Article 6 brings to a kind of culmination the line of reasoning in the previous articles. Having argued that the formal object of faith is the first Truth (1) and then drawn the immediate corollary that faith only concerns the true (2), St. Thomas then turns to consider the object of faith from the point of view of its recipients. He notes that, in contrast to the supreme simplicity of the first Truth in itself, the human mode of knowing involves complexity, dividing and uniting things (3). That’s a general truth about human knowing. But when it comes to faith, the more specific thing to say on the side of the recipient is that we do not see for ourselves the truth of what is revealed (4 and 5). Every single one of these points comes together in the single synthetic statement that the object of faith is divided and combined into articles concerning the first Truth based on different ways of being not seen (6). The key language occurs once in the body of the article and then more clearly in the reply to the second objection:
Est autem obiectum fidei aliquid non visum circa divina, ut supra dictum est. Et ideo ubi occurrit aliquid speciali ratione non visum, ibi est specialis articulus
Ad secundum dicendum quod ratio formalis obiecti fidei potest accipi dupliciter. Uno modo, ex parte ipsius rei creditae. Et sic ratio formalis omnium credibilium est una, scilicet veritas prima. Et ex hac parte articuli non distinguuntur. Alio modo potest accipi formalis ratio credibilium ex parte nostra. Et sic ratio formalis credibilis est ut sit non visum. Et ex hac parte articuli fidei distinguuntur, ut visum est.
Although it is obvious that we don’t see for ourselves the truth of what we accept on faith, it may sound strange to speak “not seen” as what is formal in the object of faith. The defining element in the resurrection is “not seen”? The defining element in the mystical body is “not seen”? Let me put St. Thomas’s point in everyday language.
I take a lot of things on faith because my wife said so. Every time I do that, one could give two answers to why I do it:
Q: Why do I accept on faith anything said about colors or matching clothes?
A: Because my wife would never lie to me, and because I am partially colorblind.
Q: Why do I accept on faith that the kids did such-and-such last Tuesday?
A: Because my wife would never lie to me, and because I wasn’t there.
Q: Why do I accept on faith that women think like this or that?
A: Because my wife would never lie to me, and because I have no experience of being a woman.
In every case, there is a single, positive answer on the side of the one revealing: my wife would never lie to me. And in every case, there is a different, negative answer on the side of the one believing: because there is some particular reason I can’t see this for myself.
The same holds true of supernatural faith. For everything I believe, I can give two answers for why I believe. Positively and on the side of the one revealing, I say it is because the revealer is Truth itself; negatively and on the side of the one believing, I say it is because there is some particular reason I cannot see this truth for myself. And on the negative side, the answers are diverse: the reason I cannot understand the Trinity is not exactly the same as the reason I cannot understand a dead man rising to life. There are different obstacles, different weaknesses, which impel me to reliance on the first Truth, the formal object of faith.
Of course, nothing of what my wife reveals is in itself beyond the capacity of the human mind. It just so happens that my eyeballs are defective, that I wasn’t there on Tuesday, and that I am not a woman, but there is nothing inherently unknowable about what she tells me. But with supernatural faith, the reason I cannot understand what is revealed is because the thing is in itself beyond the powers of any created mind; that is to say, it is inherently supernatural.
Let me try to boil St. Thomas’s entire argument in Article 6 down to a pithy statement: the formal object of faith is mystery, and so the content of the faith is formally divided according to mysteriousness.
It is not hard to see that this has consequences for theology. To begin with, although the arrangement of the parts of theology will be according to the connections between the positive content of the articles, the distinctions between the parts will be according to specific ways of exceeding the created mind. And these two factors may sometimes be in tension.
But further, my experience has been that it is important in every area of theology to arrive at some account of why it is mysterious. The next best thing to understanding is to understand why you don’t understand. Studying a particular mystery, we can get wrapped up in pushing our understanding further and further and miss that it is crucial, defining in fact, to get at why our understanding must fall short in this instance.