Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Torrell on Aquinas on immediacy

“This [much] is too clear to be open to debate, but one could draw the wrong conclusion from the fact that Thomas adds that 'among theologians . . . one adopts the contrary order, such that the consideration of the Creator precedes that of the creature'. There can be no question but that he thinks that the revelation made by God is presupposed to the work of the theologian, and that this knowledge can be taken as theological reflection's point of departure, in a manner analogous to the way in which one starts from creatures in metaphysical investigation. In fact Thomas thinks also that in the order of explication the mystery of God must be placed in [the] position of [the] supreme explicative reason from whom everything derives and to whom everything returns. . . . From this point of view, in contrast to that of metaphysics, the knowledge of God is of course the way of access to the knowledge of creation: the theologian projects onto the created world the light that he derives from revelation. [And] in this sense, [Thomas' theology] is a theology of 'descent' [(une théologie 'descendante')]. Yet one mistakes the intention of Thomas if from this one concludes that theology’s point of departure exempts [the theologian] from [the necessity] of appealing to sense experience. The descending process ‘in its pure state’ . . . took place on only one occasion: among the first addressees of revelation. The prophets and the apostles are the only ones to have received directly, ‘from above’ and simultaneously, [both] the content of revelation and the light of faith that made it possible for them to accept it (and even here sense experience was far from uninvolved [(absente)]). All other believers who come after them do receive directly from God the light of faith (fides qua, the virtue by which one believes, or revelation understood subjectively), but the content of the faith (fides quae, the faith that one believes, revelation understood objectively) they receive, like all of their other knowledge, by way of sense experience: the announcement of revelation communicated by its first addressees, [and] today set down in the Bible and transmitted in the Church. Fides ex auditu! (Rom 10:17). In that sense, while guided by a faith that illuminates his reasoning, the theologian, too, proceeds [(va . . . cheminer)] from below to above, putting constantly into play everything he learns from an ecclesial experience of centuries, centuries that separate him from th[is] initial experience; and also—and this is the point [(point de vue)] that interests us here—from the other human sciences and especially philosophy. [Or,] to put it a little differently, the recourse to the light of faith does not relieve the theologian of [his responsibility] to appeal to the light of his agent intellect and to the first principles of natural reason, for they are the condition of [the] possibility of all thought, including the possibility of reflecting [upon] the faith itself. To put it briefly, this simple reminder permits [one] to grasp the significant difference [(de comprendre toute la difference qui existe)] between the [merely] suggestive sketch of St. Anselm (fides quaerens intellectum) and the [more] nuanced formula of St. Thomas: ‘ratio manuducta per fidem excrescit in hoc ut ipsa credibilia plenius comprehendat, et tunc ipsa quodammodo intelligit [(reason led by faith increases in this in order that it might itself more fully comprehend those things that can [also] be [simply] believed, and [only] then itself in a certain measure understand [them])]’ [(Sent. I, Prol. q.1 a. 3 sol. 3)]. Faith as such doesn’t seek, it adheres and submits; it is reason that seeks under its [(under faith’s)] light.”

Jean-Pierre Torrell, “Philosophie et théologie d’après le Prologue de Thomas d’Aquin au Super Boetium de Trinitate: essai d’une lecture théologique,” Documenti e studi sulla tradizione filosofica medievale: rivista della Società internazionale per lo studio del medioevo latino 10 (1999): 319-320. Presumably this "one occasion" was that of the reception of the key "God-given images" (not propositions) (David B. Burrell, "Philosophy," in The Blackwell companion to modern theology, ed. Gareth Jones (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 37-38).

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