Thursday, December 31, 2009

Responding to Beckwith on Aquinas

Francis Beckwith has responded to my earlier post on Aquinas and the rule of faith in a way that does not meet the challenge. But it is a response that Prof. Beckwith seems to think worth noting, so I'll provide it and a brief rebuttal:
Yikes, I thought his name was "TurnitinFan," a booster of the anti-plagiarism software. Boy, am I out of the loop. :Smile:

Oh, by the way, my friend Ralph McInerny answered TF over 14 years ago: (link)
(source - the ":smile:" was a graphical smiley and the link was a bit.ly link - also note that if what I'm writing is the funniest stuff Shea has been reading this week (as he says), he should check out Dave Barry)

The entirety of Ralph McInerny's presentation, however, is to do exactly what my challenge forbade, namely to simply try to say what Aquinas was not saying. The article never explains what Aquinas meant by saying that the Scriptures are a/the rule of faith. If McInerny were actually responding to the challenge (he's not, obviously, this was written well before the challenge) we would say he failed to provide an appropriate response.

But what about what McInerny says? Are his comments as they stand accurate? Here's the most relevant part of the presentation from McInerny:
Does Thomas say that Scripture alone is the measure of our faith? The words Gaboriau has quoted are from Thomas's commentary on John's Gospel, Super Evangelium S. Ioannis Lectura, ed R. Cai, OP, Marietti: Roma, 1952, n. 2656. Thomas is commenting on John's peroration, "This is the disciple who bears witness concerning these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his witness is true. There are, however, many other things that Jesus did; but if every one of these should be written, not even the world itself, I think, could hold the books that would have to be written. Amen" (John 21: 24-25). In the paragraph Gaboriau cites, Thomas is concerned with "and we know his witness is true." Here is the text:

"It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth, there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt. That is what he means when he says 'we know his witness is true.' Galatians 1:9, "If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!" The reason is that only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith. Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things."

It is clear that Thomas is contrasting canonical and apocryphal works and saying that only the former have credence for Christians. The issue Gaboriau is interested in simply does not arise in this passage.
Note, however, that "apocryphal works" are not something that Thomas discusses. In fact, there's nothing in the context that limits Thomas contrast to apocryphal works. It is about others in general who write "concerning Catholic truth." Given the very broad nature of Aquinas' claim, one would expect a response to be in the form of alleging that somewhere in his voluminous writings Aquinas had once referred to someone else's writing as the rule of faith.

Furthermore, note what the immediate context is:

Preceding context:

[1] It should be noted that though many might write concerning Catholic truth,
[2] there is this difference that those who wrote the canonical Scripture, the Evangelists and Apostles, and the like, so constantly assert it that they leave no room for doubt.
[3] That is what he means when he says 'we know his witness is true.'
[4] Galatians 1:9, "If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!"
[5] The reason is that only canonical Scripture is a measure of faith.
[6] Others however so wrote of the truth that they should not be believed save insofar as they say true things.

Note that the statement of interest is [5]. Item [1] introduces the distinction (many other write about the Catholic truth) then item [2] draws the distinction (there is no room for doubt about the content of Scripture). Then item [3] reinforces [2] by emphasis (there is no room for doubt about Scripture) and item [4] reinforces [2] by contrast (but there is room for doubt about teachers). [5] is our statement, and [6] softens the impact of the distinction by noting that we can accept the true things (impliedly measured by the rule of faith) in those other writers about the Catholic truth.

McInerny's error is an understandable one. He has mistakenly emphasized "canonical" thinking that it means "belonging to the canon." Instead, as explained in the prior post, Aquinas calls Holy Scripture canonical, because it serves the purpose of guiding and directing us into the faith and life of Christ.

With all due respect to Prof. Beckwith, his friend has misunderstood Aquinas.

-TurretinFan

18 comments:

Matthew Bellisario said...

I am putting the finishing touches on a response to this Aquinas subject. It is quite clear that his views on Scripture, Tradition and the Church were very close in line with what the Catholic Church teaches today. I really do not see how you are coming to these conclusions with the texts you are citing.

John Bugay said...

Thanks for following up with this TF. I think the glibness with which Shea and Beckwith and others are responding does not comport at all with the seriousness of the subject.

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Bellisario,

I hope that you will try to focus on what Aquinas says specifically about the rule of faith, as opposed to wandering off into other areas.

-TurretinFan

PhilVaz said...

New and Improved....

Thomas Aquinas and sola scriptura

http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/a113.htm

Phil P (PhilVaz)

Geoffrey Miller said...

As a tribute to the format of St. Thomas' responses...

On the contrary, St. Thomas also said: 'The formal object of faith is Primary Truth as manifested in Holy Scripture and in the teaching of the Church which proceeds from the Primary Truth. hence, he who does not embrace the teaching of the Church as a divine and infallible law does not possess the habit of faith' [from Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 5, a. 3]

I answer that it would seem unreasonable to interpret the quote on scripture being the rule of faith aside from the rest of Aquinas' writings on the matter, especially since the Latin in question in your post only indicates that it is "a" measure of faith.

Now, we are agreed that Scripture and the Church must be in concord, but I do not see the two as really separate entities. To me, it appears that Scripture is part of only one entity that is the sole rule of faith, which is the Sacred Tradition of the Church.

Moreover, from the context of the commentary on John in question, it does indeed seem Aquinas is referring to apocryphal accounts, whether related by present visionaries or ancient scrolls. Though "There are, however, many other things that Jesus did; but if every one of these should be written, not even the world itself, I think, could hold the books that would have to be written," that does not mean we should trust every source claiming to relate such deeds, except inasmuch as they are true. For the deeds of Christ, our Scriptures are sufficient and trustworthy and need no addition.

Also of interest on the subject and better read in full (where I drew some of my quotes on the matter):

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3005.htm

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Miller:

First of all, please note that the challenge itself and a longer exposition on Aquinas and the rule of faith may be found here: (link)

"I answer that it would seem unreasonable to interpret the quote on scripture being the rule of faith aside from the rest of Aquinas' writings on the matter, especially since the Latin in question in your post only indicates that it is "a" measure of faith."

a) Where does Aquinas ever refer to something as the "rule of faith" aside from Scripture, or the symbol of faith which he tells us is taken from Scripture? It seems as though you are not actually finding other writings on the matter, but simply applying other writings to the matter, even if Aquinas himself wouldn't apply them.

b) On a bare grammatical level, Latin doesn't use articles. So, on that level Latin doesn't differentiate between "a" and "the." Nevertheless, the "only" makes up for any ambiguity about "a/the."

"Now, we are agreed that Scripture and the Church must be in concord, but I do not see the two as really separate entities."

You should and Aquinas does.

"To me, it appears that Scripture is part of only one entity that is the sole rule of faith, which is the Sacred Tradition of the Church."

Yes, that is the modern Roman Catholic position. However, I don't think you'll find Aquinas saying that. Try to be careful not to read your categories back into Aquinas.

"Moreover, from the context of the commentary on John in question, it does indeed seem Aquinas is referring to apocryphal accounts, whether related by present visionaries or ancient scrolls. Though "There are, however, many other things that Jesus did; but if every one of these should be written, not even the world itself, I think, could hold the books that would have to be written," that does not mean we should trust every source claiming to relate such deeds, except inasmuch as they are true. For the deeds of Christ, our Scriptures are sufficient and trustworthy and need no addition."

I've responded to that in the thread at the challenge. Briefly, though, the immediate context is distinguishing Scriptures from others who write about Christian truth.

Finally, please note that I've previously addressed the quotation you provided (link).

Turretinfan said...

Phil:

Thanks for letting me know about the update. I should note that contrary to the note you provide, the contrast is actually most clearly presented in this portion of the quotation: "many have written about Catholic truth, there is a difference among them: those who wrote the canonical scriptures ... ."

-TurretinFan

Ransom said...

"Now the formal object of faith is the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth."

The First Truth (as manifested in Holy Writ) has to be divine and infallible -- in other words, it is God, or rather, more precisely, the Truthfulness of God in revealing Himself.

I think you have managed to make Holy Writ into a synonym for First Truth. To think as Aquinas thought, you have to start with God, then consider how He has revealed Himself to us. Since Holy Writ is expressly said to be God-breathed and inspired, in that way Holy Writ can be said to be a manifestation of God's Truth and therefore a Rule of Faith.... by representation.

But indeed, to all Christians, it is Jesus Christ Himself who is the Logos and source of Christian revelation, not the Holy Writ per se. Anything you excerpt from Aquinas's works has to be taken in the context of the Incarnation.

Turretinfan said...

Ransom:

Consider this way of reading the sentence:

Now the formal object of faith is:

1) the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and

2) the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth.

If read that way, the sentence appears to indicate that the Holy Writ is the manifestation of the First Truth, and the teaching of the Church is derivative (though both are formal objects of faith for Aquinas).

-TurretinFan

Geoffrey Miller said...

All very good points, TurrentinFan. I will need to look into this further. My apologies for such a simplistic answer, and I am a newbie to Latin, so I appreciate you pointing out my mistake on the use of articles.

Turretinfan said...

I appreciate your kind response, Mr. Miller.

Geoffrey Miller said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Geoffrey Miller said...

Sorry, double post.

Anyway, no problem Turretinfan. I can see that you are very knowledgeable on this subject, and I'm learning a lot from you. There is no justification, in my mind, for the hostilities that normally surround these sorts of debates.

Returning to the topic at hand, does anyone else here find it highly ironic that we are appealing to Church Fathers and other, extra-biblical sources to establish the teaching of sola scriptura? Perhaps though, I have sorely misunderstood what is meant by sola scriptura?

I mean, when you get right down to it, isn't Sacred Tradition just about using the sayings of Christian teachers throughout the ages to deduce the proper meaning of Scripture and to determine which doctrines are to be believed and what meaning is to be ascribed to them? It seems everyone concedes that earlier witnesses are more reliable than later ones, and I think it would be pretty much impossible to approach Scripture without some historical framework in place, without at least a few recourses to the views of this or that historical personage.

I'm not sure this discussion hasn't already been had somewhere, but maybe we should revisit the meaning of sola scriptura so we can be clearer about where each side stands.

What do you think?

Ransom said...

"Now the formal object of faith is:

1) the First Truth, as manifested in Holy Writ and

2) the teaching of the Church, which proceeds from the First Truth."

Reading it that way, both derive from First Truth but in different ways.

Manifest means shown forth or revealed.

1 Peter 1:20 --He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you

Given that the Scriptures centrally concern the Incarnation, they are about the First Truth, and since they are the Word of God they are by Him. Thomas Aquinas says that for a truth to be the object of divine faith it must both come from God and be about God. No one but God can reveal God.

Proceeds means being put forth out of a principle -- or Principle, in this case.

"Anything whence something proceeds in any way we call a principle" (talking here about the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father) "For as the word conceived in the mind of the artist is first understood to proceed from the artist before the thing designed, which is produced in likeness to the word conceived in the artist's mind". To put it another way, every efficient cause causes something similar to itself (omne agens agit sibi simile).

Another distinction between the two verbs might be as follows. The Scriptural canon is closed -- manifestation appears to imply something that is already shown and revealed, though the implications may be too vast to be unfolded completely to our limited intellects. However, the teaching faculty of the Church is ongoing -- proceeding. The Church is an earthly agent of the Holy Spirit and so the Church proceeds explicitly from the First Truth. This is not in itself a peculiarly Catholic truth; all Christians believe this and proclaim it to some extent.

So the difference between "procession" and "manifestation" here seems to not to be about derivative versus not -- it seems we have already agreed that God is primary and what comes out of Him that is not Him per se is secondary -- so much as between something that appears and is shown forth, and something that proceeds actively in an ongoing fashion in similitude to its principle. Both could be said to derive (be obtained or received from a source) from God but in different fashions.

Turretinfan said...

Mr. Miller,

[partly reposted from the other comment box] To be clear, I'm not citing Aquinas to prove sola scriptura. He seemed to hold to a view of the primacy of Scripture, but not necessarily a view that would be exactly like the Reformers. The point in reviewing a notable theologian like Aquinas is to observe that his position is neither ours nor yours. He represents historically a stage of development in doctrine as the Roman church began to have an increasingly dominant role in theology. You won't find him advocating papal infallibility, and you do see him treating the authority of even the Roman church as essentially derivative from Scripture. We (you and I) both depart from Aquinas' teachings on various points. However, we do so because Aquinas' doctrine is un-Scriptural at various points, whereas we might say that you do so because his doctrine is not Roman at various points.

If (as we have asserted) there is a difference between the doctrine of Scripture and the doctrine of the Roman church, I hope you will agree that it would be better to follow Scripture.

Then, the question is whether our assertion regarding doctrine is correct: whether Rome's doctrines are contrary to Scripture. That, however, would seem to be subject matter for another comment box.

As far as the definition of sola scriptura goes, I generally refer folks to the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), Chapter 1. That chapter doesn't use Latin, but in ten paragraphs (I-X) explains the Reformed view on Scripture as well as the relation of Scripture to the church.

Turretinfan said...

Ransom:

The Latin expression: "doctrinae Ecclesiae, quae procedit ex veritate prima in Scripturis sacris manifestata" seems to make it pretty clear that the doctrine of the Church proceeds from the primary truth manifested in the Sacred Scripture.

The most straightforward way of reading that expression is that the doctrine of the church proceeds from the Scriptural manifestation of the primary truth.

The whole Latin expression (for context) is: "Formale autem obiectum fidei est veritas prima secundum quod manifestatur in Scripturis sacris et doctrina Ecclesiae. Unde quicumque non inhaeret, sicut infallibili et divinae regulae, doctrinae Ecclesiae, quae procedit ex veritate prima in Scripturis sacris manifestata, ille non habet habitum fidei, sed ea quae sunt fidei alio modo tenet quam per fidem."

Notice in the first sentence "manifestatur in Scripturis sacris et doctrina Ecclesiae" which seems to further confirm what I am suggesting above.

-TurretinFan

Ransom said...

Again, Aquinas when talking about "First Truth" is talking about God's Revelation. There is a distinction between God's Revelation and Holy Writ, whether one is Catholic or not. The details of the distinction remain to be worked out. In that context -----------

Sic igitur in fide, si consideremus formalem rationem obiecti, nihil est aliud quam veritas prima, non enim fides de qua loquimur assentit alicui nisi quia est a Deo revelatum; unde ipsi veritati divinae innititur tanquam medio. (Faith, Article 1)

OR
...if we consider, in faith, the formal aspect of the object, it is nothing else than the First Truth. For the faith of which we are speaking, does not assent to anything, except because it is revealed by God. Hence the mean on which faith is based is the Divine Truth.
-----------------------
Turretfan wrote:

You won't find him advocating papal infallibility, and you do see him treating the authority of even the Roman church as essentially derivative from Scripture

In regard to Papal authority according to Aquinas --
--------------------------------------
a new edition of the symbol becomes necessary in order to set aside the errors that may arise. Consequently to publish a new edition of the symbol belongs to that authority which is empowered to decide matters of faith finally, so that they may be held by all with unshaken faith. Now this belongs to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff, "to whom the more important and more difficult questions that arise in the Church are referred," as stated in the Decretals [Dist. xvii, Can. 5. Hence our Lord said to Peter whom he made Sovereign Pontiff (Luke 22:32): "I have prayed for thee," Peter, "that thy faith fail not, and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren." The reason of this is that there should be but one faith of the whole Church, according to 1 Corinthians 1:10: "That you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms among you": and this could not be secured unless any question of faith that may arise be decided by him who presides over the whole Church, so that the whole Church may hold firmly to his decision. Consequently it belongs to the sole authority of the Sovereign Pontiff to publish a new edition of the symbol, as do all other matters which concern the whole Church, such as to convoke a general council and so forth.
-----------------------------------

Also, I would point out for the sake of clarity that it's not necessary, by Aquinas's lights, that an individual theologian (even himself) be free from material, inadvertent error.

-----------------------------
(Heresy, article 2)

"By no means should we accuse of heresy those who, however false and perverse their opinion may be, defend it without obstinate fervor, and seek the truth with careful anxiety, ready to mend their opinion, when they have found the truth," because, to wit, they do not make a choice in contradiction to the doctrine of the Church. Accordingly, certain doctors seem to have differed either in matters the holding of which in this or that way is of no consequence, so far as faith is concerned, or even in matters of faith, which were not as yet defined by the Church;...
-------------

Turretinfan said...

I said papal infallibility, not papal authority. I'm not sure if you missed that or not.

As to the first part of your comment, the Scripture is what is revealed by God, and the church's teaching is derived from that revelation of God, according to Aquinas.

There's good reason to think that when Aquinas is speaking about divine revelation he's speaking primarily about Scripture (link to example) although Aquinas does not deny the inward illumination of the Holy Spirit in believers.

-TurretinFan