Friday, June 23, 2006

Subjective Faith and the Value of Philosophy


What justification can we offer for the use of philosophy in theology? The objects of Christian faith are certainly the articles of the Creed, which are essentially summaries of the doctrines of revelation, materially identical to the sacred text. But the subject of faith is the created intellect, the very nature of which is to seek understanding. Since the articles of faith, in virtue of their supernatural character – even as revealed truths, are incomprehensible to the created intellect, the will, which is also the subject of faith, moves, by the same infused virtue, the intellect to assent to these mysteries. This movement of the intellect by the will, infused with the theological virtues of faith, hope and love, is the very definition of contemplation. Thus theology, because it is rational reflection on the object of faith, hope and love, is a contemplative act. The contemplative character of theology requires the application of cultivated reason. Philosophy is cultivated reason.

20 comments:

CrimsonCatholic said...

Good excerpt. I think that some of your opponents on the 3rd Millennium blog would disagree; you'll be fighting uphill on that one. Michael Liccione on the Pontifications blog (http://catholica.pontifications.net) has been trying to argue that their hostility to natural theology is unreasonable, but they seem immovable on the point.

Thomas said...

CrimsonCatholic,

Thanks. I did not expect such a strong reaction from them. I honestly wasn't attempting to "refute" their own position or even defend Western Trinitarian theology in general. I simply wanted to contradict an overly generalized and frankly idealized caricature of Thomas and a certain other Latin theologian.

dmartin said...

It seems to me that those guys on 3rd M revel in the idea of God not being knowable. They do tread a fine line between Christianity and Islam. You definitely see the influences of Eastern thought in their theology... and it this thinking that has kept them from seeing the necessity of philosophy and development.

lexorandi2 said...

I agree that philosophy is cultivated reason. But this simply begs the question of what should cultivate or form our reason.

Doug, your assertion that Eastern thought treads a fine line between Christianity and Islam surprises me. Surely you're not suggesting that there is something nascent within Eastern theology that ignited or contributed to the rise of Islamic thought, are you?

Thomas said...

Dr. D.,

The answer to that question, I believe, is: reality - both created and uncreated, intuited and revealed.

lexorandi2 said...

Which has priority? Intuited or revealed?

BTW - I just added your blog to my blog list.

Thomas said...

Dr. D.,

If by "priority" you mean what comes first, then my answer is two-fold. Ontologically, i.e. in the order of being, uncreated 'esse' comes first since it is the efficient and final cause of created being. Logically, i.e. in the order of intellection, created being comes first since it is the immediate object of natural intuition.

If your question concerns what comes first between the articles of faith (i.e. the mysteries) and what Thomas calls the 'preambula fidei' (certain philosophical truths presupposed by the articles of faith, such as the existence of God) then I think it depends upon what you encounter first: the revelation through faith or the demonstration through philosophy. For the vast majority it will be the former.

Also, because of the supernatural character of faith, it possesses a greater subjective certainty than the objects of knowledge.

Steve Blakemore said...

To add my two cents: The distinction between the order of being and order of knowing is a logical one, of course. They are distinct orders. However, existentially there is very little to the distinction, for reality is what we are presented with epistemologically, whether we speak of sensory perception, abstracting universals from particulars, or the revealed truth about God, nature, and our own existence. The Angelic Doctor would remind us that all truth is grounded in God's own act of being, albeit in different ways. And our knowing is a participation in pursuing truth. Hence, Aquinas's insistence that revelation carries reason beyond its frail limits, to a knowledge that reason is meant for (knowledge of God), but which it is too weak to acheive apart from grace.

dmartin said...

Dr. D, no I am not saying that Eastern theology lead to Islam in any way. What I am saying is that their are stark similarities. Such as the Eastern idea of God that I am reading on 3M.

Some of those guys act like Western philosophy and theology has lead to the perception that God in imminent, when in fact it leaves God as transcendent as the East believes Him to be.

Also, it seems as though they do not like Western philosophy, but they rely on it for the dialogue with Thomas, showing their need of it.

Eastern Christians, or at least the ones that I am reading on 3M, do have such great similarities in their idea of God being unknowable that one of the guys even defending himself preemptively from the charge of sounding Islamic. I think that is very telling. It sounds much like Paul when he defends himself from those who might charge God with being unjust for his view of predistination.

Maybe it seems as though I am laying a claim at the EC that should not be there, but from what I read from some of the guys on your list, it is warrantied.

I find it interesting that you suggest that modalism is somehow connected to Western Theology and particularly the RC, when in fact it has been mainly connected with Calvinistic theology, which you distanced modalism from.

lexorandi2 said...

Doug, I never suggested that modalism was a peculiar tendency in the RCC (though Rahner's theology definitely has modalistic elements, but that's beside the point). Nor did I ever exonerate Calvinism from the heresy. What I did say is that Western theology in general has modalistic tendencies due to following Augustine on the Trinity. And yes, I fully acknowledge that where this becomes most apparent is in Protestantism, particularly in Calvinism.

Thomas said...

Dr. D,

As someone who - to my own disadvantage - has avoided reading modern theologians (Protestant and Catholic), I find your judgment of Rahner confusing. Again, not that I know much about him, but his book on the Trinity seems to make some of the same criticisms of Aquinas and scholastic theology as has been made on your blog, esp. regarding the 'ordo theologiae'. He even advocates a return to the Cappadocian Fathers and their emphasis on the hypostases.

lexorandi2 said...

I was just reading Rahner's Foundations the other day and came across a particular passage that startled me. I'll go back and find it for posting.

lexorandi2 said...

Thomas, go HERE for an insightful article on Rahner's view of the Trinity.

lexorandi2 said...

Doug, I think you have things reversed. Plato, Plotinus and Aristotle are Greeks (read Eastern), as was Origen. The West relies on Eastern philosophy, not the East on Western.

But that's really beside the point. There are two general models of the Trinity, which I suggest cannot be reconciled: the Cappadocian and the Augustinian. The former represents the Trinitarianism that prevailed at Nicaea and Constantinople. Augustine's Trinity, while self-consciously attempting to be faithful to Nicaea, actually relies too heavily on Plotinus' neo-Platonist notion of the One, the Nous, and the Soul, and thus comes up short.

dmartin said...

Is this what the some of the others are arguing on 3M?

Tousha on the West borrowing from the East, but I just don't see the West rejecting Eastern thinking for the most part, at least not in the RC (Latin Rite, of course). Are there differences, sure, but I would expect there to be.

Honestly, I know enough about Platonism or Neo-Platonism ONLY to be dangerous. I think that I understand your distinction between Augustine and the Cappadocians. I remember Bray making this distinction and drawing us to some of the problems in Augustine's Trinitarian thoughts. It seemed as though his reasons tied into his (for lack of a better word) Protestant notions. I guess criticisms of Augustine's thinking can be made all the way around, except if your a Calvinist.

lexorandi2 said...

I had forgotten that you were at CTH when Bray came to lecture. Bray's Doctrine of God is a great book, and yes, he trumpets the virtues of Calvin's approach to the Trinity. However, he is not successful IMO in demonstrating that Calvin is much of an improvement over Augustine.

He is accurate and fair to the Cappadocians, but (for some reason) reluctant to give them a complete endorsement. Interestingly enough, he is at pains to criticize them for anything more that being overly abstract and philosophical (the same criticism he has for Aquinas and Anselm).

lexorandi2 said...

Hey Thomas,

I posted that Rahner quote I was telling you about over at my BLOG.

Blessings,
Dan

Thomas said...

Dr. D.,

I think Doug’s point is that the West has made more extensive use of Greek philosophy, certainly Aristotle, than the East. In a certain sense, some Hellenic traditions have been so adopted in the West as to become a characteristically Western way of thinking. The Orthodox universally associate scholasticism with the West and yet the Aristotelian roots of it are Greek.

Also, I wonder if Doug does not raise an interesting question. Is it not inevitable that we will employ ontological categories in our attempts to explicate the mysteries of faith. And if we simply qualify our speech by saying that God is beyond being, but then continue to use words like 'ousia, nature, unity, common' etc. - and presumably not in an equivocal sense since that would mean speaking nonsense - what role does the aforesaid qualification play that is any different than the same qualification made in the Thomistic doctrine of analogous speech?

lexorandi2 said...

I don't question the inevitability of employing ontological categories in explicating the faith. Nor do I reject the employment of such categories, especially those categories that are natural to the philosophical milieu. If I did then I'd have to write off "homoousias" or abandon the Nicene Creed altogether. What I question are the ordo and/or philosophical underpinnings from which we begin to theologize. For instance, it seem to me that Augustine's dependence on the neo-Platonic model of Nous, Mind, Soul to explicate the Trinity is not only blatant, it is also counter to the biblical/creedal paradigm, which begins with a confession of the concrete Persons who are worshipped prior to any consideration of the essence that is shared between them.

Thomas said...

Dr. D.,

It seems that acolyte4236 was arguing for an equivocation between the philosophical content of these terms and their theological meaning. He made that point when I commented on the use of philosophical language by Sacred Scripture and the Nicene Council precisely to counter my Thomistic natural theology and the theory of analogical predication.

If the decrees of Nicea speak unequivocally of God ‘ad intra’, then we have either a neo-pagan univocity or essentially Aquinas’s ‘anologia entis’. That is the gist of my whole argument against extreme Palamitism.