"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

— A Commentary on the First Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Fifth article: whether sacred doctrine is nobler that the other sciences (cont)

Second doubt. How is it that sacred theology is nobler than the sciences from which it accepts anything? It accepts a number of principles from metaphysics and therefore seems to be inferior to it; as optics, accepting something from geometry, is inferior to this latter, as being a subalternate science.

In the reply to the second objection it is stated that sacred theology does not accept its principles from other sciences, for these principles are revealed by God; but it accepts from them a certain means for the better manifestation of revealed truths, and thus it makes use of these sciences as being inferior to it and ancillary. It makes use of them, indeed, not because of any defect on its part but on that of our intellect, which is more easily led by means of natural things to acquire a certain understanding of supernatural truths.

This reply is profound and contains several points worthy of note. If sacred theology were to accept its principles from metaphysics, it would be subordinated to this latter, as optics is to geometry. But it accepts them only as the means for the greater manifestation of the revealed truths.

Thus sacred theology makes use of the natural sciences in accordance with the proper meaning of the word "use." In the strict sense of the term, only the superior makes use of the inferior, that is, ordains the action of the inferior in co-operating with the superior's action, which is ordained to a higher end. Thus the writer uses his pen, the painter his brush, the general of the army his soldiers, the finer arts the inferior, as the art of navigation avails itself of the constructive art of shipbuilding. In like manner sacred theology, as the superior science, makes use of metaphysics as the inferior and the handmaid. Thus metaphysics, for instance, the metaphysics of Aristotle, serves a much higher end. The Aristotelian notion of predicamental relation, for instance, is for us instrumental in acquiring a certain knowledge of the Trinity. Aristotle could not for see so great an honor and glory for his metaphysics that it would serve the uses of the higher science of God. Thus metaphysics is not despised but is honored, just as that citizen is honored who is at the king's immediate disposal; for it is better to obey a king than to rule over a household, and this because of the high end in view for the attainment of which this collaboration is given.

Hence, as John of St. Thomas correctly observes, when sacred theology makes use of natural premises, a metaphysical truth, example, it makes use of this as a means. But a means, such a pen or brush, acts in virtue of the power transmitted to it by other, and is at the same time applied to its act and elevated by the motion of the principal agent, so as to produce an effect that transcends its own power. Thus by means of the motion imparted to the pen by the writer, it not only deposits the ink on the paperbut it writes something intelligible; and the brush not only puts the colors on the canvas, but arranges them most beautifully and artistically. In like manner, according to the navigator's instructions, the shipwright constructs a vessel that is seaworthy. So also sacred theology uses the natural premise taken, for instance, from metaphysics. It first approves of the premise for this purpose under the guidance of the divine light of revelation, at least negatively, according as this natural premise is not in opposition to what has been revealed. Then it makes use of this premise not only by a motion that applies the same to act but also by a motion that is instrumental in the attainment of its higher end. This end is a certain understanding of the supernatural mysteries either in themselves (if it is a case of an explicative process of reasoning), or as regards their consequences, corollaries (if it is a case of an illative process of reasoning). Therefore the theological conclusion thus obtained, although it has less certainty than a proposition of the faith, has more certainty than a natural premise as such, because it is deduced from this premise which has been elevated and clarified by a higher light. Thus also in this case, the instrument produces an effect that transcends its own power and it operates by way of disposing for the effect of the principal agent.

It must be noted that great doctors, such as St. Augustine, produced even with a most imperfect instrument, for instance, with Neoplatonic philosophy, a wonderful theological work. It was in his way that St. Augustine wrote his books on the Trinity. Thus great painters sometimes paint a beautiful picture with a most impcrfect brush. And besides, in these great doctors, faith, illuminated by the gifts of understanding and wisdom, makes up for thedeficiency of the instrument, or of philosophy.(57)

The philosophy, however, to which St. Thomas had recourse was more exact because Aristotle enunciated with great precision the philosophical notions and metaphysical principles, as Euclid did the elements of geometry. Thus St. Thomas excels in both kinds of wisdom, namely, acquired wisdom which is the result of the perfect functioning of reason, and infused wisdom which proceeds according to a connaturalness of judgment with things divine under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.(58)

In other words, a natural premise is in some way elevated , so as to manifest the supernatural order and it receives a somewhat greater certitude than it would have in its own right; for it is judged by faith and theology, corrected (if it needs to be) and approved by them. Thus St. Thomas in his treatise on the Trinity approves of and in some measure corrects the Aristotelian distinction between principle and cause, by showing that in the divine Persons the Father is the principle of the Son but not the cause. We have some evidence of this from experience. We are conscious of assenting with greater certainty to natural truths discovered by us, when we see that they have the approval of the leading doctors, especially when we see that they have divine confirmation and approval.

Even a natural premise which in itself would be only probable would not become certain by reason of its connection with a principle that is of faith, nor would it lead to a theologically certain conclusion; it would only be probable. But if it is certain in itself, it becomes more certain in proportion as it is clarified by a higher light. Thus the philosopher who already has metaphysical certainty of God's existence before he receives infused faith, is after its reception more certain of this truth, since infused faith confirms from on high this metaphysical certitude. These statements are true even for the strictly illative process of reasoning, and more so for the explicative process.

From what has been said it is evident that sacred theology is a science subordinated not to metaphysics but solely to the science possessed by God, and by the blessed; for, as regards its own intrinsic principles, it depends solely upon divine revelation. But theology from its exalted position makes use of natural principles as strangers to it, and it makes use of them not because of any deficiency in itself, but because of the deficiency of our intellect, which is incapable of knowing the truths that are implicitly and virtually contained in the revealed principles solely by the light of faith. Now the angelic intellect, since it is not discursive, does not thus stand in need of this additional natural knowledge so that it may have a certain understanding of supernatural mysteries. For the angel immediately sees the conclusion contained in the principles, the properties in the essence, and thus it immediately knows all the properties of man from the very concept of the human nature. Hence the angel, without any discursive process, immediately understands in this revealed truth, "The Word was made flesh," 59 what we deduce only by a slow process of reasoning.

It follows from this that the certitude of a strictly theological conclusion is less than the certitude of infused faith, but it is greater than the certitude of the natural sciences, even of metaphysics. The certitude of the theological conclusion improperly so called, of the conclusion that is obtained by the explicative process of reasoning, is less than the certitude of faith; but it acquires the certitude of faith, if by the special assistance of the Holy Spirit it is defined by the Church. Then it must be firmly accepted not because it has been proved by an explicative process of reasoning, but because "it hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost." (60)

Objection. The conclusion in a syllogism follows from the weaker premise. But the theological conclusion often results from a premise that is only naturally certain. Therefore then the conclusion is only naturally certain, for it follows from the weaker premise.

We reply with Gonet by distinguishing the major. If the premises equally influence the conclusion, then I concede the major; if one is the instrument of the other under the guidance of a higher light, then I deny it. I contradistinguish the minor: that the theological conclusion often results from a natural premise which is the instrument of another premise that is of faith, under the guidance of a higher light, this I concede; that this natural premise equally influences the conclusion, this I deny. And I deny the consequent and the consequence. Nevertheless, we may still say that the aforesaid
logical axiom is in some manner verified since the theological conclusion is not so certain as the premise that is of faith. For to a theological conclusion strictly so called we cannot firmly assent solely on the authority of God revealing, but we assent to it partly on the evidence of reason; although faith makes use of reason in the deduction of this new truth that is only virtually contained in revelation. Such is the case if the natural premise is the major rather than the minor.

Third doubt. Is theology an essentially supernatural habit? It is the common teaching of the Thomists that sacred theology is essentially or intrinsically a natural habit; infused faith, this being however, its extrinsic root, is essentially supernatural. Contenson disagreed with them on this point.

The reason is that theology is a habit acquired by human effort, that is, by natural acts of understanding which are acquired and not infused.(61) Moreover, the formal object quod of theology, which is God, specifies it only in that it underlies the formal object quo. And this formal object quo, or light, is not formal but virtual revelation, which means that it is the light of reason deducing from revelation the conclusions virtually contained in this latter. The object of theology is God not formally revealed but virtually revealed. Nevertheless the extrinsic root of theology is infused faith, and this is essentially supernatural as regards both formal objects quod and quo so that, as we said, with the removal of faith by formal heresy, we no longer have theology but merely its corpse, because there is wanting that formal connection between the ideas effected by the principles of faith.

Hence there are some theologians, like St. Bernard, who excel in faith, this being of a higher order and intense, and these are holier. Others, like Abelard, excel in dialectic, or in reason or the instrument of faith. There are some saints who have no knowledge of theology but they have great faith, which means that their lives are spent in a most profound contemplation of the mysteries of Christ; the faith of these is most intense and deep. On the other hand, there are many theologians whose faith is not so intense and profound, but they have a more extensive knowledge of what has been defined by the Church and of very many theological conclusions. The intensive increase of faith, however, is of more importance than its extensive increase.

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57. Cf. J. Maritain, Les degres du savoir, Part II, chap. 7.

58. Summa theol, IIa IIae, q.45, a.1 f.

59. John 1: 14.

60. Acts 15: 28.

61. See a.6 ad 3um.


"To think of oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more frail than yourself. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."

St Augustine

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"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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