Summa Theologiae 1.1.4

Article 4: “Whether Sacred Doctrine is One Science?”

The fourth article takes us deeper still, asking what kind of science is sacred doctrine, to which Aquinas answers that it is first and foremost speculative, contemplative, or theoretical rather than practical. Again, this is more Greek than Hebraic. On the other hand, Thomas reveals something of his own perspectivalism or ability to see something in multiple ways at once when he says that sacred doctrine is nevertheless concerned with human action, but that it is concerned with human actions “inasmuch as man is ordained by them to the perfect knowledge of God.” What Thomas is saying is that there are two different ways of looking at human action, just as there are really two ways of looking at anything. One way is to look at human action as it exists in itself, as an effort that human beings undertake to realize or achieve some immediately desired end. On the other hand, we can look at human actions insofar as they are ultimately oriented towards the realization of human nature as such, which is the knowledge of and union with God. It is in this latter sense that Thomas says sacred doctrine concerns itself with human action. Here we get a particularly good example of how Thomas’s mind works: there are always a number of different ways in which you can look at the same problem, and what differentiates a good from a bad thinker is one’s ability to keep these different ways distinct and not to confuse them, but also to hold them together without exclusion. This, moreover, is where many of the objections Thomas responds to in each of these articles go astray: they will latch onto some valid insight into something and then misapply it, failing to make a crucial distinction. Think of Thomas as a good conceptual butcher: he’s always trying to cut and carve between the “joints” of reality that God has placed there.

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