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.
Hey guys. It’s been a while.
I had kind of stopped doing this because I didn’t think anyone was reading it, but several people have asked me what happened to it, so I thought I’d pick it up again. And also, judging from the presidential election going on, we’re all desperately in need of some wisdom right now.
If you’re new, here’s the pitch: I’m reading through Summa Theologica, the theological opus by 13th-century philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, offering my thoughts, and inserting butt jokes.
I’m not a trained theologian or philosopher, so I’m explicating strictly as a layman. I am, however, an expert on butt jokes.
Let’s get started.
I, Q. 1, Art. 6:
Whether This Doctrine Is the Same as Wisdom?
The question is this: is “sacred doctrine” interchangeable with “wisdom”? The New Atheists among us will say, “Duh, no,” and then talk for ten minutes about the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I don’t think Aquinas is likely to be on their side, but then again, their fedoras are cooler than his stupid tonsure. So they might have a point.
Objection 1: It seems that this doctrine is not the same as wisdom. For no doctrine which borrows its principles is worthy of the name wisdom; seeing that the wise man directs, and is not directed (Metaph. i). But this doctrine borrows its principles. Therefore this science is not wisdom.
So, the objection says, since theology borrows its principles from philosophy, it’s not a “primary” source of knowledge, and therefore can’t be considered wisdom. Possible rebuttal: everything borrows its principles from philosophy.
Obj. 2: Further, it is a part of wisdom to prove the principles of other sciences. Hence it is called the chief of sciences, as is clear in Ethic. vi. But this doctrine does not prove the principles of other sciences. Therefore it is not the same as wisdom.
Theology, says Aquinas’s hypothetical objector, can’t be considered wisdom because you can’t use it to prove the principles of other sciences. This would obviously be news to Ken Ham.
Obj. 3: Further, this doctrine is acquired by study, whereas wisdom is acquired by God’s inspiration; so that it is numbered among the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isa. 11:2). Therefore this doctrine is not the same as wisdom.
The verse in Isaiah here reads, “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding.” A literal reading of that might lead you to think that God can make you wise in an instant. And I guess He could, but that’s not usually how He operates. And considering how many people out there have terrible, terrible theology because they haven’t bothered to study the discipline, we have to assume the Wisdom granted in this verse is somehow distinct from sacred doctrine.
On the contrary, It is written (Deut. 4:6): “This is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of nations.”
So, Moses says this stuff is wisdom. And he’s referring to his own teachings in this verse. And if anyone ought to know whether the teachings of Moses are wise, it’s Moses himself. Right? Nobody knows Moses like Moses.
And you know you can trust him on this, because Moses was the humblest man on the face of the earth. And you know you can trust that assessment because Moses said it himself.
I answer that, This doctrine is wisdom above all human wisdom; not merely in any one order, but absolutely. For since it is the part of a wise man to arrange and to judge, and since lesser matters should be judged in light of some higher principle, he is said to be wise in any one order who considers the highest principle in this order: thus in the order of building, he who plans the form of the house is called wise and architect, in opposition to the inferior laborers who trim the wood and make ready the stones: “As a wise architect, I have laid the foundation” (1 Cor. 3:10).
And…Karl Marx just rolled over in his grave.
Aquinas here responds to the charge that theology isn’t the highest human wisdom (that title goes to philosophy) by arguing that it actually transcends human wisdom. The wisdom of God is higher than the wisdom of man, just as the wisdom of the architect is higher than the wisdom of the “inferior laborers.” At least until they seize the means of production.
Again, in the order of all human life, the prudent man is called wise, inasmuch as he directs his acts to a fitting end: “Wisdom is prudence to a man” (Prov. 10:23). Therefore he who considers absolutely the highest cause of the whole universe, namely God, is most of all called wise. Hence wisdom is said to be knowledge of divine things, as Augustine says (De Trin. xii, 14).
Wisdom, says Aquinas, consists of understanding causality (“If I work hard today, I will be taken care of tomorrow,” etc.), and what higher cause is there than God? You can’t go back much further than the Unmoved Mover.
But sacred doctrine essentially treats of God viewed as the highest cause — not only so far as He can be known through creatures just as philosophers knew Him — “That which is know of God is manifest in them” (Rom. 1:19) — but also as far as He is known to Himself alone and revealed to others. Hence sacred doctrine is especially called wisdom.
In brief, sacred doctrine is wisdom not only because it studies wisdom, but also because it studies the source of all wisdom.
So, it’s, like, meta-wisdom.
Reply Obj. 1: Sacred doctrine derives its principles not from any human knowledge, but from the divine knowledge, through which, as through the highest wisdom, all our knowledge is set in order.
So, Aquinas says, sacred doctrine derives its principles not from philosophy, but through direct revelation from God. This should make all his cranky Calvinist critics happy, right?
Nah, you’re right — Calvinists are never happy.
Reply Obj. 2: The principles of other sciences either are evident and cannot be proved, or are proved by natural reason through some other science. But the knowledge proper to this science comes through revelation and not through natural reason. Therefore it has no concern to prove the principles of other sciences, but only to judge of them. Whatsoever is found in other sciences contrary to any truth of this science must be condemned as false: “Destroying the counsels and every height that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor. 10:4,5).
So, says Aquinas, theology can’t be used to prove the principles of other sciences, but it can — and should — be used to judge them. So, again, meta-wisdom. Maybe Aquinas and Ken Ham would get along after all.
Reply Obj. 3: Since judgment appertains to wisdom, the twofold manner of judging produces twofold wisdom. A man may judge in one way by inclination, as whoever has the habit of a virtue judges rightly of what concerns that virtue by his very inclination towards it. Hence it is the virtuous man, as we read, who is the measure and rule of human acts. In another way, by knowledge, just as a man learned in moral science might be able to judge rightly about virtuous acts, though he had not the virtue.
This is something too many thinkers of the last century or two have been blind to: that behavior doesn’t always (or even usually) proceed from beliefs. The person who behaves morally and the person who has studied morality are only occasionally the same person. A lot of contemporary psychology confirms this.
The first manner of judging divine things belongs to that wisdom which is set down among the gifts of the Holy Ghost: “The spiritual man judgeth all things” (1 Cor. 2:15). And Dionysius says (Div. Nom. ii): “Hierotheus is taught not by mere learning, but by experience of divine things.” The second manner of judging belongs to this doctrine which is acquired by study, though its principles are obtained by revelation.
Aquinas says that the Holy Spirit is what gives people the ability to behave morally, but that study of Scripture is what gives people knowledge of what is moral and what is not. So the wisdom of study complements the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, in the same way (to borrow an analogy from C.S. Lewis) the study of a map complements the science of navigation.
Or, like, the way that the science of butt jokes serves you when you encounter an actual butt.
More next week! Maybe!