The Scribe is a ‘gatherer of old things’

According to Francis Rous, Westminster Divine, the learned scribe must, as Jesus says, bring both old and new things out of his storehouse. Since the question of renaissance is one of my favorite themes, I couldn’t pass up another blog post on Rous. Of course, the perennial question for theologians is, what old things are there to gather, and from whose storehouse do we draw our influence? Rous answers that the learned Scribe must constantly be searching nature for old things like an archeologist or a treasure hunter searching, digging, and hoping to uncover something old. The old becomes new in the moment of recovery and restoration. If he happens upon other diggers who have worked to uncover the artifacts of the past, he should use their knowledge and even use their instruments of recovery. Let the Gibeonites draw water into the Temple.

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).

The true scribe is spurred on in search of Truth in every possible vessel because every vessel contains some of it. In this way he imitates the heavenly Scribe, who is his exemplar, and is able to become “all things to all men” as was St. Paul’s custom. So, let the scribe constantly confront what is new with the fresh eyes of ancient wisdom.

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St. Thomas: Faith Must Precede Reason

The Augustinianism of Thomas Aquinas is often neglected, partly because he does not go to great lengths to prove his theological pedigree – it is assumed in many places.  The following quote, in which Thomas is stating the errors into which one may fall while studying sacred doctrine, places him within the tradition of  fides quaerens intellectum:

[O]ne may err because in matters of faith he makes reason precede faith, instead of faith precede reason, as when someone is willing to believe only what he can discover by reason.  It should in fact be just the opposite.  Thus Hillary says: ‘Begin by believing, inquire, press forward, persevere.'” (Expositio super librum Boethii De trinitate, Q. 2, a.1, resp.)

John Calvin on the Studying of Greek Philosophers de Anima

I, indeed, agree that the things they [the philosophers] teach [about the soul] are true, not only enjoyable, but also profitable to learn, and skillfully assembled by them.  And I do not forbid those who are desirous of learning to study them. Therefore I admit in the first place that there are five senses, which Plato preferred to call organs, by which all objects are presented to common sense, as a sort of receptacle.  There follows fantasy, which distinguishes those things which have been apprehended by common sense; then reason, which embraces universal judgment; finally understanding, which in intent and quiet study contemplates what reason discursively ponders. Similarly, to understanding, reason, and fantasy (the three cognitive faculties of the soul) correspond three appetitive faculties: will, whose functions consist in striving after what understanding and reason present; the capacity for anger, which seizes upon what is offered to it by reason and fantasy; the capacity to desire inordinately, which apprehends what is set before it by fantasy and sense. (Institutes, I.XV.6.)

God’s Will as Moral First Principle

John Donnelly, in his book on Peter Martyr, refers to the Reformers’ moral theology as a system of “thou-shalt-nots” contrasted with Thomas’s system of moral virtue. Others have referred to the former theory of morals as divine command ethics.  This view is way too simplistic.  Sure, Calvin believed the ten commandments to have Christian pedagogical value, so did Luther and others.  Yet, Martyr did not reject but embraced Aristotle’s theory of virtues (with qualifications of course).  In fact their theologies are not much different from that of St. Thomas.  

As I have demonstrated in other posts Thomas saw a necessity for revealed divine law in the fact that original sin has corrupted man’s natural ability to direct his actions in a right order.  Pinckaers and others have rejected the notion that virtue is the center of Thomas’s moral theology.  If that were his view there would be little room for grace, an issue that spans a significant part of the Summa.  If virtue is not central to Thomas’s moral theory then does that mean the divine law is?  No.  I think it is fairly clear that God’s grace plays a central role for Thomas, although my point here is not to err by creating a center where none exists.  Many issues can be called central to his moral thought but one can be quite certain that grace and the divine law do play a significant role.  In commenting on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians Thomas notes three norms for living the just life:

There are three norms immanent in man by which he may be guided and regulated if he is to walk justly and make spiritual progress.  In man, one of these is the reason which judges about what is to be done in concrete circumstances.  Another is the understanding of universal principles, called synderesis; and thirdly, there is the divine law or God.  Actions are good and meritorious when the person is guided by these three in their proper interrelations; namely, when the action is in accord with the judgment of reason, and this reason judges according to true understanding, or synderesis; and this synderesis is, in turn, directed by the divine law.  (Commentary on Ephesians, pp. 174-5)    

(This is not an example of Pelagian moralism since Thomas has already established in his commentary the necessity of grace for justification).  Thomas continues to affirm that the Gentiles lack all three of these things saying, “This is traceable to their not sharing in the divine light, or not being enlightened and directed by the divine law.” (Ibid.) I find Thomas’s tone in withholding these three norms from the Gentiles very Augustinian but that is beside the point. For Thomas the divine law is made up of both the Old Law which “restrains the hand” and the New Law that “controls the mind.” (ST I-II, Q.91, a.5)  The divine law contains precepts and spiritual guidance. In fact, Thomas sees three conditions that this divine law includes:  it orders man to the common earthly and heavenly good, it directs human internal acts in righteousness, and it induces man to observe its commandments by causing fear and love.  Therefore, one of the main purposes of the divine law is to lead man to virtue. (ST I-II, Q.92, a.1) Thomas is still far from Pelagianism here since the New Law, which is contained in the divine law,  is the grace of the Holy Spirit within believers.  “… the New Law is chiefly the grace itself of the Holy Ghost, which is given to those who believe in Christ.” (ST I-II, Q.106, a.1)

So, Thomas does see a necessity for “though-shalt-nots” but not without the grace of the Holy Spirit.  It does seem, since he states that the divine law leads to virtue, that virtues are more important in Thomas’s moral theory than divine commands. Virtue may be the end of the divine law, but man cannot be truly virtuous without it.  Thomas states that man is only prudent who puts things in proper perspective. “Everyone who sets things in perspective considers their end; hence he is wise in an absolute sense who knows and acts for the universal end, God.” (Commentary on Ephesians, p. 211.)  How does one know how to act for this universal end of beatitude?  Thomas answers:

For just as speculative reason puts whatever is to be done in perspective and judges it – it is necessary to have conclusions and to judge them by principles – so likewise in the field of performance. Now the first principle through which we ought to judge and regulate everything is the will of God.  Hence the intellect, in moral matters and those which lead to God, must have the will of God for its principle.  If it does, then the intellect becomes prudent. (Ibid)

Therefore it is not true that Thomas’s moral theology is centered on virtue in opposition to “thou-shalt-nots” since he sees both virtue and the divine commands as necessary for right moral actions.  Whether the Reformers held to a high view of virtue is a different discussion.

Finding the Mean Between Vices

One huge area of interest for the Christian philosopher is that of the relationship between man’s natural practical reason and the virtues that he may acquire through his faculties and the supernatural virtues that no natural faculty can help to achieve but are, nonetheless, requirements for entry into the City of God.  Peter Martyr said that the mean between vices (which is the essence of virtue) may only be found by looking to the scriptures.  At first this idea seems like that of  a biblicist who seeks to do violence to nature in order to prove man’s need of the supernatural.  However, Martyr is a big fan of natural law (he calls it prolepseis) even saying, “we must always accept the view that ‘Reason always encourages one to better things.'” (Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, p. 286).  

How do we solve this dilemma?  Does Martyr contradict himself?  Can men find the mean by use of reason?  I think if we assume (a) that Christianity and pagan philosophy are incompatible or (b) that there is a dichotomy between reason and faith so that we must always make a choice between one or the other then we must conclude that he does contradict himself.  The person who holds to (a) would consider this good while the person holding to (b) would consider Martyr irrational.  

In order to answer these questions we must distinguish between (1) acquired and (2) inspired (or infused) virtues. The acquired virtues are worthless coram Deo while the inspired ones are made perfect by Christ’s righteousness.  No. (2) does not only consist of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity but also those that man can naturally acquire (but does not in this case) such as prudence, fortitude, and temperance.  The difference between the believer’s moral virtues and those of the unbeliever is that the former are directed to God while the others are directed at an infinite variety of earthly ends.

Therefore, Martyr says that Christian right reason seeks after the mean of (2) in the scriptures because they surpass natural reason and because the effects of sin have deemed man’s rational faculty unreliable.  I believe Martyr follows the basic structure that Martin Luther presents in his Lectures on Galatians to perfect Aristotle’s virtue theory with the more certain truth of the Christian faith.  Luther says that in theology “doing” has a different meaning than in morals:    

Thus it has a completely new meaning; it does indeed require right reason and a good will, but in a theological sense, not in a moral sense, which means that through the Word of the Gospel I know and believe that God sent His Son into the world to redeem us from sin and death.  Here ‘doing’ is a new thing, unknown to reason, to the philosophers, to the legalists, and to all men; for it is a ‘wisdom hidden in a mystery’ (1 Cor. 2:7).  In theology, therefore, ‘doing’ necessarily requires faith itself as a precondition […] a new reason must come into being, which is the reason of faith.  Therefore ‘doing’ is always understood in theology as doing with faith, so that doing with faith is another sphere and a new realm, so to speak, one that is different from moral doing. (Lectures on Galatians, pp. 262, 263)  

Thus in order to find the mean that counts as virtue coram Deo natural reason is not enough.  One must look to the supernatural wisdom, a reason of faith, found in the Holy Scriptures.  This is not the case of faith doing violence to natural reason, rather it is the case of faith perfecting natural reason by directing it toward its supernatural end in the vision of God.  Once faith has been found through the hearing of the word and the inspiration of the Spirit men can acquire virtues that apply both to the civil and spiritual realms through the use of right reason.

The Telos of the City of Man: The Effects of Sin on Natural Law

 

Tower of Babel

Now there was need for man to receive a precept about loving God and his neighbor, because in thus respect the natural law had become obscured on account of sin:  but not about the duty of loving oneself, because in this respect the natural law retained its vigor: or again, because love of oneself is contained in the love of God and of one’s neighbor:  since the true self-love consists in directing oneself to God. (ST I-II, Q. 100, a. 5.)

This is important since many think that Thomas considered the faculty of reason to be unaffected by original sin. Further, we must remember that the natural law does not consist of innate propositional knowledge per se but is a reflection of creation working in a certain order.  Animals seek to fulfill their own natural inclinations toward the ends for which they were created.  Humans seek to order the passions in accord with reason for the purpose of achieving happiness.  Complete natural law must be Christian; not because faith takes the place of natural knowledge, but because the natural man will never order his passions toward the true telos, which is God himself, without divine guidance.  Of course no one’s nature will be perfected until that final end has been fulfilled, and so not even a Christian will function according to a complete natural law.  That is why we need divine revelation.  

But, does this leave us saying that the natural man’s use of practical reason is the same as that of the Christian? Yes and no.  The two may look identical.  We both live in the City of Man, acquiring the virtues that pertain to that city, and we both make mistakes – horrible ones at that.  However, there is also the “no” part of the answer.  If Thomas believed there was a need for man to receive a precept for loving God and loving one’s neighbor and that this precept did not contradict natural liberty but somewhat restored it (not w/out his grace of course)  then it seems that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity function in some way to restore the natural law.  Thomas says that when Adam lost his original justice he also lost the ability to easily order his passions by the use of natural law – reason directing the will to the right end.  

Should we say that the supernatural virtues only count for the City of God and therefore do not perfect man’s behavior in the City of Man?  I definitely think we should avoid the idea that just because a society is Christian or that by Christianizing culture in its various forms it will be better than the city of the noble pagans.  Should we force the bluebirds to sing Gospel? or paint crosses on all the rocks and trees? Nature does not need our help to be Christian.  This is exactly my point.  Nature is perfected by grace, the natural law by the supernatural virtues. Ransom raised Mr. Bultitude (a bear) up to a higher level of being – he didn’t just paint a cross on his chest (I’m referring to That Hideous Strength).  A twisted nature needs grace both to heal and perfect. The City of Man will become the City of God from the inside out.  If the natural law within a person becomes more perfect by being directed to God, the true end of all things, then I believe it should be our hope that this participation in the New Jerusalem will produce supernatural effects within our earthly city.  The whole universe is being sharpened and brought to a point.  The telos for the City of God ends with the vision of his essence.  The telos for the City of Man and the “natural law” that governs it ends in nothingness. When Merlin asked Ransom if they could not, as a last resort, look to the noble heathen for help against that hideous strength Ransom shook his head, “You do not understand,” he said:  

The poison was brewed in the West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now.  However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds:  men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven.  You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light.  The shadow of the dark wing is over all Tellus. (C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, p. 290)

We should recognize the lineaments of man’s first abode that still remain in the City of Man but we should also be aware of its end and the goal of the reason of its citizen. 

The Authority of the Philosophers

Roger Olson says that Thomas used Aristotle as an authority in sacra doctrina. Though this is true there is a caveat that needs to be given for those with a natural distaste for philosophy and everything pagan. Philosophers can be called authoritative only when used contra gentiles. Thomas confirms:

Insofar as sacred doctrine uses philosophical teachings in its own interest, it does not welcome them because of the authority of their authors but on account of the reasonableness of what they say. What is well said it takes; the rest it rejects.  But when it uses them to refute other writers, it does so because they are accepted as authorities by those who are refuted, for the witness of opponents carries greater weight. (Expositio super librum Boethii de Trinitate, Q. 2, a. 3.)