Chapter II.

From Étienne Gilson's The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (pgs. 37-55), translation of his Le thomisme: introduction au système de saint Thomas d'Aquin (1922)
Transcribed by A. Aversa with tesseract
Please email me with errors you might find or questions that you might have.


If our analysis had for its object a modern philosophical system, our first task would be to determine the concept of human knowledge held by our philosopher. The task is not quite the same when we begin the study of a philosophical theologian of the Middle Ages. For St. Thomas, as for all the Christian doctors—one might add, for the Arabic and Jewish doctors as well—another problem takes precedence over that of human knowledge: namely, the problem of the relations between Reason and Faith. Whereas the philosopher as such professes to draw truth from the spring of Reason alone, the philosophical theologian draws truth from two different sources: from Reason and—since he is a theologian—from Faith in the truth revealed by God, and its interpreter, the Church. Hence an initial difficulty has to be faced: what are the respective spheres of Reason and of Faith? Must the one be sacrificed to the other or can they be harmonised?

Nothing is easier than to distinguish from an abstract point of view philosophy and theology, the one consisting in the pursuit of truth by means of Reason, the other taking as point of departure a fact independent of Reason, viz. the Revelation given by God to the human mind of truths superior to Reason, i.e. truths which unaided Reason would be unable to reach, or even understand once it possessed them, or consequently justify. In practice, when beginning the study of St. Thomas, considerable difficulties have to be surmounted. Of the same texts different historians, when asked to distinguish the philosophical from the theological matter, neither retain nor abandon always the same points.

The explanation is that two attitudes are possible behind which lies, more or less skilfully hidden under the cloak of historical impartiality, a philosophical thesis of a, strictly speaking, dogmatic kind.

The one attitude, very widespread in certain circles and almost popular, is simply to neglect St. Thomas, because, since he is also a theologian, the conclusion is drawn that whatever philosophical matter his work contains, must necessarily therefore be tainted. This a priori assertion, based on the demands of an uncompromising rationalism, assumes that the philosopher cannot come into contact nor especially collaborate with the theologian, without being discredited by that very tact.

Another attitude, opposed to the former, but perhaps no less widespread, though held in different circles, consists in admitting that the philosophy of St. Thomas, de jure and de facto, exists in and by itself, independently of the theological speculation with which it may eventually be associated. We are told, that if Thomism is true, this can only be for exclusively philosophical reasons with which dogma has nothing whatever to do. When in an exposition of his teaching, a dogma appears on the sky-line or elements belonging to Revelation are introduced, the well-known warning is uttered: you misunderstand the true thought of St. Thomas, you confuse philosophy and theology. It is, of course, easy to see that this second attitude, though in practice opposed to the first, argues all the same from the same principle.

One might, at least provisionally, adopt a third attitude, and, without attempting to judge, enquire what are the relations of philosophy and theology in the system of St. Thomas. When he took up this problem himself, a solution of it had for some time back been prepared by the Catholic doctors [1]; but the answer which he himself gives offers some very original features and as soon as we analyse the grounds on which he rests his solution, we shall see some of the principles at work on which his whole system is based.

First, what is the object of metaphysics which is still called "the first philosophy" or "wisdom"? Following the common usage, a "sage" is one who can arrange things as they ought to be arranged and can handle them well. To arrange and handle a thing well, means to dispose it with a view to its end. Hence we find that in the hierarchy of arts, one art governs another and furnishes, in a sense, its principle, when the immediate end of the first constitutes the ultimate end of the second. Thus medicine is a principal and directive art in relation to pharmacy, because health, which is the immediate end of medicine, is at the same time the end of all the remedies prepared by the pharmacist. These principal and directive arts receive the name of "architectonic" arts, and the man who exercises them is called a "sage." But he deserves the title of "sage" only in respect of the very things which he is able to handle in view of their end. His wisdom, bearing on particular or partial ends, is only a particular or partial wisdom. If we imagine, on the contrary, a sage who proposes to consider not such and such a particular end, but the end of all things: he would not be called a sage in such and such an art, but an absolute sage. He would be the sage par excellence. The real object of wisdom, or of the first philosophy, is therefore the end of the universe, and, since the end of an object is the same as its principle or cause, we meet again the definition of Aristotle: the first philosophy has for its object the study of first causes [2].

Let us now consider which is the first cause or the final end of the universe. The final cause of a thing is evidently that which its author, in making it, or the first mover, in moving it, has in view. Now, it will be shown that the first Author and first Mover of the universe is an intelligence; the end, therefore, which he has in view in creating or setting in motion the universe, must be the end or good of intelligence, i.e. truth. Thus truth is the final end of the universe, and, since the object of the first philosophy is the ultimate end of the universe, it follows that its proper object is truth [3]. But here we must beware of a confusion. Since it is the philosopher's business to attain to the ultimate end and consequently the first cause of the universe, the truth in question cannot be just any truth; it can be only that truth which is the first source of all truth. Now, the disposition of things in the order or truth is the same as that in the order of being (sic enim est dispositio rerum in veritate sicut in esse), since being and truth are equivalent. A truth which is to be the source of all truth can be found only in a being which must be first source of all being. The truth, therefore, which forms the object of a first ` philosophy, should be that truth which the Word, made flesh, manifested to the world, according to the words of St. John: "Ego in hoc natus sum et ad hoc veni in mundum, ut testimonium perhibeam veritati." [4] In one word, the true object of metaphysics is God. [5]

This determination set out by St. Thomas at the opening of the "Summa contra Gentiles" in no way contradicts that which leads him elsewhere to define metaphysics as the science of being and of its first causes. [6] If the immediate matter upon which the enquiry of the metaphysician is directed, is indeed "being in general," it constitutes none the less its true end. The object to which philosophical speculation tends, beyond "being in general," is the first cause of all being: Ipsa prima philosophia tuta ordinatur ad Dei cognitionem sicut ad ultimum finem; unde et scientia divina nominatur. Therefore, when St. Thomas speaks in his own name, he leaves aside the consideration of being as such and defines metaphysics from the point of view of its supreme object: the first principle of being which is God.

What are our means to attain to this object? We have, first—and this is obvious—Reason at our disposal. The question is whether our Reason is an instrument sufficient to reach the goal of metaphysical enquiry, namely, the Divine essence. Let us say at once that natural Reason, left to itself, allows us to attain to certain truths concerning God and His nature. Philosophers are able to establish by demonstration that God exists, that He is one, etc. But it must also appear as evident that certain forms of knowledge concerning the Divine nature exceed by far the forces of human understanding. This is a point which it is important to establish in order to silence unbelievers who consider as false all assertions in respect of God which our Reason is unable to establish. Here the Christian sage must join forces with the Greek sage.

All possible demonstrations of this thesis aim ultimately at throwing into relief the disproportion between our human understanding and the infinite essence of God. The line of argument which leads us perhaps most deeply of all into the thought of St. Thomas is drawn from the nature of human knowledge. Perfect knowledge, if we accept Aristotle, consists in deducing the properties of an object by using its essence as the principle of the demonstration. Accordingly, the mode in which the substance of each thing is known to us, determines ipso facto the mode of the knowledge which we can have of the thing. Now, God is a purely spiritual substance; our knowledge, on the contrary, is only such as a being composed of a soul and a body can reach. It originates necessarily in sensation. The knowledge which we have of God is, therefore, only such as a person starting from sense-data, can acquire of a being which is purely intelligible. Thus, our understanding, resting upon the testimony of our senses, can indeed infer that God exists, but it is evident that a mere examination of sensory objects, which are the effects of God and therefore inferior to Him cannot bring us to a knowledge of the Divine essence [7]. There are, consequently, truths about God which are accessible to Reason; and there are others which exceed it. Let us examine, in either case, the particular function of Faith. Let us first state that—speaking abstractly and absolutely—wherever Reason can find a foothold, Faith has no place. In other words, one cannot both know and believe the same thing at the same time: impossibile est quod de eodem sit fides et scientia. [8] According to St. Augustine, the proper object of Faith is precisely that to which Reason does not attain; whence it follows that all rational knowledge, based analytically on first principles, falls at the same time outside the sphere of Faith. This is legitimate truth. In practice, Faith must replace Reason in a large number of our affirmations. It may, in fact, not only happen that certain truths are believed by ignorant people and known by the learned, but it also occurs often that, owing to the feebleness of our understanding and to failures of our imagination, error is introduced into our enquiries. There are many who fail to understand the conclusiveness of an argument and consequently remain uncertain concerning the best established truths, and the discovery of dissension between men of acknowledged wisdom about the same questions finally leads them astray. It is therefore, salutary that providence imposed as articles of Faith even such truths as are accessible to Reason, to enable us to participate easily in the knowledge of God, without fear of either doubt or error. [9]

If we consider, on the other hand, the truths which exceed our Reason, we shall see no less clearly than they had to be offered to the acceptance or our Faith. For the end of man is none other than God; but this end manifestly exceeds the limits of our Reason. Again, man must possess some knowledge of his end to be able to order his intentions and actions in relation to it. The salvation of man, therefore, demanded that the Divine Revelation should bring to his knowledge a certain number of truths which are incomprehensible to his Reason. [10] In short, since man needed knowledge concerning the infinite God who is his end, this knowledge, going beyond the limits of his Reason. In short, since man needed knowledge concerning the infinite God who is his end, this knowledge, going beyond the limits of his Resaon, could not be offered to the acceptance of his Faith. Nor can we see in Belief any violence done to our Reason. On the contrary, Faith in the incomprehensible confers upon rational knowledge its perfection and crowning completion. We do not, for example, know God truly, unless we believe Him to be superior to all that man may think. Now, it is evident that to expect us to accept incomprehensible truths about God, is the surest means to implant in us the knowledge of His incomprehensibleness. [11] Moreover, the acceptance of Faith represses in us presumption, the mother of error. There are some who believe themselves able to measure Divine nature with the ell of their Reason; to propose to them truths superior to their understanding in the name of Divine authority, is a means to recall them to the just sense of their own limitations. In this manner the discipline of Faith profits Reason.

Can we, however, admit that, apart from this purely external and merely expedient harmony, it may be possible to establish between Faith and Reason an internal accord, from the point of view of truth? In other words, can we assert an accord of such truths as exceed our Reason, with those which Reason can grasp? The answer to this question depends on the value given to the grounds of credibility which Faith can claim. Admitting, as one must, that the miracles, prophecies and the wonderful effects of Christian religion prove sufficiently the truth of Christian Revelation [12], one is bound also to admit that Faith and Reason cannot contradict each other. Only the false can be contrary to the true. Between a true Faith and a true knowledge, accord is established of itself, and, so to speak, by definition. But it is possible to give a purely philosophical proof of the harmony. When a teacher instructs a pupil, the knowledge of the teacher contains what he instills into the pupil's mind. Now, the natural knowledge which we possess of principles comes to us from God, since God is the author of our nature. These principles are, therefore, also contained in the wisdom of God. Whence it follows that whatever is contrary to these principles, is contrary to Divine Wisdom and consequently cannot come from God. Between Reason, which comes from God, and a Revelation, which comes from God, accord must be of necessity. [13] Let us therefore rather say: Faith may teach truths which seem contrary to Reason; than: Faith teaches propositions which are contrary to Reason. The yokel thinks it contrary to Reason that the sun should be larger than the earth, but this proposition seems reasonable to the learned man. [14] Let us therefore also believe that the apparent incompatibilities between Reason and Faith are reconciled in the infinite wisdom of God. We are, moreover, not reduced to such an act of general belief in an accord which escapes altogether our direct perception; many facts open to observation can be satisfactorily interpreted only on the assumption of the existence of a common source of these our two orders of knowledge. Faith dominates Reason, not so much as a mode of knowledge, for it is, on the contrary, an inferior type of knowledge on account of its obscurity, but insofar as it places human thought in possession of an object which reason would be incapable of grasping naturally. Hence, Faith gives rise to a whole series of influences and actions, the consequences of which are of the utmost importance within Reason itself, which yet does not cease to be pure Reason. Faith in Revelation does not result in destroying the rationality of our knowledge, but, on the contrary, in allowing it to develop more completely; just as Grace does not destroy our nature, but fertilises, exalts and perfects it, so Faith, by its influence upon Reason as such, promotes the development of a rational activity of a more fruitful kind. [15]

This transcendent influence of Faith upon Reason is an essential fact which it is important to understand, if the true features of Thomistic philosophy are to be preserved. Many of the criticisms directed against it, are based precisely on the alleged discovery of the mixture of Faith and Reason in it. But it is as inaccurate to say that St. Thomas has isolated these two spheres by a watertight compartment, as to say that he has confused them. We shall later on have to raise the question whether he has confused them, for the moment it is clear that he has not isolated them, but has kept them in contact in a manner which does not oblige him to confuse them ultimately. This enables us to understand the admirable unity of the philosophical and the theological work of St. Thomas. It is impossible to pretend that a mind of this temper is not fully conscious of its aim. Even in the commentaries on Aristotle, his mind always knows where it is going, and there too, it works towards the doctrine of Faith, not as an explanation, but as a completion and counterpoise of mental balance. And yet one may say that St. Thomas works in the full and clear consciousness of never appealing to arguments not strictly rational, for if Faith acts upon Reason, his Reason, supported and fertilised by his Faith, does not, for all that, cease to perform purely rational operations and to assert conclusions, based only on the evidence of first principles common to all human minds. The fear betrayed by some of his commentators of a possible contamination of his Reason by his Faith, is wholly un-Thomistic; to assert that he is unaware of, or opposed to, this beneficial influence, is to present as fundamentally inexplicable the accord which, in point of fact, his reconstruction of philosophy and theology ultimately readies, and suggests an uneasiness which St. Thomas himself would certainly not have understood. Aquinas is too certain of his thought to he afraid of anything of this kind. His thought proceeds under the helpful impulse of his Faith, as indeed he recognises; but he notes that in following the road of Revelation, Reason easily finds and, as it were, recognises the truths which it might have run some risk of mistaking. The traveller who has been led by a guide to the summit, is none the less entitled to the spectacle which unfolds itself from there, and the view is none the less true, because an external assistance has led him to it. No one can study St. Thomas for any time without being convinced that this vast system of the world which his doctrine presents, took shape in his mind in proportion as his doctrine of Faith was formed; and when he assures others that Faith is a salutary guide to Reason, the memory of the rational gain which he himself realised by Faith, is still vividly present to his mind.

It is therefore no matter for surprise that, as far as theology is concerned, there should be room for philosophical speculation, even when it is a question of revealed truths which exceed the limits of our Reason. Undoubtedly—and this is obvious—speculation cannot claim to demonstrate or even to understand them, but, emboldened by the superior certitude that there is there a hidden truth, it enables us to catch a glimpse of it with the help of well-founded analogies. The sense-objects which form the point of departure of all our knowledge, have retained some traces of the Divine nature which has created them, since the effect always bears a resemblance to its cause. Reason can, therefore, even in this life, and thanks to the starting-point offered by Faith, set us to some extent on the road to the understanding of the perfect truth which God will show us in our Home. [16] This statement marks the limits of Reason, when it undertakes an apologia, of the truths of Faith. Nothing could be more imprudent than to attempt their proof; to try to demonstrate the indemonstrable is but to confirm the incredulous in their incredulity. The disproportion between the theses which we believe to have established, and the false proofs adduced in their support, is so evident that instead of serving Faith by such arguments, we run the risk of exposing it to ridicule. Still, it is possible to explain, to interpret and to bring home to us what it is impossible to prove: we should therefore lead our opponents by the hand in face of these inaccessible truths, and we can show them on what probable reasons and on what authorities in this world they rest.

But we must go further and, gathering the fruit of the points previously set forth, we must assert that there is room for demonstrative argument even in matters of truths inaccessible to Reason, and, further, for theological intervention even in matters apparently reserved to pure Reason. We have seen that Revelation and Reason cannot be in contradiction. If it is certain that Reason cannot demonstrate revealed truth, it is equally certain that any so-called rational proof which claims to establish the falsity of Faith, can only be a mere sophism. Whatever the subtlety of the arguments adduced, we must hold firm to the principle that truth cannot be divided against itself, and that Reason cannot therefore be right as against Faith. [17] We can always look for a sophism in a philosophical thesis which contradicts the teaching of Revelation, for it is certain that it must contain at least one. The revealed texts are never a philosophical proof of the falsity of a doctrine, but they are the proof for the believer that the philosopher, maintaining the doctrine, is mistaken, and it is the business of philosophy alone to furnish the proof of this. A fortiori, the resources of philosophical speculation must be employed by Faith, when it is a question of religious truths which are at the same time humanly demonstrable. That body of philosophical doctrines which in its fullness the human mind can rarely grasp with nothing but the resources of Reason, is easily reached, if it is pointed out by Faith, although the mind may rest these doctrines on a purely rational foundation. As a child understands what he could not have discovered himself, unless the master had taught him, so the human intellect grasps without difficulty a system, the truth of which is guaranteed by a superhuman authority. Hence the extraordinary firmness and certainty with which the intellect meets errors of all kinds, bred by unbelief or ignorance. It can always oppose conclusive proofs to its adversaries which will reduce them to silence and re-establish the truth. Finally, we must add that even the purely scientific knowledge of sense-objects cannot leave theology wholly indifferent. Not that there is no knowledge of created things valid in itself and independent of all theology: science exists as such and, provided it does not exceed its natural limits, remains untouched by any interference of Faith. But Faith, on its part, is bound to take science into account. Once science has been constituted as such, theology cannot fail to be interested in it, in the first place, because the study of creation is useful for the interpretation of Faith, and secondly, because, as we have seen, natural knowledge is at least able to destroy errors concerning God. [18]

Such being the intimate relations between theology and philosophy, the fact still remains that they form two distinct, autonomous and formally separate spheres. In the first place, they do not coincide, though their domains are in some measure co-extensive. Theology is the science of the truth necessary for our salvation; but not all truths are necessary for that purpose. Hence there was no need for God to reveal to us what we are capable of discovering by ourselves concerning created things, as long as such knowledge was not required to ensure our salvation. There is consequently room, outside theology, for science which considers things in themselves and is divided into different parts according to the different kinds of natural things, whereas theology considers them under the aspect of our salvation and in reference to God. [19] Philosophy studies fire in itself; the theologian sees in it an image of Divine elevation. There is then room for the attitude of the philosopher side by side with that of the believer (philosophus, fidelis), and there is no cause to reproach theology for passing over in silence a great number of the properties of things, such as the shape of heaven or the nature of its movement; these things belong to the philosopher who alone has the task of explaining them.

Even where the two disciplines have common ground, they retain specific features which assure their independence. They differ first and foremost in their principles of demonstration and this feature definitely makes their confusion impossible. The philosopher draws his arguments from the essences and consequently from the proper causes of things, as we shall constantly do in the sequel. The theologian, on the contrary, argues by always referring to the first Cause of all things which is God, and appeals to three different orders of arguments which are in no case considered satisfactory by the philosopher. Sometimes the theologian affirms a truth in the name of the principle of authority, because it has been transmitted and revealed by God; or again, because the glory of an infinite God demands that it should be so; or, lastly, because the power of God is infinite. [20] It does not follow therefrom that theology should be excluded from the sphere of science, but rather that philosophy occupies a sphere belonging properly to itself which it exploits by purely rational methods. As two sciences may establish the same fact, each science in the way proper to it, so the philosopher's proofs, being exclusively rational, differ toto genera from the theologian's proofs, which are always drawn from authority.

A second, less profound difference lies, not in the principles of the demonstration, but in the order which it adopts. For in philosophical speculation which is concerned with the consideration of created things in themselves and endeavours to work upwards from created things to God, the consideration of creatures comes first, and that of God comes last. In doctrines of Faith, on the contrary, which considers created things in relation to God, the consideration of God comes first and that of creation afterwards. Herein it follows, moreover, an order which in itself is more perfect, since it follows the model of the knowledge of God who, knowing Himself, knows all things. [21]

Such being the position de jure, it remains to determine what we mean when we speak of the "philosophy" of St. Thomas. We do not find in any of his works a body of his philosophical conceptions set out for their own sake and in their rational order. There is indeed a series of writings composed by St. Thomas according to the philosophical method: these are his commentaries on Aristotle and a small number of minor works. But the smaller works give us only a fraction of his ideas and the commentaries on Aristotle, following patiently the meanderings of an obscure text, enable us to guess only imperfectly what a "Summa" of the Thomistic philosophy might have been like, if it had been systematised by St. Thomas himself with that lucidity of genius which dominates his Summa Theologica. [22] And there is a second group of writings of which the "Summa Theologica" is the most perfect specimen; this contains his philosophy, demonstrated according to the principles of philosophical argument, but presented according to the order of theological argument. An ideal Thomistic philosophy would have to be reconstructed by taking the best from these two groups of works and rearranging the arguments of St. Thomas according to the needs of a new order. But who would venture upon the attempt of such a synthesis? And who, in particular, could guarantee that the order of the philosophical demonstration adopted would correspond to that which the genius of St. Thomas might have been able to select and realise? Who especially could give us the assurance that we would not thereby lose that by which St. Thomas perhaps set the greatest store of all: the tangible proof of the benefit reaped by Philosophy from its intercourse with Faith, and the joy felt by Reason discoursing in the same order in which the Intelligences contemplate, thanks to the guiding thread given to it by Revelation? In the absence of such a synthesis, carried out by the philosopher himself and in our uncertainty whether he has not deliberately avoided it in order to follow the natural progress of Christian thought, it is a matter of elementary prudence to reproduce his thought in the . order adopted by himself and in the most perfect form given to it, viz. that of the two "Summæ."

It does not by any means follow from this that the value of a philosophy arranged in the order of theological argument is necessarily subordinated to criteria of Faith which from the very start appeals to the authority of a Divine Revelation. The philosophy of St. Thomas presents itself as a system of truths rigorously demonstrable and is justifiable, precisely qua philosophy, by Reason alone. When St. Thomas speaks as philosopher, his demonstrations alone are under discussion, and it matters little whether the thesis he upholds occupies the place assigned to it by Faith, since he never introduces Faith into the argument and does not ask us to introduce it into the proofs of what he considers as rationally demonstrable. Between the assertions of the two disciplines, even when they bear upon the same subject-matter, an absolutely strict formal distinction is maintained, which rests upon the heterogeneity of their principles of demonstration. There is a generic difference between theology which founds its principles on the articles of Faith, and philosophy which for such knowledge of God as it can give us, appeals to Reason alone: theologia quae ad sacram doctrinam pertinet, differt secundum genus ab illa theologia quae pars philosophiæ ponitur. [23] And it is easy to show that this generic distinction is not stated by St. Thomas as an ineffective principle which need not be further taken into account, once it has been recognised. An examination of his teaching, considered in its historical significance and in comparison with the Augustinian tradition of which St. Bonaventure is the most distinguished representative, shows what profound re-castings, what incredibly bold changes he did not hesitate to take upon himself to meet the demands of Aristotelian thought, whenever he considered them identical with the demands of Reason. [24]

Herein precisely lies the truly philosophical value of the Thomistic system, and this is what makes it a turning-point in the history of human thought. With a full consciousness of all the consequences of such an attitude, St. Thomas accepts simultaneously both his Faith and his Reason, each with all the demands proper to it. His thought, therefore, does not aim at achieving as economically as possible a superficial harmony wherein the doctrines most easily reconcilable with the traditional teaching of theology may find room, but he insists that Reason should develop its own content in full liberty and should set out its demands in their utmost stringency; the value of his philosophy lies not in the fact that it is Christian, but in the fact that it is true. He does not, therefore, follow passively the regular current of Augustinian tradition, but develops a new theory of knowledge, shifts the foundations on which the proofs for the existence of God rested, submits the concept of creation to a fresh criticism and founds or entirely reorganises the structure of traditional ethics. In this lies the whole secret of Thomism, in this immense effort of intellectual honesty to reconstruct philosophy on a plan which exhibits the de facto accord with theology as the necessary consequence of the demands of Reason itself, and not as the accidental result of a mere wish for conciliation.

Such appear to us the points of contact and the distinctions between Reason and Faith in the system of St. Thomas of Aquino. Faith and Reason can neither contradict each other, nor ignore each other, nor be confused. Reason may well try to justify Faith: it will never transform Faith into Reason, for as soon as Faith were to abandon authority for proof, it would cease to believe; it would know. And Faith may well move Reason externally or guide it internally; Reason will never cease to be itself, for once it renounced the proof of its assertions, it would deny itself and would vanish to make room for Faith. It is, therefore, the inalienability of their proper essences which permits them to act upon each other without contaminating each other. A mixed state, composed of prudent doses of knowledge and belief, in which so many mystic minds took delight, is considered by St. Thomas contradictory and monstrous: it is as chimerical a thing as an animal composed of two different species. It is, therefore, intelligible that, in distinction to Augustinianism for instance, Thomism has room, by the side of a theology which should be nothing but theology, for a philosophy which should be nothing but philosophy. For this reason, St. Thomas of Aquino, together with his master, Albertus Magnus, is the first, and not the least, of modern philosophers.

Lastly, it is clear that, considered under this aspect and as a discipline which grasps of God all that human thought can conceive, even in this world, the study of philosophy appears to St. Thomas as the most perfect, the most sublime, the most useful and also as the most consoling of studies. The most perfect, because man, in proportion as he devotes himself to the study of philosophy, shares already here in the true beatitude. The most sublime, since man raises himself at least a little towards Divine resemblance, as God founded all things in wisdom. The most useful, since it leads us to the eternal Kingdom. The most consoling, because, according to the word of Scripture (Wisd. VIII., 16), her conversation has no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness. [25]

Without doubt, certain minds, susceptible only or chiefly to logical certitude, will be inclined to contest this superiority of metaphysical enquiry. They will prefer the certain deductions of physics or mathematics to the researches which yet declare themselves not wholly powerless even in face of the incomprehensible. But the value of a science is constituted not only by its certitude, but also by the status of its object. It is vain to offer to minds, tortured by the thirst for the Divine, the most certain knowledge concerning the laws of numbers or the disposition of the universe. Straining after an object which eludes them, they will try to raise a corner of the veil, only too happy to catch sometimes even in dense darkness some reflexion of the eternal Light which will illumine them one day. To such the least knowledge concerning the highest realities seem more desirable than the fullest certitude of lesser things. [26] At this point we find the reconciliation of the extreme distrust of human Reason the contempt even which St. Thomas sometimes displays towards it, with the keen taste he always retained for dialectical discussions and arguments. For when it is a question of attaining to an object which its very essence renders inaccessible to us, our Reason shows itself powerless and defective in all respects. No one was ever more convinced of this insufficiency than St. Thomas. And if, nevertheless, he untiringly applies this feeble instrument to the highest objects, the reason is that the most obscure knowledge, even such as barely deserves the name of knowledge, ceases to be contemptible, when it has for its object the infinite essence of God. It is from poor conjectures, from analogies, at least not wholly inadequate, that we derive our purest and deepest joy. The supreme happiness of man in this world is to anticipate, however confusedly, the vision face to face of unchanging Eternity.


  1. To mention only the principal writers, cf. on the attitude of St. Augustine and St. Anselm, M. Grabmann, Geschichte der scholastischen Methode, I. 116—143 and 258-339. Cf. also Heitz, Essai historique sur les rapports entre la philosophie et la foi, de Bérenger de Tours à saint Thomas d'Aquin, Paris. 1909; of the same, La philosophie et la foi chez saint Thomas, Rev. des sciences phil. et théol. 1909, p. 244-261; L. Laberthonnière, Saint Thomas et les rapports entre la science et la foi, Ann. de phil. chrét., CLVIII.. 1900, p. 599-621; E. Gilson: Études de philosophie médiévale, Strasbourg, 1921: p. 1-29; 30-50; 76-124.
  2. Cont. Gent., I. 1; Sum. theol., I. 1, 6, ad Resp.
  3. Cont. Gent., I. 1.
  4. Joann., XVIII. 37.
  5. Cont. Gent., I. 1 and III. 25, ad Quod est tantum. In II Sent., Prolog.
  6. In IV. Metaphys., lect. I., med. Cf. all the necessary references in Sertillanges. Saint Thomas d'Aquin, I. p. 23-26.
  7. Cont. Gent., I. 3.
  8. Qu. disp. da Veritate, qu. XIV., art. 9, ad Resp. and ad 6
  9. Cont. Gent., I. 4, St. Thomas' source is here Maimonides, as appears from De Veritate, qu. XIV., art. 10, ad Resp.
  10. Sum. theol., I. 1, 1, ad Resp. de virtutibus, art. X., ad Resp.
  11. Cont. Gent., I. 5.
  12. Cont. Gent., I. 6. De Verit., qu. XIV., art. 10, ad 11.
  13. Cont. Gent., I. 7.
  14. De Verit., qu. XIV., art 10, ad 7
  15. De Verit., qu. XIV., art. 9, ad 8m, and art. 10, ad 9m.
  16. Cont. Gent., I. 7; de Verit., qu. XIV., art. 9, ad 2m. This is the echo of the fides quaerens intellectum of the Augustinian school; but in distinction to Augustinianism this is not St. Thomas' definition of Philosophy.
  17. Cont. Gent., I. 1; I. 2 and I. 9.
  18. Cont. Gent., II. 2, and esp. Sum. theol., I. 5, ad 2m.
  19. Cont. Gent. II. 4.
  20. "Fidelis autem ex causa prima, ut puta quia sic divinitus est traditum, vel quia hoc in gloriam Dei cedit, vel quia Dei potestas est infinita." Cont. Gent., II. 4.
  21. Cont. Gent., II. 4.
  22. Hence the advice given by J. De Rohellec in Rev. thomiste, 1913. XXI., p. 449, to follow rather the Commentaries than the Summa for mapping out courses of neo-scholastic philosophy may well be adopted by the philosophers to whom it is given; the historian, on the contrary, cannot accept it without being led to the purely hypothetical reconstruction of a doctrinal edifice which in fact has never existed. It is hardly necessary to point out that the Contra Gentes, which is constantly called a Summa philosophica, in contrast to the Summa theologica, in no sense deserves that name as far as the order of demonstration is concerned. Cf. Cont. Gent., II., 4 and 5. In Böet. de Trinitate, qu. II., art. 2, ad Resp.
  23. Sum. theol., I. 10, ad 2m.
  24. We have developed this point in greater detail in our Études de philosophie médiévale, Strasbourg, 1921: La signification historique du thomisme, p. 95-124.
  25. Cont. Gent., I. 2.
  26. Sum. theol., I. 1, 5, ad 1m; ibid., Ia, IIae, 66, 5, ad 3m

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