Question 3 is a short piece on the exterior act of faith, “confession.”  My comments will also be brief.

In Article 2, St. Thomas indicates that every believer would be obliged to speak his faith in certain circumstances, namely when the honor of God or a neighbor’s need require it.  This, he says, is because the act of faith should be directed by the double love of God and neighbor.  But he also comments that not everyone is equally obliged:  those who are by office teachers of the faith are more often obliged to speak their faith—to “confess.”

This seems to show that, in St. Thomas’s mind, “doing theology” in the classroom or in the lecture hall is in fact an exterior act of faith, a “confession.”  And this conclusion fits with his reasoning in Article 1, where he says that confession is an act of faith because speech is intended to express outwardly our interior concepts; the same can be said of teaching or writing theology.

Of course, I’m sure one could do a falsely academic kind of theology in which the teacher divorces what he is saying from his interior convictions, but the trend of these blog posts would be to question whether that activity is “theology” in any but a remote sense of the word.

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ST II-II.2.10

In Article 10, St. Thomas explains, to the great relief of the theologian, that learning about the reasons behind our faith does not diminish faith’s merit—not necessarily, that is. But I want to pull out one point from his argument:

Cum enim homo habet promptam voluntatem ad credendum, diligit veritatem creditam, et super ea excogitat et amplectitur si quas rationes ad hoc invenire potest. Et quantum ad hoc ratio humana non excludit meritum fidei, sed est signum maioris meriti, sicut etiam passio consequens in virtutibus moralibus est signum promptioris voluntatis, ut supra dictum est.

Here St. Thomas asserts the experience of every real theologian, namely that when you have a particularly powerful faith, when you desire nothing more than to submit your mind to God’s truth, precisely then do you love the truth you believe and therefore desire to delve into it. This seems to mean that when faith follows the impulse that is precisely its own, then people “do theology”—seeking the reasons for what is believed, the connections between articles, and so on.

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ST II-II.2.8

Article 9, on whether the act of faith is meritorious, has a particular consolation for the theologian.  St. Thomas says that not only the assent of faith but also the very decision to consider the things of faith can be meritorious:  “doing theology” can be a saving deed!

But in this post I want to focus on St. Thomas’s reply to the third objection.  He says this:

Ad tertium dicendum quod ille qui credit habet sufficiens inductivum ad credendum, inducitur enim auctoritate divinae doctrinae miraculis confirmatae, et, quod plus est, interiori instinctu Dei invitantis. Unde non leviter credit. Tamen non habet sufficiens inductivum ad sciendum. Et ideo non tollitur ratio meriti.

In other words, the one who believes does so reasonably, because there are legitimate reasons to believe, including miracles, and he is urged on by the “interior instinct of God inviting.”  And yet the one who believes does not have the kind of evidence that would allow him to see the truth for himself.

There are two sides to note here.  On the one hand, faith brings reason along to the conclusion that is most reasonable, and this is so true that failure to believe is blameworthy.  The evidence in favor of faith is so probable that it becomes in fact unreasonable not to believe.  To put it another way, faith perfects reason by carrying it further in its own direction than it was capable of going by itself.

On the other hand, the evidence in favor of faith is never more than probable, and so the act of faith is one that closes the gap between mere probability and certitude:  what I can see for myself gets me to probability, and then a graced decision of my will leads me to hold these things with absolute certainty.  It can be frustrating that faith is never a “light” in the sense of offering deductive vision.  But precisely because it requires this decision, the act of faith is something beautiful and good—something meritorious, something of eternal worth.

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ST II-II-2-6 and 7: Blog delay

I have delayed blogging for a while now because I did not know how to approach ST II-II.2.7-8.  These articles pose a question (“Is explicit faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation necessary for salvation?”) with an obvious answer (“Yes, but there are odd situations to account for) and then get into distinctions (man before the fall, man after the fall, heathen in the remote isles, etc., etc.).

My difficult has been that I disagree with St. Thomas’s position on people before the Incarnation.  He follows St. Augustine in saying that the maiores in Old Testament times had explicit knowledge about the Incarnation and the Trinity.  He reasons that you can’t understand the Incarnation without understanding the Trinity, and the Old Testament saints must have known about the Incarnation or else they wouldn’t have prefigured Christ’s passion by certain sacrifices.  Now that last statement is just false:  the spiritual meaning of things in the Old Testament does not depend on any human being intending it; this is in fact how the spiritual meaning of Scripture differs from the literal sense according to St. Thomas’s own account.

Of course, there are other interesting reasons why someone might say that Moses or David had explicit knowledge of the Incarnation or the Trinity, and I have complex reasons for denying it, but it’s a kind of tar baby:  once I begin writing on that, I don’t know when I’ll stop.  So after turning it over, I decided not to begin.

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ST II-II.2.6

In Article 6, St. Thomas asks whether everyone is equally bound to have explicit faith to the same extent.  His response reminds me of the opening verses of the Revelation:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw.  Blessed is he who reads aloud the words of the prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written therein; for the time is near.

The revelation is handed down through a chain of messengers:  God to Jesus to an angel to John to the one reading aloud to the one who hears.  (It drives me CRAZY that there are six and not seven members of this chain—but I digress.)  St. Thomas takes this as true of revelation in general, that it comes from God through angels to men and through them to other men, as though flowing down from the mountaintop to the plains—St. Thomas’s own metaphor for revelation in his inaugural homily Rigans montes.

This way of seeing revelation makes faith a necessarily ecclesial thing.  It can never just be simply private, because if I am one of the minores then I am bound to others by my need of their instruction, while if I am one of the maiores then I am bound to others by a duty of teaching them.  And as St. Thomas makes clear in his reply to the third objection, my teaching of others can never just be my own thing, a promulgation of my own ideas, because those I instruct should find in me a reliable witness to the word of God; the stream toward the bottom of the mountain must get its waters from higher up the slopes.

In his parallel treatment in the commentary on the Sentences, St. Thomas makes clear that the maiores include priests, prophets, teachers, and preachers.  For the purposes of our present project, I want to emphasize that this list includes theologians, whose work is therefore necessarily ecclesial.  There is no such thing as a merely private theologian.  This seems significant in our quest to define theology.

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ST II-II.2.5

Having argued that faith is necessary for salvation, in Article 5 St. Thomas asks whether it is necessary to have explicit faith in something.  Could you just be ready and willing to believe?  To put the question another way, is it enough to embrace the formal object of faith or do you have to have a material object as well?

Either way you put the question, the answer is obvious.  As I observed in an earlier post, you can’t actually separate out the formal and material objects, as though they were actually different objects:  they are formal and material principles of one reality.  You only hear the Voice of Truth when he says something.  And the evidence of Scripture is overwhelming that belief in something concrete is needed.

But St. Thomas uses the occasion of the question to rehearse a distinction he made before.  He says that the object of faith per se is that which makes one blessed.  He hearkens back to ST II-II.1.1, where he first made the formal/material object distinction:  in that Article, he argued that God is not only the formal but also the material object of faith, because all the other things we believe “only fall under faith’s assent insofar as they are ordered to God, namely insofar as certain effects of the divinity aid man in tending toward the enjoyment of God.”  And he made the same distinction again in ST II-II.1.6:  “Faith principally concerns those things which we hope to see in our heavenly home, in accordance with Hebrews 11:1, ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for”; for this reason, those things which directly order us to eternal life pertain per se to faith, such as the three persons of the omnipotent God, the Incarnation of Christ, and things like this.”

Faith, St. Thomas seem to be saying, really is the life of heaven begun here on earth, the beatific vision in seed.  God speaks only to draw us to himself and give himself to us, and anything else is secondary.

With this distinction, St. Thomas lays out a hierarchy in the objects of faith.  The very central object of faith is the Trinity, the vision of which will make us blessed in heaven.  Closely tied to this central object are those things that directly bring us to it, such as the Incarnation.  And then on the periphery are all those things that in some way manifest the central objects of faith, like the fact that Abraham had two sons or that Israel came out of Egypt.

These reflections on faith undergird St. Thomas’s famous claim that theology is a science.  In ST I.1.2, he distinguishes between sciences that proceed from principles known by the light of reason, such as geometry, and sciences that proceed from principles that they get from a higher science, like the way the science of perspective proceeds from principles that it gets from geometry.  He concludes that theology is a science in the second sense, “because it proceeds from the principles known by the light of a higher science, which is the science of God and of the blessed.”  The first principles of theology, which are the revealed mysteries of faith, are a sharing in what the blessed know in heaven.  This is the same claim as the one made in ST II-II.1.2, ST II-II.1.6, and ST II-II.2.5, and it has the same implications about a hierarchy of topics.


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