Monday, 3 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 held that articles of faith can be established only on the basis of scripture.

Fair comment from Roman Catholics is invited, but, let me hasten to add, please don't use the comments box as an opportunity to insult me on my own blog - play the ball and not the man if you want your comments published here, OK?

We have further 'glosses' on Aquinas, which may indeed provide an answer to possible Roman Catholic objections, in the pipeline.


Matthias said...

the Primacy of Scripture must be understood by every Christian. I am finding that certain Mennonite groups view the New Testament,being the new covenant,as being of greater importance than the Old Testament,which to me seems to be incorrect,as the Bible is inerrant and God inspired

M.A. Henderson said...

The new covenant is indeed greater than the old, but that doesn't justify a "let's not read the Old Testament then" mentality - although that has indeed been a popular view in the modern church,a nd it doesn't srprise me that the Mennonites would advocate this, Matthias.

Lutherans have often taught that the OT contains the promises and the NT the fulfilment, which helps to keep the unity of the two testaments in view.

Let's not forget that for the first Christians the OT was their complete Bible, and yet their faith was by no means inadequate; but of course, they had the oral preaching of the Apostles. This is the germ of truth in the RC theory of oral tradition which they have since distorted - they hold that some aspects of tradition, e.g. the Marian dogmas, are Apostolic despite the fact that scripture knows nothing of them, we hold that everything necessary for salvation and for the faith and life of the church has been set down by the Apostles in the NT.