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AQUINAS AND THEOLOGY1 Like the problem of philosophical knowledge, the problem of religious knowledge seems to be of perennial concern. One of the many significant aspects of this problem is the nature and place of theology. In the great synthesis achieved by Aquinas, theology is declared to be not only a science but the queen of all the sciences. As a science it is uncriticaUy assumed to achieve the perfection of science. Among the commentators ofAquinas there seems tobe a tendency to overemphasize this conception of theology as a science in the analysis that is given in the first question of the Summa Theologica. As a consequence there occurs an exaggeration of the AristoteUan element in this conception of theology and a tendency to overlook the strength of tradition and the influence of Plato and St. Augustine. In turn this leads too many commentators to a facile division of what constitutes philosophy and theology in the system of Aquinas. Yet such a division is not as clearly marked out as some commentators would have us believe. Like St. Augustine his iUustrious predecessor, whose authority is so often quoted in the Summa, Aquinas does not separate so precisely and neatly as one might imagine the fields of phüosophy and theology; nor are the subdivisions of these subjects marked with the precision we find in a Cursus Philosophicus Thomisticus. Finally, it is always difficult to discover the precise intentions of an author and doubly difficult in the case of Aquinas who rarely allows his personality to intrude upon the text. We beüeve, therefore that a closer and more careful analysis of some of the basic texts on the question of theology wUl reveal not only fundamental weaknesses in such a conception of theology as a science but will also point up the necessity of emphasizing or considering other aspects or approaches to the problem of theology in the Thomistic synthesis. First let us note the more general and explicit meanings that Aquinas gives to theology and to science. The term theology is used in two fundamentaUy distinct senses: first, in the sense ofwhat we could term natural or rational theology, but what Aquinas will designate as 'first philosophy'; second, in the sense of what his later commentators wiU designate as 1 This paper was presented as the Presidential Address, Southern Society for the Philosophy of Religion, on March 15, 1956. Aquinas and Theology203 dogmatic theology and what Aquinas himself refers to as sacred doctrine , the teachings of faith or simply Christian theology and 'things which have been divinely revealed.'2 The fundamental distinction is clearly brought out in the foUowing passage from Aquinas' exposition of the Trinity: "... the science of divine things must be considered in a twofold manner. One is according to our mode of knowledge, in which knowledge of sensible things serves as the principle for coming to a knowledge of divine; and it was in this way that the philosophers handed down a traditional science of divine things, calling first philosophy a divine science. The other mode is according to that of divine things themselves as they are understood in themselves. This is, indeed a mode of knowledge which we cannot possess perfectly in this life ; but there is for us, even in this life, a certain participation and assimilation to such a cognition of divine truth, inasmuch as through the faith which is infused into our souls we adhere to the very First Truth on account of Itself. And as God, since He knows Himself, knows in a way that is His own, that is, by simple intuition, not by discursive thought, so we, from those truths that we possess in adhering to First Truth, come to a knowledge of other truths, according to our own mode of cognition, namely, by proceeding from principles to conclusions. Wherefore, those truths that we hold in the first place by faith are for us, as it were first principles in this science, and the other truths to which we attain are quasi-conclusions. From this it is evident that this science is of a higher order than that which the philosophers traditionally termed divine, since it proceeds from higher...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 202-212
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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