03 May, 2010

Aquinas on the Primacy of Scripture II

"Sacred Scripture, since it has no science above itself, can dispute with one who denies its principles only if the opponent admits some at least of the truths obtained through divine revelation; thus we can argue with heretics from texts in Holy Writ, and against those who deny one article of faith, we can argue from another. If our opponent believes nothing of divine revelation, there is no longer any means of proving the articles of faith by reasoning, but only of answering his objections---if he has any---against faith. Since faith rests upon infallible truth, and since the contrary of a truth can never be demonstrated, it is clear that the arguments brought against faith cannot be demonstrations, but are difficulties that can be answered."

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, The Nature and Extent of Sacred Doctrine, Q. Whether Sacred Doctrine is a Matter of Argument?

Aquinas makes several important points here, but there are two I wish to underline presently:

1) Note that Aquinas states that there is no 'science', i.e. knowledge, above scripture, and therefore scripture 'can dispute with' heretics, provided they acknowledge at least some of the truths taught in it; presumably he means here that they accept scripture's authority, among other matters. This is very close to the Reformation understanding of scripture as the iudex controversiarum, the judge in doctrinal controversies in the church.

2) Note that Aquinas makes the statement, in his final sentence on the need to answer challenges from unbelievers, that 'faith rests upon infallible truth'. For Aquinas, then, an article of faith can only be established on the basis of an infallible authority, and yet, as we have already noted in the previous post, for Aquinas -- following Augustine -- the only infallible authority is scripture; therefore, we conclude, Aquinas teaches that articles of faith can be established only on the basis of scripture.
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