ST II-II.1.1, part 4

While St. Thomas distinguishes between the formal object of faith and the material object of faith, it is important to keep in mind that form and matter are two principles or aspects of one thing:  there is only one object of faith, namely God’s revelation.  One way of getting at St. Thomas’s point is to see that faith does not have access to the speaker apart from what is spoken; faith does not come to God apart from God’s revealing himself.  What I have called the “first moment” of faith, when one comes to realize the presence of a Voice, happens in the context of hearing a message.  When the message is finally heard for what it truly is, namely “not as the words of men, but as the word of God at work in you who believe,” then faith perceives the speaker in the message (formal object) and trusts the message of the speaker (material object).

When St. Thomas turns from faith’s formal object (the speaker) to faith’s material object (what is spoken), he continues to emphasize the unity of faith’s formal and material objects.  Speakers speak for some reason; in the case, he claims, the speaker only says things in order to draw the listener to himself.  Here’s one way to translate the key sentence:

[Things other than God] only fall under faith’s assent insofar as they have some ordering to God, namely insofar as certain of the divinity’s effects help man to progress toward the enjoyment of God.

In ST I.1.3, St. Thomas puts it a little differently:

Sacred Doctrine does not deal with God and with creatures equally, but deals with God principally and with creatures according as they relate to God as to a principle or to an end.

He speaks similarly in ST I.1.7:

In Sacred Doctrine, everything is handled under the notion of God, either because they are God himself or because they have an ordering to God as to a principle or to an end.

In these texts St. Thomas says that God only speaks of creatures according as they relate to him, which is either as coming from him or as going to him.  This is the most fundamental way of speaking about things, namely in terms of their ultimate cause, but that doesn’t seem to be St. Thomas’s focus.  Rather, he seems to argue that God speaks in order to draw his creatures to himself, and as a result creatures are only interesting insofar as they relate to God.

The division between the formal and material object of faith and theology has a consequence for the division of theology.  In ST I.1.7, St. Thomas notes:

But some, paying attention to what is deal with in this science and not to the aspect under which they are considered, have designated the subject of this science variously as “signs and things,” or “the works of reparation,” or “the whole Christ, that is, head and members.”

He refers to Hugh of St. Victor, Robert Grossteste, and others.  As Cardinal Ratzinger points out, the contrast St. Thomas raises between theology about God and theology about the “works of reparation” is the ancient division between “theology” and “economy”:  in some of the fathers, “theology” means something about God in himself, while everything about God’s external works is subsumed under the name “economy”—sometimes today one hears reference to the “economy of salvation.”

St. Thomas does not deny that faith or theology is about these other things; he does not say that Hugh of St. Victor is dealing “economy” and not “theology.”  Rather, he finds a place for both under the one name “theology,” but with a certain order.  This tends to confirm the second intuition I began with, namely that the word “theology” will turn out to have multiple analogous meanings in a certain order.

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ST II-II.1.1, part 3

When St. Thomas gets down to saying what the “formal object” of faith is, he says it is the “first Truth.”  To put his distinction in other terms, the material object of faith is a bunch of things said while the formal object of faith is the one speaking; the material object is a bunch of truths, while the formal object is Truth himself speaking.  Every truth in the world is true by participating in that one Truth, and so when this one Truth speaks then its words are unavoidably true.

In the Gospel of John there is a scene when the disciples are fishing:

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.”  He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish.  That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

All the disciples heard the same words, “Cast the net…and you will find some.”  But these were simply words to them; they did not know that these were words of the very Word of God.  But there came a moment of recognition:  “It is the Lord!”  And at that moment, the words of this figure on the shore were accepted, “not as the words of men, but as they truly are, the word of God at work among you who believe” (1Thess 2:13).

This moment of recognition is the first moment of faith:  one cannot accept anything on God’s say-so without first realizing that it is God who speaks.  The next moment of faith is the acceptance of everything God has said as true because spoken by Truth himself.  In the first moment of faith we cry out, “It is the Lord!”  In the second moment of faith we say, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of everlasting life.”

In my past reading of St. Thomas, it has seemed to me that he deals more with the second moment of truth than with the first.  When he speaks of “believing,” he is thinking of someone who is already in dialogue with Truth-who-speaks.  But in my conversations with people today, it seems that people most often think of “believing” as that moment when the varied and more or less confused words of men, the tortured witness of history, and the pressures of life suddenly come into focus around a single Voice.  This difference in emphasis, it seems to me, plays out in terms of a particular emphasis in contemporary theology—but more on that idea later.

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ST II-II.1.1, part 2 – side note

Long before he wrote the Summa, St. Thomas treated of the question “whether the first truth is the object of faith” in his commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences, (Bk. 3, Distinction 24, Question 3, Article 1).  Each of the objections and the sed contra of his Summa article is parallel in content to an objection or sed contra in the Sentences commentary.  The parallels are not so verbally close as to suggest that St. Thomas had the text of his Sentences commentary in front of him while he wrote the Summa article, but strong enough to argue that he was somewhat consistent over time in how he dealt with the question.

In my last post, I pointed out that St. Thomas illustrates the formal/material object distinction with geometry when he is talking about faith and with sight when he is talking about Sacred Doctrine.  As I noted, this is surprising:  since geometry is a science, one would expect him to use that as an example for Sacred Doctrine, which he also argues is a science; and since Scripture uses sight as a metaphor for faith, one would expect the sight metaphor to come up in connection with faith.

The unexpected switch is all the more interesting because St. Thomas uses the sight example to illustrate the formal/material object distinction when he deals with faith in the Sentences commentary.  In other words, in his earlier work he did what one would expect; in his later work, despite using some of the same objections and the same quotation in the sed contra, he changed the example he uses from sight to geometry.  I wish I knew what he had in mind!

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ST II-II.1.1, Part 2

As I walk through the text of ST II-II.1.1, I will use the comparison chart from last post to track ST I.1.3 as well.  I’ll begin with the Respondeo and then return to the objections as I look at the replies.

The first thing to notice is how St. Thomas defines his topic.  In the first line of the Respondeo, he says that faith is a habitus, a stable disposition; out of the tremendous range of realities one might call a habitus, he identifies faith as a cognitive habitus, that is, a stable disposition to know something.  Then he notes that the way to define a cognitive habitus is to specify what it disposes one to know, that is, the “object.”  The rest of the Respondeo is devoted to that project.

So ST II-II.1.1 is a step toward saying precisely what faith is:  the highest genus is habitus, the species is cognitive, and the last specific difference is the object.  This is a simple unpacking of the comparisons we find in Scripture.  In John 9 we find an elaborate comparison of faith with the power of seeing:  sight is a power, and specifically a cognitive power, and most specifically the cognitive power of knowing what light reveals.  When Jesus speaks a parable, he often concludes by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”  And in the book of Revelation, Christ says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches!”  The ear houses a power, and specifically a cognitive power, and most specifically the power of knowing sound.

St. Thomas goes on to distinguish between the material object and the formal object of a cognitive habitus.  Although sight allows me to know trees and cars and birds, the exact thing sight does is allow me to know colored things; if the colors come together one way, I know a tree, and if they come together another way then I know a car, yet seeing a car and seeing a tree are not two ways of knowing but one.  And although hearing allows me to know the words “bubble” and “splendid” as well as the timbre of a trumpet, the exact thing hearing does is allow me to know sound; if the sounds are formed one way then I hear the word “bubble,” and if the sounds are formed another way then I hear the trumpet’s tone, yet hearing a word and hearing a trumpet are not two ways of knowing but one.

Given that faith is biblically described as a power of sight while St. Thomas argues that Sacred Doctrine is a science, one would expect him to use sight as an example for faith and geometry as an example for Sacred Doctrine.  But to illustrate his point about material and formal objects, he uses geometry as an example for faith and sight as an example for Sacred Doctrine!  A strange choice, but it further emphasizes the close connection between the two Summa articles.

In geometry, the way of knowing is through definitions.  If I know what a triangle is, and by knowing what a triangle is I come to know the Pythagorean theorem, that is geometry:  the definition of a triangle is what St. Thomas calls the media demonstrationis, and it in the light of the definition that I know the conclusion.  I could of course come to know the Pythagorean theorem by measuring lots and lots of triangles until I was convinced through experience that they always turn out this particular way, but in that case I would not have the cognitive habitus of geometry.  I would know the same material object—the Pythagorean theorem—but the formal object would be different.  Similarly one can know a lot of things by reason or experiment that are also revealed in Scripture, but the formal object—the defining difference of the cognitive habitus at work—is different in the two cases.

At this point, St. Thomas gets down to business by specifying exactly what is the formal object of faith.  But I’ll take up that up in the next post.

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What Is Theology – ST II-II.1, Part 1

In St. Thomas’s treatment of faith in the Secunda secundae of the Summa theologiae, the first question he takes up is “Whether the object of faith is the first truth.”  Before I walk through the text of the article, I want to point out that this article is almost point by point parallel to Question 1 Article 3 of the Prima pars, which asks “whether Sacred Doctrine is one science.”  Article 7 of that same question, “Whether God is the subject of Sacred Doctrine,” follows the exact same set of ideas.  These parallels seem to support my initial intuition that a careful account of faith will lead directly to a careful account of theology:

ST II-II.1.1 – On the object of faith ST I.1.3 – On the unity of Sacred Doctrine
Videtur quod obiectum fidei non sit veritas prima. Illud enim videtur esse obiectum fidei quod nobis proponitur ad credendum. Sed non solum proponuntur nobis ad credendum ea quae pertinent ad divinitatem, quae est veritas prima; sed etiam ea quae pertinent ad humanitatem Christi et Ecclesiae sacramenta et creaturarum conditionem. Ergo non solum veritas prima est fidei obiectum. Videtur quod sacra doctrina non sit una scientia. Quia secundum philosophum in I Poster., una scientia est quae est unius generis subiecti. Creator autem et creatura, de quibus in sacra doctrina tractatur, non continentur sub uno genere subiecti. Ergo sacra doctrina non est una scientia.
Praeterea, fides et infidelitas sunt circa idem, cum sint opposita. Sed circa omnia quae in sacra Scriptura continentur potest esse infidelitas, quidquid enim horum homo negaverit, infidelis reputatur. Ergo etiam fides est circa omnia quae in sacra Scriptura continentur. Sed ibi multa continentur de hominibus et de aliis rebus creatis. Ergo obiectum fidei non solum est veritas prima, sed etiam veritas creata. Praeterea, in sacra doctrina tractatur de Angelis, de creaturis corporalibus, de moribus hominum. Huiusmodi autem ad diversas scientias philosophicas pertinent. Igitur sacra doctrina non est una scientia.
Praeterea, fides caritati condividitur, ut supra dictum est. Sed caritate non solum diligimus Deum, qui est summa bonitas, sed etiam diligimus proximum. Ergo fidei obiectum non est solum veritas prima.  
Sed contra est quod Dionysius dicit, VII cap. de Div. Nom., quod fides est circa simplicem et semper existentem veritatem. Haec autem est veritas prima. Ergo obiectum fidei est veritas prima. Sed contra est quod sacra Scriptura de ea loquitur sicut de una scientia, dicitur enim Sap. X, dedit illi scientiam sanctorum.
Respondeo dicendum quod cuiuslibet cognoscitivi habitus obiectum duo habet, scilicet id quod materialiter cognoscitur, quod est sicut materiale obiectum; et id per quod cognoscitur, quod est formalis ratio obiecti. Sicut in scientia geometriae materialiter scita sunt conclusiones; formalis vero ratio sciendi sunt media demonstrationis, per quae conclusiones cognoscuntur. Respondeo dicendum sacram doctrinam unam scientiam esse. Est enim unitas potentiae et habitus consideranda secundum obiectum, non quidem materialiter, sed secundum rationem formalem obiecti, puta homo, asinus et lapis conveniunt in una formali ratione colorati, quod est obiectum visus.
Sic igitur in fide, si consideremus formalem rationem obiecti, nihil est aliud quam veritas prima, non enim fides de qua loquimur assentit alicui nisi quia est a Deo revelatum; unde ipsi veritati divinae innititur tanquam medio. Si vero consideremus materialiter ea quibus fides assentit, non solum est ipse Deus, sed etiam multa alia. Quae tamen sub assensu fidei non cadunt nisi secundum quod habent aliquem ordinem ad Deum, prout scilicet per aliquos divinitatis effectus homo adiuvatur ad tendendum in divinam fruitionem. Et ideo etiam ex hac parte obiectum fidei est quodammodo veritas prima, inquantum nihil cadit sub fide nisi in ordine ad Deum, sicut etiam obiectum medicinae est sanitas, quia nihil medicina considerat nisi in ordine ad sanitatem. Quia igitur sacra Scriptura considerat aliqua secundum quod sunt divinitus revelata, secundum quod dictum est, omnia quaecumque sunt divinitus revelabilia, communicant in una ratione formali obiecti huius scientiae. Et ideo comprehenduntur sub sacra doctrina sicut sub scientia una.
Ad primum ergo dicendum quod ea quae pertinent ad humanitatem Christi et ad sacramenta Ecclesiae vel ad quascumque creaturas cadunt sub fide inquantum per haec ordinamur ad Deum. Et eis etiam assentimus propter divinam veritatem. Ad primum ergo dicendum quod sacra doctrina non determinat de Deo et de creaturis ex aequo, sed de Deo principaliter, et de creaturis secundum quod referuntur ad Deum, ut ad principium vel finem. Unde unitas scientiae non impeditur.
Et similiter dicendum est ad secundum, de omnibus illis quae in sacra Scriptura traduntur. Ad secundum dicendum quod nihil prohibet inferiores potentias vel habitus diversificari circa illas materias, quae communiter cadunt sub una potentia vel habitu superiori, quia superior potentia vel habitus respicit obiectum sub universaliori ratione formali. Sicut obiectum sensus communis est sensibile, quod comprehendit sub se visibile et audibile, unde sensus communis, cum sit una potentia, extendit se ad omnia obiecta quinque sensuum. Et similiter ea quae in diversis scientiis philosophicis tractantur, potest sacra doctrina, una existens, considerare sub una ratione, inquantum scilicet sunt divinitus revelabilia, ut sic sacra doctrina sit velut quaedam impressio divinae scientiae, quae est una et simplex omnium.
Ad tertium dicendum quod etiam caritas diligit proximum propter Deum; et sic obiectum eius proprie est ipse Deus, ut infra dicetur.  

I am going to use the above table as the basis for the next several blog posts.  If you intend to follow this series of posts and you need me to switch to using an English translation of Aquinas, please let me know.  I don’t habitually look at English texts or translate Thomas’s Latin, so I won’t make the effort if no one out there needs it.

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What Is Theology? – Introduction

Over the past two years, I have grown increasingly dissatisfied with my own inability to articulate clearly what theology is.  In conversation with colleagues, I find that I give various accounts depending on the context, and that I have never sat down to the hard labor of unifying all my thoughts into a single, coherent view.  For the sake of my friends who have been or intend to be my partners in exploring the question, I would like to keep notes on this blog along the way to finding clarity.

I enter the question with two basic intuitions.  First, I think that theology is what happens when faith gets to follow its inclinations.  That is to say, fides quarens intellectum—“faith seeking understanding”—is a pretty good nominal definition of theology, and corresponds to what faith wants:  faith is by its nature not at rest but seeking, and by the very nature of faith the object it seeks is understanding.  So the key to arriving at a careful account of theology is to begin with a careful account of faith.

The second intuition is that “theology” has more than one meaning.  In general, one never finds “the” meaning of a word:  any given word has multiple, analogous meanings.  So the goal should not be to find the one true meaning of “theology,” but to discover the various meanings of the word “theology” and put them in order.  Some meaning of “theology” will be primary, another secondary, and so on, each being a true and legitimate meaning of the word.

Because I have not had an occasion to read it before, I would like to begin by walking through St. Thomas Aquinas’s account of faith in the Secunda secundae of the Summa theologiae.  But that will be its own post.

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