The friar's habit concealed a gentleman of noble birth, a fact which had not been forgotte14; he led a life of perfect regularity; as to his erudition, he knew all that was known at his time. The licentiate, whom Alexander IV described in the foregoing terms, had every claim to aspire to the degree of Master, i.e. to form part of the body of Masters teaching in the University of Paris. The disputes which at that time were raised by the secular Masters against the mendicant Orders, delayed only for a very short time St. Thomas' attainment to the standing of Master in Theology, since he performed his "principium" in the course of that same year, 1256; nor did they trouble his activity as teacher, since he continued his teaching for the three academic years, up to the summer vacations of 1259.

After this date, St. Thomas returned to Italy to teach almost uninterruptedly at the pontifical curia, under the Popes Alexander IV, Urban IV and Clement IV, from 1259 till 1268. In the autumn of this year he was recalled to Paris to teach again Theology. The University had by then become a battlefield, where the struggle between corporations had given way to the bitterest doctrinal disputes. It is during this period that St. Thomas began the struggle, on the one hand, against Siger of Brabant and the Latin Averroists and, on the other, against certain Franciscan theologians who were anxious to maintain intact the teaching of Augustinian theology. Recalled from Paris, St. Thomas went back to Italy and resumed in November, 1272, his theological instruction in Naples. He left this town for the last time to take part in the general Council of Lyons, on the invitation of Pope Gregory X. In the course of this journey he fell ill and died, on March 7, 1274, at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanuova, near Terracina.

His works, the bulk of which is very considerable, especially if we remember the shortness of the author's life (1225-1274), are catalogued in a writing of 1319, and other documents of a similar kind have, on the whole, confirmed this list. There is therefore no room for doubt about the authenticity of the great works which are attributed to St. Thomas by tradition. The question of their chronology, on the contrary, is still much debated.…

B. St. Thomas and Aristotelianism.

A reference to the period of the philosophical "Dark Ages" which followed upon the last efforts of Hellenistic speculation, is almost a platitude. With Plotinus the great lineage of Greek philosophers came to an end. The system which he elaborated undoubtedly presents a clearly marked religious character, but it is after all a real philosophy, a vast syncretistic system in which elements taken from Plato, Aristotle and even the Stoic philosophers were fused. It is a monistic system of the Universe in which we see how all things proceeded from the One and how, in ecstasy, we are able to reach back to the One and find union with It. The Greek philosophical speculation reaches its completion with Porphyrius, the disciple of Plotinus, who gives a still stronger relief to the religious element in the doctrine of his master.

It may be said that all philosophical speculation vanishes at that point for a long time to come. If philosophy is taken to mean a natural interpretation of the universe, a general view of things taken from the point of view of reason, there is no philosophy between the end of the 3rd century after Christ, which saw the death of Porphyrius, and the middle of the 13th century, which witnessed the appearance of the "Summa contra Gentiles." Does this mean that humanity passed through ten centuries of ignorance and darkness? It is possible to maintain this only by the confusing of intellectual activity with philosophical speculation. In reality and on closer examination, this apparently obscure period is found to be employed upon the fruitful work which is about to lay the foundations of medieval philosophy. The characteristic feature, in fact, of the patristic period is the substitution of religious for philosophical thought. Catholic dogma is finally elaborated and organised. Numerous elements have for this work been borrowed from the Greek philosophers; traces of Hellenistic culture have been alleged even in St. Paul. In any case, and even without going back so far, Hellenistic culture is obvious in Origen, St. Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine. The aim, however, which these thinkers pursue is not philosophical. What they express in philosophical formulæ, are religious conceptions, and it is a theological system which they intend to build up. Against the tireless imagination of heretics, these Fathers affirm and maintain the existence of one God, one in three persons, the creator of the world, distinct from creation as the infinite is from the finite, incarnated in Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who has given Himself for the world in order to save it. They affirm that the end of man is knowledge of the eternal and the love of God for all time; a love and a vision face to face, reserved for the elect, for those who with the necessary help of Divine Grace, will follow the commandments of God and of His Church. To establish these fundamental truths, to express them in the least inadequate form, to defend them against the incessant attacks from all sides—that is the work achieved by the Fathers from Origen to St. Augustine, passing through Athanasius, Gregory of Nyssa, St. Ambrose and Cyril of Alexandria. When we come to the death of St. Augustine, we find ourselves in the middle of the 5th century. The two hundred years of theological speculation since the time of Plotinus, have produced the "De Trinitate" and the thirteen books of the "Confessions," that is to say, one of the most perfect monuments which Christian theology can boast and one of the masterpieces of the human mind.

Then and only then, and for a relatively short time only, a general stagnation of intellectual activity seems to set in. Three centuries elapse, laboriously occupied in building up a new civilisation on the wreckage of the Roman world, between the 5th century and the first stammerings of the new philosophy. The restoration of the Empire and of Roman Law is the great achievement of that epoch; and even then, in the midst of so great a darkness, men are to be found who outlined a new synthesis as St. John of Damascus, or salved what could be rescued from the wreck. With Boëthius, Isidore of Seville, and the Venerable Bede we reach Alcuin, and with him the Carlovingian renaissance. Thedifficult pass is overcome. Philosophical speculation is about to be reborn, to develop down to modern times without any real break in its continuity.

The road covered from the 9th to the 13th century is considerable. Leaving aside a system outlined by a thinker such as John Scotus Erigena and confining ourselves to such works as prepared the birth of the Thomistic philosophy, we find in that period three important acquisitions assured to philosophy: the progressive determination of the relation of reason and faith; conceptualism; and the so-called scholastic method.

Concerning the relation of reason and faith, a way was found to let them live peaceably side by side without allowing one to stifle the other or preventing the legitimate development of both. This result had not been achieved, of course, without endless difficulties. The dialecticians who wished to force dogma and Scripture into the form of syllogisms, were confronted, by an inevitable reaction, with those teachers of the inward life who considered the time spent on philosophical speculation as so much time lost for salvation. Between Anselm the Peripatetic, and St. Peter Damian20 a middle course gradually opened out. It came to be admitted more and more that reason and faith cannot be in contradiction, since both come from God; that, therefore, reason should render faith credible, by exposing the hidden flaws in the arguments of its enemies. "Fides quaerens intellectum": this is the programme which it is hoped henceforth to realise.

Moreover, the long and subtle controversy on the nature of universals ends in Abelard and John of Salisbury by restoring the Aristotelian doctrine of abstraction. Universals are concepts "cum fundamento in re." As opposed to the philosophers who keep more or less to the Platonic theory of ideas, the tendency is to think that the intellect abstracts from the individual the universal which is contained in it. With the demonstration of the sensory origin of concepts, philosophical thought takes possession of a principle of which the Thomistic system is largely the metaphysical justification and consistent application.

Lastly, and this last progress is also not without importance, the scholastic method of exposition and argument takes shape. After the incomplete attempts, such as the "Sic et Non" of Abelard, the final solution is reached with Alexander of Hales. At least, as far as our present state of knowledge allows us to form an opinion, it is he who first employs the form of argument which became classical from the second half of the 13th century onwards: the enumeration of the arguments contra; the exposition of the proposed solution, and the criticism of the objections previously set out.

Nevertheless, despite these advances and despite all those which might be added, philosophical speculation of the 12th and early 13th centuries displays grave defects. The gravest of these, and the root of all the others, consists in the lack of co-ordination. With the exception of the attempt, so original, although so far so little known, of Guillaume d'Auvergne, that period, when more than one thinker proved his capacity to explore and discuss with skill and insight certain special problems, produced no single general system having any pretension to give a rational explanation of the universe. Without doubt, the fault was, that philosophical thought, deprived of the great works of antiquity, was unable to draw out of itself the substance of a new philosophy; but, as has been very truly observed,21 the fault also lay in that the scholastics of that time made use simultaneously of philosophical systems which were not only misunderstood but were moreover mutually contradictory. Wavering, as they were, without reaching a definite position between Aristotle and Plato, and possessing a very imperfect knowledge of both, how could they have succeeded in drawing a truly coherent system from principles which were mutually exclusive?

This is the internal defect, which, hidden in the philosophical speculation of the 12th century, prevented its reaching a complete development. But at this point a revolution is about to set in: a revolution determined by the influx of the works of Greek and Arabic philosophy.

The Middle Ages had all along been in possession of part of Aristotle's works. The 12th century possesses the whole of the "Organon." From that time onwards certain parts of Aristotelian Physics are known in the scholastic circles of Chartres22; but although it is true to say that the infiltration of Aristotelian natural philosophy has henceforth begun, it remains also true that "the scholastics of the first centuries saw in Aristotle nothing but a logician."23 The situation in which we find the philosophers of the early 13th century is quite different.24 The Physics and Metaphysics of Aristotle, the abbreviated form of these by Avicenna and the commentaries of Averroës are translated from Arabic into Latin, thanks mainly to the translators of the College of Toledo. Therewith the imperfect philosophical attempts of the end of the 12th century are confronted by a complete and systematically elaborated philosophy; and this is all the more serious as the doctrine, especially in the interpretation of Averroës, hannonises badly at more than one point with the traditional teaching of the Church. The most clear-sighted witness to this opposition between the peripatetic philosophy and Christianity is St. Bonaventure.

According to this doctor,25 the fundamental error of Aristotle consists in his rejection of the Platonic doctrine of ideas. Since, according to Aristotle, God does not possess in Himself, like so many models, the ideas of all things, it follows that God knows only Himself and is ignorant of the particular. From this first error springs the second, namely, that God, ignorant of all things, possesses no prescience and exercises no providence in regard to things. But, if God exercises no providence, it follows that everything happens either by accident or by necessity of fate. And as events cannot be the result of a simple accident, the Arabs concluded that everything is necessarily determined by the movement of the spheres, viz. by the intelligences which move them. Such a conception obviously annuls the disposition of events of this world with a view to the punishment of sinners and the glory of the elect. Hence we find that Aristotle never mentions either the devil or the future beatitude. The error is therefore threefold, namely, a failure to understand first, exemplarism, then Divine providence and lastly the disposition of this world with a view to the other.

This threefold failure is the root of a threefold blindness. The first concerns the eternal existence of the world. Since God is ignorant of the world, how can He have created it? All the commentators, whether Greek or Arabic, are accordingly agreed on this point. Aristotle has never taught that the world has had a beginning and an origin. This first blindness entails a second: for, if the world is assumed as eternal, the true nature of the soul is obscured. On such an assumption we are driven to the choice of one of the three following errors: if the world is eternal an infinite number of human beings has existed, and therefore an infinite number of souls, unless either the soul is corruptible, or the same soul passes from one body to another, or there exists, for all human beings, but a single intelligence. If we follow the interpretation of Averroës, Aristotle would seem to have decided for this last error. Now, this second blindness leads necessarily to a third: since there exists only one soul forall men, there is consequently no personal immortality, and, therefore, there cannot be after this life either punishment or reward.

Let the reader imagine what the state of mind of the theologians and the Christian philosophers must have been when confronted with such a doctrine. We may leave aside all those who, on principle, maintained an attitude of irreconcilable suspicion to all philosophical speculation. This attitude, which in the 11th century had inspired the resistance to the dialectic movement, had lost none of its strength in the 13th and had never perhaps a better opportunity for display. But the great majority of theologians had not the slightest intention of denying the usefulness of philosophical speculation and among these a twofold tendency appears. The one, the smaller party, was so profoundly impressed by the Averroist Aristotelianism that they saw in this doctrine the final and complete truth. They accepted it, therefore, with all its inherent consequences and there were clerics who actually taught at Paris that there is no providence, that the world is eternal, that there is but a single intelligence for the whole human race and that, in short, there is for man neither freedom nor immortality. Such were Boëthius of Dacia and especially Siger of Brabant. The others, far more numerous, felt a repugnance, which varied much according to each mind, against these damnable innovations, and they entrenched themselves more strongly than ever behind the Platonic-Augustinian philosophy which, at that moment, was the only traditional philosophy of the Church. The most remarkable personality which we find among this party, is without a doubt St. Bona-venture. We saw how energetically this doctor maintained the Platonic exemplarism against Aristotle; he, and the whole Franciscan school with him, also maintained the Augustinian doctrine of illumination against the Aristotelian doctrine of abstraction; he affirmed the hierarchic plurality of forms against the unity of substantial form which seemed to him to compromise the immortality of the soul. Thus the attitude of St. Bonaventure remained in opposition to the doctrine of Aristotle, even though Aristotelian thought had at several points coloured his own thought: unwittingly to himself.

But a third attitude yet remained possible. The doctrine of Aristotle—and this was evident to any Christian thinker—showed serious lacunae in its metaphysical parts. To say the least, this philosophy left the two problems of the creation and of the immortality of the soul in the air. On the other hand, the strictly physical and natural part of the doctrine presented a system incomparably superior to the fragmentary and little coherent solutions proposed by the older schoolmen. This superiority of the Aristotelian physics was so crushing that in the eyes of clear-sighted minds it could not fail to obtain the assent of reason and to secure the ultimate triumph of the doctrine. Was it therefore not an act of grave imprudence to persist in maintaining positions which were foredoomed to fall? The triumph of Aristotle was inevitable, and wisdom urged that steps should be taken to make this triumph a help to Christian thought, rather than a menace. In other words, the task to be undertaken was to Christianise Aristotle: to re-introduce exemplarism and the creation into the system, to maintain providence, to reconcile the unity of substantial form with the immortality of the soul; to show, in short, that even accepting the Aristotelian physics, the great truths of Christianity remained unshaken; better still, to show that these great truths find in the physics of Aristotle their natural support and their strongest foundation. Such was the problem which it became a matter of urgency to solve.

It is impossible to doubt that the problem presented itself from this point of view to several of the theologians of the 13th century, for one need but consult their works to convince oneself that each in his own manner was pursuing its solution. On the other hand, it is very hard to discover what couldhave put the young Thomas of Aquino on the road to the very personal answer which he was to supply.

The simplest hypothesis, and consequently the most tempting, concerning the genesis of thomistic thought would be to look for the origin of it in the direction of theology. Since the point was to secure the accord of Aristotelian teaching with Faith, why should we not assume that a theologian like St. Thomas would have simply formulated the question in this way: What changes are necessary in Aristotelianism in order to harmonise it with the Christian dogma? At first sight this seems a very plausible hypothesis; but it encounters two very serious historical objections.

In the first place, it is very difficult to account by preoccupations of an exclusively theological nature for the genesis of a system which was bound to appear to the pure theologians as a dangerous innovation. If the young Thomas, essentially a theologian as he was and always remained, had not been actuated by more complex preoccupations, how would he ever have conceived the idea of reconstructing the entire system of theology on the foundations provided by a new philosophy? For the fact is that the thomistic reform was to proceed along the lines of the greatest theological resistance. Did it not mean consciously to run counter to the bitterest theological opposition to force upon the partisans of the traditional Augustinianism the notion that philosophy could be a science distinct from theology, without thereby endangering its legitimacy; to accustom the minds of his contemporaries to think along the lines of Aristotle instead of along those of Plato, when the great theological authority of St. Augustine seemed indissolubly linked with the platonic tradition; to abandon the conception of innate ideas and therewith every proof a priori of the existence of God, to define the human soul as a form, and as the unique form of the body, at the risk of being suspected of compromising thereby the immortality of the soul; to recast, finally, the whole system of the traditional theological truths without losing anything of the substance of any of them while at the same time the formulation of all of them had to be modified? Indeed, having early become suspect in the eyes of the Augustinian partisans, attacked by the Franciscan John Peckham in 1270, declared suspect by the General Chapter of the Order in 1282, he is involved in the condemnation of the 219 Averroism and peripatetic articles which is passed by Etienne Tempier, Bishop of Paris, in 1277. Assailed by two mutually hostile parties, the Masters of the Faculty of Arts who had been won over to Averroism, and the Masters of the theological Faculty, who were the champions of traditionalism, we find him constantly engaged in maintaining against the partisans of Augustinianism what he considered true in the system of Aristotle, and in maintaining against the absolute Aristotelians the Christian truths unknown to Aristotelianism. This is the narrow ridge on which St. Thomas moves with incomparable sureness. The brilliant execution of his task masks for us to-day too easily the extreme difficulty he had to face, in maintaining his position, and the psychological improbability of a pure theologian ever attempting to take it up.

But such an interpretation would raise a second, still more serious difficulty. To present St. Thomas as a simple adaptor of Aristotle to theology, would imply, to start with, that he found Aristotle ready to hand—which would be a misconception of the characteristic form in which the whole problem presented itself to St. Thomas' contemporaries. Albert the Great has formulated it with delicious humour at a time when it was already more than half solved: all the Aristotelians are agreed that Aristotle has spoken the truth, but they all disagree about what Aristotle has said, and each interprets him in his own manner.26 This is a complication the causes of which history enables us to lay bare;but it is important to bear it in mind in order to estimate at its proper value the work accomplished by St. Thomas.

It is a well-known fact that Aristotle presented himself to the medieval thinkers in the disguise of Arabic interpretations. At first sight there seemed to be no reason for removing this disguise.27 The famous prohibition of Robert de Courcon in 1215 to comment on the Physics and Metaphysics of Aristotle "nec summae de eisdem"28 is evidently aimed at works in which the thought of the philosopher was often confused with that of Averroës. But what has emerged only from recent researches on the 13th century is the capital role played by Avicenna and the extreme difficulty which the western thinkers experienced, of liberating themselves from his influence.29 Imbued as he was with neoplatonic and even Christian notions quite as much as with Aristotelianism, this Arab philosopher presented under the name and authority of Aristotle an original system, expounded in a series of connected writings, not merely of commentaries, which produced a profound impression upon his Christian readers. Strange errors, it is true, could not fail, at first sight, to shock them and to repel them from a system which was so manifestly contrary to Faith; but the whole Plotinianism which inspired Avicenna adapted itself so easily to that form of it which had formerly inspired St. Augustine and was so familiar to them, that the possibility of reconciling the Aristotle of Avicenna with the Christian Faith forced itself upon their acceptance as an evident proposition. It may be said that down to the time of St. Thomas, not excepting even Albert the Great himself, the western philosophers lived on the idea that Avicenna, but for a few gross but easily removable errors, was on the right road. A substantial soul, mistress of the body of which it was only secondarily the form, illuminated by the influence of God, the first cause of our contingent Universe, was not all this the essence of what a Christian philosophical thought might require? With many different shadings and in very different degrees, Guillaume d'Auvergne, Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, Roger Bacon and Albert the Great certainly held this view with conviction.

Only later and through the influence which he had increasingly acquired in the Faculty of Arts in Paris, Averroës succeeded in inducing the theologians to devote serious attention to an Aristotle different from that of Avicenna. The impossibility of accepting the doctrine as it stood, was even more evident here than in the other case, and it has been explained above how this disagreement with Faith struck everyone. All the same Averroës offered both a text of Aristotle together with his commentaries and not merely, like Avicenna, treatises inspired by Aristotle. Averroës' commentaries might be systematic and tendencious, but he presented at the same time the text and left readers free to compare text and commentary. Now, it was impossible to compare them without observing that Averroism and Avicennism corresponded to two possible types of Aristotelianism, but nevertheless remained wholly distinct from it; other interpretations were conceivable, as legitimate as, and possibly more so than, those which the Arabic philosophers had championed. It is precisely this, the original thought of Aristotle that the young Thomas of Aquino seems to have set himself to reach, behind and beyond the mass of commentary which obscured it. We find him, all through his life, bent upon translation direct from the Greek text of Aristotle itself as the subject-matter of his thought30; as regards the commentaries to it which he composed, there again his chief care is to recover the order of ideas, the technical sense of terms and the authentic meaning of the teaching that mainly inspired it. The chief object of St. Thomas appears to have been to understand rather than reconstruct, and the freedom of thought which benefited his own doctrine, was the result of his effort to eliminate all intermediaries between Aristotle and himself.

It is indeed remarkable to note that St. Thomas seems to have laid so great a stress upon the actual letter of Aristotle only in order to disentangle once and for all the spirit of him and freely to appropriate it for himself. Unfortunately the history of his own intellectual development is unknown to us and we have no means of formulating with certainty the problem upon the solution of which he must early have come. From the time of the "Commentary on the Sentences," we find him, except for an occasional detail and the sometimes rather Augustinian tone of his expression, in full possession of the fundamental principles of his philosophical teaching, so that the initial phases of his thought will probably for ever elude us. But many facts allow us to suppose that, in all probability, it was the dialectic arguments directed by Aristotle against Plato which early arrested the attention of the young friar. Nowhere better than in the First Book of the Metaphysics could the original spirit of Aristotelianism reveal itself to him with its assertion of a sensible world, endowed with reality, stability and intelligibility, as against Platonism which leaves to things only the appearance of being and confines intelligibility to a world from which we are excluded. It would not be impossible to show that, in more than one respect, the thomistic philosophy is the continuation and amplification in the 13th century of the struggle which Aristotle originally began against Plato. Plato is the objective of St. Thomas' attacks behind Avicenna, Ibn Gabirol and even St. Augustine31; it is in opposition to him that he denies innate ideas, rejects the proofs a priori of the existence of God, denies the need of a special illumination of the intellect by divine ideas, refuses to consider the soul as a substance subsisting per se and independently of the body to which it is bound, maintains the efficacy of secondary causes in a universe whose very texture is made up of the relations of a real causality between beings. The universe of Plato remains for St. Thomas one in which we shall one day be called to live; but he refuses to see in it that in which we live now. By a reform converse to that carried out by his master, he places into heaven the Ideas which Aristotle had brought down upon earth, but he leaves sensible things in possession of their forms as real participations of the Ideas.

This is an essentially philosophical change of perspective which cannot be said to have been unprepared and yet can be said to have been accomplished only by St. Thomas. Many works anterior to him might have suggested this new orientation of his mind towards it. Not only Abelard and Gilbert de la Porrée in the 12th century,32 but also the masters immediately preceding him against whom he reacted, could not but suggest to him a new solution of the problems that had engaged their attention. Guillaume d'Auvergne, Alexander of Hales and Albert the Great are indeed visibly interested to maintain against the Arabs the substantiality and efficacy of secondary causes, of which the individual human beings are only a special case.33 But what they failed to see and what St. Thomas saw immediately, was that it was impossible to make an effective defence against the Arabs by relying on St. Augustine, because Augustinianism and Arabic thought both rested in their common foundation upon the same philosophy, that of Plato. St. Augustine might, it is true, furnish weapons against the enemies of Divine efficacy; but he himself was poorly protected against the enemies of the efficacy of secondary causes. What, in short, was needed, was the construction of a doctrine of the Real beyond all authorities and local scholastic traditions. The young Thomas of Aquino presents himself therefore, first and foremost, as a philosopher who, taking the part of Aristotle against Plato, was inevitably bound to depart from St. Augustine. Perhaps the greatest difficulty for us is to understand how this philosopher was by the very fact a Christian philosopher, without however ceasing to be himself, or more exactly precisely because he had to be Christian in order to be fully himself.

C. The Christian Doctor.

The personality of St. Thomas exceeds the limits of this study in three of his most important aspects. The saint that he was, belongs properly to hagiography; the theologian would require a special treatment, conducted on its own appropriate method, the result of which would by rights occupy the first place in a comprehensive study of St. Thomas; the mystic and his inner life elude very largely our grasp; the only aspect that concerns us here, is the intelligence and activity which he placed at the service of philosophy. Fortunately it happens that one of the aspects of his life involves almost equally all the activities of this many-sided personality and seems to represent the most central point of view which we can take up in respect to it. The most evident and most constant element of his personality, the form under which there is the greatest likelihood that he thought of himself, is that of the "Doctor."34 The saint was essentially a Doctor of the. Church; the man was a Doctor of theology and philosophy; the mystic, lastly, never separated entirely his meditations from his teaching which drew its inspiration from them. We shall, therefore, run but little risk of losing our way in looking in that direction for one of the principal sources of the doctrine which is the object of our study.35

Man can choose only between two kinds of life: the active and the contemplative life.36 What imparts to the activities of the Doctor their outstanding dignity, is that they involved both kinds of life, lived in the order of their precise subordination. The proper function of a "Doctor" is to teach; but teaching ("doctrina") consists in communicating to others the truths which have been the subject of one's previous meditation,37 which involves both contemplative reflexion in order to discover the truth, and the functions of the professor in order to convey to others the results of these discoveries. But the most remarkable feature in this complex activity is that the higher function precisely takes precedence over the lower, contemplation over action. Thus the function of a Doctor, as just defined, is naturally orientated towards a twofold object, interior and exterior, according as it is directed to the truth which the Doctor meditates and contemplates within himself, or to the pupils whom he instructs. Hence of the two sides of his life the former is the better, which it is his task to direct.

Now we see that the function of the Doctor is not simply an artificial adjunct to his contemplative life; it derives, on the contrary, from it as from its source and is, as it were, its outward unfolding. His teaching, as well as his preaching which is its kindred action, belong indeed to the work of the active life, but they flow in some manner from the very abundance of his contemplation.38 Hence his teaching cannot even be regarded as in any sense a real interruption of his contemplative life. A man who withdraws himself from the meditation of intelligible realities which feed his contemplative thought, to turn to works even though good, yet purely external, makes a complete break in his contemplation. It is an excellent thing to distribute alms or to entertain strangers, but to do so, nevertheless, makes all meditation, properly so-called, impossible. To teach, on the contrary, is to utter outwardly the inner contemplation, and if it is true that a soul truly free from temporal interests, preserves in each of its outward acts something of the freedom acquired, there is certainly no other activity where this freedom can more perfectly be preserved than in the act of teaching.39 To combine in this manner the active with the contemplative life means not a subtraction but an addition. It is, moreover, evident that in no other manner can the balance more perfectly be kept between these two kinds of life, to maintain which must needs be the object of our actual human state.40 To teach the truth which meditation has shown to us, is a relaxation of contemplation without any loss of it, but on the contrary with an increase of its best part.

Several important consequences follow from this which enable us to determine the precise part which St. Thomas assumed in taking upon himself the high function of a Christian Doctor. This is a function, indeed, peculiarly appropriate to the religious state41 and specially to an Order which was at the same time a teaching and a contemplative Order, like that of St. Dominic. St. Thomas has never tired of defending against all the attacks of seculars the legitimacy of the ideal to which he had devoted his life, that of a mendicant and teaching friar. If anyone contested the right to absolute poverty, he called to witness the example of the ancient philosophers who renounced all riches to devote themselves all the more freely to the contemplation of truth. How much more urgent was not such a renunciation for him, who wished to follow not only wisdom, but Christ, according to the saying of St. Jerome, addressed to the monk Rusticus: "Christum nudum nudus sequere"?42 If anyone attacks the legitimacy of accepting an honour such as that of Mastership or a title such as Master, St. Thomas replies with much common-sense that a Mastership is not an honour but a charge,43 and that, the title of Master not being taken but given, it would be difficult to prevent others from giving it to you.44 If lastly it was urged that the true religious is bound to do manual work which in its requirements goes badly with the requirements of meditation and teaching, St. Thomas has plenty of distinctions to suggest in order to free himself from so evidently subordinate an occupation and to replace it by the "oral work" of teaching and preaching.45 Nothing could, in his eyes, be more legitimate than a religious Order both contemplative and teaching.

Nor could anything be more legitimate, nor even more desirable for a member of such an Order than to aim at the activities of a Doctor and to spend his life in carrying them into effect. Doubtless, the part of a Master is not without its dangers. There are those who teach all their life for mere vainglory, instead of for the good of others, and who, therefore, lead a life unworthy of the true religious.46 But he who is conscious of giving his teaching as an act of kindness and true spiritual charity, need have no scruples in desiring to lead such a life. An objection which was constantly raised by the seculars against the religious, aspiring to the position of Master, was: How can you reconcile the humility of the friar with the claim to authority?47 St. Thomas disposed of it in perfect accordance with the position occupied by the Masters of the University of Paris and by distinguishing carefully between the situation of a candidate to a professorial chair and that of a candidate to a bishopric. He who aspires to an episcopal place, desires a dignity which is not yet in his possession: but a person on whom a professorial chair is conferred, does not, in fact, receive a new dignity, but merely an opportunity of communicating his knowledge to others; to grant a licentiate to someone does not in any sense mean to grant him knowledge, but the right to teach what he knows. A second difference between the two instances is that the knowledge required for the occupation of a professorial chair is a perfection of the individual person possessing the knowledge, whereas the episcopal power adds to the dignity of its possessor in respect to others. A third difference is that a man is fitted to receive the episcopal dignity foremost by Divine Grace, while it is knowledge which fits a person for the office of teacher. Hence the radical difference between the two cases cannot fail to be clear to anyone: it is praiseworthy to desire one's own perfection, therefore, also knowledge and teaching for which one is fitted by it, whereas it is bad to desire power over others without knowing whether one is in possession of the Grace needed for its exercise. On the other hand, the desire to teach, that is to communicate to others the knowledge one has, is merely the desire to perform an act of charity: nothing could therefore be more praiseworthy than the wish to be authorised to do so, always provided that one is really capable of it. Again, as regards this latter point, the position is clear and defined. No one can know of certain knowledge whether or no he possesses the Grace which iswholly in the gift of God; but anyone can know for certain whether or no he possesses the knowledge required for the legitimate exercise of teaching.48 It is, therefore, with the full assurance of possessing the necessary knowledge and from love of the minds he desires to enlighten that St. Thomas devoted the whole of his life to the activity of teacher. The contemplation of truth by thought uttered for the sake of charity and communicated: such is the life of the Doctor, the least unfaithful, however deficient, human imitation of the very life of God.

Withal, we have to beware of a possible equivocation which might blur the precise sense of St. Thomas' words. Whenever he speaks of the Doctor or the Master, we think first of the philosopher, whereas his first thought is of the theologian. The "Master" par excellence cannot but teach the wisdom par excellence, i.e. the science of Divine things, which is essentially theology. This is also the only Mastership to which a religious can legitimately aspire. When, therefore, St. Thomas sings the praises of a life divided between teaching and the contemplation which inspires it, he thinks primarily of this; it is for its sake that he demands the manifold Graces needful to the Doctor"49: a full knowledge of the Divine things on which he is to instruct others conferred on him by Faith; power of persuasion and demonstration in order to convince others of the truth, assisted by the gift of Wisdom; aptitude to develop his ideas and to express them in a form suited to the instruction of others, aided by the gift of Knowledge50: wisdom and knowledge directed above all else to the understanding of Divine things and placed at the service of their teaching. If we wish, therefore, to look for the Doctor of philosophical truth in the complex personality of St. Thomas, it is only in the theologian that we can hope to find him.

In thus going back to the definition which he himself has given of his own function, we find on last analysis nothing but a philosopher inseparable from a theologian. This is an abstract formula, inadequate through its very indefiniteness, since the most diverse doctrines have been able to appeal to it with perfect justice; yet it is a formula which needs to be considered first in all its bareness, with all the demands it implies, in order to avoid certain serious errors concerning the meaning of thomistic thought.

A religious, St. Thomas considers, can legitimately aspire to the title and functions of a Master, but since he teaches nothing but Divine things, secular science can be of interest to him only in reference to these. This is the demand, in fact, made by the very essence of the contemplative life whose direct prolongation into the sphere of the active life constitutes teaching. Contemplation is the highest form of human life on condition that it is centred upon the object, the knowledge of which is the end of that life; knowledge and contemplation which in the future life will be perfect and will give us full beatitude, cannot but be imperfect in this life and can carry with them only the beginnings of beatitude. Yet it is best for us to enjoy it, and the use of philosophy is both legitimate and necessary as a condition of this supreme contemplation. Now, we shall have to observe that in the actual conditions of man, all knowledge rests fundamentally on the order of sensible things: hence the Doctor of theology must start inevitably from a scientific and philosophical knowledge of the universe, in order to rise to his proper object, which is the contemplation of God; but it is only in proportion as this knowledge can give him access to the higher wisdom that it is permissible for him to labour at acquiring it.51 We may, therefore, say that a philosophy is a strict requirement for the Christian Doctor, but that, however useful, this philosophy cannot itself be its own end.

What then is this philosophy? St. Thomas has never practised or conceived it, except in its proper place within the hierarchic structure of Christian Wisdom, and therefore, no doubt, it never occurred to him to detach it from it and to give it a special name. Yet it might have a name, because it existed and had a name long before St. Thomas transformed it and marked it so deeply with his impress: it is the "Christian Philosophy."52 We mean by this a philosophy which intends to be a rational interpretation of data, but considers as the essential element of these data the religious Faith, the object of which is defined by the Christian revelation. Within such a doctrine the rôle assigned to reason and the place assigned to philosophy may vary endlessly: St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, Pascal will incline to treat secular knowledge with suspicion and to expect from this handmaid a service kept under strict surveillance; Clement of Alexandria, John Damascene, Albert the Great, St. Thomas of Aquino, Roger Bacon will, on the contrary, give it wider scope; but all are agreed on the essential point, namely, that there is a Christian philosophy, that is to say, a philosophy directed towards an object which eludes its grasp, but from which, knowing that it exists, it cannot turn away. Destined to fall short of its object, it will find a foothold, in some manner, upon the prolongation of the ideal roads which lead to it. Without consenting to deform in any way the natural aspect of things and still less the true knowledge which we have of them, it claims to possess in the little that it can grasp of an object actually inaccessible, a principle of selection and of order for that knowledge which reason supplies.

Such at least, it seems to us, must be the point of view to be adopted, unless we are prepared to turn two grave historical problems into as many insoluble riddles: how did St. Thomas conceive the work which it was his mission to accomplish? What is the thomistic philosophy?

Upon the first point, it is impossible to pursue research honestly to its last consequences without coming to the conclusion that the philosophical problems which St. Thomas undertook to examine, were and always remained for him strictly philosophical problems; and yet we should have to run counter to his most express statements and his clearly stated intentions, if we denied that his whole philosophy is consciously ordered towards the sphere of revelation and of Faith. As regards the second point, it is clear that St. Thomas recognised in the strictest possible manner the real distinction between philosophy and theology. Nothing is easier than to sketch the ideal plan of a pure philosophy such as St. Thomas himself has conceived, approximately such as Aristotle had already carried out53; and yet St. Thomas never troubled to realise it himself or to carry out the plan he had drawn so well. It has therefore all the appearance as if St. Thomas had had the idea of constituting a system of purely rational truths which, precisely because rational, fit of themselves into the doctrinal structure of Revelation. Thence flows for the historian the important consequence that, to present under the name of thomistic philosophy a system which St. Thomas has neither known nor intended, because it would have proved to be built upon the plan of a pure philosophy, would mean not only to present a mere phantom in place of an historical reality, but also to misconceive the original inspiration of Thomism in its most intimate and deepest elements. It would mean to forget what St. Thomas was and consciously wanted to be: a Christian Doctor.

In what manner a philosophy can be Christian without ceasing pro tanto to be a philosophy, must be the next object of our study.


1 Concerning the biography of St. Thomas we follow the chronology of P. Mandonnet, Chronologie sommaire de la vie et des écrits de saint Thomas, Rev. des sciences phil. et théol., 1920, p. 142-152. Cf. Bibliographie thomiste, Introduction, p. ix-xi. For a series of important articles by P. Mandonnet on the life of St. Thomas cf. Rev. thomiste and Rev. des Jeunes, May, June, 1919; 25 Jan., 10 March, 1920.

2 As regards the works of St. Thomas (authenticity and chronology), cf. especially P. Mandonnet, Des écrits authentiques de saint Thomas d'Aquin, Fribourg, 1909, 2nd ed., 1910. Some of his conclusions have been contested by M. Grabmann, Die echten Schriften des hl. Thomas von Aquin, Beiträge Cl. Baeumker, XXII, 1-2, Münster, 1920; A. Birkenmayer, Kleinere Thomasfragen, Phil. Jahrb. Bd. 34, H. 1. p. 31-49. The whole question has been taken up afresh, from the methodological point of view, by Fr. Pelster, Zur Forschung nach den echten Schriften des hl. Thomas von Aquin, Phil. Jahrb., Bd. 36; H. I, p. 36-49. The problem of the Quodlibets is the subject of an important comprehensive study by P. J.-A. Destrez, Les disputes quodlibetiques de saint Thomas d'après la tradition manuscrite, Mélanges thomistes (Bibl. thomiste, III), Le Saulchoir, Kain, 1923. Cf. also Bibl. thomiste, nos. 556, 557. As to works dealing with the Summa theol., see nos. 526ff.

3 Roccasecca lies at kilom. 121 on the railway from Rome to Naples; Aquino, the home of Juvenal before it became that of St. Thomas, lies at kilom. 126; a little further, on the top of a bare ridge, one sees the Abbey of Montecassino, 138 km. from Rome and 111 km. from Naples.

4 Legend has chosen an hermit, fra Buono, as the mouthpiece of popular opinion, in making him prophesy, at the birth of the child, that his parents would entertain this scheme: "ad magnos ipsius monasterii reditus pervenire." See L.-H. Petitot, Saint Thomas d'Aquin. Lavocation. L 'œuvre. La vie spirituelle. Ed. by the Rev. des Jeunes, 1923, p. 14-16.

5 The presentation of a child of 5 years by his parents as an oblate monk ("Pater dicti fr. Thomae monachavit eum puerum," says Bartolomeo of Capua) in a Benedictine Abbey may seem curious. St. Thomas always considered that his father had an absolute right to do so: "quia pueri quousque ad annos discretionis pervenerint, sunt secundum jus naturale in potestate parentum." Quodlib., III, art. 11, concl. He even considered that it was an excellent thing for the child's soul: "considerandum est pueros etiam infra annos pubertatis in religionem recipi non esse secundum se malum, immo est expediens et fructuosum, quia illud quod a pueritia assuescimus, semper perfectius et firmius tenemus," Quodlib., IV, art. 23, concl. For the same reason, he thinks (ibid. ad Sed quod ulterius), that it is not only right but praiseworthy that the child should bind itself by a vow: "Cum ergo bonum sit quod pueri ad religionem veniant, multo melius est quod eorum voluntas sit ad hoc firmata, quod fit voto vel juramento." It is, of course, not a question here of solemn vows, but of a simple vow to enter religion. Cf. Summa theol., IIaIIae, qu. 189, art. 2, ad lum; and ibid, art 1 on the whole question.

6 Cf. L.-H. Petitot, op. cit., pp. 17-19.

7 Cf. Denifle, Die Universitaten des Mittelaters bis 1400, Berlin, 1885, p. 453. The establishment of a studium generale at Naples by Frederic II goes back to 1224. Concerning the teachers of St. Thomas at the University, cf. Cl. Baeumker, Petrus de Hibernia, der Jugendlehrer des Thomas von Aquino und seine Disputation vor König Manfred (Sitzgsber. d. Bayer. Akad. d. Wissensch. philos. phil. u.hist. Kl., 1920, Abh. 8). An Italian translation has appeared in Rivista di filosofia neo-scolastica, 1921, fasc. 2 and 5.

8 This, in fact, is all we know. Baeumker has found in a "determinatio" of Peter of Ireland the proof that he interpreted Aristotle on the lines of Averroes rather than of Avicenna; whence he draws the conclusion (op.cit., pp. 35-40), that St. Thomas received the first suggestion to abandon the Avicennism professed by Albert the Great from his first teacher. But this "determinatio," if it is really that of St. Thomas' teacher, dates from a time about 15 years after he had him as pupil, i.e. from a time when St. Thomas had already written his Commentary on the Sentences, his De ente et essentia and was working at his Contra gentes (op. cit., p. 10, 34-35). Between 1244 and 1260 the Averroist interpretation of Aristotle had become sufficiently general to make the assumption more probable that Peter of Ireland was simply following the general movement at the same time as his former pupil. The fact that St. Thomas has written an extract from the Sophistici elenchi (p. 35, note 1) immediately after the interruption of his Neapolitan studies, merely proves that he had even then been taught the logic of Aristotle (which had been called in question), and nothing more. The tendency to think that the most recently discovered unedited writing must solve necessarily all sorts of important questions, is, only natural; the fact that the "disputatio" published by Baeumker is later than 1244 detracts from it as a source of information about the teaching which St. Thomas received at Naples.

9 Later, towards 1263, King Manfred, King of Sicily, presented to the University of Paris a number of philosophical writings recently translated by his order (cf. Denifle-Chatelain, Chartularium, t. I, pp. 435-6). On the influence of the Hohenstaufen on the dissemination of the works of Aristotle, see Amable Jourdain, Recherches critiques sur l' âge et l'origins des traductions latines d'Aristote, ed. 2, Paris, 1843, pp. 50-51, 152-165.

10 Fr. Pelster, S.J., in his Kritische Studien zum Leben u. zu den Schriften Alberts des Grossen, Freiburg i. Breisg., Herder, 1920, pp. 62-84, admits on the contrary that St. Thomas went direct from Italy to Cologne, where he heard Albert the Great before the latter's departure for Paris. He himself is said to have come to Paris only in 1252. On this view, which accords with the evidence of ancient biographers, but raises, nevertheless, a number of difficulties, see Paulus de Loë, O.P., De vita et scriptis B. Alberti Magni, Analecta Bolland., 1900, T. 19, p. 259, No. 2; Petitot, op. cit., p. 36, note.

11 P. Mandonnet has repeatedly defined this point of view, Siger de Brabant. Etude critique, Louvain, 1911, pp. 36-42, Saint Thomas d'Aquin. Le disciple d'Albert le Grand, Rev. des Jeunes, 25 Jan., 1920, p. 153-155. We have ourselves also dealt with it in La philosophie au moyen-âge, Paris, 1922, t. II, pp. 4-5.

12 Cf. sect. B, p. 20.

13Chartularium Universitatis parisiensis, ed. Denifle-Chatelain, t. I, p.307. The letter of Alexander IV, praising Aymery, the Chancellor, for having conferred the licentiate on fr. Thomas is dated 3 March, 1256. An earlier letter, actually lost, urged the Chancellor to do so.

14 "Delectabile nobis est auditu percipere … quod dilecto filio fratri Thome de Aquino Ordinis Praedicatorum, viro utique nobilitate generis et morum honestate conspicuo ac thesaurum litteralisscientie per Dei gratiam assecuto, dedisti licentiam in theologica facultate docendi, priusquam illuc nostre littere pervenirent, quas tibi super hoc specialiter mittebamus" (ibid)…

16 Mgr. Grabmann has since put the writing of the Commentary on the Metaphysics back to 1266; Augustin Mansion, Pour l'histoire du commentaire de St. Thomas sur la métaphysique d'Aristote, Rev. néoscolast. de phil., Aug., 1925, pp. 274-295, places it in the year, 1271-1272.

17 The treatise, rejected by P. Mandonnet, but retained by Mgr. Grabmann, seems to us not only authentic, but a fundamental text for the thomistic epistemology.

18 Cf. Fr. Pelster, Phil. Jahrb., 1923, vol. 36, p. 42. This treatise, rejected by P. Mandonnet and Mgr. Grabmann, appears to us, as to Fr. Pelster, undoubtedly authentic.

19 Cf. Destrez, op. cit., p. 74.

20 Cf. J.-A. Endres: Petrus Damiani und die weltliche Wissenschaft, Beitr, z. Gesch. d. Phil. d. Mitt., VIII, 3, Münster, 1910; Forschungen zur Gesch. d frühmitt. Philosophie, ibid., XVII, 2-3, 1914.

21 Cf. M. de Wulf, Histoire de la phil. médiéevale; 4th ed., pp. 141-147.

22 Cf. Duhem, Du temps oú la scolastique latine a connu la physique d'Aristote, Rev. de phil., 1909, pp. 162-178.

23 De Wulf, op. cit., p. 156.

24 On this point, see esp. Mandonnet, Siger de Brabant et I'averroisme latin, "Les Philosophes belges," t. VI, pp. 1-63, Louvain, 1911; M. Grabmann, Forschungen uber d lat. Aristoteles Übersetzungen des XIII. Jahrhdts, Beitr., XVII, 5-6, Münster, 1916.

25In Hexaemeron, collatio VI, Opera omnia, ed. Quaracchi, t. V, pp. 360-361. Mandonnet, op. cit., p. 157, note, refers also on this point to Henry of Ghent: Quodlibeta, IX, qu. 14 and 16. Cf. E. Gilson, La philosophie de saint Bonaventure (Études de phil. méd., IV), Paris, Vrin, 1925, p. 99.

26 Albertus Magnus, De anima, lib. III, tr. 2, cap. 3; in Opera omnia, ed. Jammy, t. III, p. 135.

27 Amable Jourdain, op. cit., pp. 193 and 199.

28 Denifle-Chatelain, Chartularium, t. I, pp. 78-79.

29 Cl. Baeumker, Petrus de Hibernia, op. cit., pp. 31-32.

30 The whole series of translations of Aristotle by the Dominican William of Moerbeke marks a fundamental date in the history of medieval Aristotelianiasm. Now St. Thomas himself seems to have been the prime mover in the matter; cf. Amable Jourdain, op. cit., pp. 67-75.

31 See on the point the decisive text in De spiritualibus creaturis, art. X, ad 8m.

32 Dehove, Qui praecipui fuerint labente XII° sec. ante introductam Arabum philosophiam temperati realismi antecessores, Lille, 1908.

33 Apart from Christian thought, a special place must be reserved, among the sources of St. Thomas, to the influence of Moses Maimonides. On a good many points the position of the "Rabbi Moses" prepares that adopted by Thomism and their respective interpretation of Aristotle is often analogous. Maimonides is opposed to the Arabic "motecallemin" (theologians) just as St. Thomas opposes the Augustinian traditionalists; their mental attitude, positive and full of common-sense, is singularly akin and the study of their relationship would be worthy of an exhaustive treatment. Cf. J. Guttmann, Das Verhältnis des Thomas von Aquino zum Judentum, Göttingen, 1891; L.-G. Levy, Maimonide (Les Grands Philosophes), Paris, 1911, pp. 265-267.

34 St. Thomas himself has declared, in adopting a saying of St. Hilary, that his main business in life is to speak of God. "Ut enim verbis Hilarii (De Trin., I, 37) utar, ego hoc vel praecipuum vitae meae officium debere me Deo conscius sum, ut eum omnis sermo meus et sensus loquatur," Contra Gent., I, 2.

35 Cf. on this A. Touron, La vie de St. Thomas d'Aquin … avec un exposé de sa doctrine et ses ouvrages, Paris, 1737; esp. bk. IV, chap. ii and iii: Portrait of the perfect Doctor according to St. Thomas. On the mystical side of his personality, cf. Saint Thomas d'Aquin. Sa saintete, sa doctrine spirituelle, "Les Grands Mystiques," ed. of the Vie spirituelle, Saint-Maximin. Joret, O.P., La contemplation mystique d'après saint Thomas d'Aquin, Desclée, Lille-Bruges, 1924. This is a very penetrating study equally useful concerning his personality as concerning his mysticism. Also consult Bibliographie thomiste, pp. 70-72.

36 See on this point, Chapter II.

37 "Ergo quod aliquis veritatem meditatam in alterius notitiam per doctrinam deducat …," Sum. theo., IIaIIae, qu. 181, art. 3, 3a obj. Cf. ibid. on what follows.

38 "Sic ergo dicendum est, quod opus vitae activae est duplex: unum quidem, quod ex plenitudine contemplationis derivatur, sicut doctrina et praedicatio …; et hoc praefertur simplici contemplationi: sicut enim majus est illuminare quam lucere solum, ita majus est contemplata allis tradere, quam solum contemplari." Sum. theol., IIaIIae, 188, 6, concl.

39Sum. theol., IIaIIae, 182, 1, concl. and ad 3m. See esp. the conclusion of the article: "Et sic patet quod cum aliquis a contemplativa vita ad activam vocatur, non hoc fit per modum substractionis, sed per modum additionis."

40 On the diversity of natural aptitudes for the active and contemplative life, see Sum. theol., IIaIIae, qu. 182, art. 4, ad 3m.

41Sum. theol., IIaIIae, 188, 6, ad Resp. It is there shown that the contemplative and teaching Ordersare of a dignity superior to the merely contemplative Orders, and take their place, in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, immediately after the bishops, because "fines primorum conjunguntur principiis secundorum."

42Sum. theol., IIaIIae, 186, 3, ad 3m.

43Contra impugnantes Dei cultum et religionem, cap. II: "Item hoc falsum est, quod magisterium sit honor; est enim officium, cui debetur honor."

44Ibid., cap. II, ad Ita, cum nomina and Restat ergo dicendum.

45Sum. theol., IIaIIae, 187, art. 3, ad 3m. Quaest. quodlib., VII, art. 17 and 18. Contr. impug. Dei cult, et rel., cap. II, ad Item, sicut probandum est, where teaching is counted as spiritual almsgiving and a work of mercy. Cf. cap. V.

46 The following curious question was put to St. Thomas: Can a teacher who has always taught out of sheer vainglory recover a claim to his halo by doing penance? Answer: Penance gives a claim to the reward which one deserves; but he who teaches out of vainglory has not deserved a halo; hence no penance would confer on him the claim to recover it. Quodlib., XII, art. 24.

47Quodlib., III, qu. IV, art. 9: "Utrum liceat alicui petere licentiam pro se docendi in theologia."

48 "Nam scientia, per quam aliquis est idoneus ad docendum, potest aliquis scire per certitudinem se habere; charitatem autem, per quam aliquis est idoneus ad officium pastorale, non potest aliquis per certitudinem scire se habere." Quod-lib., III, art. 9, ad Resp. Cf. ad 3m: "Sed pericula magisterii cathedrae pastoralis devitat scientia cum charitate, quam homo nescit se per certitudinem habere; pericula autem magisterii cathedrae magistralis vitat homo per scientiam, quam potest homo scire se habere."

49Sum. theol., IaIIae, III, 4, ad Resp. Cf. In evang. Matth., c. V.

50 On this see Sum. theol., IIaIIae, 177, 1, ad Resp.

51Sum. theol., IIaIIae, 180, 4, ad Resp.

52 This is the expression used by P. Touron, who had so precise an appreciation of thomistic thought. See op. cit., p. 450.

53 See on this point the observation of P. Mandonnet in Bulletin thomiste, Nov., 1924, pp. 135-6.

Katherine Archibald (essay date 1950)

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SOURCE: "The Concept of Social Hierarchy in the Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas," The Historian, Vol. XII, No. 1, Autumn, 1950, pp. 28-54.

[In the following essay, Archibald examines Aquinas's theories concerning the proper structure of society and the importance of hierarchy, status, and privilege.]


St. Thomas Aquinas, who since the century of his birth has been a major influence in the world of theology, philosophy, and social theory, has acquired a new importance in recent decades. The Church, within which he labored, has long honored him as one of its few supreme philosophers. Less than fifty years after his death he was canonized. At the Council of Trent his Summa Theologica lay open on the altar beside the Scriptures, and Pope has vied with Pope in pointing to his writings as guideposts of Christian thought and action. Innocent VI (1352-1362) declared of St. Thomas:

His doctrine above all other doctrine, with the one exception of the Holy Scriptures, has such a propriety of words, such a method of explanation, such a truth of opinions that no one who holds it will ever be found to have strayed from the path of truth, whereas anyone who has attacked it has always been suspected as to the truth.1

Pius X (1903-1914) reaffirmed this judgment for the twentieth century when he wrote:

We therefore desired that all teachers of philosophy and sacred theology should be warned that if they deviated so much as a step, in metaphysics especially, from Aquinas, they exposed themselves to grave risk.—We now go further and solemnly declare that those who in their interpretations misrepresent or affect to despise the principles and major theses of his philosophy are not only not following St. Thomas but are even far astray from the saintly Doctor. If the doctrine of any writer or Saint has ever been approved by Us or Our Predecessors with such singular commendation and in such a way that to the commendation were added an invitation and order to propagate and defend it, it may easily be understood that it was commended to the extent that it agreed with the principles of Aquinas or was in no way opposed to them.2

Radiating out from the center of Catholic orthodoxy, the power of the Angelic Doctor's thought has extended far afield. Since the time of Leo XIII (1878-1903), a growing movement of Neo-Thomism has been evident. A flood of literature has accompanied and signified this movement.3 The names of Etienne Gilson and Martin Grabmann are sufficient proof that this literature has not been lacking in profound scholarship. It has been, however, with few and minor exceptions, a literature of apology and interpretation in terms of further unfoldment of an established truth. The bulk of the literature is concerned with problems of metaphysics and theology—as, indeed, is the bulk of St. Thomas' own writings—but there is also a large amount of commentary on Thomistic social theory.

It can be argued that the primary impulse behind the recently renewed examination of St. Thomas and his philosophy was not and is not an abstract interest in metaphysical subtleties, but an effort to find secure and valid guidance in a period of disturbed social relationships and shifting institutions. The importance which Thomistic social theory has come to assume for the contemporary student of the great Scholastic is indicated by the numerous doctoral dissertations at the Catholic University of America—a center of Neo-Thomism in the United States—which are devoted to analysis of St. Thomas and his thought. The majority of these studies deal with St. Thomas, either directly or tangentially, as a social theorist. St. Thomas possessed great significance as a social theorist in his own time; his followers have revived and confirmed this significance for the present age. It is consequently desirable to scrutinize carefully what pronouncements he made concerning society and its proper structure.


The thirteenth century, within which are contained the scant five decades of St. Thomas' life, is widely viewed as the crown or culmination of the medieval epoch. This was the century of Innocent III, of Frederick II, of Dante, a century of full bloom for institutions and attitudes which had been in process of development for almost a thousand years. The thirteenth century was characterized by as much stability as history ever exhibits. But it was a century, too, of the gnawing sound of change. There was the Albigensian difficulty, for instance, and the consequent need for establishment of inquisitorial procedures. There was the rise of a new and disturbing class, the commercial class, whose power increased as the cities burgeoned in the countryside. There was the threat of new philosophies, stemming from Greece and Rome and conveyed through the alien hands of Saracens, philosophies which challenged faith with reason and dogma with doubts.

St. Thomas Aquinas, however, was singularly at peace with the century of his birth. Child of a noble family whose lineage was ancient and exalted, he had reason from the beginning to cast his eyes about and find the world a satisfactory fabric of divine handiwork. He was also happy in the choice of his career, for he entered into religion at a time when institutionalized Christianity was at the height of its dignity and power. It is not surprising, then, that his work, when simply viewed, is seen to comprise a wholesale justifying and glorifying of the pattern of life and thought which predominated in his thirteenth century world. Far more fortunate than a Plato or an Augustine, who must needs watch while familiar ways and institutions tumbled down in chaos, he found it possible to admire the present and to await the future with complacency. His conservatism could be and was both confident and aggressive.

He was aware of the threat of change, to be sure, and wherever he observed disturbance, he combatted it. His most notable contribution to the maintenance of thirteenth century stability was his effort to neutralize one source of change, at least, by enmeshing Aristotelian rationalism in the web of orthodox theology. Or, to use another more appropriate and consistent metaphor, he converted reason from a potential weapon to a building stone by giving it a subordinate place in the pyramid of orthodoxy.

The pyramid, with its hierarchy of place, its order and solidity, is a conceptual structure eminently suited to a philosopher whose purpose was to fix in eternity the lineaments of his own time. Thus in the Thomistic view the entire universe is such a pyramid—a pyramid which finds its ultimate point in God. Descending from God, the expanse of creation stretches out in an ordered hierarchy of superior and inferior being. Since the Deity is assumed to be complete and perfect in Himself, there arises the question of the purpose of creation and creatures. The Angelic Doctor discovers the answer to this question in the will of God to express His perfection in as many diverse ways as possible. Consequent to the fact of diversity is the necessity of order. St. Thomas conceives this order as accomplished through the direction of diversity in an ascending series toward its source, which is One.4

To organize in proper sequence the diversity of the universe, St. Thomas turns to a number of traditional capacities and characteristics presumed to exist in totality and perfection in the Deity and to be more and more partially and imperfectly present in the descending order of creatures. God is pure spirit, pure act, the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause. Hence the more adulterated with matter, the more weakened with potency a creature is, the less it moves itself and the more it is moved by others, the less it causes and the more it is caused, the lower in the scale the creature stands. Laboring thus with metaphysical justifications, St. Thomas emerges finally with the traditional order of creatures and creation: inanimate nature at the base, plants following, animals next (divided in turn into those that are capable of self-motion and those that are not), and spiritual or intellectual substances at the crown.5 The basic dichotomy in this series is the again traditional metaphysical division of the universe into the realm of mind, spirit, soul, and the realm of matter or the animal.

Man, in this universe, is placed halfway between the realms of spirit and matter. He is a composite of animal and soul and contains within his own nature an hierarchy of powers. Rightly organized, this hierarchy is capped by reason. The soul must rule the body, and within the soul, with its nutritive, sensitive, and rational levels, reason must dominate. When man is thus composed within himself, he is ordered in accordance with Divine reason; he is virtuous.6 Man's infinite sins have therefore a common source, which is the rebellion of man's lower faculties against the rightful rule of reason.7 Rebelling against reason, man rebels against God. Reason, moreover, is that capacity which most particularly links him to the realm of spirit and ultimately to the Pure Intelligence which is the Deity.8 In designating man as a rational animal, St. Thomas defines the human species. But to assert that all men are rational is for St. Thomas merely to delimit the human from the subhuman level and not to establish the unvarying equality of humanity within itself. Diversity exists within the human species; individualism exists. Permeated as he is with the viewpoint of hierarchy, St. Thomas conceives difference and inequality as virtually synonymous. Expanding fully the implications of this concept, he develops an hierarchical structure which from one viewpoint may be compared, not so much to a pyramid, as to a totem pole of status, whose length is exactly equivalent to the extent of human differences.

Since the human soul constitutes the form of man and is single and specific in its nature,9 St. Thomas seeks the source of human diversity in the matter which enters into the construction of the human composite. Every human organism is conceived and develops in the womb with its own peculiar complement of fleshly skills and sensory equipment. And each soul, while retaining the specific character and the basic style of all human souls, is nonetheless tailored to fit, at the point of its introduction into the embyronic organism, the particular shape of a particular body.10 Even when the body dies and the soul survives alone for a period while awaiting reunion with a spiritualized body on the Day of Judgment, even then each soul is individual and different since it retains the fit and the proportion which marked it in its life of union with the flesh.11 All these differences, furthermore, between body and body, soul and soul, and one human composite and another, are differences, not of simple variety, but of value, of better and worse, of more or less perfect. For differences, wherever they exist in the Thomistic universe, are vertically, and not horizontally, ordered; differences aretypically inequalities, and inequalities, in the long run, are matters of greater or less goodness. St. Thomas writes:

Perfect goodness would not be found in things unless there were degrees of goodness, so that, to wit, there be some things better than others: else all the possible degrees of goodness would not be fulfilled nor would any creature be found like to God to the point of being better than others. More-over this would do away with the chief beauty in things if the order resulting from distinction and disparity were abolished; and what is more, the absence of inequality in goodness would involve the absence of multitude, since it is by reason of things differing from one another that one is better than another: for instance, the animate than the inanimate, and the rational than the irrational. Consequently, if there were absolute equality among things, there would be but one created good, which is clearly derogatory to the goodness of the creature.12

In accordance with his emphasis on reason and intelligence as chief among human abilities, St. Thomas tends to point to intellectual capacity as the hallmark of a human being's excellence.13 Since he also tends to connect reason and morality, the more intelligent man becomes the more virtuous man as well. "Now," St. Thomas asserts, "the virtues are nothing but those perfections whereby reason is directed to God, and the inferior powers regulated according to the dictate of reason.…14 The Angelic Doctor continues a further tradition common among philosophers in pursuit of an intellectual elite in that he joins excellence of mind and soul with an excellence of body compatible with a life of physical ease and leisure rather than with a life of manual toil. The fine mind, he declares, is found, not in the strong-muscled and broad-shouldered body, but in the body with soft flesh and delicate sensitivities.15

The differences which make an almost infinite hierarchy of human individuals are solidified and organized in human society into differences of authority and status. Man is by nature social; only the man who is in some sense either beyond or beneath the human level can live in solitude.16 And society is by nature hierarchical. The multitude of individuals in any given society, St. Thomas writes, would be hopelessly confused if that society were not divided into different orders which are ranked hierarchically.17 Society, in being hierarchical, not only reflects the fact of human differences, but also, as part of a pyramidal universe, contains its own rationale of status. God's universe is ordered. Society is ordered. And inequality is the essence of order. "It belongs to divine providence that order be preserved in the world;" St. Thomas observes, "and suitable order consists in a proportionate descent from the highest to the lowest.…18

So germane to society is inequality that even in the society of the State of Innocence, which St. Thomas pictures as very numerous, since the processes of reproduction were normally active while the hand of death was stayed, even in the society of Eden, there was inequality of status, as between husband and wife, father and child, ruler and ruled. "It is written (Rom. xiii. 1)," St. Thomas remarks, "The things which are of God, are well ordered. But order chiefly consists in inequality; for Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix): Order disposes things equal and unequal in their proper place. Therefore in the primitive state, which was most proper and orderly, inequality would have existed."19 The only level of fallen society lacking in the society of perfection was the lowest level of all, the level of the unfree, of the serf and the slave.20 In this matter St. Thomas departs both from early Christian teachings and from the traditions of Roman law, which maintained the society of the Stateof Innocence or the state of nature to be completely equalitarian and free.21


St. Thomas' effort to reproduce in the society of fallen man the hierarchical pattern of the universe is clearly seen in his prescription for the good political society or state. Although he speaks without negativism of Aristotle's aristocracy and polity (the latter of which is, after all, little more than a broadened aristocracy), his unequivocal preference, as he shows in his De Regimine Principum, is for monarchy. As God, by being One, brings the diversity of the universe to a single point, so the ruler, by being one, brings to a point of unity the diversity of society and thus assures peace for all its members.22 Again the structure of the pyramid emerges, and beneath the capstone of the monarch the orders of the secular world are ranged in layers of status, the bulk of which increases the farther from the top they lie.

The Angelic Doctor apparently assumes that under the guidance of Divine Providence the position of ruler will be for the most part occupied by a man whose intelligence and virtue are such that he is fit to rule. This assumption forms a necessary basis for his support of monarchy as the most desirable type of government and forms the basis, too, for his acceptance of absolutism as the pattern of control. A virtuous king is the best guarantee of popular welfare. He reigns as God's emissary on earth. "Therefore let the king recognize," St. Thomas writes, "that such is the office which he undertakes, namely, that he is to be in the kingdom what the soul is in the body, and what God is in the world… he has been appointed to this position in place of God, to exercise judgment in his kingdom.…"23

Although it is the welfare of the community which is the proper goal of government—and hence there is a positive correlation between the consent of the community to be ruled for its own good and monarchial authority—St. Thomas nowhere provides a firm foundation for the idea of the "natural" or "original" right of the people as against the power of the king. He follows closely the Aristotelian concept that, since political relationship is grounded in nature, the real foundation of the order of dominance and subordination must be sought in the natural inequality of men. On the whole, then, he who leads is wiser and better than he who follows, and rebellion on the part of the follower is treason and sin.

St. Thomas does, indeed, admit the occasional possibility that vice may usurp the power which rightfully belongs to virtue. He deals at some length in De Regimine Principum with the classical problem of the tyrant. But social status, as such, possesses for St. Thomas a dignity and permanence entirely apart from the worthiness of the individual occupying it, and only after much demurring and with many qualifications does he justify the overthrow, by human intervention, of open tyranny. "For Peter admonishes us," St. Thomas observes, "to be reverently subject to our masters, not only to the good and gentle but also to the froward (I. Petr. II. 18): 'For if one who suffers unjustly bear his trouble for conscience sake, this is a grace."'24 In yet another passage he elaborates this dictum:

Now it is to be observed that a person may be honored not only for his own virtue, but also for another's: thus princes and prelates, although they be wicked, are honoured as standing in God's place and as representing the community over which they are placed.… a fool is honoured if he stand in God's place or represent the whole community.…25

At one point in his writings St. Thomas makes the traditional tripartite division of society into three classes: an upper class, a middle class, and a lower class.

"So in every city," he writes, "a threefold order of men is to be seen, some of whom are supreme, as the nobles; others are the last, as the common people, while others hold a place between these, as the middle class."26 In this passage, it appears that he follows the lead of Aristotle and divides into three merely a segment of the population of a given area, which itself constitutes an elite: the elite of the citizenry for Aristotle, the elite of the free for St. Thomas. Here in this passage is one of St. Thomas' few direct references to a nobility as such. Yet the whole tenor of his social attitudes clearly exhibits his acceptance of a class whose status of superiority is hereditary and is displayed in various perquisites of privilege and presumed superior capacity, such as the acquisition of important governmental offices and the performance of the principal tasks of guidance and responsibility in the state.

The middle class of which he speaks (he applies the term populus honorabilis to this group) is not defined with exactitude. It apparently shades imperceptibly through grades of gentry and lesser nobility into the class above it, but it is clearly demarcated from the lower class at least by the absence of the stain of manual toil. It may be assumed to include in St. Thomas' time the rising mercantile group. St. Thomas, however, is by no means ready to grant a status of dignity to the trader. He admits the need for commerce in the well-regulated commonwealth and hence he gives a place to the commercial figure, but he would have that trade and that trader carefully hedged round by numerous limitations on business enterprise., "Trading," he declares, "considered in itself, has a certain debasement attaching thereto, insofar as, by its very nature, it does not imply a virtuous or necessary end."27

St. Thomas, who was himself a member of the landed aristocracy, clearly sees agriculture, and not trade, as the essential economic basis of the good state.28 Agriculture, in the medieval pattern, with its steady line of inheritance of land holding and the isolation of its workers on scattered estates away from possible contamination by city questionings and discontents (and incapable, it might be added, of easy combination in large groups for purposes of protest)—medieval agriculture spelled economic and social stability for St. Thomas.29 Trade, on the other hand, spelled instability, mobility, and change. St. Thomas preferred stability.

Manual labor, in the literal sense of work with the hands, is, in St. Thomas' view, the mark par excellence of servile or semi-servile status. Though St. Thomas concedes that all useful human labor has dignity, he constructs an elaborate scale of greater or lesser dignity for various kinds of labor, a scale which reaches up to the life of contemplation at its peak and down through grades of less involvement of the intellect and more involvement of the body to manual labor at the base. The division which St. Thomas makes between the liberal and the servile arts is in keeping with this scale and the concepts it embodies. The liberal arts, which are declared to be nobler than the arts necessary to the sustenance of the body, derive their name, St. Thomas states, from the fact that they pertain chiefly to the soul, which in man is free.30 But in St. Thomas' society these arts were also chiefly restricted in their practice to free men. The servile arts are so called because they pertain primarily to the body, and the body is in a certain sense in servitude to the soul.31 But they were also linked in thirteenth century Europe to a class whose status was servile.

Manual labor, in the Thomistic synthesis, has gained somewhat in honor over its place in Aristotelian attitudes. It has assumed, as one of its possible functions, the subjugation of the body, through punishing and exhausting it, to the rightful rule of reason, and a well-born man may obtain favor in God's eyes by humbling himself to the extent of working with his hands.32 But this is a voluntary abasement equivalent to King Louis IX's washing the feet of beggars as a token of humility. To work with one's hands of necessity is to find oneself, in the Christian world of St. Thomas, either in the lowest stratum of the free or, more generally, in the vast anonymity of the servile mass.

The servile status in which, without effort at distinction, St. Thomas groups both serf and slave, is asserted to have come into existence at the time of the Fall.33 It is in some sense punitive, as, indeed, manual labor, which is the particular burden appertaining to servility, is also punitive.34 Servility is further associated with positive rather than with natural law.35 The very fact, however, that St. Thomas assumes the serf to be not a serf by nature but by way of punishment for original sin and/or by way of social convenience makes all the more astonishing his complacent approval of servility as the status of what was in his time by far the majority of the population of Europe.

Why are the many to be punished in this fashion for original sin while a minority escapes? The answer is in part to be found perhaps in St. Thomas' view of the rarity of grace, either in this world or the next, and the generality of damnation. St. Thomas further rationalizes the situation by making the traditional linkage between servility and inferior mental ability and moral stamina. He maintains that it is to the slave's advantage to be a slave, since typically the slave is one who would become debauched by the heady wine of freedom.36 His argumentation moves even closer to that of Aristotle, who accepted slavery as altogether in congruence with natural law, when he writes, "For those who excel in intelligence are naturally rulers; whereas those who are less intelligent, but stronger in body, seem made by nature for service, as Aristotle says in his Politics. The statement of Solomon (Prov. xi. 24) is in agreement with this: The fool shall serve the wise."37 Again the echo of Aristotle is heard when St. Thomas writes: "The proper end of a group of free men is different from that of a group of serfs; the free man is one who is for his own sake (causa sui), the serf is one whose whole being belongs to another.""38

St. Thomas preserves certain minimal rights to the slave or serf: the right to self-preservation in terms of the animal necessities of food and rest and the right to reproduce, with the implied right of marriage.39 The strength of the marriage bond on the servile level is considerably weakened, however, by the prescription that concealment of servile status by one of the parties to the marriage contract, the other being free, is grounds for annulment of the marriage.40 The man of servile status cannot enter Orders unless and until his freedom be obtained.41 This mass of the unfree, this great majority of the populace, are, of course, to be excluded from participation and even apparently from consideration in the political life of the state. "For if men assembled merely to live, then animals and serfs would form a part of the civil body," St. Thomas writes in his De Regimine Principum42 (borrowing almost word for word a phrase from Aristotle's Politics).43 But the end of the state is not mere animal livelihood; it is the enjoyment of God to be achieved through virtuous living.44 Serfs, therefore, along with animals, are not part of the political body.


When St. Thomas' social theory is viewed from one standpoint, it appears that he sees society—and, in particular, political society or the state—as composed, not of disparate individuals, but of groups of varying types and dimensions, each of which stands in its own right as a little principality, a little hierarchy. Thus for him the typical subject of a state, a free man or, more precisely, since the free man with whom St. Thomas is primarily concerned owns unfree men, a man of means or even noble status, is himself, as head of a family, a ruler in his own domain. It is to the unit of the family that St. Thomas most directly attaches the serf, and the head of the family thus maintains a variety of rule over a variety of subjects in his small territory: the rule of a despot over his slaves or serfs, the rule of a monarch over his children, and the rule of a republican representative (with an area of consent for the subject) over his wife.45

The woman's society, like that of the serf, is in St. Thomas' view essentially the society of the family. By the very fact of this limitation of realm St. Thomas reinforces his rigid doctrine of the unqualified inferiority of woman to man. From the elaborate Thomistic analysis, woman, as a group and generality, emerges inferior to man in every aspect of her being. Physiologically she is inferior, since St. Thomas perpetuates the Aristotelian concept of woman as a misshapen or half-formed man.46 The relative weakness of her reason is emphasized,47 and from this weakness follows the greater susceptibility of her soul to the disorder of sin.48 God is asserted to have created her as a helpmate for man in only one essential function, the process of reproduction. Another man, St. Thomas asserts, would have been more suitable as a helpmate in all other regards.49 And even in the process of generation her role is that of the inferior; man is the active principle of generation, woman the passive; man provides the form of the newly created being, woman only the matter.50

Woman's status is in accord with her asserted incapacities. As a child she is subject to her father. As an adult, she is subject to her husband, whose power over her is limited only by the absence of the power of life and death. The husband is specifically permitted to correct his wife with corporal punishment in case of need.51 He is assigned control over the financial affairs of the household, and the wife is cautioned, along with children and serfs, not to give alms without her husband's permission.52 The woman's authority over her children, which is at the start a secondary authority in the line of family command, is further weakened by St. Thomas' contention that, absolutely speaking, the father is to be loved by his children more than is the mother. "For father and mother," he asserts, "are loved as principles of our natural origin. Now the father is principle in a more excellent way than the mother, because he is the active principle, while the mother is a passive and material principle."53

Although the subjection of the wife is modified by the assurance that she is not a slave in the home of her husband,54 woman, in a different instance, is compared with slave to her own limitation and the slave's advantage. Whereas the slave, it is stated, is not necessarily a slave by nature, the woman, in whatever circumstance she may find herself, is always by her nature a subject.55 For the slave there is the possibility of escape from dependence and tutelage to freedom; for the woman, there is none.

Another of the societies within society with which St. Thomas is concerned is the society of the Church. The existent structure of hierarchy is conceived as the natural and necessary form of this society, especially in view of the intimate relationship which holds between the Church and the designs of God. The supremacy of the Pope becomes an earthly symbol of the supreme headship of Christ, and bishops and priests fill out the lower levels of the pyramid of holiness.56 The hierarchy of the Church is not to be equated with the total hierarchy of society, however, for, although the Church exists within society, it is also a structure apart from and above society. The sacrament of Orders may not be validly assumed by those of servile status,57 by women,58 by men of illegitimate birth (although it is open to fathers of illegitimate children who repent of their indiscretions),59 and by any who suffer from physical deficiency or blemish.60

The Church, then, will draw its functionaries typically from the elite of the whole society. Between the functionaries of the Church and the lay members, St. Thomas establishes a sufficiently large gulf to assure superiority of the former over the latter, in spiritual affairs at least. Although St. Thomas does not concern himself in any detail with the great problems of relationship between Church and State which troubled his period, the weight of his opinion seems to lie in the area of preference for papal above kingly authority. The good king is, in the eyes of St. Thomas, the king who rules in strict accordance with the truths of God, and the Church is the appointed vessel for conveyance of the truths of God to men. The king, therefore, must turn to the Church and to the Pope, who is its head, to find the guidance which assures righteous dominion. St. Thomas writes in De Regimine Principum:

Consequently, in order that spiritual things might be distinguished from earthly things, the ministry of this kingdom [the kingdom of Christ] has been entrusted not to earthly kings, but to priests, and in the highest degree to the chief priest, the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ, the Roman Pontiff, to whom all the kings of Christian peoples are to be subject as to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. For those to whom pertains the care of intermediate ends should be subject to him to whom pertains the care of the ultimate end, and be directed by his rule.… in the law of Christ, kings must be subject to priests."61

In considering the highest possible life for man on earth, St. Thomas provides a certain escape from pyramids of family, Church, and state, an escape, in a sense, for the rarest of the chosen, from all society. In choosing the life on earth which is most like the life of eternity, in selecting the labor which lifts man farthest from the level of the animal and nearest to the level of the divine, he turns to the life and labor of contemplation. "Now the contemplative life," he declares, "pertains directly and immediately to the love of God.… On the other hand, the active life is more directly concerned with the love of our neighbor, because it is busy about serving.… Wherefore the contemplative life is generally of greater merit than the active life."62 He is careful to make the contemplative life, however, no universal prescription for all men. Only those may turn to it, he states, whose physical requirements are provided for by other means than the need for personal labor and who have no family responsibilities. "It is better to be wise than to be rich," he quotes in counsel, "yet for one who is in need, it is better to be rich."63

Even more than the princes and judges and bishops of the world, the contemplators of eternity are to comprise a highly select elite, whose peculiar leisure is provided and secured by the physical toil of many others. The simplicity of this picture is somewhat disturbed by the fact that in one passage St. Thomas grants a status of greater honor to the teacher and preacher than to the contemplative recluse—he comments that it is better to enlighten than to shine-—64 and in another passage he states that the activity of the bishop is potentially worthy of greater reward in eternity than is the quietude of the religious.65 Nonetheless, the major weight of his opinion establishes contemplation at the summit of earthly endeavor, and, in the manner of Plato and Aristotle before him, St. Thomas asserts the best of all possible human enterprises to be the enterprise which was his own.

Merely to state the fact of differences of status is not to realize the full impact of St. Thomas' concept of social hierarchy. For he interweaves a variety of perquisities of privilege into the pattern of superior position. Higher status involves greater power and authority over the lives of others. Pope and king and head of family (the extended family of wife, children, and serfs) are manipulators of many destinies; the serf's area of control is small and partial. Justice is also cognizant of privilege and position. It is a greater crime to commit an injury against a king or other public official or a priest than to commit an injury against a man of lesser status.66 And the Golden Rule—at least in its negative statement as a natural law—its absolutism likewise shakes before the even greater absolutism of hierarchy. "This precept of the natural law," it is stated in the Summa, "Do not to another what thou wouldst not were done to thyself should be understood with the provision that there be equal proportion. For if a superior is unwilling to be withstood by his subject, he is not therefore bound not to withstand his subject."67

An entire body of justice, distributive justice, is evoked to deal with proportional distribution of social goods to the many levels of status within society. This justice is distinguished from commutative justice, for which the basis is the equality in value of the things exchanged. St. Thomas maintains that those of higher status, by virtue simply of their status, rightfully receive more of the goods which society has to offer, whether or not they perform the greater services which are the obligations of position. According to St. Thomas,

When a man who has served the community is paid for his services, this is to be referred to as commutative, not distributive, justice. Because distributive justice considers the equality, not between the thing received and the thing done, but between the thing received by one person and the thing received by another according to the respective conditions of those persons.68

The propriety of inequality of reward in proportion to inequality of status is even more definitely affirmed in the following statement:

Consequently in distributive justice a person receives all the more of the common goods, according as he holds a more prominent position in the community.… Hence in distributive justice the mean is observed, not according to equality between thing and thing, but according to proportion between thing and persons: in such a way that even as one person surpasses another, so that which is given to one person surpasses that which is allotted to another.69

Insofar as these rewards consist of property and wealth, some rightfully possess more of them than others. "The rich," St. Thomas writes, "ought to be honoured by reason of their occupying a higher position in the community.…"70

Poverty, to be sure, is asserted to be a desirable aspect of the life of virtue and a necessary aspect of the life of cloistered and mendicant faith. On the Day of Judgment, it is stated in the Summa, the judicial power will be granted to poverty, and "those who left all things and followed God" will be the judges, while "those who made right use of what they had lawfully" will be judged. The passage continues:

Now, in the advancement to perfection, the first thing that occurs to be renounced is externalwealth, because this is the last thing of all to be acquired. And that which is last in the order of generation is the first in the order of destruction: wherefore among the beatitudes whereby we advance to perfection, the first place is given to poverty. Thus judicial power corresponds to poverty in so far as this is the first disposition to the aforesaid perfection. Hence also it is that this same power is not promised to all who are voluntarily [sic] poor, but to those who leave all and follow Christ in accordance with the perfection of life.71

Poverty, like manual labor, then, acquires this quality of virtue and sanctity, not in necessity, but in a situation of voluntary sacrifice of wealth. The man who is poor by necessity is a man of low social status and underserving of honor, and a man of low social status is rightfully poor.

In summing up the structure of society, as St. Thomas presents it, it is easy to observe that he has in part simply outlined the pattern of living of thirteenth century Europe and has then ptoceeded to defend that pattern as proper for all societies and times. There is, however, a deeper stream of argument as well. For St. Thomas is defending not just his own specific society nor societies like his own in other places and eras but the structure of hierarchy, status, and privilege as such. This structure is developed, furthermore, in terms of a specially gifted, divinely sponsored, and leisured elite ruling with stable power over a dull-witted and sodden-souled mass of manual workers—ruling in this fashion, finally, because the mass is presumably incapable of managing itself.


To the sight of the Christian eye, the status of man on earth is traditionally a thing of little moment in comparison with the vast sweep of his status in the world to come. What has St. Thomas to say on the subject of the society of eternity? In the first place, that society is hierarchical, another pyramid, indeed, which, like the pyramid of the universe, finds its peak in God. There is an elite, ranged in gradations of merit, who are the saved; there is a majority, ranged in gradations of shame, who are the damned.72 The everlasting joy of the former is to be equalled in intensity only by the everlasting torment of the latter. An interesting question hereupon arises: To what extent will the hierarchy of eternity match the hierarchy of earth in terms of the status of particular individuals? Although St. Thomas provides no direct discussion on the subject of this question, the logic of contingent arguments leads to the unavoidable conclusion that, on the whole, the matching will be close.

The line of logic may be developed in this fashion. Whether from the standpoint of predestination or of the earning of merit through good works, those of superior virtue are certainly most likely to find themselves among the saved. But those of superior virtue are also those of superior reason and intellect. And those of superior reason and intellect are likely to occupy superior status in the society of this world. Therefore, those occupying superior status in the world's society are likewise those most likely to be saved.

A number of arguments buttress this position. Among them is the assumption that those of superior social status are in a better position to practice virtue than those of humble condition. The giving of alms, for instance, a potent method of acquiring merit or displaying the fact that one, through predestination, possesses merit, is a virtue within the reach only of those who have alms to give. Those of servile status and women and minors, as has before been noted, are specifically enjoinedfrom giving alms without permission from the head of the household, and by giving permission, the head of the household acquires some at least of the merit from the almsgiving of all his dependents. And it is voluntary poverty and the voluntary abasement of oneself in the performance of manual labor by which merit is acquired. Who may follow these preachments of voluntarism except the man of previous wealth and leisure?

There is, in addition, St. Thomas' preoccupation with the process of gathering merit through the guidance of others in the paths of virtue. The bishop, he states, is in a better position to acquire such merit than the monk or the priest.73 And reignative prudence, the prudence which guides a ruler in his functions of authority, is, in all of its varieties, a higher order of virtue than the prudence which leads the subject to follow and obey. An unequivocal declaration of this notion is to be found in De Regimine Principum where it is asserted that for the virtuous monarch there waits in heaven a crown that shines beyond the brilliance of almost any other. The passage which is climaxed by this observation deserves full statement because in it is contained much else of the spirit of St. Thomas' hierarchical thinking:

Now it remains further to consider that they who discharge the kingly office worthily and laudably will receive a high degree of heavenly happiness. For if happiness is the reward of virtue, it follows that a higher degree of happiness is due to greater virtue. Now, that indeed is signal virtue by which a man can guide not himself alone, but others: and the more persons he rules the greater is his virtue.… Thus greater virtue is required to rule a household than to rule one's self, and much greater to rule a state and a kingdom. To discharge well the office of a king is thus a work of excelling virtue. To it, therefore, is due a reward of excelling happiness.

Again, in all arts and positions of authority they are more worthy of praise who rule others well than those who live well under others' direction. In speculative matters, for instance, it is greater to impart truth to others by teaching than to be able to grasp what is taught by others. So, too, among the crafts an architect who plans a building is more highly esteemed and paid a higher wage than the builder who does the manual labour under his di-rection: also in warfare the strategy of the general wins greater glory from victory than the bravery of the soldier. It is the same for the ruler of a multitude, in regard to the things which each individual, accor-ding to his power, has to do.… Consequently a king is worthy of a greater reward if he governs his subjects well than any of his subjects who lives well under his king.74

High office, to be sure, embraces the threat of peril as well as the promise of reward. The king who sinks into the role of tyrant, the rich man who feeds only his own covetousness upon his wealth, the priest who breaks his vows are all marked out for a level of damnation, whose depth is deeper by the very height from which they fell.75 This warning, however, does not seriously disrupt the aspect of St. Thomas' system of hierarchy which appears to offer to good kings, prudent nobles, beneficent bishops, and the almsgiving rich more chance of salvation than it offers to serfs whose opportunities for virtuous action are circumscribed by limitations of mind and environment.


The writings of St. Thomas Aquinas are enormous in quantity and scope and extend through more than twenty years of the life of an extremely active intellect. Complete consistency is not to be expected from such a mass of commentary and speculation. Within these thousands of pages there are statements which conflict one with another. The very position which the Angelic Doctor has occupied as the beacon light of Catholic orthodoxy has made all the more probable quarrels among his disciples as to what he really said and really meant. Recent students of St. Thomas, moreover, have sought to find in his philosophy solutions to contemporary problems, and, by injecting attitudes and prejudices never known in the thirteenth century, have further confused a picture which, to begin with, was not of crystal clarity.76

The effort of the scholar must be, first of all, to see St. Thomas and his philosophy, not in terms of the nineteenth or the twentieth century, but in terms of the thirteenth. The endeavor then must be, when due weight has been given to contradictions and exceptions,77 to find the central theme of argument. This central theme, in the area of social theory, has appeared to me to be the concept of hierarchy and order. The society in which St. Thomas lived was hierarchically organized. On the whole, he approved of that society; he was a conservative; he resisted change. His philosophy, even in its metaphysical aspects, reflects and embodies this initial judgment in favor of his thirteenth century world and its inequalitarian structure. In Thomistic doctrine, Etienne Gilson remarks, "l'univers est essentielle-ment une hierarchie. Le problème philosophique consistera donc à en marquer l'ordonnance exacte en situant chaque classe d'êtres à son véritable degré."78 In Thomistic doctrine, likewise, society is essentially a hierarchy, and the problem for the social theorist is to place each social class and ultimately each individual member of society in the exact status which is due.

The writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, in brief recapitulation, provide the following picture of human origin and destiny. Each human individual is an especially created composite of soul and body, a composite in which the capacities and incapacities of the particular body shape and determine certain proportional characteristics of the soul. This particular human individual comes forth to occupy a particular status in the society of the world. In accordance with his performance in that status (which performance may be assumed to be determined by the capacities with which he was born and by the opportunities for virtue which his status affords him), he occupies a particular niche in eternity. Sinking with the majority, he finds a depth among the damned; rising with the minority, he finds a height among the saved. Once fixed in this hierarchy, he never moves again. It may be wondered, however, whether in this Thomistic scheme of life, the individual, from the first moment of God's thought of him, has ever been otherwise than frozen in his place.


Dr. Archibald is an instructor in history at Stanford University. This paper is a revision of one read at the annual meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association at Seattle, Washington, December 29, 1948.

1 Quoted in Leo XIII, Encyclical Letter on the Restoration of Christian Philosophy, August 4, 1879.

2 Pius X, Moto Proprio Doctoris Angelici, June 29, 1914.

3 Vernon J. Bourke, Thomistic Bibliography, 1920-1940 (Supplement to Volume 21, The Modern Schoolman, St. Louis, 1945).

4 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles (English Dominican translation, London, 1923-1929, 4 vols.), Bk. III, ch. 97. Listed hereafter as Cont. Gent., III, 97.

5Cont. Gent., II, 95.

6Cont. Gent., III, 121.

7 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (English Dominican translation, London, 1912-1925, 21 vols.), prima secundae, question 71, article 2, corpus. Listed hereafter as Sum. Theol., I-II, q. 71, a. 2, c.

8Sum. Theol., II-II (secunda secundae), q. 2, a. 3, c.

9Sum. Theol., I-II, q. 63, a. 1, c.

10 St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentarium In Libros IV Sentiarum (Vives ed., Paris, 1880), Bk. II, d. 32, q. 2, a. 3. Listed hereafter as Sent., II, d. 32, q. 2, a. 3.

11Cont. Gent., II, 81.

12Cont. Gent, III, 71.

13Sum. Theol., I (prima pars), q. 85, a. 7, c.

14Sum. Theol., I, q. 95, a. 3, c.

15Sum. Theol., I, q. 85, a. 7, c.

16Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 188, a. 8, ad 5.

17Sum. Theol., I, q. 108, a. 2, c.

18Cont. Gent., III, 78.

19Sum. Theol., I, q. 96, a. 3, sed contra. (Italics in the translation).

20Sum. Theol., I, q. 96, a. 4, c.

21 Alexander D'Entreves, The Medieval Contribution to Political Thought (Oxford University Press, 1939), 31.

22 St. Thomas Aquinas, De Regimine Principum (English translation, On the Governance of Rulers, by Gerald B. Phelan, Toronto, 1935), Bk. I, ch. 2. Listed hereafter as De Reg., I, 2.

23De Reg., 1, 12.

24De Reg., I, 6.

25Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 63, a. 3, c.

26Sum. Theol., 1, q. 108, a. 2, c.

27Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 77, a. 4, c. The Angelic Doctor's repudiation of usury and his championing of the principle of "just price" are well known aspects of his economic doctrine. When these pronouncements are viewed, however, not from the standpoint of recent agitation against the abuses of capitalism, but rather in the context of their author's own time, it is apparent that they represent, at least in part, the effort of an established aristocracy, whose power was grounded in the land, to combat and confine an upstart group.

28De Reg., II, 3.


30Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 57, a. 3, ad 3.


32Sum. Theol., I-II, q. 30, a. 3, c.

33Sent., II, d. 44, q. 1, a. 3, c.

34Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 164, a. 2, ad 3.

35Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), (tertia pars, Supplementum), q. 52, a. 1, ad 2. The third part of the Summa Theologica remained unfinished at the death of St. Thomas. Its completion, presumably from notes and instructions left by the master, was accomplished by a disciple, Reginald of Piperno, and is known as the Supplementum. In accordance with the practice of other students of the subject, I have treated the Supplementum as an integral part of the Summa and of St. Thomas' thought.

36Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 57, a. 3, c.

37Cont. Gent., III, 81. (Italics in translation).

38De Reg., 1, 1.

39Sent., IV, d. 36, q. 1, a. 2, c.

40Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 52, a. 1, c.

41Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 39, a. 3, c.

42De Reg., 1, 14. (Italics in translation).

43 Aristotle, The Politics (English translation by H. Rackham, London, 1932), Bk. III, ch. v.

44De Reg., I, 14.

45 St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentarium In Libros Politicorum (Vives ed., Paris, 1880), Bk. I, ch. 10.

46Sum. Theol., I, q. 99, a. 2, ad 1.

47Cont. Gent., III, 123.

48Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 62, a. 5, ad 5.

49Sum. Theol., 1, q. 92, a. 1, c.

50Cont. Gent., IV, 11, Sum. Theol., Il-II, q. 26, a. 10, ad 1.

51Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 62, a. 2, ad 1.

52Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 32, a. 8, c.

53Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 26, a. 10, c.

54Sum. Theol., I, q. 92, a. 1, ad 2.

55Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 39, a. 3, ad 4.

56Cont. Gent., IV, 76.

57Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 39, a. 3, c.

58Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 39, a. 1, ad 1.

59Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 39, a. 5, c.

60Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 39, a. 6, c.

61De Reg., 1, 14.

62Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 182, a. 2, c. (Italics in translation).

63Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 182, a. 1, c. (Italics in translation).

64Sum. Theol., II-TI, q. 188, a. 6, c.

65Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 184, a. 7, c.

66Sum. Theol., I-II, q. 73, a. 9, c.

67Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 65, a. 1, ad 8. (Italics in translation).

68Sum. Theol., II-II, q. 61, a. 4, c.

69Sum Theol., TI-IT, q. 62, a. 2, c.

70 Sum. Theol., TI-II, q. 63, a. 3, c.

71Sum. Theol., III (Supple.), q. 89, a. 2, c.

72 SUM. Theol., I, q. 23, a. 7, c.

73 SUM. Theol., II-TI, q. 184, a. 7, c.

74De Reg., I, 9.

75De Reg., I, 11.

76 The extent to which the effort to modernize St. Thomas can distort both the significance of contemporary concepts and the significance of Thomistic viewpoints is illustrated in the following quotation from a twentieth century Thomist who writes on the relationship between the political doctrine of St. Thomas and democracy: "He [St. Thomas] manages to view the subject of slavery democratically. He teaches that, absolutely, there is no natural cause why one should be a slave more than another. The strongest justification he offers for it is the one, which, if observed in this era of freedom, might have prevented the present social upheavals. He finds rationality in the system insofar as, by it, he who needs a guide gets one." Edward F. Murphy, St. Thomas' Political Doctrine and Democracy (Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 1921), 78.

77 One of a small number of instances where St. Thomas relaxes the rigidity of an hierarchical structure to allow for individual variation and escape is exhibited in the following quotation: "The ecclesiastical hierarchy imitates the heavenly in some degree, but not by a perfect likeness. For in the heavenly hierarchy … the superiors are never enlightened by the inferiors, whereas in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, sometimes those who are nearer God in sanctity, are in the lowest grade, and are not conspicuous for science; and some also are eminent in one kind of science, and fail in another; and on that account superiors may be taught by inferiors." Sum. Theol., I, q. 106, a. 3, ad 1.

78 Etienne Gilson, Le Thomisme (Strasbourg, 1919), 170.

M.-D. Chenu (essay date 1950)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10184

SOURCE: "Works of St. Thomas and Their Literary Forms" in Toward Understanding Saint Thomas, translated by A. M. Landry and D. Hughes, Henry Regnery Company, 1964, pp. 79-99.

[In the following excerpt from a work originally published in French in 1950, Chenu asserts that Aquinas's works must be studied in relation to their genre. She then proceeds to outline the history of the reading, the question, the disputation, and the article.]

I. Thought and Literary Form

After a presentation in general outline of the broad cultural contexts of the life-work of Saint Thomas, it may seem that it is taking things from too far afield to begin a study of his works from an examination of their literary forms. In the very measure that they are works of the mind and the expression of a philosophy and of a wisdom, do they not lie beyond the reaches of any craft? Are they not free in their means of expression? Are they not like something detached and standing at a lofty distance away from stylistic artifice and convention?

In point of fact, however, such thinking is illusory and fundamentally a psychological error about the way even the most pure type of thinking is bound up with the modest tool of language and its processes. Embodied in language, a system of thought may only thus be grasped, that is, within the very formulae it has adopted and within the structures with which it has fitted itself out. The forms and structures of language are not neutral or interchangeable garments that must, as quickly as possible, be put aside. They are the permanent support of thought, so that by examining the forms in which a mind is dressed, one has a good chance of discovering its very inner workings. As a matter of fact, even in its general features, literary form is bound up with the way a mind goes about its thinking. Plato wrote dialogues, and with him, the myth-form was a tool of expression intimately bound up with his most profound intuitions. It was a tool, so to speak, substantially one with his genius. Augustine wrote "confessions," while Dionysius employed symbols, not as a mere literary whim, but rather to translate his own vision of the world. Saint Thomas wrote no dialogues, he wrote commentaries. He wrote no confessions, he gave us a summa. Due to his upbringing in the scholastic "craft," he tended to expunge symbols, except for those which classroom use had conventionalized and thereby rendered neutral. All his writings were the direct or indirect outcome of his professional work as a teacher. This fact cannot be immaterial.

Within the bounds of his craft as a Schoolman, however, the writings of Saint Thomas are nevertheless diversified. It is important to recognize that they vary in technique in accordance with teaching methods themselves. One cannot read one of his commentaries on Aristotle in the same manner that one would read one of his commentaries on Scripture. His Disputed Questions contain resources far different, both in power and in quality, from those found in the exactly corresponding sections of the Summa theologiae. As a literary construction, any one of his Quodlibeta is disconcerting for the modern mind.

Let us then first examine the general procedures of exposition that were applied in the university teaching of the XIIIth century. With this as a starting point, we shall then take up the several types of works that Saint Thomas composed.

II. The Procedures of Exposition

The "style" of the Scholastics in its development as well as in its modes of expression can be reduced, as if to its simple elements, to three procedures. These followed progressively one upon the other and typify, moreover, both their historical genesis and their progress in technique. First camne the lectio [reading]; from the reading was developed the quaestio [question]; from the question, the disputatio [disputation]; and in summas, the "article," somewhat as the residue of the disputed question, became the literary component.

1. The lectio

The entire medieval pedagogy was based on the reading of texts, and in the universities, scholasticism gave this type of work institutional form and enlarged upon it.

"One who aspires to wisdom should therefore apply himself to reading, learning, and meditation," wrote John of Salisbury1, while. Hugh of Saint Victor observed: "There are two things in particular by which one is instructed for knowledge: namely, reading and meditation"2. Whereas meditatio meant that by an assimilative process that was strictly personal one tended toward a grasp of the deeper nature of things not yet well known, lectio and doctrina were concerned with the handing over of a body of knowledge already discovered. Whereas doctrina stood for the complex of the means of instruction, by lectio was meant the process of acquiring science by means of the reading of texts. "Reading is the process of becoming informed in rules and precepts, from a study of written texts"3. There was the lectio of the master, or the magistral reading (lego librum illi); the lectio of the pupil, or the discipular reading (lego librum ab illo); and the lectio that was done in private, or the personal reading (lego librum)4. To teach meant to read, that is: to read in the technical sense. The professor "read" his text. The course that he gave was called a lectio; and he himself was referred to expressly as lector [reader].

When the teaching of Aristotle was put under a ban, the wording of the decree of prohibition forbade that his works be "read," that is, taught either publicly or in private, leaving open the question of their being studied by the individual on his own5. The old monastic term lectio, as found in the 48th chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict, thus came to new life in a cultural and academic meaning.

If the word reading cane to have this renovation in meaning, and if there was such a broadening out of the thing it stood for—a broadening far beyond the learning potential derived from ordinary book reading—the reason lies in the recovery of the works of Antiquity and the prodigious success that they enjoyed. Men were anxious to explore these treasures, with the result that the latter became objects of study, that is, texts used in the teaching program of the day. Previously, in theology, the object of study was found in Scripture, the bearer of Revelation. The normal and in principle the necessary procedure for learning was to study the text itself of the Scriptures. Now, however, without any rule of religious belief compelling adhesion to their contents, other texts became the official matter in all the various fields of instruction. These the university enrolled, little by little, in the academic programs of study and required the book-dealers to place available copies of them at the student's disposal for a fixed suma.

In grammar, the auctores were Donatus whose Ars Minor and Ars Major presented in a single manual grammatical knowledge in two stages, and Priscian, whose Institutiones furnished the student with a basic text that was at once clear, solid, and abundant. In rhetoric, it was Cicero with his De Inventione, and the pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium, along with Quintilian and his Institutio Oratoria. In medicine, the texts were those of Galen and Constantine the African; in law, the various books of the Corpus Juris; and in philosophy, those of Porphyry and Boethius.

Gradually, texts began multiplying. After 1215, it soon became the general practice in theology to read the Sentences of Peter Lombard before the Scriptures. The future master in theology was required to have done a public reading of the Sentences, as in the case of Saint Thomas arriving at Paris, and having to exercise the office of "Bachelor of the Sentences" for a two-year period (1254-1256). In grammar, new texts set to verse supplanted those of Priscian: the Doctrinale of Alexander of Villedieu (1199), and the Graecismus of Evrard of Bdthune (1212). Similarly in science, medicine, and other fields, recently discovered and translated books, like the Canon of Avicenna and the De Animalibus of Aristotle invaded the areas. In philosophy, it was all of Aristotle, and one can discern the various stages in the spread of his thought by the successive enrollment of his books on the program of studies. The entrance of his De Anima on the curriculum of the faculty of arts in 1252 marked the official breaking of the barrier that, with not too much efficacy however, had been set up against him for some forty years. We have the tax lists that were drawn up for the stationarii or book-dealers at Paris in 1275 (?) and 13036 and at Bologna in 12897. These lists give the names of the required textbooks for the various courses, along with the publications of professors then actually teaching. Thus, even down to the material details of the institution the regime which we have described took on concrete form. In it, thinking developed around an auctoritas, that is to say, around some text held to be the authoritative expression on the subject that it dealt with. This was scholasticism, the end-product of the discovery and re-birth of ancient learning.

As a consequence, we can practically measure the upsurge of work at the universities of the XIIIth century by noting the progress in both quantity and quality of the texts of the auctores. Yet, at the same time, one can foresee that these same texts, playing the important part that they did, were quickly to become a source of stagnation from the moment that the school people limited themselves to their pages as if they contained the ultimate in science. Instead of being the means to open the mind to a knowledge of objects, of realities, the tendency was to consider them themselves as the "objects" of learning. Thus, science in medicine meant to know, not the human body but the Canon of Avicenna. Knowledge in grammar was to know, not the actual living speech of men but Priscian. Philosophical knowledge meant to learn Aristotle, instead of trying to discover the laws that govern the phenomena of nature, and the causes that explain all being. Away with reality, if it is not found in our books! The commentator allowed himself to be taken in by his own game. Having lost little by little his power of discovery, he condemned in principle anyone so imprudent as to find anything in contradiction to his book. We know what degree of obtusion the medical doctors reached when confronted with the anatomical discoveries of the XVth century and how the philosophers at Padua, fanatical followers of the Stagirite, rose up in condemnation of the theories of the new physics. Scholasticism died under the annihilating load of its texts. These texts, riddled throughout with artificial exegesis, overburdened, tortured to meaninglessness, were drained of every drop of live-giving sap. In fact, the very first plank in the platform of the XVth century Renaissance was: "Back to sources," that is to say, back to the reading of the originals over and beyond the commentaries: Could there be any greater derision against the School, born of these same sources? Descartes, for instance, protested that he wanted to write "meditations," and no longer "questions"'8.

Before the decay set in, however, the lectio, in itself and later in the "questions" in which authentic scholasticism reached its triumph, had run a magnificent course. In the language of Varro who had handed down the practice of the ancient grammatici [grammarians] as interpreters of texts, the term lectio stood for nothing more than a modest exercise in reading. It prepared for the emendatio, the enarratio, and the judicium, all elements of an analytical commentary touching upon both form and content and issuing in an aesthetic judgment9. In the Middle Ages, the lectio covered, both in surface and in depth, this whole field of study. As the academic techniques became better established, the lectio became more and more diversified—ranging from the simple verbal annotation that was inserted as a "gloss" between the lines (glossa interlinearis) or in the margins (glossa marginalis) of manuscripts, all the way up to the ample expositio [exposition] which was a uniform and continuous commentary. As early as the year 1215, the statutes of the University of Paris distinguished between two ways of reading Aristotle's texts: one read ordinarie [in the ordinary way], wherein a full exposition was given, or one read cursorie [in the cursory way], that is, in rapid style and not pushing beyond an understanding of the letter of the text10.

Completely fitted out, the lectio unfolded in three layers of textual consideration: the littera, which was a simple explanation of the words and phrases of the text, according to the tenor of their immediate interconnection; second, the sensus, in which the meanings of the various elements in the passage were analyzed and reformulated in clear language; and third, the sententia, in which there was an endeavor to infer, beyond everything that exegesis had brought out, the depth of thought contained in the text and its true meaning. "What else," asked Robert of Melun, "is sought after in the reading of a text, if not its inner meaning which is called sententia?".11 At each layer, the quality of the exegetical work depended on the precision and the insight of the commentator. Under its apparent limitations, the lectio, as we shall see (in chapter IV), exhibited an astonishing degree of plasticity. Taken as a whole, however, the method of reading tended to remain completely analytic. The text was mastered by a successive grasp of its elements rather than in its entirety, that is as a total organism. It is something of an embarrassment for us to see how Saint Thomas, following the fashion of his day, breaks down, divides, and subdivides an epistle of Saint Paul. Yet, over and beyond this parcelling of the text, he, more than the others, disengaged its general idea.

2. The birth of the quaestio

It is quite natural that, in any reading of a text, one should pause here and there before some obscure word, or some more difficult thought, which suddenly raises questions. Where the reading has been organized as a schoolroom exercise as was the medieval situation, these problems, which confer contrasts in a text as it unfolds, become the occasion for active research and more extensive elaboration. It is in this way that the medieval literary form of quaestiones came to emerge from the lectio. Early in the days of the Church, and apart from the running commentaries that were made on the Bible, there had already grown up a literature of quaestiones et responsiones [questions and answers] in which particular problems bordering upon or even overreaching the text were discussed and doctrinal research went beyond exegesis12. The medieval lectio, in like manner, was to give rise to quaestiones that went beyond the mere explaining of the texts, the latter, however, still furnishing the substance with which they dealt. In these quaestiones, together with the resources of the ancientdialectic and later of demonstrative logic, came into play the great complex of problems instigated during the XIIIth century by the entrance of Aristotle and the new surge of inquisitiveness in theological matters. With the "questions," scholasticism reached the peak of its development. In them, it found the literary medium best answering its creative inspiration in philosophy as in theology.

At the level of the text, there were several sources out of which questions could develop. One could be the vagueness of some expression calling for more precision; another, the clashing of two interpretations; and still another, the opposition between two "authorities" giving contrary solutions on the same problem. The lastnamed situation extended beyond the immediate exegesis of the text. With a view to personally enlarging on a doctrine, two contradictory texts, or even two authors, were summoned into the discussion: "… some [various sayings of the Fathers], apparently at loggerheads with one another, giving rise to a question," as Abelard had expressed it13. Yet, much ground was covered after the latter's Sic et Non had expressedly introduced dialectic to obtain this purpose. Due partly to the progressive demands of the mind and partly to the added refinement that was given to the tools of speculation, the stage of textual exegesis was decidedly left behind. In its place, the various doctrines proposed by the text were treated in themselves, and soon after, other new problems as they gradually emerged.

Following upon this first shift in the center-line of work, a generalization of the already developed technique came to be added. It became no longer a simple question of submitting to research those problems already under discussion or still open to debate. Even the points accepted by everybody and set forth in the most certain of terms were brought under scrutiny and subjected, by deliberate artifice, to the now usual processes of research. In brief, they were, literally speaking, "called into question," no longer because there was any real doubt about their truth, but because a deeper understanding of them was sought after. Theologians as well as philosophers asked the question: Does God exist? Is the soul spiritual? Should a person honor his parents? etc. Yet, of the question, only the form remained14, with the typical word Utrum [Whether] everywhere, and over and over again employed.

Therein was a progress in technique of capital importance, out of which scholasticism, both in its deep mental outlook and in its writing procedures, came to be built up. An illustration of it may be seen in the case of the young man who can be said to have begun leading a life of the mind when, at the time of his intellectual puberty, he starts "calling into question" (in the sense already mentioned) anything that heretofore he had accepted in a purely passive manner. Western reason, even in theology, had reached the state of adulthood. From this point on, a professor was no longer an exegete alone, he was a master who, to employ the word then in use, "determined" the questions. He did this no longer by bringing authorities into play—a process that would only leave the mind empty despite its acceptance in obedience and certitude—but rather by appeal to reasons that would display to the mind the roots of things. In these very terms Saint Thomas, in his famous fourth Quodlibet (a. 18), defined the working status of the theologian, as of one whose task it is, once he has taken possession of the datum of revelation, to build up into a "science" the intelligibility of his faith15.

Of a generalized calling-into-question of this nature, such was the gravity, such equally the grandeur. Yet, such was also to be the risk, for, standing next to the technique would be the danger of dialectical formalism, due to come into play as soon as the question procedure would become an end in itself without a further thought given to real objects in and throughout the texts. If one should entertain anydoubts about the extent of an operation of this sort, one need only review—from the invectives of Roger Bacon to the troubled entreaties of Pope Gregory IX16—the resistance—at times angry or stubborn, at times intelligent or obtuse, according to the writer's temperament—that it provoked in the field of theology, the field par excellence of authority.

3. The evolution of the question: the disputatio

It was in the nature of things that the question should detach itself, little by little, from the text from which it had originated, and that it should come to be set up in a form of its own, independent of the lectio. It is not our object here to follow the course of this evolution, the successive stages of which have been shown to be, in theology: Robert of Melun's Quaestiones de divina pagina (around 1145), Odo of Soisson's Quaestiones (around 1164), and Simon of Tournai's Disputationes (around 1201)17. Suffice it to note that this achieving of literary independence was the outward sign that autonomy had also been reached in matters of doctrinal research and of scientific curiosity. Problems and their solution were no longer bound up with a text.

Another feature of this evolution needs to be expressly indicated. Two or more masters, regardless of whether they might be in agreement or disagreement, took a hand in the positing and resolving of questions. Here again, it was normal that, in the face of a problem, divergent views should be held. Yet, in the present case, this divergence was to be given an institutional form in a university exercise. Things so developed that apart from the lectio, which by the same token resumed its more simple exegetic character, special exercises were held during which one of the masters submitted, in the presence of the school body, some question of current interest to be discussed with his fellow-masters. Objections were raised, points discussed, retorts flung back, with the debate finally coming to an end with the master in charge giving his own conclusion or "determination" on the question. Picture the renewal in liveliness in sessions of this sort and what they did for competition in research! They produced the "disputed question"18. One recalls here the famous incident in the career of Saint Thomas at the moment when the intellectual crisis, centered around the condemnation of Aristotelianism, had reached a peak of acuteness at the University of Paris. Brother John Peckham, master regent of the Friars Minor, rose up against Brother Thomas Aquinas, master regent of the Friar Preachers, and in the presence of all the masters and bachelors, sharply criticized "in pompous and inflated terms" the account he had just given of the Aristotelian theory of the unity of forms19.

It is difficult to say at what exact date this sort of exercise first appeared and how often it was held. One thing, however, is certain; in the middle of the XIIIth century, a master's responsibility at the faculty of theology included a threefold duty: legere, disputare, praedicare [to read, "to dispute," to preach]. In fact, when Saint Thomas assumed the duties of the masterate, the two types of teaching (leaving out the question of preaching) were expressly marked off from each other and set up in institutional form. It is doubtful, however, that the number of "disputations" was fixed, although the master was required to give his lectio every day.

Father Mandonnet describes the sort of event that the disputation had come to be at the faculty of theology.

When a master disputed, all the morning lectures of the other masters and bachelors on thefaculty were dispensed with. Only the master who was to conduct the dispute gave a short lecture, in order to allow time for the audience to arrive. Then the dispute began: and it took up a more or less considerable part of the morning. All the bachelors of the faculty as well as the students of the master who was disputing had to be present at the exercise. The other masters and students, it would appear, were left free to do so; but there is small doubt that they too showed up, in numbers that depended on the reputation of the master and on the topic that was being discussed. The clergy of Paris, the prelates and other Church dignitaries who happened to be at the capital at the time, were quite willing to attend these academic jousts that passionately absorbed the contemporary mind. A dispute was a tournament for the clergy.

The question to come under debate was fixed in advance by the master who was in charge of the disputation. Both the disputation and the day on which it was to be held were announced in the other schools of the faculty. The matters argued by one and the same master might vary widely, because, under ordinary circumstances, a professor held only a small number of annual disputations.…

The disputation was controlled by the master, but, strictly speaking, he was not the one who did the actual disputing. Rather, his bachelor assumed the task of replying, thus starting his apprenticeship in exercises of this sort. The objections usually represented different currents of thought, and were first formulated by the masters present, then by the bachelors, and finally, if the situation warranted it, by the students. The bachelor gave response to the arguments proposed, and, if need be, got help from the master. Such, in a summary way, were the main features of an ordinary dispute. They made up, however, only the first part of the exercise—' though the principal and most lively part.

The objections, put forth and solved in the course of the disputation without any pre-arranged order, presented in the end a doctrinal matter that stood in quite a state of disorder, resembling, however, much less debris scattered over a battlefield, than half-worked materials laid out across a construction job. That is why, in addition to this first session of doctrinal elaboration, a second one was held. It was called the "magisterial determination."

On the first "reading" day, to use the language of the time, that is, on the first day when the master who had conducted the disputation was able to lecture (a Sunday, a feast day, or some other obstacle could prevent him from doing so on the day that followed his disputation), he went over, in his own school, the material over which the disputation had been held the day or a few days before. First, he co-ordinated, as far as the matter would allow, in logical order or sequence, the objections which had been opposed to his thesis, and cast them in definite form. These were followed by a few arguments in favor of the doctrinal position which he was going to propose. He then passed on to a more or less extended expose of his own doctrine on the question under debate. This exposition furnished the core and essence of his determination. He wound up by replying to each objection that had been stated against the doctrine of his thesis.

This second act, following on the disputation20, was known as the determinatio [determination], because the master determined, that is, gave an authoritative formulation of the doctrine that had to be held. To determine or define a doctrine was the right or privilege of those who held the title of master. A bachelor did not have the authority to perform such an act.

The acts of determination, set down in writing by the master or an auditor, make up the writings that we call the Disputed Questions, and the latter represent the final part of a disputation. A disputed question, then, is not a sort of recording or a stenographic account of the disputation itself, but rather, of the determination of the master. Through the disputed question [as we have it], however, we are able to recognize the objections being raised against the doctrine of the master, the bachelor, and, when necessary, the master himself, arguing for it in reply—and again, in some instances, certain particularities that showed up in some disputations and which have been preserved in the edited determination21.

4. The quaestio de quolibet

A very original type of disputed question sprang forth and developed in the same style from within that literary genre, and we moderns have been even more troubled trying to get the right idea about it. Even if it is only in a very sketchy way, an examination of the physionomy of the disputation de quolibet, or quodlibetal disputation, as it is called, will have its advantages, first because Saint Thomas was one of those who pioneered in its use, and again because, through this type of disputation, it becomes possible to complete the picture of the intense vitality animating the medieval university milieu, especially that of Paris, where it was brilliantly successful22.

Twice a year, near Christmas and Easter, in the faculties of arts, law, medicine, but especially in the faculty of theology, the masters were free to hold a disputation in which the choosing of the subjects to be debated was left to the initiative of the members of the audience, who could raise any problem they liked. In the phrase of Humbert of Romans, it was a disputation "on anything at anyone's will"23. The Medievals spoke of it as a "general" disputation. In it were raised the most diverse and ill-assorted questions, ranging from the highest speculations in metaphysics all the way down to the small problems of public or private everyday life. All this was left to the initiative of anyone in the audience. The multiplying of questions lacking all unity in subject and altogether unforeseeable, coming as they did from the audience, was enough to give rather a strange air to the session itself, and no less to its results which have been preserved in the master's "determination." This kind of session was a hard one to conduct, and many a master refused to risk himself at it, or felt satisfied when he had done so once in his career. This explains why we have so few large collections of quodlibeta.

The session began around the hour of Terce perhaps, or of Sext; in any case, quite early in the morning, since there was the risk that it would go on for a long time. In fact, what characterized it was the capricious and off-hand manner in which it unfolded, along with an ever-present uncertainty hovering over the proceedings. It was no doubt devoted to disputing and argumenting like so many others, but with this special feature that the master had lost the initiative in bringing up the matter for discussion which now rested with the members of the audience. In ordinary disputes, the master had announced beforehand the subjects everyone would be occupied with; he had had time to mull them over, and to prepare them. In the quodlibetal dispute, it was everyone's privilege to raise any kind of problem at all. Herein lay the great danger for the master who was host to the affair. The questions or objections could come from every direction, and it mattered not at all if they sprang from hostility, simple inquisitiveness, or cunning. One could question the master in all good faith, simply to know his opinion, but one could also try to have him contradict himself, or oblige him to give his own views on burning subjects he would prefer never to touch upon. At one time, it would be someinquisitive stranger or some apprehensive worrier; at another, it was a jealous rival or a curious master attempting to put him in bad straits. In some instances, the problems were clearcut and interesting; in others, the questions were ambiguous and the master had great trouble in seeing their full import and understanding their real meaning. Some questioners would candidly confine themselves to a strictly intellectual level, while others nurtured some secret thought of diplomacy or of disparagement.… Anyone, therefore, willing to hold a general disputation must have a presence of mind quite out of the common, and a competency almost universal in its scope24.

The interesting thing about these disputes was less the fullness of doctrinal exposition they gave occasion to than the incidental and current character of the questions and answers. Positions were adopted from one session to another—right at the heart of conflicts between doctrines and persons, right in the midst of the liveliness caused by the competing of different ideologies. A study of the cross-indications supplied by these conflicts and competition (the chronology of which is so precious for the historian) permits one to establish methodically the successive stages in the evolution of the problems and to grasp the immediate and precise reactions of authors. In Saint Thomas's day, these exercises were in the best state of balance they were ever to know, for soon, at least in their written form, they were to fall into lengthiness, yielding to amplification and subtleness, and no longer giving a true idea of the living reality which had formerly given rise to them.

5. The construction of an "article"

Within this perspective of the question and disputation we have to understand, in its construction and dynamic qualities, that unit which in scholastic works is still today called an articulus [article]. Through this unit, the Schoolmen drafted and developed their doctrines in their works comprehensive of a whole subject, such as, for example, their collections of disputed questions, or their summas25. The Summa theologiae of Saint Thomas, for instance, is not made up of chapters, but of articles.

What is an "article"?26 It is an account reducing to simple elements and expressing in schematic form for the benefit of the students all the work that was required to raise, discuss, and solve a question under dispute (a). First of all and properly speaking, it is a question. Circa primum quaeritur … [Concerning the first it is asked … ]: such were the words that served to introduce an article, and here the word quaeritur [it is asked] must be taken in its technical sense. It is charged with the same impelling pressure towards research as was the [problem] in Aristotle (Metaph., B, I, 995a24-b4), confirmation of which we find in the strong formulation of Boethius: "A question is a proposition carrying doubt"27. Hence the vigorous sense of the scholastic Utrum with which, invariably and to the point of monotony, the Schoolmen opened each one of their articles28.

From this starting point, the pro and con are brought into play, not with the intention of finding an immediate answer, but in order that, under the action of dubitatio [doubt], research be pushed to its limit. A satisfactory explanation will be given only on the condition that one continue the search to the discovery of what caused the doubt. Therein is the [disputare]. It should be well understood that in stating the pro and con the arguments are not, at least where the technique is employed to perfection, simply lined up and juxtaposed one after another. On the contrary, they are interlocked with the purpose of leading the mind on to the knottiest part of the problem. Sic proceditur [In this manner does one proceed] means, we are going to reason, to discuss. In the language of the times,arguere [to argue], argumentari [to offer arguments], objicere [to set forth] are words all synonomous with the term disputare, so that objicere and objectio [setting forth] do not, in themselves and always, have the meaning that the word "objection" today denotes. Objicere is to inducere rationes [bring in reasons] in favor of the one or the other part; it is not to oppose a fact or an argument against a previously established thesis. If the latter were the case, things would be reversed insofar as the dynamics of the dialectical process are concerned. Such a reversal, harmless in appearance, would destroy the cogency for inquiry which is pressing continuously from one end to the other the pro and contra proposed in the quaestio, and which leads the mind on to its highest working pitch. An objection, in the modern sense of the word, would be, in XIIIth century style, an instantia, an obviatio, words indicating resistance. The medieval "objection," on the contrary, was in reference to the open quest of a problem's intelligibility, in-ducere rationes. We insist on this very exact attitude which has been obliterated—annoyingly—by formalism in the case of some modern interpretations29. If we understand things in this way, we shall avoid misinterpreting the Sed contra [On the contrary]—as we see almost always done. The Sed contra, in itself, is the expression neither of the author's thesis nor of an argument borrowed from some authority as the foundation of his own position. In itself, the sed contra is the presentation of the alternate position, an expression of rationes quae sunt ad oppositum [the reasons which stand for the other position].

The arguments in the second sequence are not proposed against those of the first series; they are given in favor of the second part of the alternative, and it is only indirectly that they are in opposition with those expressed in favor of the first part. The part in the article which is directly in opposition with the arguments rejected from the viewpoint of the thesis which the determination established, is the one which contains the answers that follow the body of the article, the responsiones ad objecta, that is, the answers to the arguments (in the sense already established) which diverge from the thesis, no matter if they be from the first or from the second series30.

And the stage is set for the master to "answer." Respondeo dicendum [I answer that it must be said]: the answer will contain whatever must be stated in order that the doubt raised by the question be dispelled. Herein is the body of the article in which are expounded at least the principles from which the author would solve the problem if not always the organically structured doctrine he holds. The author's solution is called his determinatio of the question. Always the perspective is that of a disputation; and ever present in the background also, is the Aristotelian technique of [determining] and [determination], working in depth.

The master's answer to those of the proposed arguments that, in one part (sometimes in both parts) of the alternative, do not agree with the position he has just stated are usually given in the form of a distinction, since rarely is the opposing position simply rejected. Rather the master marks off upon what share of truth this position is founded. He distinguishes in it that aspect or that viewpoint which has been successfully grasped: Haec ratio procedit de … [This reason proceeds from … ]. In a way, there is an effort to embody the truth that the opposing position contains within a wider framework which, far from casting it aside, underwrites its truthfulness. This valuable piece of observation will again turn up when we set out to define through what processes of construction Saint Thomas built up his works.

Such, then, is the inner meaning of those formulas whose fate it was to become stereotyped. In historical fact, they were actually brimming with life as they were used in a disputing of questions. This same life—the very life of a mind at work—they kept in the articles drawn up in the silence of a cell. For an article is a quaestio, not a thesis, the word that was to be used in the manuals of modern scholasticism. The change in terms is in itself a denunciation of the heinous reversal to which have been subjected the exalted pedagogical methods set up in the XIIth century universities: "active" methods, mindful to keep open, even under the dead-weight of school work, the curiosity of both the student and the master.

Let us make no mistake about it. Concerning the medieval school, which was so impulsive and tumultuous in its reactions, we have come to draw up a most miserable picture, closely-copied from the modern manuals of XVIIth century scholasticism. Therein barrenness, far from existing to the benefit of an exacting technique, was simply the end-product of a rationalizing that was short-sighted in its views, lacking in intuition and power for synthesis, and stiffly collared by clerical or lay protectiveness, with the result that freedom in quest and ardor for progress paid the price for official favors. A distressingly equivocal state of affairs.… To read Abelard, Hugh of Saint Victor, Albert the Great, Saint Bonaventure, and Saint Thomas in a Wolfian atmosphere, is to misconstrue their thought to the point of no return. However deserving they may be, the Disputationes metaphysicae of Francis Suarez, from the standpoint of intellectual formation, have no more than their name in common with the quaestiones disputatae of the XIIIth century31.

III. Classification of the Works of Saint Thomas

The foregoing describes the dress and inspiration of the literary forms—we can now say, doctrinal forms—within which the works of Saint Thomas were composed, and within which they are to be classified. The forms employed in medieval teaching did not, in effect, develop all at the same time and along a single front. Rather their development took place according to the objects studied and as the texts, which served as the basic tool in teaching, were progressively exploited. In those cases in which the text selected for teaching purposes was a revealed one, it was normal that the understanding of it should take place on the level of exegesis, of the lectio. Only little by little did questions come to be knit out of it, and, through gradual amplification, to go beyond, and finally to gobble up textual reading. When the books of Aristotle were first circulated, they were the object of a simple commentary—at a time when, after fifty years of official reading, the text of Peter Lombard was already overloaded with questions. In like manner, in the production of Saint Thomas, we find works ranging, as the case goes, from the simple commentary all the way to the independent question.

Among the works that are no more than simple commentaries making up an expositio, we have, on the one hand, those dealing with Aristotle and Dionysius, and on the other, those related to Scripture. In the first case, the books of Aristotle were, in the time of Saint Thomas, still the object of a textual lectio, whereas in the second case, the evolution [from the lectio to the quaestio] had run its course. Consequently, with the quaestio having become a completely independent exercise at the faculty of theology, teaching of the Bible was divided between a course on the text of the Bible, the latter remaining the basic textbook, and the disputation of questions. Let us immediately observe, moreover, that these expositiones vary greatly in form, running the gamut between literal commenting and paraphrasing, between impersonal glossing and original elaborating.

On Peter Lombard's Sentences, the text of his teaching as a bachelor, and on the Boethian De Trinitate, Saint Thomas, like all his contemporaries, no longer limited himself to a simple expositio. He did go along with the text, of which he gave an analysis (divisio textus) and a summary literal explanation (expositio textus;) but the latter are only remnants of the form they originally had. In reality his whole effort is directed to the study of questions whose great number and variety are wholly outside the text from which he started.

Then, we have both the ordinary and the quodlibetal questions that Saint Thomas disputed in his capacity of master.

The two summas, both the Summa contra Gentiles and the Summa theologiae, especially the latter, are linked with the literary forms we have spoken about, but they were composed and built up free of Saint Thomas's official teaching and in reference to some external circumstances or to certain scientific needs that the author himself will tell us about later.

Likewise, in the case of his works written for occasions, there is reference to historical or doctrinal contingencies. These works show great variety in content and form and were subsequently to be grouped together under the neutral title of Opuscula.

Finally, as we have already had the occasion to state, it was a master's duty, at the faculty of theology, to preach to his students, as well as to teach them. Saint Thomas has left us a number of sets of collationes [collations].

The foregoing grouping of his works according to the technique of their composition enables us to bring into focus the picture of the organic character, as well as of the historical conditions, of the Master's scientific activity. It is against these general contexts that we shall have to look into each one of his works. Yet before doing so, let us examine the working conditions and the resources all his works have in common: the language, the processes of documentation, the procedures of construction.…


1 "Qui ergo ad philosophiam aspirat, apprehendat lectionem, doctrinam, et meditationem." Metalogicon, lib. I, c. 24; Webb ed., 53; P.L., 199, 853D; McGarry ed., 65.

2 "Due praecipue res sunt quibus quisque ad scientiam instruitur, videlicet lectio et meditatio." Didascalicon, praef.; Buttimer ed., 2; P.L., 176, 741A; Taylor ed., 44.

3 "Lectio est cum ex his quae scripta sunt, regulis et praeceptis informamur." Ibid., lib. III, c. 7; Buttimer ed., 57; P.L., 176, 771C; Taylor ed., 91.

4Ibid.: "There are three kinds of lectio: that of the teacher, that of the learner, and that of the one who reads by himself. Thus we say: 'I am reading the book to him'; or 'I am reading the book from him'; or simply 'I am reading the book."'—Abelard designated the pupils of Alberic of Reims as "those who read from him." Theologia christiana; P.L., 178, 1258D. In Saint Anselm we find; "I have heard thatyou are reading from Master Arnulf." Epistolae, lib. I, epist. 55; P.L., 158, 1125; Schmitt ed., t. III, epist. 64, 180.

John of Salisbury proposed calling the reading done by the master praelectio, and the personal reading lectio. [The word "reading" is equivocal. It may refer either to the activity of teaching and being taught, or to the occupation of studying written things by oneself. Consequently, the former, the intercommunication between teacher and learner, may be termed (to use Quintilian's word) the pre-reading (prae-lectio); the latter, or the scrutiny by the student, the "reading" (lectio) simply so-called.] Metalogicon, lib. I, c. 24; Webb ed., 53; P.L., 199, 853D; McGarry ed., 67-68.

5 See ChUP, I, 70 n. 11: "Neither Aristotle's books on natural philosophy nor any commentaries thereon are to be read publicly or secretly at Paris; and this we enjoin under penalty of excommunication."

a On the medieval bookdealer, at Paris for instance, see H. Rashdall, The Universities of the Middle Ages, ed. F. M. Powicke and A. B. Emden, Oxford, 1936, I, 421-424. On everything concerning books in the Middle Ages, see especially J. W. Thompson, The Medieval Library, in UCSLS, 1939, and in particular Part IV: Making and Care of Books in the Middle Ages; ch. XVIII—The Scriptorium, 594-612; ch. XIX—Library Administration and the Care of Books, 613-629; ch. XX—Paper, the Book Trade, and Book Prices, 630-646; ch. XXI—The Wanderings of Manuscripts, 647-661.

6 See ChUP, I, 644, n. 530; II, 107, n. 642.

7 See I libri della bottega di Solimano stazionario dello studio bolognese (July 30, 1289), list published in ASI, XLV (1910), 388-390.

8Résponses aux secondes objections, in Oeuvres de Descartes, ed. C. Adam and P. Tannery, t. VII, Paris, 1904, 157: "What prompted me to write meditations rather than disputations or questions, as the philosophers do; or again, theorems or problems, in the manner of the geometricians … so as to bear witness in this way that I have written only for those willing to take pains to meditate seriously with me and to consider things with attention." [See GBWW, trans. G. S. Haldane and G. R. T. Ross, XXXI (1952), 129. Also published under the title: The Philosophical Works of Descartes, 2 vols., in Dover, T71 and T72 (1955).]

9 On this program of the ancient commentators, see H. I. Marrou, Saint Augustin et la fin de la culture antique, 2d ed. in BEFAR, CXLV (1949), 20-25. ["Since Varro, it had become classical to distinguish four phases in this study: the lectio, the emendatio, the enarratio, the judicium. The lectio was an expressive reading aloud, carrying within itself the practical teaching of diction, that element bound to be so useful to the future orator.… The enarratio was a commentary, what we mean nowadays when, in our 'explanations of texts,' we speak of both the literal commentary and the literary commentary. The emendatio … has no exact counterpart in our modern teaching; it comprised two exercises which we distinguish one from the other: textual criticism … and criticism of style.… The judicium was the crowning point of any study; it was a brief general review of everything that previous analysis had brought out, and it gave a final aesthetic judgment on the work that had beenstudied" (20-21).]—On the manner in which the work was carried out in the ancient commentaries, an already stylicised affair at Alexandria in the VIth century, see E. Bréhier, in RDP, 1942-43, 93-94.

10 "[The masters of arts] will read in the schools Aristotle's books on dialectics, both the old and the new, not in the cursory, but in the ordinary reading." ChUP, I, 78, n. 20. In the regulation for the English nation at the faculty of arts, in 1252, the ordinary and cursory readings were likewise distinguished: "[The future bachelor will have attended] two ordinary readings and at least one cursory reading of Aristotle's Topics and Fallacies; and if not the cursory reading, then at least three ordinary readings." Ibid., 228, n. 201.

11 "Quid enim aliud in lectura quaeritur quam textus intelligentia, quae sententia nominatur." Sententie, praef., Martin ed., in SSL, XXI (1947), 11.—See Hugh of Saint Victor, Didascalicon, lib. III, c. 8; Buttimer ed., 58; P.L., 176, 771D; Taylor ed., 92: "The exposition contains three things: the littera [letter], the sensus [obvious sense], and the sententia [deeper meaning]. The littera is the congruent ordering of the words, which is also called construction. The sensus is a certain easily-recognized and apparent meaning which the littera offers at first sight. The sententia is a deeper understanding which is not arrived at except by means of exposition or interpretation. With the preceding, this is the order of inquiry that should be followed: first, the littera, then the sensus, then the sententia. When this has been done, the exposition has reached the stage of completion."—See also John of Salisbury, Metalogicon, lib. I, c. 24; Webb ed., 56; P.L., 199, 855; McGarry ed., 67.—At the end of his commentary on the VIIth book of the Ethics, Saint Thomas concludes: "And thus the sententia of the seventh book is brought to a close."

12 See G. Bardy, La litterature patristique des Quaestiones et responsiones sur l'Ecriture sainte, in RB, XLI (1932), 210-236, 341-369, 515-537; XLII (1933), 14-30, 211-229, 328-352. In this study, research is pursued as far as the IXth century.

13 "… aliqua [diversa patrum dicta] ex dissonantia quam habere videntur, quaestionem contrahentia." Abelard, Sic et Non, prol.; P.L., 178, 1349A.

14 This evolution in technique was quite exactly recognized as such by the contemporary Clarenbald of Arras, a member of the school of Chartres and the author of a commentary on the De Trinitate of Boethius, written after 1153. Here is his diagnosis: "It seems necessary to recall just what a question is.… When [Aristotle] wrote these words: utrosque idem utrisque opinari, he wanted it understood that this kind of question referred to propositions that were certain, as for example: Whether the pearl is a stone or not. Hence, in the same treatise on the Topics, though in a different place (I, 3), he reminds us that a problem can be made up out of every proposition. But these questions that are made up from propositions that are certain, have nothing of a question but its form." Der Kommentar des Clarenbaldus von Arras zu Boethius De Trinitate … hrsg. von W. Jensen, in BSHT, VIII (1926), 34.

Judging by what his disciple, John of Salisbury, says about the matter, Alberic was the first master, in the field of dialectic, to make use of this generalized calling into question: "The first of these [Alberic], who was punctilious in everything, found everywhere occasion for questioning, to the point that not even a polished surface would be without a flaw, and, according to the saying, 'for him, the bulrush would not be free of nodes,' for even there he pointed out what had to be unknotted."Metalogicon, lib. II, c.10; Webb ed., 79; P.L., 199, 876C; McGarry ed., 96.

15 Saint Thomas, Quodl. IV, a. 18: Whether theological determinations should be made by authority or by reason. "… Then there is the magisterial type of disputation in the schools, whose goal is not the removal of error, but rather the instruction of the listeners so that they may be led to understand the truth that the master intends to bring out. In this latter case, recourse should be had to reasons that search to the root of the truth and show how the thing which is said to be true is actually so. Otherwise, if the master determines the question by appeal to bare authorities, the listener will have a certainty that the thing is so, but he will have acquired no science or understanding and will go away with an empty mind."

16 Among other texts in which Roger Bacon bewails the current taste for questions to the abandonment of the literal commentary on the texts, here is one from his Compendium studii theologiae: "Although the main business of the study of the theologians should be concerned with the sacred text, it should be known, as has been ample times proved in the prior part of this work, that nevertheless theologians for the past 50 years have been mainly preoccupied with questions, evidence of which any one can see in the number of treatises and summas, and burdens enough for horses, which many have produced, and not with the most sacred text of God. Wherefore, the theologians show more inclination to receive a treatise on questions rather than on the text.…" H. Rashdall ed., in BSFS, III (1911), 34. See also, ibid., 25. Bacon speaks of fifty years before. This brings us back to the years 1225-1230, at the time when Gregory IX addressed two solemn bulls to the masters of Paris (one dated July 7, 1228, and the other April 13, 1231), in which he recalls the principles that must regulate the use of reason in theology. See ChUP, I, 114-115 n. 59; 136-138 n. 79. See also M.-D. Chenu, La théologie comme science au XIIIe siècle, 3d rev. ed., in BibTh, XXXIII (1957), 26-32.

17 See Robert of Melun, Quaestiones de divina pagina, Martin ed. in SSL, XIII (1932); Odo of Soissons, Quaestiones, Pitra ed. in ANSS, II (1888); Simon of Tournai, Disputationes, J. Warichez ed., in SSL, XII (1932).—On the evolution of this literary genre, see R. M. Martin, op. cit., introd., xxxiv-xlvi.

18 To be sure, all during the early Middle Ages, there had been "disputes" between masters who were the protagonists of diverging opinions. Lanfranc, for example, in the XIth century, as the chronicler tells us, emerged victorious in his dispute with Berengar. See Guitmundi De corporis et sanguinis Christi veritate in Eucharistia libri tres, lib. I; P.L., 149, 1428B [See R. W. Southern, Lanfranc of Bec and Berengar of Tours, in SMH, 1948, 27-28]. It is a known fact that Abelard excelled in disputations and that he was one of the creators of the technique. In their time, however, disputes were not yet a part of an academic order of things set up in an organized university and with a definite apparatus and regularity. [A number of XIIth century works carry the word disputatio in their title. See R. W. Hunt, The Disputation of Peter of Cornwall against Symon the Jew, in SMH, 1948, 143-156.]

19 "The aforesaid witness said he heard from several Friar Preachers worthy of credence that once Brother Thomas was conducting a disputation in Paris, which was attended by Brother John of Pizano of the Order of Friars Minor, who later became Archbishop of Canterbury, and that however much the said Brother John, in his pompous and inflated terms [verbis ampullosis et tumidis], showed himself aggravating to the same Brother Thomas, not once did the latter himself cease to use the language of humility, but was always pleasant and humane in his answers." ASS, March 7, Processus inquisitionis, c. 9, n. 77, 712; Foster ed., 107-108. Compare this account with Peckham's own, and with the latter's variant interpretation of the episode, Registrum Epistolarum fratris Johannis Peckham, Vol. III, in RBMAS, LXXVII (1885), 866. [On Peckham's subsequent condemnation of Thomistic doctrines, see D. L. Douie, Archbishop Pecham, Oxford, 1952, 272-301, and D. A. Callus, The Condemnation of St. Thomas at Oxford, in AqP, V (1955), 17-35. See bibliographies therein.]

20 The double session was not, moreover, confined to quodlibetal disputations alone, but was also, it would seem, in operation in the case of ordinary disputed questions. See A. Teetaert, La littérature quodlibétique, in ETL, XIV (1937), 75-105.

21 P. Mandonnet, Chronologie des questions disputées de saint Thomas d'Aquin, in RT, XXIII (1928), 267-269.

22 Complete information about the structure, evolution and characteristics of interest concerning this literary genre will be found in P. Glorieux, La littérature quodlibétique de 1260 à 1320, in BibTh, V (1925), introd., and even more in a second volume of his: La littérature quodlibétique, ibid., XXI (1935), introd. See also his Le Quodlibet et ses procédés rédactionnels, in DTP, XLII (1939), 61-93, and Où en est la question du Quodlibet?, in RMAL, II (1946), 405-414.

23 "…de quolibet ad voluntatem cujuslibet.…"Humbert of Romans, Instructiones de officiis Ordinis, c. 12, in BHROVR, II (1889), 260.

24 P. Glorieux, La littérature quodlibétique, in BibTh, XXI (1935), 10-11. Here is a significant text: "In the quodlibetal disputations, ten questions were proposed by my associates, because of the two which I had proposed myself. Out of the ten, five were concerned with the matters under dispute, and the other five on matters related in some way with them.… Likewise, the unrelated questions, which were brought up in the quodlibetal disputation by associates.…" London ms., British Museum, King's Library, 10 C. VI, fol. 152.

25 See Z. Alszeghy, Einteilung des Textes in mittelalterlichen Summen, in Greg, XVII (1946), 46-58. The word articulus always indicated what was considered to be the elemental unit in every field and in every discipline ("What is intended in the article is found in a fourfold discipline.…" Alexander Halensis, Summa, III, q. 69, n. I, a. I, obj. ult., Venice ed., 295; Quaracchi ed., t. IV, vol. 2, n. 698, 1113, 5). It ranged from the simple announcing of a point to be debated during the course of a commentary on a text to the "article of faith" in theology.

26 See the scrupulous and scrupulously documented study of F. A. Blanche, Le vocabulaire de l'argumentation et la structure de l'article dans les ouvrages de saint Thomas, in RSPT, XIV (1925), 167-187.

a) See ch. IX, note 2.

27"Quaestio est dubitabilis propositio." Boethius, In Topica Ciceronis, lib. I; P.L., 64, 1048D.

28 See Aristotle, Metaph., X, 5, 1055b-1056a3, and Saint Thomas, In X Metaph., lect. 7; Marietti ed., 488, n. 2060.

29 See A. Blanche, op. cit., 177-179.

30Ibid., 180.

31 G. Paré, A. Brunet, P. Tremblay, La renaissance du XIIe siècle. Les écoles et l'enseignement, in PIEM, III (1933), 132.…


AqP: The Aquinas Papers. The Aquinas Society of London, London, 1946.

ASI: Archivio storico Italiano, Florence, 1842.

ASS: Acta sanctorum … Digessit, notis illustravit J. Bollandus. Ed. novissima contulit G. Henschenius. Paris, 1863-1867.

BEFAR: Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d'Athènes et de Rome. Pub. sous les auspices du Ministere de l'éducation nationale. Paris, 1877.

BHROVR: Beati Humberti de Romanis Opera de vita regulari. Ed. J. J. Berthier. II vols. Rome, 1888-1889.

BibTh: Bibliothèque thomiste. Directeur: P. Mandonnet, vols. I-XXIV; M.-D. Chenu, vol. XXV… (Le Saulchoir)Paris, 1921.

BSHT: Breslauer Studien zur historischen Theologie. Breslau, 1922.

Buttimer ed. Hugonis de Sancto Victore Didascalicon: De Studio Legendi. A Critical Text by C. H. Buttimer. CUA-SMRL, X (1939).

ChUP: Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis. Sub auspiciis consilii generalis facultatum Parisiensium ex diversis bibliothecis tabulariisque collegit et cum authenticis chartis contulit H. Denifle … auxiliante A. Chatelain. Vols. I-IV. Paris, 1889-1897.

DTP: Divus Thomas Commentarium de philosophia et theologia. Piacenza, 1880.

ETL: Ephemerides theologicae Lovanienses. Theologia dogmaticaTheologia moralisJus canonicum. Universitas catholica lovaniensis. Louvain-Bruges, 1924.

GBWW: Great Books of the Western World. R. M. Hutchins, editor in chief. Chicago-London-Toronto, (copyright 1952).

Greg Gregorianumr. Rivista trimestrale di studi teologici etfilosofici. Rome, 1920.

Marietti (or Marietti ed.) Divi Thomae Aquinatis Doctoris Angelici (Various Works … by Various Editors). Pub. by the Casa Marietti. Turin-Rome.

McGarry ed. The Metalogicon of John of Salisbury. A Twelfth-Century Defense of the Verbal and Logical Arts of the Trivium. Trans. with an Introd. and Notes by D. McGarry. Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1955.

PIEM: Publications de l'Institut d'études médiévales. Vols. I-X, Paris-Ottawa, 1932-1941; vols. XI …, Paris-Montreal, 1950.

P.L. Patrologiae cursus completus. Series prima in qua prodeunt Patres, Doctores Scriptoresque Ecclesiae Latinae. Vols. I-CCXXI. Paris, Migne, 1844-1864. Ed. altera, 1866 ff. Supplementum, 1958 ff.

RBMAS: Rerum Britannicarum medii aevi scriptores, or Chronicles and Memorials of Great Britain and Ireland during the Middle Ages. Pub. by the authority of Her Majesty's treasury, under the direction of the Master of the Rolls. London-Oxford-Cambridge, 1857.

RDP: Revue de philosophie. Paraissant tous les deux mois. Paris, 1900.

RAAL: Revue du moyen âge latin. Etudes-textes-chronique-bibliographie. Lyon, 1945.

RSPT: Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques. Paris, 1907.

RT: Revue thomiste. Paris, 1893.

Schmitt ed. S. Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepscopi Opera omnia. Ad fidem codicum recensuit F. S. Schmitt. VI vols. Edinburgh, 1946-1951.

SMH: Studies in Medieval History Presented to F. M Powicke. Ed. R. W. Hunt, W. A. Pantin, R. W. Southern. Oxford, 1948.

SSL: Spicilegium sacrum Lovaniense. Etudes et documents. Université catholique et Collèges O.P. et S. J. de Louvain. Louvain-Paris, 1922.

Taylor ed. The Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor. A Medieval Guide to the Arts. Trans. from the Latin with an Introd. and Notes by J. Taylor. RCSS, LXIV (1961).

Webb ed. Joannis Saresberiensis Episcopi Camotensis Metalogicon libri III. Recognivit et prolegomenis, apparatu critico, commentario, indicibus instruxit C. C. I. Webb. Oxford, 1929.

Vernon J. Bourke (essay date 1965)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4154

SOURCE: "The Golden Wisdom" in Aquinas's Search for Wisdom, The Bruce Publishing Company, 1965, pp. 220-30.

[In the following excerpt, Bourke discusses Aquinas's reputation in the half-century following his death.]

"We earnestly exhort you, venerable brethren, to restore the golden wisdom of St. Thomas," wrote Pope Leo XIII in 1879.1 This is one of the best known quotations from the famous letter which touched off the modern revival of interest in Aquinas' personality and thought. Pope Leo reviewed the repeated approvals of Thomism that are found in the words of nearly all the Roman pontiffs in the years since his canonization.2 He also spoke with sorrow of the neglect into which the golden wisdom had fallen in Christian schools. The encyclical Aeterni Patris ended with a challenge to modern Catholic scholarship to adopt and carry on the spirit of St. Thomas' scholarship in the present day.

We do not propose to investigate here this story of the modern Thomistic revival. Instead, we shall look in this final chapter at what happened to the reputation and thought of Thomas Aquinas during the fifty years that followed his death. Many of his contemporaries and immediate successors felt that his wisdom was anything but golden. Still, there were always some who appreciated, at least in part, the heritage of Aquinas.

One way of judging the ability of a teacher is to examine the record of his students. If we applied this test to Thomas, we would have to conclude that he was not a successful teacher; for it is very difficult to find an outstanding thinker among the members of his immediate school. Certain men, like Giles of Rome and Henry of Ghent, are still remembered in the history of scholasticism but they are no longer regarded as Thomists. They thoroughly misunderstood Aquinas and, in fact, opposed him on many basic issues. Even within the Dominican Order, no scholar was found with the ability to carry on his work. Verious people collected and edited his works. Several men wrote completions for the unfinished writings. Generally speaking, these jobs were done badly. Much of our present difficulty with the text and chronology of the Thomistic writings could have been obviated by Reginald of Pipemo, if he had seen fit to write down what he knew about Thomas Aquinas. To this date, no one has been able to find anything that Reginald surely wrote.

Peter of Auvergne may be taken as typical of these first-generation "Thomists." He has been pictured as a devoted follower of Aquinas.3 Peter did write some of the complements that are now printed at the end of Thomas' unfinished commentaries on Aristotle, notably for the Politics, On Generation and Corruption, and On the Heavens. He had been designated rector of the university of Paris in 1275, and was doubtless one of those who admired Thomas in the arts faculty. Peter taught liberal arts at the University of Paris until the 1290's and served as professor of theology there from 1296 to 1302.4 It has long been known that he differed from Thomas on important theological questions;5 now we know that he disagreed on fundamental philosophical issues.6 This was not a matter of being an independent-minded student; Peter's tendency was toward a strict Aristotelianism similar to that of Siger of Brabant.

Not only did St. Thomas' students fail to understand him; there is much evidence of open antagonism to the whole thrust of Thomism during the 1270's. At Paris, Bishop Etienne Tempier (a former professor himself) was still worried by the prevalence of erroneous teachings at the university. We have seen how he condemned thirteen propositions in 1270. Apparently this preliminary act of censorship was ineffective. Bishop Tempier next called upon a commission of sixteen theologians (including Henry of Ghent) to prepare a more complete list of errors. They must have worked diligently: on March 7, 1277, Tempier issued a resounding condemnation of two hundred and nineteen theses which were now forbidden to be taught in the diocese of Paris.7 Approximately twenty of these "erroneous" propositions partially represent teachings of Thomas Aquinas. Without naming Aquinas, the Bishop forbade teaching such views as these: that a separate substance which moves nothing is not part of the universe; that individuals differ only by virtue of their matter; that separated substances exist in no place; that all intellects are basically possessed of the same power and that differences of actual intelligence stem from the body; that the will is determined by intellectual cognition.8 In effect, many basic themes in Thomism were now called errors at Paris.9 While Thomas was not formally named by Tempier, it was soon generally recognized that certain of his views were included in this condemnation.10 Not until February 14, 1325 (after the canonization of St. Thomas), did Bishop Etienne Bourret of Paris remove this censorship, insofar as it applied to Thomas.11

Within ten days of Tempier's action, Robert Kilwardby (now Archbishop of Canterbury) moved to condemn thirty "erroneous" teachings in his diocese.12 These were points in grammar, logic, and natural philosophy that were not to the liking of the former Dominican. Seven of the propositions in natural philosophy (Numbers 17, 21, 24, 26, 27, 28, and 30) are obviously Thomistic in character. They are principally views concerning the passivity of prime matter, the type of distinction that obtains between matter and form, and, of course, the unity of the substantial form in one material substance. Kilwardby never liked Thomism and he wasted no time in showing his dislike. To put teeth into his disapproval, he ended his edict with these words:

He who supports, teaches or defends any of the aforementioned theses, as a result of his own intention, if he is a master he may be deposed by common counsel from the office of master, if he is a bachelor he may not be promoted to the magistrate but may be expelled from the University [Oxford].13

Ten years later (April 30, 1286), another man whose name we know, John Peckham, had become Archbishop of Canterbury. Acting as Primate of England, with the concurrence of three other English bishops and of several British theologians, Peckham formally renewed Kilwardby's edict.14 John Peckham was, of course, the Franciscan theologian who had come into open conflict with Aquinas around 1270. He particularly condemned the "presumptuous opinion" that there is but one substantial form in a composite.

Thus, within fifteen years of his death, a portion of Thomas Aquinas' doctrine was under condemnation by three bishops—one a former diocesan professor of theology, the second a fellow Dominican, the third a noted Franciscan scholar. By 1277, under serious ecclesiastical penalties, Thomistic views were forbidden to be taught at the two greatest universities in Christendom, Paris and Oxford.15 It was not a propitious start for a future Doctor of the Church.

For the next forty years or so (1280-1320), continual bickering occurred between the supporters and the opponents of Thomism. It was the period of the so-called "Correctorial" literature.16 Stimulated in part by the widespread criticism of Thomas, but also moved by a growing realization of the significance of his thought, the Dominican officials began to rally to the support of Thomism. The General Chapter at Milan (June, 1278) ordered two lectors from France (Raymond de Mévouillon and Jean Vigouroux) to make a hurried trip to England, there to inquire into the "scandalous detractions" of some of the British Friars Preacher against the writings of "the venerable Father, Brother Thomas de Aquino."17 A year later (June, 1279), the General Chapter at Paris ordered Dominican superiors in all provinces to punish severely any irreverent or unfitting talk about the person or writings of Thomas Aquinas.18 That these formal efforts to defend Thomas within the Dominican Order were deemed necessary is itself a good indication of the contemporary state of affairs.

Yet his writings were being read—and not only by Dominicans. About the year 1280, an English Franciscan scholar, William de la Mare, prepared a sort of commentary on selected portions of Aquinas' major writings (sixty-three articles from the Summa of Theology, twenty-four from the Disputed Questions, nine from the Quodlibets, and another nine questions from the Commentary on Book I of the Sentences). William's purpose was to "correct" the doctrine of these passages, so that his fellow Franciscans would be able to detect the errors when reading Thomas. At their general chapter in Strasbourg (1282), the Franciscan authorities ordered their provincial ministers to require that all copies of Aquinas' Summa of Theology, in the use of Franciscan lectors in theology, be accompanied in the text by the "Declarations" of Brother William de la Mare.19 Soon an English Dominican (either Thomas of Sutton or Richard Clapwell) wrote a set of "corrections" of William's "corruptions"! The text of this amazing contribution to the literature of Catholic intellectualism was widely circulated in manuscript and has received a modern edition.20 There is a sort of comic-opera quality about these attacks and counterattacks, but the situation was not amusing to those immediately involved.

More and more Dominicans, from various provinces, now rose to the defense of Thomas Aquinas. John of Paris, O.P., produced his Correctorium Corruptorii "Circa"; Robert of Orford, O.P., issued his Correctorium "Sciendum"; another Englishman, William of Macclesfield, O.P., wrote a Correctorium "Quaestione." By 1290, an Italian, Rambert of Bologna, O.P., had entered the fray with a new title: Apologeticum veritatis contra Corruptorium. Most of these controversial writings have only been discovered, in manuscript, comparatively recently and are not yet in print. Probably other items in the Correctorial literature remain to be identified.

About the year 1282, Roger Marston, O.F.M., circulated the rumor that an opinion of Thomas Aquinas (concerning the type of distinction that obtains among the Persons of the divine Trinity) was "excommunicated" at Paris back in 1270.21 Between 1284 and 1287, John Peckham, as Archbishop of Canterbury, sent a series of letters to various officials of Oxford University and to other ecclesiastical personages. These letters emphasized the doctrinal differences that had arisen between the Dominican and Franciscan Orders, frequently mentioned the unfortunate errors that Aquinas had introduced into Christian learning, and expressed the wish that the Pope would soon act to separate the wheat from the chaff.22 Peckham's disagreement with Aquinas mainly concerned philosophical questions, but this Archbishop would have been shocked at the suggestion that there was anything "golden" about the wisdom of Thomas.

At the same time (1286-1324), various chapter meetings in the Order of Preachers (Paris, Cologne, Metz, London, Bologna, Rouen, Vienne, and Bordeaux) forcefully enjoined the study of Thomas Aquinas' writings and general respect for his doctrine. By 1313, the chapter of Metz was ordering: "No one may be sent to the Paris studium, unless he has diligently studied the doctrine of Brother Thomas for at least three years."23 Much of the internal Dominican opposition to Thomism was a phenomenon of the English Province, possibly due to the influence of Robert Kilwardby. However, anti-Thomism was not confined to England. In Italy, a young Florentine, named Uberto Guidi, O.P., openly attacked some features of Thomism. The provincial chapter at Arezzo in 1315 castigated his disrespect, suspended all his scholarly functions for two years, removed him from the Florence to the Pistoria monastery, and assigned him to a ten-day fast on bread and water as a punishment!24

By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Dominicans of the new Neapolitan Province began to hope that Brother Thomas of Aquino might be formally recognized as a saint.25 The Provincial, Nicholas Brunacci, had known Brother Thomas from the time of the second Paris professorate and much favored the idea of canonization. Of course, William of Tocco was eager to promote the cause, and he began to assemble information on the life and works of the prospective saint. William had been with Thomas at Naples and was acquainted with many relatives and friends of the Aquino family. Tocco was himself a distinguished figure in the province, having been made a preacher general in 1288.26 John XXII became pope in 1316, during the period when the papal residence was at Avignon, France. He proved to be very favorable to the movement for canonization. The provincial chapter in 1317 met at Gaeta (not far from the birthplace of Aquinas, Gaeta was the town from which the great Thomist, Cardinal Cajetan, took his name in the Renaissance) and directed two Brothers, William of Tocco and Robert of San Valentino, to prepare and present the required documents at the papal court.27 After gathering what material he could in support of the petition, Tocco (now in his seventies) made the trip to Avignon and was cordially received by Pope John. In fact, the Pope assured the elderly Dominican: "We believe that Brother Thomas is a glorious saint in Heaven, for his life was saintly and his teaching was not possible without a miracle."28 Probably no promoter of a cause has ever had a better reception at the papal court. Pope John was much impressed by letters of approval from the dowager Queen Mary of Sicily and other officials in the Sicilian government. A papal commission of non-Dominican cardinals was appointed to examine the documentation supplied by William of Tocco. Of course, the Life of St. Thomas Aquinas by Tocco, which is the source of much of our present information, was a part of this dossier submitted at Avignon.

William found two men already at Avignon who gave added support to his efforts, if anything more was needed. Bartholomew of Lucca, the Dominican author of the Ecclesiastical History in which Thomas Aquinas had already figured, was there and eager to help. So was another prominent Dominican, Bernard Gui, now the procurator general of the Order. Doubtless these influential friars (Bartholomew had been raised to the episcopacy) compared information on Thomas Aquinas. One of the earliest Latin biographies was written by Gui.29 There is, however, little information in it that was not in Tocco's Life, which appears to be the first.

Pope John appointed the Archbishop of Naples, the Bishop of Viterbo, and a notary (Pandolfo de Sabbello) to conduct a formal investigation at Naples into the life and works of Thomas Aquinas.30 The canonization proceedings at Naples were duly held at the Archbishop's residence, from July 21 to September 18, 1319. Many Dominicans, several Cistercians from Fossanova, and some lay peoplewere interviewed and asked to tell, under oath, what they knew about Thomas and his reputation. Ten of the witnesses were people who had been personally acquainted with Aquinas, or had heard him preaching, during the last years in Naples and, of course, at Fossanova. Some of the testimony was from witnesses who had simply heard of his reputation for holiness. Many told of apparently miraculous cures effected during Thomas' lifetime and after his death.31 Today St. Thomas is remembered chiefly as a great theologian; to many of these witnesses he was, rather, a holy man whose powers of intercession were remarkable.

William of Tocco and two notaries who substituted for the absent Pandolfo de Sabbello brought the records of the Naples investigation to Avignon in the winter of 1319-1320. After more than a year had elapsed, in June of 1321, Pope John directed William to return to Italy and gather more complete information about miracles that had occurred after Thomas' death. Many witnesses from the region about Fossanova and the countryside of Aquino had been unable to go to Naples for the first proceedings. Thus the indefatigable old Brother William went back and arranged for a second investigation at the Cistercian monastery of Fossanova. Appointed by the Pope to take charge of these proceedings were the Bishops of Anagni and Terracina, together with the notary, Pandolfo. Testimony was taken at Fossanova from November 10 to 20, 1321.32 Again Pandolfo was absent.

At this investigation many more Cistercians were heard and the details of Thomas' last days and death were well covered. Also, about one hundred lay people (men and women) from the Terra di Lavoro were heard. They made it very, clear that a local cult of the saintly Tommaso d'Aquino had spontaneously developed in southern Italy. Many of these simple country people did not know their own ages (which they were invariably asked when being sworn in), but they were quite sure that Brother Thomas was indeed a saint. They told of dozens of wonderful cures that had come about through his intercession. To determine the precise nature of their manifold ailments is not easy (the proceedings were conducted in the vernacular and then translated into Latin for the official record) but at least one striking fact comes to light from a careful reading of the record. Sufferers from arthritis and rheumatism might do well to take Thomas Aquinas as their patron and intercessor.

In due time the Fossanova proceedings were brought to Avignon—but not by William of Tocco. He died before the final decision was made to canonize Thomas. Papal approval was now given the cause and the canonization was formally proclaimed at Avignon on July 18, 1323.33

From two complementary accounts by eyewitnesses (one anonymous and the other by a Brother Bentius, O.P., from Bologna) we have a rather full description of the ceremonies and festivities in Avignon. At the public consistory, Pope John XXII preached first on the holiness of Thomas' life and the eminence of his teaching. This papal discourse ended with the announcement that Thomas Aquinas was worthy of being inscribed in the catalogue of the saints.34 Then Brother Peter Canterius, O.P., representing the ailing John of Naples, replied as promoter of the cause. After that, King Robert of Sicily (who was there with the Queen) spoke on the text: "He was the lamp, burning and shining" (Jn 5:35). A series of bishops then added their encomia: the Dominican Patriarch of Alexandria, the Archbishop of Capua, the Bishop of Winchester in England, and the Archbishop of Arles. As a crowning gesture of goodwill, the final speaker on this first day was Bishop Jean de Tixanderie, a Franciscan, who added his voice to the general acclaim. The anonymous account adds: "Nor were there then heard so many commendations of St. Thomas, as from this man."35

Three days later, in the Church of Notre-Dame des Doms in Avignon, Pope John celebrated the Mass of St. Thomas and preached on the text: "For thou art great and dost wonderful things" (Ps 85:10). Before the King and Queen and a great crowd of notable ecclesiastics, Thomas Aquinas was now declared a saint. The King proclaimed to the whole city of Avignon that festivities were to be held on a par with those of Christmas! The Dominicans of the monastery of Avignon offered a reception which was attended by King Robert and his Queen. For two more days, special Masses were celebrated. On one of these days, Thomas' nephew, Count Thomas of San Severino, provided a sumptuous banquet.36 As the wide-eyed Brother Bentius concluded his report to his superiors in Bologna, "The actual occurrence of the solemnity exceeds my words."37

There will always be accountants. We even have four carefully preserved documents which record the expenses for the various banquets given at the time of the canonization. Many gold florins were paid out for soup, fowl, eggs, beef carcasses, and fish. There was even a special account for the dishwashers. On the margin of one of these accounts, some diligent clerk noted: "It was the canonization of St. Thomas of Aquino; the King and seven Lord Cardinals ate."38

In the Bull of Canonization, Pope John briefly reviewed the highlights of St. Thomas' life and character. He listed a few of the many miracles that had been attributed to him. Just before describing these ten miracles, the Pope made a very penetrating remark: "His life was attested to by miracles, yet this man's miracles simply carry forward the testimony of his own life."39 Pope John saw that Thomas' life and teaching were at least as much a miracle as the great things that were later done in his name.

What made St. Thomas' wisdom golden was not the philosophical, or even the theological, detail of his thought. He left an example of what can be done by a Christian scholar who is willing and able to learn from any source of information. His mind was open to the insights of pagan philosophers, of Mohammedan and Jewish sages, of the long tradition of Greek and Latin Christian Fathers. Thomas was able to admit his own limitations: there were things that he never understood; there were times when he could only resort to prayer. The myth of an Aquinas who knew all the answers is a false construction of overzealous followers. Yet Thomas was always optimistic and hopeful in his quest for truth: with God's help, he approached every problem in a spirit of confidence. Neither pessimism nor skepticism held any virtue for him. He did not pretend that he had solved all the riddles of reality and life; he kept looking for ever better answers; and he enjoyed the challenge of his search.

This spirit of his life cries out in one of the most memorable sentences in all his writings.40

Of all the pursuits open to men, the search for wisdom is more perfect, more sublime, more profitable, and more full of joy.


1Aeterni Patris, in The Church Speaks to Modern World, ed. E. Gilson (New York: Doubleday, 1954), pp. 31-51; the quotation is from p. 50.

2 For details of these encomia by many popes, see: J. Maritain, The Angelic Doctor: the Life and Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. J. W. Evans and P. O'Reilly (New York: Meridian Books, 1958).

3 M. Grabmann, Die Werke, p. 297, cites a fourteenth-fifteenth-century note from a Toledo manuscript of the Summa Theologiae, concerning the Supplement: "Similiter magister Petrus de Alvernia complevit omnes libros, quos beatus Thomas dimisit incompletos, videlicet istam ultimam partem, libros meteorum, de gene-ratione et corruptione, celi et mundi et alios; et iste doctor fuit sectator doctrine sancti Thome."

4 Van Steenberghen, Le Mouvement, p. 313.

5 E. Hocedez, "La théologie de Pierre d'Auvergne," Gregorianum, XI (1930), 526-552.

6 A. P. Monahan, "The Subject of Metaphysics for Peter of Auvergne," Med. Studies, XVI (1954), 118-130. Monahan notes (p. 130) "the singular lack of favour St. Thomas' doctrine held among his immediate successors."

7 The text of Tempier's famous condemnation of 1277 is printed in C.U. P., I, 543-558; reprinted with some corrections in Fontes, VI, 596-614; with a different numbering, in Mandonnet, Siger de Brabant, 2me ed., II, 175-191.

8 For a detailed list of the propositions that approximate the thought of Thomas Aquinas, Gilson, Hist. of Christ Philos., p. 728.

9 For a historical study of this and associated acts of ecclesiastical censorship in the period: J. Koch, "Philosophische und theologische Irrtumslisten von 1270-1329. Ein Beitrag zur Entwickelung der theologischen zensuren," in Mélanges Mandonnet, II, 305-329.

10 Koch, art. cit., p. 307, lists Quodlibets by Godfrey of Fontaine, Gervais de Mont Saint-Eloi, and John of Naples which make this clear. John'ś Quodl., VI, q. 2, is: Utrum doctrina fratris Thomae quantum ad omnes conclusiones possit licite doceri Parisius. (John lists, by number, various Thomistic theses in Tempier's condemnation.)

11Doc. LV (Fontes, VI, 666-669). The operative phrase in the lengthy episcopal letter is: "supradictam articulorum condemnationem et excommunicationis sententiam, quantum tangunt vel tangere asseruntur doctrinam beati Thome predicti, ex certa scientia tenore presentium totaliter annullamus.…"

12Ibid., XXXIX (Fontes, VI, 615-617); dated March 18, 1277.

13Ibid., 617.

14Ibid., XLVI (Fontes, VI, 647-648).

15 Cf. D. Callus, The Condemnation of St. Thomas at Oxford (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1946).

16 Cf. A. Maurer, Medieval Philosophy (New York: Random House, 1962), pp. 208-219; for more complete bibliography on the Correctorial writings and studies of them, see E. Gilson, Hist. of Christ. Philos., pp. 410-427, 730-735.

17Doc. XLI (Fontes, VI, 621).

18Ibid., 622.

19Ibid., XLIII (Fontes, VI, 624-625).

20 P. Glorieux has edited the work of William de la Mare, plus the Dominican response, in: Les premiers polémiques thomistes. I. Le "Correctorium Corruptoril QUARE (Kain: Bibliothèque Thomiste, 1927).

21 R. Marston, Quaestiones disputatae de Emanatione aeterna (Bibliotheca Franciscana, VII) (Quaracchi, 1932), pp. 116-117.

22 Peckham's letters on this matter are reprinted in Fontes, VI, 627-648.

23 "Nullus etiam ad studium Parisiense mittatur, nisi in doctrina fratris Thome saltem tribus annis studuerit diligenter." Fontes, VI, 656.

24Ibid., 661-662.

25 The Sicilian Province (including Naples and south Italy) was formed by partition of the Roman Province in 1294. A. Walz, Compendium Historiae Ordinis Praedicatorum, ed. 2a (Roma: Angelicum, 1948), pp. 123, 142.

26 Cf. Foster, Life, pp. 6-7.

27 A. Walz, "Historia canonizationis S. Thomae de Aquino," in Xenia Thomistica, III (Rome, 1925), 105-172.

28 Tocco, Vita, Suppl. 12 (Fontes, II, 148).

29 Edited by D. Prümmer in Fontes, III, 168-263; translated in Foster, Life, pp. 25-58.

30 The papal letter is in Fontes, IV, 269-271; it is dated at Avignon, September 13, 1318.

31 Some sample passages from this Naples testimony have been translated in Foster, Life, pp. 82-119; the original Latin transcript is in Fontes, IV, 273-407. We have used much of this material earlier.

32Proc. Can. Fossae-novae, Fontes, V, 417-510.

33 The date is given in an anonymous record, Fontes, V, 513.

34Ibid., 514.

35Ibid., 515.

36Ibid., 518.

37 "Solemnitatis veritas superat verba mea." Ibid., 518.

38Ibid., 531-532.

39Ibid., 524.

40 "Inter omnia vero hominum studia sapientiae studium est perfectius, sublimius, utilius et iucundius." Summa contra Gentiles, I, 2.

John Paul II (lecture date 1979)

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SOURCE: "Perennial Philosophy of St. Thomas for the Youth of Our Times" in The Whole Truth about Man: John Paul II to University Faculties and Students, edited by James V. Schall, St. Paul Editions, 1981, pp. 209-27.

[In the following excerpt, originally delivered as a lecture in 1979, John Paul II outlines three qualities for which Aquinas gained his reputation: his complete submission to divine revelation, his great respect for the visible world, and his total acceptance of the teaching office of the Church.]

Esteemed professors and very dear students!

  1. It is with a feeling of deep joy that I find myself once more, after no short space of time, in this hall. It is well known to me because I entered it so many times as a student in the years of my youth when I also came from far away to the Pontifical Athenaeum "Angelicum" to deepen my knowledge of the teaching of the Common Doctor, St. Thomas of Aquin.

    Since then the Athenaeum has grown significantly. It has been raised to the rank of a Pontifical University by my venerated Predecessor, Pope John XXIII; it has been enriched by two new Institutes:to the already existing Faculties of Theology, Canon Law and Philosophy there have been added those of Social Sciences and the Institute Mater Ecclesiae which has the aim of preparing future "Teachers of the Religious Sciences." I take note with pleasure of these signs of vitality in the old stock which shows that fresh streams of sap flow through it. Thanks to these it can satisfy, through its new scientific institutions, the cultural needs as they gradually show themselves.

    The joy of today's encounter is notably increased by the presence of a select group of learned exponents of Thomistic thought who have come here from many places to celebrate the first centenary of the Encyclical Aeterni Patris, published on the fourth of August, 1879, by the great Pontiff, Leo XIII. This gathering, promoted by the "International Society of Saint Thomas of Aquin," links up ideally with that held recently near Cordoba in Argentina, on the initiative of the Catholic Argentinian Association of Philosophy, in order to commemorate the same event by inviting leading representatives of present-day Christian thought to exchange views on the theme: "The Philosophy of the Christian Today." This present meeting, more directly concerned with the figure and the work of St. Thomas, while doing honor to this celebrated Roman center of Thomistic studies where one can say that Aquinas lives "as in his own home," is an act of recognition due to the immortal Pontiff who played so great a part in reviving interest in the philosophical and theological work of the Angelic Doctor.

  2. I would like, therefore, to extend my respectfuil and cordial greeting to those who have organized this meeting: in the first place to you, Reverend Father Vincent de Couesnongle, Master of the Dominican Order and President of the "International Society of St. Thomas of Aquin"; with you I greet also the Rector of this Pontifical University, Reverend Father Joseph Salguero, the distinguished members of the Academic Staff, and all those speakers, noted for their competence in Thomistic studies, who have honored this meeting with their presence and enlivened its sessions by sharing their store of knowledge.

    I would also like to offer my affectionate greetings to you, students of this University, who give yourselves, with eager generosity, to the study of philosophy and theology as well as of the other useful auxiliary sciences, taking as your guide St. Thomas to whose thought you are introduced by the enlightened and earnest efforts of your professors. The youthful enthusiasm with which you approach Aquinas with the questions which your sensitivity towards the problems of the modern world suggest to you, and the impression of luminous clarity which you gain from the answers which he gives to you in his own clear, calm and sober way, afford the most convincing proof of the inspired wisdom which moved Pope Leo XIII to promulgate the encyclical whose centenary we are celebrating this year.

  3. It cannot be doubted that the chief aim which the great Pontiff had in mind in taking that step of historic importance was to take up again and to develop the teaching of the First Vatican Council on the relations between faith and reason. As Bishop of Perugia he had played a most active role in that Council. In the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, in fact, the Conciliar Fathers had given special attention to this theme of burning actuality. When treating of "faith and reason" they were united in opposing those philosophical and theological trends which had been infected by the then rampant rationalism. Taking their stand on Divine Revelation, as passed on and faithfully interpreted by preceding ecumenical councils, as clarified and defended by the Holy Fathers and Doctors of both East and West, they had declared that faith and reason, far from being opposed, could and should meet in a friendly way (cf. Ench. Symb. DS: 3015-3020; 3041-3043).

    The persistent and violent attacks of those who were hostile to the Catholic Faith and to right reason induced Leo XIII to reaffirm and to develop the teaching of Vatican I in his encyclical. Here, having recalled the gradual and ever growing contribution made by the leading lights of the Church, both in the East and in the West, to the defense and progress of philosophical and theological thought, the Pope turns to what St. Thomas did by way of deep penetration and of synthesis. In words which should be quoted in their flowing classical Latin, he has no hesitation in pointing to the Angelic Doctor as the one who carried rational research into what faith makes known towards results which have proved to be of lasting value: "Thomas gathered their doctrines together—they had long lain dispersed like the scattered limbs of a body—and knitted them into one whole. He disposed them in marvelous order and increased them to such an extent that he is rightly and deservedly considered the preeminent guardian and glory of the Catholic Church.… Again, beginning by establishing, as is only right, the distinction between reason and faith, while still linking each to the other in a bond of friendly harmony, he maintained the legitimate rights of both, and preserved their respective dignities in such a way that human reason soared to the loftiest heights on the wings of Thomas and can scarcely rise any higher, while faith can expect no further or more reliable assistance than such as it has already received from Thomas" (Leonis XIII, Acta, vol. I, pp. 274-275; English translation, J. F. Scanlan, in: St. Thomas Aquinas, Angel of the Schools, by J. Maritain, London, 1933, Appendix I, pp. 204-206).

  4. Statements as weighty as these call to commitment. To us, heeding them a century later, they above all offer practical or pedagogical guidance; for, in so speaking, Leo XIII wanted to set before teachers and students of philosophy and theology the highest ideal of a Christian dedicated to research.

    Well then, what are the qualities which won for Aquinas such titles as: "Doctor of the Church," and "Angelic Doctor," awarded him by St. Pius V; "Heavenly Patron of the Highest Studies," conferred by Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Cum hoc sit of August 4, 1880, that is, on the first anniversary of the encyclical we are celebrating (cf. Leonis XIII, Acta, vol. II, pp. 108-113)?

    The first quality is without doubt his complete submission of mind and heart to divine revelation, one which he renewed on his death-bed, in the Abbey of Fossanova, on the seventh of March, 1274. How beneficial it would be for the Church of God if also today all Catholic philosophers and theologians followed the wonderful example of the "Doctor communis Ecclesiae!" Aquinas treated the Holy Fathers and Doctors with the same reverence, insofar as they bear common witness to the revealed Word, so much so that Cardinal Cajetan did not hesitate to write—and his words are quoted in the encyclical: "St. Thomas, because he had the utmost reverence for the Doctors of antiquity, seems to have inherited in a way the intellect of all" (In Sum Theol. II-II, q. 148, a. 4 c; Leonis XIII, Acta, vol. 1, p. 273; Scanlan, loc. cit., p. 204).

    The second quality, one which has to do with his excellence as a teacher, is that he had a great respect for the visible world because it is the work, and hence also the imprint and image, of God the Creator. Those, therefore, who sought to accuse St. Thomas of naturalism and empiricism were mistaken. "The Angelic Doctor," we read in the encyclical, "considered philosophical conclusions inthe reasons and principles of things, which, as they are infinite in extent, so also contain the seeds of almost infinite truths for succeeding masters to cultivate in the appropriate season and bring forth an abundant harvest of truth" (Leonis XIII, Acta, vol. I, p. 273; Scanlan, p. 205).

    Lastly, the third quality which moved Leo XIII to offer Aquinas to professors and students as a model of "the highest studies" is his sincere, total and life-long acceptance of the teaching office of the Church, to whose judgment he submitted all his works both during his life and at the point of death. Who does not recall the moving profession of faith which he wished to make in that cell at Fossanova as he knelt before the Blessed Eucharist before receiving it as his Viaticum of eternal life! "The works of the Angelic Doctor," writes Leo XIII once more, "contain the doctrine which is most in conformity with what the Church teaches" (ibid., p. 280). His writings make it clear that this reverential assent was not confined only to the solemn and infallible teaching of the Councils and of the Supreme Pontiffs. An attitude, as truly edifying as this, deserves to be imitated by all who wish to be guided by the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium (no. 25).

  5. These three qualities mark the entire speculative effort of St. Thomas and make sure that its results are orthodox. It is for this reason that Pope Leo XIII, wishing to treat "of the method of teaching philosophical studies in such a way as shall most fitly correspond with the blessing of faith and be consonant with the respect due to the human sciences themselves" (Leonis XIII Acta, vol. 1, p. 256; Scanlan, p. 190), looked principally to St. Thomas as "leader and master of all the Doctors of the Schools" (ibid., p. 272).

    The immortal Pontiff recalled that the method, the principles and the teaching of Aquinas had, down the centuries, been especially favored not only by learned men but by the supreme teaching authority of the Church (cf. encycl. Aeterni Patris, loc., cit., pp. 274-277). If today also, he insisted, philosophical and theological reflection is not to rest on an "unstable foundation" which would make it "wavering and superficial" (ibid., p. 278), it will have to draw inspiration from the "golden wisdom" of St. Thomas in order to draw from it the light and vigor it needs to enter deeply into the meaning of what is revealed and to further the due progress of scientific endeavor (cf. ibid., p. 282).

    Now that a hundred years of the history of thought have passed we are able to appreciate how balanced and wise these appraisals were. With good reason, therefore, the Supreme Pontiffs who succeeded Leo XIII, and the Code of Canon Law itself (cf. can. 1366, par. 2) have repeated them and made them their own. The Second Vatican Council also, as we know, recommends the study and the teaching of the perennial philosophical heritage, of which the thought of the Angelic Doctor forms a notable part. (In this connection I would like to recall that Paul VI wanted an invitation to attend the Council to be sent to Jacques Maritain, one of the best known interpreters of Thomistic thought, intending also in this way to signify his high regard for the the Master of the Thirteenth Century and for a way of "doing philosophy" that is in keeping with the "signs of the times.") The Decree on priestly formation (Optatam totius), before it speaks of the need for teaching to take account of modern trends in philosophy, especially of "those which are most influential in the homeland of the candidates," requires that "philosophical subjects should be taught in such a way as to lead the students gradually to a solid and consistent knowledge of man, the world and God. The students should rely on that philosophical patrimony which is forever valid" (no. 15; Vatican Council II, ed. A. Flannery, O.P., Dublin, 1975, p. 718). In the Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimu-meducationis) we read: "By a careful attention to the current problems of these changing times and to the research being undertaken, the convergence of faith and reason in the one truth may be seen more clearly. This method follows the tradition of the Doctors of the Church and especially St. Thomas Aquinas" (no. 10; Flannery, p. 735). The words of the Council are clear: the Fathers saw that it is fundamental for the adequate formation of the clergy and of Christian youth that it preserve a close link with the cultural heritage of the past, and in particular with the thought of St. Thomas; and that this, in the long run, is a necessary condition for the longed-for renewal of the Church.

    There is no need for me to reaffirm here my intention to carry out fully what the Council has laid down, since I made this quite clear already in the homily which I delivered on October 17, 1978, shortly after my election to the Chair of Peter (cf. AAS, 70, 1978, pp. 921-923) and several times afterwards.

  6. I am very pleased, then, to find myself this evening among you, who fill the halls of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, drawn by his philosophical and theological teaching, just as great numbers of students from various nations surrounded the chair of the Dominican friar in the thirteenth century when he taught in the universities of Paris or of Naples or in the "Studium Curiae," or in the House of Studies of the Priory of Santa Sabina in Rome.

    The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism, characteristics which are hard to find in many trends of contemporary thought. What is meant is an openness to the whole of reality in all its parts and dimensions, without either reducing reality or confining thought to particular forms or aspects (and without turning singular aspects into absolutes), as intelligence demands in the name of objective and integral truth about what is real. Such openness is also a significant and distinctive mark of the Christian faith, whose specific countermark is its catholicity. The basis and source of this openness lie in the fact that the philosophy of St. Thomas is a philosophy of being, that is, of the "act of existing" (actus essendi)1I whose transcendental value paves the most direct way to rise to the knowledge of subsisting Being and pure Act, namely to God. On account of this we can even call this philosophy: the philosophy of the proclamation of being, a chant in praise of what exists.

    It is from this proclamation of being that the philosophy of St. Thomas derives its ability to grasp and to "affirm" all that shows itself to the human intellect (what is given by experience, in the widest sense) as a determinate existing being in all the inexhaustible richness of its content; that it derives its ability, in particular, to grasp and to "affirm" that "being" which is able to know itself, to be filled with wonder in itself, and above all to decide for itself and to fashion its own unrepeatable history.… St. Thomas is thinking of this "being" and of its dignity when he speaks of man as that which is "the most perfect thing in the whole of nature" (perfectissimum in tota natura: S. Th. I, q. 29, a. 3), a "person," requiring that it must be given exceptional and specific attention. This says all that is essential with regard to the dignity of the human being, even though much more still remains to be investigated in this field, one where the contribution of modern trends of philosophy can be helpful.

    It is also from this affirmation of being that the philosophy of St. Thomas draws its power to justify itself from the methodological point of view, as a branch of knowledge that cannot be reduced to anyother science whatever, and as one that transcends them all by establishing itself as independent of them and at the same time as bringing them to completion in regard to their true nature.

    Moreover, it is by reason of this affirmation of being that the philosophy of St. Thomas is able to, and indeed must, go beyond all that presents itself directly in knowledge as an existing thing (given through experience) in order to reach "that which subsists as sheer Existing" (ipsum Esse subsistens) and also creative Love; for it is this which provides the ultimate (and therefore necessary) explanation of the fact that "it is preferable to be than not to be" (potius est esse quam non esse) and, in particular, of the fact that we exist. "This existing itself," Aquinas tells us, "is the most common effect of all, prior and more intimate than any other effect; that is why such an effect is due to a power that, of itself, belongs to God alone" (Ipsum enim esse est communissimus effectus, primus et intimior omnibus aliis effectibus; et ideo soli Deo competit secundum virtutem, propriam talis effectus: QQ. DD. De Potentia, q. 3, a. 7, c).

    St. Thomas puts philosophy moving along lines set by this intuition, showing at the same time that only in this way does the intellect feel at ease (as it were "at home") and that, therefore, it can never abandon this way without abandoning itself.

    By maintaining that the proper object of metaphysics is reality "in so far as it is being" (sub ratione entis) St. Thomas pointed to that analogy which accompanies being as such, finding there the justification of the method for forming propositions dealing with the whole of reality and with the Absolute itself In so far as methodology is concerned it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this discovery for philosophical research, as indeed also for human knowledge in general.

    There is no need to stress the debt owed to this philosophy by theology itself, since it is nothing other than "faith seeking understanding" (Fides quaerens intellectum) or the "understanding of faith" (intellectus fidei). Not even theology, then, can abandon the philosophy of St. Thomas.

  7. Is it to be feared that by favoring the philosophy of St. Thomas one will undermine the right to exist that is enjoyed by different cultures or hinder the progress of human thought? Such a fear would clearly be groundless because the methodological principle invoked, above implies that whatever is real has its source in the "act of existing" (actus essendi)2; and because the perennial philosophy, by reason of that principle, can claim in advance, so to speak, all that is true in regard to reality. By the same token, every understanding of reality—which does in fact correspond to realityhas every right to be accepted by the "philosophy of being," no matter who is to be credited with such progress in understanding or to what philosophical school that person belongs. Hence, the other trends in philosophy, if regarded from this point of view, can and indeed should be treated as natural allies of the philosophy of St. Thomas, and as partners worthy of attention and respect in the dialogue that is carried on in the presence of reality. This is needed if truth is to be more than partial or one-sided. That is why the advice given by Saint Thomas to his followers in his "Letter on how to study" where he said: "look rather to what was said than to who it was that said it" (Ne respicias a quo sed quod dicitur), is so much in keeping with the spirit of his philosophy. That is also why I am so pleased that the program of studies in the Faculty of Philosophy in this university offers, besides the theoretical courses dealing with the thought of Aristotle and of St. Thomas, other courses such as: Science and Philosophy, Philosophical Anthropology, Physics and Philosophy, History of Modern Philoso-phy, the Phenomenological Movement, as required by the recent Apostolic Constitution Sapientia Christiana for Universities and Ecclesiastical Faculties (AAS 71, 1979, pp. 495-496).
  8. There is still one more reason why the philosophy of St. Thomas has enduring value: its prevailing characteristic is that it is always in search of the truth. In his commentary on Aristotle, his favorite philosopher, he writes: "Philosophy is not studied in order to find out what people may have thought but in order to discover what is true" (De Coelo et Mundo, I, lect. 22; ed. R. Spiazzi, no. 228: "Studium philosophiae non est ad hoc quod sciatur quid homines senserint, sed qualiter se habeat veritas). The reason why the philosophy of St. Thomas is pre-eminent is to be found in its realism and its objectivity: it is a philosophy "of what is, not of what appears," (de l'etre et non duparaitre). What makes the philosophy of the Angelic Doctor so wonderfully apt to be the "handmaid of faith" (ancilla fidei) is that it has gained possession of truths of the natural order, which have their origin in God the Creator, just as truths of the divine order have their source in God as revealing.

    This does not lessen the value of philosophy or unduly restrict its field of research; on the contrary, it allows it to develop in ways that human reason alone could not have discovered. Hence the Supreme Pontiff Pius XI of holy memory, issuing the Encyclical Studiorum ducem on the occasion of the sixth centenary of the canonization of St. Thomas, did not hesitate to declare: "In honoring St. Thomas something greater is involved than the reputation of St. Thomas, and that is the authority of the teaching Church" (In Thoma honorando maius quiddam quam Thomae ipsius existimatio vertitur, id est Ecclesiae docentis auctoritas; AAS 15; 1923, p. 324; English trans. Scanlan. loc. cit., p. 238).

  9. St. Thomas, because his "reason was enlightened by faith" (Vatican Council I, Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, ch. 4: DS. 3016), was in fact able to throw light also on problems concerning the Incarnate Word, "Savior of all men" (Prologue to Part III of the Summa Theologiae). These are the problems to which I referred in my first Encyclical Redemptor hominis, in which I spoke about Christ as "Redeemer of man and of the world, center of the universe and of history …, the chief way for the Church" for our return "to the Father's house" (nos. 1, 8, 13). This is a theme of the highest importance for the life of the Church and for Christian science. Is not Christology perhaps the basis and the first condition for working out a more complete anthropology such as is required by the needs of our day? We must not forget that, in fact, it is Christ alone who "reveals manfully to himself (cf. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, no. 22).

    St. Thomas has, moreover, shed the light of reason, purified and elevated by faith, on problems concerning man: on his nature as created to the image and likeness of God, on his personality as worthy of respect from the first moment of his conception, on his supernatural destiny as found in the beatific vision of God, One and Three. On this point we are indebted to St. Thomas for a precise and ever valid definition of that which constitutes man's essential greatness: "he has charge of himself (ipse est sibi providens; cf. Contra Gentiles, III, 81).

    Man is master of himself. He can make provision for himself and form projects towards fulfilling his destiny. This fact, however, taken by itself, does not settle the question of man's greatness, nor does it guarantee that he will be able, by himself, to reach the full perfection of personality. The only decisive factor here is that man should let himself be guided, in his actions, by the truth; and truth is not made by man; he can only discover it in the nature that is given to him along with existence. It is God who, as Creator, calls reality into being and, as Revealer, shows it forth ever more fully in Jesus Christ and in His Church. The Second Vatican Council, when it speaks of this self-providence of man "insofar as it involves knowing what is true" (sub ratione veri) as a "kingly ministry" (munus regale), goes to the heart of this intuition.

    This is the teaching which I set out to call to mind and bring up to date in the Encyclical Redemptor hominis, by drawing attention to man as "the primary and fundamental way for the Church" (no. 14).

  10. I must add one last word at the end of these reflections which, of necessity, have to be brief. It concerns the thought with which Leo XIII ends his Aeterni Patris. "Let us follow the example of the Angelic Doctor" (Leonis XIII, Acta, loc. cit., p. 283) is what he advises. That is what I also repeat this evening. This advice is indeed fully justified by the witness which he gave by his manner of living and which gave force to what he said as a teacher. He had indeed the technical mastery befitting a teacher, but, prior to this, his manner of teaching was that of a saint who lives the Gospel fully, of one for whom love is everything: love of God, the primal source of all truth; love of one's neighbor, God's masterpiece; love of all created things, for these also are precious caskets full of the treasures which God has poured into them.

If we look for the driving force behind his commitment to a life of study, the secret urge which led him to consecrate himself through a total dedication, we find it in his own words: "All things issue from charity as from a principle, and all things are ordered towards charity as to an end" (A caritate omnia procedunt sicut a principio et in caritatem omnia ordinantur sicut in finem: In John, XV, 2). And in fact the huge intellectual effort of this master of thought was stimulated, sustained and given direction by a heart full of the love of God and of his neighbor. "The knowledge of what is true is given by the fervor of love" (Per ardorem caritatis datur cognitio veritatis: ibid., V, 6). These words could be taken as his motto. They allow us to perceive, behind the thinker able to rise to the loftiest heights of speculation, the mystic accustomed to going straight to the very fountain of all truth to find the answer to the deepest questionings of the human spirit. Did not he himself tell us that he never wrote anything nor gave class unless he had first had recourse to prayer?

One who approaches St. Thomas cannot set aside this witness which comes from his life; he must rather follow courageously the path traced out by him and bind himself to follow his example if he would wish to taste the most secret and savory fruits of his teaching. This is the burden of the prayer which the liturgy places on our lips on his feastday: "O God, since it was by Your gift that St. Thomas became so great a saint and theologian, give us the grace to understand his teaching and follow his way of life."

This is also what we ask from the Lord this evening, as we entrust our prayer to the intercession of "Master Thomas" himself, a master who was deeply human because he was deeply Christian, and precisely because he was so deeply Christian was so deeply human.


1(Translator's note). No literal English rendering could convey the meaning which this technical Latin expression—or its equivalent esse ut actus—had for Saint Thomas, and presumablyretains for Pope John Paul. It does not refer to the mere fact of existing, of "being there," especially if this is taken in a spatial or temporal sense. The meaning of the Latin esse is not properly expressed by the infinitive "to be," for this may refer only to the function of the copula in a proposition. Nor is the abstract term "existence" adequate, for we are dealing with the most concrete of all realities. "Actual existing," or "actual be-ing," come closer to the meaning intended; but to avoid the connotation either of "existence" or of "being" which can be taken in a substantive sense, it might be advisable to coin the active and concrete word "is-ing." What St. Thomas has in mind is the most actual of all actualities, the most perfect of all perfections, the inmost principle and source of all the actuality, perfection, reality, and indeed also of the know-ability of anything that is. It is esse in this metaphysical sense which makes anything be, and be real; it is the immediate source of the reality and perfection of all things. This may help the reader to appreciate the Pope's insistence on this insight, so central in the thought of St. Thomas, and the implications which he draws from it in nos. 6 and 7 of his discourse.


Arvin Vos (essay date 1985)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8414

SOURCE: "Faith as Knowledge, Faith as Belief: Calvin vs. Aquinas" in Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought, Christian University Press, 1985, pp. 1-20.

[In the following excerpt, Vos contends that the seemingly diametrical differences between Calvin's and Aquinas's positions on the nature of faith are not substantive but the result of ambiguous terminology.]

Among Protestants today Thomas Aquinas is best known for his natural theology, specifically the famous Five Ways found in the second question of the Summa Theologiae. Indeed, for many Protestants this is the only part of Aquinas's writings known with a firsthand acquaintance. By contrast, they know little of his much more extensive discussions of faith, despite the fact that this discussion is at least as, if not more, essential to his position. Two factors have contributed to this imbalance.

On the one hand, treatments of Aquinas's writings have traditionally given his proofs for God's existence a disproportionate amount of attention. Throughout modern and contemporary philosophy—from Descartes to Plantinga—proofs for God's existence have been the focus of study as issues of more narrowly philosophical rather than theological interest. In the context of these philosophical discussions Aquinas's proofs have been excerpted and examined in great detail. It is in this fashion that his natural theology has acquired a history and development of its own quite apart from his exposition of what he called sacred or revealed theology.

On the other hand, there has not been a commensurate close study of Aquinas's writings among Protestant theologians. The Protestant Reformation was, among other things, a reaction to the late Medieval church and a return to the Church Fathers. The sixteenth-century Reformers were highly critical of the doctrine of faith espoused by their Catholic contemporaries, the Schoolmen (the Catholic theologians at the various universities). By and large, later generations of Protestants seem simply to have taken the criticisms of the Reformers as the final word and assumed that they would not be likely to find anything of permanent worth in the Schoolmen's teaching on faith—including the teaching of Aquinas. And so today Aquinas's views on faith are practically unknown among Protestants.

In order to assess Aquinas's view of faith fairly, then, we will do well to call into question some of these assumptions from, and concerning, the past. John Calvin provides a good test case, for he was a vigorous opponent of the teachings of the Schoolmen. In his own discussion of faith he is very explicit about his disagreements with them. It is my contention, however, that his disagreement with Aquinas is more a matter of terminology than of substance.

1. Calvin vs. the Schoolmen

In the opening section of the chapter on faith in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin indicates why a detailed investigation of faith is so necessary: "We must scrutinize and investigate the true character of faith with greater care and zeal because many are dangerously deluded today in this respect" (3.2.1). For Calvin this delusion had a very specific source. The people were being misled by none other than those who professed to be the teachers in Christendom, the Schoolmen. It is the Schoolmen, he charges, who call into question the view that faith is knowledge; it is the Schoolmen who "have fabricated the fiction of 'implicit faith'" (3.2.2); it is the Schoolmen who employ "that worthless distinction between formed and unformed faith" (3.2.8). The effect of their teaching, he argues, is not to explain but to obscure faith—indeed, almost to annihilate it. As a Reformer, Calvin defines many of his own positions precisely in contradistinction to those of the Schoolmen.

When reading Calvin's exposition today, one is naturally inclined to assume that what he wrote about the Schoolmen can without qualification be applied to Aquinas. Aquinas was, after all, a master in the schools. He regarded faith as a species of belief rather than of knowledge, he defended the notion of implicit faith, and he distinguished between formed and unformed faith. In fact every position Calvin attacks seems to have been upheld by Aquinas. Without doubt, the most important disagreement between the two concerns faith and knowledge: Is faith a knowledge of God or is it not? Calvin says it is; Aquinas denies it. I would like to suggest, however, that their disagreement is a matter not of substance but of terminology—specifically, that they have in mind different meanings when they use the verb to know.

Often I say that I know something merely because I am sure about it, because there is no doubt in my mind, as when I say, "I know that Los Angeles is a city in California." At other times I use know to indicate that I understand or comprehend a matter, as when I say, "I know that the sum of the interior angles of a triangle is equal to a straight angle," because I can produce the relevant proof. Both usages are found in ordinary, everyday speech. Sometimes our comprehension of a matter is the basis of our certainty, but often we are certain without possessing a corresponding comprehension, as when we are firm in our conviction merely because we accept the word of a reliable authority. This latter usage is more common than we might suspect. Most people, for instance, think of the scientific information they have picked up as knowledge even though they are not themselves able to explain it. We say thatwe know that water is H2O even though we may not have the least idea about how to go about the chemical analysis that would justify this claim. This is knowing in the sense of being certain even though lacking comprehension.

The ambiguity of the verb to know is not new. It was noted already by Augustine, whose writings were well known to both Calvin and Aquinas. In The Retractations, Augustine states that when he said, "What we understand we owe to reason, what we believe to authority," he was speaking precisely but not excluding common usage. He did not intend to criticize "more familiar conversation," so that "we should be afraid to say that we know we believe on the authority of competent witnesses." Both uses are legitimate so long as they are not confused:

In truth, when we speak precisely, we mean that we know only what we grasp with the sound reason of mind. But when we use words better suited to common usage, as, indeed, Holy Scripture uses them, we should not hesitate to say that we know both what we perceive with our bodily senses and what we believe on the authority of trustworthy witnesses, provided, however, that we understand the difference between them.(1. 13, 3)

Augustine's categories are almost identical to those already given. We can say that what is grasped with the "sound reason of mind" is comprehended, but in common usage we also say that we "know" what we believe "on the authority of witnesses." This ambiguity is immediately relevant to our discussion of faith. When Calvin argues that faith is a knowledge of God, he is, I shall argue, following the common usage and using certitude as the criterion of knowledge—a certitude grounded in a reliable authority. By contrast, Aquinas is using comprehension as the criterion of knowledge when he denies that faith is knowledge. Consequently, Calvin's "firm and certain knowledge" is in substance identical with Aquinas's view that faith is a firm belief.

2. Faith as Knowledge

Calvin defines faith as "a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit" (Inst., 3.2.7). Among the elements in this definition the most crucial is the claim that faith is a firm and certain knowledge. Calvin appropriately describes the nature of this knowledge in detail, specifically noting that it is a matter of "assurance rather than comprehension" (Inst., 3.2.14). This distinction between assurance and comprehension is surprising and even puzzling at first sight. By assurance Calvin means what we often call "certitude," and by comprehension he means "understanding" in its common usage. Typically we become certain about a matter when we understand it: assurance follows upon comprehension. For example, when I understand that multiplying six times six is simply adding six sixes, then I become certain that the sum is thirty-six. But faith is unlike the typical case of knowing, Calvin says: it lacks the element of comprehension. "When we call faith 'knowledge' we do not mean comprehension of the sort that is commonly concerned with those things which fall under human sense perception," he notes (Inst., 3.2.14). There is a kind of comprehension in our grasp of sensible things that is not found in the case of faith. To discover the exact nature of this difference, we need to examine Calvin's view of our comprehension of sensible things.

Although man's understanding has been corrupted through sin, he contends, it is still able to understand earthly things. When mankind turns its attention to "things below," to "'earthly things,' … which do not pertain to God or his Kingdom, to true justice, or to the blessedness of the future life" (Inst., 2.2.13), then it often accomplishes a great deal, as can be seen in the achievements of the pagans in the arts, sciences, and civil order. It is investigations in these areas that Calvin has in mind when he speaks of the comprehension of the things that are accessible to human sense perception.

But although Calvin identifies where knowledge characterized by comprehension is to be found, he does not describe its character. He comments that in both the arts and sciences "all of us have a certain aptitude" (Inst., 2.2.14). He maintains that the ability to learn from our predecessors and even to go beyond them does not occur because of recollection, as Plato suggested; rather it is an indication of a capacity "inborn in human nature" (Inst., 2.2.14). Beyond this Calvin gives no account of how the understanding operates, and hence no further elucidation of what is meant by "comprehension." Like others trained in the Humanist tradition, he has no clearly articulated theory of science. One looks in vain in his writings for discussions of the principles or methods of the sciences or their relations to one another. For Calvin, the situation with the arts and sciences is sufficiently clear. Some people simply have an understanding in such areas; they readily grasp what is going on. Because they comprehend, they can explain; those who comprehend have knowledge. It is this ordinary, intuitive meaning of knowledge, which Calvin suggests is typical of the knowledge we have in the various arts and sciences, that he says is lacking in the case of faith. But if comprehension is not the basis of assurance or certitude, then what is?

Calvin asserts that a believer possesses assurance because in faith man's mind is raised above itself: "For faith is so far above sense that man's mind has to go beyond and rise above itself in order to attain it" (Inst., 3.2.14). This is true for Calvin with regard to both its content and its method. Human beings are generally more expert in sciences and arts because they are more closely related to the senses—the body is much easier to study than the soul, physics is easier to study than philosophy, and so on. Faith deals with "heavenly things" as opposed to earthly things—that is, with "the pure knowledge of God, the nature of true righteousness, and the mysteries of the Heavenly Kingdom" (Inst., 2.2.13). These things are not only beyond sense but also beyond, or above, the mind itself.

If we focus only on the content of faith, however, we will not grasp Calvin's meaning fully. The mind has to rise above itself not only in what it considers, but also in its manner of consideration. Faith is a higher form of knowledge in its mode of operation as well as in its object. Indeed, this is the central point in Calvin's explanation. In faith the mind attains but "does not comprehend what it feels. But while it is persuaded of what it does not grasp, by the very certainty of its persuasion it understands more than if it perceived anything human by its own capacity" (Inst., 3.2.14). Hence Paul's description of faith as the power to comprehend the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Eph. 3:18-19) and Calvin's assertion that it is a "kind of knowledge … more lofty than all understanding."

If one thinks of comprehension as the basis of the certitude of knowledge, then these statements of Calvin are puzzling if not nonsensical. Understanding and rational proof are the means by which we usually measure our comprehension of a matter and hence our conviction as to whether we possess knowledge. Calvin holds that comprehension is lacking in faith but that faith consists in certain knowledge nonetheless. Clearly he must be employing another criterion for knowledge thancomprehension. Two points in Calvin's explanation support this interpretation. The first is that he explicitly holds that knowledge goes beyond comprehension. To put the matter another way, if the criterion for faith as knowledge is assurance independent of comprehension, then limitations in the comprehension of faith should not affect its status as knowledge. So it is for Calvin:

We see that the mind, illumined by the knowledge of God, is at first wrapped up in much ignorance, which is gradually dispelled. Yet, by being ignorant of certain things, or by rather obscurely discerning what it does discern, the mind is not hindered from enjoying a clear knowledge of the divine will toward itself. For what it discerns comprises the first and principal parts in faith. (Inst., 3.2.19)

If the certitude of faith is not rooted in comprehension, then what is its basis? The second point in Calvin's discussion is that for him faith consists in far more than illumination of the mind: "Our mind has such an inclination to vanity that it can never cleave fast to the truth of God; and it has such a dullness that it is always blind to the light of God's truth" (Inst., 3.2.33). So the Spirit must illumine the human mind. For Calvin this is linked directly to the fact that faith is more than understanding: "Faith is much higher than human understanding. And it will not be enough for the mind to be illumined by the Spirit of God unless the heart is also strengthened and supported by his power" (Inst., 3.2.33). Faith involves a change in both heart and mind.

In the mind, faith consists in acceptance of the promise of "such things as neither eye can see nor understanding grasp," of the "heavenly mysteries" (Inst., 3.2.34). Man must renounce his reliance on his own ability to understand: "Man's discernment is so overwhelmed and so fails that the first degree of advancement in the school of the Lord is to renounce it" (Inst., 3.2.34). Faith is a bowing of the intellect to a higher power, but it is also much more. It is a matter of the heart: "It now remains to pour into the heart itself what the mind has absorbed. For the Word of God is not received by faith if it flits about in the top of the brain, but when it takes root in the depth of the heart" (Inst., 3.2.36).

According to Calvin, the change of the heart requires more power than the illumination of the mind: "The heart's distrust is greater than the mind's blindness. It is harder for the heart to be furnished with assurance than for the mind to be endowed with thought" (Inst., 3.2.36). Since faith involves a change of heart, it requires more than new or greater understanding and memory; it affects the whole soul (Inst., 3.6.4). What enters the heart passes into daily living and so transforms all of life.

While in the discussion of faith Calvin speaks of the changes in "heart and mind," elsewhere he indicates that understanding and will are the two basic faculties of the soul (e.g., Inst., 1.15.7). So we can assume that as "mind" is a synonym for "understanding," so "heart" is a synonym for "will." Calvin uses the term heart as it appears in the Old Testament text, but he has no qualms about replacing it with the term will in his own text. The switch from will to heart and back to will again in the following passage is typical:

In order that no one should make an excuse that good is initiated by the Lord to help the will which by itself is weak, the Spirit elsewhere declares what the will, left to itself, is capable of doing: "A new heart shall I give you, and will put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh, and give you a heart of flesh. And I shall put my spirit within you, and causeyou to walk in my statutes" [Ezek. 36:26-27]. Who shall say that the infirmity of the human will is strengthened by his help in order that it may aspire effectively to the choice of good, when it must rather be wholly transformed and renewed? (Inst., 2.3.6)

Thus we can see that when Calvin speaks of faith taking root in the depths of the heart he is indicating that the truth revealed by God must so move the will that an individual's entire being—the understanding in addition to all the other powers—is turned toward God. The effect of this action of the will on the understanding is that one becomes assured of God's goodwill even though one is not able to comprehend it.

Two other matters must be noted in order to round out our examination of Calvin's understanding of faith—one more point about his definition of the term, and a brief note about his understanding of the content of faith. First, the additional point about his definition: if assurance or certitude is the determining characteristic of faith as knowledge as he asserts, then it is redundant to describe it as he does. Speaking of "certain knowledge" is like speaking of a "round circle." Calvin, however, explains his purpose: "We add the words 'sure and firm' in order to express a more solid constancy of persuasion" (Inst., 3.2.15). In spite of the redundancy it may involve, Calvin is determined to underscore the fact that faith is in no way to be confused with opinion. The caution is perhaps in order, for normally when we hold to a position that is not grounded on comprehension, it is precisely what we call an opinion.

For Calvin faith is just the opposite of opinion. He maintains that believers become possessors of the heavenly kingdom through faith, and "no mere opinion or even persuasion is capable of bringing so great a thing to pass" (Inst., 3.2.1). Again, "faith is not content with a doubtful and changeable opinion"; rather, it is characteristically bold. This is why "the word 'faith' is very often used for confidence" (Inst., 3.2.15). So Calvin's intent in describing faith as "firm and certain knowledge" is to underscore the way it differs from opinion.

If confidence and boldness are the hallmarks of faith, one might suspect that Calvin is presenting a kind of triumphalism, suggesting that true Christians never have doubts. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Calvin declares that believers constantly have to struggle with their own unbelief: "While we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety" (Inst., 3.2.17). If believers are anxious rather than certain, it is because their faith is not yet perfect. In this life they are not completely cured of unbelief, but this imperfection is not a part of the faith itself. Faith is a firm and sure knowledge.

Second, in his definition Calvin gives a brief account of the content of faith and how it comes to us when he says that faith consists in a knowledge of "God's benevolence toward us." In explaining this matter Calvin begins by relating faith to Scripture: "There is a permanent relationship between faith and the Word" (Inst., 3.2.6). They are in fact inseparable. Reflecting upon the Apostle Paul's account of faith and the Word, Calvin says that "he could not separate one from the other any more than we could separate the rays from the sun from which they come" (Inst., 3.2.6). He is using "Word" to refer not just to the Bible but to all the ways in which God has revealed himself to mankind, the most notable instance of which is Christ. Calvin notes that it is not enough merely to have a knowledge of God's will for us; it is when we also become aware of his mercy that we are attracted to him, and his mercy is most clearly exemplified in the works of Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth about Christ and convinces us of it. Word and Spirit work together so that both mind and heart are changed. Calvin's insistence that faith consists of a knowledge of God's benevolence to mankind is a manifestation of a concern evident throughout his writings—namely, that we should avoid what he calls "empty speculation" as a pathway to God:

The most perfect way of seeking God, and the most suitable order, is not for us to attempt with bold curiosity to penetrate to the investigation of his essence, which we ought more to adore than meticulously to search out, but for us to contemplate him in his works whereby he renders himself near and familiar to us, and in some manner communicates himself (Inst, 1.5.9)

Faith as he defines it clearly observes this rule.

To sum up, when we examine Calvin's explanation of his claim that faith is a firm and certain knowledge we find that he holds that it consists more in assurance than in comprehension, that it is more of the heart than of the mind. While it is not without intellectual content, its content is not comprehended. Believers are persuaded of what they do not grasp because the Spirit has changed their heart. Believers are especially assured about the life to come (see Inst., 3.2.28), but they cannot say exactly what it will be like. The content of faith is rooted in the Word of God and this Word takes hold in man because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

3. Faith as Thinking with Assent

Like Calvin, Aquinas presents a definition of faith. Characteristically, he derives it from Augustine, altering the form to fix its meaning in terms of contemporary categories. In the thirteenth century this meant setting the act of believing in the context of other intellectual operations, especially in relation to those of the sciences. We would say he sets it in relation to other mental acts, since he speaks in terms of "intellectual operations." As we have already seen, Calvin alludes only briefly to the contrast between faith and mankind's knowledge of the arts and sciences. Aquinas analyzes in more detail the different intellectual acts that constitute the basis for the contrast to which Calvin alludes.

According to Aquinas, faith's inner act is to believe, just as its outer act is to confess. Both in the Questions on Truth and in the Summa Theologiae he uses Augustine's definition of the inner act—belief—as the means to present his own position. In what follows I will outline the briefer discussion of the Summa.

According to Augustine, to believe is to think with assent (cum assentione cogitare). Aquinas fixes the meaning of this statement by noting that the verb to think (cogitare) refers not to just any act of intellectual knowing, but in the narrower sense to an act of intellectual consideration "that is accompanied by a certain searching prior to reaching complete understanding in the certitude of seeing." Again, "in this more proper sense cogitatio describes the process of the mind searching before reaching its term in the full vision of a truth" (ST, 2a2ae. 2, 1). It is, in other words, the state in which one is reasoning, puzzling, pondering, unable to come to a conclusion.

The state of mind Aquinas is specifying is familiar to all of us. We experience it every time we come up against something we do not understand that poses a problem for us. Although Aquinas makes no reference to Plato's dialogues, many of them were written to produce just this state of mind. In the Meno, for example, Socrates generates just such puzzlement in the slave boy when he asks him to determine how much the length of a side of a given square will increase when its area is doubled. Before Socrates asked the question, the slave boy was not puzzled about the matter; nor was he puzzled once he finally solved it. But while he was searching for the answer, he experienced the state of mind that Aquinas says is relevant for the analysis of belief.

In the same way that Aquinas associates belief with the state of puzzlement one experiences while searching for the answer to a question, he associates knowledge with the freedom from puzzlement that comes when one has finally found the answer to the question. Knowledge for Aquinas entails the possession of a firm assent, free from pondering. He points out the practical value of making this distinction when he cites a passage from De Trinitate (15.16), in which Augustine suggests that it is significant that Christ is called the Word of God rather than the thought of God because there is in the meaning of the word thought an incompleteness that is inappropriate in references to God the Son. Word by contrast indicates a completeness: "In our case thought, as reaching what we know and being shaped by it, is our word. Thus the Word of God must be understood as being without thought (cogitatio), there being no passivity to being formed, no possible incompleteness' (ST, 2a2ae. 2, 1). Thinking manifests an incompleteness; by definition it entails that the mind has not yet been able to come to rest. By contrast, when one knows, then puzzlement, pondering, questioning, and the like cease. Of course puzzlement may cease for other reasons as well—one may be tired or distracted for instance—but for our present purposes we can set these other reasons aside. It will suffice merely to distinguish knowledge from belief.

Given that belief involves a sort of pondering and does not cease, one might suppose that it is like two other states of mind—namely, doubting and having an opinion—since both of these states also involve a failure of the mind to reach a firm assent. To doubt is to be unsure about two or more alternatives so that one leans toward neither. To have an opinion is to lean tentatively toward one alternative, without being able to rule out others. According to Aquinas, however, faith is unlike both doubt and opinion because it involves certainty of a sort. Believers have a firm certitude about what they believe even though they continue to ponder in a fashion similar to that of those who doubt or have an opinion:

The act of believing … is firmly attached to one alternative and in this respect the believer is in the same state of mind as one who has science or understanding. Yet the believer's knowledge is not completed by a clear vision, and in this respect he is like one having a doubt, a suspicion, or an opinion. To ponder with assent is, then, distinctive of the believer. (ST, 2a2ae. 2, 1)

The believer gives assent like one who has clear vision (i.e., like one who understands), but does so without having such vision. Naturally this raises a question: On what is the believer's assent based if it is not based on understanding? Aquinas's answer is that this assent is based on a voluntary choice:

There are two ways in which the mind assents to anything. One way is by being actuated bythe object to which it assents.… The other way the mind assents is not through a sufficient motivation by its proper object, but through some voluntary choice that influences the mind in favor of one alternative rather than the other. (ST, 2a2ae. 1, 4)

When one's understanding of an object does not provide a sufficient basis for assent, Aquinas says, the mind can assent by an act of the will. It is this sort of assent that constitutes faith.

Aquinas goes on to suggest that there are three distinct aspects to faith as it relates to God: believing in God (credere deum), believing God (credere deo), and believing unto God (credere in deum). Given that faith is an act in which the intellect is moved to assent by the will, a full consideration of this act requires that one consider "the object of faith … viewed in its reference to mind and in its reference to will as prompting the mind" (ST, 2a2ae. 2, 2). In relation to the mind, faith has both a material and a formal aspect—that is, it has a content, and there is a reason why this content is accepted. This yields the three aspects just mentioned: believing in God is the material is the material aspect; believing God is the formal aspect; and believing unto God indicates the relation of faith to the will.

First, the material object of faith—believing in God. Faith holds to truths about God. He is the reality with which it is concerned first and foremost. According to Aquinas, the content of faith consists of the belief that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him (see ST, 2a2ae. 1, 7). That Aquinas relates faith directly to God is not surprising, but some question might arise concerning the many other things that Christians believe, such as the biblical record concerning historical events, miracles, and the like. According to Aquinas such things are matters of faith, but only because they bear "some relationship to God" (ST, 2a2ae. 2, 2). In general, he says, what is contained in the creeds (i.e., the articles of faith) is essentially related to faith, whereas "the contents of Scripture handed down by God—e.g., that Abraham had two sons, that David was the son of Jesse and other matters of the sort" are related incidentally or secondarily to faith (see ST, la. 1, 7; and 2a2ae. 1, 6).

Second, there is the formal object of faith, what Aquinas calls "the medium because of which we assent to such and such a point of faith" (ST, 2a2ae. 2, 2 [Pegis translation]). The point of specifying the formal object is necessary because there can be different means of coming to the same conclusion. For instance, I might say that it is going to rain either because I have heard the latest severe thunderstorm warning on the radio or because I have been observing the storm clouds developing and moving in my direction. Aquinas routinely cites as an example the conclusion of both the physicists and astronomers of his day that the earth is round—the physicists basing their conclusion on the study of falling bodies, and the astronomers utilizing evidence supplied by eclipses of the moon. Each science has its own formal object, the facet of reality which it studies and upon which it bases its conclusions. The problem here is to specify what basis theology has. Aquinas suggests that Christians believe because of the "first truth"—that is, they believe God himself:

There is the formal objective, which serves as the medium for assenting to the material objective; in this respect the act of faith is described as believing God, since … the formal objective is the first truth to whom a person holds fast, assenting to what is believed because of the first truth. (ST, 2a2ae. 2, 2)

God is not only that which is known, the material object of faith; he is also the medium through which faith's material object is known, the formal object of faith. Aquinas explains that by this he means that "faith … assents to anything only because it is revealed by God, and so faith rests upon the divine truth itself as the medium of its assent" (ST, 2a2ae. 1, 1). All of this is to say that for Aquinas faith is grounded in God's own self-revelation.

This argument is not, however, without its perplexing elements. It would seem obvious that we have to have some knowledge about God before we will be able to trust him (i.e., it seems that the material object of faith has to be prior to the formal object of faith). But Aquinas has said that one believes in God because one holds fast to God. We will be able to make more sense of his position if we understand that what he is really suggesting is simply that the soul does not hold to God through its own power. Its "intelligible light" is supplemented by the light of faith. The contrast we have observed in Calvin is operative here also:

The human intellect has a form, namely the intelligible light itself, which is sufficient of itself for the knowledge of certain intelligible realities, those, namely, acquaintance with which it can reach by way of sensible realities. But the human intellect cannot know more profound intelligible realities unless it is perfected by a stronger light, say the light of faith or prophecy; and this is called the light of grace, inasmuch as it supplements nature. (ST, 1a2ae. 109, 1)

The second thing to observe is that at the beginning faith consists almost entirely of trust. Believers are incapable of evaluating either the content of their belief or the authority being believed. In some ways it is like the situation of a student and teacher. Aristotle said that "every learner must first be a believer." Aquinas adds, "Thus in order that a person come to the full, beatific vision, the first requisite is that he believe God, as a learner believing the master teaching him" (ST, 2a2ae. 2, 3). Such believing is not grounded on a prior knowledge but rooted in a manner that exceeds the believer's natural powers.

The student-teacher analogy has its limits, of course. Usually students will know a teacher as a person in some broader context, and this additional background information will help to provide some sort of a basis for the trust they manifest in putting themselves in the teacher's hands. There does not seem to be any analogue for this in the act of faith. Moreover, although the fact that students can rely on others for an evaluation of a teacher whom they cannot evaluate themselves does have a kind of parallel in the fact that the believer has the church as a witnessing community with its preaching and reports of miracles, faith nevertheless remains unique to the extent that what is believed is ultimately beyond the scope of human reason: only God, the angels, and the blessed are in full possession of the knowledge in question.

Aquinas's claim that God is the formal object of faith has been made in a slightly different way by a number of twentieth-century Protestant theologians, most notably Karl Barth, who has insisted that God must always remain the subject—the one who speaks—and never become an object in theology. Theologians must listen to God, nor can they ever free themselves from this demand. We can presume that Aquinas would have agreed with the substance of Barth's claim, but he would have bridled at the epistemological assumption that Barth seems to accept—namely, that a self-revealing subject cannot become an object. A faulty notion of objectivity is at the root of the problem. If it is the case that inattaining objectivity the mind constitutes the object rather than conforms itself to it, then God cannot become an object. For Aquinas, however, nothing of the sort is involved. For him it is precisely by holding fast to the first principle, God himself, that one arrives at the content, the material object, of theology.

The uniqueness of the formal object of theology should have implications for the way in which theology is done, and Aquinas outlines them in some detail. That faith is not merely about God but a listening to God, as Calvin and Barth would say, is evident in Aquinas's view that sacred theology is sui generis: "What is peculiar to this science's knowledge is that it is about truth which comes through revelation, not through natural reasoning" (ST, la. 1, 6 ad 2m). The other sciences, one and all, have their root in what can be grasped by the natural light of reason: "The premises of other sciences are either self-evident, in which case they cannot be proved, or they are proved through some natural evidence in some other science" (ST, la. 1, 6 ad 2m). But faith can in no way be traced back to some such knowledge: "Holy teaching assumes its principles from no human science, but from divine science …" (ST, Ia. 1, 6 ad Im). It is founded on God's knowledge, which we are enabled to know because it has been revealed by God.

What this means in practice is that it is appropriate to argue from authority in this science. Although authority is the weakest argument in the other sciences, in sacred teaching it is the strongest:

Argument from authority is the method most appropriate to this teaching in that its premises are held through revelation; consequently it has to accept the authority of those to whom revelation was made. Nor does this derogate from its dignity, for though weakest when based on what human beings have disclosed, the argument from authority is most forcible when based on what God has disclosed. (ST, la. 1, 8 ad 2m)

In the same response Aquinas specifies where this revelation is to be found: "Our faith rests on the revelation made to the Prophets and Apostles who wrote the canonical books" (ST, la. 1, 8 ad 2m). By contrast, the "doctors of the church" are proper authorities to whom the church looks as its own, although their arguments are no more than probable. Finally, "the authority of the philosophers who have been able to perceive the truth by natural reasoning" is extrinsic; "holy teaching employs such authorities only in order to provide as it were extraneous arguments from probability" (ST, la. 1, 8 ad 2m).

To say that God is the formal object of faith indicates why—that is, on what basis—one believes. It also determines the method of theology. More precisely, it determines where theology is to seek its material object or content: in the canonical books first of all. They constitute the foundation. The Fathers and philosophers are, by comparison, merely useful aids.

Finally, there is the third aspect of faith, which is a matter of the influence of the will on the mind. Aquinas writes, "The act of faith is described as believing unto God, since the first truth as having the quality of end engages the will" (ST, 2a2ae. 2, 2). For Aquinas faith is an act of the intellect, for its goal is truth. However, the intellect is moved to this act "under the impetus of the will moving it to assent" (ST, 2a2ae. 4, 2). Simply put, in the act of faith "the mind assents to matters of belief by reason of the will's command" (ST, 2a2ae. 4, 2 ad Im). As with all other voluntary acts, faith isshaped by its end. In light of this, Aquinas states that charity completes and shapes faith, that faith becomes a virtue only as it is shaped by love. Where love is lacking there may be a formless faith, but such faith is not a virtue.

There is one more related matter. Granted that the act of faith consists in the will moving the intellect, the source of this movement remains in question. Calvin, as we have seen, attributes it to God. The matter is of more than passing interest, since many Protestants are convinced that Catholics tend to be Pelagian at this point, making man the origin of the movement of the will. Aquinas's position is clear: assent is the principal element in the act of faith, and it has no other origin than God.

As to assent to matters of faith, we can look to two types of cause. One is a cause that persuades from without, e.g. a miracle witnessed or a human appeal urging belief. No such cause is enough, however; one man believes and another does not, when both have seen the same miracle, heard the samne preaching. Another kind of cause must therefore be present, an inner cause, one that influences a person inwardly to assent to the things of faith. The Pelagians thought this cause to be free will alone and therefore taught that the beginning of faith is from us, i.e. that it is from our own resources that we are ready to assent to matters of faith, and that the finishing of faith is from God, i.e. that it is he who proposes the things we must believe. This is a false doctrine. The reason: since in assenting to the things of faith a person is raised above his own nature, he has this assent from a supernatural source influencing him; this source is God. The assent of faith, which is its principal act, therefore, has as its cause God, moving us inwardly through grace. (ST, 2a2ae. 6, 1)

Since God is the cause of faith, this faith is for Aquinas a supernatural act. He maintains that both what is believed and the power to believe are from God, for they go beyond the capacity of the natural power of the human intellect.

4. Comparisons and Contrasts

Enough has been said to permit a comparison of the views of Calvin and Aquinas on the nature of faith. Calvin holds that faith is a firm and certain knowledge of God's benevolence toward us, and that knowledge consists more in assurance than in understanding. The comprehension of faith is not like the comprehension we have of things grasped by sense perception. Its content is not obscure or confused, yet neither is it complete. If faith is a firm and certain knowledge, it is because it possesses assurance—a full and fixed certainty that we are accustomed to having of things experienced and proved. Calvin sums up his position succinctly: "The knowledge of faith consists in assurance rather than in comprehension" (Inst., 3.2.14).

In examining Aquinas's position, we found that he holds that faith is an act of believing, of thinking with assent. One who believes has a firm certitude about the content of faith, but continues to puzzle and ponder. Faith lacks complete intellectual clarity. Thus, believing is distinguished from understanding, and it is only the one who understands or sees who has knowledge, a clear vision.

At first sight, then, it appears that Aquinas is taking a position directly opposed to that of Calvin. He denies that faith is knowledge, whereas Calvin insists that it is knowledge. However, when we examine Aquinas's analysis of belief, we find that it has the same character Calvin attributes to theknowledge of faith. Aquinas states that in the act of faith the intellect never comes to rest, never reaches the point where it is satisfied; the content of faith is never fully grasped in this life.

Nevertheless, for Aquinas faith possesses a firm and sure assent because its assent is rooted not in the intellect but rather in the will. He points to assent as the principal act of faith, and says that it is firm and certain even though the intellect in its effort to comprehend remains unsatisfied.

As can be seen, both Calvin and Aquinas point to the important role the will plays in the act of faith. Calvin speaks of faith as involving a change of heart; faith, he says, is more of the heart than of the brain, and heart is a term he uses interchangeably with will. Aquinas similarly affirms that it is the will that has the decisive role in the assent of faith. Both theologians see such a change of the will as being a work of God. For Calvin faith is the principal work of the Spirit, a supernatural gift. As we have seen, it is no less true for Aquinas that faith is created in us by God and not by ourselves.

With regard to the relation between faith and Scripture, there is a similar parallel. In striking fashion Calvin affirms that faith depends upon God's word as found in Scripture, for it is nourished only where God reveals himself. For Aquinas it is the same: sacred teaching depends upon authority, and that authority is found in the canonical books.

Nor does there seem to be any substantive difference with regard to the content of faith. Calvin says that faith is concerned with a knowledge of God's benevolence toward us. Aquinas concurs with this emphasis when he cites Hebrews 11:6 as an expression of the sum and substance of faith. On the other hand, it is also true that Calvin makes reference to all three persons of the Trinity in his definition of faith, whereas Aquinas postpones his consideration of this aspect to his discussion of the articles of faith.

My primary concern has been to determine whether there is a substantive difference between Calvin and Aquinas in their views of the nature of faith, and in the end I conclude that there is not. When describing faith, both affirm that it possesses a certitude that goes beyond the believer's understanding. It is clear, I think, that what on the surface appears to be a substantive difference turns out in fact to be merely a difference in terminology.

I have not found any passage in which Calvin shows an awareness of the fact that there may be another way to define knowledge, though one might argue that it is implicit in his contrast of the knowledge of faith with the knowledge of things known through the senses. Aquinas, by contrast, was not only aware of the fact that knowledge can be defined in more than one way, but he indicates what those ways are, where examples can be found, and what follows from each. He notes in the writings of the Apostle Paul and Augustine examples of the usage that Calvin later adopted—namely, defining knowledge in terms of a sure assent—but he himself opts for defining knowledge, in terms of comprehension, a usage also found in Augustine, Gregory, and elsewhere.

Knowledge can have two meanings: sight or assent. When it refers to sight, it is distinguished from faith. Thus, Gregory says: "things seen are the object not of faith, but of knowledge." According to Augustine, those things "which are present to the senses or the understanding" are said to be seen. But those things are said to be present to the understanding which are not beyond its capacity.

But, in so far as there is certainty of assent, faith is knowledge, and as such can be called certain knowledge and sight. This appears in the first Epistle to the Corinthians (13:12): "We see now through a glass in a dark manner." And this is what Augustine says: "If it is not unfitting to say that we know that also which we believe, to be most certain, it follows from this that it is correct to say that we see with our minds the things which we believe, even though they are not present to our senses." (Truth, 14, 2 ad 15m)

If knowledge consists in sight or comprehension, then it is distinct from faith; if it consists in a sure assent, then faith is knowledge. So faith can be called knowledge or belief, depending upon how one defines one's terms. Aquinas's categories are parallel to those we cited from Augustine.

The full picture looks like this: there are two senses of the verb to know, and a sense of the verb to believe corresponds to each. The more precise sense of to know implies that one has an understanding or comprehension of the thing that is known. This is the usage that Aquinas regularly employs and that Calvin associates with the knowledge of earthly things. A person who does not understand a matter might nevertheless accept it to be true, but will do so only on the basis of some external authority. If the authority is completely reliable, belief can be certain. -This is the meaning of to believe that is complementary to the sense of to know as comprehension. Of course in common usage, we often speak of knowing things we do not ourselves understand but have simply accepted as true on the authority of others. In this case to know indicates an assurance or an absence of doubt groun-ded in authority. This kind of knowledge is also certain, free from doubt, in those cases where one is convinced that the authorities being relied on are trustworthy and sound and that one has understood them correctly. The com-plementary sense of to believe in this case means that one suspects that something is true but is not sure, because of some doubt about either the authority cited or one's grasp of what the authority has said. This complementary meaning of to believe corresponds to what Aristotle and others call opinion.

At this point, though, an interesting question arises: Why did Aquinas prefer the one definition of faith and Calvin the other? The reasons, I think, involve some interesting philosophical, and more especially epistemological, commitments on the part of each man, but examination of these must wait until later. We may just say here that the advantage of Aquinas's discussion is that he does not merely say that the comprehension of faith is unlike that found in other areas of human knowledge; he goes on to specify how the act of believing differs from knowing, doubting, and the like. Indeed, so far we have barely scratched the surface of Aquinas's analysis and will need to return to examine these matters in more depth in due course. What is apparent thus far is that one can describe the act of faith using either language. While Calvin and Aquinas differ radically in the language they use and the methods of analysis they employ, in substance their views of the nature of faith are similar, if not identical.

Ralph McInerny (essay date 1988)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4272

SOURCE: "Action Theory in St. Thomas Aquinas" in Miscellanea Mediaevalia, Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1987, pp. 13-22.

[In the following essay, written in 1987, McInerny examines Aquinas's thoughts on the common good and ultimate end, particularly the distinction between conceiving and realizing perfection.]

In this paper I shall be discussing an issue in Thomistic moral theory that seems to have its parallel in Aristotle. Students of Aristotle have often considered the relation between the analysis of decision in Nicomachean Ethics III, where the model is an end/means one, and that in Nicomachean Ethics VI and VII, where the preferred model is the practical syllogism, to be problematical. A similar difficulty can be raised about the relation between the opening discussions of the Summa theologiae, Iallae, (and not only qq. 1-5, but also the whole sweep of discussions from q. 6 through q. 17), and the discussion of natural law later on in that same part of the ST. In both the Aristotelian and the Thomistic cases, we find one analysis that stresses the goal or purpose of a deed, and portrays decision as the search for appropriate means to that end, and another analysis where decision is portrayed as the application of principles and rules to particular situations.

Some students of Aristotle, impressed by the account of practical syllogism, downgrade the treatment of deliberation in NE III, and suggest that Aristotle's later treatment in VI and VII should be taken as definitive. This is the view of D. J. Allan in his valuable essay, "The Practical Syllogism"1. The supposition of development in Aristotle's view was called into question by Gauthier and Jolif2, who say these "later" books form part of the earliest Aristotelian course in ethics. Pierre Abenque considers the practical syllogism to the Platonic in origin and finds Aristotle's originality rather in the tension he saw between end and means that requires deliberation3.

One could go on, but the point is not to adjudicate between these positions so much as to note that there is an assumption of a more than superficial difference between the end/means model and the principle/application model as explanatory of human action. And this prompts the question: how does St. Thomas relate his treatment of final end and happiness, at the outset of the IaIIae, to the doctrine of first principles of practical reason developed later on? Are these alternative, even antithetical, approaches to human decision and action, or is the later discussion the natural development of the earlier?

This is a vast subject and can hardly be treated in anything but a sketchy fashion in a short paper. I shall concentrate on one of three crucial distinctions Thomas makes concerning ultimate end in IaIIae, qq. 1-5, and relate it to the discussion of natural law found later in the same part of the ST4.

1. Ultimate End

The dependence of the opening five questions of ST IaIIae on Aristotle is, of course, obvious, and the student of Thomas will quite naturally compare what the Angelic Doctor says in the later independent work with what he had said in his commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics. One way of testing the value of the commentary is to see what light it casts on vexed issues in the text, and when we look at Thomas's analysis of the apparent argument for an overall, superordinate ultimate end of all we do, an argument found in NE 1.2, we can at first be disappointed.

"If, then, there is some end of the things we do, which we desire for its own sake (everything else being desired for the sake of this), and if we do not choose everything for the sake of something else (for at that rate the process would go on to infinity, so that our desire would be empty and vain), clearly this must be the good and the chief good."5 Thomas extracts the basic argument and treats the parenthetical remarks as reductiones which sustain the main moves of the proof.

  1. Quicumque finis est talis, quod alia volumus propter ipsum, et ipsum volumus propter seipsum, et non propter aliquod aliud, ille finis non solum est bonus sed optimus.
  2. Sed in rebus bumanis necesse est esse aliquam talem finem.
  3. Ergo in rebus bumanis est aliquis finis bonus et optimus6.

    Clearly, (2) is the nerve of the argument, and in n. 20 Thomas offers a reductio ad impossibile on its behalf.

  4. Si autem non est invenire aliquem talem finem sequitur quod omnis finis desideratur propter alium et sic proceditur in infinitum.
  5. Sed hoc est impossible quod proceditur infinibus in infinitum.
  6. Ergo necesse est esse finem, qui non sit propter alium finem desideratus.

    Now it is (5) that sustains the argument, and Thomas offers another reductio to sustain it.

  7. Si procedatur in infinitum in desiderio finium … nunquam erit devenire ad hoc quod homo consequatur fines desideratos.
  8. Sed frustra et vane quis desiderat id quod non potest assequi.
  9. Sed hoc desiderium est naturale: bonum est quod omnia naturaliter desiderant.
  10. Ergo sequitur quod naturale desiderium sit inane et vacuum.
  11. Sed hoc est impossible. Naturale desiderium nihil est aliud quam inclinatio inhaerens rebus ex ordinatione primi moventis, quae non potest frustrari.
  12. Ergo impossibile est quod infinibus procedatur in infinitum.

It is not unusual for readers of Aristotle to object that he does not prove his point, and what is found wanting in Aristotle would seem to be wanting in St. Thomas as well. That the ends of some activities can be subordinated to the end of another activity, as in Aristotle's examples of the military and architecture, is clear enough, but that there is a single comprehensive ultimate end of all human activities does not seem to follow from the argument. Why cannot there be a plurality of ultimate ends? Human action would not be frustrated if chains of actions terminated in superordinate ends andthere were several, even many, such superordinate ends.

The clue to Aristotle's response to this objection must doubtless be sought in the notion of a "single capacity" or dynamis ("kata mian dynamin "). Is there some way in which actions can be identified as human in the way in which a group of activities can be identified as military? Well, the introduction of the notion of ergon in NE 1.7 provides that criterion. As for Thomas, one knowledgeable in the Summa theologiae will have noticed the occurrence of the phrase ratio boni in lectio 1, no. 10. Furthermore, the opening consideration of the IaIIae provides a way of gathering together all human actions precisely as human.

Man differs from other cosmic creatures in having dominion over his actions, that is, in being free. But man has dominion over his deeds thanks to reason and will. Therefore, it is those actions which proceed from man's deliberate will which are human. St. Thomas adds to this argument another.

Manifestum est autem quod omnes actiones quae procedunt ab aliqua potentia, causantur ab ea secundum rationem sui obiecti. Obiectum autem voluntatis est finis et bonum. Unde oportet quod omnes actiones humanae propter finem sint7.

Aristotle's dynamis was translated as virtus"sub una quadam virtute"—in the versio antiqua and the connection between a single capacity and one formality under which things are accounted objects of that capacity is obvious. In the sed contra, St. Thomas has made the same point thus:

omnia quae sint in aliquo genere, derivatur a principio illius generis. Sed finis est principium in operabilibus ab homine … Ergo homini convenit omnia agere propter finem.

The basis for the claim that there is a single comprehensive end of human actions is there, but it may seem that all we really have here is a universal in praedicando, that is, it is universally true of each and every human act that it aims at some good or end, but the goods or ends aimed at can be as numerous as the actions performed.

It is in IaIIae, q. 1, a. 4, that Thomas asks if there is an ultimate end of human life, but articles 5 and 6 indicate that the question of uniqueness remains unsettled. If everyone—indeed, everything—desires the good, everyone thereby seeks his own perfection which functions as an ultimate end, being the perfect and complete good8. Any action aims at the perfection of the agent, at a good which is comprehensive, leaving nothing to be desired. The usual response to this is that many people simply pursue one thing after another, particular goods, and the desire for perfection never enters their lives. John Rawls apparently thinks of the desire for perfection as going beyond mere ordinary desires9. But "perfection" here is a commodious term, covering every completion of an action. The action reaches its perfection in attaining the goal at which it aims. Even so, the objector would say, there are many actions and many objectives and consequently many perfections, not a single comprehensive one.

In Article 6, St. Thomas makes a distinction which is crucial for his own teaching and, it could be argued, casts light on the Aristotelian difficulty as well. Asking whether there is one ultimate end for all men, Thomas makes a distinction between two ways of speaking of ultimate end: one way involvesthe notion of ultimate end, the other that in which the notion of ultimate end is realized. That is, there is a formal conception of ultimate end, the ratio boni or the ratio ultimi finis, and there is the concrete things or actions in which that notion is thought to be realized. Our question—Is the ultimate end one?—receives different answers depending upon which sense of ultimate end we have in mind.

Quantum igitur ad rationem ultimi finis, omnes conveniunt in appetitu finis ultimi: quia omnes appetunt suam perfectionem adimpleri, quae est ratio ultimi finis'10

As to where they seek this, men differ and differ widely, some taking money, others pleasure, others fame, etc., etc., as that which will fulfill their heart's desire.

This distinction between ratio boni vel finis and id in quo ratio invenitur follows on the fact that the object of will is the end or good universally taken11. Will, being the intellectual appetite, cannot simply pursue this thing as this; whatever is desired is desired under a common formality, a ratio, such as goodness, the notion of goodness. So commodious a notion is this, that is covers even evil actions'12.

About this, two things, the first having to do with Aristotle. That Aristotle proves the existence of the ultimate end by invoking, in effect, the ratio boni vel ultimi finis is clear from the fact that, after giving the argument, he goes on to recount the different ultimate ends men pursue. Only after that, by bringing in the notion of man's function or ergon, does he develop a substantive notion of ultimate end.

Second, understanding good and ultimate end in this formal sense, St. Thomas may seem to be in agreement with such analytic philosophers as G. E. Moore and R. M. Hare, for whom "good" functions in a purely formal fashion, and is not defined by appeal to any properties of the things called good, with the result that anything whatsoever can be called good. Any attempt to define good by appeal to properties of things called good, with the result that anything whatsoever can be called good. Any attempt to define good by appeal to properties of things called good is an instance of the Naturalistic Fallacy. For Hare particularly13, moral goodness becomes almost a logical or second intentional feature of moral discourse. The clue to whether I am using "good" or "ought" and other "moral terms" morally, is tested by, among other devices, univer-salizability. If—and this is the crucial point—if such formal criteria are satisfied, the moral philosopher has nothing further to say, qua moral philosopher, about the difference between "You should share your goods with the poor" and "You should ruthlessly exploit the poor." Hare himself does not flinch from admitting that one advocating genocide could do so in a way that would be as moral as St. Francis. Or St. Genet. No wonder that Analytic Moral Philosophy has sometimes been said to fuse with Sartrean Existentialism.

The fact that St. Thomas holds that even bad actions are performed under the aegis of the notion of goodness would seem to link him to such anti-Naturalists as Hare. Yet, St. Thomas is presumably as much of a "naturalist" as Aristotle in morals, holding that in the nature of the case certain things must enter into, and others be excluded from, the "good for man." How do we move from the formality to the substantive account of the good?

This is the point of talking of man's function or ergon. In doing whatever he does, in performing anyhuman action, a person is seeking that which is perfective or fulfilling of himself as human. That is the formality under which he does whatever he does. But the particular actions performed, the ends, sought, may or may not satisfy, really, the reason for our seeking them. How can we know this? Because the substantive thing sought is not perfective of me, even though I mistakenly pursue it as if it were. Substantive actions and ends can satisfy the formality of goodness, or the good for man, only if they are indeed perfective of the human person.

The criterion, or criteria, are to be sought in the nature of the human agent.

It is here that we can see one fundamental link between the early and later discussions in the IaIIae. We will see that, just as the ratio boni is complemented by id in quo ratio boni vere invenitur, so bonum est faciendum is complemented by appeal to man's natural inclinations.

2. Natural Law

After St. Thomas has discussed the intrinsic principles of human actions, powers and habits, he takes up the external principles, the devil, who would turn us to evil, and God who by law and grace moves us to the good and to Himself. The Treatise on Law first expounds a definition of law which is based on human positive law and then extends and applies it to various other kinds of law. Among these is the so-called natural law, an account of the most common principles of practical reason.

At the very outset of his discussion of law, St. Thomas introduces the practical syllogism.

Et quia ratio etiam practica utitur quodam syllogismo in operabilibus quod Philosophus docet in VII Ethic., ideo est invenire aliquid in ratione practica quod ita se habeat ad operationes, sicut se habet propositio in ratione speculativa ad conclusiones. Et huiusmodi propositiones universales rationis practicae ordinatae ad actiones, habent rationem legis14.

The analogy between the theoretical and practical uses of reason is a familiar feature of the discussion of law. Nor do we have to wait long before St. Thomas links the notion of law and of ultimate end. "Primum autem principium in operativis, quorum est ratio practica, est flnis ultimus."15 A rational directive has the force of law only because of its link with the common good, which is the common beatitude and ultimate and. "… cum lex maxime dicatur secundum ordinem ad bonum commune, quodcumque aliud praeceptum de particulari opere non habeat rationem legis nisi secundum ordinem ad bonum commune. "16

The extension of the term law to the principles of practical reason has become so familiar that we have lost the sense of how strange it must originally have seemed. When it is first introduced, natural law is given a quite explicitly theological definition: it is the specifically human participation in eternal law. All creatures are guided by divine providence, but man shares in it by guiding himself according to the natural light of reason17. Man has both the knowledge of eternal law, which is peculiar to him, as well as the common natural inclination to that which is consonant with eternal law (notio legis aeternae and naturalis inclinatio ad id quod est consonum legi aeternae.)18

But it is in the celebrated text of q. 94, a. 2 that we find a discussion like that prompted by thedistinction between the ratio ultimi finis and id in quo invenitur illa ratio. That distinction prompted us to wonder if St. Thomas's concept of the good were formal in the way R. M. Hare's is, since this would raise questions as to the possibility of any non-formal, natural criteria of inclusion and exclusion of possible substantive candidates for fulfilling this notion. In recent years, the Thomistic doctrine of natural law has sometimes been presented as if it were essentially identical to G. E. Moore's position19. Thomas, like Moore, is seen as one for whom there is no essential link between the notion of goodness and the things and actions that can rightly be called good for man. For Moore, goodness is a non-natural property of the things called good and can only be intuited. Similarly, Thomas has been characterized as one who avoids committing the naturalistic fallacy by according practical reason autonomy and independence from speculative reason. Let us examine q. 94, a. 2 in the light of this claim.

The article addresses the question whether natural law contains one precept or many and begins by noting the following parallel: as the first principles of demonstration are to speculative reason, so are the precepts of natural law to practical reason. The similarity lies in the fact that in both cases the principles are per se nota. Principles are per se nota, self-evident, when the predicate is part of the understanding of the subject, as in "Man is rational". When the terms are such that no one can fail to understand them, the principles are called dignitates or axioms, but there are also principles self-evident only to the wise who know the meanings of their terms. The first principles of the practical and theoretical orders are axioms.

A term whose meaning no one can fail to know is "being," since it is implicit in and presupposed by every other meaning. (Thomas does not here give a ratio entis as he will shortly give a ratio boni.) A first judgment is based on the understanding of being and nonbeing. "It is impossible to affirm and deny the same predicate of the same subject simultaneously." What is the parallel in the practical order to the concept of being and the principle of contradiction in the theoretical order?

Sicut autem ens est primum quod cadit in apprehensione simpliciter, ita bonum est primum quod cadit in apprehensione practicae rationis, quae ordinatur ad opus: omne enim agens agit propter finem, qui habet rationem boni. Et ideo primum principium in ratione practica est quod fundatur supra rationem boni, quae est, bonum est quod omnia appetunt. Hoc est ergo primum praeceptum legis, quod bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum.

This precept is implicit in every precept of natural law. There is a plurality of precepts of natural law since what practical reason naturally apprehends to be human goods ought to be done and their opposites avoided. What are these human goods? What things does reason naturally apprehend as goods to be done or evils to be avoided? St. Thomas finds the answer in the natural inclinations, and grounds the order of precepts on the order of these inclinations.

The discussion of these inclinations is an obvious parallel to the senses of life and vital operations Aristotle sets down in Nicomachean Ethics I. 7. Thus it is in man's nature, in the aspects he shares with other creatures as well as in that which is peculiar to him, that the basis of the human good is found. Needless to say, it is not these goods, the objects of natural inclinations taken just as such, which constitute the precepts of natural law. Rather, reason, having naturally grasped these goods, prescribes actions aimed at attaining them or avoiding their opposites. A precept is always a directiveof reason bearing on a good that reason naturally recognizes as the object of a natural inclination.

The complementarity of the end/means analysis and the principle/application analysis of human action can be seen in a number of ways. Actions are concrete and particular but, as human, proceed from deliberate will, and thus under the aegis of the good generally understood. It is because I judge this action to exhibit the formality of good, that is, to be perfective of me, that I perform it. Universality, generality are inescapable features of human actions. The theory of natural law involves making explicit the principles that should guide human action given the nature of the human agent and the elements of the human good. Doubtless, these principles are first recognized as embedded in particular judgments, much as the principle of contradiction is. Just as the end or good is the beginning of the process of deliberation, so the principles of practical reasoning prescribe that the human good and its components are to be sought and their opposites avoided.

But what now of the end/means schema and practical syllogism, which provides the discursive setting for principles and their application? If we advert again to the Aristotelian problematic, we find D. J. Allan calling attention to a fusion of these two approaches in the De motu animalium (701 a 25). There, observing that action is the conclusion of a reasoning process, Aristotle adds, "but the premisses which lead to the doing of something are of two kinds, through the good and through the possible." Are these different kinds of premiss in the same thought process? Allan thinks the distinction points to different kinds of major premiss and thus to two kinds of operative syllogism: "… a premiss 'of the possible' starts from the desirability of some End, and leads to the performance of an action as a means, whereas a premiss 'of the good' starts from the notion of a good rule to be realized in a series of actions, which are severally good, not as means, but as constituents."20 Minor premisses would be, respectively, "this is a means to the end," and "this is in example of the rule." But might we not say that every rule of action is the statement of an end? Allan replies that one could hardly reverse this and argue that whenever several steps conduce to an end, the end is a universal of which they are particular instances.

Pierre Aubenque sees in the theory of deliberation the way toward establishing the minor premiss of the practical syllogism. "The difficult thing is not to know that one ought to be brave nor to decide that what has been recognized as the brave thing to do ought to be done, but rather what bravery is hic et nunc."21

This suggestion that deliberation or consilium aims at the formation of the minor premiss of the practical syllogism accords well with St. Thomas's teaching and provides us, I think, with the essential clue in connecting the end/means and the principle/application approaches and seeing that they are complementary to one another rather than radical alternatives. In discussing counsel or deliberation, which is of course clearly placed in the context of an end/means analysis, St. Thomas invokes the practical syllogism and with it the principles of natural law, thereby suggesting what what Aubenque sees in Aristotle is equally the case with Aquinas22.

The distinction between the ration boni and id in quo invenitur ratio boni, introduced by St. Thomas in discussing ultimate end, has its parallel in the discussion of natural law which appeals to the ends of natural inclinations in order to given substance to bonum est faciendum et malum vitandum. Beyond that, far from being an antithetical alternative to the end/means analysis, the practicalsyllogism, and its most common principles, incorporate the end/means analysis. The compatibility and complementarity of the two approaches to moral decision is pertinent because of the effort of some moral theologians to pry them apart in order to deny moral absolutes.23


1 Cf. Autour d'Aristote, Louvain, 1955, 325-340.

2 L'Ethique a Nicomaque, Introduction, Traduction et Commentaire, R. A. Gauthier OP and J. Y. Jolif OP Paris, 1958, Tome I, pp. 43*-47*.

3 La prudence chez Aristote, Paris, 1963.

4 The three distinctions. are (a) that between the ratio ultimi finis and id in quo illa ratio invenitur; (b) between finis cuius and finis quo and (c) between beatitudo perfecta and beatitudo imperfecta.

5 1094 a 18-23.

6 Lectio 2, n. 19.

7 IaIIae, q. 1, a. 1.c.

8 Ibid., a. 5, c.

9 A Theory of Justice (Harvard, 1971), 424 ff.

10 IaIIae, q. 1, a. 6, c.

11 Ibid. q. 1, a. 2, ad 3 m.

12 Cf. In I Ethic., lectio 1, n. 10.

13 See The Language of Morals, Oxford, 1952, 79-110, and Freedom and Reason, Oxford, 1963, 186, 202.

14 IaIIae, q. 90, a. 1, ad 2 m.

15 Ibid., a. 2.

16 Ibid., c. and ad 3 m.

17 "… quasi lumen rationis naturalis, quo discernimus quid sit bonum et malum, quod pertinet ad naturalem legem, nibil aliud sit quam impressio divini luminis in nobis. Unde patet quod lex naturalis nihil aliud est quam participation legis aeternae in rationali creatura."—ibid., q. 91, a. 2.

18 Ibid., q. 93, a. 6, c.

19 See Principia Ethica (Cambridge, 1903).

20Op. cit., p. 331.

21Op. cit., p. 141.

22 Thus, in discussing the presuppositions of deliberation, St. Thomas writes, "Huiusmodi autem principia quae in inquisitione consilii supponuntur, sunt quaecumque sunt per sensum accepta, utpote quod hoc sit panis vel ferrum; et quaecumque sunt per aliquam scientiam speculativam vel practicum in universali cognita, sicut quod moechari est a Deo prohibitum, et quod bomo non potest vivere nisi nutriatur nutrimento convenienti. Et de istis non inquirit consiliator. "-IaIIae, q. 14, a. 6, c. It will be noticed that Thomas here quite explicitly remarks on the way moral discourse presupposes speculative truths.

23 Cf. Theo G. Belmans, Der Objektive Sinn Menschlichen Handelns (Schoenstatt, 1984) and Brian Thomas Mullady, OP, The Meaning of the Term 'Moral' in St. Thomas Aquinas, Stiidi Thomistici 27 (Citta del Vaticano, 1986).

Jean Porter (essay date 1990)

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SOURCE: "The Permanent Significance of Thomas Aquinas" in The Recovery of Virtue: The Relevance of Aquinas for Christian Ethics, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990, pp. 172-79.

[In the following excerpt, Porter extols Aquinas for his unsurpassed handling of problems in his own time, as well as for providing a strong foundation on which to build in the future.]

The history of Aquinas' influence in the ecumenical church is filled with ironies. In 1879, Aquinas' intellectual authority was held up by Leo XIII, in his famous encyclical Aeterni Patris, as "a singular safeguard and glory of the Catholic Church," because "with his own hand he vanquished all errors of ancient times; and still he supplies an armory of weapons which brings us certain victory in the conflict with falsehoods ever springing up in the course of years."1 The effect of this encyclical was mixed, by any standards. It helped to foster the brilliant flowering of Thomistic studies earlier in this century, and yet it also fostered a kind of rigid scholasticism which discredited Aquinas in the minds of many intellectuals, both in and out of the Catholic church. But the ironies do not end there. Today, Aquinas' influence among Protestant theologians may be as great as or greater than it is among Catholic theologians, in spite of the historic resistance to Thomism within the Protestant churches. Certainly, no one at the turn of the century would have foreseen that the most prominent common denominator among Catholic thinkers and major strands of Protestant thought, as represented in the work of Outka, Gustafson, and Hauerwas, would be a shared indebtedness to some aspect of Aquinas' moral thought.

In the situation of the church today, shaped as it has been by ironies such as these, a claim that Aquinas' thought has permanent significance for the ecumenical church must be spelled out with some care. It would be easy to read this claim as a reassertion of Aeterni Patris, which at least implies that Aquinas is the Christian theologian, whose work can never be superseded. That is not at all what I want to claim. To the contrary, I will suggest that Aquinas' permanent significance lies precisely in the fact that his thought contains the seeds of its own transcendence.

As I understand it, the permanent significance of Aquinas' thought must be understood and defended within the context of our interpretation of the history of the Christian tradition and our best judgments about the challenges that that tradition must meet today, if it is to continue as a living tradition. That is, Aquinas' thought is of permanent significance for the Christian tradition for two reasons. On the one hand, his thought can be shown to address the tensions and problematics of that tradition, as it had developed up to his own time, more successfully than other attempts to do so. On the other hand, it can be shown to be capable of addressing the tensions and problematics of the Christian tradition in our own time in a satisfactory way, albeit through expansion and development that will take us beyond the limits of Aquinas' own system (as he himself transcended both Aristotle and Augustine).2

Those readers who are familiar with MacIntyre's book Whose Justice? Which Rationality? will recognize that my defense of the permanent significance of Aquinas' work is dependent upon MacIntyre's account of the rationality of traditions.3 Moreover, Maclntyre himself argues "quite incidentally" that Aquinas' synthesis was superior within the context of the history of the tradition within which Aquinas stood; moreover, this superiority extended throughout that tradition as it developed beyond him, up to the emergence of liberalism as a tradition. As a result of his own account of the history of that tradition, Maclntyre concludes that he, MacIntyre, has exhibited

an Aristotelian tradition with resources for its own enlargement, correction, and defense, resources which suggest that prima facie at least a case has been made for concluding first that those who have thought their way through the topics of justice and practical rationality, from the standpoint constructed by and in the direction pointed out first by Aristotle and then by Aquinas, have every reason at least so far to hold that the rationality of their tradition has been confirmed in its encounters with other traditions and, second, that the task of characterizing and accounting for the achievements and successes, as well as the frustrations and failures, of the Thomistic tradition in the terms afforded by rival traditions of enquiry, may, even from the point of view of the adherents of those traditions, be a more demanding task than has sometimes been supposed.4

In this book, I have attempted to develop another, far more modest part of a general case for the permanent significance of Aquinas' thought, understood in terms of its role in the development of an ongoing tradition. I have attempted to show that Aquinas' moral thought brings together concepts that, in the thought of our contemporaries in the field of Christian ethics, provide the basis for rival and incompatible theories of morality. If the interpretation developed in this book is convincing, then Aquinas' theory of morality is of more than historical interest to us today, because it can point to strategies for overcoming the fragmentation of contemporary Christian ethics.

As I indicated in the first chapter, I do not intend to argue that Aquinas' theory of morality could be accepted as it stands today. However, I do believe that some version of that theory, reformulated in the light of contemporary problematics, would offer the best prospect for recovering a cogent accountof human goodness and human virtue from the chaos of contemporary moral discourse. In order to defend this claim, it would be necessary to show how a Thomistic theory of morality could meet the challenges which our contemporaries direct against Aquinas' thought, and that is a task for another book. But even at this point, it should be possible to offer at least some general indications of the way in which some of these challenges might be addressed in a Thomistic theory of morality, and that is what I will now attempt to do. In addition to bolstering the case that Aquinas' thought deserves serious consideration as a starting point for contemporary Christian ethics, these reflections, sketchy as they will necessarily be, may serve nonetheless to indicate the lines along which a contemporary Thomistic theory of morality might be developed.

Science, Rationality, and the Doctrine of God

Of all the contemporary ethicists we have examined in this book, James Gustafson insists most strongly that if Christianity is to continue as a living tradition, it must take account of the challenges of contemporary science. In my view, he is quite right. Furthermore, as he himself notes, his view is far more in accordance with the Thomistic spirit than would be a cavalier refusal to consider the deliverances of modern science to be relevant to Christian thought.5 At the same time, if these challenges are to be met, it is necessary to determine just where they lie. I would argue, contrary to Gus-tafson, that the particular deliverances of modern science to which he refers do not present significant new challenges to Christian thought. I do not deny in principle that some particular discovery might present a new challenge to Christian thought, as the theory of evolution in fact did. However, it does not seem to me that the specific discoveries that Gustafson mentions raise serious new challenges, as he thinks they do.

On the other hand, the philosophical theories of rationality that have developed under the impetus of modern science do raise serious challenges for Christian thought. In particular, the growing consensus around what was described in chapter 2 as the incommensurability thesis poses a very serious challenge to Christian claims for the universal truth of the central Christian beliefs. In that chapter, I indicated briefly how a Thomistic theory of the natural law might be developed in such a way as to take the incommensurability thesis into account. The reader will recall that I argued there that the incommensurability thesis does not necessarily raise internal difficulties for the philosophy of nature on which a Tho-mistic natural law theory must be based. However, it does imply that the universal validity of the natural law, so understood, could be established only in conversation with rival traditions, and indeed there can be no guarantee that its universal validity could be established even then. The aspiration—explicit in Catholic moral theology, and implicit in the work of those thinkers analyzed by Outka, and perhaps in the work of Gustafson as well—to establish an account of morality that would be rationally compelling to anyone whatever must therefore be abandoned. However, it does not follow, as Hauerwas argues, that there can be no rational grounds on which to promote and defend a Christian theory of the natural law over against rival theories of morality. As MacIntyre has shown, it is possible rationally to assess the rival claims of incommensurable traditions, and so it would be possible to defend a Christian theory of the natural law so long as it is understood and defended as part of a wider tradition of thought.

Ultimately, as Gustafson realizes, an adequate Christian response to the challenges of modern science must be grounded in the doctrine of God. Aquinas' thought offers an especially promising basis onwhich to develop a doctrine of God that answers the challenges of our times, not only because of the considerable merits of his own doctrine of God, but even more because his general theory of goodness presupposes the possibility and legitimacy of developing a natural theology as one component of a Christian theory of morality. Indeed, although we have not examined it in this book, I would argue that Aquinas' theological doctrine of God implies that Christians have reasons, implicit in their own tradition, to take the project of natural theology seriously. This conclusion would be especially significant because a sort of natural theology is emerging today among scientists themselves. While the details of this natural theology may not be compatible with a Christian doctrine of God, nonetheless, it would be foolish to deny that Christians can and should attempt to learn from it and to incorporate its genuine insights into Christian theology.6

The Social Dimension of the Human Person

A second challenge that a contemporary Thomistic theory of morality would have to meet lies in the area of philosophical anthropology. This challenge might be expressed in rough terms by asking whether Aquinas has fully grasped the social dimensions of human existence. True, he is well aware that the human person is a social creature, and he gives great weight to our obligations to family and society. Nonetheless, it might be said that he still assumes that the human person is finally a self-contained individual, capable of knowledge and free choice apart from the conditioning influences of society. But in fact, this model of the human person has been seriously undermined by philosophical work which seems to show that the human person is a creature of the social matrix within which she moves, and is radically conditioned by the structures of her society. In this country, this challenge is presented most forcefully by American pragmatism, which has had a profound influence on Protestant ethical thought that is especially apparent today in Gustafson's writings.7

I would suggest that the tradition of American pragmatism offers the same sort of challenge, and opportunity, to Christian theologians of our own time and place as Aristotelianism offered to Aquinas and his contemporaries. No modern school of thought offers a more radical challenge to Christian thought, and yet, -for that very reason, there may be no modern school of thought that is potentially more fruitful for Christian theology. In order to address this challenge, it will be necessary to deal with it as Aquinas dealt with Aristotle, by incorporating it as far as possible into Christian thought without compromising what is essential to the Christian tradition. To be more specific: I would argue that Christianity cannot surrender the claim that human persons are capable in principle of knowledge and actions that are not radically determined by their social matrices. But it can, and indeed must, show that this possibility is compatible with the reality of a pervasive social conditioning, which initially determines the activities of all persons, and may well continue to determine the activities of some persons throughout their lives. And arguably, Aquinas offers at least a starting point for such an analysis of human freedom, in his acknowledgment of the degree to which moral discernment is conditioned by the limitations of our knowledge of the human good, on the one hand, and by the particular circumstances within which we must act, on the other.

Levels of Goodness: Individual, Communal, and Universal Good

It will be apparent that until the Thomistic tradition has developed further along the lines just indicated, it will not be able to offer a complete answer to one of the most important questions incontemporary Christian ethics, namely, "What is the proper relationship between individual and community?" And yet, the conclusions of chapter 5 suggest the direction that such an answer would take.

As we saw in our examination of Aquinas' account of justice, Aquinas does not address the tension between the claims of the individual and those of the community by collapsing one set of claims into those of the other—that is, by identifying the good of the individual without remainder with the good of the community, or vice versa. Rather, his account of the naturally good life for the human person enables him to offer a persuasive account of the way in which the well-being of individual and community are mutually interdependent. He recognizes that no individual is able to live, much less to lead a humanly good life, apart from the sustaining structures of the community. Moreover, he at least implies recognition of the existence of the goods of traditions, which transcend the good of any individual contribution to those traditions, however exalted. Hence, he can cogently insist that the common good is greater and naturally more lovable to the individual than his own individual good, and therefore it is rational for the individual to sacrifice some measure of his material goods and abilities, and even, in extreme circumstances, his life itself, for the sake of the community. But at the same time, the common good itself cannot exist without justice, and justice demands that the community respect and foster the well-being of all its members equally in certain fundamental ways, as indicated by a correct understanding of the good life for human beings. For this reason, while the community can legitimately ask a great deal of its members, it cannot arbitrarily sacrifice them to the common good (even though it can ask them to make sacrifices themselves). A community that attempts to do so, or allows some of its members to sacrifice the well-being of others to their private interests with impunity, forfeits its claim on the allegiance of its members.

In the last section, it was suggested that once the Thomistic tradition has incorporated the insights of American pragmatism and related philosophical movements, it will be able to deal more adequately with the paradox (but not contradiction) involved in the recognition that the human person is fundamentally shaped by the communal matrix out of which her life emerges, and yet is free before God, because freed by God. As a result, it will be able to address and incorporate the insights of liberation theologians that sin is not just a private affair. There is such a thing as collective sin, which corrupts individuals without their prior consent, and from which they must be freed before they can live in the grace of God.8 Correlatively, the church will appear in a new light, as capable of profound corruption by society, or as capable of bringing a new hope to society, depending on its faithfulness to its own call.9

It is also possible to see in Aquinas' work some indications of the way in which the Thomistic tradition might be expanded to address a question which has taken on a new urgency in this century. That is, what is the proper relationship between humanity, individually and collectively, and the natural world on which we depend? There can be no doubt that so long as this question is answered within the framework of the Thomistic tradition, that answer must begin with a reassertion of the legitimacy of humanity's use of the subhuman creation for its own well-being. But it does not follow, within the parameters of this tradition, that we may treat the rest of the material creation with impunity in whatever way we like.

Apart from the requirements of a far-seeing prudence, the Thomistic tradition would suggest twoparameters within which the human use of the material creation must fall. The first is that any such use must truly be directed toward the good of all persons concerned, since the material creation is seen within this tradition as intended for the well-being of humanity as a whole. Given the realities of global interdependence, it follows that our use of the resources of nature must be directed to the good of the whole human race, and not exclusively to the good of one nation or economic collectivity.

The second parameter is set by Aquinas' general theory of goodness, according to which all creatures, and not just rational creatures, possess an intrinsic goodness apart from their potential usefulness to anything else. The specific character of each creature bestows on it an intrinsic orientation toward higher goods, and that is why we may legitimately make use of nonrational creatures for our own ends. But that orientation does not annul the goodness that each creature possesses in and of itself. On the basis of that goodness, which after all is another participation in the goodness of God, all creatures deserve some form of respect, albeit not the sort of respect that we owe to one another. At the very least, this respect would ground a distinction between, on the one hand, legitimate use, and, on the other hand, waste, destruction, or (in the case of animals) wanton cruelty, which would rightly be condemned. Even in the thirteenth century, Aquinas recognized that while the lower orders of creation are directed to serve the higher, still, God also ordains that the lower should be preserved through the activities of the higher (1.64.4). Surely we in the twentieth century can say no less.

Ultimately, Aquinas' theory of morality is significant today because it is successful on Aquinas' own terms. That is, he offers an account of the moral life which integrates the central concepts of his metaphysics into a unified account of human goodness and the virtues. Although we can no longer accept that account as it stands, it remains an impressive achievement in its own right. And I know of no better starting point from which to develop a unified theory of morality that is both contemporary and Christian.


1 "The Encyclical Letter of Pope Leo XIII on the Restoration of Christian Philosophy According to the Mind of St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor" (Aeterni Patris), published in English in the 1947 edition of the Summa Theologiae, vii-xvi, at xiii.

2 Alasdair Maclntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 164-82.

3 Ibid., 349-403.

4 Ibid., 402-3.

5 James M. Gustafson, "A Response to Critics," Journal of Religious Ethics 13/2 (Fall 1985), 189.

6 For example, see Paul Davies, God and the New Physics (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983); A. R. Peacocke, Creation and the World of Science (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979); and Robert Wright, Three Scientists and Their Gods: Looking for Meaning in an Age of Information (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).

7 The literature on pragmatism is extensive. For a good critical history of pragmatism, including a theological critique from the standpoint of African-American liberation theology, see Comel West, The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989). Those who are especially interested in the influence of pragmatism on Gustafson should compare his work with the writings of H. Richard Niebuhr, who drew extensively on the work of the pragmatists, especially Mead. See H. Richard Niebuhr, The Responsible Self: An Essay in Christian Moral Philosophy (New York: Harper & Row, 1963); George Herbert Mead, Mind, Self and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist, ed. Charles W. Morris, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934).

8 For example, see Juan Luis Segundo, Grace and the Human Condition (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1973), 37-39.

9 See Jose Comblin, The Church and the National Security State (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1979), for an ecclesiology that develops along these lines.

Eleonore Stump (essay date 1991)

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SOURCE: "Aquinas on Faith and Goodness" in Being and Goodness: The Concept of the Good in Metaphysics and Philosophical Theology, edited by Scott Mac-Donald, Cornell University Press, 1991, pp. 179-207.

[In the following essay, Stump explains Aquinas's theory of the will and its relationship to the intellect, faith, and goodness; frames objections to Aquinas's accounts; and responds to those objections.]

1. Introduction

Recent work on the subject of faith has tended to focus on the epistemology of religious belief, considering such issues as whether beliefs held in faith are rational and how they may be justified. Richard Swinburne, for example, has developed an intricate explanation of the relationship between the propositions of faith and the evidence for them.1 Alvin Plantinga, on the other hand, has maintained that belief in God may be properly basic, that is, that a belief that God exists can be part of the foundation of a rational noetic structure.2 This sort of work has been useful in drawing attention to significant issues in the epistemology of religion, but these approaches to faith seem to me also to deepen some long-standing perplexities about traditional Christian views of faith.

First, if there is an omniscient and omnipotent God, why would he want human relationships with him to be based on faith? Why wouldn't he make his existence and nature as obvious and uncontroversial to all human beings as the existence of their physical surroundings is?3 Second, why should having faith be meritorious, as Christian doctrine maintains it is? And why should faith be supposed to make acceptable to God a person whom God would otherwise reject?4 Finally, why is it that epistemological considerations seem to play so little role in adult conversions? Anecdotal evidence suggests that in many cases conversion to religious belief is not at all the result of the judicious weighing of evidence or a consideration of the requirements of rationality. We might be inclined to account for this state of affairs by supposing there to be some sort of epistemological inadequacy or defect on the part ofthose being converted. But such a quick and familiar assessment seems blind to an interesting feature of some kinds of conversion stories with which we are all familiar: it is not the case that the person undergoing the conversion weighs epistemological con-siderations but in an insufficient or confused way; rather, the person undergoing the conversion does not take epistemological considerations into account at all.

These questions suggest that epistemological considerations alone don't do justice to the nature of faith, that more than epistemology is needed to complete the account. Such an additional element in faith was commonly discussed in the works of medieval philosophers and theologians. In this essay I look at Aquinas's account of the nature of faith in order to show something about this other, often unexamined side of faith. At first hearing, Aquinas's account of faith may strike us as implausible and philosophically problematic. I first present his account and then discuss some of the problems it raises. After that I consider the sort of response Aquinas's account provides to the questions concerning faith just raised.

2. Aquinas's Understanding of the Will

Because Aquinas's account of faith assigns an important role to the will, it is helpful to begin with a brief discussion of Aquinas's understanding of the nature of the will. Aquinas's conception of the will is different from the one most of us take for granted. He understands the will not as the neutral steering capacity of a person's psyche, but as a particular bent or inclination. On his view, the will is an innate hunger, a natural appetite, for goodness. By 'goodness' here, Aquinas means goodness in general and not this or that specific good thing. Determining that this or that particular thing (or event or state of affairs) is in fact good is not the business of the will, but rather of the intellect.5 The intellect presents to the will as good certain things or states of affairs, under certain descriptions. (It is important to emphasize that these representations of the intellect need not be rational or well thought out; they need not even be explicit or conscious. They may be only tacit or implicit, and not in any way conscious, and still count as the reason for a person's willing what she does, if she would refer to those representations in explaining her act of will.) The will wills the things represented as good by the intellect because the will is an appetite for the good and they are apprehended as good. For this reason, the intellect is said to move the will not as an efficient cause moves but as a final cause does, because what is understood as good moves the will as an end.6

(This line of approach may strike some people as implausible, perhaps in part because their introspection seems to them to reveal more of a unity than Aquinas's division into intellect and will suggests. Introspection is, of course, a notoriously unreliable guide when it comes to the details of cognitive organization or functioning. That the capacity for semantics and the capacity for syntax are not part of one and the same cognitive capacity is not something readily noticeable on the basis of introspection, for example, and yet that they are not is indicated by the radical difference between Broca's aphasia and Wernicke's aphasia. Having said so much, however, I should also make clear that Aquinas stresses the unity of the agent. Just as neither Broca's area nor Wernicke's area of the brain is sufficient by itself for full functioning as regards language, so neither will nor intellect by itself can function as a person does. Rather, will and intellect are components of a single person, whose functioning as a person is dependent on the joint and interactive functioning of both will and intellect. As long as we are clear on this score and not inclined to identify will and intellect with innerhomunculi, we can with equal appropriateness speak of a person's willing something or his will's willing that thing, of a person's understanding or of his intellect's understanding. In this respect we will be in line with current linguistic convention that permits such locutions as 'The hippocampus constructs, stores, and reads cognitive maps.')

On Aquinas's view, the will wills some things by necessity. Because it is a hunger for the good, whatever is good to such an extent and in such a way that a person cannot help but see it as good, the will wills by natural necessity. One's own happiness is of this sort, and so it is not possible for a person to will not to be happy. But even those few things (such as obedience to God's commands, on Aquinas's view) that, independent of circumstances, have a necessary connection to happiness aren't for that reason alone willed necessarily. The willer might not be cognizant of their necessary connection to happiness,7 or it might be the case that they could be thought of under descriptions (such as unenlightened fundamentalism, in the case of obedience to God's commands) that obscure the connection to happiness. And something of the same sort can be said for the things a person might mistakenly suppose to have a necessary connection with her happiness (such as winning a figure-skating competition she has trained many months for). Because these things are in fact not necessary for happiness, they can always be thought of under other descriptions (such as distraction from her long-term goal of becoming a doctor) that sever their connection to happiness. They are therefore not willed necessarily either. Consequently, except for happiness and those things so obviously connected with happiness that their connection is overwhelming and indubitable, the will is not determined to one thing because of its relation to the intellect.

What the intellect determines with respect to goodness is somewhat complicated because the intellect is itself moved by other things. In particular, the will moves the intellect as an efficient cause, by willing it to attend to some things and to neglect others.8 (The psychological act accompanying the common locution 'I don't want to think about it' is an example of what Aquinas has in mind here.) Second, the passions, such as wrath and fear, can influence the intellect, because to a person in the grip of such a passion something may seem good which wouldn't seem good to him if he were calm.9 The intellect, however, isn't compelled by the passions in any way but can resist them,10 for example, by being aware of the passion and correcting for its effects on judgment, as one does when one decides to leave a letter written in anger until the next morning rather than mailing it right away.

On Aquinas's views, the will cannot in general be constrained to move in a particular way be something outside the willer, because (with the exception of one's own happiness and divine goodness as seen in the beatific vision) no matter what object is presented to the intellect, it is open to the intellect to consider it under some description that makes it seem not good. So, for example, the further acquisition of money can be considered good under the description means of sending the children to school and not good under some other description, such as wages from an immoral and disgusting job. On the other hand, it is still possible for the will not to will even things that are clearly and obviously good, because it is always in a person's power not to think of such things and consequently not to will them actually. That is, it is open to the will not to will such things by willing that the intellect not attend to them. (Of course, if the will does so, on Aquinas's account, it is in virtue of some representation on the part of the intellect that doing so is good, at that time, under some description.)

It is apparent, then, that on Aquinas's account of the will, it is part of a complicated feedback system, composed of will, intellect, and the passions, and set in motion by the nature of the will as a hunger for the good.11

3. Aquinas's Account of Faith

On Aquinas's view of the relation between intellect and will, intellect clearly has a role to play in all acts of the will. But he also holds that will has a role to play in most, though not all, acts of intellect. That this is so can be seen just from his account of the nature of the will, where he maintains that the will can command the intellect to attend or not to attend to something. But will also enters into acts of intellect in another way, because cognitive assent (that is, acceptance of a proposition or set of propositions) is part of many intellectual acts, and assent of certain sorts pertains to the will.12

According to Aquinas, intellectual assent (assensus) can be brought about in different ways. Assent to a proposition (about the existence of an entity, the occurrence of an event, or the obtaining of a state of affairs) can be brought about entirely by the object of the intellect (the entity, event, or state of affairs being cognized). Aquinas gives as examples cases in which a person assents to first principles, where the object is known directly, and cases in which a person assents to the conclusions of demonstrations, where the object is known on the basis of other propositions.13 In either of these sorts of cases, the object of the intellectual act moves the intellect by itself and by itself produces intellectual assent to one thing rather than another. In such cases Aquinas maintains that the object of. the intellectual act is sufficient to move the intellect to assent. By this expression he seems to mean that the agent is at that time in an epistemic state in which, as a result of his cognitive relation to the entity, event, or state of affairs being cognized, it is natural and easy for him to assent to a certain proposition and difficult or even psychologically impossible for him not to assent. (A person in this epistemic state might assign a high probability to the proposition he accepts, but he need not. In Trollope's Barchester Towers Eleanor Bold considers the following propositions: [I] she will marry Mr. Slope, [2] she will marry Mr. Stanhope, [3] she will marry Mr. Arabin, and [4] she will marry none of the three. Given her introspection, her observations of Arabin, and her background knowledge, she finds it difficult not to believe [3], but as she herself knows, she is not in a position to assign even a probability of. 5 to that proposition.) As an ordinary example of a case in which the object of the intellectual act is sufficient to move the intellect, consider a mother who, whether she wants to do so or not, finds herself assenting to the proposition that the judge dislikes her son's performance in the piano recital because of the way the judge behaves as he listens, his movements and facial expression.

In other cases, however, intellectual assent is obtained in a different way, because the intellect is moved to assent not by its object but by the will, which assents to one proposition rather than another on the basis of considerations sufficient to move the will but not the intellect. Considerations are sufficient to move the will when an agent is at that time in a volitional state in which, as a result of his cognitive and conative relation to the entity, event, or state of affairs being cognized, it is natural and easy for him to form a desire or volition for something and difficult or even unthinkable for him not to form it. In such a case there are considerations presented to the intellect, but by themselves they are not sufficient to move the intellect to assent to a proposition. That the intellect does assent in those circumstances is a function of the will's influence. (How exactly the will, the intellect, and thepassions [or desires] are related in a case in which the will brings it about that the intellect assents is beyond the scope of this discussion. For present purposes I will suppose that for Aquinas if a person accepts a belief largely in consequence of the will's action either alone or in conjunction with any of the many ways in which desires influence beliefs, that acceptance would count as a case of the will's bringing about intellectual assent.) For example, the mother might believe that the judge takes bribes, and her belief might result not from overwhelming evidence against the judge but from some evidence combined with her dislike of the man, so that the other parents might say of her that she wants to think ill of the judge.

It is important to point out that where the object of the intellectual act is sufficient to move the intellect by itself (as distinct from cases in which a person simply has good evidence for a belief), there is no room for will to have a role of this sort in intellectual assent. If the mother's evidence that the judge does not take bribes is overwhelming and unquestionable, then in that epistemic state it will not be possible for her to form the belief that the judge takes bribes, no matter how much she dislikes the judge. Nothing in Aquinas's view about the relations between intellect and will contravenes the common view that we do not in general have direct voluntary control over our beliefs. But in cases where the object of the intellect is not sufficient to move the intellect by itself, then it is possible for will to have an effect on intellectual assent to propositions. In cases of this sort, acts of will enter into the attitudes of believing, forming an opinion, and having faith.14

That will can affect intellectual assent in such cases is widely recognized, for example, in science, where experimenters frequently must design their experiments to take account of the fact that, as Aquinas would put it, their wills may bring about intellectual assent largely in consequence of their desire to have results turn out a particular way. (I have in mind, for example, the sort of case double-blind experimental design is meant to exclude.) In cases of this kind Aquinas tends to talk about the will's directing the intellect to assent; we are more likely to explain the situation by focusing on the influence of desires on beliefs. But in spite of the different emphasis, the point is fundamentally the same: in cases where the object of the intellect is not sufficient to move the intellect by itself, that is, where belief is not constrained or compelled by the object of the intellect, it is possible that a person accepts a certain belief largely because of some movement of his will, in consequence of the desires he has in that situation.

The sorts of cases in which will enters into belief that are most likely to occur to us are those in which someone acts badly, as in the example above in which the mother believes the worst of the judge. But it is also possible to think of examples in which a belief based on both will and intellect has something admirable about it. In George Eliot's Middlemarch, when Dorothea Casaubon finds her friend and admirer Will Ladislaw in a compromising embrace with the wife of one of his friends, she does not immediately believe the worst of him. Although it is possible (and in the novel is true) that there is an exonerating explanation of Ladislaw's conduct, the evidence available to Dorothea, though not sufficient to determine that Ladislaw's behavior merits disapprobation, is nonetheless powerfully against him. (Another way of putting the same point is to say that although the evidence does not allow Dorothea to assign a probability of I to the proposition that Ladislaw is a scoundrel, it does allow her to assign a probability greater than. 5.) But because of her commitment to him, Dorothea, in spite of the evidence, cleaves to her view that Ladislaw is not a scoundrel and a traitor to his friend.15 (Whether Dorothea should be lumped together with the mother who leapt to the conclusionthat the judge took bribes and should be considered irrational in consequence of her commitment to Ladislaw in these circumstances is a separate question that I will not consider here.)

We can spell out this case a little more, using Aquinas's theory of the will, by saying that Dorothea's will brings about her intellectual assent to the exoneration of Ladislaw in consequence of her desire to maintain her personal relationship with him. Dorothea may have had moral reasons for this position; she may have thought that loyalty to friends prohibited adopting a harsh view of them if it could possibly be avoided. Or she may have had more self-interested reasons; if Ladislaw turned out to be a scoundrel, then Dorothea would have lost the good of a relationship with a man who admired her and whose character she could respect. Either way, although her intellect isn't sufficiently moved by its object to determine it to one or another view, her will is; and her belief that Ladislaw is not treacherous to his friend constitutes intellectual assent in which will has a crucial role.

According to Aquinas, will plays a similar role in faith. Considered in its own right, the object of faith is God himself, but since (in this life) our minds cannot comprehend God directly or immediately, the object of faith, considered from the point of view of human knowers, is not God but propositions about him.16 On Aquinas's view, assent to the propositions of faith lies between knowledge and opinion. (In this paper I will take 'the propositions of faith' broadly to mean all those propositions that are appropriately believed in faith, including those propositions, such as 'God exists,' that in Aquinas's view some persons can know by natural reason and therefore do not need to hold only by faith.) In faith, the intellect assents to propositions believed, as it does in knowledge or opinion, but the assent of faith is not generated by the intellect's being sufficiently moved by its object, as it is in the case of knowledge. Rather, in faith assent is generated by the will, which is moved by the object of faith sufficiently to bring the intellect to assent. In this respect, faith is like opinion, in which will also has a role in the generation of assent. On the other hand, unlike opinion, faith holds to its object with certainty, without any hesitation or hanging back; and in this respect faith is like knowledge.17 (What Aquinas means by 'certainty' in this connection I will consider in a later section.)

The contribution of will to the intellectual assent in faith occurs in this way. By nature, the will is moved by considerations of goodness. The ultimate end of the will can be thought of in either of two ways. On the one hand, it is the happiness of the willer; and, on the other hand, it is God, who is himself the true good and thus the perfect happiness of the willer. The propositions of faith, entertained by the intellect, describe the combination of both these ultimate goods, namely, the beatitude of eternal life in union with God, and present it as available to the believer. By themselves, the propositions of faith, together with whatever else is known or believed by the intellect, are not sufficient to move the intellect to assent to the propositions of faith.18 But the will is drawn to the great good presented in the propositions of faith, and it influences the intellect to assent, in the sort of way familiar to us from science, where the design of experiments is often tailored to rule out just this kind of influence of will on intellect. In the case of faith, on Aquinas's view, will does and should influence the intellect to assent to the propositions of faith. For faith, then, a motion is required both on the part of the intellect and on the part of the will. Furthermore, in consequence of this influence of will on intellect, intellect and will cleave to the propositions of faith with the sort of certainty normally found only in cases of knowledge.19

This description of Aquinas's conception of faith, however, doesn't yet distinguish between the faithof committed religious believers and the faith of devils. The devils also believe, and tremble (James 2:19). On traditional Christian doctrine, of course, for some of the propositions of faith, devils have knowledge, and not faith; the proposition that God exists is a prime example. But for some of the propositions of faith, such as that the man Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, the promised redeemer of the world, or that Christ will come again to establish the kingdom of heaven on earth, the devils must rely on belief rather than knowledge. Nothing in their experience of God or the supernatural realm (at least up to a certain time, such as the time of the harrowing of hell or the second coming) puts them in a position to know that that particular human being is God's chosen means of saving the fallen human race or restoring the earth. With regard to such propositions, on Aquinas's account, the difference between devils and religious believers isnot that believers have faith and devils do not, but rather that devils (or any others who are convinced of the truth of Christianity and hate it) do not have what Aquinas calls formed faith, whereas believers do.

The will can move the intellect to assent in two different ways, according to Aquinas. In the case of believers, the will is drawn by God's goodness to move the intellect to assent to the propositions of faith. This way of having the will move the intellect in faith is called 'formed faith' because in it the intellectual assent to the propositions of faith takes its form from the love of God's goodness which animates the will. In the case of the devils, however, the faith they have is unformed by charity and remains perfectly consistent with malice. Even though the devils do not see for themselves the truth of what the church teaches, their will commands the intellect to assent to the teachings of the church, Aquinas says, because they see manifest signs that the doctrine of the church is from God.20

This point of Aquinas's is not clear. Why should belief based on evident signs testifying to the truth of what is believed count as a case of will's influencing intellectual assent? Why shouldn't it count instead as a case in which the object of the belief is sufficient by itself to move the intellect? And how does this description of the devils' belief distinguish their sort of faith from the faith of believers? The first part of the answer to these questions comes from noticing that the manifest signs are not direct evidence for the truth of the propositions believed, but rather evidence for the authority of the people and institutions promulgating those propositions (and therefore only indirect evidence for the propositions). The example of unformed faith Aquinas gives in this connection is one where belief in a prophet's prediction arises from seeing that prophet raise a person from the dead. This example suggests that what Aquinas means by manifest signs inclining the devils to belief is a demonstration of superhuman power that seems attributable only to God. If this is right, then the manifest signs testify to the authority of those promulgating what is believed, and so indirectly to the truth of what is believed, because they indicate that the authority of God supports those who teach the beliefs in question.

(Of course, not every case in which a person holds a belief based on authority is a case in which will enters into the assent to that belief. If a person believes that genes are the unit of inheritance because all reputable biologists say so, it does not seem as if will has a role to play in the formation of his belief. Aquinas's example of a belief based on authority, however, is different. In his example the belief in question is a belief in the truth of a prediction uttered by a person who claims to be a prophet, and assent is given to the belief because the prophet has demonstrated supernatural power. In this sort of case the evidence does not seem sufficient to move the intellect to belief. Even if there were no question about the prophet's power, it would not immediately follow that the prophet's prediction wastrue. The source of the power might be such as not to guarantee the truth of claims made by the wielder of that power. In this sort of case, then, there is room for the intellect to be moved to assent by the will.)

If we now take seriously Aquinas's claim that what distinguishes diabolical from human belief in God is the kind of contribution made by the will to intellectual assent, we will have a clearer understanding of the distinction between formed and unformed faith. In the case of both devils and committed believers, will brings about intellectual assent in virtue of certain strong desires, but in the case of believers the desire in question is a desire directed toward goodness, and in the case of devils it is not. The act of faith on the part of committed believers is formed by charity, or love of God's goodness; and their faith is a virtue, a habit that contributes to perfecting a power or capacity. Since both will and intellect are involved in faith, for faith to be a virtue it has to contribute to perfecting a capacity of the will as well as an intellectual capacity. Now, for Aquinas, the intellect is perfected by the acquisition of truth; and since the propositions of faith are in his view true, the beliefs accepted in faith are perfective of the intellect. In this respect, there is no difference between diabolical and human faith. The act of will on the part of a committed believer, however, takes the form it does because of the charity she has, that is, because of her love of God's goodness. What inclines her will to move her intellect to assent to the propositions of faith, then, is the goodness represented by them. What inclines the will of the devils, on the other hand, is not the goodness of God perceived in the claims of faith, but their perception of God's power—power to be envied, hated, or sought for oneself—allied with those teaching the faith. Power considered just in its own right, however, is not a moral good; and so in being moved by considerations of power alone, the will is moved by an apparent, rather than a real, good. In this way, the devils' act of faith is unformed by charity or love of God's goodness and does not count as a virtue, because it leaves the will unperfected, and the will is one of the two powers involved in the act of faith.21

On Aquinas's account of faith, then, the propositions of faith entertained by a believer's intellect are not sufficient to move the intellect to assent; but the will, which is a hunger for goodness, is drawn by them because of the good of eternal life in union with God which the propositions of faith taken together present. Because the will is drawn to this good, it moves the intellect to assent to the propositions of faith; and it moves the intellect in such a way that the consequent intellectual assent has the kind of certainty ordinarily found only in cases of knowledge. It is clear that this account raises many questions; I want to focus on just three of them.22

Objection 1

The role Aquinas assigns to the will in faith seems to imply (a) an acknowledgment that faith is without epistemic justification and (b) a concession of the sorts of charges Freudians often level against faith, namely, that faith is simply another case of wish-fulfillment belief. (a) If a believer's intellectual assent to the propositions of faith results primarily from her will's being drawn to the good represented in those propositions, there seems to be no reason for supposing that the propositions of faith are true or that her belief in them is justified. (b) On the other hand, if there is some way of warding off this sort of objection, then it seems as if precisely analogous sorts of reasoning ought to support as true or justified any belief a person wants to be true, such as Cromwell's false but firmly held belief during his last illness that he would be completely restored to health and continue to lead the nation.

Objection 2

Since the certainty of faith seems based at least largely on the action of the will, when the object of faith is not sufficient by itself to move the intellect to assent, why should faith be thought to have any certainty? The certainty of a set of beliefs seems to be or be dependent on some epistemic property of those beliefs. But on Aquinas's account, the certainty of faith stems from the will's being moved by the object of faith. Why would he suppose that an act of will is even relevant to the epistemic properties of beliefs?

Objection 3

Aquinas thinks that the way a human believer believes in God is preferable to the way devils believe. But why should he think so? Wouldn't it be better if human intellectual assent were obtained on the basis of considerations that by themselves moved the intellect sufficiently for assent, as in cases of knowledge, or, at least, if assent to beliefs were (like the assent of the devils) based on grounds sufficient to establish the authority of those promulgating the beliefs? There is something apparently inappropriate about obtaining intellectual assent by attracting the will to goodness rather than bv moving the intellect, the sort of inappropriateness there is, for example, in using a sewing machine to join two pieces of cloth by gluing the two pieces of cloth together and using the machine as a weight to hold them in place as the glue dries. Aquinas takes God to be the designer and creator of the intellect. Since God is omniscient and omnipotent, he could easily provide the sort of object for the intellect which would enable the intellect to function in the way it was made to do, either by making the propositions of faith so evident that they move the intellect to knowledge, or at least by providing for human beings the sort of evidence that according to Aquinas inclines devils to believe in some propositions of faith on the authority of the church. Why, then, should Aquinas think it is better for belief in the propositions of faith to be generated by the will's inclining to goodness?

4. Aquinas's Account of Goodness

Aquinas's understanding of the nature of goodness provides an important part of the basis on which to reply to these objections, especially to Objection (1a), that faith is unjustified since it is based on the will's hunger for goodness.

The central thesis of Aquinas's metaethics is that the terms 'being' and 'goodness' are the same in reference but different in sense.23 This claim is likely to strike us as obscure and peculiar, at least in part because we equate being with existence in the actual world, and it is quite clear that goodness is not to be identified with existence in the actual world. But Aquinas's concept of being is much broader than our concept of existence. By 'being,' Aquinas has in mind something like the full actualization of the potentialities a thing has in virtue of belonging to a natural kind; and this is what both 'being' and 'goodness' refer to, though they refer to it under two different descriptions. The expressions 'being' and 'goodness' are thus analogous to the expressions 'morning star' and 'evening star' in referring to the same thing but with different senses.

Aquinas takes the specifying potentiality of human beings to be reason, and he understands the actualization of it to consist in acting in accordance with reason. By converting the specific potentiality of humans into actuality, an agent's actions in accordance with reason increase the extent to which that agent has being as a human person. Because of the connection between being and goodness, such actions consequently also increase the extent to which the agent has goodness as a human person. So human goodness, like any other goodness appropriate to a particular species, is acquired in actualizing the potentiality specific to that species. The actions that contribute to a human agent's moral goodness, then, will be acts of will in accordance with reason.24 Since, on Aquinas's view, whatever actualizes a thing's specifying potentiality thereby also perfects the nature of the thing, his view about goodness can be summarized by saying that what is good for a thing is what is natural to it, and what is unnatural to a thing is bad for it. As for human nature, since it is characterized essentially by a capacity for rationality, what is irrational is contrary to human nature and so also not moral.25 Virtues, on this account, are habits disposing a person to act in accordance with essential human nature; vices are habits disposing a person to irrationality and are therefore discordant with human nature.26

Aquinas's attempt to ground a virtue theory of ethics in a metaethical claim relating goodness and being raises many questions and objections; but because I have discussed them elsewhere,27 I will leave them to one side here and add just one point about the relation of Aquinas's metaethics to his theology. Aquinas takes God to be essentially and uniquely "being itself." Given his metaethical thesis, it is no surprise to discover that Aquinas also takes God to be essentially and uniquely goodness itself. This theological interpretation of Aquinas's thesis regarding being and goodness entails a relationship between God and mo-rality that is an interesting alternative to divine-command theories of morality, which connect theology to morality by making morality a function of God's will or God's commands. Like divine-command theories, the relation between God and morality Aquinas adopts entails that there is a strong connection between God and the standard for morality. The goodness for the sake of which and in accordance with which God wills whatever he wills regarding human morality is identical with the divine nature. But because it is God's very nature and not any arbitrary decision of his that thereby constitutes the standard for morality, only things consonant with God's nature could be morally good. The theological interpretation of the central thesis of Aquinas's ethical theory thus provides the basis for an objective religious morality and avoids the subjectivism that often characterizes divine-command theories.

5. The Relation of Faith to Goodness

On the basis of this sketch of Aquinas's account of goodness and the preceding description of Aquinas's theory of the will, we can consider the objections to Aquinas's views of faith.

Objection (1) has two parts. Objection (1a) is that the propositions accepted in faith are unjustified, because it is the will's inclining to the good presented in them, rather than the intellect's being sufficiently moved by its object, that is primarily responsible for intellectual assent to those propositions. Objection (1b) is that this way of justifying beliefs held in faith seems to justify wish-fulfillment beliefs in general.

In order for a belief to be justified, there are certain criteria the belief must satisfy. An agent musthave acquired it by a reliable method, or it must cohere in the right sorts of ways with his other beliefs, or he must violate no epistemic obligations in holding it, or something else of the sort. In one or another of these ways, depending on the theory we adopt, we suppose that a belief is justified and that a believer may have some reasonable confidence in supposing that what he believes is in fact true.28 If a belief does not meet such criteria, we regard it as unjustified, or irrational. In general, Aquinas shares such views; he espouses a version of Aristotelian epistemology, and he is often careful to distinguish the epistemological status of the propositions in arguments he is considering. But in the case of faith, epistemological considerations seem not to play a major evaluative role at all for Aquinas. What, then, keeps faith from being unjustified or irrational?

The easiest way to answer this question will be to focus on one particular proposition appropriately held in faith, namely, the proposition that God exists. (Although Aquinas thinks that this proposition can be known to be true by natural reason, he also holds that not all people are in a position to know it by natural reason and that those who are not are justified in holding it on faith.) For different propositions of faith, such as that Christ rose from the dead, different but analogous answers can be given.

To see the answer to the question with regard to the proposition that God exists, we need to consider the connection Aquinas makes between being and goodness. Since 'goodness' and 'being' are the same in reference, where there is being there is also goodness, at least goodness in some respect and to some degree. For that reason, on Aquinas's account, even the worst of human beings, even Satan in fact, is not wholly bad, but has some goodness in some respect. But the relationship between being and goodness also holds the other way around. The presence of goodness entails the presence of being. Now, since, as we saw, Aquinas does not take being to be identical to existence in the actual world, this claim does not entail that any good thing we can imagine actually exists. Oedipus in Sophocles' Oedipus Rex is basically a good person but may be an entirely fictional character who never existed in reality. The sort of being Oedipus has in that case is just the sort of being appropriate to fictional characters (however exactly we explain that sort of being); Aquinas would not suppose that characters such as Oedipus have existence, even existence of some peculiar or attenuated sort. So in the case of any limited good, however we explain the attribution of being to it, on Aquinas's account the being it has will also be limited and need not include actual existence.

In the case of perfect goodness, on the other hand, things are different. The sort of being entailed by perfect goodness is perfect being, and Aquinas maintains that perfect being not only exists but exists necessarily. At this stage we can simply take this claim about the necessary existence of perfect being as a stipulation on Aquinas's part, although, in fact, the motivation for it is fundamental to his metaphysics.29 What is important to notice here is that since perfect being is entailed by perfect goodness, if perfect being necessarily exists, then perfect goodness is also necessarily exemplified.

What these reflections on Aquinas's claim about the connection between being and goodness show us is this. If the will hungers for a certain good thing whose goodness falls short of perfect goodness, and if the intellect is moved to assent to the proposition that that thing exists largely because of that hunger on the part of the will, the resulting belief will be unjustified or irrational. This is so because, although it follows from Aquinas's basic metaethical thesis that any particular good thing that is limited in goodness has being of some sort, it does not follow that it actually exists. On the otherhand, if the will hungers for goodness that is perfect and unlimited, and if the intellect is moved to assent to the proposition that what is hungered for exists or obtains largely because of that hunger on the part of the will, the resulting belief will not similarly be unjustified, for where there is perfect goodness, there is perfect being; and perfect being necessarily exists.

Does Aquinas's clarification of the interrelation of being and goodness constitute an argument for the claim that God exists?30 It is helpful here to distinguish between what we might call the metaphysical and the epistemological strands of an account of the justification of beliefs. The epistemological strand gives us criteria for determining which beliefs of ours are justified and which are not; for any individual belief, such criteria (at least in theory) enable us to tell whether we are justified in holding that belief. The metaphysical strand, on the other hand, provides an account of the nature of human knowing or of the world and our epistemic relation to it, or something of this sort, which explains the fact that some of our beliefs are justified, but it may do nothing to enable us to differentiate justified from unjustified beliefs in individual cases. Another approach to the same question is to think in terms of levels of justification. We can distinguish between S's being justified in believing p, on the one hand, and S's being justified in believing that S is justified in believing p, on the other. S might be justified in believing p without being in a position to know, or even to believe justifiedly, that she is justified in her belief that p.31 (As we shall see, Aquinas himself makes a distinction somewhat similar to this one, in distinguishing between the certainty of a belief and the subjective certainty of the believer who holds that belief.)

The explanation of the justification for the propositions of faith provided by Aquinas's account of being and goodness contains only the metaphysical strand, and not the epistemological one as well. It gives reasons for thinking that a believer is justified in believing that God exists, but not for thinking that a believer is in a position to determine that he is so justified. Aquinas's views explain what it is about reality and our relation to it which accounts for the justification of this belief held in faith. In ordinary cases, as in the kinds of cases good experimental design is intended to prevent in science, beliefs stemming primarily from the will's moving the intellect to assent to something because of the will's hungering for some good would not have much (if any) justification. Because goodness supervenes on being, limited goods have limited being, on Aquinas's understanding of being; but they may or may not actually exist. Perfect goodness, however, supervenes on perfect being; and, according to Aquinas, perfect being necessarily exists. If the will moves the intellect to assent to the existence of a thing on the basis of the will's hungering for the good of that thing, and if the good of that thing is not some limited good but perfect goodness, then in that case, on Aquinas's account, the resulting belief in the existence of that thing will have a great deal of justification. What is perfectly good not only is something that exists but in fact something that exists necessarily, since it supervenes on perfect being, which exists necessarily. Given this metaphysical theory, that is, given the supposition that goodness and being have the characteristics this theory ascribes to them, a believer S is justified in believing the claim he holds on faith.

But, of course, to say this is not to say that we are in a position to determine that we are justified in this belief. We might not have a good argument for (or we might not even accept) some or all of the metaphysical theory in question here; or we might accept it but not believe that any goodness or any being is perfect, so that the will's hungering for the good represented by the propositions of faith is just another instance of the will's hungering for a limited good, which may or may not exist. And Aquinas's account gives us no certain procedure for deciding whether a good that the will hungers for is a perfect or a limited good. For these reasons, Aquinas's account constitutes only the metaphysical and not the epistemological strand of a theory of justification for the belief held in faith. His account tells us what justifies this belief, namely, the nature of God, but not how we can determine with any high degree of probability that it is justified. And for these reasons, although his account constitutes an argument that a believer S is justified in believing the propositions held in faith, it does not give us an argument that S is justified in believing that he is justified in believing the propositions held in faith.

Although I have focused here on the belief that God exists (and will continue to emphasize that belief in what follows), it is not too hard to see how to extend this account to deal with other beliefs of faith. They might be acquired and justified in a manner similar to the belief that God exists. Consider, for example, the belief that Christ rose from the dead. We would have to add some considerations either of other metaphysical attributes of God and their relation to the divine goodness or of the perfectly good will of God, and these additional considerations will be the basis of a metaphysical (but not epistemological) strand of a theory of justification for this belief. On the other hand, other beliefs of faith, such as the belief in "one catholic and apostolic church," might be acquired or justified derivatively from a belief justified in the first way.32

As I have developed the reply to Objection (la), that on Aquinas's account beliefs held in faith are unjustified, it has implicit within it also a reply against Objection (1b), that Aquinas's account of faith warrants wish-fulfillment beliefs in general. In wish-fulfillment beliefs, such as the belief of a lazy, untalented student that he has done well on the exam he did not study for, the will moves the intellect to assent to the truth of a proposition asserting the existence of some good because of the will's desire for that good. But since for Aquinas limited goods may fail to exist, nothing in the will's hungering for limited goodness constitutes a reason for supposing that such a proposition is true; and so the belief that results from this process is unjustified. But since what the will hungers for in the case of faith is perfect goodness, there is not the same disconnection between the good hungered for and the existence of that good in the case of faith as there is in the case of wish-fulfillment. For this reason, the beliefs held in faith are not in the same camp as wish-fulfillment beliefs.

But there is perhaps one other thing to say about the objection that Aquinas's account of faith warrants wish-fulfillment beliefs. Besides the worry about the epistemological status of wish-fulfillment beliefs, we are inclined to find such beliefs objectionable because we think allowing will to guide intellect as it does in the case of wish-fulfillment beliefs is bound to lead to frustration or disappointment on the believer's part (or, as in the case of Cromwell, on the part of one's friends or followers). Without taking anything at all away from such commonsensical objections to wish-fulfillment beliefs, I want to point out that on Aquinas's account of the will there is another side to the story. According to Aquinas, a person necessarily wills her own happiness, and happiness is the ultimate end for the will; but a person's true happiness consists in her uniting with God. Therefore, the hunger of the will is not stilled until the willer is either in union with God or on the road to union with God, with the other desires of the will in harmony with that final goal. As Augustine puts it, addressing God, "Our hearts are restless till they rest in thee." But in that case, following the lead of the will, though frustrating or otherwise inadequate and deficient in the short run, is not an obstacle to human flourishing in the long run, if the process of following the will's hunger is carried on to itsnatural conclusion. If a person doesn't give up prematurely and settle for something ultimately unsatisfactory (as she may be inclined to do by desires preferring her own immediate pleasure or power to greater goods), following the desires of her heart, on this account, does end not only in her flourishing but also in the fulfillment of her heart's desire.

These replies to Objection (1) may serve only to exacerbate the worry embodied in Objection (2), that nothing in Aquinas's theory can account for the certainty he ascribes to those who have faith. As I argued above, Aquinas's account of the will as a hunger for the good and his conception of goodness and being provide the metaphysical strand of a theory of justification of belief but not the epistemological strand. They explain what it is about the world which, on Aquinas's view, makes the belief that God exists justified, but they don't put us in a position to determine with any great degree of probability that that belief is in fact so justified. What, then, allows Aquinas to say that believers have certainty with regard to the propositions of faith?

In fact, Aquinas concedes the main point of this objection. In a distinction analogous to the one I draw above between the metaphysical and the epistemological strands of the justification of belief, or between levels of justification, Aquinas says we can think of certainty in two different ways: either in terms of the cause of the certainty of the propositions' truth or as a characteristic of the person believing those propositions. The cause of the certainty of the propositions of faith is something altogether necessary, namely, God himself. Considered with regard to the cause of the certainty of the propositions' truth, then, faith is at least as certain as any other true beliefs entertained by human reason. That is, given God's nature and will, the propositions of faith are as certain as any propositions can be. On the other hand, however, if we consider the certainty of faith with regard to the person who believes, then the certainty of faith is considerably less than the certainty of many things about which human beings have knowledge, because some or all the propositions of faith are beyond reason for any human being.33 The certainty of faith, then, is a certainty based on the cause of the certainty of the propositions' truth and not a certainty that is a characteristic of believers.

Aquinas's position here may strike us as lame or defeated. He begins with the bold claim that the propositions of faith have the same sort of certainty as mathematical propositions known to be true, and he ends with the disappointingly weak claim that, even so, believers can't be anything like as certain about the propositions of faith as mathematicians can be about mathematical truths. What exactly is this distinction of Aquinas's with regard to certainty? And does it undermine what is generally seen as a key characteristic of faith, namely, the deep confidence of believers in the truth of the propositions believed?34

One way to understand Aquinas's distinction with regard to certainty is to recast it in terms of levels of justification. So understood, Aquinas's concern is to differentiate between a person's justification in believing the propositions of faith and her justification in believing that she is justified in believing the propositions of faith. From the fact that a person S is justified in a belief p, for example, that there is a tree in front of her, it does not follow that she is justified in believing that she is justified in believing p. A child, for example, might hold p and be entirely justified in doing so without even having (much less being justified in having) the belief that he was justified in believing p. Aquinas's view is that as regards the cause of the certainty of the propositions of faith, they are as certain as any propositions, but that as regards their certainty with regard to the person who believes them, theircertainty is less than other propositions known. Perhaps what he has in mind is that a person S who believes the propositions of faith is as justified in holding those beliefs as it is possible for him to be, because the "cause of the certainty" of the propositions of faith is God himself. But it does not follow that S is justified to the same degree in believing that he is justified in believing the propositions of faith, so that with respect to this level of justification the believer is more justified as regards, for instance, mathematical truths he knows than as regards the propositions of faith.

Though this approach may help in understanding Aquinas's distinction, it only exacerbates the worry about his position because, on the face of it, it seems as if it is the higher-order level of justification that must play a role in the assurance of religious believers. Does Aquinas's point about the certainty of faith leave him unable to account for the confidence believers have in the truth of the propositions believed in faith? If Aquinas thought that believers' confidence consisted in simple cognitive certainty, then the answer to this question might be affirmative. But his view is more complicated, in part because of the crucial role of will in faith. On Aquinas's view, we can explain the assurance and confidence of believers in two ways, based either on intellect or on will. As regards intellect, a believer might not be in a position to know, or even to have a great deal of justification in the belief, that his belief in the propositions of faith is justified. But if he thinks of the propositions of faith as Aquinas does, as based on the necessary nature and perfectly good decrees of God, then he is in a position to believe justifiedly that if his belief in the propositions of faith is justified at all, it is justified with the maximal justification possible for human beliefs. On the other hand, as regards the will, although a believer may not know, or even have a great deal of justification in the belief, that his belief in the propositions of faith is justified, he is in a position to know that if the propositions of faith are true, then his happiness can be achieved and the deepest desires of his heart can be fulfilled only by adherence to the propositions of faith. So while a person will not hold the propositions of faith with the sort of simple cognitive certainty he holds mathematical truths he knows, if he assents to the propositions of faith at all, on Aquinas's view he will hold them with the greatest possible commitment. This way of interpreting Aquinas's position, then, helps to explain his claim that although in the case of faith the object of the intellect isn't sufficient to move the intellect by itself, it nonetheless inclines the will to move the intellect to the sort of unwavering assent given in cases of knowledge.

These replies to Objections (1) and (2) seem only to sharpen the point of Objection (3). Why would Aquinas think that the will's moving the intellect to assent to the propositions of faith is the way such assent ought to be obtained? He clearly supposes that for human persons in this life basing assent to the propositions of faith on the will in virtue of a desire for God's goodness is in general preferable to the way intellectual assent is obtained in the case of knowledge, when the object known is sufficient by itself to move the intellect, or to the way intellectual assent is produced in the case of the devils who, he thinks, see God's power working in those promulgating the faith and accept some of the propositions of the faith because of their concern with power. An omniscient, omnipotent God could make the propositions of faith so manifest that intellectual assent would be generated without any intervention on the part of the will. And we might be inclined to join Bertrand Russell in charging God with having provided "not enough evidence." But Aquinas is so far from supposing that God ought to have provided sufficient evidence that he plainly takes it to be an important feature of faith that the object of intellect in the case of faith is not enough by itself to move the intellect, that, instead, the intellect has to be moved by the will, which is drawn to the good represented in the propositions of faith.

To understand why Aquinas takes this position, it is important to see what he thinks the point of faith is. Both intellect and will have a role in faith, but we tend to assume unreflectively, as Russell clearly did, that the first and most important effect the acquisition of faith produces in the believer is a change in intellectual states. Consequently, we might suppose, the immediate point of faith is some alteration of the intellect.35 If we think of the efficacy of faith in this way, it is certainly understandable that we should feel some perplexity. Why would an omniscient, omnipotent God, himself the creator of the intellect, arrange things in such a way that certain crucial states of intellect must be brought about by means that bypass the natural functioning of the intellect? Aquinas, however, sees the role of faith differently, and in his position there is the solution of this difficulty. On Aquinas's view, the most important immediate point of faith is not its influence on the Intellect, but its operation on the will. Of course, given the kind of connection Aquinas postulates between intellect and will, it is plain that whatever has an effect on the will first operates on the intellect (in the way I have described in section 2 above). But, on Aquinas's view, the purpose of the changes in intellect brought about in the acquisition of faith has to do with the consequent and corresponding changes in the will.

On traditional Christian doctrine, which Aquinas accepts, all human beings are marred by original sin. Original sin entails, among other things, that a post-fall person tends to will what he ought not to will, that he tends to will his own immediate pleasure and power over greater goods, and that this inborn tendency of will results sooner or later in sinful actions, with consequent moral deterioration. In such a state a person cannot be united with God in heaven but is rather destined to be left to himself in hell. God in his goodness, however, has provided salvation from this state, which is available for all, although not all avail themselves of it. The story of how this salvation is brought about has two parts, one the doctrine of the atonement, which is outside the scope of this paper, and the other the doctrine of justification by faith.36 Justification is the process by which the inborn defect of the will is corrected and in which God brings a person from a state of sin to a state of justice. In faith the will desires the goodness of God, which is what the propositions of faith taken together show the will. This desire for God's goodness naturally carries with it a repugnance for what is incompatible with God's goodness, and so for one's own sins. When a believer has such a love of God's goodness and hatred of her own sins, then God can carry on the work of fixing the bent will of the believer without violating her free will and turning her into a sort of robot. In loving God's goodness and hating her own sins, the believer in effect wants to have a will that wills what is good; and so by working to cure her will of its evil, God is giving her the sort of will she herself wants to have.37 Without the believer's act of will in faith, however, God could not act on her will to fix it without violating the very nature of the will he was trying to make whole. Since it is also a central part of Christian doctrine that the believer cannot fix the defect in her will herself,38 it is clear that on traditional Christian views the act of will in faith is essential to salvation.

But if the act of will in faith has the importance it does in the scheme of salvation, then since on Aquinas's theory the will is moved by the intellect's representating certain things as good, the point of Objection 3 seems only sharpened. In view of all that has just been said, a proponent of this objection might hold, isn't it clear that a good God ought to make the propositions of faith manifest to everyone, either by making the object of the intellect sufficient by itself to move the intellect or by making the authority of those promulgating those propositions evident, so that everyone wouldnaturally form the act of will requisite for salvation?

On Aquinas's account of the way faith works, a believer's will is drawn by the goodness represented in the propositions of faith, although her intellect is not sufficiently moved by its object to assent to the propositions of faith. That is, the goodness of God is made manifest through the propositions of faith (for instance, in the claims that Christ suffered and died for the salvation of all people), but the truth of those propositions is not. Suppose now, however, that a person were to see manifestly and evidently either the truth of the propositions of faith or the authority of those promulgating such propositions. Then what such a person would know is that there exists an entity of unlimited power, the ruler of the universe, who draws human beings into union with himself through the redemptive power of the incarnate Christ. If such a person were then to ally herself with God, it might be because of an attraction to God's goodness, or it might also be because of a desire to be on the side of power.

Since, on the doctrine of original sin, human beings are already marred by a tendency to prefer their own power to greater goods, a tendency that faith is precisely designed to cure, there is consequently a great danger in allowing the things asserted in the propositions of faith to be overwhelmingly obvious. There would be a danger in trying to attract overweight people to Weight Watchers meetings by promising to begin the meetings with a lavish banquet; but it would be a limited danger, because one could plan more ascetic meetings for later. Eventually, then, one could decouple the excessive desire for food and the desire for the good of temperance represented by Weight Watchers meetings, so that the former desire would be diminished and the latter enhanced. But in the case of God, if it once becomes overwhelmingly obvious that an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God exists and has a redemptive plan of the sort presented in the propositions of faith, then it also becomes overwhelmingly obvious that endless power is necessarily coexemplified with perfect goodness and that human beings can be on the side of power in allying themselves with goodness.39 In that case, however, it ceases to be possible to decouple the desire for power and the desire for goodness, so that the former is diminished and the latter is enhanced. What these sketchy considerations suggest is that the failure to provide sufficient evidence for all the propositions of faith and the requirement that intellectual assent be produced by the will's attraction to goodness not only are no embarrassment for Aquinas's account of faith but in fact constitute an important means of furthering the purpose he takes faith to have, namely, the moral regeneration of postfall human beings.

6. Conclusion

There is, then, another way of thinking about faith, which sees the main and immediate purpose of faith in its role in the moral life of the believer, rather than in its influence on the intellect. On this way of thinking about faith, the justification for faith is different from that for most other sorts of belief, because it is grounded not primarily in some relation of the intellect to its object, but rather in the will's relation to its object, where the nature of the will is understood as Aquinas takes it. Aquinas's understanding of faith does not enable us to know what is believed in faith (in his sense of knowledge), but it can nonetheless explain how what is believed in faith is maximally justified. Furthermore, this approach to faith has the advantage of explaining why an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God would let the epistemic relation of human beings to himself rest on faith, rather than knowledge, and why a person's having faith should be thought to be meritorious in any way, because it holds faith to be the beginning of a moral reform of the will, of a kind that simple knowledge of the propositions of faith by itself could not bring about. And, finally, this way of thinking about faith accounts for the common conviction that epistemological considerations play little role in initiating most conversions. On Aquinas's account of faith, what is happening in such cases (or, at any rate, in the case of true conversions) is not that the intellect is weighing and judging epistemological considerations but that the will is drawn to a love of God's goodness and in consequence moves the intellect to assent to the propositions of faith.

It is important to say explicitly and emphatically that nothing in this position of Aquinas's denies reason a role in the life of faith. In a tradition going back at least as far as Augustine, Aquinas takes understanding the propositions of faith to be the outcome of a process for which faith is a necessary condition. Having once acquired faith in the way spelled out here, the believer is then in a position to reflect philosophically on the propositions of faith, to engage in the enterprise of natural or philosophical theology.40 But on Aquinas's view it would be a mistake to suppose that faith is acquired by such an exercise of reason. Although reason may clear away some intellectual obstacles that bar the believer's way to faith, assent to the propositions of faith is initially produced by the will's hungering for God's goodness and moving the intellect in consequence. And the point of this proceedings on the part of the intellect and will is not a peculiar acquisition of certain states of intellect but the moral regeneration of a post-fall human being from his tendency to prefer his own power and pleasure to greater goods.

With this understanding of faith, then, it is possible to see a solution to some long-standing puzzles about faith and to integrate the justification for faith with general Christian views about the role of faith in the scheme of salvation.41


This paper is a substantially revised version of Stump 1989b, which was published in The Philosophy in Christianity, ed. Godfrey Versey, Royal Institute of Philosophy Lecture Series 23, Supplement to Philosophy 1989 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

1 Swinburne 1981.

2 See, e.g., Plantinga 1983.

3 To answer this sort of question, it is sometimes suggested that if it were indubitable to all of us that God exists, we would be overwhelmed by him, and our capacity to use our free will to make significant choices would be undermined. (See, e.g., Swinburne 1979, pp. 211-12.) But this answer can't adequately serve as a defense of Christian views of faith. According to traditional Christian doctrine, angels who stood in the presence of God were nonetheless able to make the significant free choice of rebelling against him.

4 For an interesting answer to these questions, different from the one I pursue in this paper, see Robert Adams 1984. Adams answers the questions I raise here by arguing that some involuntary cognitive failures are nonetheless blameworthy and that sometimes the rightness of beliefs is the feature of them that occasions praise.

5 Those who are uncomfortable with the apparent hypostatization of medieval terminology here may recast the discussion in the more fashionable terms of either programs or modules. For example, talk about the will in this context can be recast in terms of the module responsible for what neuropsychologists sometimes call 'the executive function.' The particular claim of Aquinas's at issue here can then be understood in this way: the module that is responsible for the executive function is organized in such a way as to be activated by the recognition of goodness, but some other module, some component unit of what Aquinas calls intellect, is responsible for processing the recognition of goodness and passing it on to the module that corresponds to what he calls will.

6 See ST Iallae.6.4.adl; Ia.82.1, 83.1, and 82.4.

7ST Ia.82.1 and 2. To those who suppose that cases of suicide are an obvious counterexample to Aquinas's account here, Aquinas might reply that the action of a suicide, and the despair in which it is done, can be explained precisely by assuming that in the view of the suicide, the closest he can get to happiness is the oblivion of death. He chooses the evasion of unhappiness as his nearest approach to happiness.

8 Cf. ST IaIIae.17.1. Of course, on Aquinas's theory, the will does so only in case the intellect represents doing so at that time, under some description, as good. Every act of willing is preceded by some apprehension on the part of the intellect, but not every apprehension on the part of the intellect need be preceded by an act of will. (See ST Ia.82.4.)

9ST Iallae.9.2.

10 Cf. ST Ia.81.3 and IaIlae.10.3.

11 I discuss Aquinas's theory of the will and his account of the will's freedom more fully in Stump 1990.

12 See ST IIaIIae.2.1; DV XIV. 1.

13ST IIaIIae.1.4.

14 See, e.g., ST IIaIIae.5.2; cf also DV XIV. 1. Aquinas's example illustrating the role of the will in intellectual acts involves belief based on the testimony of another, as in the case of someone who sees a prophet raise a person from the dead and consequently comes to believe the prophet's prediction about the future. This example, however, doesn't make clear just how the will is supposed to contribute to the act of the intellect.

15 We might suppose that this is just a case in which Dorothea is weighing evidence, the evidence of what she has seen against the evidence of her knowledge of Ladislaw's character, and coming down on the side of the evidence based on her knowledge of his character. If this were a correct analysis of the case, then it would not constitute an example of will's effecting assent to a belief. But, in fact, I think this analysis isn't true to the phenomena in more than one way. In the first place, Dorothea doesn't deliberate or weigh evidence. Although she reflects on what she has seen, her tendency fromthe outset is to exonerate Ladislaw. Furthermore, this analysis by itself can't account for Dorothea's standing by Ladislaw. The evidence of the scene she sees is sufficient to outweigh her past experience of him. It is not psychologically possible for her in the immediate aftermath of that scene to think of an innocuous explanation of his conduct, and she is aware of the sad truth that no one, however splendid his character has been, is immune from a moral fall.

16ST IIaIIae.1.2.

17ST IIaIIae. 1.4,2.1 and 2.

18 Some propositions of faith, such as the proposition that God is one substance but three persons, might seem to some people sufficient to move the will to dissent from them. For considerations of space I leave such propositions of faith and their problems to one side. But for an example of what can be done even in such cases to disarm the claim that some propositions of faith are repugnant to reason, see van Inwagen 1988.

19 Cf. ST IIaIIae.4.1; DV XIV. 1 and 2. In the exposition of Aquinas's account of faith which follows, I leave to one side entirely Aquinas's views of the relation between faith and grace, simply because one cannot work on everything at once. The fact that I do not expound Aquinas's views of grace here should not mislead anyone into thinking that when the will is drawn to goodness in faith, on Aquinas's account we have a natural operation of the will, or one instigated solely by human action. The movement of the will in faith, on Aquinas's view, includes both an act of free will on the believer's part and an infusion of grace on God's part. In this essay I am focusing on the nature of that act of free will and leaving to one side what Aquinas says about its supernatural cause. For discussion of that side of Aquinas's views and a detailed exposition of his theory of faith and grace, see Stump 1989a. In correspondence, William Alston has suggested to me that since on Aquinas's views divine grace brings about faith, one way to explain the justification of beliefs held in faith is to take divine grace as the reliable mechanism responsible for the formation of beliefs held in faith. This is an ingenious and intriguing suggestion, which is not incompatible with but perhaps complementary to the account of the justification of faith defended in this paper.

20ST IIaIIae.5.2.

21ST IIaIIae.4.1, 4, 5; 7.1; DV XIV.2, 5, and 6.

22 Somewhat different analyses of Aquinas's account of faith are given in the following works: Penelhum 1977; Pojman 1986, esp. pp. 32-40; Potts 1971; Ross 1985 and 1986. My objections to the interpretations of Aquinas in the work of Penelhum and Potts are given in effect in my own analysis above; and the problems they raise for Aquinas's account in my view either are solved or do not arise in the first place on the interpretation of Aquinas presented here. Although there are some superficial differences between my interpretation of Aquinas and that argued for by Ross, my account is in many respects similar to his, and I am indebted to his papers for stimulating my interest in Aquinas's views of faith. Ross insists on rendering 'cognitio' as 'knowledge' and thus making faith a species of knowledge for Aquinas. In my view, this insistence is more confusing than helpful. Aquinas's criteria for knowledge are much stricter than contemporary standards, which allow as knowledge much that Aquinas would have classified under dialectic rather than demonstration. To render both 'cognitio' and 'scientia' as 'knowledge' is to blur what is a distinction for Aquinas and to make his epistemology sound more contemporary than it is.

23ST Ia.5.1; DVXXI. 1 and 2. Aquinas's metaethics is discussed in detail in Chapter 4 of this book; see also Aertsen 1988a. For the medieval tradition before Aquinas, see MacDonald 1986.

24 See, e.g., SCG III.9.1 (n. 1928); ST IaIIae.18.5.

25SCG III.7.6 (n. 1915); ST IaIIae.71.1.

26ST IaIIae.54.3.

27 Chapter 4 above.

28 Nothing in this chapter requires one account of justification rather than another, but of the currently discussed accounts, the one I am inclined to find most plausible is that of William Alston. See, e.g., Alston 1985. On Alston's view, to be justified in believing that p is to believe that p in such a way as to be in a strong position to believe something true.

29 For Aquinas, perfect being is being that is whole and complete, without defect or limit. But to be entirely whole and without defect, on Aquinas's view, is to be without any unactualized potentiality. Perfect being, then, is altogether actual. Anything that is altogether actual, however, must have its existence included within its essence; otherwise, according to Aquinas, there would be in it the potential for nonexistence. But if perfect being has its existence as part of its essence, if it has no potential for nonexistence, then it is necessarily existent. See, e.g., ST Ia.3.4: "Secundo, [in Deo est idem essentia et esse] quia esse est actualitas omnis formae vel naturae.… Oportet igitur quod ipsum esse comparetur ad essentiam quae est aliud ab ipso, sicut actus ad potentiam. Cum igitur in Deo nihil sit potentiale, ut ostensum est supra, sequitur quod non sit aliud in eo essentia quam suum esse. Sua igitur essentia est suum esse." Considerations of this sort lie behind his view that perfect being necessarily exists. For a defense of Aquinas's account of divine simplicity, see Stump and Kretzmann 1985.

30 Since Aquinas identifies perfect being with God, someone might object at this point that if we do not take Aquinas's claim about the necessary existence of perfect being as a stipulation but follow his reasoning from the nature of perfect being to that conclusion, we have an attempt at a proof—a peculiar variation on the ontological argument—of God's existence, so that what Aquinas maintains about perfect goodness can be admitted only by those willing to accept such a proof and its conclusion. But this objection is just confused. The premises of this putative proof are such that they would be accepted only by someone who already accepted the conclusion, so that the putative proof would be blatantly question-begging. Aquinas's reasoning, then, does not constitute a proof for God's existence; it is, rather, a clarification of two standard divine attributes and their interrelations.

31 See, e.g., Alston 1980 (reprinted Alston 1989).

32 I am grateful to William Alston for helping me work through this point. As a rough example of the way in which the account of faith presented here could be extended to other beliefs of faith, consider an unreflective, historically uninformed undergraduate S who reads the Acts of John for the first time and rejects it, although he accepts the Gospel of John as authoritative for Christianity, because he unreflectively rejects as not good the character presented as the Apostle John in the Acts. S believes on faith that (p) the Gospel of John is authoritative but the Acts is not. His belief, however, is not an example of a case in which the object of the intellect is sufficient to move the intellect; rather, his belief results at least in part from some influence of the will, based on his dislike of the character presented as the apostle in the Acts and his desire not to admit such a character into his list of religious heroes. For the sake of the example, let it also be the case that his reaction is appropriate, that the character presented as the Apostle John in the Acts is not worthy of moral praise. Then the existence of a perfectly good, necessarily existent God, all of whose decrees and interactions with human beings are also perfectly good, is what justifies S's belief that p. It does not follow, however, that S is justified in believing that he is justified in believing p. These suggestions for extending the account defended in this paper are, of course, very sketchy; filling them out would require a great deal more detailed work.

33ST IIaIIae.4.8.

34 As everyone must recognize, a believer's adherence to the propositions of faith has a manifold basis, which includes religious experience, participation in a religious community such as a church, and so on. I certainly do not intend to ignore the importance of such elements in forming or sustaining adherence to faith. But what is of concern to me here is just that part of the explanation of a believer's adherence to the propositions of faith which is provided by Aquinas's account of goodness and being and his theory of the nature of the will, and so I will say nothing here about religious experience or Christian community. For an account of the importance of religious experience in forming and sustaining belief in God, see Alston forthcoming.

35 The ultimate point of faith is, of course, salvation.

36 I discuss the doctrine of the atonement in Stump 1988a, and I consider justification by faith in more detail in Stump 1989a.

37 For elaboration of this point, see Stump 1988b.

38 For some explanation and argument in support of this view, see Stump 1989a.

39 Someone might object that anyone who believes God to be both omnipotent and perfectly good will also believe that in allying himself with perfect goodness he is putting himself on the side of power and that therefore it is not possible to decouple the desire for goodness from the desire for power in the case of believers. The objector's premise seems to me fundamentally correct, but the conclusion he seeks to draw from it doesn't follow. Someone who believes in an omnipotent, perfectly good God will believe that in following goodness he is also associating himself with power. But as long as it is not overwhelmingly obvious to a believer that there is a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good, it will not be overwhelmingly obvious that in following what seems to him good he is allyinghimself with power. For example, in the case of someone such as Mother Teresa, although it is clear that she has dedicated herself to goodness, it is not equally obvious, to believers observing her and even (one supposes) to her herself, that she is on the side of power. In such a case it is possible for the desire for goodness and the desire for power to pull a person in different directions, in spite of her belief in an omnipotent, perfectly good God; and so it is possible to decouple the desire for goodness from a desire for power when it is not overwhelmingly obvious that there is an omnipotent, perfectly good God. For a sensitive and penetrating portrayal of this point, see the representation of the temptations of Christ in Milton's Paradise Regained. I am grateful to Steve Maitzen for calling my attention to this objection.

40 For a discussion of the role of reason in the life of faith and a consideration of the different states of acquiring faith and reflecting on it, see Kretzmann forthcoming.

41 I am indebted to Norman Kretzmann, Scott MacDonald, Steven Maitzen, and Alvin Plantinga for comments or suggestions, and I am particularly grateful to William Alston for his many helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

Oliva Blanchette (essay date 1992)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15465

SOURCE: "Introduction: Being with Order" in Perfection of the Universe according to Aquinas: A Teleological Cosmology, The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992, pp. 1-31.

[In the following excerpt, Blanchette explains Aquinas's philosophy of being, as well as what he meant by the perfection of the universe.]

The idea of the universe and its perfection is not one we think of readily. Moreover, if we do think of the universe as a whole, we are not inclined to think of it as perfect. Our idea of perfection is no less vague and vacillating than our idea of the universe. Physicists think of the universe as a whole in their cosmology, but only in terms of their abstract mathematical formulas. They do not think of it in its concrete perfection as including life and thought. Philosophers pay more attention to life and thought as part of what goes on in the real world, but they are less apt today to think of these as perfections, much less as perfection of the universe. If there is any thought given to teleology, it is not usually associated with cosmology.

Thus the thought of the perfection of the universe perplexes us. Is it an inference that the world is "the best possible" in some closed fashion, as Leibniz and perhaps Plato thought about it, or is it a suggestion that the world is in process toward some kind of completion? Is it something that physics alone can deal with, or is it something that requires some philosophical thought, if not some theology as well?

I shall explore this perplexity by examining the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who was at once a theologian, a philosopher, and even a physicist of sorts, inasmuch as he accepted the ancient cosmology and often thought in its terms to elucidate questions in theology and philosophy.

For Aquinas the idea of the perfection of the universe was first associated with the physical makeup of the universe, with its fundamental laws of motion and its essential constituent parts. It was thus first a physical idea, so to speak. But it did not remain only that. It became also a metaphysical idea relevant to the understanding of all the different parts of the universe, spiritual as well as physical, and to the understanding of being itself in its different degrees. In other words, it became an integral part of his metaphysics or his philosophy of being, from which it was assumed into his theology.

It is from this integration of the idea of the universe and its perfection into Saint Thomas's better known metaphysics of being that we begin our exploration.

Philosophy of Being and the Universe

Saint Thomas Aquinas's philosophy of being has received considerable attention in recent times. Etienne Gilson, for example, focused on it at the beginning of his presentation of Le thomisme, at least starting from the fourth edition in 1942, and since then has made much of it in his own more systematic works, Being and Some Philosophers and The Elements of Christian Philosophy.1 For him "the notion of the act of being (esse) … is the very core of the Thomistic interpretation of reality."2 Joseph de Finance has contributed an important study, Étre et agir dans la philosophie de saint Thomas,3 which has not received sufficient attention among English-speaking interpreters of Saint Thomas. Louis Geiger has studied the participation of this act of being4 and André Hayen has studied its communication.5 Again, Cornelio Fabro has refocused on the Thomist esse, pulling many of these classical themes of participation and causality together in a new synthesis and maintaining that the Thomist metaphysics of esse as original and originating act offers the best solution to the kind of impasse into which modern thought, down to Hegel and Heidegger, seems to have fallen as a result of having given priority to essence over esse, or thought over being.6

All of these studies give attention to the philosophy of the universe, as it plays such a prominent part in the thought of Saint Thomas. Gilson devotes one brief chapter to it in his account of Saint Thomas's philosophy (The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, chap. VI, 130-43). The importance of the theme is brought out more strongly by de Finance, who insists not only on the participation in being but also on the conversion of being toward its source through its own dynamism and the various degrees of activity that constitute an ascension of the entire universe (Étre et agir, chaps. V-IX, 160-355). Geiger distinguishes between two systems of participation, one by composition and one by participation, each of which includes a system of the world. In his presentation of Saint Thomas's synthesis of these two systems, Geiger focuses on the system of the world anew as well as on being (La participation, chap. XIV), thus indicating the complementarity of these two themes through the notion of participation, a complementarity that will be made clear also through the notion of perfection. Hayen, by focusing on the "communication of being," brings us closer to where the philosophy of being and the philosophy of the universe join: esse would seem to be something "common" in being communicated to a diversity of beings, but Hayen tends to view the hierarchy that this implies for the system of the world more as a remnant of Greek thought than as something integral to Saint Thomas's own approach to being (La communication, vol. II, part 2, chap. 2). Finally, Fabro speaks of a twofold order of causality, one predicamental, which is according to becoming or movement in the universe, and one transcendental, which is according to being or esse, the proper term of the act of creation itself (Participation et causalité, part 2, sects. II and III).Fabro's concern, however, is more with working out the relation between creatures and the creator through the act of being than with the order of creation as such. Thus, in all of these studies, and in others as well7 the idea of the universe is an integral part of what is at issue, along with the idea of being, but it is not elaborated upon as a theme in its own right, so to speak, as I intend to do here. By "universe" here is meant the totality of things created, the universitas creaturarum, which, according to Aquinas, is to be distinguished from the Creator.

To appreciate how Saint Thomas's philosophy of the universe relates to his philosophy of being, it is enough to reflect on how they come together in relation to the act of creation as such, which, as we shall see, is the only properly universal kind of causation. To speak of the First Cause is to speak at the same time of the Universal Cause, Saint Thomas's preferred way of referring to God in terms of causation, as the First Cause is the cause of everything as well as of the whole of being. He speaks of creation, for example, as an "emanation of the whole of being from the universal cause" (S.T., I, q. 45, a. 1, c). But this is also to suggest that the Universal Cause is the cause of the universe as such. In distinguishing creation from the way of becoming by which something comes to be, Aquinas writes of "another origin of things according to which to be is given out to the whole university of things (esse attribuitur toti universitati rerum) by the first being (ente) which is its own to be (esse)" (De Subst. Sep., c. 9, n. 48). Thus, to insist on esse as the proper term of creation, as Fabro rightly does with reference to the Thomist idea of transcendental causation, is not to cut esse off from the universitas rerum, as if it were some partial abstraction, but to see it concretely as ordered in a diversity and a multiplicity of beings. "Divine wisdom," Aquinas writes at another point, "is the effective cause of all things, insofar as it produces them in esse and it not only gives being to things, but also being with order in things—esse cum ordine in rebus" (In De Div. Nom., c. 7, lec. 4, n. 733). At another point he speaks of the flow from the first principle as that "from which is perfected the total being of all things—a quo perficitur totum esse omnium rerum" (In I De Caelo, lec. 6, n. 64[7]). This suggests how closely his philosophy of being is related to a philosophy of the universe.

In one sense, the Thomist esse is what is highest in creatures, which is why only the First Cause can be its effective cause. Esse is the perfection of perfections in every created being. But it is also what is most common among all created things, not as some abstract lowest common denominator, but as that which is shared in a wide diversity of degrees. In another sense, however, as Saint Thomas also suggests at times, the perfection of the universe is the highest good in creation, which, as in the case of esse, gives it a special relation to the creative act as such. "The best in all caused beings is the order of the universe, in which the good of the universe consists.… Hence it is necessary to bring the order of the universe back to God as to its proper cause" (C.G., I, c. 42, n. 1183). In other words, "the distinction of the parts of the universe and their order is the proper effect of the first cause" (ibid., n. 1186), much as esse is in creatures, which are by participation as distinct from the Esse subsistens. The Thomist idea of esse and the Thomist idea of the universe thus tend to come together in the metaphysics of creation as well as in the notion of perfection and they flow together in the single idea of an esse cum ordine in rebus or a totum esse omnium rerum.

The Universe and Perfection

Perfection is a theme in the thought of Saint Thomas that Pervades not only his philosophy of being and his philosophy of the universe but also almost every other subject he ever discussed, whether incosmology, anthropology, or theology. In many respects it ties all of these realms together. Like his idea of the universe, with which it is closely related, as we shall show, perfection is an idea that has received little systematic attention in Thomistic studies, even though it has been widely used by both interpreters and Saint Thomas alike, as can readily be seen by a simple consultation of the Index Thomisticus8 where references to "perfection" in its different forms as noun, verb, adjective, or adverb cover literally hundreds of columns.

"Perfection" is a notion we have gotten out of the habit of using, except perhaps for Whiteheadian process philosophers; for Saint Thomas, however, who still knew how to think in terms of teleology, it was a basic category, or, better still, a complex of categories or ideas he used constantly to articulate his understanding of reality. Perhaps more than anything else, it is the key to understanding his philosophy of the universe: as we shall have occasion to see, the totality that characterizes what is meant by "universe" is in many respects another term for "perfection," a sort of "perfection of perfections" on the level of creation as a whole or the totum esse omnium rerum.

Saint Thomas's theory of the universe has been the object of two studies worth mentioning here, one in philosophy and one in theology. In his work, L 'univers et 1'homme dans la philosophie de saint Thomas,9 Joseph Legrand has gathered together and organized most of the significant philosophical material concerning Saint Thomas on the universe and the human being's place in it, quite rightly centering his attention on human being, as we shall see for ourselves. In The Order of the Universe in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, 10 John H. Wright goes over much of the same material, but more synthetically and with a greater focus on the theological dimension of the question; that is, the relation of the universe to God, plus an indication of the many ways in which Saint Thomas's doctrine on the order of the universe was operative in his theology.

Both of these authors have performed a valuable service in bringing Saint Thomas's idea of the universe to the fore and in pulling together the materials that pertain to this idea. But neither of them has sufficiently insisted on the notion of perfection that Saint Thomas associates with the universe as a whole. In their work the notion recurs frequently, and inevitably, given Saint Thomas's consistent coupling of the two ideas, universe and perfection, but the idea of perfection and the importance it has for a proper understanding of the universe are never examined as they should be, considering that perfection is the synthesizing element in Saint Thomas's conception of the universe. Perfection, for example, governs the idea of degrees of being, the idea of diversity and multiplicity, and the idea of order itself, that which makes the universe truly a uni-verse, the universitas rerum. It is not just any idea of the universe that is of interest to, and in, Aquinas; it is the idea that the universe is already constituted with a certain degree of perfection as it moves toward its greater perfection. This is the idea that, in theology, influenced his conception of divine providence and predestination or of how fitting it was that the Word of God should become man, for the good of the universe as well as of man. In philosophy, this idea was the key to the need for diversity and multiplicity in the emanation of creatures from God, to the question of secondary causes operating in the universe under the First Cause, and to the understanding of the different degrees of being as well as action presupposed by him even in his ways to prove the existence of God. For this reason, if for no other, Saint Thomas's idea of the perfection of the universe deserves further attention.

But there is another reason why Saint Thomas's idea might be deserving of attention. If contemporary Thomists have shown little interest in this idea of the perfection of the universe, others have by no means ignored it. Lovejoy has traced the development of the idea all the way from Plato down to the nineteenth century, passing through medieval thought and Saint Thomas along the way, in his study The Great Chain of Being.11 But his treatment of the idea in Saint Thomas remained quite inadequate and even erroneous in certain serious respects, a reproach that could perhaps be made with respect to his treatment of other authors as well, especially Leibniz, who also had a principle of perfection. Lovejoy preferred to speak of a principle of plenitude rather than of perfection,12 and in this he may have been unduly influenced by Spinoza, who reduced "perfection" to "reality" and dismissed the teleological idea of perfection as merely a matter of prejudice on the part of human beings and as irrelevant to any rational conception of reality (The Ethics, part IV, Preface). The consequence was that Lovejoy seems to have been unable to appreciate the logic of perfection as found in Saint Thomas, or in Leibniz, and to have been able to understand only a more deterministic kind of emanation which reduces his so-called principle of plenitude to a principle of sufficient reason.13 Thus, a more careful study of Saint Thomas's understanding of what could be called his "principle of perfection" could help to correct at least some of this Spinozistic bias in the understanding of the "chain of being," a metaphor that may have been popular in the eighteenth century but that hardly occurred in earlier, less mechanistic times.

In another study, The Idea of Perfection in the Western World,14 Martin Foss also tends to reduce the idea of perfection to an ideal of organized utility akin to Cartesian mechanism or the kind of clear and distinct mathematical thinking that has come to characterize modern scientific systems and to dismiss the idea of divine perfection as empty and meaningless This is the idea of perfection seen as applicable only to the world of process, but further reduced to what John Passmore has called "technical perfection,"15 the kind of perfection that pertains to skills in performing tasks. "This is a pleasantly rapid way of rejecting [not only] the perfectibility of man," Passmore remarks, an idea that he sets out to trace in the course of Western thought, but also many aspects of the perfectibility of the universe itself. While there is some point in distinguishing between divine perfection and perfection as found in creation, we shall see that the two are not mutually exclusive. But this will depend upon our seeing that perfection, even on the level of creatures, includes much more than a narrow deterministic concept allows for. This is something that Saint Thomas will be able to show us, starting from a teleological conception of nature, as Aristotle did.

The idea of perfection in Saint Thomas has been studied systematically, though only in part, as the groundwork for a study of the perfection of human being and its ontological foundations.16 It is interesting to note how much of the idea of both the universe and esse has to be used in this work to bring out the idea of perfection as it relates to human being. Conversely, for our part, while articulating what Saint Thomas understood by the perfection of the universe, we shall have to focus on human being as the key and the center of that perfection. His theory of the universe was at once a cosmology that centered on man and an anthropology that embraced cosmology.

Idea and Representation of the Universe

Part of the reason why Thomists have neglected Saint Thomas's philosophy of the universe and its perfection may be that it was too closely tied to his representation of the physical world, which was more or less taken for granted in his day but which has long since been discarded by modern science. In his presentation of Thomism, Gilson passes very quickly over this geocentric cosmology in which a systematic distinction was made between incorruptible heavenly bodies and the corruptible bodies here below, alleging that Saint Thomas was adding nothing to Aristotle and showed little interest in the subject. (The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, 174). In his other writings Gilson shows a marked resistance to having his metaphysics or that of Saint Thomas linked to any scientific theory or model.17 "We are interpreting history in a misleading way," he writes, "if we say that scholasticism tied the Christian faith to the ancient philosophy of Aristotle, and, consequently, that we are invited by its example to do the same thing with the philosophy of our age. What scholastic theology did was rather to create, in the human meaning of this word, a new metaphysics, whose truth, being independent of the state of science at any given historical moment, remains as permanent as the light of faith within which it was born" (Gilson Reader, 164). Part of the reason for this kind of separation between metaphysics and any kind of physics, whether ancient or modern, was to insist on the originality of the medieval theologian. But it does have the disadvantage of conveying the impression that Thomistic philosophy of being is more a matter of faith than of rational discourse, something which Saint Thomas himself would surely have disagreed with, as he clearly distinguished between two ways of teaching, one in doctrina philosophiae and the other in doctrina fidei, one being a way of investigation going from creatures to their creator and the other starting from God and embracing creatures as they are in relation to God.18 In fact, this whole tendency to separate metaphysics from the world of experience, as if it were a matter of "revelation" from Saint Thomas, if not from God, is unfaithful, if one may still use the term in a matter of philosophical discipleship, to the true philosophical method of Saint Thomas, as I shall argue in explaining my own method of presenting his idea of the universe in its perfection.

To be sure, the issue is not to subordinate metaphysics to the more properly experiential sciences. This has never been the case for anyone who understood metaphysics properly, especially not Aristotle, who still saw a closer link between metaphysics and physics than Plato did. This is part of the reason why Aquinas chose to follow Aristotle in philosophy rather than Plato and found in the Stagirite's philosophy an even better way of making the teaching of faith more manifest. "The universe before which the Christian finds himself," as Aime Forest has said referring to Saint Thomas, "is already the universe of Aristotle. Saint Thomas goes to the point of pulling the two inspirations [Christian and Aristotelian] together in a formula that deserves to be kept in mind, and wherein is expressed forcefully his philosophical decision, his confidence in the agreement between philosophical truth, which his reflection will bring out, and religious truth, which is handed down to him, 'according to the teaching of faith and of Aristotle'—secundum fidei doctrinam et Aristotelis."19

This is not to say that the Faith or even the metaphysics is tied to every detail of the Aristotelian representation of the cosmos. We shall see Saint Thomas distance himself from that model in many important respects. But we shall see him espouse it in many different ways, even to discuss such recondite theological questions as the state of the universe after the final resurrection at the end of time. The relation between physics and metaphysics was an open one for Saint Thomas, as it had been for Aristotle before him, but it was a relation he exploited constantly in his theology as well as his philosophy, and the idea of perfection was at the center of that exploitation.

Thus, to make little of Saint Thomas's understanding of physical cosmology is not only to ignore significant elements of his thought (historically speaking, since Aquinas himself was constantlyreferring to that understanding to illustrate his thinking on the order of being, on the virtues, and in theology). It is also to lose sight of some important metaphysical ideas, such as certain aspects of hylomorphic theory or the series of essentially subordinate causes in the universe, which Aquinas often explained and clarified in terms of that understanding, as Thomas Litt has pointed out.20 These are points we shall have to consider at some length later on. For now, however, it is enough to recognize that, notwithstanding the obsolescence of the model, there were still important ideas connected with it, not the least of which was the perfection of the universe.

Having noted this close connection between the representation and the idea of the universe in Saint Thomas, nonetheless, we acknowledge a certain priority of the idea over the representation. This is clear even from the way Saint Thomas begins his commentary on De Caelo, where the basic cosmology is to be laid out in a systematic exposition: there he clearly distinguishes between the perfection of the universe and the parts of which it is made up and states that the first is to be shown before the second. "First [the author or the Philosopher] shows the perfection of the universe; secondly he shows of what parts it is made up—ex quibus partibus integratur" (In I De Caelo, lec. 2, n. 8[I]). And later on "after the Philosopher has shown that the universe is perfect… he shows of what parts its perfection is made up" (ibid., lec. 3, n. 19[l]). We see here an immediate connection between the universe and perfection that Saint Thomas will make his own, one that sets it above the parts that make it up, or the model in which this idea is to be represented. Later on, when the time comes to make some adjustments between the idea and the model, as we have already noted Saint Thomas will do, it is not the idea that will have to be adjusted to the model, but the model that will have to be adjusted to the idea.

In fact, an objection can be raised about the model from the very beginning: if the number three implies perfection, as the Philosopher initially argues with regard to the dimensions of a body, why are there four elements? If three is the perfect number "wouldn't it follow by the same reason that there would be only three elements, or three fingers of the hand" (In I De Caelo, lec. 2, n. 14[7]). The answer to this objection is not given immediately, because it belongs later on in this treatise and in the treatise De Generatione et Corruptione, which is to follow, when the model itself is more at issue, but the objection itself illustrates how the idea of perfection is to be used with reference to the universe. If there are four elements, that would seem to pertain to the perfection of the universe in the same way as five fingers seem to pertain to the perfection of the hand. But, then, how can the Philosopher start by arguing that three is the "perfect" and, therefore, the sufficient number of dimensions to constitute a body in existence?

We shall return to this surprising way, for an Aristotelian at least, of arguing about "body" and "perfection" in chapter 2, where we shall see that the argument goes from the totality of one body to the totality of all bodies. But for the moment what is important for us to note is that the idea of the universe and its perfection has a certain priority, if not independence, with respect to the model in which it finds its representation. The objection starts from an idea of perfection that is seen as applying to different numbers in different contexts. Why three in this case when four or five seem to be the perfect number in other cases? The answer to the objection will focus on the idea of perfection. The point for us here is to see that what governs the discussion is this idea of perfection and not the numbers, whether of three dimensions which constitute the totality of a body, four elements which constitute the totality of parts out of which things come to be or cease to be, or five fingers whichmake the hand the perfect instrument for reason. Along with the idea of the universe, we must also think of perfection and how it functions in the very constitution of reality; for Aquinas to be or esse is itself a perfection that even the empirical scientist recognizes when he insists on theories or suppositions that not only "save the appearances" but can also be verified through predictions that agree with observation.

Moreover, Saint Thomas himself was not past expressing his own reserve, following Aristotle, on the truth of the model he was assuming from others. "The suppositions which those people have discovered," he writes, "are not necessarily true: for although, when suppositions are made, the appearances may be saved, it still does not behoove us to say that these suppositions are true; because perhaps the appearances with regard to stars are saved in another way that is not yet grasped by men" (In II De Caelo, lec. 17, n. 451 [22]). Earlier he had distinguished between demonstration and supposition, saying that some part of the theory "was not demonstrated but a kind of supposition—non est demonstratum, sed suppositio quaedam" (In I De Caelo, lec. 3, n. 28). Saint Thomas had exacting demands for what he meant by scientific truth, and he did not find them met in the cosmological model he was using.

A similar reserve is evident even with regard to the key question of the incorruptibility of the heavens in that cosmology, as is clear from In I De Caelo, lec. 7, n. 76(6). If Saint Thomas did not express the same kind of reserve concerning other aspects of the model of the universe he took for granted, especially the theory of the four elements, it is because he had no reason for doing so. He surely was not an innovator in what we now call scientific theory. He did, however, underwrite Aristotle's willingness to rely on the better qualified and the more competent than himself to pass judgment on such things. "We must allow ourselves 'to be persuaded by the more certain,' that is, follow the opinion of those who have arrived at truth with greater certainty" (In XII Metaph., lec. 9, n. 2566), because, as it is said later on, the Philosopher himself "leaves what is necessary in this regard to those who are stronger and more powerful in discovering this [scientific truth] (fortiores et potentiores ad hoc inveniendum) than he would be himself (ibid., lec. 10, n. 2586). If an anachronism be permitted, what better recommendation could be found for Galileo's telescope, or Hubble's use of the "red shift" to calculate the distances of the nebulae, or even the newest radio telescopes? It is unfortunate that the Aristotelians of the seventeenth century had lost sight of this reserve with regard to scientific models expressed by their teacher. Saint Thomas had not, nor was his metaphysics of the universe so dependent on the scientific model he used that it lost all its validity with the obsolescence of the model. It is not the model that shaped the metaphysics, but the metaphysics that shaped the model, even though the latter was based on what has now come to be recognized as insufficient evidence or observation.

One thing that could be said about the Aristotelian model of cosmology is that it was well unified. This is why perhaps the idea of perfection could so easily be associated with it. Modern physics has shown that the model was much too simple to hold. In doing so, however, modern physics has diverged into different partial theories such as relativity and quantum mechanics, which cannot so easily be unified into a single theory or model for the cosmos as a whole. The metaphysical idea of perfection may have been submerged in this diversion, but who is to say that it is not reemerging in contemporary efforts to unify physics once again into one single model of space-time with an anthropic principle, weak or strong, and with a big bang or an inflationary expansion theory ofcreation? We cannot answer this question here, but I suggest that an examination of how the association of the idea of perfection with a particular model of the universe was once made could shed some light on how the question could be dealt even in modern physics.

We can begin this examination by looking at some analogies for thinking of the universe itself as a whole that Aquinas made ample use of and that can serve as a guideline for our elaborating upon his idea of the universe in its perfection.

Analogies for the Universe

The first analogy, that of a house, is relatively static, but it enables Aquinas to define certain conditions for things to constitute one universe together. First, they must all have something in common: "just as many stones come together with one another so that a house is constituted from them, similarly all the parts of the universe come together under the aspect of existing (in ratione existendi)" (In De Div. Nom., c. 4, lec. 6, n. 364). This first condition suggests that even existence is not a flat sort of lowest common denominator, but a structured coming together of many diverse beings. Second, inasmuch as the parts of the universe are diverse or different from one another, they must be adapted to one another in some order: "a house would not come to be from cement and stone, unless they were made apt for one another, and similarly the parts of the universe are made apt for one another, insofar as they can fall under one order" (ibid.). Order is thus the bond that holds diversity together. Third, one part must complement the other: "just as the wall and the roof are held up from the foundation and the roof covers the wall and the foundation, similarly in the universe the higher beings give perfection to the lower and the higher power (virtus) is made manifest in the lower" (ibid.). The analogy is beginning to crack at the seams, so to speak, but the point of complementarity within order is clear, without taking away anything from the difference or the distinction between things, absque praeiudicio distinctionis rerum. In fact, as we shall see over and over again, complementarity supposes difference. Fourth, there must be a certain proportion in all the parts, a certain arrangement among them from which will come their togetherness: "the parts being so disposed, therefore, their composition in a whole follows, inasmuch as from all the parts of the universe is constituted one totality of things (una rerum universitas)" (ibid.). Only with these four conditions, commonality, diversified order, complementarity, and proportionality, can we speak properly of a totality or a "university" of things.

But these conditions alone, elaborated upon according to the analogy with the house, are not enough to speak of the universe in the concrete. Saint Thomas goes on to point out that this totality of things, this order of the universe, can be viewed in either one of two ways, either in terms of things being contained in space, per modum continentiae localis, or in terms of things coming after one another in time, quantum ad temporalem successionem. This brings the dimensions of space and time into the conception of the universe, but even this is not enough yet to speak properly of the actual universe, since it still has to do only with conditions of possibility for the universe. Before Saint Thomas says it is enough, he has to bring in a further order, that of finality, which will lead us to the second analogy, that of the army, taken from Aristotle. "A twofold order is found in things. One is of the parts of some whole or of some multitude to one another, as the parts of a house are ordered to one another. The other is the order of things to an end. And this order is more fundamental (principalior) than the first. For, as the Philosopher says in XI Metaph., the order of the parts of anarmy to one another is in view of the order of the whole army to the general" (In I Eth, lec. 1, n. 1).

We see how Saint Thomas thinks of this second analogy in relation to the first. By itself, the analogy with the house cannot lead to an adequate understanding of the universe; it is too static and abstract, although it does illustrate the notion of order between diverse parts. The universe, however, is something more dynamic and concrete. To bring this out Saint Thomas turns to what seems to have been one of Aristotle's favorite analogies, since he uses it at two key points in his work, at the end of the Posterior Analytics,21 to illustrate how the intelligence takes hold in the flow of experience, and at the end of the Metaphysics,22 to illustrate how the universe relates to the Unmoved Mover as to its good. Unlike the beginning of the De Caelo, which we glimpsed a moment ago, where we are only at the beginning of the systematic reconstitution of the cosmos, this last illustration pertains to the universe as already constituted in its totality. Let us follow Saint Thomas's own careful reflection on the text of the Philosopher and see how he appropriates it. The text comes up after it has been shown how the First Mover is intelligent and intelligible, as Saint Thomas notes; as he also explains, the question arises because it has also been said that the First Mover moves as good and appetible. But Saint Thomas immediately proceeds to concretize this notion of the good in terms of finality and form.

For the good, inasmuch as it is the end of something, is twofold. For there is the end extrinsic to that which is for the end, as when we say that place is the end of that which is moved toward a place. There is also the end inside, as the form is the end of generation and alteration, and once the form is attained, it is a certain intrinsic good of that whose form it is. Now the form of any whole, which is one through a certain ordering of parts, is its order: hence it follows that it is its good. (In XII Metaph., lec. 12, n. 2627)

At this point we have to presuppose something about the order of place in the universe and the idea of form as the end of a coming-to-be (which we shall discuss later) but the thing to note is that order, in this dynamic conception of the universe, is now seen by Aquinas as analogous to the form in things that come to be, and it is in its order that the perfection of the universe, its form or its intrinsic good, will consist. The question, therefore, according to Saint Thomas, is whether the cosmos has a good such as this, or only a good separate from it. "The Philosopher is therefore asking whether the nature of the whole universe has a good and best, that is, a proper end, as though something separated from it, or whether it has a good and best in the order of its parts, in the way that the good of some natural thing is its form" (n. 2628).

The answer, as can be expected, is that it has both. The bonum separatum is the Prime Mover, who, in the preceding part of book XII, has already been shown to be the one from whom the whole of nature actually depends as from its and its good. The actuality of the bonum ordinis is simply inferred from the existence of that separated good on the basis of an understanding of final causality, which we shall see articulated in chapter 4. "Because all things whose end is one, have to come together in the order to the end, it is necessary that some order be found among the parts of the universe; and thus the universe has both a separated good, and a good of order" (n. 2629).

At this juncture the example of the army is brought in as an analogy for understanding the connectionbetween the good of order among the parts and the separated good: "as we see in an army: for the good of the army is both in the order itself of the army, and in the leader, who stands over the army" (n. 2630). Saint Thomas points out how the order of parts in a complex whole is subordinate to the end of the whole and how the end itself is a principle of order, so that the whole order of the universe is in view of the Prime Mover. He then adds something that perhaps goes beyond what Aristotle had in mind, attributing to the Unmoved Mover a will as well as an intellect: "so that, namely, there is explicated in the ordered universe that which is in the intellect and the will of the first mover" (n. 2631). But it is not this theological angle that interests us here. What concerns us more is the cosmological order itself, and it is to this that he next turns his attention: qualiter partes universi se habeant ad ordinem, how the parts of the universe stand in relation to order, which is toward an end.

Two things are evident at the outset and must be accounted for: all things are ordered somehow, but not all are ordered in the same way. Within order itself there is diversity, such as that which we see between the different animals and plants in nature. These are not without some relation to one another, "rather there is a certain affinity and order of one to the other. For plants are in view of animals, and animals are in view of human being. And that all are ordered to one another is evident from the fact that all are ordered to one end at the same time" (n. 2632). Human being stands at the pinnacle of nature, and from that vantage point it is the principle of order in nature, inasmuch as all inferior bodies are ordered to it; and it can, by its own initiative, introduce a new dimension of order. But the human being is still only a part of the universe, and as such it is itself ordered, along with the other parts (though in its own peculiar way, as we shall see), to the good of the universe as a whole.

Another example is then introduced to provide an analogy for understanding how things are differently ordered within one and the same order, or the relation between community and diversity-within-community; namely, the example of the well-governed household, which is not to be confused with the analogy of the house already presented. In the community of the household, apart from the father, who is seen as head and therefore as the principle of order, Saint Thomas goes on to explain, there are different grades: first, the sons, second, the servants, third, domestic animals, and so on. These various grades are related to the order of the household differently, in accordance with the wishes of the father. The sons are most intimately connected with it, so that nothing should come from them apart from this order. "For it is not appropriate that the sons do anything out of chance (casualiter) and without order; but everything, or most of what they do, is ordered" (n. 2633). The servants, on the other hand, and the domestic animals, do not participate so intimately in this order, qui est ad bonum commune, and so there is a great deal that can come from them that is quite contingent with regard to the familial order, and is casual in its regard, to use the expression of Saint Thomas. "And this is so because they have little affinity with the ruler of the household, who aims at the common good of the household" (ibid.).

Perhaps the most important element that the example of the household adds, over and above the example of the army, is this notion of affinity, an affinity that is not merely contingent upon the choice of the head, as in an army, but an affinity that would pertain to the nature of parts themselves and their relation to one another. This is especially significant when we see how it applies to the order of nature itself, for nature is like the father in a household. It is the principle found in the things of nature that brings each and every one of them to perform according to its role in the order of the universe. Just as the father directs the diverse members of the household, so also every being of natureis directed through its own proper nature, which inclines it to act according to the order of nature as a whole.

Clearly, this inclination in the proper nature of each thing cannot be viewed only in an order to the particular good of that particular thing, given the context of community in which it appears. The good of a thing, its proper good, must be viewed also on a more communal or universal scope, as is evident in the four levels of good that Saint Thomas spells out in another place.

The proper good of anything can be taken in many ways. One way is according to what is proper to it as an individual. And thus an animal seeks its good when it seeks food, with which to preserve itself in being. Another way is according to what belongs to it by reason of its species. And thus an animal seeks its proper good inasmuch as it seeks the generation and nurturing of offspring, or anything else it does for the conservation or the defense of individuals of its species. The third way is by reason of the genus. And thus the equivocal agent seeks its proper good in causing: as the sun does. The fourth way, however, is by reason of the similitude of analogy between things as principled (principiatorum) and their principle. And thus God, who is beyond genus, gives being to all things on account of his own good. (C.G., III, c. 24, n. 2052)

Hence the proper good of any particular thing follows the analogy of being and of the entire universe. The proper good of anything is not just its own particular good, but also the universal good, as it can be achieved by its activity, and in accordance with its place in the order of nature. Indeed, while activity is a seeking in many respects, it is also a quiescence, when some good has been attained, and a diffusion of good.

For a natural thing not only has a natural inclination with regard to its proper good, so as to acquire it when it does not have it, or to rest in it when it has it; but also to pour out its proper good on others, as much as possible. Hence we see that every agent, inasmuch as it is in act and perfect, does something similar to itself (facit sibi simile). (S.T., 1, q. 19, a. 2, c)

Of course, not all things are related to the universal end of nature in the same way. All of them still have one thing in common, namely, their own distinct identity with their own proper activity. But not all participate in the good of the whole equally by their activity. This is a second element of importance to be derived from the example of the household.

For there is something common to all things; because it is necessary that all arrive to the point of being discerned, that is, of having discrete and proper operations, and also of being discerned according to substance; and in this regard the order [of the universe] lacks nothing (in nullo deficit). But there are some things which not only have this, but further are such that they "communicate to the whole" all that is in them, that is, they are ordered to the common good of the whole. (In XII Metaph., lec. 12, n. 2635)

This is an elaboration on the comparison between the son and the servant in the household. The second kind of things mentioned in the text are those in which nothing happens apart from the order of nature or by chance. The things subject to chance, on the other hand, are those that depart from the order of nature at times, though they are not simply excluded from communication in theuniversal good as such, for it remains that every being of nature is ordered to the common good according to its natural action. Those that never depart from the natural order, those in whose action there is never any deficiency, do all that they do or have all that they have in communication with the whole—habent omnia sua communicantia ad totum. Those, on the other hand, that do depart from the natural order and are subject to chance, such as the corporeal beings about us, do not communicate in the whole so fully—non habent omnia sua communicantia ad totum.

It is clear that both Aristotle and Saint Thomas are thinking here in terms of their dichotomy between the incorruptible celestial bodies and the corruptible terrestrial bodies. In their view it is the heavenly bodies that are in total communication with the whole. But let us prescind from this dichotomy and look carefully at how Saint Thomas combines the two aspects of order and communication that hold a diversity of things together as one universe.

In sum, therefore, the solution is that order requires two things, namely, an ordination of distinct things and a communication (communicantiam) of the distinct things to the whole. With regard to the first, there is order in all things without fail (indeficienter); however, with regard to the second, there is an order without fail in some, which are the highest and nearest to the first principle, as are the separate substances and the heavenly bodies, in which nothing happens by chance and apart from nature: in some, however, it fails, as in bodies, in which something sometimes happens by chance apart from nature. And this is because of the distance from the first principle, which is always in the same way. (n. 2637)

What the analogy of the army brings out is that the perfection of the universe consists, not just in an order between diverse and complementary parts, as the analogy of the house brings out, but also a certain interaction between the parts where there is both an ordination of distinct parts (ordinationem distinctorum) and a communication in the whole (communicantiam ad totum) through affinity. Each part has its own proper activity, as in a well-ordered army, and together all parts, under the direction of the leader or First Mover, whose good they are ordered to (bonum separatum), constitute an internal order of their own, which is the intrinsic good of the universe or its form. Affinity to this good of the whole allows for different degrees of communicability of different parts with the whole, some being more closely identified with it than others, as was thought to be the case for separate substances and the heavenly bodies by reason of the immutability and necessity attributed to them. In the case of those parts where things could happen by chance or outside the order of nature (casualiter praeter naturam), that is, in the nature we experience here below, they did not happen simply outside of all order (extra omnem ordinem), but only outside the direct order of nature (extra ordinem rectum). For Aquinas, as for Aristotle, the order of nature was not deterministic and remained open to higher orders, as we shall see, including the order of free human agency, which is not mentioned here, perhaps because the analogy of an army does not lend itself very well to the idea of free agency, but which plays a central role, as we shall see, in Saint Thomas's conception of the ultimate perfection of the universe coming from the very interaction of its parts.

Implied in these two analogies is an idea of order that I shall have to articulate more carefully in my exposition of the idea of the universe, an order of activity toward an end and an order of communication within a whole. For Aquinas, as we shall see, any order is always understood in relation to some first principle which has to be unique, if the order is to be seen as one. But as anorder between different things, and not as the simple identity of one thing, it also has to be understood as some kind of diversity in different degrees of proximity to what is first or the principle in the order. It is from such an understanding of order that we have the idea of the uni-verse to begin with, with order understood as its form or internal perfection. Thus, to elaborate the idea of the universe in Aquinas will be to work out his idea of order as the perfection of the universe.

Philosophical Method in the Exposition of the Concept

Before I undertake this more detailed exposition, however, I shall say a few words on my method of doing so. It is well known that Saint Thomas wrote primarily, though not exclusively, as a theologian. It is also well known that, as already mentioned, he maintained a clear distinction between theological and philosophical method. The one started from God and included creatures as related to Him, whether as Creator or Redeemer, while the other started from creatures and ascended to God, after embracing the entire universe. What is not so well understood, however, is how these two orders or methods of procedure are related in the thinking of Saint Thomas and how, while remaining a theologian, he practiced a truly philosophical method as part of his discourse on divine questions. This, for him, was a matter, not just of philosophical necessity, but of theological exigency as well.

The best way to see this relation is perhaps the way he puts it in his brief discourse on method in question I of the Summa Theologiae, part I. After arguing that a divine teaching based on revelation is somehow necessary, that it can take the form of a science, and that this science is one while being both theoretical and practical at the same time, in article 5 he raises the question of how this science is related to the other sciences, whether, that is, it is higher (dignior) than these others. To answer the question, in the affirmative, he argues from the viewpoint both of speculative science, where Sacred Teaching is presented as both more certain and having to do with a higher subject matter, and of practical science, where Sacred Teaching is said to deal with the end that embraces all other ends. But it is his answer to the second objection that interests us here, where the relation of theology to philosophy is brought up.

In sum, the second objection states that Sacred Teaching cannot be higher than philosophy if it accepts anything from philosophical disciplines. Hence it must be inferior to these sciences from which it borrows. In reply Saint Thomas does not deny that sacred science will accept something from philosophical disciplines, as he is about to do in the whole of his Summa of that science, but he is very careful to specify the mode of this acceptance. Theology does not accept anything from philosophy because it requires it out of necessity, as a lower science does with regard to a higher science, but rather it does so in order to make more manifest what is presented in this science—ad majorem manifestationem.

Earlier, in article 1, Aquinas had argued that a need existed for a further or revealed teaching out of the indigence of philosophical disciplines as such, at least with respect to a proper knowledge of God and the final end of human life, but he had taken nothing away from the universal scope of philosophy. Here he explains that, formally speaking, theology accepts the principles on which it proceeds from no other science than God's as made known through revelation. It does not take from other sciences as if they were superior to it or contained its principles, as the higher sciences among the natural sciences contain the principles of the subordinate or lower sciences. Rather, theology usesthese sciences as inferiors or as servants, as the architect uses engineering and political authority uses the military. Moreover, it does so, not because of any defect or insufficiency of Sacred Teaching itself, but because of a defect or a weakness of our intelligence in grasping the teaching. By reason of this weakness our intelligence is led more easily into what is presented in this science through what is known through natural reason, from which the other sciences proceed.

We see here the famous conception of philosophy as handmaid of theology found among medieval theologians, but we also see how important philosophy becomes for theology conceived as a method of investigation into the truth of divine revelation, a fides quaerens intellectum. If we recognize the need for making what is revealed through faith more manifest to us, as Saint Thomas did, not by reason of a deficiency of truth in the revelation itself, but by reason of the difficulty we have in understanding it, then we have to recognize also the need for bringing in more from a philosophical reflection on experience, a point which is made in Saint Thomas's longer "discourse on method," the Commentary on Boethius's De Trinitate (In De Trin., q. 5, a. 4, c). No doubt this is why, precisely as a theologian, he became interested in the Philosopher, because he found the truth made manifest through his teaching more consonant to the teaching of faith.

But for philosophy to serve theology properly, a proper philosophical method or discipline had to be followed. This is where a certain confusion can set in in the interpretation of Saint Thomas, whether as a philosopher or as a theologian. He was very careful to distinguish between the two methods, especially with regard to the order of consideration. Theology began with a consideration of the Creator, thanks to divine revelation, something which philosophy alone could not do, while philosophy began with a consideration of creatures and strove, more or less successfully, to rise to some knowledge of their First Cause.23 But at the same time Aquinas sought to combine both of these methods, apparently going in opposite directions, in his own systematic investigation and teaching. How could he do this without betraying or falsifying either method?

A brief reflection on the structure of the Summa Theologiae and the kind of arguments it incorporates may help answer this question.24 Aquinas starts with God as One and Triune and then proceeds to speak of creation, which posits beings other than God in a kind of exitus, and then of creatures in their diversity, first of angels or pure spirits, then of merely material beings, and finally of human beings, who combine spirit and matter. Besides creation and the distinction of things he also treats of governance of the universe, or providence, before turning to the reditus of creatures to God, in part II, which is thought of mainly as taking place through human action in the quest for happiness through virtue, law, and grace. Part III presents Christ, the Church, and the Sacraments as a concretion of the means for reaching this End. There can be no doubt that we are dealing with a theological discipline. Throughout the work, however, we are presented with philosophical arguments to make more manifest different truths encountered along the way. Thus, at the beginning we find Five Ways for proving the existence of God, something which Faith already accepts, and in the subsequent discussion of what is meant by God and His attributes, we are treated with an elaboration upon metaphysical theory, including a good deal about act and potency, that is usually rooted in experience, much as Aristotle's was. Later on, in his account of the Six Days of Creation, we find Aquinas combining the scientific view of the cosmos he held with the biblical story. And in part II, on the reditus, which is the longest, by far, of all three parts, he devotes what many other theologians would have considered an inordinate amount of time to the Aristotelian ethic of virtue.

In all of this, it will be remembered, Saint Thomas is trying to make manifest truths found in articles of faith that are the principles of his science of theology. In doing so he adopts different strategies, depending on the truth in question. For those beyond the capacity of reason, he knows he has no strict proof, but he will offer analogies or even probable arguments. But for other truth more accessible to rational discourse and against errors, which could block the way to accepting supernatural truths, he will seek more strict philosophical arguments. His aim, as he says in article 8 of the methodical question I of the Summa Theologiae, is to teach his hearers so that they may come to an intelligence of the truth aimed at, which calls for reasons searching into the root of truth (rationibus investigantibus veritatis radicem) and making the hearers know in what way what is said is true (facientibus scire quomodo sit verum quod dicitur). Without that, if the teacher appeals only to authorities, the hearer may have certainty that things are as the teacher says, but he will acquire no science or intelligence and so depart empty (vacuus abscedet) (Quodlibet., IV, a. 18), full of conviction perhaps but with little understanding.

For anyone who has read Saint Thomas's Commentary on the Posterior Analytics it is clear that all this pertains to the language of demonstration, which is understood as meaning literally to make someone know (facere aliquem scire) or leading him to a conclusion through a middle term. But we must keep in mind that the same treatise also distinguishes between two kinds of demonstration, those that are a priori and those that are a posteriori (In I Post. Anal., lecs. 23-25). The first demonstrates what is the property of a thing using the definition of the thing as middle term. The second only demonstrates something about causes starting from their effects. Thus, if even with revelation we still do not know what God is, but rather what He is not, as Saint Thomas steadfastly held (S.T., 1, q. 3, Introduction), there will be little room for a priori demonstration in theology, except possibly where one might argue from the definition of an article of faith to a property implied in that definition. But Saint Thomas does little of that. He is more given to using demonstrations a posteriori, which is precisely the point at which philosophy is introduced into his theology as a way of making the truth more manifest.

The Ways of proving the existence of God are a perfect example of this. Before introducing them in question 2, article 3 of part I, he raises two key questions. First, he asks whether the proposition that "God is" is per se known, thus requiring no proof. It is clear to him that, if we knew what God is, we would know per se that He exists, since His essence is to exist or He is Esse per essentiam. To the wise, therefore, who would know this, it would be per se known that God exists. But not everyone is wise and there are those who deny the existence of God. For these at least, some demonstration would seem to be called for. In fact, because no one really knows what God is by definition, a demonstration is needed for everyone. Even if we could arrive at the thought of a being "than which no greater can be thought," as Saint Anselm in his seemingly a priori demonstration proposes, the validity of such a thought would still have to be demonstrated, which leads us to the second key question.

If the proposition "God is" is not per se known, then it requires some demonstration per aliud, that is, through something other than what is contained in that proposition. If, on the other hand, we cannot know what God is, which is not contained in that proposition, how can the proposition be demonstrated? Clearly not a priori, but only a posteriori, starting from the effects which are better known to us and can lead us back to their First Cause. This, of course, is more easily said than done, and the Five Ways of doing it that are then suggested can prove deceptively simple if we do not understand the philosophy of being and of the universe which underlies them. "We do not know God by seeing His essence, but we know Him from the order of the whole universe. For the very university of creatures is proposed to us by God so that through it we may know God, insofar as the ordered universe has certain imperfect images and assimilations of divine [things], which are compared to them as exemplary principles to images" (In De Div. Nom., c. 7, lec. 4, n. 729). The point is thus clear that we rise to the divine from the beings we know by sense, but as ordered; "from the order of the universe, as by a certain way and order, we ascend through intellect, as in our power lies, to God, Who is above all things" (ibid.).

This going from the order of creatures to the Creator is the essential order of philosophical method in Saint Thomas. The same order is followed to make manifest, not just the existence of God, but also many other points later on about His unity, His intelligence, His goodness, and so on. Even after it is proven that the proposition that "God is" is true, we still do not know what He is in Himself, and so we have to continue to use this kind of a posteriori philosophical argument to make the truth of His being or His attributes more manifest. It is as if, at each point on the high road of theological investigation, Saint Thomas found a way of reaching down into our human experience of the world, using Aristotle more than anyone else, to make manifest the truth he wanted to get at. We see the importance of the philosophical order of learning for the theologian that was Saint Thomas.

But we see also the difficulty of following his understanding of that philosophical order, if we emphasize only his Summa, where philosophy is brought in only in tandem to theological issues and according to a theological order, as Gilson has done in his The Christian Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas (Introduction, 8ff.). To be sure, a good deal of Saint Thomas's philosophy is included within his theology, and often those parts in which he shows the greatest originality, especially as regards the philosophy of being and creation. But to get a more complete and, one should add, a more rigorous picture of his understanding of the philosophical order in which the order of the universe figures more prominently, we must also look to his Commentaries on Aristotle and the Liber de Causis, the importance of which Gilson tends to belittle; that is where St. Thomas was following what he took to be the philosophical order of discussion.

It is not for nothing that Saint Thomas went to such considerable effort, even as a theologian, to comment on the works of the Philosopher. Nor was it just to free him from what he thought to be erroneous interpretations, which, according to his pregnant phrase, were often "repugnant both to the truth and to the intention of Aristotle" (In VIII Phys., lec. 8, n. 21). More positively, it was to develop the instrument he wanted for his theology, an instrument that had to be established in its own right. If the arguments sometimes seem too sketchy or too hasty in the Sum of Theology, it is often because they presuppose a more elaborate discussion found in the Commentaries. Passing references to the Philosopher, which occur throughout, should be read as a code for where to look for these more elaborate discussions, which then appear as part of the effort to make the truth manifest. Without the Commentaries a good deal of what is at issue in the Summa may escape us, as can be inferred from what we have already seen about the connection between the question of method in the Sumnm and the Posterior Analytics.

Moreover, it is not as if Saint Thomas were not philosophizing on his own in doing the Commentaries, which were part of a long tradition of a very special literary genre in antiquity, among the Arabs, and in the Christian Middle Ages. They were a vehicle for genuine philosophizing in which one took one's own position, not only with reference to the original text, but also with reference to other commentators.25 They were, to use another pregnant phrase of Aquinas, a way of searching "more deeply into the intention of the author and how the truth of the matter may stand—quomodo se habeat veritas rerum" (De Spir. Creat., c. 10, n. 8). For Aquinas, reading an author, especially one he valued enough to comment on, was never just a search for opinions to borrow, as Gilson seems to suggest, but an exercise in critical reflection on both a text and reality. To read him in the commentaries is to catch him in the act of philosophizing, as Ducoin has pointed out so well,26 or to see him elaborating upon his own philosophy when he seems to be only commenting on Aristotle.

Our aim here is to inquire into Saint Thomas's idea of the universe according to its philosophical order. To do this, therefore, we shall have to rely on his Commentaries on Aristotle as well as on the two Summae, along with the more complex Disputed Questions on Truth and on Power and his other Commentaries and shorter systematic works.27 In this way we shall be able to follow Saint Thomas's idea, not just in the final theological form which it took, but in the way in which it emerged philosophically from experience. In this also we hope to be more faithful to Saint Thomas, not only historically, by presenting more of what he actually thought, whether it was original with him or happened to coincide with what others, like Aristotle or the Pseudo-Dionysius, had thought before him, but also systematically and philosophically, by drawing out the underlying philosophical outlook that is clearly in his mind but that is nowhere expressed in any single work. Ours is in some sense a task of reconstruction, therefore, one which we shall have to pursue on our own philosophical responsibility, but it will represent, as far as we can discern, what was truly Saint Thomas's idea of the universe. To assure this as much as possible we shall let Saint Thomas speak for himself through an appropriate selection of texts consonant with the various points in the development of the idea. In the process we shall keep running into Saint Thomas's theological outlook, as we already have in the analogy of the universe with an army, where the perfection of the universe or its internal form is already related to the extrinsic Good of the universe, the First Mover or God, to which the internal good is subordinated for Aquinas. Even in commenting on the Philosopher, Saint Thomas remains a Theologian. But we shall try to prescind from this theological reference as well as we can, though that will not always be possible, in order to focus on the articulation, from the ground up, so to speak, of the internal order of the universe itself, which Saint Thomas valued as the highest representation of the divine goodness and perfection and therefore thought of as most highly worthy of articulation in itself.

An Idea that Grew on Saint Thomas

It is interesting to note at the outset how this idea of the universe grew on Saint Thomas. Though there is some evidence of development in his thought on several scores in metaphysics as well as theology,28 he was not given to the kind of modern self-consciousness that likes to insist on such development. He seldom adverts to any change of this sort in his thinking and, in two of the rare instances where he does, it is the idea of the universe that has come to impress itself more profoundly on him. The two instances have to do with subjects that may be of little interest to modern-day philosophers or theologians, the Empyrean and angels, but they are worth considering for a moment because of the way the idea of the universe is brought into play by our theologian-philosopher to explain his change of view.

In Quaestio Quodlibetalis, VI, a. 19, the question is raised as to whether the Empyrean, the highest or outermost of the heavenly spheres, had any influence on other bodies. For the Christians of the thirteenth century the Empyrean was thought of as the abode of the blessed. As such it was seen as a place of rest, and not a place of movement, so that the idea of its having any influence on other spheres or bodies was not immediately evident, whereas the other heavenly spheres and bodies, which were in motion, were thought of as having influence on the bodies here below in accordance with the Aristotelian cosmology. Yet the Empyrean was still seen as the outermost sphere and therefore as a part of the universe. Looking at the Empyrean in itself or as the abode of the blessed, therefore, one could say that it had no influence on the lower bodies. "There are some who maintain that the Empyrean heaven has no influence on other bodies, because it was not constituted for natural effects, but in order to be the place for the blessed." Saint Thomas adds, "this is what seemed to me to be the case at one time." But eventually he was led to reject such an exclusive or detached position for the Empyrean in favor of one more in keeping with a proper understanding of the priority of the universe as a whole. He argued as follows:

considering the matter more diligently, it seems that we must rather say that it does influence the lower bodies, because the whole universe is one according to a unity of order, as is evident from the Philosopher, XII Metaph. Now this unity of order comes into focus (attenditur) inasmuch as bodily beings are ruled through spiritual beings according to some order, and lower bodies through higher bodies, as Augustine says in III De Trin. Hence, if the Empyrean heaven had no influence on the lower bodies, the Empyrean heaven would not be contained under the unity of the universe: which is not fitting (quod est inconveniens).

The argument "from convenience," which we see formulated here as a result of more diligent consideration and which played such a prominent role in much of Saint Thomas's theology, was closely tied to the idea of the universe and, as will appear in the course of this study, had much more rational force than interpreters are inclined to give it today. For Aquinas it was a matter of greater reason, accessible, not just to faith through revelation, but also to a more diligent consideration through rational investigation.

The same kind of allusion to a development in his thought and to a more diligent consideration can be found in connection with the related question of angels, who were not thought of by Christians as occupying any particular material sphere, because they were pure spirits, but were thought of as ontologically superior to the entire realm of material being. Hence, considered in themselves, they could once again be thought of as independent of the material cosmos and therefore as having been created independently of that cosmos. In his treatment of the question, whether the angels were created at the same time (simul cum) as the visible world in De Potentia, q. 3, a. 18, Saint Thomas first gives the opinions of certain Fathers who had argued to a certain anteriority for the creation of angels by reason of their ontological superiority over the visible world, but again he points out that a more diligent consideration has led him to adopt the other view, which was also that of Augustine, as had been the case with the Empyrean.

If the other opinion is considered more diligently, which is that of Augustine and other Teachers, and which is also commonly held now, it is found to be more reasonable. For angels are not to be con-sidered only absolutely, but also insofar as they are part of the universe: and this consideration of them is all the more to be brought into focus (magis attendendum), inasmuch as the good of the universe takes precedence (praeeminet) over the good of any particular creature, just as the good of the whole takes precedence over the good of the part. Now insofar as angels are considered as parts of the universe, it is appropriate for them (competit eis) that they be established along with (simul cum) corporeal creation. For the pro-duction of one whole seems to be one.

It is easy to see that what makes this position more reasonable for Saint Thomas is precisely the idea of the universe.

Each one of these two instances has to do with the perfection of the universe. The one about the Empyrean, which deals with influence or interaction between levels of being, has to do with the ultimate perfection of the universe to be achieved through the action of its constituent parts. The one about the angels, which deals with the ontological constitution of beings, has to do with the first perfection of creatures and places us squarely at the juncture between the philosophy of being and the philosophy of the universe. "Every creature subsists in its own being (esse), has a form, through which it is determined in species, and has an order to something else" (S.T., I, q. 45, a. 7, c).

The Thomist understanding of the order of being, thus, does not take things in isolation from one another, or absolutely, but in relation to one another. St. Thomas distinguishes five stages in that order: "first, are the principles of things," which refers to esse and essence as well as form and matter; "second, there is the substance of things, constituted from the principles; third, the determination of the thing in its proper species, which is through form; fourth, from the form the thing gets perfection, not just in its specific being but also with regard to its proper action and end; fifth, the diverse things which each have some perfection in themselves, unified according to some order, actualize (perficiunt) a certain whole," namely, the universe (In De Div. Nom., c. 2, lec. 5, n. 197). The movement toward perfection or desire for the good is what pulls this order together, for "perfection and good which are in things outside the soul are thought of, not only according to something absolutely inherent in things, but also according to the order of one thing to another" (De Pot., q. 7, a. 9, c).

To study this order of being, or the universe, as Saint Thomas understood it, we shall proceed in two steps suggested by the texts we have just seen and the two analogies we saw for the universe, that of the house and that of the army. Part I will explore what can be called the ontological constitution of the universe according to the logic of perfection we have just seen emerge in conjunction with the order of being. In this we shall begin with the original idea of perfection as seen by Saint Thomas and examine how it is applied to the universe as a whole. Then we shall elaborate upon the kind of integrity that this kind of perfection entails. Finally we shall see how causal interaction provides the bond for this unity in diversity.

Once this picture of the house is completed, so to speak, Part II will then turn to the dynamic that flows from this ontological constitution of the universe or the manner in which the diversity of beings act together, as in an army, to achieve the ultimate perfection of the universe. There, after looking atthe continuity between the diverse degrees of being which interaction presupposes, we shall explore at some length each of the three orders of movement or action that Saint Thomas distinguished: the order of local motion or nature in its barest sense; the order of coming to be and ceasing to be, which rises to living and thinking beings; and finally the order of intelligence itself, which gathers everything else together and makes up for their imperfection. In conclusion we shall see how this ultimate perfection of the universe, according to Saint Thomas, was to be provided for by man in conjunction with God.

We shall be presenting Saint Thomas according to an order in which he did not entirely present himself, that is, as a philosopher. In this we recognize that we shall, in some sense, be performing a philosophical task of our own and exercising our own philosophical judgment. But we trust that it will also be in a way that will be faithful to Saint Thomas and his intentio profundior. Aquinas distinguished between two kinds of wisdom, in judging whether something is possible or impossible: "a mundane wisdom, which is called philosophy, which considers lower causes, namely, caused causes, and judges according to them, and a divine wisdom, which is called theology, which considers higher causes, that is, divine causes, according to which it judges" (De Pot., q. 1, a. 4, c). By "divine causes," as he went on to explain, he meant divine attributes such as divine wisdom, goodness, and will. But theologian that he was, he was still diligent in considering what he calls the caused causes, or the causes that constitute the universe, and in judging according to them. It is in this second respect that we wish to follow him here and explore his "mundane wisdom," the etymological connection of which with the idea of the universe or mundus should not go unnoticed.

I recognize also that this is not an easy task, but I undertake it with the same kind of probity and modesty that both Saint Thomas and Aristotle thought to be requisites for what was for them a difficult question, that of the stars. "We think it appropriate that a man's readiness to consider questions of this sort should be imputed more to diffidence, that is, to probity and modesty, than to boldness, that is, to presumption" (In II De Caelo, lec. 17, n. 450[1]). The underlined words are from the text of the translation of Aristotle, the paraphrase is from Aquinas. The condition for considering such questions, however, is that whoever does so must "pay diligent attention to small sufficiencies, that is, to reasons that suffice too little (parum sufficientes rationes), in order to discover something about these things, about which we have the greatest doubts." If we transpose this from questions about the stars to questions about the universe as a whole, we could say that probity and modesty should lead us to pay diligent attention even to the parum sufficientes rationes in this complex idea in order to bring out its fullness or completeness, that is, its perfection. We seek Saint Thomas's thought in the least of his writings as well as in the more important ones, for he often made very significant reflections in connection with seemingly insignificant or dated questions. The reason for this is precisely the one that St. Thomas adds to the text just quoted: "the desire that one has for philosophy, namely that its principles hold, that is, remain firm."

Our aim, then, is not to bring Saint Thomas up to date, something which seems neither possible nor necessary. It is not possible with regard to the model of the universe that he took for granted. The model has simply been supplanted and that is all there is to it. With regard to the idea of the universe, on the other hand, it does not seem to be necessary. It is enough for us to enter into the mundane wisdom it contains and come to a better understanding of its philosophy. May our effort not fall too far short of this goal.


1 Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. L. K. Shook (New York: Random House, 1956); this work is a translation of the fifth edition of Le thomisme: introduction à la philosophie de saint Thomas d'Aquin (Paris: Vrin, 1948); Being and Some Philosophers, 2d ed. (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1952); and The Elements of Christian Philosophy (New York: Omega, NAL, 1963).

2 Foreword to The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, vii.

3 3d ed. (Rome: Presses de l'Université Grégorienne, 1965). Originally written in 1938, this work was first published only in 1945 because of the war.

4La Participation dans la philosophie de saint Thomas d'Aquin, 2d ed. (Paris: Vrin, 1952).

5La communication de l'être d'après saint Thomas d'Aquin, 2 vols. (Paris-Louvain: Desclée de Brouwer, 1957 and 1959).

6Participation et Causalité selon saint Thomas d'Aquin (Louvain: Publications Universitaires de Louvain, 1961).

7 For example, in Natural Rectitude and Divine Law in Aquinas: An Approach to an Integral Interpretation of the Thomistic Doctrine (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1981), Oscar Brown takes care to give the "cosmic" background for St. Thomas's ethical doctrine, 9 and 156ff.

8Index Thomisticus: Sancti Thomae Aquinatis Operum Omnium Indices et Concordantiae, ed. Roberto Busa (Stuttgart: Fromann-Holgboog, 1975).

9 2 vols. (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1946).

10 (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1957).

11 Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1936, repr. Harper Torchbooks, 1960).

12The Great Chain of Being, 52 and the accompanying note, 337f.

13The Great Chain of Being, chap. V, and throughout the book, including the treatments of "some internal conflicts in medieval thought."

14 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1946).

15The Perfectibility of Man (New York: Scribner's, 1970), 11.

16 François Marty, La perfection de l'homme selon saint Thomas d'Aquin: ses fondements ontologiques et leur vérification dans l'ordre actuel (Rome: Presses de l'Université Grégorienne, 1962).

17 We are referring to certain ideas that Gilson first expressed in a paper read at the International Congress of Scholasticism held in Rome in 1950. An English translation of this paper appeared as "Historical Research and the Future of Scholasticism," Modern Schoolman, XXIX (1951), 1-10, and has been reproduced in A Gilson Reader: Selections from the Writings of Etienne Gilson (Paperback Image Book), 156-167. I shall quote the latter. The same views were expressed again by Gilson in his quasi-intellectual autobiography, The Philosopher and Theology, trans. Cécile Gilson (New York: Random House, 1962), (see especially the last chapter, "The Future of Christian Philosophy"), and have been followed by others, like Anton Pegis in his The Middle Ages and Philosophy: Some Reflections on the Ambivalence of Modern Scholasticism (Chicago: Regnery, 1963).

18C.G., II, c.4, n. 876a. See also the first chapters of C.G., I, where the way of philosophy in its search for truth, and ultimately for God, is discussed and shown to be arduous and difficult, time-consuming and fraught with dangers of error. These are the characteristics of the way of investigation; that one is a theologian or has simply the wisdom of Faith, does not lift one above these conditions, as one might be led to believe from Gilson's position. Though it is illumined from on high, Christian reason still needs manuductio, which follows a way of investigation and discovery, propter defectum intellectus nostri, as Saint Thomas himself says in S.T., I, q. 1, a. 5, ad 2 (see also a. 9, ad 1). I have gone into this relation between philosophy and theology at greater length elsewhere in order to bring out a way of being a disciple of Saint Thomas in philosophy more in keeping with Saint Thomas's own understanding in "Philosophy and Theology in Aquinas: On Being a Disciple in Our Day," Science et Esprit, XXVIII (1976), 23-53.

19La structure métaphysique du concret selon saint Thomas d'Aquin (Paris: Vrin, 1956), 29. The reference in Aquinas is to In De Causis, lec. 18 and lec. 10, where the position of Aristotle in some respect is also said to be more consonant with the teaching of faith—magis consona fidei doctrinae.

20Les corps célestes dans l'univers de saint Thomas d'Aquin (Louvain: Publications Universitaires, 1963), 9ff.

21Posterior Analytics, book II, chap. 19: knowledge of first premises is "like a rout in battle stopped by first one man making a stand and then another, until the original formation has been restored. The soul is so constituted as to be capable of this process."

22Metaphysics, book XII, chap. 10. Note that Saint Thomas refers to this text as book XI in the text from the Commentary on the Ethics just quoted. In other places he more correctly refers to it as book XII. The reason for the discrepancies is explained by Wright as follows. "It will be noted that the reference of St. Thomas to this passage in Aristotle is sometimes given as 'in XII Metaph' and sometimes as 'in XI Metaph.' Prior to 1271 he always gave the reference as XI (though some editors trying to be helpful, frequently changed this to XII) and afterwards as XII. For in this year, William of Moerbeke's translation of the Metaphysics from the Greek made available to St. Thomas three books (K, M, and N) hitherto unknown to him, one of which (K) belonged before the one containingthe passage on the order of the universe (L)." See Wright, The Order of the Universe in the Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, 2-3, note 2.

23 See the texts referred to in note 18.

24 A similar reflection could also be made on the Summa contra Gentiles, which also follows a theological order while using many philosophical arguments, but, given the difference in structure between these two works, to combine them here would needlessly complicate the point. The C.G. is divided into four parts, rather than three, because there Saint Thomas chooses to treat all the truths he considers accessible to reason in the first three parts, and reserves his treatment of those truths he considers as surpassing the capacity of reason even to discover, let alone understand, such as the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, or the Church, for a fourth part. In the first three parts, however, which could therefore be viewed as more philosophical, he still follows a theological order, starting from God and returning to God in his consideration of creatures according to the same scheme of exitus and reditus found in the S.T. Moreover, the reason for the quadripartite division rather than the tripartite is a theological one, the distinction between truths accessible to reason and those beyond its capacity, so that, strictly speaking, the C.G. cannot be said to be any more philosophical than the S.T. The latter maintains the same distinction, only it does so within the exitus-reditus scheme, and it uses as many philosophical arguments as the C.G. For a more complete discussion of this exitus-reditus scheme in the S.T., see M.-D. Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, trans. A.-M. Landry and D. Hughes (Chicago: Regnery, 1964), 310-18; Ghislain Lafont, Structures et méthode dans la Somme Théologique de saint Thomas d'Aquin (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1961). See also André Hayen, Saint Thomas d'Aquin et la vie de l'Eglise (Louvain: Publications Universitaires, 1952), 77 ff.; La communication de l'être, vol. II, 183-86; "La structure de la Somme Théologique et Jésus," Sciences Ecclésiastiques, XII (1960), 59-82; and "Science sacrée et vie théologale," Sciences Ecclésiastiques, XV (1963), 21-34; XVII (1965), 111-34, 297-325.

25 M.-D. Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, 203-22.

26 G. Ducoin, S.J., "Saint Thomas commentateur d'Aristote," Archives de Philosophie, XX (1957), 81-82: "Or saint Thomas, même s'il est théologien, a commenté Aristote. Commentant Aristote le Philosophe, il a agi en philosophe.… une étude même sommaire des commentaires thomistes montre la part personnelle qu'y prend saint Thomas.… Aussi une étude précise des commentaires thomistes d'Aristote doit nous permettre de rejoindre l'acte de saint Thomas philosophant, c'est-à-dire saint Thomas élaborant sa propre philosophie dans l'acte par lequel il semble seulement commenter Aristote. Il s'agit bien de philosophie puisque saint Thomas endosse le personnage d'Aristote; et il est bien question d'une philosophie personnelle puisque saint Thomas ne se contente pas de reprendre purement et simplement ce qu'avait dit Aristote. Dans ces conditions un triple profit peut être tiré d'une telle étude. On doit pouvoir déceler l'attitude philosophique profonde de saint Thomas, son acte de philosopher. On peut également connaitre son art de commentateur. Et il ne doit pas être impossible d'assister en quelque facon à la genèse de sa philosophie." Consider also the remark of Cajetan: "Pluries glossat Aristotelem ut Philosophum, non ut Aristotelem; et hoc in favorem veritatis" (In IIa-IIae, q. 172, a. 4, ad 4), which is very much in keeping with a remark of Saint Thomas himself: "Studium philosophiae non est ad hoc quod sciatur quid homines senserint sed qualiter se habeat veritas rerum" (In I De Caelo, lec. 22, n. 228[8]).

27 For a good catalogue of all of Saint Thomas's works, with bibliographical notes, see the Appendix to Gilson's Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, by I. T. Eschmann, 381-430. For a more updated list of which works are considered authentic, see the Index Thomisticus, which codifies 179 works in all, 100 thought to be authentic, 18 of dubious authenticity, and 60 known to be by other authors but long associated with the Thomistic corpus. See also "A Brief Catalogue of Authentic Works," in Friar Thomas D'Aquino: His Life, Thought, and Work, by James A. Weisheipl, O.P. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974), 355-405. For a good account of the cultural and intellectual climate in which these works of different genres were produced, see M.-D. Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, part 1, 11-199.

28 For a brief indication of how some of this development took place from the Commentary on the Sentences to the Summae, see M.-D. Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, 272-76.

Paul J. Wadell (essay date 1992)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8652

SOURCE: "Happiness: The One Thing Everybody Wants" in The Primacy of Love: An Introduction to the Ethics of Thomas Aquinas, Paulist Press, 1992, pp. 44-62.

[In the following excerpt, Wadell discusses Aquinas's inquiries into happiness, including the requirements for attaining true happiness, the need to purify one's desires, false notions of happiness, and why perfect happiness can be found only in God.]

Anybody who promises to make us happy has our attention. We may be skeptical, but we will listen. Everyone wants to be happy, and if we doubt this we only have to recall how much of our energy is devoted to seeking what we think will bring us joy. This is why when Thomas talks about happiness we're hooked. We cannot help but want to be happy, so when Thomas tells us that "happiness is our true good," that it "is our proper and complete good," and that the most perfect happiness "essentially remains and is forever," we not only nod our heads in agreement, we want to hear more. Not to want to be happy is inhuman. All of us may slip into destructive patterns of behavior, but that is not because we spurn happiness; we simply have not yet understood where genuine happiness is found.

And that is what Thomas wants to tell us. He has watched us in our pursuit of happiness. He has seen all we chase after, thinking it will make us whole: money, pleasure, fame, honor. He has watched what our devotions do to us, how they change us, how sometimes they lift us but so often they drag us down. He has seen how we expend ourselves on whatever we think will bring us joy and he admires that, but he also wants us to be careful, for he knows we sometimes offer ourselves precipitately, giving ourselves to something not worthy of our preciousness.

That is why Thomas wants to talk to us about where true happiness lies. He wants to summon us to our most wholesome possibility for he knows that only in possessing that shall we find enduring joy. He knows when he talks about happiness he has our attention because he can count on happiness as the one thing every human being desires. We may not agree on anything else, but we do agree we want to be happy. We are seekers of happiness, but where should we search? We hunger for indefectible joy, but where is such bliss to be found? These are questions that stir the heart. Thomasasked them too, and he wants to tell us what he discovered. What is genuine happiness and where is it found? These are the things Thomas considers in each of the articles of question 2 of the Prima Secundae (ST, I-II, 2, 1-8) as he continues his inquiry into the moral life. They will be our focus in this third chapter.

I. Wrong Turns on Happiness

Once more Thomas begins by watching us. He starts by making himself a student of human life. He sees quickly enough that we are seekers of happiness, but a longer meditation before the tapestry of life shows him we do not all agree what happiness is. We seek it in different places and in different ways. We are one in our desire to be happy, but amazingly scattered in how we think the search for happiness will be resolved. In many respects, Thomas learns that the moral life for all of us is best understood as this ongoing search for whatever we think will bring us joy; maybe it is nothing more than a fabled odyssey to what we think will bring us peace. Thomas learns this: much of our lifetime is an investigation into candidates for happiness. If we look back over our lives, especially before we settled into commitments and promises, we see that much of our time was an ongoing experiment with all the things we thought would bring us joy. Thomas wants to examine these possibilities carefully and he wants to take them seriously. Even though he will conclude that there is one thing alone that brings final and everlasting joy, in no way does he want to disparage all the other devotions we form. He will acknowledge their goodness and he will grant that each in some way is essential to well-being; however, he will also always be calling our attention to something more, to something all-surpassing, because he is convinced it is only in union with this that we shall find the happiness we so relentlessly seek.

It takes time to discover what happiness is. We know this because we have learned by our mistakes. We have taken wrong turns on happiness, we have pursued dead ends. Sometimes we have been irreparably wounded because we have invested ourselves so thoroughly in something we thought would be our good, only to discover we were deceived; in fact, it may be true that often we are mistaken about happiness much more than we are correct. It is natural for us to want to be happy, but none of us naturally knows where happiness is to be found. Thomas knows this. He sees we are frequently mixed-up about happiness, so often attaching ourselves to what will harm us more than bless us, sometimes expending ourselves so destructively we wonder if happiness will ever be ours. Other times we form attachments which take us somewhere, but don't take us far enough, so we feel disappointed and perhaps slightly betrayed. There is pressure on us to expend ourselves on goods that are not worthy of us, much pressure on us to give ourselves away to the wrong things, not in the sense that they are bad, but are not good enough to bring us the joy and peace we seek. From his observations on life, Thomas learns what all of us experientially know. We are naturally heroic, inasmuch as all of us give ourselves wholeheartedly to something, sacrificing our time, energy, and our self to whatever we think will bless us most. But do we sometimes pour ourselves out in vain? Are our oblations sometimes deadly?

Thomas wants to speak to us about happiness because he cares for us and wants to help us avoid these destructive choices. He knows there is a natural generosity to the human spirit, but he also knows if we give ourselves to something less than ourselves, we drag ourselves down, we diminish ourselves, and sometimes we nearly destroy ourselves and that should never happen. Happiness lies insomething magnanimous, something not only capable of greatness, but something which can bring us, as Thomas puts it, to the "full and most perfect development of ourself' (ST, I-II, 2,4). Happiness is being related to whatever is best for us; it is lovelife with whatever good enables our most noble possibility; put differently, happiness is lifelong friendship with our most promising good. In relation to what is such fulness possible? This is the question guiding Thomas's investigation of happiness.

We can see a concern at work. Thomas fears bad attachments because he knows what they can do to us. Bad attachments come from mistaken notions of happiness, but such mistakes are not benign; they cripple us, they make us morally feeble, and if pursued they begin an interior deterioration we should desperately fear. It is natural enough to make mistakes about happiness, but we should learn from them, not embrace them. If we settle into bad attachments we disfigure ourselves, turning further away from genuine goodness and life. Bad attachments begin a decreation, for instead of inching us toward fullness of life, they pull us back into the abyss of chaos and confusion, making us the tragic antithesis of what God's love wants us to be. As we search for happiness we are bound to encounter dead ends. Our history may be a chronicle of confusion on where joy is found. Thomas knows this, and it is why he so aptly quotes Boethius: "'Anyone who chooses to reflect on past excesses will appreciate how pleasures have sad endings"' (ST, I-II, 2,6). Another way of translating Boethius here is, "Whoever wishes to reminisce about misplaced desires understands that such desires leave us sad." We feel the insight. Through Boethius, Thomas calls to mind a typical and powerful human experience. So often we learn the inadequacy of our devotions through the diminishment of their returns. They do not deliver the contentment we had hoped. We place our trust in them and come up short. We leave them feeling wasted, but at least having learned that a fuller, richer happiness is not to be found there, and so our odyssey continues.

As we travel with Thomas in this search for real joy we will notice that he thinks differently, even quaintly, about happiness. Unlike so many of us, Thomas does not think happiness is the freedom to pursue and satisfy our desires, irrespective of what those desires are; that is a therapeutic notion of happiness, not a moral one. Thomas agrees happiness entails the satisfaction of desires, but he also argues that part of becoming happy involves the purification of our desires. Often we are not happy, Thomas suggests, because we desire the wrong things, or else we desire some right things in the wrong way, giving them undue devotion. For Thomas, happiness depends on cultivating the right preferences and nurturing the proper desires. We have to learn where true happiness is to be found. We have to be educated in happiness, tutored in the love from which it is derived. And in order to be happy we probably have to change ourselves.

Thomas speaks of happiness as objective, not subjective, at least in the sense that for him happiness is not an open-ended, formless concept we are free to define in whichever way we want; rather, happiness has a precise meaning; it is the nurturing in us of the best and most promising desires, the richest and noblest love. Thomas says to be genuinely happy is to possess the greatest possible good in the deepest possible way; happiness is intimacy with loveliness, but that suggests if we have not found happiness it may be because we have yet to undergo the conversion which makes it possible. In order to be truly happy we must become the kind of person who loves the good where happiness is to be found. We must learn to desire this good and seek it more than we seek anything else. Part of the disquiet of our lives may be that we are not yet the kind of people who are able to love that in which happiness lies. Put differently, Thomas has a normative understanding of happiness, not anindividualistic one, and this means that in order to be happy we must be conformed to the good that offers it, we must be remade, redirected, internally transformed until we practice the love that brings true joy. Happiness hinges on becoming good.

Candidates for Happiness and Why They Fall Short

When Thomas begins his inquiry into happiness, he does not immediately tell us what happiness is; instead, he examines first what so many of us take happiness to be. He lets us begin the conversation. He lets us speak to him about where we have tried to find contentment in our lives, and he takes what we have to say seriously. Thomas watches us. He gains some initial understanding of where happiness might be by observing how we live. He studies our behavior. He apprises our objects of devotion. He considers our attachments. As before, his position is not formed in abstraction, but in response to how we actually live. It is in observing our pursuit of happiness that Thomas draws up an initial list of candidates for happiness. We can guess that Thomas will not settle with these, but he does respect them. As we shall see, he considers money, honor, fame and glory, power and pleasure each as candidates for happiness, and though he will not conclude that lasting well-being is found exclusively in any of these, he will say that a good and prosperous life must include them in some way. Thomas does not dismiss them. He considers them good, and even considers them necessary; when it comes to happiness, he takes each as far as it can go. If we think utter happiness might be rendered in wealth, Thomas will listen carefully to what we have to say because he appreciates the attractive power of wealth. If we suggest that deep happiness comes with honor and fame, Thomas will agree as far as he is able because he knows a good reputation is important in life. To a certain degree, each of these things he examines is plausible as a candidate for happiness because each is unquestionably good.

Thomas respects the hold money, reputation, power, prestige and pleasure can have on us because he respects their goodness. If he concludes that perfect happiness is not to be found in any one of them, he never concludes they have no value, nor that they do not hold an important position in any good life. If we have flirted with each of these as candidates for wholeness, Thomas does not blame us, he understands the hold such goods can have on us. He agrees there is something about each of them that goes a long way toward making our lives pleasant and good. They do provide happiness of a sort, and we would count any life lacking that would not include them at all. Thomas acknowledges how strongly all these goods can lure us, precisely because they are good. That is not the question. The question is whether any of them can carry the burden of lasting happiness, whether in any is the goodness requisite to bring peace to our hearts. This is what Thomas considers when he begins his investigation.

Since Thomas is a realist, it is not surprising that when considering candidates for happiness he begins with money. It might seem crass, but it is true that a lot of people, even if they would never admit it, live as if money is our ultimate joy. We might not want to think that about ourselves, but Thomas looks at how we structure our lives and where we expend our energy. If experience has any connection to the truth, we have to give money its due, and Thomas does. On the face of it, he says, there are many good reasons to think perfect happiness consists in being wealthy. Common sense suggests it. If we look about and see how many people live, it would not be amiss to say money is what makes people happy. Is it right to say happiness comes in wealth? Practically speaking, Thomas says yes, and the reason is so many people live as if this is true. He argues that whatever we think willmake us happiest is what we allow to win our hearts and master our affections, and for many this is money. As Thomas writes, "For since happiness is man's final end it must be looked for where his affections are held above all. And such is wealth, as Ecclesiastes remarks, 'All things obey money"' (ST, I-II, 2,1).

Can so many be wrong? Thomas wonders about this. If we look around us, he says, there seem to be many people who believe that if they are rich they will not be disappointed. If we consider the evidence, he suggests, a majority do think that money is the one thing that won't let them down; when it comes to happiness, that is where they place their wager. If money wins the hearts of so many, must it not be true that in riches is found our ultimate joy? Are we wrong to believe that wealth is what life is about and possessions should receive our supreme devotion? There is an initial plausibility to this claim. Besides, the evidence is that money brings happiness. Look at wealthy people. Most seem fairly happy, don't they? Money has enabled them to set up a comfortable life, a life of minimum inconvenience. Not only are they able to do what they want whenever they want, they are also able to use their wealth to keep at bay many of the misfortunes others suffer. Can these happy people be deceived?

In a tragic way Thomas says they are deceived; they have sold their hearts to what can never bring them lasting joy. Even though money and possessions are good and certainly necessary for human life, to think they constitute our most fitting good is a deadly illusion because they can never deliver the goodness that can bring us fully to life. Thomas's response to the claim that our ultimate joy is found in wealth is extremely blunt. He says that wealth cannot stand as our perfect good because it is less than we are; we will only be brought to fulness by something whose goodness surpasses us. What will make us happiest must be able to do great things for us. To be happy, Thomas reasons, is ultimately to possess the greatest possible good. If good things make us happy, then that which is best will bring us grandest joy. If we recall Thomas's point that our ultimate end is whatever finally quiets our desires, then our joy and happiness will reside in something so good that in possessing it our search for wholeness is over. It must be a good capable of bringing us to our fullest possible development, a good that stretches us, a good that consistently can carry us beyond previous levels of achievement and growth.

To think money can do this is preposterous. Our most lasting happiness resides in our most enduring wholeness. We shall find joy when we are one with whatever is most lovely and blessed. Can this possibly be money? Thomas argues that our happiness will be found in our ultimate end, and whatever that ultimate end is we are made for it, not it for us. We are to be turned toward it, we are to love and cherish it, we are to prize it as our most precious possession. Our ultimate end cannot be money, possessions, or any material thing simply because those things are made to help us, not rule us, and it is both silly and blasphemous to think we are made for them. This is why Thomas writes, "Man's happiness clearly cannot consist in natural riches. For they are sought for the sake of something else, namely the support of human life, and so are subordinate to its ultimate end, not the end itself. They are made for man, not man for them" (ST, I-II, 2,1).

Money is a means to an end, not the end itself. To turn money into our ultimate end is to take something less than us, and attempt to make it greater than us, even to make it our god. To worship at the altar of wealth is a sickening perversion of life, a cynical misunderstanding of who we aregraced to be. To make wealth our god is invariably to diminish and destroy ourselves because the only way to find lasting joy in something less than us is by making ourselves even less than it. That is why the humanity of those who worship money eventually disappears. To make any lesser good our ultimate good is a most destructive perversion because it is to take something made for us and make it that for which we are made. That is why all misplaced loves are idolatrous, and why all idolatrous loves are deadly. In expending ourselves on lesser goods, we are destroyed.

The Inseparable Connection between Happiness and What Is Good

What then is the relationship between ourselves and whatever is going to make us happy? First, Thomas suggests that genuine happiness resides in whatever good is sought for its own sake, not for the sake of anything else. Happiness is being at one with the good beyond which there is no greater good; it is possessing the good every other good serves. There is one such perfect good, a blessed variety of intermediate goods. These other goods point to our most perfect good, and indeed their value is found in being the means by which our lasting good is gained.

Second, whatever will bring us perfect joy is not something less than us, but something so superior that in loving it we are brought to our optimum wholeness. Happiness is a matter of development, it is coming unto fulness through growing in excellence. We are perfected, not through something beneath us, but in something so gloriously blessed that it is out of our reach save through grace. Money is a good, but it is not perfectly good, for in no way does it have the excellence necessary for lasting joy. It has tremendous power to entice, but absolutely no power to redeem. It can lure us, entangle us, seduce us, but it cannot complete us, which is why if we love it most of all we are morally disfigured. Whatever will be our lasting happiness has a power not only to take us beyond ourselves, but to restore us. It has to have the power to heal, the power to grace and bless, the power to be perfectly life-giving and redeeming. Whatever will count for lasting joy has to have that excellence; otherwise, our lives will end not in bliss but despair. Whatever will bring us joy has to be capable of making us so much more than we already are. Money cannot do this. If we love it above all we have no respect for ourselves. To worship it is a cruel perversion of the human spirit, for wealth cannot make us more than we already are; it can only make us less.

Third, having said that money and possessions are not the greatest goods, Aquinas nonetheless insists they are necessary for life to be human at all. This tells us something about how he evaluates material things. As Jean Mouroux says in his book, The Meaning of Man, there ought to be but one absolute love, and that is God. "Let God be the first desired, the first sought, the first served, since He is not only the Source and the End, but also the God of Benediction."1 If we are focused on God, Mouroux suggests, we glean well the true value of everything else because our love is proper. If we really do desire God most of all, then we shall know how to cherish everything else. The value of all the things in this world, including wealth and possessions, is that "in the hands of a rightful love"2 they help us gain God. "Thus the Christian loves the temporal as something that shall help him to rejoin his God. His love is detached and freed from bondage because it goes first to God and to the eternal,"3 Mouroux writes. The value in all these things is that they come from God to help us in our seeking of goodness and life, so they are to be cherished as gifts from God entrusted to us to enable the best possible life, which for Thomas is a life of love and worship of God. Our problems come when we sever the relationship between the good things of this world and the God from whom they came and to whom they are meant to direct us. This is why Mouroux is correct when he says, "The root of the mischief lies in the fact that temporal values have been severed from God. All come from God and are gifts of His love; all, therefore, should lead us to God and help us to achieve and fulfil our being by entering into union with God."4

Put differently, all the things of this earth, particularly material things, are not dangerous, but our love for them can be if we forget the purpose for which they are given. We can mold them into idols if we love them supremely instead of partially. It is not material things that are dangerous, but people of misdirected desires who are dangerous because they have yet to learn how to love all good things in a way proportionate to their goodness. By contrast, people who have charity—people who love God more than they love anything else—know rightly how to love all things because by keeping their love for God first they discem the true value of everything else. This is why Mouroux, following Aquinas, says:

We may now easily perceive that what the Christian so emphatically condemns is not the love but the idolatry of the temporal. For this idolatry is a complete reversal of values, it changes their signification, and ends by falsifying temporal things along with man himself. It is a degradation.… He was made for the love of something higher than himself, and when temporal things usurp the first place in his affections then, inevitably, he falls beneath himself.… The violation of order brings its own reckoning: disorder felt in the bones, wholly crippling and destructive.5

Still, despite Aquinas's analysis, what are we to make of the fact that so many people live as if money were the best of all goods? Can so many people be wrong? Thomas says yes and his reasoning is straightforward: in morals, not all opinions are equal. There are a lot of silly ideas around because there are a lot of silly people, and anyone who thinks money is the best of all goods is patently foolish. "That money can do everything is the mass opinion of silly people who recognize only the material goods which can be bought," Thomas says. "To estimate human values, however, we should consult the wise, not the foolish, just as for matters gastronomical we go to those with well-educated tastes" (ST, I-II, 2,1). Aquinas will never conclude that happiness is what most people think it to be, or that what counts for joy can be determined by what has captured the majority's affections, because for him it is not where most people's affections lie that determines happiness, but happiness that determines what we must learn to be affectionate about.

Happiness is not a majority position; rather, happiness is understood by those who know what it means to be good. This is why Thomas says if we want to know the truth about happiness, or any other moral question, we should consult people who are wise and good, we should listen to people of virtue. Just as when we want to know what a delicious meal might be we consult a gourmet (and a hefty Thomas could appreciate this), so, too, if we want to know more about what is good and lovely we should turn to those in whom goodness truly shines. People who live as if money and things are the greatest possibility in life are silly, shallow people who do not know life at all. We should not listen to them because there is so little they really understand. In morals not all opinions are equal; the good have an authority the vicious do not and the reason is this: people who adore money are victims of misdirected loves, and in so disfiguring themselves they have lost all sense of who a human being is. They should be pitied, but they should never be heeded.

II. What Happiness Is and Where It Is To Be Found

Thomas continues his investigation into various candidates for happiness. He asks whether happiness consists in fame and glory, whether it comes with honors, if it might be connected to power or physical skill, and if it has anything to do with pleasure. It is in examining each of these that he begins to build his own argument about where lasting beatitude is found. In what are we to be made perfectly happy? To answer this question, Thomas looks very carefully at who we are.

The first thing he notes is that men and women are not made for themselves (ST, I-II, 2,5). This is obvious, but it is important. We are not the purpose of our own existence. We are to live for the sake of something else. Aquinas's point is that we have life in order to be in relationship with something other than ourselves. We are not the greatest good, but we have life in order to find out what is and to love it. If we are not the purpose of our own existence, then we must search for what is. To be human, Aquinas suggests, is to be in love with this "something more." Put differently, we are not in virtue of ourselves, but in virtue of this something other, which is why we must search for it, learn to love it, and live forever in its presence. To know ourselves we must look elsewhere. If, as Thomas says, we are made not for ourselves but for something other, we must figure out what this something other is. All Aquinas suggests is that there is something vastly more important than ourselves in this world, and the most crucial project of the moral life is to find out what this something other is and to love it, for it is only in loving it that we can fully be. If we are made for something other than ourselves, then selfhood is a relationship with it. To be is to be in love with it. Mouroux captures well what Thomas means when he says about us, "… even to be itself it must needs seek something higher than itself,"6 which is a fitting definition of a human being.

Thomas underscores the relational dimension of human existence. We cannot have life except through relationships with others and ultimately, to be sure, with God. Personhood is a social creation, not an individual one, inasmuch as we come to life through the crucible of friendship, through the love, care, and affection given us by others. The more fully we relate in love and trust to others, the more fully we come unto ourselves.7 This is what Thomas means when he speaks of human existence as "participated" (ST, I-II, 2,5). We are in the measure that we participate in the lives of others; we have life to the degree that we live in communion with other people and with God. Our existence is not self-constituted, it is other-constituted; our self comes to us by participating in what is not ourself. Aquinas's point is that we do not have life when we stand apart, but when we stand in and from another. Isn't this why friendships are so important to us, and why we cannot think of ourselves apart from the people we love? We cherish our friends, not only because they are good to us, but because we also know it is in and through them that we truly are ourselves. Our friends are indispensable because we have this heartfelt sense that we cannot be ourselves without them—and we are right. We know it is in relationship with our best friends that we become our best self.

Secondly, if existence is not solitary but relational, then life is more than sheer existence. Thomas touches this when he says that "mere existence is heightened by an additional value" (ST, I-II, 2,5). What he means is that life is more than simply existing. If we are made not for ourselves but for the sake of something other, then life is living in relationship with this something other, and we sense this. We know the purpose of life is not simply to live, but to be related to something more. We know that life has to be more than day-to-day survival, for simply surviving never satisfies us. If that is allour life is, then likely it is empty and sterile.

We want more than life, we want love in life. We want more than sheer existence, we want to love and to be loved, we want to cherish something more and we want to be cherished ourselves. We want to hold something good in our hearts and we want to be held there in love by another. We want to be in love with life, others, and God, and we want them all to love us. The "additional value" that heightens "mere existence" is love, specifically to love and to be loved by the good that is our happiness. Life is more than existence; it is being in love with the greatest of all goods, it is friendship with that good, it is intimacy with that good, it is communion with that good. This is why Thomas says, "Manifestly man is destined to an end beyond himself, for he himself is not the supreme good. And therefore the final goal … cannot just be his own continuance" (ST, I-II, 2,5). We are not given life simply to exist, but to love and to be loved, to grow in that love, to be changed by it, to be freed by it, to find joy in it. This is why we can be busy and still feel haunted by loneliness and sadness. This is why we can look at our lives and say there is much good about it, but something vital seems to be missing. When we feel this we are searching for the something more, and when we sense this we are being called to deeper possibilities of love.

Third, and not surprisingly, Thomas says authentic happiness is connected to goodness. The only genuinely happy people are the virtuous. We may flinch at this, but Thomas will not be budged. When he says, "Virtue's true reward is happiness itself (ST, I-II, 2,2), he is following Aristotle's conclusion that happiness is not something other than the virtues, but is the virtuous life. Happiness is being good, it is participating in goodness and growing in goodness. For Aquinas, to be virtuous is to be happy, which is why we cannot find joy and peace until we become truly good, and it is also why the deeper our sharing in goodness, the happier we shall become. For Thomas, happiness is not natural, but is acquired and developed. Happiness comes through a certain way of life, a virtuous way of life. Moreover, happiness is doing certain things, namely doing good things. Thomas sees happiness not so much as a feeling, though it is partly that, but more as an activity, as living a certain way. Happiness is being virtuous, it is doing good and becoming good, it is love being practiced. Happiness is doing whatever will bring us to our fullest and most genuine development. It is our most proper and distinctive function, which is why we can say happiness is the best thing we can do.

Genuine happiness cannot be found in evil people, it can never be had through wickedness. Evil may bring pleasure, but it can never bring happiness because "happiness is complete well-being and incompatible with any evil" (ST, I-II, 2,4). Thomas grants that wickedness may thrive and evil people may often prosper, but they cannot be genuinely happy because they are involved in a deterioration of themselves. Wickedness brings decay, not life; it does not restore, it perverts. If happiness is being brought to the fullness of our most proper development, then we will be truly happy in the measure that we achieve our grandest possibility and share in our most promising good. This is why Thomas insists beatitude is not compatible with evil. Evil turns us away from life, it disfigures, it makes us morally ugly, while goodness is life and is beautiful and is freeing. To be happy is to live in and from the most beautiful good, it is even to grow in the likeness of this good, which is why, as we shall see, Thomas eventually insists that our happiness is friendship with God. If happiness is commensurate with goodness, then the greatest joy is in proportion to the greatest goodness. It is because of this that Thomas says our growth in happiness hinges on our growth in the goodness of God. This is why he also concludes that happiness is holiness, and that being godly is requisite for joy. Thomas hints thiswhen he says, "There is a drive within all things towards some likeness to God, who is their first beginning and final end" (ST, I-II, 2,4). But he captures it even more fittingly when he writes, "Therefore to show some reflection of God by their power does not approach to happiness, unless they [human beings] also become like God in goodness" (ST, I-II, 2,4). This is Thomas's most succinct definition of happiness: happiness is becoming like God in goodness.

Why Happiness Is a Quality of Soul

There is one obvious objection to this. Good people do not always seem happy. Their goodness does not protect them from adversity. They, too, are burdened with life's misfortunes, they, too, are often visited by bad luck; in fact, in many respects it seems good people suffer more, they may even suffer because they are good. The lives of the saints attest to this. They knew tragedy, in many respects their lives seem to have been an endless chronicle of being tested by adversity. How then can Thomas claim that the virtuous are the only genuinely happy ones?

Because he argues that happiness is not a mood or a feeling, but quality of soul. Here is how he reasons. He agrees that happiness is something outside us, if we are speaking about the object of happiness. He has already said that in order to be happy we must be related to what is good, and in order to know perfect happiness we must love the perfectly good. But then he added that our happiness grows insofar as we come to possess this good ourselves. By loving the good we begin to take on its quality, and it becomes part of us, an aspect of our being. We possess it internally because we have been formed in its likeness. What makes us happy is outside us in the sense that it stands apart from us, but we become happy when through love we have made it part of ourselves.

We are talking about intimacy, but about the most radical and enduring intimacy of all, the intimacy of likeness to what we most desire. We can see this in friendships when each absorbs something of the other's goodness. We can see it in marriages when a husband has been changed by the loveliness of his wife. We can see it in all those relationships in which we begin to take on aspects of the ones we love. Through love we become part of the other's being and they become part of ours. We have union by passing over into the other's self. Thomas makes this point about happiness when he says happiness is laying hold of our good, but laying hold of it internally. Happiness is being united with our good, but it is a union of likeness, a kinship of similarity. To be happy is to have taken within ourselves our beloved, it is to have absorbed within our souls the goodness we endlessly seek. This is why Thomas says happiness is being "conjoined in any way with the thing on which we set our heart." As he elaborates:

If, however, by this we refer to the gaining or possessing, or to our being conjoined in any way with the thing on which we set our heart, then our ultimate end [happiness] implies something within us and on the part of our soul, for it is then that we come to happiness. To sum up: the thing itself desired as the final end is that which gives substance to happiness and makes a person happy, though happiness itself is defined by the holding of it. The conclusion to be drawn is that happiness is a real condition of soul, yet is founded on a thing outside the soul. (ST, I-II, 2,7)

We can understand what Thomas means if we reflect on who strike us as happy people. What are happy people like? What do we sense when we are with them? Their happiness seems to rise fromwithin them. In a sense, they are their happiness because it is hard to separate the joy and peace we feel in their presence from who they are. We do not think of their happiness as one aspect of who they are; rather, we think of them as happy in themselves. Their happiness is neither peripheral nor superficial, but is a personal trait, a dimension of their character. And we sense they are happy because they are one with what they love. There is little discrepancy in them between what they seek and what they possess. Happiness is holding to what we love, insofar as it is no longer something apart from us, but something whose likeness we share, and that is how these people seem to us. By loving something good for so long they have become like it. Every love brings likeness, and their love has brought likeness to something eminently and refreshingly good. By loving it, they have been transformed from within. They truly have been converted because the goodness and beauty of what they love has become transparent in themselves.

Perfect happiness is perfect assimilation with the best of all goods. As we shall see, Thomas says that happiness is the ultimate effect of what we love on who we are, inasmuch as loving something good and beautiful for a lifetime makes us rich in that same goodness and beauty. We absorb the preciousness of what we love, we take on its goodness, which is why we are happy; what we have sought for so long as our joy we possess, not in some transient, fickle way, but as an enduring quality of soul. We can say we are happiness not in the sense that everything always goes our way or that we are perpetually cheerful, but in the sense that we have absorbed the effects of our love. To be happy is to hold what we love, and for Aquinas we hold it in the most personal, enduring way possible: we are conformed to its goodness.

Why Perfect Happiness Is Found in God

Still, because happiness comes in the perfect assimilation of ourself into the most perfecting good, it is not something we have all at once. Happiness is gradually, sometimes painstakingly, attained. It is the work of a virtuous lifetime. We cultivate joy as we cultivate goodness. This is why we can say happiness increases with the ongoing and never-ending remaking of ourselves. Happiness is conversion because to be happy is to have been converted into the goodness of God. Happiness is surrender, because to be happy is to have handed ourselves over to the love that can do immeasurably more for us than we could ever do for ourselves. To be happy is to be transfigured in holiness, to shine with the goodness of God, but because God's goodness always infinitely surpasses us, our happiness can forever increase. Heaven may have to be everlasting because there is no limit to the happiness God's goodness can bring.

We know where Aquinas's argument is taking us. When all is said and done, our happiness lies not in any created good, but in the perfect, everlasting goodness of God. To be happy is to be united with what is most lovely and blessed; it is communion with pure goodness. Thomas has said from the start that our happiness is realized in whatever brings us to our fullest and most fitting development, and now he identifies this as God, for God can do more for us than anything else.

In God is a goodness that can bless us eternally, a goodness that can continue to change us and enrich us. In God alone is the goodness that brings fulness of life, that is why God is our happiness and joy. Every other good contributes to life, but is not life. Every other good leaves us desiring more. We taste these goods but we continue to search; we possess them but we are driven by longing; we have them and we still are lonely. The incompleteness of every other good points us to a better good. To be happy, Thomas says, we must know complete fulfillment and be lacking in nothing, but when we have wealth, honor, fame, power, reputation, and pleasure, as good and as necessary as all these things are, we know we are still lacking that something more that alone can draw us to wholeness. Only in God resides a good blessed enough to heal and redeem, which is why God is our ultimate good and the fulness of our joy.

But Thomas has a problem. He knows there remains one objection to his claim that God is our perfect happiness and our absolutely fulfilling good. The problem is this: how can we who are not God ever possess God in a way to know such lasting joy? How can we who are so different from God, limited, finite, and earthly, enjoy the splendid goodness of One who seems everything we are not? Granted we may desire God more than we desire anything else, but this does not mean we necessarily have a capacity for a relationship with God. Can the infinite, perfect good be the happiness of those who are creaturely and finite? Or do we simply, if tragically, remain worlds apart? If so, then those who argue that happiness is found not in God but in something of this earth are right, they are the realists. If so, people who seek their joy in wealth, fame, honor, power, and prestige have accepted who we are, creatures who cannot reach out to more good than the goods of this world.

Thomas grants the force of this claim. He knows there is no apparent reason we should believe that human beings who are so radically other than God can be united with God. In raising this point Thomas is not questioning God, but is questioning our capacity for God. Can we find joy in One so different from ourselves? Are we capable of relating to the God Thomas says is our only possible lasting joy? If God is to be our happiness we must have some capacity to be in relationship with God and truly love God. Otherwise, no matter how much Thomas might want to disagree, whatever happiness is possible for us must come through the things of this world. This is how Thomas poses the problem:

Again, man is made happy by an object which brings to rest his natural desire. This, however, does not reach out to more good than it can hold. Since he has not the capacity for a good beyond the bounds of all creation, it would seem that he can become happy through some created good, and here he finds his happiness (ST, I-II, 2,8).

Is seeking our happiness in God "reaching out to more good than we can hold"? Thomas says this point would be insurmountable if there were no way we could have a relationship with God. If God remains infinitely apart from us, God cannot be our happiness and joy; however, there are two reasons we can believe otherwise. First, there is grace. Grace is the gift of God's love which enables us to enjoy God in a way that otherwise would be impossible. It is through grace, which is always pure gift, that we are made capable of relationship with God. Grace, in Aquinas's language, "elevates" us so we can seek God, love God, and have communion with God. It is through God, and not ourselves, that this is made possible for us; the gift of God's love empowers us to love in return.

Second, if grace comes from God's side, desire comes from ours. Thomas grants that if we were finite in every way God could not be our joy, for we cannot "reach out to more good" than we can hold. But there is, he contends, one way we are not finite: we have unlimited desire. We are limited in every way but one—we have unlimited desire, unlimited longing. Our desire is the one thing about us that is not restricted and we know this. We feel the ongoing hunger for something infinitely good, we are stalked by the longing for something perfectly blessed and precious. Though we are limited, we wantunlimited good, though we are restricted, we want to love unrestrictedly. This is why we can never settle with created goods; they are too limited and restrictive for the boundlessness of our spirit. And so we keep searching for more, we continue to move to what seems forever beyond us because we know nothing less will satisfy us, nothing less will bring us peace. This is why Thomas says we "can reach out to the infinite" (ST, I-II, 2,8). We seek the infinite through the openness of desire, and only something indefectibly good will satisfy this desire. "For man to rest content with any created good is not possible," Thomas writes, "for he can be happy only with complete good which satisfies his desire altogether: he would not have reached his ultimate end were there something still remaining to be desired" (ST, I-II, 2,8).

We shall never find lasting joy if we remain restless of heart. We seek the good which heals our restlessness, and that is what joy is—it is longing, searching, hungering, desiring come to rest. For Thomas such peace is found only in God. God is our happiness because in God we want no more. God is our happiness because in God we find the joy we have always relentlessly sought. We seek, Thomas says, "the good without reserve," that alone will satisfy us, and such good "is found not in anything created, but in God alone" (ST, I-II, 2,8).

In this chapter we have considered the one thing everyone wants. We have spoken about happiness. We have said much about what happiness is not, but we have also reflected on what happiness is. To be happy is to be satisfied, but it is also to be made whole. It is to be content, but it is also to be perfected. To be happy is to be good and to be holy. Happiness is joy, but joy comes when we desire no more, when our searching has ended because we have found peace. After looking at all the ways we try to find happiness, Thomas urges us to look to God. There are many good things, but only God is perfectly good. God is our final, most perfect, and everlasting happiness because in God alone lives the goodness that heals, redeems and restores.

To be with God is to be happy, but Thomas understands this in a very particular way. We are happy when we have intimacy with God. We have found joy when we are so much a part of God's life that God and we are one. Thomas calls this happiness friendship. It is how he understands charity. Charity is friendship with God. It is an astonishing claim to say we can be friends of God. What Thomas means by it is what we shall next explore.


1 Jean Mouroux, The Meaning of Man. Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1961, p. 24. I am grateful to Fred Sucher, C.P., for bringing Mouroux's works to my attention.

2 Mouroux, p. 25.

3 Mouroux, p. 25.

4 Mouroux, p. 22.

5 Mouroux, p. 26.

6 Mouroux, p. 16.

7 An excellent analysis of this theme can be found in Robert Johann, S.J., The Meaning of Love. Glen Rock, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1966.

John I. Jenkins (essay date 1997)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9644

SOURCE: "'Scientia' and the Summa theologiae" in Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas, Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 78-98.

[In the following excerpt, Jenkins discusses the structure and nature of the Summa Theologiae and argues that its intended audience was advanced students in theology.]

The Summa theologiae is the chefd'oeuvre of St. Thomas Aquinas. Although all of Aquinas's works are powerful and important, and several are masterpieces, the Summa theologiae is his most comprehensive and is thought by most to be his greatest. The sheer organization of such a large amount of disparate material in the four volumes of this work is a remarkable feat. And on any given issue, the Summa generally contains the most mature, clear and definitive statement of Aquinas's position. Thus, when there is a dispute about Aquinas's views on some question, debate nearly always turns primarily on one or more passages from this work.

The centrality of the Summa theologiae is apparent also from biographical evidence. Most of Aquinas's major theological and philosophical works arose from responsibilities as a student or teacher, or from various controversies of the day, and these situations determined the form of the work in question. The Sentences commentary was required of Aquinas as a theology student; the commentaries on Scripture, and perhaps those on the books of Aristotle,1 arose from his duties as a teacher; the disputed and quodlibetal questions are records of the academic disputations, conducted in a more or less standard form, required or at least expected of Aquinas as a Master at Paris; his polemical works, such as the De unitate intellectus and De aeternitate mundi, were simply his responses to pressing controversies of the day. Only in the two summae, the Summa contra gentiles and the Summa theologiae, was Aquinas able to break with conventional forms, to cast his thought in a new mold and to compose a systematic work according to what he thought the subject demanded. The Summa contra gentiles was a significantly earlier work, written in the early 1260s. The Summa theologiae expresses his most fully developed thought and was clearly his most ambitious work, one in which he explicitly claims to have departed from older forms to present the subject in the way it demanded.2 He labored long over it, beginning the Summa theologiae in 1266 and working on it until his death in 1274, when it was left unfinished. And it was the culmination of his efforts to present systematically Christian theology, the subject which his position as a theological Master (magister in sacra pagina) at the University of Paris, and his vocation as a Dominican priest, called him to teach.3 Thus we find in the Summa theologiae Aquinas's most mature, most original and most comprehensive treatment of the subject which was his life's work.

In spite of the primacy of this work in the Thomistic corpus, it has, I will argue in this chapter, been widely misunderstood. Scholars have failed to understand the work's fundamental epistemic notion, scientia, and so have not clearly grasped Aquinas's intention in writing it. I have tried to elucidate this concept in the previous two chapters, and now I will attempt to discover what light it can shed on the Summa theologiae and its presentation of the scientia of sacred doctrine.

The Summa theologiae, I will argue, is a work of second-level pedagogy, as I explained this notion in chapter one. To the extent that commentators have recognized that the Summa is a pedagogical work, they have seen it as a work of first-level pedagogy, and I will begin by arguing against this interpretation. I will then consider the intended audience of the Summa, and argue that the work was for very advanced students in theology, who were well suited for second-level pedagogy. Finally, I will argue that we can make better sense of the nature and structure of the Summa theologiae on the hypothesis that it is a work of second-level pedagogy, and will conclude by raising some problems for my interpretation which will be addressed in subsequent chapters.

3.1 The Summa Theologiae: An Introduction for Beginners?

In the prologue to the Prima pars of the Summa theologiae Aquinas announces his intention in the work as a whole:

Because the teacher of Catholic truth not only must instruct those who are advanced [provecti], but also must educate beginners [incipientes] (as St. Paul writes in I Corinthians 3 [1-2], "Even as unto babes in Christ I have fed you with milk and not meat"), our purpose in this work is to pass on the things which pertain to Christian religion in such a way as is fitting for the education of beginners.4

Perspicacious scholars have recognized the importance of Thomas's pedagogical intent in the Summa. Chenu writes:

The praise directed toward the Summa theologiae throughout the centuries, the technical difficulties encountered in it, the power of the synthesis it contains should not mask the original purpose for which it was written … By the author's own avowal, it was dedicated to the instruction of beginners in theology.5

James A. Weisheipl writes that in the Summa "Thomas wanted to present a comprehensive vision of 'sacred doctrine' for beginners, a handbook suitable for novices."6 And Leonard E. Boyle suggests that Aquinas began the Summa because he felt "practical theology was too much with the Dominican Order and that the 'Fratres communes' and the students in particular … were not being allowed more than a partial view of theology."7

What sort of instruction is Aquinas attempting to impart in the Summa theologiae? In chapter one (pp. 46-49) we distinguished between first and second-level inquiry, and to these correspond first and second-level pedagogy. In first-level pedagogy the student acquires familiarity with the fundamental concepts and principles in the field. The existence of the subject will be proven to him, if this is necessary. And, at this first stage, an instructor would employ demonstrations quia which move from truths better known to the student to principles which are better known simpliciter. Having acquired a familiarity with the fundamental concepts and grasped the principles, the student in second-levelpedagogy would follow the order of scientific demonstrations as defined in the PA, moving from causes to effects. The concern at this second stage would be to present material so as to instill the intellectual habits by which the student would readily and correctly consider effects in the field by virtue of their causes. With what sort of pedagogy is the Summa concerned?

Since Chenu does not mention any special character to the Summa's pedagogy, it is natural to suppose he means what we, who do not share Aquinas's notion of scientia, mean by "instruction for beginners," namely that the work is an initial introduction to the key concepts and basic truths of a field for one unfamiliar with them. Weisheipl suggests this view even more strongly when he calls the Summa a "beginner's handbook."8 And Boyle argues at length that Aquinas "probably had young and run-of-the-mill Dominicans in mind and not a more sophisticated, perhaps university audience when in chiselled prose and in easy, logical steps he put his Summa theologiae together."9 Thus in these writers we find at least the suggestion, and at most the explicit claim, that the Summa was intended as a piece of first-level pedagogy—an initial introduction for neophytes to the truths in a field of knowledge. This is, I believe, the standard reading of the pedagogical character of the Summa theologiae.

When this understanding is pressed, however, serious problems emerge. For if that is what Aquinas intended, the work seems a spectacular failure. Chenu goes some way toward acknowledging this when he writes that Aquinas perhaps suffered from "some of that illusion which is common to professors as regards the capacities of their students."10 And Weisheipl writes that though the first part "succeeded admirably," the second and third parts "are far from being a simple introduction."11 But these admissions, I want to argue, greatly understate the difficulties.

Consider first of all the content of the work. If it is an introduction for neophytes in the field we would expect it to present the key concepts and major issues of Christian theology, but not in all their complexity. What distinguishes an initial introduction is that, though it presents essential concepts, claims and methods within a field, the accounts of especially difficult claims and concepts are simplified, certain qualifications and fine distinctions are neglected, and some objections and disagreements among practitioners in the field are ignored. In place of these we would expect to find concrete examples and analogies drawn from experiences familiar to the student. However, this is not the sort of content we find in the Summa theologiae.

Consider, for example, question 85, article one of the argues Prima pars, where Aquinas asks "Whether our intellect understands corporeal and material things by abstraction from phantasmata." In this article he distinguishes and briefly describes the sensitive, angelic and human intellects; he presents his view on how humans apprehend intelligible forms by abstracting them from phantasmata, or sense images; he distinguishes individualizing and intelligible matter; and he briefly explains what he sees as Plato's error on this question. In the response to the first objection he rejects a crude realism according to which composition in the world must always be mirrored in composition in our intellect for true understanding. In his response to the second objection, he elaborates the distinction between common and sensible matter. In the third response he distinguishes between phantasmata, which affect sense organs, and species intellegibiles which are impressed on the receptive intellect. In the fifth and sixth responses he discusses the agent intellect, and its role with respect to phantasmata and sense perception. The writing is condensed and abstract, and though three examples are mentioned (viz. thecolor of an apple and the sensations of hot and cold, hard and soft), they are hardly the sort of illustrations which would be of much help to a beginner. And this is only one of 2,669 articles in the Summa. Moreover, it is from the first part which Weisheipi says "succeeds admirably" as a simple introduction, rather than from the more difficult second and third parts.

Furthermore, when we compare the Summa theologiae with other works of Aquinas, it does not seem related as an initial introduction is to more advanced works. In Quaestiones disputatae de veritate Aquinas goes over the same material he treats in Summa theologiae 1.85.1, although the questions posed are slightly different. What we have as disputed questions are, of course, the written record of Aquinas's actual disputations at the University of Paris. In such disputations Aquinas, as the disputing Master, would pose the question to be addressed, and it seems that on the first day of the debate the members of the audience, both faculty and students, would pose objections and a bachelor of theology would respond. On the next day, after considering the arguments on both sides, the Master would give his determinatio or resolution of the question and his own response to each of the objections. This was then written up and edited by the Master.12 Thus the quaestiones disputatae were the most philosophically and theologically sophisticated presentations to the most sophisticated audience of Aquinas's day.

When we compare Quaestiones disputatae de veritate 10.5 & 6 with Summa theologiae 1.85.1, we do find that the latter is simplified, but not in the way we would expect for an initial introduction. Because the Summa article does not record an actual disputed question, it has fewer objections. (There are six objections in De veritate 10.5 and nine in 10.6, while there are only five in Summa theologiae 1.85.1.) Many of the objections in the disputed questions are redundant, and in reducing the number Aquinas is no doubt trying to avoid the "frequent repetition [which] generated boredom and confusion in the minds of the members of the audience."13 Moreover, in De veritate 10.6 Aquinas develops his position dialectically by considering and arguing against the "complex variations of ancient opinion."14 In the Summa he presents and argues for his own opinions directly, briefly discussing only Plato as a contrary opinion. He was perhaps trying to avoid the "useless multiplication of questions, articles and arguments."15 In these ways, then, the Summa discussion is simpler. Nevertheless, there is no substantive philosophical or theological point which is part of the exposition of Aquinas's views in the De veritate but is not made in the Summa. The differences between the works are with respect to the clarity and conciseness of expression, and not to the content of Aquinas's claims and arguments.

When we look at the Summa contra gentiles 11.77, which treats similar issues, we find its discussion is shaped by Aquinas's dispute with an Avicennian reading of Aristotle. In that article, however, we find no higher level of philosophical and theological content than in the Summa. If anything, Aquinas's presentation of his position is less elaborate there.

The content of the Summa theologiae is not that of a work gauged for neophytes in a field. The discussion we have considered is not a simplified account for beginners in which important but difficult details have been glossed over; it is, rather, Aquinas's clearest, most precise and most philosophically subtle treatment of these matters. Aquinas does show a concern with clarity, conciseness and elegance of presentation, but his attention does not seem to be directed to beginners.

The structure of the work, moreover, violates Aquinas's own principles for the order of initial discovery and learning. In the Summa Aquinas states a pedagogical principle which we saw foreshadowed in the Posterior Analytics commentary: "when any effect is more apparent to us than its cause, we proceed through the effect to an apprehension of the cause."16 This principle is expressed more fully in the commentary on Aristotle's Physics:

With respect to the discovery of first principles, [Aristotle] adduces the claim that being better known to us and [being better known] by nature are not the same; rather, those things which are better known by nature are less well known to us. And because this is the natural manner or order of learning—that one moves from things known to us to things unknown to us—thus it is that we must move from what is better known to us to what is better known by nature.17

Aquinas begins the Summa, however, not with effects which are most apparent to us, but with God, the first cause of all things which is least known to us in this life,18 but best known by nature.19 He moves from there to angels, which are also beings better known by nature but less well known to us. Only then does he turn to mundane creatures, with which we are most familiar. This procedure is precisely the opposite of what Aquinas's pedagogical principles regarding initial instruction in a field recommend.20

Chenu discusses the structure of the Summa at length. Having made the point that Aquinas's purpose was "instruction for beginners," Chenu says that Aquinas sought the proper "ordo disciplinae", the order of learning. Until the thirteenth century, theological treatises took a historical order, the order of salvation history. However, Chenu writes, "at the very moment when, by means of the magnificent Aristotelian inheritance, the notion of science was taking on such vigor in method and meaningfulness, the masters of the first half of the thirteenth century were faced with the problem of applying this notion of science in their theological efforts."21 Aquinas, Chenu argues, employed the Neoplatonic structure of emanation and return to provide "an order for science, injecting intelligibility into the heart of the revealed datum."22

In his discussion, Chenu clearly drifts without explanation from the question of pedagogical structure to that of scientific structure, and he ends up conflating the two. Views may differ on the proper structure of a science, and they may differ on the proper order for initial instruction of beginners, but certainly these two questions are to be distinguished. Euclid's Elements may have achieved the proper structure for geometry, for its deductive structure lucidly displays the logical structure of the science. However, it is far from clear that he thereby hit on the proper way to introduce beginners to geometry. Although we may agree with the scientific structure of the Elements, it is far from clear that we should begin a course in elementary geometry with a lecture reciting the definitions, postulates and common notions of Book 1. Chenu, however, assuming that Aquinas was interested in some form of initial instruction, and finding the structure of a science in the Summa theologiae, is led to confuse the two issues.

Chenu, Weisheipl and Boyle all fail to appreciate fully Aquinas's concept of scientia, and how it differs from our cognitive notions. Consequently, they fail to distinguish clearly between first and second-level pedagogy. Realizing that the Summa is pedagogical, they naturally suppose that it is pedagogy as we normally understand it, one appropriate to our concept of knowledge. They assumethat it primarily involves the discovery of new truths in a field, and do not recognize the need for the intellectual habituation of second-level pedagogy. But when it is understood in that way, the Summa is at best odd and at worst incomprehensible. I want to argue that the work is one of second-level pedagogy. Before turning directly to this, though, I shall consider who the incipientes and novitii were for whom, as the prologue states, the work was written.

3.2 The Intended Audience of the Summa Theologiae

In a recent and influential monograph, Boyle has argued that the Summa was written not for the students at the University of Paris, as has generally been thought, but for the studia and priories in the Dominican provinces.23 The University of Paris in the thirteenth century, arguably the greatest center of Christian theology which has ever existed, attracted the best minds of Europe for a rigorous and lengthy program of studies. Aquinas lived and taught at the Dominican studium generale there, which was the site of study for the most intellectually able Dominican students from all of Europe.24 Dominicans sent to these general studia were destined to go on to become lectores or teachers in Dominican priories or in provincial studia, or even masters at the universities, and thus were distinguished from those preparing for pastoral ministry.25

Boyle argues that the Summa was not, as has been thought, written for the intellectual elites at the universities, but for the fratres communes, the ordinary Dominican brethren, engaged in the pastoral work of preaching and hearing confessions and for students preparing for such work. The Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, in 1221 received from Pope Honorius the further commission of "hearing confessions and enjoining penances." For this work, study in moral theology was needed, and early Dominicans wrote a number of manuals devoted to practical moral theology. When Aquinas came upon the scene, however, he "may have felt that practical theology was too much with the Dominican Order," and that the brethren "were not being allowed more than a partial view of theology."26 Aquinas wrote his Summa for Dominicans, Boyle suggests, to place their practical moral instruction in a more theoretical, theological context. "By prefacing the Secunda or 'moral' part with a Prima pars on God, Trinity and Creation," Boyle writes, "and then rounding it off with a Tertia pars on the Son of God, Incarnation and the Sacraments, Thomas put practical theology, the study of Christian man, his virtues and vices, in a full theological context."27

Boyle's evidence for his conclusions is circumstantial: (1) Aquinas probably began the Summa after four years at Orvieto where he first "took his place in the normal stream of the Dominican educational system,"28 and as a lector his task was to instruct Dominicans engaged in pastoral work; (2) Dominican education in the provinces (as opposed to the universities) was focused on an anecdotal moral theology, and Aquinas would probably have felt dissatisfied with its limited scope; (3) the writing of the Summa was begun at the studium at Santa Sabina in Rome, where, Boyle believes, Aquinas seems to have been given free rein to shape the theological training of students in the Roman province of Dominicans; and (4) the Summa, and particularly the second part, seems to parallel the confessional manuals of the time, and so may have been meant to replace them. Boyle himself seems to recognize that evidence of this sort is not wholly compelling, and so only suggests" a conclusion,29 and says it is "probably" true30 or "likely,"31 or that it is an "assumption [which] is hardly out of the question."32

Although Boyle's work is original and suggestive, I think one of its key tenets must be rejected. This is the contention that in the Summa Aquinas had "run-of-the-mill Dominicans primarily in mind and not a more sophisticated, perhaps university audience."33 There are several reasons to doubt this claim. First, the considerations of content and structure mentioned above suggest otherwise. Although the articles of the Summa are condensed, they are as sophisticated and demanding as anything Aquinas wrote, they address all the most difficult and controversial issues of his day, and the structure of the work is not appropriate for initial instruction. This does not seem to be the sort of work one would write if one's primary audience were those preparing to engage only in the pastoral duties of preaching to, and hearing confessions of, ordinary lay people. Secondly,34 Boyle correctly portrays Aquinas as very influential in setting the educational policy of his own Roman province. The 1265 provincial chapter put him in charge of establishing and running the studium at Santa Sabina in Rome, and the 1272 chapter declared: "We entrust entirely to Friar Thomas d'Aquino the general studium of theology as to place, persons, and number of students."35 If, as Boyle argues, Aquinas spent several of his most mature years writing the Summa for the fratres communes in his province, he could, and most likely would, have brought it about that the priories and provincial studia began to use the work. Since he spent the years from 1272 until his death in 1274 in the province, he was well positioned to bring it about that the first and second parts of the Summa, which were then finished, be disseminated and used in the province's schools. However, there is no evidence that the work was widely used in the province during or immediately after Aquinas's lifetime.36

We can make much better sense of the Summa, I contend, if we see it as a work intended for a student pursuing a degree in theology, for one aspiring to be a Magister in sacra pagina, or for someone at a comparable level. The universities of Paris and Oxford alone were able to confer degrees in theology in the thirteenth century, and Paris was clearly dominant in theology. Moreover, since Aquinas studied and taught at Paris, it would have influenced him. An eyewitness account tells us that Aquinas began the Summa after beginning a revision of his commentary of the Sentences of Peter Lombard."37 If this is so, then it is likely that he began the Summa after becoming dissatisfied with the limitations a commentary on the Sentences imposed. This hypothesis is further supported by the prologue of the Summa, which states that the work is intended to break with commentaries, in which "the things which it is necessary for such students to know are not taught according to the order of the discipline, but according to what is required for the exposition of the text."38 It is most likely, then, that he intended the Summa to play the role in the educational system that was comparable to that which the Sentences were then playing, albeit unsatisfactorily.

The university student who studied the Sentences in Paris would have been well prepared for the Summa. He would, first of all, have had extensive philosophical training, and particularly in the works of Aristotle. Before one could commence theological studies, he had to have received the degree of Master of Arts. Traditionally, study in the liberal arts meant the classical liberal arts of the trivium and quadrivium. The influx of translations of classical works between the middle of the twelfth and the middle of the thirteenth centuries, however, brought about a gradual evolution in the arts course. By 1255 it is clear that the texts lectured on in the Arts Faculty at Paris were those of the Aristotelian corpus, a few writings falsely attributed to Aristotle, and a handful of other works.39 In Aquinas's mature years, then, study in the arts was primarily the study of Aristotle. A common understanding of Aquinas's Aristotelian commentaries is that they were written for students and faculty in the arts, to guide the reading and teaching of Aristotle's works.40 If this is so, then thesedetailed and philosophically challenging commentaries tell us what Aquinas thought a student in the arts should have been taught and should have learned.

The course in the Faculty of Arts was lengthy and rigorous. At Paris, it was five or six years.41 The first two years were spent listening to lectures and attending disputations, and the next two participating in disputations under the supervision of a master. A minority of students went on to "determine," which consisted in determining or resolving questions being disputed. At this stage, students would also lecture cursorily on assigned texts.42 Finally, the student could be presented for a license to incept as a master. Although this was not universally enforced, upon graduating as a Master of Arts he was required to lecture for two years on the faculty.43

Dominican candidates for theological study were exempt from the requirement of being Masters of Arts,44 but only because they had completed equivalent studies in their own Dominican studia. In 1259 Aquinas, Albert the Great and several other prominent Dominicans were members of a commission which mandated that Dominican studia for the arts be set up where they had not hitherto existed, that the curriculum of such schools be brought into agreement with that of the university, and that the method of teaching be through lectures and disputations.45

After completing the arts course, a smaller number of highly qualified students would go on to study theology. To become a "Master of the Sacred Page," as one completing the theology degree was called, eight years in addition to the arts course were required.46 Of this, the first six years were spent hearing lectures; four years were spent on the Bible and two on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.47 After this, if he were 25 or older, the student could petition to be made a bachelor. As a bachelor he gave cursory lectures on the Bible for two years. He then became a bachelor of the Sentences—a Sententarius, as such a student was called—and he delivered lectures on the Sentences.

Here too Dominicans received exemptions due to previous work in their studia. Before coming to the university a Dominican would have studied theology for two or three years in a provincial house of studies and for one in a studium generale, whether at Paris or elsewhere. Thus when he came to Paris to lecture as a bachelor of the Bible or the Sentences, he could begin immediately.48

I am arguing, then, that the Summa was written for these extremely well prepared and highly capable students who studied, and eventually commented upon, the Sentences of Peter Lombard at the University of Paris. These students could have been expected to handle the dense, difficult and copious material presented in that work. Moreover, since our best evidence is. that the Summa theologiae was written to play a role similar to that which the Sentences of Peter Lombard played, it is most likely that it was written for the students who were at the level at which the Lombard's work was to be studied. That is, it was meant to serve as a final, comprehensive course for theology students.49

Someone will certainly object, however, that Aquinas would not have referred to such advanced and accomplished students as beginners (incipientes) and novices (novitii), as he does refer to the intended audience of the Summa theologiae in the prologue to the prima pars. There Aquinas tells us that the work was written for those just commencing the study of theology, and so the interpretation I have argued for cannot be right.

It is not the case, though, that those called beginners are always rank beginners. Words such as beginner and novice (and incipientes and novitii in Latin) presuppose a contrast with the more advanced and accomplished, and just what contrast is in question depends upon the context in which these words are used. For example, an aspiring concert pianist about to make his debut with a major orchestra may be called a novice or beginner, though he has been playing the instrument at an extremely high level for years. Such a description is nonetheless apt, for the young pianist is a beginner in comparison with established concert pianists. The designation beginner makes sense because the presupposed contrast is between beginning and established concert pianists, not between this pianist and piano players generally. Similarly, it is possible that when Aquinas says that he is writing the Summa theologiae for beginners rather than for the advanced, the presupposed contrast is not between advanced students and rank beginners; it is between students, albeit very advanced students, on the one hand, and Aquinas's fellow theological Masters at Paris, on the other. The former group would have been very accomplished, would have been studying for a long time and would not have been far from their inception as Masters. However, in contrast to St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, Stephen Tempier, John Pecham and others, they were beginners. When Aquinas presents arguments in his disputed questions or in his polemical works, he is engaging in debate with other Masters. So when Aquinas writes in the prologue to the Summa theologiae that he is writing for beginners and not for the advanced, it is possible that this means that he is not trying to address disputes with his fellow Masters, but is attempting to write a work for students who were nearing the end of their theological studies. And, I would argue, the nature and structure of the Summa theologiae is such that we must conclude that in fact the "beginners" mentioned are advanced students, not those just entering upon theological study.

I conclude, then, that Aquinas wrote the Summa theologiae as a work suitable for the pedagogical needs of those very advanced students, and it was intended as the culmination of their studies before they took up positions as theological Masters at Paris and elsewhere. But though I claim that Aquinas wrote the Summa theologiae for students at Paris, I do not want to claim that it was written only for theology students at Paris or Oxford. Although these two universities alone could confer theological degrees in the thirteenth century, they were not the only schools of theology. However, these theological universities, particularly Paris, became the model for theological study elsewhere.50 The 1259 commission on Dominican education, as we have seen, brought the Dominican arts curriculum into line with that of Paris, and established the university system of lectures and disputations as the proper method of instruction. Although the educational policy of the Roman province was in flux in Aquinas's lifetime, and evidence about its nature is scant, it does seem that the effort was to bring study in the provincial studia in line with and up to the standards of Paris. Thus, although it may be that Aquinas also had schools in the Dominican provinces in mind when he wrote the Summa, he hoped that the curriculum there would be comparable to that in Paris. If that were the case, the Summa theologiae could have been used by them as well.

3.3 The Nature and Structure of the Summa Theologiae

My contention, then, is that the Summa theologiae was intended to play a role in theological education similar to that which the Sentences played at Paris, whether the educational institution was in fact the University of Paris, or Oxford, or one of the Dominican studia, or any similar institution of theological education. If this is so, then a student would have had extensive preparation beforeencountering the Summa. As Aquinas envisioned it, it is likely that the student would have been through the Aristotelian corpus using Aquinas's commentaries, or at least would have heard lectures in the manner of Aquinas's commentaries. Thus he would, through both hearing and delivering lectures, have had a thorough acquaintance with Aristotelian philosophy, of the ways in which it did and did not accord with Christian orthodoxy, and of the way in which many of its concepts and principles are open to dialectical development in light of Christian doctrine and subsequent philosophical and theological developments.51 He would, again through hearing and delivering lectures, have had a thorough acquaintance with Christian Scripture. And since lectures on the Bible involved addressing questions and problems of Christian theology, he would have had a sophisticated knowledge of Christian doctrine and theology. Given this wide exposure to philosophy and theology, what more would a student need? What he would need, according to Aquinas, is to grasp the truths of Christian theology, of sacred doctrine, in the right kind of way. What he would need is to have the material presented so that he would grasp effects in virtue of causes, and thus acquire the noetic structure proper to that scientia. What he would need is second-level pedagogy, and this, I submit, is what the Summa theologiae attempts to provide.

First-level pedagogy, which is in many ways the most prolonged and arduous, would have occurred in the student's course in the arts and in the first four years of theology. In the arts course he would have mastered logic and grammar through the study of Aristotle's Categories, De interpretatione, Topics, De sophisticis enlencis, the Prior and Posterior Analytics, as well as works by Boethius and Priscian. In the physical scientiae, he would, through careful study of Aristotle's Physics, have learned about, inter alia, material substances and their accidents, the four causes and the nature of physical change. Through the study of Aristotle's De anima, De sensu et sensato, De memoria et reminiscentia and De animalibus he would come to know about the souls of humans and animals, about human action and human cognition. Through the study of De caelo et mundo, Meteorologia and De generatione et corruptione he would have been taught about inanimate nature and about the celestial bodies and their role in the order of the sub-lunar world. In the practical scientiae, through the study of the Nicomachean Ethics and the Politics, he would have considered human good, action, virtue, happiness (beatitude) and political philosophy. And in metaphysics, through the study of Aristotle's Metaphysics, he would have learned about being qua being and the immaterial substances, which are God and the intelligences or (as Moses Maimonides and Aquinas identified them) angels. In all these fields he would not only have encountered the teachings in each of these disciplines, but would also have acquired sufficient mastery to conduct disputations on controversial issues in these fields, and perhaps even have done some lecturing on key texts.

After first-level pedagogy in the philosophical scientiae in the arts course, the student would then learn the doctrines of Christian theology by attending lectures on the Bible for four years. These lectures, though based on the Biblical texts, would have been substantive theological lectures on Christian doctrine. Through them the student would have become familiar with these doctrines, and would have heard lectures on God, the Trinity, creation, the Incarnation, sin, salvation, grace and so on. In his first four years as a theology student, then, he would have become familiar with the concepts and doctrines of Christian theology.

When he was ready to study the Sentences of Peter Lombard, then, he would already have become familiar with the key theological and philosophical concepts, arguments and claims of Christiantheology. In the ideal case, at least, there would have been little for him to learn that was new. When Aquinas wrote the Summa theologiae to play the role that the Lombard's Sentences had been playing in the theology curriculum, his primary concern was not to pass on new claims and arguments, but to take the student through the final stage in the acquisition of the scientia of sacred doctrine. For full scientia the student, having grasped the fundamental concepts, learned the key claims and acquired the skills of reasoning and disputation, would need to engage in reasoning from the fundamental causes in this field to conclusions. This was second-level pedagogy, and its purpose was to instill in the student a habit of thought, so that his reasoning in the field would move easily, by second nature, from the fundamental causes to their effects. With this sort of training, when he considered (for example) human beings, he would readily think of them not simply as humans, but as beings which have their beginning and end in God, and as creatures which are finite reflections of the divine goodness. Only when he not only knew that humans were in fact creatures, but had also acquired the ready habit of thought to consider and contemplate them as such, did the student have scientia of sacred doctrine. The Summa theologiae, I am claiming, is a work of second-level pedagogy which is intended to instill just this habit of thought.

When we view the Summa as a work of second-level pedagogy, I contend, it makes much more sense. First, the content of the work is more appropriate for a thirteenth-century theology student who had completed his Master of Arts and four years of Biblical study. The level of sophistication and range of philosophical and theological issues addressed in this work is well beyond what a rank beginner could absorb. However, if the student had gone through the heavily philosophical, Aristotelian curriculum in the liberal arts of the mid-thirteenth century, and had studied, lectured upon and attended substantive theological lectures on the Bible for four years, he would be adequately prepared to take on what we find in the Summa theologiae.

Secondly, as we have seen, the structure of the Summa theologiae is precisely the opposite of what, in Aquinas's view, first-level pedagogy requires. It seems to accord, however, with what second-level pedagogy demands. This is especially clear in the prima pars, in which the discussion moves from God, to creation in general, to a discussion of the kinds of creatures which exist, moving from higher to lower creatures; and it concludes by considering God's conservation and governance of the whole.

Thirdly, to the extent that treatments of questions in the Summa theologiae do differ from treatments of the same or similar questions in other works, such as the Quaestiones disputatae or the Summa contra gentiles, they seem particularly suited to a work of second-level pedagogy. As we saw above in our discussion of Summa theologiae 1.85.1 (pp. 81-83), the Summa theologiae does not leave out anything essential to the resolution of the question of that article that was found in corresponding passages of the previously composed Quaestiones disputatae de veritate. Thus the Summa, as was argued above, does not seem geared to an untrained, unsophisticated audience, as a work of first-level pedagogy would be. But in the Summa Aquinas does eliminate objections which are either redundant or do not lead to any distinctively illuminating point, and he also leaves out a discussion of numerous and various opinions of ancient thinkers, something which is not essential to his response to the question of that article. The Summa theologiae, then, presents Aquinas's resolution of the question at hand in all its sophistication and subtlety, but free from extraneous material and repetition. The concern seems to be to set forth what is essential to the Scientia in as concise and lucid a manner as possible. And this interest in clarity and economy of presentation seems particularly appropriate tosecond-level pedagogy, for there one seeks to give a clear and uncluttered view of the whole sweep of the scientia, and particularly of the way its essential claims flow from its fundamental principles. In the initial discovery of difficult truths, tangential discussions and a meticulous consideration of objections are necessary to aid understanding, eliminate confusion and remove doubts. In second-level pedagogy, however, what one needs is a perspicuous presentation of the reasoning which leads from principles to conclusion, so that he will begin to think of the subject in this way. Extraneous or redundant material must be eliminated so that the structure of reasoning in the scientia can be better seen. The changes we find in the Summa theologiae in comparison with the Quaestiones disputatae seem to be directed to this end.

In the prologue to the Summa, Aquinas makes clear that concern for structure and economy of presentation are what had made him break with older forms. His dissatisfaction with the currently available works is (1) that they contain a multiplicity of useless questions, articles and arguments; (2) they fail to treat what is necessary for scientia according to the ordo disciplinae; and (3) the repetition of material in them produces boredom and confusion in the students. That is, he does not complain that existing works contain significant errors, or teach falsehoods, or ignore important material; his complaints all have to do with the fact that they do not present the material in the right kind of way. In second-level pedagogy it is precisely the way material is taught, the order of presentation, which is crucial. For only when the order of teaching clearly mirrors the order of causality can one begin to acquire the noetic structure proper to scientia.

Furthermore, we can, on this hypothesis, understand the significance of Aquinas's persistent—even obsessive—concern with the architectonic in the Summa. At the beginning of each question Aquinas tells us how that question fits into the larger scheme of the Summa and how the individual articles are structured. This may seem an unimportant, idiosyncratically scholastic preoccupation with order, and some writers have felt free to pluck questions and articles out of the context and try to understand them in isolation. But this can only lead to distortions, for, if I am right, then the structure of the work is, in one sense at least, its primary point. Since the concern is with second-level pedagogy, it is precisely the structure which Aquinas wants to communicate to the student, for he hopes thereby to shape the student's understanding.

My claim, then, is that in the Summa theologiae Aquinas's primary concern is with second- and not first-level pedagogy. This shift in perspective, I believe, enables us to make better sense of the work. It also gives rise to some important objections, which I will present in the next section. In the remaining chapters of this work I will try to respond to these objections, and we can thereby perhaps acquire a better understanding of the Summa theologiae and the scientia of sacred doctrine.

3.4 Some Objections

The first objection asks whether Aquinas would have considered a PA scientia generally, and not just the scientia of sacred doctrine, a practical possibility which might have served as a goal for inquiry. For the stringency of the requirements for a PA scientia may lead one to wonder whether we could ever have the apprehension of principles which it demands. According to the interpretation presented in chapter one, for a person to have scientia in a field, he must have grasped all the principles of that field; he must also, because they are indemonstrable principles, have apprehended themnon-inferentially; and, finally, he must know them better than any conclusions drawn from them in the scientia. But for several reasons, the first objection argues, in the merely human scientiae this seems such a remote and even unrealizable ideal that it renders this view of scientia irrelevant to actual scientific inquiry and training.

For, first of all, given the course of gradual discovery in many disciplines, particularly in empirical sciences, a given individual at a given time in the course of this gradual discovery should not expect to grasp all the principles of a scientia adequately. The principles of a scientia are immediate propositions, which are propositions in which the definition, or part of the definition, or another immediate attribute is predicated of a subject. It is perhaps plausible that for a mathematical scientia, such as geometry, we can identify the relevant immediate propositions and deduce from them all the conclusions of the scientia. (Thus it has often been said that Euclid's Elements seems to be quite close to the ideal the Posterior Analytics offers us, and perhaps served as a model for Aristotle's speculations.) However, Aquinas clearly wants to apply the PA account to natural scientiae, such as biology or physics.52 But the history of science has shown that it is very difficult to arrive at an adequate account of the essences studied in these scientiae. Secondly, it seems principles could not be known non-inferentially. In empirical disciplines, an objector may argue, essential definitions and the principles to which they give rise should be viewed as inferences from observational claims about the thing. For example, we infer the essence of water, or cow, or man from a large set of observations about how water, cows and men behave. Therefore, it seems, the essences of these things and the corresponding principles should be viewed as inferences from the observational claims, and thus the principles are known inferentially. Third and finally, some of the observational claims from which, as the objector claims, principles are inferred are conclusions of the scientia of which the principle in question is a principle. But, then, the principle could not be better known than the conclusions of the scientia, as the doxastic causality condition requires, for it is inferred from some of them. For these reasons, the first objector argues, Aquinas could not have thought that the PA notion of scientia as we have understood it could serve as an ideal for actual scientific inquiry.

A second objection focuses on the scientia of sacred doctrine and its principles, which are the articles of faith. It argues that the previous objection applies a fortiori to faith and the principles of sacred doctrine. A common view of Aquinas's account of the epistemic grounds for the assent of faith is that it is based on two sorts of arguments from philosophical theology. First, one constructs or encounters arguments from natural theology which justify the belief that God exists. Secondly, one constructs or encounters arguments that God brought about miracles and signs in Biblical times and in the history of the Church, and that these arguments ultimately justify the claim that what the Church claims as a divine revelation is in fact such.53 But if this is Aquinas's account, then a Christian's belief that God exists or that God is Triune must be based at least partially on his belief in the propositions which are the premises of these natural theological arguments. However, some of these propositions (e.g. The world exists, or A miracle occurred) would be conclusions of sacred doctrine, and thus must be derived from its principles, which, according to the PA, must be better known than the conclusions. But, it seems, this requirement could never be fulfilled, for the principles are inferred from these putative conclusions.

A third objection argues that Aquinas makes clear that we cannot have scientia of the principles of sacred doctrine, and so, it would seem, neither can we have it of the conclusions which flow fromthese.54 We can have a full apprehension of the mysteries of faith only when we, separated from our earthly bodies, behold the divine essence in heaven.55 Thus it seems that, by Aquinas's own principles, he cannot instill the scientia of sacred doctrine in his students in this life, as I am claiming he is trying to do in the Summa theologiae.

Fourthly and finally, I have claimed that the structure of the Summa theologiae moves from causes to effects in a way which accords with second-level pedagogy, and that this is especially clear in the prima pars. But, a fourth objector asks, how does the second part, and particularly the secunda-secundae fit into this structure? Moreover, there seem to be parts of even the prima pars which do not fit into second-level pedagogy. For instance, after the introductory first question, Aquinas considers whether God, the subject of this scientia, exists. But according to the PA, at the second level of inquiry one must know that the subject exists.56 Thus, upon a closer, more detailed examination, it is not clear that the structure of the Summa theologiae does accord with second-level pedagogy.

3.5 Conclusion

I have in this chapter argued against the standard interpretation which takes the Summa theologiae as a work of first-level pedagogy. Rather, it was written for very advanced students in theology, to serve as a final, comprehensive treatment of sacred doctrine. That is, it was intended as a work of second-level pedagogy which would present material moving from causes to effects, so that the habits of thought required for scientia would be instilled in students.

We have seen, though, that there are objections to the interpretation so far developed. We will give careful attention to these objections in the remaining chapters of this work, and our discussion of them will, I hope, further elucidate Aquinas's understanding of scientia and his project in the Summa theologiae. In chapter four we will consider the first objection, and look carefully at Aquinas's account of our apprehension of the principles of merely human scientiae, and particularly the more problematic physical scientiae. We will not be able to discuss these scientiae in all the detail they deserve, but I will provide some response to this objection, and this will also provide important background for our discussion of faith. After treating grace and the theological virtues in chapter five, we will in chapter six take up the second objection, and consider Aquinas's account of the assent of faith. Having dealt with these issues, we will be able to return to a consideration of the Summa theologiae, and I will attempt to respond to the third and fourth objections raised above.


1 The purpose of the Aristotelian commentaries is somewhat controversial. See note 40 below.

2ST 1, prologus.

3 For a helpful discussion of the centrality of Aquinas's role as a teacher of Christian theology, see Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, 3-25; and for an excellent discussion of his vocation as a member of the Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, see Josef Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas, trans. by Richard & Clara Winston (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1962), chs. 2 & 3.

4ST 1, prologus.

5 Marie-Dominique Chenu, OP, Towards Understanding Saint Thomas, trans. by A. M. Lanidry & D. Hughes (Chicago: Regnery, 1964), 297-98.

6 James A. Weisheipl, OP, Friar Thomas D'Aquino: His Life, Thought, and Work (New York: Doubleday, 1974), 222.

7 Leonard E. Boyle, OP, The Setting of the Summa theologiae of Saint Thomas, The Etienne Gilson Series 5 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1982), 7.

8 Weisheipl, 223.

9 Boyle, 17.

10 Chenu, 298.

11 Weisheipl, 222-3.

12 Some details of the procedures for disputation at Paris are unclear. I have here followed Weisheipl's description, 124ff..

13ST 1.prologus.

14De ver. 10.6.

15ST 1.iprologus.

16ST 1.2.2.

17In Physica, 1.i.7. Since this principle is repeated in Aquinas's own works, we can suppose that Aquinas embraced what he here attributes to Aristotle.

18 "Sed quia de Deo scire non possumus quid sit, sed quid non sit, non possumus considerare de Deo quomodo sit, sed potius quomodo non sit" (ST 1.3.prologus.)

19 "Deus … maxime cognoscibilis est" (ST 1.12.1).

20 We find a different procedure in Aquinas's De ente et essentia. There Aquinas first treats (in chapter two) essence as found in composite, material substances-which are better known to us but less well known by nature. He only then considers (in chapter four) simple substances—which are better known by nature but less well known to us. This order of treatment follows more closely Aquinas's pedagogical principle for initial instruction in a field, and is not the one we find in the Summatheologiae.

21 Chenu, 303.

22 Ibid., 306.

23 Boyle, The Setting of the Summa theologiae of Saint Thomas.

24 Since before 1228, each Dominican province had been permitted to send three friars for study to Paris, which was then the only studium generale. After the foundation in 1248 of studia generalia at the Universities of Cologne, Oxford, Montpellier and Bologna, each Dominican province was also entitled to send two students to each of these general studia.

25 William Hinnebusch writes (The History of the Dominican Order, vol. 2 [New York: Alba, 1973]) that a consequence of the opening of further studia generalia in 1248 was that "by gathering advanced students preparing for the professorship into selected houses of studies, the Order distinguished between advanced theological work and theological preparation for the ministry" (39).

26 Boyle, 7.

27 Ibid., 16.

28 Ibid., 1.

29 Ibid., 14.

30 Ibid., 17.

31 Ibid., 19.

32 Ibid., 17.

33 Ibid., 17. My emphasis.

34 I owe the following point to conversations with my colleague Joseph Wawrykow. But, of course, the claims I make are not necessarily to be attributed to him.

35Acta capitulorum provincialium provinciae Romae, ed T. Kaeppeli, OP, Monumenta Ordinis Fratrum Praedictorum Historica, xx (Rome: Institutum Historicum Fratrum Praedictorum, 1941), 39. See also Weisheipl, 294-6.

36 There would have been reason to continue to teach the Sentences to those students destined for university study, for this was still the standard university text. However, for the fratres communes in the priories, who were not destined for the universities, there would have been no reason not to substitute the Summa as the standard theological text—if, in fact, it was intended for this group.

37 Tolomeo of Lucca, Historia ecclesiastica, lib. 23, c. 15, in L. A. Muratori, Rerum italicarum scriptores, xi, (Milan: 1724), 1172-73.

38ST 1.prologus.

39Chartularium universitatis Parisiensis, ed. Henricus Denifle, OP (Paris: 1889) 1, 277-79. For the best discussion of the course of studies in the arts at Paris and Oxford see Gordon Leff s Paris and Oxford Universities in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1968), esp. 137-60; and his "The Trivium and the Three Philosophies" in Universities in the Middle Ages, ed. Hilde de Ridder-Symoens (Cambridge University Press, 1992), vol. 1, of A History of the University in Europe, ed. Walter Rtlegg, 307-336.

40 See James A. Weisheipl, OP, Friar Thomas D Aquino: His Life, Thought, and Work (Garden City: Doubleday, 1974), 272-85. Weisheipl believes that Aquinas was combating the rise of the heterodox Aristotelianism of the Averroists, and that he undertook the Aristotelian commentaries as "an academic apostolate demanding his best efforts" (284), an apostolate which was to provide "an exegetical guide [to young masters] in order to understand and teach the Aristotelian books accurately without being led into heresy "(284-5).

This view has been challenged, however, by Rend-A. Gauthier, OP in Preface to the Sentencia libri De anima in the Leonine edition of Thomas's Opera omnia (Rome: 1882-), 45: 283*-294*. According to Gauthier, Aquinas was not combating Averroists in the Aristotelian commentaries, but had a positive theological and philosophical project. He was trying to extract (degagér) from Aristotle's texts a philosophical account of the soul which was valid not just for the ancient Greeks, but for all times, and which could give the Christian a better understanding of the human being as revealed by the Word of God (293*).

41 At Oxford, it seems to have been seven or eight years. See Leff, Paris and Oxford 157-8; "The Trivium" 328.

42 A cursory lecture was one which sought simply to instill familiarity with a text by reviewing its content and structure with students, but it did not attempt to deal with any philosophical or theological problems arising from the text. These problems were treated in the Master's lecture.

43 See Paris statutes of 1215 in Chartularium universitatis Parisiensis, 1, 78-9.

44 At Paris, members of the mendicant orders were permitted to begin theology studies without a university arts degree. At Oxford a 1253 decree made the status of Master of Arts a prerequisite for becoming a Master of Theology. Until 1303, however, dispensations from this requirement were liberally granted. See Hinnebusch OP, The History of the Dominican Order, vol. 2, 78.

45Chartularium universitatis Parisiensis 1, 385-86. See also Hinnebusch, 7-8, 27.

46 Leff, Paris and Oxford, 165.

47 Ibid., 166.

48 Hinnebusch, 59.

49 The Sentences of Peter Lombard were glosses on the sayings of Church Fathers, which theology students first studied and then lectured and commented upon. I do not want to claim that Aquinas expected the Summa theologiae to replace the Sentences entirely, nor that students were to comment on the Summa as they had on the Sentences. My claim is only that Aquinas intended the Summa to serve as the basis for a final, comprehensive course for theology students, as the Lombard's Sentences had been doing. He may have nevertheless envisioned that study of and commenting on the Sentences would still be done to some extent and in some manner.

50 Monika Asztalos, "The Faculty of Theology," in de Ridder-Symoens ed., Universities in the Middle Ages, 417.

51 See my "Exposition of the Text: Aquinas's Aristotelian Commentaries," 39-62.

52 Of course, it is not twentieth-century biology and physics one should have in mind here, but the inquiries of the sort we find in Aristotle's works, such as De partibus animalium and De generatione et corruptione, which served as the basis for speculations about nature in thirteenth-century Europe.

53 This account of Aquinas's view of the epistemic justification of the assent of faith is what I call the "naturalistic interpretation," and it is discussed in chapter six below.

54ST 11-11.2.1.

55ST 1.12.11.

56In Post. anal. 1.ii.15.


Summa theologiae
Summa contra gentiles
In quattuor libros Sententiarum
De potentia:
Quaestiones disputatae de potentia
De ver.:
Quaestiones disputatae de veritate
In De anima:
Sententia libri De anima
In Ethica:
Sententia libri Ethicorum
In Meta.:
Expositio in libros Metaphysicorum
In Periherm.:
Expositio in libros Perihermenias
In Physica:
Expositio in libros Physicorum
In Post. anal.:
Expositio libri posteriorum
In De Trin.:
Super Boethium de Trinitate

Thomas Franklin O'Meara (essay date 1997)

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 18168

SOURCE: "Patterns in the Summa theologiae" in Thomas Aquinas, Theologian, University of Notre Dame Press, 1997, pp. 41-86.

[In the following excerpt, O 'Meara discusses some of the patterns and structures Aquinas used in his consideration of Christian theology.]

All beautiful attributes showered throughout the world in separate drops flow together whole and complete, and move toward the font of goodness. When we are drawn to the graciousness, beauty, and goodness of creatures, we ought to be borne away to the One in whom all these little streams commingle and flow.

Summa contra gentiles (2, 2)

Every project, every plan or enterprise, no matter how modest or how great, presupposes some seminal idea, some unfolding pattern. Nature reveals patterns, structures which join together the bones of the body or which link ecologically creatures along a seashore. In human creations, models arrange into order numerous, disparate entities. Data, facts, bytes are interesting and valuable but thin and partial: they await some further relationship and vitalization. In the arts it is not only color and sound but the variety and repetition within forms which give pleasure. This chapter on Aquinas' theology looks for the patterns he used in thinking about and expressing God and creation, Jesus and the human being. Even a few insights into the complexity of nature or into the project of a human life within God's presence are worth human pursuit. Aquinas thought he was fortunate to be able to spend his life thinking and teaching about realities which were gifts of divine truth. Science, psychology, theology, physics, music are finite expressions of divine intelligence.

Aquinas wrote well over twenty commentaries on the Bible and the works of Aristotle, and a dozen more theological works of broad synthesis or specialized investigation. The chapters of this book, however, are focusing on one of his works, the Summa theologiae. [ST]. That distinguished product of his mature genius is his most successful work of comprehension and synthesis.

The opening of a masterpiece is important. The first lines of an epic poem state its theme, or a symphony's first notes may hold the tonality of the entire work. The opening lines of the ST are notsimply an affirmation of God or a reverence toward Christ; they are a statement of the subject of the entire theological work, the reality which its many pages will study. In the first article of the ST Aquinas repeats four times the subject of Christian theology. Theology's theme is not the existence of God, nor God as an unfathomable deity. The ST is exploring a further, special, divine realm and power. A "sacred teaching" from God presents men and women with a special knowledge about the plan and empowerment from God for intelligent creatures—this will lead them to a destiny beyond biological life, to a supernatural and healing life and destiny given by God. "It was necessary for human salvation that there be a certain teaching revealed by God" (I, 1,1).

Movement and activity, reaching from origin to goal, link God and creatures. Trinity, creation, predestination, the Christian life, incarnation, and the future—these flow out from and mark the divine presence inspiring men and women in their life and destiny. The ST is a plan of human life, a physics of God's presence, a psychology of grace.1

What makes a creative work attractive and profound is its form, its exposition of order. When we speak of patterns in Aquinas' thought we do not mean only the Aristotelian syllogism or the grammar of medieval Latin but structures which order, highlight, and explain Christianity. Ordo was a significant interest of medieval culture. There is order in the universe and a further order of grace. It belongs to the university professor or the wise person to see and to unfold the realms which make up the world and life. M. D. Chenu wrote:

Thomas extols the virtue of wisdom. Sapientis est ordinare ('The task of wisdom is to give order.'): the philosopher seeks to penetrate to the ultimate sources of reality, to understand the why and wherefore, and to rest only when necessity has been found. The word intelligere, Aquinas likes to think, is derived from intus legere (to read within). The world is for him intelligible; let it then render an account of itself.2

Aquinas prized the ability of the human mind to reach reality, to find through outward and inward exploration the forms of each being in lucid patterns. Order only enhanced diversity. Each being would stand forth as itself, as the loved gift of divine wisdom. It would give "an account of itself."

Standing forth, existing, being in contact with other beings—this ultimately is truth. Reality gives access to truth and invites knowing. The realm which wise teachers enter and meditate upon is truth.3 Corresponding to being as the dynamic gift of God, truth is the satisfaction of the intellect, the joy of the mind. If truth means God, this is no pious invocation, because God is "first truth," not as an intellectual principle but as the prior reality planning and causing all realities. Christ, the Word in a human being, is truth as a living pattern in historical life. Order is important for itself but also because it enhances reality and thereby draws forth truth.

Data, contingent truths about ichthyology or cuisine are valuable, but the best knowledge, even though sparse, expresses truths about God and about ourselves, "a kind of impression of what God knows" (I, 1,3, 2). Theology is a search for truth, and truth's realms, creation and grace, result when God puts divine truth into action. Truth is mentioned in the opening words of Aquinas' two systematic masterpieces: in the "Prologue" of the ST, and in the first pages of the Summa contra gentiles. Faithtoo gives access to truth because faith is a kind of knowing, a dark seeing, a reception of information supported not by the senses but by the commitment of the will to the revealed word of God. The truth of faith is not a substitute world but an insight into the real world of grace and sin in which each person exists. Theology is a kind of knowing, a knowing dependent upon and expressive of faith. The Dominican's theological personality was marked by an appetite for knowing, for contemplating realities seen and unseen. Order and truth were served by the harmony between knowing and being, between truth and reality, between personality and grace. The follower of Aquinas is the person courageous enough to see the truth, that is, to see what something is and what it is not—and to accept the insights of science and faith concerning the deeper realms of truth, even of Truth itself.

I. A Composer of Summae

Thomas wrote four comprehensive works in theology: a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (1252-1256), the Summa contra gentiles (1259-1265), a Compendium theologiae (1269-1273), and the Summa theologiae (1266-1273). The last three works one might call summae. Overviews of creation and revelation, they explain the major truths of Christian revelation through philosophy. The affluent Middle Ages and the new universities provided the background for Aquinas' writings while the communities of friars provided teams of scholars seeking out and translating the ideas of Aristotelian, Platonic, and Arabic thinkers. A pioneer of medieval studies Martin Grabmann wrote: "The works of Aristotle, only now accessible, powerfully widened and re-enforced the philosophical substructure of theological speculation, while at the same time enriching the doctrinal structure of theology with new architectonic motives."4 Aquinas expounded the messages of the Scripture and of secular knowledge, and with an inborn gift for synthesis, he gathered the insights of science, philosophy, and law to unfold Christian faith. He fashioned a theology which neither piously distorted belief nor confused mathematics or psychology with revelation; he affirmed both grace and being by highlighting the power and the distinctiveness of each. The reader of Aquinas does not find in his writings an eclecticism, despite the citation of so many sources, but rather an extraordinary gift of assimilation. Using the forms and language of the Bible and Greek philosophy, his writings treat traditional problems but also issues in his age which were quite new. Grabmann concluded:

The great scientific life-work of Thomas is the independent penetration and appropriation of Aristotelian philosophy, and it is the organic linking in a scientific mode of that philosophy with the worldview of Christianity offered by Augustine and earlier scholasticism. In short, [this is] the creation of a Christian Aristotelianism in philosophy and the construction of a speculative theology with the means and forms of this adapted Aristotelian philosophy without abandoning the great lines of the traditions of church and theology.5

Through the centuries various schools and disciples have advocated the thought of Thomas Aquinas, but few have understood the structure of his theology. Too often, Aquinas has been presented in a digest of texts, in boring summaries, or in authoritarian lists of conclusions—and often they offered a static Aristotelianism rather than a vital Christianity. One consequence of the past exposition of Thomism as a philosophy is that the thought of Aquinas became abstract and remote. But his theology illustrates the gospel of Christ, precisely because the gospel is the truth about a real realm, the kingdom of God, a supernatural order to which life points and which revelation expresses.

Order, existence, reality, truth—these are architectonic motifs in Thomas Aquinas' theology.

II. Medieval Culture and the Summa theologiae

Ordo attracted artists and lawyers, theologians and architects. What was more exciting or profound than order—subtle or bold—drawing a diversity of motifs and media into a harmonious whole? From the twelfth century on there had been a search for patterns wherein a myriad of elements could achieve an effect greater than their parts. The churches of St. Denis or Chartres displayed large pictorial windows or ensembles of sculpture which presented in theological and artistic patterns biblical stories and lives of saints. In elaborate but coherent iconographic plans the images offered their narrative.

The society was delighted by its awakened capacity for creativity, and a desire for masterful arrangement was enkindled. In art the medieval mind selected a central theme of magnitude: for instance, salvation-history prior to Mary and Jesus, or kingship from Melchisedech to Christ crowned with thorns and further on to Louis IX. Hundreds of scenes with countless figures were arranged in logical and religious patterns. The same quest for multiplicity and unity appeared in the sciences subsumed under philosophy. Music in the thirteenth century expressed a novel multiplicity in the motion of independent parts. Polyphony did not begin at Notre Dame after 1160, but it did find there an acceptance of innovation. Above a sustaining line of Gregorian chant, sung at a slowed tempo, improvisations were added, the tropes of other melismatic vocal lines. Tonal diversity was organized; musical intricacy emerged from a desire for simultaneous variety, and soon the motet was at hand.6

That world, intrigued with unity and diversity, manifested forms and figures in the facade, the rose window, the tympanum, the disputation, the summa, and the hymn. History and law also sought a summa-like format. Experiencing multiplicity in arrangement, the direction of the master theologian or of the master architect was to ensure that the whole would enhance and be greater than its pieces. Through patterns, elements should stand out even as they support and integrate the total fabric. In formal organization the summa of the thirteenth century went beyond the less comprehensive and less successfully organized collections (Lombard's Sentences) and so expressed the energetic breadth of the age.

Imaginative orders arrange forms to achieve a transcendent effect. The sight of a Gothic cathedral would impress the minds of the thirteenth century not only by the stonework of a large building, but by its soaring structural lines intimating transcendental longings from reason and faith. Otto von Simson wrote: "The Middle Ages was the age of the cathedrals. This extraordinary structure owes its emergence to the conviction that metaphysical truth could become transparent in the beautiful."7 The particular world of the cathedral cannot be taken in from one position or glance but must be explored, walked through, contemplated from different perspectives. Art historians note how in Gothic buildings the individual enters into a larger world where a religious aesthetic draws the human spirit upwards and beyond. It is difficult to imagine the effect these sacral castles of colored light made upon those walking into them in the thirteenth century. Most men, women, and children lived in constricted areas (every inch of space was valuable), having few openings to the outside and filled with the smoke and smells of the living quarters. The cathedrals, sponsored by civic initiative and by religious and business interests, were themselves a kind of summa: an order giving to many mediaan arrangement according to theological and iconographical plans. Amold Hauser's view of Gothic art recalls the role played by integral arrangement as well as by the motif of journey in the ST:

The basic form of Gothic art is juxtaposition … [drawing on] the principle of expansion and not of concentration, or co-ordination and not of subordination, of the open sequence and not of the close geometric form.… The beholder is, as it were, led through the states and stations of a journey. …Gothic art leads the onlooker from one detail to another and causes him, as has been well said, to "unravel" the successive parts of the work one after another.8

The Middle Ages fashioned summae in stone and stained glass as well as in theology. In the twelfth century a new architecture (what would later be called pejoratively "Gothic" in contrast to the earlier "Roman" style) produced a building out of freedom and synthesis. Sharp arches pointed toward heaven and, since the arches could sustain more weight, the wallspace was free. Some creative personality suggested filling it with windows of red and blue, yellow and green glass. Colored light poured in. The artists with their theological consultants faced in the rose windows of the cathedrals the same questions of multiplicity and order as did the university professors in planning their summary works of theology. Just as light comes from the sun and pours into the church through colored windows, so God passing through the events of salvation-history pours grace into the individual spirit. It was, Chenu observed, an age of energetic creativity.

The men who built the cathedrals could hardly become bogged down in the writing of commentaries. They built summas, but … imitation of the Ancients did not snuff out inspiration, especially religious inspiration. The medieval rebirth and the Gospel movement were creative movements, within the renovatio temporis of which Francis of Assisi and Thomas of Aquino became the masters.… Whether the Medievals did little thinking about their own dynamic qualities, and if they might have been wanting in historical sense, nevertheless, at times they had astonishing strong foresight about the progressive elements that tend to stir up the successive generations of humanity.9

Gothic architecture through a system of skeletal supports—ribs, buttresses, arches, and vaults—freed wall space for light. Two aspects of Gothic are without precedent and parallel: the unique relationship between structure and appearance and the use of light. Gothic lines direct light into the church and then draw the light, and the human spirit, upwards and outwards. In the interplay of light and glass and stone we see a parallel with Aquinas' theology of grace enhancing the human. "Grace is caused in people by the presence of the divinity as light in the atmosphere by the presence of the sun" (III, 7, 12). The technique of stained glass rose to the occasion, providing shimmering pictures where pieces of glass outlined dozens of figures, stories, and symbols in one window. By the year 1200 the colors had been deepened, and naturalness and realism had touched the figures. If the impetus to expand the use of stained glass came from Arab technology and Aristotelian realism, the theology behind it was a neo-Platonism coming from the royal abbey of St. Denis or from the Parisian center of St. Victor.10 The stained glass windows of the Gothic, replacing the frescoed walls of Romanesque architecture, not only opened the walls to admit light but held patterns and pictures. Suger, the abbot of St. Denis who furthered the building of the first church in Gothic style, described the effect of the windows:

When out of my delight in the beauty of the house of God, the loveliness of the many-coloredgems has called me away from external cares, and worthy meditation has induced me to reflect on the diversity of the sacred virtues by transferring that which is material to that which is immaterial, then it seems to me … that by the grace of God I am transported from this inferior world to that higher one.…11

A century later, the walls of brilliant windows at the Sainte-Chapelle brought a climax to this style of image in light. Thus in form and image theology found an aesthetic counterpart, and art an incamational content.

Aquinas, as he composed the ST, drew the content of the gospel into the forms of Greek philosophy just as the structures and colors of a Gothic rose window, set alight by the sun, presented a history of God's salvation on earth. History and culture provide the unavoidable context of a thinker's creation. Chenu observed:

To analyze the historical and social conditions of Aquinas' work is the best way of observing the truth of his teaching in relationship to its place in civilization and in the course of theological development. We find this realism again today as we understand better how the Word of God is incarnate in the history of humanity, in the worlds of space and time. Theology should not be a closed chapel set apart from people but a faithful experience and elaboration of the Word of God in a mature faith. To accomplisl this was the genius of Thomas Aquinas.12

As order progressed in architecture and the arts, theology developed from arranged collections of opinions to the synthetic summa. Before Aquinas, William of Auxerre and Alexander of Hales had written summae, as had the Dominicans John of Treviso and Roland of Cremona. Seeking to find the breadth and order which would fashion a successful summa, Albert the Great and his Dominican pupil, Ulrich of Strassburg, as well as Henry of Ghent wrote comprehensive theologies. Von Simson noticed similarities between architecture, science, and theology in the age of cathedrals.

In gothic architecture, the wonderful precision with which every single block was shaped in the vault (leaving no ragged joints that it was necessary to conceal) suggests a new esthetic appreciation of the dignity of structural perfection. This tectonic system is never concealed but rather underscored by Gothic wall painting. Even the stained glass windows submit, in composition and design, increasingly to the pattern of stone and metal armature in which they are set. The esthetic function of these windows is not only the creation of a new luminosity; the light they admit dramatically underscores the web of tracery, ribs, and shafts.13

Erwin Panofsky also described how the development of the summa-form paralleled the structure of the cathedral. The organizational spirit of medieval culture aimed at "manifestatio." This manifestation required: (1) totality of treatment, (2) arrangement of equal parts, as well as (3) distinction and interrelation.14 To walk into a Gothic church is then to see that each of the members of the ensemble of the arts has a role, and to grasp that together they compose a summa as an event of art and theology.

Medievalists have referred to the thirteenth century as a century of "spirituality full of light."15 Light playing on stone might have set Aquinas' intellect and imagination in motion, for act and light becamemotifs for his explanation of God and world. Divine light in grace and revelation enlivens the figures and events which are the sacraments or the jeweled images of salvation-history. The biblical narratives are real, just as the window's designs are real, and without them we would not see light. Both Gothic architecture and Aquinas' theology pass through the three dimensions of time. The past is prominent in the prophets, apostles, and philosophers whose thought is symbolized in their statues. The present moment is one of contemplation, of the application of the art's symbols and narratives to oneself. The future exists ahead and above: not as the continuation of the line of history but as a world beyond time and as a fulfillment of the present. Anyone entering a Gothic cathedral also encounters incarnation: spirit in stone, color in glass and air. Gothic space is both sacral realism and sublime activity, while medieval theology presented the Holy Trinity active on earth. Outpourings of color and light lead the believer in the church to return spiritually to the One, the Source, the Godhead. Yet, the goal of religious history and of the window is not the figurative events, but human contact with the Mystery of God.

The Summa is not an encyclopedia. There were anticipations of encyclopedias at this time, and they too illustrate the medieval interest in the accumulation of information. During the twelfth century Gratian produced a systematic compendium of patristic sources, and of conciliar and papal pronouncements upon which he commented and which became a theoretical introduction and pattern for canon law. Abelard's Sic et Non began the theological style of the schools which debated real problems with arguments on both sides. Those collections initiated a struggle for the professors to find a suitable theological arrangement. "Summa" in the language of the twelfth century stood for a collection of topics and opinions by revered experts, and, as Chenu noted, it was "no longer a simple compilation of the testimonies of the Fathers and of the ancient writers … but an organized and elaborate assemblage of materials, although it still remained very close to the texts which it collected and arranged."16 Abelard called the Apostles Creed a "summa," but his own arrangement for theological issues was the awkward triad of faith, charity, and sacrament. "In the thirteenth century … the word summa designates a literary work undertaken with a threefold purpose: first, to expound, in a concise and abridged manner, the whole of a given field of knowledge (this is the original meaning of summa); second, to organize, beyond piecemeal analysis, the objects of this field of knowledge in a synthetic way; finally, to realize this aim so that the product be for teaching students."17 So in the decades just before Aquinas intellectual pursuits in the new world of the universities sought multiplicity and comprehension. Richard Heinzmann concluded: "The systematic works of scholasticism give access not just to one work or to one writer but, when we are considering a thinker of some importance, they open to our understanding an entire epoch."18

Aquinas saw how the architect supervised on the Isle de Paris amid the lumber, stones, and pulleys of a construction site the totality of the medieval building being built. Supervisor of all the arts ranging from planning towers to selecting themes for sculpture, he was like a "master," he was a professor among the stone masons and sculptors. He was like the teacher of theology whose activity involved being the director of several fields and whose wisdom sought the causal forces which were most sublime and most extensive (I, 1, 6).19 God, of course, was the architect of the universe, but human beings too, as they engaged in wisdom and art, could fashion materials into new forms.

III. A Textbook for Dominicans

It was long thought that the Summa theologiae was written for university students, for those who had finished their studies in liberal arts, had some philosophy, and were beginning theology ("Prologue" to the ST). Leonard Boyle, however, has argued that the ST was written not in Paris but at the studium of the Dominican Order at Santa Sabina in Rome. Moreover, this summa was originally conceived as a work on moral theology (hence its lengthy Second Part) for the Dominican theological students in Rome preparing for the proper Dominican ministry of preaching and hearing confessions.20

In 1259 Aquinas worked with Albert on a commission (de studiis) which was composing a plan of education for Dominicans. In late 1261 Aquinas came to Orvieto where he lectured on Scripture in the Dominican priory and where he might have offered his views on moral issues of the time during public discussions. Then, as we saw, Aquinas was asked in 1265 to set up a school, a studium at the priory of Santa Sabina on Rome's Aventine hill where he remained for three years until he returned to Paris in 1268.

At all events, the studium at Santa Sabina probably was no more than an attempt by the Roman Province to allow select students to prepare themselves under a single Master, Thomas, for the priesthood and the Dominican apostolate. Basically the course there would have had the same pastoral orientation as that in which we presume Thomas to have been engaged for the previous four years at Orvieto.21

In his first year in Rome he lectured on the Sentences. His experience teaching Dominicans through courses employing practical guides for preaching and hearing confessions written by early Dominicans like Raymond of Penafort convinced him that pastoral ministry needed a deeper foundation, a work which was more than a handbook on moral problems. Boyle suggests that Aquinas' creativity as a theologian was stimulated by the influx of new texts, by his experience as an educator in various settings, and by his contact with preachers and confessors who were being challenged by new ethical issues. All this led him to give to "practical," i.e., moral, theology an original and broader setting. "By prefacing the Secunda or moral part with a Prima pars on God, Trinity and Creation, and then rounding it off with a Tertia pars on the Son of God, Incarnation and the Sacraments, Thomas put practical theology, the study of Christian man, his virtues and vices, in a full theological context."22

A philosophy might conclude that God is the source of rational creatures in a metaphorical or a metaphysical sense, but Aquinas was describing the human situation in light of God's revelation and as known by faith. The human life of moral decision was enabled by grace and destined for a future in the kingdom of God. A higher mode of divine contact furthered a life surviving death in resurrection. "First we shall treat of God, secondly of the movement of the rational creature towards God, and thirdly of Christ who—as a human being—is the way for us of tending towards God" (1, 2). Virtue was not an exercise in self-control, and moral theology was not confessional casuistry: both were grounded in the dynamics of vita and gratia reaching from God to the individual Christian.

Christian morality, once for all, was shown to be something more than a question of straight ethical teaching of vices and virtues in isolation. Inasmuch as man was an intelligent being who was master of himself and possessed of freedom of choice, he was in the image of God. To study human action is therefore to study the image of God and to operate on a theological plane. To study humanaction on a theological plane is to study it in relation to its beginning and end, God, and to the bridge between, Christ and his sacraments.23

Aquinas worked for seven years, in Rome, Paris, and Naples, on his masterpiece while at the same time writing commentaries on nine works of Aristotle.…

Although the Bible and Aristotle nourished the sections of the speculative ST, how difficult it must have been for Aquinas to find time from varied occupations to conceive and write out his own original theological system. Boyle concludes: "This persistence at least suggests that for Thomas the Summa theologiae was something out of the ordinary, and, indeed, meant much to him. It was, one may suggest, his legacy as a Dominican to his Order and to its system of educating the brethren in priories all over Europe."25

IV. Structures in the Summa theologiae

There are various patterns in the ST, and they exist at different levels. Of course there is a general interest in the meaning and usage of words, in the combination of words with their ideas in the dialectic of discussion, and in the roles assigned to opinions and authorities. There are organizational patterns (the parts, the questions, the articles), and there are intrinsic patterns like theocentricity, nature and existence, or being and fulfillment. There are Aristotelian patterns of nature and action and neo-Platonic ones of participation. There are influences from sources, e.g., Origen or Gratian, and biblical patterns either from an individual book (the Gospel according to-John) or from one scriptural theme (Word, faith). Finally there are theological motifs like law, grace, or light. Albert Patfoort begins his book on the keys to Aquinas' theology with these words: "It is not a question of composing a list of themes or of major points in the large theological works of Thomas. Rather we will try to discover the organization, the subject of deep reflection, which, full of wisdom, has been given to the ideas … to offer a key needed to enter into this monument of Christian thought, the theology of him who has been called the 'Common Doctor' of the church."26 The structures of the ST are like the arches and vaulted ceilings of Gothic buildings: they sustain basic ideas and principles. They present the lines by which the work arranges and vivifies the topics of faith and life, of theology and philosophy. Patfoort writes: "If there is a practical conclusion to be drawn from the dynamic development we have observed, it is clearly that one must avoid at any price presenting the Summa in a linear and abstract way, remaining content with a static and isolated reading of its different parts. Rather we must always be sensitive to the ceaseless and multiple connections between the different areas."27

Aquinas' great summa begins with several general preludes: a prologue for the readers, a discussion of the nature of theology, proofs for the existence of God, and a consideration of the divine being leading on to a higher world of Trinity and grace. The opening "Prologue" announces that the text would present "those things that pertain to the Christian religion in a manner befitting the education of beginners." There were obstacles facing students beginning theology in a medieval school, whether university or priory. The works of theology they might consult were verbose, detailed, and repetitious. The order of treating Christianity was unsystematic: first because the Sentences of Peter Lombard was based upon the concatenation of articles in the creed, and second because the Bible lacks a logical order and repeats its great themes.

Which pattern was to give order to a summa? There was a tension between an approach from the biblical history of salvation (Hugh of St. Victor) and an approach based upon pedagogy (Abelard). Aquinas chose a format which combined the two. He brought into his ST all the information he could gather—the Scriptures and particularly Paul, the canonists, the Greek Fathers and especially John Damascene, the Latin Fathers and Augustine, Platonists and Aristotle, biological and astronomical works—but he also searched for the right arrangement.28 To see the form which guides all this material, one should first look at Aquinas' own words introducing the major sections. Following the etymology of theology, the opening of each of the four parts is about God, but they are clearly about the God who is sharing a life deeper than biological existence with men and women. These prologues are about the nature and telos of humanity. "After we have treated the exemplary cause, God and those things which proceed from divine power and decision, now we should consider God's image, the human being, as endowed with free will and power for activities, the source of its own enterprises" (I-II, "Prologue"). They are all, in a sense, about incarnation, that is, about a special presence of God in us, and, par excellence, in the Word incarnate in Jesus. First and foremost, the ST is an ordered presentation of God-in-act. Beings emerge in the glory of their capacities for act and in the aura of their destinies. In plan and creation, through the missions of revelation and grace, the Trinity reaches men and women in their concrete world, the world studied by scientists, philosophers, religious prophets, and theologians. Consequently, a basic theological pattern is that of being-in-action: natures, whether this species of hawk or that sculptor, sustain their being and manifest themselves through their proper activities. One can see in the three parts on God, humanity, and Christ traces of patterns of being, activity, and process.

Confident that human reason and faith can soar to heights of exploration, and that the God who is the source of all being and truth is intelligible and good, Aquinas set out to compose a new way of looking at Christianity in which a multitude of sources were summoned to explain revelation in Christ. What is evidently important for Aquinas is that his work pursue a pedagogical order, a unified and systematic organization of what pertains to Christian faith. The chosen order is not that of canon law or that of the author of the Gospel according to Mark but the order of a teacher. Aquinas employed in the ST various patterns, logical, philosophical, and theological. Later we will look at inner patterns of themes and sources, but first we need to become acquainted with the two basic structures which organize an immensity of theological data: the overarching pattern and the structure of the basic unit.

A. The Macro-Structure

Dozens of works, large and small, have been written as guides, expositions, or summaries of the ST. Some are bland; many are dull. Not a few are a thin summary or an overly logical paraphrase of pieces of a theology. Many studies of value have been written, ranging from the commentary of Cardinal Cajetan in the sixteenth century to those of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange in the twentieth, but remarkably most have left undiscovered the patterns in the ST. Most Thomists from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries paid little attention to the missions of the Trinity, the New Law of grace, or the life of Jesus, since, too interested in logic and metaphysics, they neglected the theological vein. Chenu uncovered a basic structure within the ST, and, although scholars have suggested elaborations and modifications, his study remains important.

In order, therefore, to understand the Summa theologiae as well as the purpose of its author, it is important to perceive the ordo disciplinae that is worked out in it—not only the logical plan of the work, with its divisions and subdivisions, but also that inner flow of movement giving life to the structure after having created it … the scientific reasons that govern the whole arrangement, the intellectual options by means of which it was decided, here and there, to lay stress on this or that part, or to locate it just there.29

Is Aquinas' theology, in its form, a tower, a mosaic, a chain? What could join all the authorities and topics in the thousands of segments? Which pattern of patterns would bring harmony out of the old theologies and the new sciences and give unity-in-diversity with clarity and organization? Curiously, Aquinas turned not to Aristotle but to a neo-Platonic way of viewing the world.30

For Chenu one grand organizing pattern joined the three parts of the ST: this structure gave an ordo which was methodological, pedagogical, and aesthetic. Beyond the building blocks of Aristotelian science, Aquinas drew upon the theme of emergence and return. The young theologian teaching the Sentences had already employed the pattern of the procession outwards of creatures from the first principle and their movement toward fulfillment in their ultimate cause.31 In theology all things are studied in their relationships to God. Production and destiny, every being, and every action could be located and known in the lines of process God has set in motion. The pattern is Christian as well as neo-Platonic: a divine creation and process on to fulfillment might also have been planted in Aquinas' mind by Augustine or Pseudo-Dionysius. The monastic writers used this pattern to describe prayer, and Bonaventure employed it for his journey of consciousness to God.

Exit and retum, procession and fulfillment. This pattern implies movement and life. The telos, the ever-attracting goal in the future, need not, however, be conceived as a "retum," a backward move. The emergent being does not exist only to collapse backwards or be absorbed in the original birth which is now a death. The process can be a drawing forward; creation can become history. We might best imagine the course of the ST not as circular return but as upward spiral. Aquinas said that this was the approach of Pseudo-Dionysius to divine realities: to circle them in contemplation.32 The human being moves toward its destiny through a kind of spiral (a perfect figure) manifesting the movement of eternal love, from good and toward good. This dynamic movement can be seen in the creation of the universe but also in human life, and even in the Incamation. "The totality of the divine work finds its fulfillment in the fact that the human being, the last creature created, retums to its source by a kind of circle in such a way that with the work of the Incamation it finds union with the very source of all things."33 The goals of being and grace draw creatures not backward but upward and forward. Aquinas spoke not of a return but of a journey, a way. "Before God one journeys not with steps but with the … activities of the mind."34

Aristotle's science certainly supported the pattern of movement. Beings by their nature and existence are in motion toward future realization. The movement outward of beings through their forms and toward their goals includes even God in a Trinity of active persons, giving and receiving eternally. For all things God is the term of their procession and retum—but in different ways. Creation continues but individual beings pass away as the procession mirrors and moves forward toward God.35 From revelation we learn that parallel to the degrees of being is a history of grace, missions of Wordand Spirit to men and women. Thus the pattern of procession-toward-destiny is a cord of several threads, matter and spirit, cosmic forces and human history, nature and grace. "There is a double 'procession from God': one according to the gifts of nature, and one according to the gifts of grace and salvation. In both cases, the creative action of God continues in divine government."36

If the ST intends to give order to realities in creation and grace (and so pedagogically to help the theology student), nonetheless, this approach does not completely eliminate history. It is not simply a neo-Platonic emanation but includes the history of salvation. Men and women are offered a share in God's life described in the preaching of the Incamate Word Jesus, and so the human being, set forth in nature and grace at the end of the First Part, does not in the Second Part turn back but moves forward to its destiny. According to Max Seckler,

If according to the Bible all things proceed from the hand of God according to his plan and work of salvation, and then return to the one who is Alpha and Omega, so the theologian according to the demands of that science treats reality in relationship to God, as origin and goal. But in a surprising way the source and goal of history, the source and completion of being, the first and last cause of understanding all have a close correspondence with each other, so that theology is not only a "science" of salvation history but bears the history of salvation in its basic plan.37

The ST is an interpretation of salvation-history as well as being a physics of being and a psychology of grace.

The ST is not studying God as only the creator of the universe but mainly as the author of a higher order for men and women, grace perceived by faith, a supernatural order: the reign of God preached by Jesus Christ and the life in the Spirit described by Paul. Congar observes: "Medieval theologians, Thomas in particular, loved to locate human realities within a general order which revealed in various ways analogous structures. If the world is the work of the Word-Wisdom of God, still a further order will enter, that of supernatural life."38 After treating God and creation, the history of salvation with its biblical events does not at first continue in the Second Part, but the ST continues a theology of the created images of God, every man and woman, on the journey to their destiny. This journey assumes again something of a historical course in the Third Part with Jesus Christ.

Consequently, one cannot describe this theology with the chain of terms, "One God-Trinity-Creation-Anthropology-Christology;" not with "nature-grace-Christ" nor "God and Trinity, Creation and Covenant and Incarnation." Nor can one compare it with the order of logic or the structure of mathematics, for the new presences of the Trinity, the individuality of men and women, and the dynamics of creation and grace are always moving through the work. The structure of the ST is multi-layered. God is always present as the bestower of both natural and supernatural being; the human is always present touched by one form or another of creation and incarnation. Ultimately the theology of the entire ST is a history of graced beings and not a metaphysics, although just as creation is the place of grace, metaphysics offers a framework for theology. The salvation described is not Christology alone, although all grace flows from the Word through Jesus Christ; theology is not retelling the narratives of the Bible but presents the life of the Spirit to which all of the Bible points.

In the "First Part" of the ST all things move outward from the Triune God in a diversity of beings—suns, bacteria, persons, cacti, snakes—and in creation's climax, the human person. Men and women exist as finite beings but also as knowing and loving images of God who out of their animality and spirit are called to a deeper life which is an intense gift of God.

The "Second Part" concerns the human personality on that journey which is life and which leads to a destiny enabled by a special life-force, grace. Its topics are not mainly figures like Moses or Jesus, or the church. The "First Part of the Second Part" describes the psychological principles (human and divine) of a life-journey with choices, emotions, faculties, intuitions, accomplishments, and misdirections: and next, God's help of grace. How will we reach a destiny beyond us? Aquinas responded by considering at length two principles: psychological life and the grace of God.

The "Second Part of the Second Part" brings together two forces: human personality and God's grace. The human is the place of grace. The framework for this detailed psychology of grace is the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) and the four moral virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude). Under each is arranged subvirtues (and countering vices), a Beatitude from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, and complementary gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The "Third Part" of the ST presents Jesus Christ as the model for the journey; he is the living portrait of God's wisdom. We learn in the First Part that missions of the Trinity found a concrete expression in the historical man Jesus of Nazareth who is the incarnation of the Word of God, and in his Spirit active in human lives. The Third Part gives a presentation of the being, life, and work of Jesus; second, of the Incarnation continuing after Jesus' departure in the sacraments; and finally, of life beyond death. Just as Jesus' work on earth will be completed by his second coming, so the graced life of the Christian finds beyond death the triumph of grace as resurrection and vision. (The final sections of the Third Part, however, Aquinas never wrote, since death interrupted him in the midst of treating the sacraments.)

All three parts of the ST have a similar structure. What is at first general and basic becomes concrete: the theology of God is followed by the world of creatures; the human person in psychology, law, and grace leads into the virtues of graced life; the Incarnation of the Word is a life, a teaching, and a redemption.39 Similarly one can find themes which appear in all three parts: for instance, divine procession and mission, image of God, love, or teleological desire.40

The macro-structure of emergence and destiny is, then, a line of activity reaching from the missions of the Trinity through creation, human history, and incarnation to the eschaton. Moving forward, or circling upward, empowered by God, this teleological process orders hundreds of "questions" and thousands of "articles;" they are the building blocks of the areas of theology illumined and joined by the patterns and principles.

B. The Micro-Structure

The ST' s parts are made up of "questions" containing "articles." The questions are arranged into clusters of questions (about thirty-eight) like divine knowledge, sacraments, or a particular virtue like hope. The microstructure of the ST is the question with its articles; a question treats a larger orsmaller topic through articles which are the basic investigative units of the work. The four parts are made up of 611 questions with well over four thousand articles.

Aquinas followed Aristotle's methodology by arranging his inquiries into Christian faith around four basic questions: Does something exist? (Or in theology, Why is it suitable or helpful for it to exist?) How does it exist? Are there different kinds of this reality? What is its nature? What are some of its special characteristics or properties? The articles of this summa combine the dialectical method of the universities going back to Abelard—the discussion of both sides of a theological issue—with Aristotle's questions pursuing science. Chenu wrote:

The medieval lectio, in like manner, was to give rise to quaestiones that went beyond the mere explaining of the texts, the latter, however, stilf fumishing the substance with which they dealt. In these quaestiones, together with the resources of the ancient dialectic and latter of demonstrative logic, came into play with the great complex of problems instigated during the thirteenth century by the entrance of Aristotle and the new surge of inquisitiveness in theological matters. With the "questions" scholasticism reached the peak of its development. In them, it found the literary medium best answering its creative inspiration in philosophy as in theology.41

The scholastic approach of the new universities was precisely not an approach of authority or piety but one of scientific investigation. Abelard, not content with devotional symbolism, had inquired into the real reasons and causes of things. The contemporaries of Albert and Bonaventure referred to university professors as "dialecticians," because they were discussing both sides of an issue. Aristotelian science sought the causes of each thing, and to find causes is the goal of the questioning inquiry in the ST. How do the characteristics of a human emotion correspond to its purpose? How does Jesus' death save? Can a sacrament cause grace? To explain a reality and to further basic scientific study, Aristotle spotlighted four causes:

  • the material out of which something exists;
  • the form ("essence" or "nature" or "species") which is the principle of a particular nature realized as an individual in matter;
  • the efficient cause bringing this being into existence;
  • its final cause, a goal or destiny.

Distinctions, reasons, divisions, definitions, questions, causes—this was the scholastic method.

The structure of each of the thousands of articles is the same.

First, there is a statement of the question to be discussed followed by a number of objections (about two to eight) which ordinarily support positions opposite to the one Aquinas will take. Between the objections offering fundamental problems and the treatment of the topic a line from an authority (a passage from Scripture, a sentence from Ambrose, a quote from Canon Law, or an axiom from a philosopher) challenges the direction of the objections. This countering opinion, it was long thought, is simply an authority rather indifferently selected to balance the negative tone of the objections, but now experts think that one can find indications not only of argument but of structure in those citations from Aristotle (frequent in the questions on God) or Augustine (frequent in those on the Trinity); they suggest subtle directions appearing in Aquinas' own theology. Then there follows the body of the article, the "response," where Aquinas gave his own views. There he first attended to the insight and weight of other opinions and then offered his own reasoned and creative presentation of the topic under consideration. Finally, he answered the objections, finding some truth in seemingly opposed positions.

The articles unfold the question. Each article depends upon its place in the question and in a cluster of questions. Previous topics provide the context and perspectives which will illumine what follows. Grabmann advised: "If we were to sketch a method of interpreting St. Thomas, and especially the ST, it would be necessary for us first to consider the systematic study of that work, a method by which one researches under all its aspects the meaning, the idea of each article in order to understand in a basic way all of the teaching contained in the entire span of the work."42 The disputation, the public scholastic exercise in dialectic, was an important, if sometimes occasional, exercise for the professor, and its format and spirit were prominent in Aquinas' mind. The articles of the ST are micro-disputations: they are composed in a pointed but tranquil style of argumentation, of question and resolution. Aquinas' style, reflecting intellectual changes in the Middle Ages, calls into question opinions on creation and revelation not to remove their intellectual foundations or with the hope of finding a comfortable agnosticism or nihilism, but to spotlight important issues. The objections allow further issues to be treated. Amazingly these almost 10,000 or more difficulties with their responses are not random problems, but they focus on significant issues in a specific topic. In a spirit far from any inquisitorial mentality, Aquinas brought in other opinions, mustered not as errors but as stimuli for research into truth (truth, for him, is difficult to enclose and also difficult to escape). The meeting with a different opinion occurs within the atmosphere of dialogue and research. Other views are never fully rejected, because they too can have intimations of truth and can make contributions not only to discussion but to conclusion.

This theology proceeds:

  • from the general to the specific;
  • from unity to diversity;
  • from how something behaves to what it is (from its activities to its nature);
  • from the reality of something to our words, concepts, and symbols representing that reality;
  • from the world of natures to the being and activity of God; and from nature to grace, a grace which essentially is God, incamationally in Jesus of Nazareth, and is participatively in human beings.

In its relentless logic, unalterable format, and abstract language, the ST can bring fatigue or feed compulsion. It is helpful when pursuing a topic like "salvation" or "hierarchy" to read more widely than one article or question, and to use a concordance to the ST. Staying with terminology is to dallywith a mechanical and positivist approach, one alien to this theology. To look closely at a set of articles is to see that Aquinas was not constrained by his structure but used arrangement to include much material in brief units. He was interested in logic, linguistics, or methodology only as helps to gain insight into faith. Combining observation and speculation, he pursued an intellectual approach of disclosure, revealing, setting forth, and unfolding, while avoiding both exaggerations and overly subtle questions. His spirit was never dogmatic or ideological; appeals to absolute authority are rare. "Two things should be avoided: asserting something which is false and opposed to the truth of faith. And, it is also not permissible to take whatever one might think is true and to assert at once that it belongs to the truth of faith: for then the truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among non-believers … asserting something to be a truth of faith which most certain research and documentation shows to be false."43

V. A Biblical Theology

If the medieval teacher was interested in books and ideas, he treasured them because they gave access to reality, to worlds visible and invisible. In the thirteenth century books were being written in quicker scripts and were being produced more cheaply, copied not for a wealthy elite but for the growing class of scholars. Texts opened up networks of nature or that subtle realm of grace which faith affirmed to be "a new way of the divine existing in intelligent beings" (I, 43, 3). A university teacher of theology commented on Scripture. Hugh of Saint Victor wrote: "The cathedral of the professor is Sacred Scripture."44 The composer of the summa's panorama was also the teacher of the Bible. Exegesis was work required by an academic position but it was subsequently a source of theological reflection. No matter how attractive and important the writings of philosophers and theologians, the scriptual text and the reality to which the text witnessed gave theology's first foundation and inspiration. Aquinas lectured on a number of biblical books. One of the signs that we love God, he said, is that we enjoy hearing God's word.45

In his two magisterial inaugurations—as a young professor and as a magister—Aquinas treated the theme of Scripture. Religious teaching should teach, delight, and inspire. The gospels are fulfillment, the Hebrew writings are revelation and anticipation (the frequently cited Psalms are a kind of bridge), and the epistles are theology and pastoral application. "The New Testament, ordered to eternal life, has not only precepts but the gifts of grace. The gospels give us the origin of grace; the letters of Paul give us the power of grace, while the other books give us the realization of grace."46 How could those texts of revelation and wisdom be imparted to people? Aquinas stressed that the Bible used metaphors and analogies, mysterious links between the highest of teachings and the world of creation and humanity. "God communicates [this biblical wisdom] through a proper divine power … but teachers communicate it as ministers of this teaching."47 His theology of the biblical text pays attention to how different writings explored the same word and the same theme, and experts see here signs of his employment of a concordance.48

The university teacher led students through particular books of the Bible. Theology presents a sacred teaching, a revelation, which is concretely proposed in the Bible, in those "pages which are sacred." As Aquinas was lecturing on the Bible and engaging in public disputations, he was also composing synthetic works offering his personal theology of God's revelation. The presence of Greek philosophy in them is evident, but how is the Bible present? Its role is formally discussed at the opening of ST—it is a privileged written witness—but its words are on every page. If theology should illumine biblical meanings and metaphors (I, 1, 8), the subject matter of Aquinas' theology, however, is not so much biblical phrases as the realities (this reflects the realism of Aristotle) to which they point: God active in history, covenant and incarnation, grace and life.

The "Prologue" to the ST indicates that Aquinas sought a less repetitive format than that found in commentaries on the Bible. In his systematic arrangement, order would illumine inspired writings. Research during the twentieth century has shown that medieval theology was hardly waiting for the Reformation's liberation of the Bible, and that Aquinas is not just decorating metaphysics with biblical citations. Similarly certain books of the Bible exercise an influence on particular areas of theology. We can see the role the Psalms play in moral theology, or the influence of the Gospel according to John in the theology of the Incarnation. His commentary on Romans illumines the centrality given to grace in the structure of the ST. All the Pauline letters, Aquinas says, have as their subject God's grace, but Romans is about grace "in itself," and the eighth chapter, its climax, describes how offspring and heirs of God act in the Spirit.49 Research has still not sketched sufficiently how biblical themes appear in clusters of questions or how they inform broad structures of the ST. Aquinas' commentaries divide the text into its major and minor areas of teaching, elucidate the major theological points, and, with the help of earlier commentators, respond to difficulties about either the literal text or its implied theology. But Otto Pesch notes:

The biblical commentaries of Thomas are quite often rather tiresome to read. The text is divided in minute detail, and this sometimes results in a stark analysis which pursues the grammatical and logical connections. Often this is expanded by the exposition of various possible interpretations among which Aquinas does not always decide. Sometimes the commentary becomes a mini-question or an article (as in the Si). Nevertheless, the faculty and the students saw this method as a decisive scientific progress beyond the meditative exegesis of Scripture in the cloisters of the ancient monastic orders.50

With some perseverance the reader needs to draw out the underlying arrangement in sections of commentary, to see how exegetical exposition aims at a theological clarification or expansion.51

Aquinas followed his analysis of the different senses in Scripture. There was, first and foremost, the literal sense, the meaning intended by the author writing the book. There was also one or more spiritual senses in which allegory and metaphor might offer to an individual reader a personal application, a meaning stimulated by the text but not placed there, except seminally, by the original author.52 Particularly in theology, the tensions between words and meanings, and even more, between words and the divine realms, are significant. "Spiritual things are always hidden. Therefore, through the realities of time they cannot be fully manifest, and so they need a diversity of presentations."53 Any reality is always richer than any verbal presentation; truth is always greater than the words of its expression. Fundamental to this theology is that words do not collapse in upon themselves, caught in their limitations and uncertainties. Rather, words, although they are arbitrary signs of things, tend dynamically toward the realities they would express. Is there a key for finding the sense of a biblical author, for finding the first meaning beneath later interpretations? One key lay in the actions of Jesus Christ. In him the plan of the Trinity has its culminating point; to him the writings of the Hebrew Scriptures lead; in him men and women find the teacher of the reign of God, the icon and norm of thelife of grace, the source of church and sacraments. "Whatever pertains to Christ or is about Christ—that is called gospel."54 The ST in its theory and practice of scriptural interpretation holds exegesis, theological reflection, and ecclesial life together. M. A. Reyero notes:

What results from a study of Aquinas' exegesis is that behind his teaching on the meanings of Scripture stand various but complementary ways of thinking which are used by Thomas to explain the basic truths of Christianity. This exegesis … is a many-sided totality whose individual parts can be distinguished by their philosophical, theological, moral, and mystical elements. And yet they do not introduce a strict separation between exegesis and theology, interpretation and pastoral life, exegesis and moral theology.55

For instance, the commentary on the Psalms from 1272 had the goal of making intelligible God's theology of covenant and Messiah, and of explaining the poems to Aquinas' Dominican brothers who recited them several times a day in choral prayer. In a prologue to this commentary he explored how the many songs first celebrate the universality and diversity of God's work in creation and redemption. Second, God's work historically expressed in other writings of the Hebrews is here developed poetically. Finally, the Psalms exist to inspire, to lift up the human spirit. "Whatever is said in other books [of the Bible] in various genres is here expressed in the mode of praise and prayer."56

Exegesis and theology go together. The words of the Bible are not verbal celestial magic but exemplifications of the interplay of the created and the graced. Not confusing literary forms, Aquinas within the limitations of his time sought to understand in the text an inspired meaning and then its relationship to science and life. Four gospels are needed because of an "overflowing richness in the works of Christ." And yet, "infinite human words do not explain one word of God."57 Significantly, while God is an artist for Aquinas, he is not a poet. God's creation is a product, not a simile; salvation-history is not a novel. Pesch observes:

He could have admired the "poetic art" of God in his quite personal word, Holy Scripture, revealed as it is in such imaginative ways. But Thomas does not do that. Despite a rather agnostic element in his teaching on the analogous discourse of God … here he accentuates the few aspects of similarity within analogy … and emphasizes that analogy is highest when one can, even with only weak understanding, peer into the highest things. And so God is not a poet.58

Although he analyzed the metaphorical and the symbolic, Aquinas always sought to draw the diverse scriptural texts toward reality, divine or human but he did not always demand or produce a simple resolution to every exegetical problem. He pursued exegesis in light of how other great theologians had explained this or that text.59

To return to the ST, the Bible was important not only in providing a multitude of citations but in its structure. Biblical motifs and theologies are latent in this work like threads joining expositions and sections: Genesis' creation, the Johannine Word and missions, the law of the Jews, the life of grace, the love of God, the salvation of Jesus.

VI. Some Principles in Thomas Aquinas' Theology

We have been sketching theological patterns in the ST. Other kinds of organizing forces play an influential role throughout the work. We call them principles. They are themes or axioms, fundamental orientations or ways of grasping reality. Some principles of Aquinas' thought are philosophical and some are theological. Principles are philosophical when they give general perspectives on being; they are theological when they come from revelation. The ST is, of course, not a theological system in the modern sense of an elaboration of a basic principle begetting every facet of Christianity. But it is systematic in its organization and organic interdependence. Some of the following principles come first from the Aristotelian science which Aquinas drew into his theology to explain "divine realities," but they influence perspectives on both creation and grace.

Let us look at a few important theological and philosophical principles which are at work throughout this theology. They typify Aquinas' thinking, and as underlying motifs they serve to link areas and to vitalize their theology.

A. The Force of Things

God is a powerful and mysterious cause, the sovereign cause of all. A truly divine being is not jealous of creatures and their capabilities. Everything has a basic form, a specific principle of what it is. Its nature makes a chemical element or a bird to be itself. First and foremost, nature is the source and enabler of activities proper to the species. Creatures exist to act and to live, and the permanent intrinsic source of all that they do is the basic form of each. A nature gives the proper range of activities or the mode of life to each being, and then individuals realize that form through their unique existence. Actual existence is the highest gift of being, and each existent has an inner fecundity and energy, even its own generosity in sharing itself with others. The poet Gerald Manley Hopkins captured this in his poem, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire":

Each mortal thing does one thing and the
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and
Crying "What I do is me: for that I came."

For Aquinas not only the intricacy and order of creation but the individual being and prowess of each creature, no matter how tiny or transitory, glorify God. To this Aristotelian reality is added a neo-Platonic idealism. These frogs or those palm trees in their temporality and limitations, in their specific form and individuality, realize God's ideas and wisdom.

God delights in giving beings life and existence and also in enabling them to be causes. A creature by action and by causality imitates the endlessly active reality which is God.60 Consequently it is not preternatural tricks or natural disasters which suggest the divine power but the glory of the lioness and her cubs, or the whale in the ocean. To look in nature for the un-natural is to misunderstand God entirely. God is more glorified by nature's powers (and by the graced life of millions of men and women) than by visions and magic. The wasps' community, the spider's web trapping gnats, or even the bacteria whose own life-sustaining actions can make men and women ill are in their quest for existence and in pursuit of the goals of their natures manifesting God's intelligence and love.

B. The Goals of Beings

Aristotle was originally a biologist and his realistic thought was thoroughly teleological. Some goal fulfills this particular form and a goal motivates this being into activity. We learn about beings from their activities: a run from potentiality to form, a flight to completion. Seeds are equipped, even disguised, to survive being eaten, and to float for miles in order to reach the right kind of earth so they can sprout as a plant. Bees have intricate guidance capabilities enabling them to find flowers' nectar in order to nourish the queen and to store honey for workers who will live in the hive through the threatening winter. For Aquinas the power and beauty of creation and of creation's God are to be found in the ordinariness of activity-to-a-goal. "Causa finalis, causa causarum"—"The final cause is the cause of all the other causes." Each being's nature (a bee is not a coal miner; a human body is not a tank or a church) finds its glory in activity, in activity specified by a goal. So the efficient, formal, and final causes will be similar; for instance, the bee's efficient cause is the queen, while its bee's nature gathers pollen and nectar for the over-riding survival of the hive.

The pattern of color in the dogwood flower is not formed by God for the purpose of depicting the nails of Jesus' cross but to attract insects. What piety might see as a trace of the divine, as when God is imagined to be directing birds to form a "cross" in flight, is for Aquinas an accident, chance. God plans nature's success, individually and overall, but an ecosystem is not the stage for a show of religious eccentrics.

Aquinas saw teleology as fundamental to beings. "In everything known by the human intellect order reigns" (I-II, 94, 2). The human being too lives and acts for a goal. But which goals satisfy human beings? What can exercise the strongest claim on us—wealth, fame, sensuality? Aquinas thought that only a destiny of some depth can satisfy the unquenchable search of humans for pleasure and joy. Jesus' revelation proclaims a special "reign of God," a deeper life for humanity. That is why Aquinas began the ST not with the crucifixion of Jesus or the authority of the church but with a statement that God has revealed a special world and destiny, one that is above nature but which also elevates and fulfills nature. Because the Kingdom of God exists as a supernatural future, men and women need to have a "form," a somewhat lasting source of activities, a life-principle to live now and in the future beyond death. The large Second Part of the ST does not retell Jesus' life but describes the two powers which will enable us to live within and for our destiny: the human personality and the life-principle called "grace."

Aquinas' principles are not opposed to the views of astrophysicists, paleontologists, or theologians who accept evolution in nature. Becoming does seem to dominate galaxies of gas and heat as well as biological life on earth. Aquinas stressed being, but, although he had little inkling of a world shot through with development and evolution, his theology nevertheless entertains stages in human life and history. Precisely his understanding of causality would have led him to appreciate a mature but delicate Power permitting worlds to unfold out of their inner capabilities. God is more glorified by an independent world of finite beings intricately emerging in time than by a planet where beings enter fully dressed like characters ready to act out a play.

C. The Dignity of Being a Cause

That creatures are endowed with powers is a fundamental principle of Aquinas. God loves into existence the capabilities of every nature, whether it be the panda or the shark. He gives to creatures a wonderful endowment: the gift of being a cause. "On account of the abundance of his goodness (but not as a defect in his power), God has communicated to creatures the dignity of causality" (I, 22, 3). Causal creatures, whether young muskrats or radio waves, contribute to a world both stable and in movement. God's own causality possesses degrees which are so powerful as to permit the creature to be and to act. "It is not out of God's incompleteness or weakness that he gives to creatures causal power but out of the perfect fullness which is sufficient to share itself with all."61 Not surprisingly, one of Aquinas' illustrations for independent causality was teaching: "For a professor does not just want his students to be knowledgeable but to be the teachers of others" (I, 103, 6).

There is only one "primary" or ultimate cause: that is God. But creatures—inevitably "secondary causes"—are not puppets. They are real agents, fashioning out of their nature's active forms this existence. A star burns, a tanager builds a nest. The power of God is revealed in the variety of creatures who are all proper causes of their actions. God appears supreme not by miraculously replacing them with unnatural displays of power but by endowing them with their own modes of activity. God gives independence to creatures "not by a lack of power but by an immensity of goodness; he has wished to communicate to things a resemblance to him in that they would not only exist but be the cause of others."62 The Primary Cause is not glorified by interfering often in the course of its creation. In our world deadly viruses or multicolored sunsets are not produced on the spot solely by a distant but powerful deity. The divine source gives not only existence but causality and both summon up the image of God. Creation proceeds from and by proper, proximate causes. Who causes eagles? Other eagles, eagles feeding and training young eagles. Investigations can find the ordinary factors which influenced a car being hit by a truck or the production of a calf by a cow; the activity of God is not the proximate cause of most things. Aquinas' theology of causal interplays in nature and grace pervades his theology. "The one and the same effect is produced by the subordinate cause and by God, directly by both, though in a different way" (III, 70). To ignore the distinction between "primary" and "secondary" causality is to confuse the causalities of Creator and creatures, and to risk replacing God by a creature or the creature by God. When religion sets aside secondary causality, the modest activity of the creature, a fundamentalism enters to control miraculous divine activities. To some this appears to honor God but it in fact detracts from the divine plan and turns creation into a puppet show. On the other hand, atheism and an ideology of science reject any presence of the primary cause and any supra-natural empowerment of people, and affirm only what instruments can measure.

Aquinas dared to analyze the presence of grace in human life in terms of causes. The causal source of supernatural life could only be God. Formally, however, grace is a special principle of life by which men and women share in the life of God. Its matter is an individual personality, and its finality is heaven. For a theology of the reign of God the axiom of the three similar causes (efficient, formal, and final) holds: the cause of grace is the Logos in Jesus and his Spirit present in the world of people, and this deeper sharing in the life of God called grace, has, as its future, resurrection and eschaton. Aquinas' thought, refusing to choose secularism or fundamentalism, sets up a psychology of faith and grace which is an interplay of causalities where each is free to act and to relate with other causes.

D. Being and Knowing

Among the many intricate natures of earth and the universe a particularly high form of existence is one that can know. Hawks, despite their volatile ingenuity, are quite determined and have capabilities for only a few enterprises. But members of a string quartet have a great deal of psychic space for choices. The higher the being, the more open is its field of action—a cocker-spaniel is more adaptable (and more interesting) than a worm. Knowing is the highest form of activity, for it can itself become all that exists. For that reason, freedom accompanies knowing.

Aristotle was a researcher for whom activities disclosed the essence of something living or inanimate. To watch a snake on a summer day is to see the species act and succeed. In a sermon Aquinas observed: "When Aristotle was asked where and how he had learned something, he replied: in things-they do not know how to lie."63 Knowledge moves from the empirical to the intellectual, from the visible to the invisible. Whatever is in our mind somehow has entered through our senses. But knowing, calculating, or believing do not end with the data of the senses, or with ideas or sentences. The mind by employing concepts and language reaches the realities themselves. Knowing receives beings into our awareness as a mind represents intimately what lies outside. A. D. Sertillanges observed:

Thomas explains that we understand by the impression which things make upon us. This impression the to gauges their intelligibility and our intelligence. It is the subject or the object which sets the limits as the case may be. The conditions of knowledge make us realize that the objects of experience are not entirely intelligible, and that we ourselves are not pure intelligence.64

Two consequences are unacceptable from the point of view of human experience: the denial of what is objective, and the evaporating of differences between the true and the false. Although error and misapprehension are not infrequent, what we know does reflect something of what exists outside our minds. There is an attention to subjectivity in Aquinas but it never replaces or competes with objectivity. To say I see or I think this or that is to say at the same time, beings exist.

Human consciousness, however, is active as well as receptive. The human intellect receives the impressions of the senses, but it also forms them through arrangements, insights, abstractions, and fantasies. Aristotle and Aquinas thought the mind was fashioning what the senses brought to it. Knowing, reasoning, and insight are dynamic as they touch the world of objects and forces. With various and complex ways of knowing, human beings can devise imaginary animals on exotic planets, or ponder the near and distant future. A poet can be struck by something about this particular orchid, and a scientist can aspire to know the primal moment when the universe exploded.

How do we know God? Certainly we do not know what our senses do not, cannot contact. The human way to know the transcendent and the supernatural is called "analogical" knowing. This knowledge, more a form of not-knowing than knowing, lies between the extremes of agnosticism, affirming nothing about the immaterial, and anthropomorphism, affirming God as human or material. Analogical knowing is grounded in divine activity in the universe. Beings are the faint but accurate traces in the world of God's creative power. They presume in a real but very slight way that God originally caused the world. That act producing all things, despite an immense (indeed, an infinite) transcendence, leaves in creatures slight resemblances to the divine cause. Yet whatever similarity there is between earth's beings and God's being is faint, more filled with dissimilarity than similarity.

Knowing and loving can even touch the realm of the divine presence called grace. The human spirit can not only affirm metaphysical ideas about God but accept in faith the revelation of the Incarnate Word and the indwelling of the Spirit, a revelation expressed in human languages. Revelation is distinct from human life, but faith and revelation do not introduce the special effects of a Hollywood film portraying the Bible or science fiction. Christianity is not an assembly of hard truths and curious miracles turning creation topsy-turvy. The events of Jesus' preaching and ministry occurring long ago can be understood by people today: his triumph of life over death tell us of a further reality and future for men and women. The choices made by Peter and Mary Magdalen are not unlike our own quests for meaning. When the gospel parables speak of God's love we understand that love through the moments of human love we have enjoyed. Modern philosophers imitating empirical science and some modern Protestant theologians guarding divine transcendence affirm an unpassable abyss between human knowledge and divine being. Aquinas' view is very different: he retained the faint traces between Creator and creation, traces that glorify God. Then, revelation uses ordinary human experience to speak of what is even more sublime. If God transcends enormously the things we know, still they bear witness to creation's being, goodness, and activity which flow from that of the divine cause, despite or because of the infinite difference between God and creature.

Faith and theology, like all knowledge, can move beyond propositions in a particular language to attain the reality expressed (II-II, 1, 2, 2). Belief and love have a vital movement tending toward God. While God, the source and ground of all truths, is the first truth, this subsisting and originating truth is also personal and loving and wise. Dynamic knowing, analogy, insight as well as reason, an apprehension and formation of what is objective and real—these are characteristics of Aquinas' philosophy. The modes of being in the created world mirror faintly the being and activity of God in a reserved and analogous way, and the revelation of Jesus has communicated to minds elevated and empowered by grace God's plan for the human race (I, 12, 13).

E. God As Mind and Love

Aquinas viewed God not first as a will but as an intellect. Not from uncharted freedom, adolescent caprice, or the desire to dazzle does God create but out of wisdom. In the divine intellect are countless ideas, species, individuals, and scenarios. Some are to be realized; some will never exist except in the divine archive of unselected choices. The decision to create, the selection of billions of suns with perhaps endlessly varied planets and moons, the differences among plants and animals—these exist from out of millions of options (some, like gold and pink muskrats or very small giraffes, will not exist). All that is comes from free choices born of sublime intelligence. Through its relentless teleology, the universe points to a plan. God is well-depicted as an artist whose genial ideas impelled outwards by love find realization outside of imagination. "God is the cause of things through his intellect and will just as an artist is the cause of things made. The artist works through an idea conceived in the intellect and through the love of his or her will related to something; so God the Father works in creatures through his Word, the Son, and through his love which is the Holy Spirit" (I, 45, 6). Certainly God is not a failure who does not know the course of a galaxy or is incapable of influencing human history.

The choices to create intelligent creatures and, furthermore, to offer them a share in the divine life flow from freedom and love. Whatever exists outside of God is the result of love impelling divineplans into reality. The intelligent and free creature is particularly loved; the graced creature even more so. When it was time for the ST to treat creation and then incarnation, Aquinas spotlighted the motivating power of divine generosity. Love desires to produce what it loves. Goodness diffuses itself: love expresses itself by sparking into existence untold numbers of creatures, and then God became one of them. Unlike ourselves, however, God's activity, flowing from an infinite intellect and imagination and out of complete freedom, fashions rather than seeks out its objects. A divine action bestows the appropriate, loved degree of reality—and a being is.

F. Grace In Life and Destiny

Grace is a share in the divine life as a new presence in human life. This religious realm does not stand over against creation to disdain or condemn it. There is only one God, Creator and Redeemer, and as God is one, so the divine works have a harmony. Creation began with the goodness of being, and it remains good despite sin. A wedding, a mural, a family are not inevitably ugly or secretly rebellious. Loving distinction, God placed the natural and supernatural orders in clarity, but those two orders are not only distinct but harmonious. "Since the human being is destined for a supernatural happiness, it is necessary for humans to attain to higher realms.… The gift of grace does not proceed from the light of nature but is added to it, bestowing a higher modality" (II-II, 8,1,1 & 2). Since Christian theology's source is incarnation, it seeks a synthetic understanding of humanity and grace. Aquinas and his time saw a single world comprehended by ontology and science and by a dialectic between grace and evil. The entry of Aristotle's realism did not set up dual worlds but its active realism served a theology of grace.

Through the centuries many Thomists have seen in the axiom, "grace brings nature to completion" (I, 1, 8), the guiding principle of Aquinas' way of thinking. The Spirit of Jesus brings a deeper life but people retain their own personalities. The supernatural is not deduced from nature, but nature is capable of receiving the revelation of God. Two realms compose one existence for human beings; creation and grace are distinct but not separate. Aquinas intended them to meet and live in intimacy.65

Grace leading human nature to its destiny includes theologically other Thomistic principles like those sketched above: active powers, the draw of teleology, one creation and one Creator, a harmony and synthesis between human nature and divine grace. This principle colors the span of Aquinas' insights. To give an example, in religious conversion human acceptance of faith is not usually a dramatic shift from a hideous life of sin to the acceptance of frequent miracles, but, rather, it is a movement from a human nature wounded by original sin to an individual human life which through grace expands and deepens. "To have faith does not lie within human nature but what is within human nature is that the human mind is not opposed to the interior instinct [of faith] and to the exterior truth of preaching" (II, 10, 1, 1). Even after a dramatic conversion the personality does not change drastically but is liberated and enabled for itself. Grace does not disdain psychological processes or political forms as evil, nor suspect the arts as seductive. The kingdom of God works within lives and cultures. The divine presence does not just tolerate but motivates human efforts, even as it retains a critique of persons and groups when they depart from the standards of the gospel. Later (in chapter five) we will see how worship, holiness, ministry, and politics unfold within grace building upon nature. This principle enables the incarnation to continue and the Christian faith to bring its message and sacrament to peoples and cultures; it is at work in the lay leader or bishop who dies for a more humanform of economy, and it shines forth during the Easter Vigil as the Easter candle is ignited in the dark (symbolizing the human journey) and then is plunged into the water for baptism to sanctify it.

We have looked at the two overarching formats for the ST, the macro- and micro-structure, and then at principles which inform the entire work. It remains to suggest briefly some other organizing forms which await further exploration.

VII. Patterns

Today there are different kinds of maps. Some not only reproduce the geography of a place but indicate through colors the place's degree of heat. We lack and need maps of the theological themes and thought-forms of the ST. Chenu complained of a void in his neo-Thomist education: "How often, in the interpretation of the II Pars in particular, I was shocked by the rigid and systematic way in which the Aristotelian structures present in the text were commented upon in detail, while the sap of biblical and patristic spirituality supplying life to these otherwise dead branches was ignored or glossed over."66 What would these theological maps be like? One might trace how a particular theologian or philosopher influences Christology or sacramentology, or how great Christian themes appear in their proper questions and in other areas. Chenu encouraged students of Aquinas to write up their own plans of the ST. "The student, however, will find great profit in establishing on his own a plan of the Summa, whether of the whole or of a section of it, bringing all the while his effort to bear on the discovery beneath divisions and subdivisions of the internal unfolding of problems, the sources from which they spring and the manner in which they are brought up."67 This is valuable advice. But unfortunately Chenu's project has rarely been pursued.

In the sweep of the ST there are lines linking different sections (Trinitarian missions lead to Jesus). There are anticipations and realizations (the material world prior to the sacraments), theme and variations (angelic psychology, human psychology and the psychology of the believer), and sources (this Greek or Latin theologian on the being of Jesus). The future understanding of Aquinas' theology should seek out the architecture in the large theological works.

The following are only an initial suggestion of patterns.

  1. One pattern begins and pervades the ST: it is the activity of God. Beyond the Godhead as subsistent activity and source of Trinitarian processions, God creates through wise planning, execution, and providential ordering. Plans for free creatures and for a life of grace are put into effect. Then the missions of Word and Spirit, extending into the psyche and history of creatures, become concrete through the incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth. Through the Spirit of the Risen Christ, God is actively present to beings in spirit, sacrament, grace, and church. Thereby the divine power extends in various ways into existence, nature, and love. Lafont concluded: "This seems to us to be the goal of the movement of the entire ST: the vision of God in God's self and of creation in God as it comes from the hands of the Creator and as it achieves the free participation of human beings in Christ. This dynamic seems to be animated by one grand Christian inspiration and at the same time to have a marked simplicity of line."68 In a variety of modes, exerting divine influence but respecting each nature and each freedom, God is all in all.
  2. Aquinas' works are explorations by a Christian theology of that horizon of reality called the "supernatural order." The ST's opening lines announce a higher ordination, i.e., a plan and destiny for people. The entire work and each article are engaged by a teleology of the supernatural ordo. A divine plan (predestination) and a presence (Trinitarian mission) unfold that ordo in a new mode of existence, grace. The Word and Spirit of God come to people, live with them to summon forth and enable a special life and destiny under the leadership of Christ, the head of the new human race. Salvation is not ideas meriting a paradise or a transitory divine power warding off a devil but a deeper dimension silently offered to human life. Patfoort writes of three intensifications of the Spirit in the ST, of three "pneumatophanies" or "three zones of great pneumatological concentration: gifts, New Law, and grace."69 The ST at its depth and in every moment is a theology of being and grace.
  3. One can always ponder anew in this theology the interplay between Aristotelianism and neo-Platonism. It is also challenging to see how the patterns of Greek philosophy are joined to history. How does a psychology of grace fit into a history of salvation? Edward Schillebeeckx thinks that Aquinas struggled to integrate the process of creation and a history of salvation with the liberation and self-realization of a graced psychology and ethics. "Here the tradition of the Greek Fathers of 'paideiatou Christou' ('education in Christ'), where the accent is placed upon the history of salvation in the world (where God liberates the image of God, the human being, from the darkness due to sin), is joined by Thomas to the vertical theology and interior subjectivity of Augustine. In other words, for Aquinas grace is always composed essentially from two realities: a 'grace which is external' in correlation with 'a grace which is internal."'70 Pesch pursues this same theme.

    Thomas sketched in the first two books of the ST that underlying structure of salvation history which influences every human existence. This pattern always has a reference to Christ, but Aquinas sketches it to some extent in the purity of its emergence at creation, with the fact of sin and the special details of salvation-history bracketed. In this plan grace has the lofty assignment of being an ultimate, encompassing principle of activity whereby the human being through a radical interplay of inner activity and divine grace is brought to the level of divine life and therein is first made capable of that definitive determination which God has given to the human being from the beginning.…71

  4. One form for the entire theology is incarnation. Incarnation, the most intense and concrete expression of God active within human nature, does not enter only with the Third Part. The Word's incarnation has various modes of presence. Introduced by the missions of the Word in history and with its climax in the being and person of Jesus Christ, incarnation animates the life and ministry of the savior. It becomes dominant in his headship, participative and unique, exemplary and causal, a headship of the human race redeemed. This union of the divine and the created does not cease with the end of the historical life of Jesus but reaches on through history in the new race, Christ's Body, and in its liturgy of sacraments. Finally the lengthy analysis of personality and grace in the Second Part contributes to an understanding of its cause and model, Jesus.
  5. In the treatments of grace or incarnation one can see an approach which might be called that of a crescendo. Issues more general, more proper to nature or the human personality or to philosophical analysis begin a section, and the specific, grace-filled activity concludes a cluster of questions. Then a new development begins, slowly leading to another climax: for instance, the one God leads to the activities of the Trinity in human history; creation leads to the image of God constituted in grace; apsychology of the personality moves toward the conclusion of the First Part of the Second Part in the justification and merit of grace.
  6. An individual theologian or philosopher can be traced through varying degrees of influence in different clusters of questions, e.g., Augustine in grace, John Damascene in Christology. The opening questions of the Third Part exemplify this. The "Prologue" cites only the infancy narrative in the Gospel according to Matthew, but the subsequent question on the suitability of the Incarnation cites this Gospel and that of John as well as the letters to the Romans and to Timothy. In terms of theological sources, Augustine is almost the sole theological source for the question on the suitability of the Incarnation. However, with the following questions on this union of natures and person a different selection of sources appears: there is Aristotle to explain "nature" and the Council of Chalcedon and contemporary theologians like Cyril and Gregory to offer the great conciliar sources for this mystery. Thus the selection of theologians and philosophers indicates the direction of the questions and articles. Sometimes one and the same authority links different sections of the work.
  7. One could also explore with indexes and concordances how key terms, biblical or theological, are employed in different theological areas. For instance, the linguistic and epistemological presentations of "word" are countless, but they illumine each other. The divine ideas are words from which creation emerges, and Jesus is the Word of God. Other themes are "finality," "wisdom," "sacrament," or "connaturality." "Light" with its overtones from physics or medieval aesthetics would uncover relationships of sources and power. Creation begins in light; the power of knowing is a kind of light; faith is a dark light for knowing; grace is a light. Both biblical inspiration and the dawn of the eschaton appear as kinds of light. Seeing is the ultimate power, particularly in its intellectual form, so light has a priority, a universality in theology.
  8. Broad theological motifs too are important. A theological area can be well understood only through its sources and relationships: for instance, the image of God in the human person, the shift in Christology due to more contact with Greek sources. There is the rich theme of "law" which begins as the divine intellect, finds realizations in natural law and the Jewish covenant, and then reaches a high point with a law which is no less than the Spirit of God.
  9. These patterns lie within a system which itself undergoes some development in the career of Aquinas. Do his views change? How? In the area of grace, when we contrast it with early writings, the ST emphasizes more the divine causality of grace and less the initiative of the human person.72 The traditional virtues in the human being move from the rather general religious and Roman presentation of the time of Ambrose and Augustine toward greater realism and activity under the influence of Aristotelian psychology. It seems that Aquinas would mention a theological orientation, and then in later questions draw out its implications or complexity. His terse observation that God is not really related to creatures (I, 13, 7), understandable in a certain metaphysics of creation, is certainly modified or complemented by the missions of Word and Spirit (III, 7, 13).

Ghislain Lafont, author of a valuable structural study of the ST, writes: "The Christian reality is too complex, in some ways even too unexpected for one simple outline. In this sense the ST is a difficultwork and resembles the great churches of the Middle Ages. Its architectural perfection appears at once, but then with close observation it also reveals a richness of invention and adaptation, both in totality and in detail."73 In general, Aquinas' genius gave to Augustinian teaching an expansion through Aristotelian psychology and metaphysics, but this theology was not the work of a short time, nor of a young and inexperienced mind but was the result of research and contemplation and insight. Sertillanges described the ST as a coherent reality, even as something living where every element under the influence of a guiding idea receives an orientation from and contributes to the entire work.74 Chenu thought that with Thomas Aquinas dialectic reveals special creativity. "It is necessary then to pursue within a slow and tenacious maturing the grand intellectual perspectives in that work's constructions, and not to remain with anatomical analyses, no matter how precise."75

Patterns await exploration, and it is time to move from forms to ideas. The following chapter, surveying the theology of the ST, presents the important areas of Thomas Aquinas' theology and shows the above principles at work. Along the broad, neo-Platonic dynamic line serving a Christian theology but within a Aristotelian and scholastic methodology, his basic principles arrange a thousand or more topics in theology, with sources in hundreds of Roman, Greek, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian thinkers, into a coherent world-view.


1 "The guiding intuition which directs the plan of the Summa theologiae wants to lead us to place human reason at the very heart of religious reality" (A.-I. Mennessier, Saint Thomas d'Aquin, L'Homme chrétien [Paris, 1965], 25).

2 M.-D. Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas (Chicago, 1964), p. 46; see B. Coffey, "The Notion of Order according to St. Thomas Aquinas," The Modern Schoolman 27 (1949): If. The opening of the SCG (1,1) holds a counterpoint of three themes: the wise person discerning and ordering; the artist directing through art good beings to their goals; order and goodness in the universe as resulting from truth, from divine Truth.

3SCG 1, 1.

4 Martin Grabmann, Introduction to the Theological Summa of St. Thomas (St. Louis, 1930), p. 7.

5 Martin Grabmann, Die Kulturphilosophie des hl. Thomas von Aquin (Augsburg, 1925), p. 23.

6 Around 1260, at S. Jacques in Paris, another Dominican, Jerome of Moravia, was teaching music, and writing a "summula" on the musical theory of his time. He noted that new texts were needed because the multiplicity of forms was engendering confusion and boredom among students; see A. Gastoue, "Un Dominican professeur de musique au XIIIe siècle. Fr. Jérome de Moravie et son oeuvre," Archivum Fratrum Praedicatorum 2 (1932): 232.

7 Otto von Simson, "Die Kunst des Hohen Mittelalters. 'Lichtvolle Geistigkeit'," Das Mittelalter II. Das Hohe Mittelalter, Propylaen Kunstgeschichte 6 (Berlin, 1972), p. 11.

8 Arnold Hauser, The Social History of Art (New York, 1958), vol. 2, pp. 10f.

9 Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, p. 67. Jacques Maritain observed: "… In Gothic architecture's times, and especially after St. Francis of Assisi—mystery discloses its more human depths. This is the age of Duccio, Giotto, Angelico … Art is still dominated by sacred inspiration, and Christ is still at the center. But this time it is Christ in his humanity, in his torment and redeeming passion … and all the saints with their individual features and adventures, and mankind with all the characters who play their part in human life, and all nature reconciled with man in the grace of the Gospel. The human soul gleams everywhere through the barred windows of the objective world, the human self is more and more present on the stage" (Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry [New York, 1953], p. 22).

10 See G. A. Zinn, Jr., "Suger, Theology, and the Pseudo-Dionysian Tradition," in Abbot Suger and Saint-Denis: A Symposium (New York, 1986), p. 33f.

11 Suger, De Rebus administratione sua gestis in Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St.-Denis, ed. E. Panofsky (Princeton, 1946), pp. 63, 65.

12 M.-D. Chenu, Preface to H. Petitot, Life and Spirit of Thomas Aquinas (Chicago, 1966), p. 6.

13 Otto von Simson, "The Gothic Cathedral. Design and Meaning," in Change in Medieval Society, ed. S. Thrupp (New York, 1964), p. 169. Von Simson stressed the "functionalism" of this art; the teleology of Aquinas is a kind of functionalism.

14 E. Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism (New York, 1957), p. 29 "Is Panofsky's problematic about a possible connection between gothic architecture and scholasticism illegitimate? Not at all, for certainly a century like the unusual thirteenth raises the issue of the inner dependence and mutual relationships of so many cultural streams and innovations" (A. Speer, "Thomas von Aquin und die Kunst," Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 72 [1990]: 343.) "Manifestation" is a significant word in Aquinas. Light manifests itself and other things; creation and grace manifest the Trinity, Jesus makes the Logos manifest. Words are manifested in emotions, and each existent manifests the Creator and the act of creation. See "manifestatio," Index Thomisticus 13 (Stuttgart, 1974), p. 421f.

15 J. Le Goff cited in von Simson, "Die Kunst des hohen Mittelalters. 'Lichtvolle Geistigkeit'," p. 11.

16 Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, p. 298. R. A. Gauthier observes that a summa is a manual which should be both a summary and a complete overview (Saint Thomas d'Aquin. Somme contre les Gentils [Paris, 1993], p. 146).

17 Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, p. 299.

18 Richard Heinzmann, "Die Theologie auf dem Weg zur Wissenschaft," Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift 25 (1974): 6; see De Veritate, 8, 10. See N. Senger, "Der Begriff 'architector' bei Thomas von Aquin," in Mittelalterliches Kunsterleben nach Quellen des 11. bis 13. Jahrhunderts, ed. A. Speer (Stuttgart, 1993), p. 208f.

19 See Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Christopher Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral (New York, 1990), 141. A. D. Sertillanges found an aesthetic side of order: "There is a real musical symmetry about the Summa, not because of some artifice in the distribution of its materials, but in its very structure: it has emerged like a Gothic cathedral; a lyric of pure thought" (St. Thomas Aquinas and His Work [London, 1932], p. 113). "In St. Thomas, doctrine has become harmonious after the manner of a symphony. It vibrates freely in all its parts and undulates from end to end, without any of those intermissions which falsify the key and break the harmony, without unresolved discords or any but expressive silences, by which I mean mysteries. Mysteries are not empty voids. They are more full of meaning than anything else, and it is their depth that makes them unfathomable.… Their purpose in a synthesis is to give unity and strength, and indeed, beauty to the whole" (ibid.).

20 Leonard Boyle, The Setting of the "Summa theologiae" of Thomas Aquinas (Toronto, 1982), pp. 17f.; see L. Boyle, "Notes on the Education of the Fratres Communes in the Dominican Order in the Thirteenth Century," in Xenia Medii Aevi Historiam Illustrantia, ed. R. Creytens and P. Künzle (Rome, 1978), p. 249f.

21 Boyle, The Setting, 11.

22 Ibid., 16.

23 Ibid. Boyle notes that the Second Part of the ST with its theology of the Christian life, theoretical and practical, was widely circulated on its own apart from the two parts which framed it. It might have been that his confreres and colleagues did not fully appreciate Aquinas' broader accomplishment within the ST (ibid., 23).…

25 Boyle, The Setting, p. 14.

26 A. Patfoort, Saint Thomas d'Aquin. Les clefs d'une théologie (Paris, 1983), p. 12.

27 Ibid., 64.

28 On Aquinas' diverse sources, see Ceslao Pera, Le Fonti del pensiero di S. Tommaso d'Aquino nella Somma teologica (Turin, 1979).

29 Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, p. 301. To look at the charts by J. J. Berthier or G. Q. Friel (see Bibliography) is to see static divisions and clusters divorced from their Aristotelian and Thomist vitality.

30 Aquinas' theology contained no small amount of Platonism coming not only from newly accessible neo-Platonic writings but from Greek theologies and from Augustine; cf. R. J. Henle, Saint Thomas and Platonism (The Hague, 1956), and the writings of L. Hödl. A pattern of emergence and return had been a popular one from Christian theologians like Origen to German idealists like Schelling.

31In 1 Sent., d. 14, q. 2, a. 2.

32In Librum beati Dionysii de Divinis Nominibus expositio, bk 4, lect. 11 (Turin, 1950), p. 148; In 3 Sent. d. 2, q. 1., a. 1.

33Compendium theologiae, #201.

34De Perfectione Vitae Spiritualis, Opuscula theologica 2 (Turin, 1954), p. 116.

35 See 0. Pesch, "Um den Plan der Summa Theologiae des hl. Thomas von Aquin," in Thomas von Aquin ed. K. Bernath (Darmstadt, 1978) 1, p. 128f.; A. Patfoort, "L'unité de Ia Pars et le mouvement interne de la Somme théologique de s. Thomas d'Aquin," Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 47 (1963): 514f.

36 Y. Congar, "Tradition et sacra doctrina chez Saint Thomas d'Aquin," in Thomas d'Aquin: Sa vision de théologie et de l'église (London, 1964) 2, p. 164.

37 M. Seckler, Das Heil in der Geschichte (Munich, 1964), p. 35.; see Otto Pesch, Thomas von Aquin. Grenze und Grösse einer mitelalterlichen Theologie: Eine Einführung (Mainz, 1988), p. 390f.

38 Congar, "Traditio et sacra doctrina," p. 162.

39 G. Lafont, Structures et méthode dans la Somme théologique de Saint Thomas d'Aquin (Paris, 1961), p. 435.

40 "The prologue to the first part of the Second Part in the ST—a passage which begins the entire Second Part—recalls intentionally the anthropology of the First Part (q. 93), the human being made in the image of God" (Y. Congar, "Le sens de 'l'économie' salutaire de S. Thomas d'Aquin [Somme theologique]," in Glaube und Geschichte 2, ed. E. Iserloh [Baden-Baden, 1957], p. 105).

41 Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, p. 86.

42 Grabmann, Introduction to the Summa, p. 139.

43De Potentia (Turin, 1949), 4, 1, p. 104.

44Miscellanea 1, 75 cited in Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, p. 259.

45The Sermon-Conferences of St. Thomas Aquinas on the Apostles' Creed, ed. N. Ayo (Notre Dame, Ind., 1988), 4, p. 51.

46Principium Fratris Thomae de Commendatione et Partitione Sacrae Scripturae, p. 439.

47 Ibid., 443.

48 On Aquinas and Scripture, see Torrell, Initiation á saint Thomas d'Aquin, p. 49f.

49 "Prologus," Super Epistolas S. Pauli lectura (Turin, 1953), 1, p. 3, Super Epistolam ad Romanos lectura (Turin, 1953) p. 116f. "Roughly speaking, the Summa contains three sections wherein there is a direct elaboration of Holy Scripture: of Genesis, in the treatise on creation (Ia Pars, qq. 65-74), of the books on the Law … (I-IIa, qq. 98-105), and finally of the gospels in the treatise on the life of Christ (IIIa Pars, qq. 27-59)" (Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, p. 259).

50 Pesch, Thomas von Aquin, p. 88.

51 Aquinas at the beginning of a commentary might generally expound its structure in terms of the four Aristotelian causes, but Henri de Lubac also points to his use of an ancient theological triad of shadow, image, and true reality ("Le 'Nouveauté' de Saint Thomas," Exégèse médiévale II [Paris, 1964], p. 286f.).

52 See B. Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1983). "Just as Aristotelianism refused to dissect soul from body, so it refused a dichotomy between the spirit and the letter. The spiritual sense was not to be studied separately from the literal as if it were superimposed, but through and in the literal" (R. Brown, The "Sensus Plenior" of Sacred Scripture [Baltimore, 1955], p. 61); see P. Benoit, Inspiration in the Bible (New York, 1965).

53Super Evangelium S. Matthaei Lectura [3:1] (Turin, 1951), ch. 3, lect. 1, p. 171.

54Super Epistolam Primam ad Corinthios Lectura [5: 1] (Turin, 1953), ch. 15, lect. 1, p. 405.

55 M. A. Reyero, Thomas von Aquin als Exeget (Einsiedeln, 1971), p. 247f.

56 "Preface," In Psalmos, Opera Omnia 6, p. 48.

57Super Evangelium S. Johannis Lectura [21: 6], c. 21, lect. 6 (Turin, 1952), p. 488.

58 Pesch, Thomas von Aquin, p. 345.

59 See W. G. M. B. Valkenberg, Did Not Our Heart Burn! Place and Function of Holy Scripture in the Theology of Aquinas (Utrecht, 1990). Ceslaus Spicq's opinion was that in textual criticism and its theory Aquinas was inferior to some of his contemporaries, and that his subjections of the biblical text to countless, logical divisions can appear excessive ("Thomas d'Aquin," Dictionnaire de théologie catholique [Paris, 1946], 15:1, 708).

60 "By the very fact of being a cause, a being has a certain likeness to God" (SCG 3, 75).

61De Spiritualibus Creaturis 1, q. 10, ad 16 in Quaestiones Disputatae 2 (Turin, 1911), p. 1, 411.

62SCG 3, 70. "If… [God] communicates to others his likeness in terms of being it would follow that he would give a likeness in terms of action, so that created things would have their proper actions" (SCG 3, 69).

63 Thomas Aquinas, a sermnon for the Second Sunday of Advent, cited in Chenu, St Thomas d'Aquin, p. 74.

64 Sertillanges, Saint Thomas Aquinas and His Work, p. 37.

65 Cf. Y. Congar, "Le moment 'économique' et le moment 'ontologique' dans la sacra doctrina," in Mélanges offerts à M. D. Chenu (Paris, 1967), p. 135f. U. Horst, "Uber die Frage einer heilsökonomischen Theologie bei Thomas von Aquin," in Thomas von Aquin, ed. K. Bernath, 1, p. 373f. "Thomas sees the ordo salutis in a radical way as salvation-history: salvation is realized in an event, and too, every event between heaven and earth is either salvation-history or its opposite" (M. Seckler, Das Heil in der Geschichte [Munich, 1964], p. 121).

66 Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, p. 309.

67 Ibid., 319.

68 Lafont, Structures et méthode, p. 483.

69 Patfoort, Saint Thomas d'Aquin, p. 87.

70 E. Schillebeekx, "Salut, Redemption et Émancipation," Problemi di Teologia, Tommaso d'Aquino nelsuo settimo centenario 4 (Naples, 1974), p. 276.

71 O. Pesch and A. Peters, Einführung in die Lehre von Gnade und Rechtfertigung (Darmstadt, 1981), p. 79.

72 For the axiom, "to the one doing what is within his powers God gives grace," compare the interpretation in the Commentary on the Sentences (II Sent. 5, 2, 2, 28, 1, 4) with that of the ST (I-II, 109, 6) which teaches that any act leading to or deepening grace is itself possible only under the influence of grace.

73 Lafont, Structures et méthode, p. 469.

74 A. D. Sertillanges, Saint Thomas d'Aquin (Paris, 1925) 2, p. 327.

75 Chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, p. 167f.

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