- Knowledge and Faıth in Thomas Aquinas by John I. Jenkins
There is a strong tension in the thought of Thomas Aquinas. On the one hand, he is strongly naturalist. He insists that our cognition is rooted in sense-perception and that [End Page 673] it is normally reliable. He insists that our moral life is grounded in our nature both as physical beings, able to feel pain and pleasure, and as social beings, depending on each other for our welfare. But he is also strongly supernaturalist. Human nature by virtue of its cognitive orientation toward the physical is not able through its own powers to know God. Still less is human nature able to achieve moral virtue by its own powers. This is not just because we are cut off from God by original sin; rather, there is a primal lack that was there even before the Fall. To achieve our true end, both cognitive and moral, we depend on God’s free gift of grace which elevates our nature and renders it able both to know God through the beatific vision in Heaven and to respond to God through loving, virtuous action. The gift of faith becomes central to human nature and destiny in a way that was to worry later thinkers such as Duns Scotus, who pertinently asked how our intellect can have the ultimate end of knowing God if it has to be made a different intellect before it achieves that end.
Jenkins does not worry about the point raised by Scotus. Instead, he sets out to give an interpretation of the Summa theologiae which will help us understand more deeply the interplay between the natural and the supernatural in Aquinas. He begins by taking advantage of new readings of Aristode’s Posterior Analytics which present Aristode’s account of the demonstration which moves from cause to effect, not just as a pedagogic device for presenting material obtained by moving from effect to cause, but as a recipe for cognitive restructuring. Certainly we have to begin with mere observation, and with the piecemeal discovery of causes, but to achieve true scıentia (to use the medieval Latin term for organized, necessary knowledge) we need to acquire a new vision of how reality is structured and to see how effects flow necessarily from their causes. True demonstration is an expression of this new vision. Jenkins applies this reading of Aristotle to Aquinas. He takes with absolute seriousness Aquinas’s claim at the beginning of the Summa theologıae that theology too is an Aristotelian scientıa, and he sees the work as presenting a recipe for the cognitive restructuring of apprentice theologians (those to whom the work is addressed).
The scientıa of the Summa theologiae differs from the scientia of the Posterior Analytics in two ways. First, Aquinas allows the term scientia to have an extended sense, so that God too can have scientia, even though he does not move from principles to conclusions by a process of syllogistic demonstration, but instead grasps all that is knowable in one simple act. Second, the basic principles which are the foundation of theological demonstration are the articles of faith, especially those of the creeds, which cannot be known by us in any naturalistic way. It is through God’s infused light that we assent to these articles as divinely revealed. After a lengthy examination of the role of faith in Aquinas’s account, Jenkins describes the epistemology involved as supernatural externalism.
Although Jenkins’s presentation of the relationship between scientıa and faith in the Summa is carefully and lucidly argued, there are two aspects of the book that I would question.
First, while it is true that Aquinas does present theology as an Aristotelian scientia, I doubt that this single fact “determines the purpose and structure of the Summa theologiae” (15) in any very detailed way. Jenkins further claims that the structure of the Summa is determined by the structure of God’s knowledge (220), but if God is truly [End...