This is part of an ongoing series in which I read and interpret Thomas Aquinas’s SUMMA THEOLOGICA for butt joke aficionados. See this post for more information.
How is everyone? It’s been a while. Actually, I have several of these posts written, but I’ve been forgetting to post them.
Sorry about that! I’ve just been super busy prepping my novel (Ophelia, Alive! Tell all your friends! Buy 57 copies!) for its impending May 3rd release. Anyway, let’s get to it!
THIRD ARTICLE [I, Q. 1, Art. 3]
Whether Sacred Doctrine is One Science?
Is theology one single field, or is it just a random collection of thoughts about God, the universe, and everything?
To a modern reader this (like much of the Summa!) might seem like a hair-splitting sort of how-many-angels-can-dance-on-the-head-of-a-pin question. To the medieval mind, though, this sort of issue is important because knowledge was regarded as a single, unified structure — and such a structure needed a solid foundation to stay standing. If the foundation — theology — was divided against itself, the structure couldn’t stand.
We’re all postmodernists now, so we conceive of “knowledge” in much more relativistic terms (we mostly know this, we kinda know that). At least, I think we probably do.
Objection 1: It seems that sacred doctrine is not one science; for according to the Philosopher (Poster. i) “that science is one which treats only of one class of subjects.” But the creator and the creature, both of whom are treated of in sacred doctrine, cannot be grouped together under one class of subjects. Therefore sacred doctrine is not one science.
In case you were wondering, “the Philosopher” is pretty much always Aristotle (what, you mean there are other philosophers?), and Aristotle liked to put things in boxes. If a science treats of “one subject,” that means theology can’t be a single science since it deals with both Creator and creature. You post-structualists in the crowd will recognize that this is silly, since what constitutes “one subject” is entirely arbitrary. Are addition and multiplication the same thing, or are they different? Depends on how you want to think. Likewise, you can’t have a Creator without having a creature. So, more hair-splitting, right?
Obj. 2: Further, in sacred doctrine we treat of angels, corporeal creatures and human morality. But these belong to separate philosophical sciences. Therefore sacred doctrine cannot be one science.
My objection to this objection is that, as far as I can tell, it’s the same objection we just dealt with, but re-worded.
On the contrary, Holy Scripture speaks of it as one science: “Wisdom gave him the knowledge [scientiam] of holy things” (Wis. 10:10).
So, Aquinas says Scripture (this is the Wisdom of Solomon, another Apocryphal book) says it’s one science, so it must be one science.
Cool. We’re done here, right? No? Okay, fine.
I answer that, Sacred doctrine is one science. The unity of a faculty or habit is to be gauged by its object, not indeed, in its material aspect, but as regards the precise formality under which it is an object. For example, man, ass, stone agree in the one precise formality of being colored; and color is the formal object of sight.
I had to read this pair of sentences several times before I really got what Aquinas was saying, but I think I understand it now. The point is that a group of objects might be considered the same thing in one context but considered different things in another (this is starting to sound almost postmodern…hmm).
His example is a simple one, but it works: a man, an ass (lol, ass), and a stone are obviously different in many ways, but they’re all similar in the sense that they possess color. You might study men in sociology, and asses in proctology, and stones in geology, but you can study them all in optics because they all reflect light.
Therefore, because Sacred Scripture considers things precisely under the formality of being divinely revealed, whatever has been divinely revealed possesses the one precise formality of the object of this science; and therefore is included under sacred doctrine as under one science.
So, there it is. Just like a man and an ass (lololololol) and a stone can all possess color, Creator and creature both have certain things about them revealed in Scripture, which means in the context of theology they are “one class of subjects.”
So there you have it. Aquinas, rejecting your hair-splitting, contrary to his reputation.
Reply Obj. 1: Sacred doctrine does not treat of God and creatures equally, but of God primarily, and of creatures only so far as they are referable to God as their beginning or end. Hence the unity of this science is not impaired.
So, for instance: Optics might be concerned with the color of your ass (lololololololololol), but is ultimately only concerned about your ass insofar as your ass reflects light; if you want to learn more about asses, you have to take your ass somewhere else.
In the same way, theology is only concerned about creature insofar as he/she/it relates to Creator. In the context of theology, we can discuss why Trump really (reeeeeeaaaaaallllly) needs to ask God for forgiveness, but we’d have to talk to a proctologist to find out exactly how big of an ass he is.
I’m going to keep milking this ass joke, by the way. (LOL, “milking ass.”)
Reply Obj. 2: Nothing prevents inferior faculties or habits from being differentiated by something which falls under a higher faculty or habit as well; because the higher faculty or habit regards the object in its more universal formality, as the object of common sense is whatever affects the senses, including, therefore, whatever is visible or audible. Hence the common sense, although one faculty, extends to all the objects of the five senses.
You probably learned in kindergarten that you have five senses. Aristotle was the first to point this out (he was actually wrong about it, but whatever). So, good job developing kindergarten curriculum, Aristotle. You friggin’ genius.
“Common sense” — a phrase that’s been abused beyond all recognition in the last three millennia — originally meant the ability to use your five senses in tandem to perceive things as they are. So “common sense” is actually one science which transcends the lower sciences of sight, taste, touch, etc. — and therefore, it’s possible for the higher sciences to treat the subjects of the lower sciences.
The above-mentioned ass is a good example. I can see your ass. I can smell your ass. I can taste your ass. But it’s my common sense that tells me it’s all one beautiful ass.
Similarly, objects which are the subject-matter of different philosophical sciences can yet be treated of by this one single sacred science under one aspect precisely so far as they can be included in revelation. So that in this way, sacred doctrine bears, as it were, the stamp of the divine science which is one and simple, yet extends to everything.
So, while your ass might properly belong to the field of biology, we can also talk about it in the context of theology insofar as we talk about what’s been divinely revealed about it. For instance, we can talk about how I shouldn’t covet it.
That’s it for this week. Stay theological, my friends.