ST II-II.1.2

Having emphasized in Article 1 that the formal object of faith is not a bunch of things said but God himself, in Article 2 St. Thomas balances this fact with the principle that everything received is received in the mode of the receiver.  It is a common-sense idea: if a seal is pressed on water, the water will retain its shape only while the seal is present; if the seal is pressed on wax, the wax will retain its shape even after the seal is gone; if the seal is pressed on metal, the shape of the seal will not be received at all.  And along the same lines, if a truth is perceived with the eye then it will be received in one way; if it is received in the mind then it is received in another way; if it were received in the mind of an angel then it would be received in still another way.  So despite the fact that God in himself is entirely uncomposed and unutterable, nonetheless faith receives its object the way a human mind can.

The way of knowing natural of humans St. Thomas describes as “joining and dividing truth.”  We know single realities like “tree” and “green,” and then we join them in affirmations:  “The tree is green.”  We divide them in negations:  “The tree is not an animal.”  And we can combine affirmations and negations to form arguments, and arguments to form elaborate chains of reasoning, and so on.  Language itself is based on this process of dividing and combining our multiple apprehensions of the truth.

Consequently, faith is necessarily bound up with the use of language.  We have the creed, for example, and before that the Scriptures themselves.  God’s revelation comes to us in a way appropriate to us, and our response of faith takes the same form.

When in ST I.1.8 St. Thomas takes up the question of whether Sacred Doctrine uses arguments, he does not appeal to this principle that everything is received in the mode of the receiver.  And yet the point made here in ST II-II.1.2 clearly underlies the fact that theology uses argument:  Precisely because faith operates by combining and dividing, faith also operates with arguments.  Again, it appears that theology is what happens when faith follows its own inclinations.

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Author: Dr. Holmes

Dr. Jeremy Holmes teaches Theology at Wyoming Catholic College. He lives in Wyoming with his wife, Jacinta, and their eight children.

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