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. Tomorrow is election day, so that’s kind of horrible. Y’know what’s not horrible, though? More Summa! And also, the fact that no matter what horrible things happen in government, God is still in control and God is still good. Like, for instance, he gave us such eternal pillars of theological truth as St. Thomas Aquinas. So let’s get to it!
I, Q. 1, Art. 7:
Whether God Is the Object of This Science?
This week, we’re looking at whether theology studies God. Apparently.
Good; let’s get this over with and hit the links.
Objection 1: It seems that God is not the object of this science. For in every science, the nature of its object is presupposed. But this science cannot presuppose the essence of God, for Damascene says (De Fide Orth. i, iv): “It is impossible to define the essence of God.” Therefore God is not the object of this science.
To engage in a science, you have to presuppose the essence of its subject, says Aquinas.
To really talk about this, we’ll have to define the word essence as Aristotle defined it. Essence refers to the necessary attributes of a thing — in other words, the attributes that make a thing what it is. So, for a chair to be a chair, it has to be a manmade piece of furniture, designed for people to sit on (probably with a back, since most people consider a chair to be different from a stool) — those are its essence. It doesn’t have to be any specific material or size or color — Aristotle called those things “accidents.” I call Katy Perry’s career an accident, but that’s just me.
Anyway. If you and I are going to talk about geology — the “study of the earth” — that means we first have to agree on what the earth is. What makes “the earth” “the earth”? In other words, we have to know the essence of the earth.
But — and this is a big but (teehee) — Damascene says it’s impossible to define God’s essence. This makes sense, since God transcends everything else in existence. God “exists” in a way that nothing else can be said to exist. He doesn’t have an essence in the same sense that a chair does. This complicates things.
Obj. 2: Further, whatever conclusions are reached in any science must be comprehended under the object of the science. But in Holy Writ we reach conclusions not only concerning God, but concerning many other things, such as creatures and human morality. Therefore God is not the object of this science.
This objection is pretty straightforward: theology teaches us not just about God, but about other things, too.
But then, what science really teaches us about only one thing? Oceanography doesn’t just teach us about the ocean, it teaches us about dolphins, too. And studying fashion teaches us about why Katy Perry probably gets dressed in the dark.
On the contrary, The object of the science is that of which it principally treats. But in this science, the treatment is mainly about God; for it is called theology, as treating of God. Therefore God is the object of this science.
So: “theology” is mainly about God, so, duh, theology studies God.
Are we done here?
No? Ugh, fine…
I answer that, God is the object of this science. The relation between a science and its object is the same as that between a habit or faculty and its object. Now properly speaking, the object of a faculty or habit is the thing under the aspect of which all things are referred to that faculty or habit, as man and stone are referred to the faculty of sight in that they are colored. Hence colored things are the proper objects of sight.
So. A dude or a rock are not exclusively the object of sight, but they are objects of sight insofar as you can see them. They’re objects of other things as well — kicking, throwing through windows, putting in delicious soups — but in at least one sense, they can be said to be objects of sight.
But in sacred science, all things are treated of under the aspect of God: either because they are God Himself or because they refer to God as their beginning and end. Hence it follows that God is in very truth the object of this science. This is clear also from the principles of this science, namely, the articles of faith, for faith is about God. The object of the principles and of the whole science must be the same, since the whole science is contained virtually in its principles.
In other words, since everything we talk about in theology we talk about with respect to God, God can still be said to be the object of theology. This makes sense. Oceanography teaches us about dolphins, but not zebras, except for drowning ones.
Some, however, looking to what is treated of in this science, and not to the aspect under which it is treated, have asserted the object of this science to be something other than God — that is, either things and signs; or the works of salvation; of the whole Christ, as the head and members. Of all these things, in truth, we treat this science, but so far as they have reference to God.
So — yes, theology is also about morality, and history, and angels, and demons, and other stuff, but only insofar as their aspects intersect with our knowledge of God. The object that defines theology is God. So, yeah.
Reply Obj. 1: Although we cannot know in what consists the essence of God, nevertheless in this science we make use of His effects, either of nature or of grace, in place of a definition, in regard to whatever is treated of in this science concerning God; even as in some philosophical sciences we demonstrate something about a cause from its effect, by taking the effect in place of a definition of the cause.
Atomic physicists or molecular biologists will appreciate this: sometimes you have to studying something that can’t be directly observed, and you have to do so by studying its effects. Subatomic particles are one obvious example — they’re too small to see, but we can observe them indirectly by studying their effects. In one of the more awesome sciences, we do this by crashing them into other stuff.
Same thing with God. Unlike a subatomic particle, God is too enormous to comprehend, but we can study his effects in history, Scripture, nature, etc. So, while God’s “essence” is difficult to capture in its entirety, we can look at God’s effects and work backwards.
Reply Obj. 2: Whatever other conclusions are reached in this sacred science are comprehended under God, not as parts or species or accidents but as in some way related to Him.
We talk about other stuff in addition to God because you can’t study anything in isolation. You can’t study squirrels without learning about nuts, too.
See you next week.