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Sacra Sapientia

The relationship between theology and philosophy is a perennial locus of discussion in theology. This page consists of selected quotations from theologians of the past who offer guidance in the reception and crafting of natural knowledge for the sake of shedding what light may be shed upon the mysteries of the faith.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Those … who use philosophy in sacred doctrine can err in two ways. In one way by making use of teachings that are contrary to the faith, which consequently do not belong to philosophy but are a corruption and abuse of it […] In another way by including the contents of faith within the bounds of philosophy, as would happen should somebody decide to believe nothing but what could be established by philosophy.  On the contrary, philosophy should be brought within the bounds of faith, as the Apostle says in 2 Corinthians 10:5: ‘We … take every thought captive to obey Christ.’ (Expositio super librum Boethii de Trinitate, Q. 2, a. 3)

John Case (†1600)

So, in my estimation, he who combines the two [i.e., philosophy and theology], so that each serves and assists the other, acts no less rightly and wisely than the man who makes a ring from shining gold and a precious jewel. For just as the gold detracts naught from the gem’s dignity, albeit it is less costly, so human philosophy does not obscure divine philosophy, no matter how much less light and lauds it might possess. That which is customarily objected and obtruded against us at this point is vain, namely that we should not conjoin transitory things with the eternal, the false with the true, the uncertain with the necessary, the human with the divine. As if all the sciences do not flow and are not instilled into human hearts from God their source, like rain! (Speculum Moralium Quaestionum. Introductio)

Bartholomäus Keckermann (1572-1609)

There are two fonts or error [among those who engage] in disputation against Aristotle’s Ethical teachings. The first font is that which judges moral good or civic beatitude and eternal beatitude to be opposed between themselves. I do not think these two should be opposed but set in their proper order [sub ordinata]; neither should one make Ethics about the greatest good absolutely and simpliciter as one does in Theology, but concerning the good secundum quid, and with respect to society in this life. The other font of error is that which does not distinguish between Ethics and Theology and to such a degree they confuse spiritual good and moral good, the external good [honestam] life with internal piety. (Systema Ethica. Praecognita, XIII.)

John Davenant, bishop of Salisbury (1572-1641)

Philosophy is abused when it opposes its own principles, which are true in the order of nature, to theological principles, which are far above the order of nature. For example; it is true, that out of nothing, nothing can be made; it is true that dissimilar species cannot be predicated of each other, and cannot unite in the same subject; it is true there is no return from privation to possession: but all these things are to be understood accordint to the course of nature and the power of a finite agent. Philosophers therefore err, when they think that they can hence conclude against the creation of the world, the incarnation of God, and the resurrection of the dead; all which the Scriptures teach as done, or to be done, not by virtue of natural causes, but by the Almighty power of God. Here, therefore, that rule of Aquinas … is to be retained, “Theology can never contradict true natural reason, but often rises above it, and thus appears to appose it.” For true reason does not affirm that those superior things cannot be effected absolutely; but cannot be effected by any finite power; and this theology likewise confesses. (Exposition of Colossians, p. 394)

Francis Rous (1579-1659)

Having then so absolute, both a Patterne and a Teacher, let us boldly frame the character of our heavenly Scribe, to the shape both of this chiefe Doctor, and of his Doctrine. Accordingly wee will commend to our Scribe things both new and old (but the old first, because they are first) and after him who is Truth, will lay downe this true position; That toward the making of a learned Scribe, there is a great advantage to be gained by the gathering of old things into his treasurie. The Scribe that wil be learned, may be a gatherer of old things; and so let him be. Let him gather into his treasurie the things of Nature, yea gather a stock of them, and lay them up for his use, when he comes to the new. Let him know in a competent measure what is to be found abroad in the old Creation; yea, let him learne what is copied out of it by art and industrie, to serve him in the things of Regeneration: and if in this search he meet with the learning of the Aegyptians, he may carrie their jewels into his treasurie. Let an Heathen Logician or Philosopher, be his Gibeonite to cleave wood, and to draw water for his service in the Sanctuarie. Let the one divide, define, and order; and the other draw secrets from the depths of Nature, to serve the Lords servants in the Tabernacle. Let the precept and patternes of vertues, gathered from their doctrines and stories, serve for spurs and incentives to grace, to goe beyond the effects of Nature; and for exprobrations when shee doth it not. And let the languages both of the Unbeleever, and Mis-beleever, serve for keyes to open to new men, those mysteries which the old men see not, neither doe open to themselves, though the keies be in their hands (The Heavenly Academie, 4-6).

More to come…

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