Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Aquinas on the Development of Doctrine

Here's one or two points where Aquinas differs from modern Reformed believers:
As Augustine says (Ep. xliii) and we find it stated in the Decretals (xxiv, qu. 3, can. Dixit Apostolus): "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; although if anyone were obstinately to deny them after they had been defined by the authority of the universal Church, he would be deemed a heretic. This authority resides chiefly in the Sovereign Pontiff. For we read [Decret. xxiv, qu. 1, can. Quoties]: "Whenever a question of faith is in dispute, I think, that all our brethren and fellow bishops ought to refer the matter to none other than Peter, as being the source of their name and honor, against whose authority neither Jerome nor Augustine nor any of the holy doctors defended their opinion." Hence Jerome says (Exposit. Symbol [Among the supposititious works of St. Jerome]): "This, most blessed Pope, is the faith that we have been taught in the Catholic Church. If anything therein has been incorrectly or carelessly expressed, we beg that it may be set aright by you who hold the faith and see of Peter. If however this, our profession, be approved by the judgment of your apostleship, whoever may blame me, will prove that he himself is ignorant, or malicious, or even not a catholic but a heretic."
- Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 11, Article 2, Answer to Objection 3

Note that, sadly, most of Aquinas' answer depends on forged (or, at best, dubious) patristic quotations (not forged by Aquinas, but erroneously accepted by him). But yes, Aquinas did think it was possible for the "universal church" to define, in some sense, a doctrine. Furthermore, Aquinas viewed the Roman bishop as the chief residence of the universal church's authority.

This has some similarities to the modern Roman Catholic position on the development of doctrine, which does not itself require Aquinas to have held to dogmas that were only later "defined" (the same term is used, though we may wonder whether it has the same sense) later.



John Bugay said...

I know that Aquinas relied to some extent on, in your words, "forged (or, at best, dubious) patristic quotations" -- he relied quite heavily on "Pseudo-Dionysius" for his foundational understanding of the world, erroneously believing him to be "Dionysius the Areopagite" from Acts 17.

In your studies of Aquinas, have you ever come across any studies that talk about just how heavily his reliance on such forged and pseudo-sources affected his overall understanding of things? It seems to me that Rome, in relying as heavily as they did upon Thomas, really erred in ways that they are still blind to.

Turretinfan said...

I don't recall a study that was specifically on that topic. Aquinas relied pretty heavily on the teachings of the church fathers that he received, although (as we see in the quotation above) he thought they sometimes erred.

He may well have been simply using the quotations as a pretext of support, but I'd like to think that he was giving them as his reasons for support. As such, had he been better informed historically, he might have avoided at least some of his errors.

- TurretinFan

John Bugay said...

Brian Davies, in the work "The Thought of Thomas Aquinas," at least attributes much of Thomas's understanding (or lack of understanding) of the Doctrine of God to Pseudo-Dionysius. He says that Pseudo-D's "standing with Aquinas was virtually that of an apostolic authority." (42) Davies goes on to say, His background, however, was neoplatonism, especially the Neoplatonism of Proclus. So he was profoundly agnostic.... To cut a long story short, the point to note now is that Aquinas was definitely much indebted to the line of thinking represented by authors such as Denys (Dionysius). In fact, he was clearly directly influenced by Denys himself. As we saw in Chapter 1, he commented on Denys, like Albert his teacher. And he frequently quotes Denys as an authority. An undoubted source of Aquinas's agnosticism concerning God, therefore, is the tradition of Denys." (42-43)

Now, I've not studied much of Aquinas, but I do know that Rome's understanding of God, of Adam before the fall, and of grace itself, includes the addition of a supposed "donum superadditum" is what also shapes its doctrine of justification.

(See Fesko's chapter on the RCC in "Justification," for example).

I do know that I've seen N.T. Wright say that Trent got Nature/Grace badly wrong. I don't know if the "donum superadditum" goes back as far as Augustine. I've got some more reading to do.

But a the very least, it seems to me that a system such as the Roman system, with so many such foundational errors, would be quick to both find them, and explain or get rid of them. But of course, Rome has never erred, etc.

Ransom said...

I think that using "pseudo-sources" wouldn't be all that important in itself because as Aquinas points out elsewhere authority is the weakest argument UNLESS it is God's authority in revealing Himself. cf Q1Art1Part1 of the Summa. In the case of God's word, argument from authority is the strongest and indeed, the only argument in cases where we can't come to the truth through natural reason.

So Aquinas uses arguments from human authority but he doesn't hang his case on them. To refute the arguments one would have to show that his positions in themselves could be demonstrated to be wrong, not just that his sources weren't who they were supposed to be, or even that they were wrong in some things. He does not expect theological writings to be inerrant aside from Holy Writ. I think Turretfan already put the quote in regard to that somewhere in one of his Aquinas posts.

Ryan said...

T-fan, do you have a post listing often-cited patristic forgeries? Could you point me to it if you have one and/or offer some pertinent resources?

Turretinfan said...


I don't have a single collection of those. I caught Roman Catholic apologist/pilgrimage guide Steve Ray relying on a number of such documents and ran a short series on that.

(Athanasius)(first followup)(second followup)(a prior post on the same subject)(Roman Catholic Paul Hoffer has an on-going series in reply to this pseudographic work.)
(Gregory the Wonderworker)
(longest post with many examples - and there's actually one I missed)