"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

— A Commentary on the First Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Question 1: The nature and extent of Sacred Doctrine

This question contains ten articles. It treats (1) of the necessity of sacred doctrine, asking whether it is necessary; (2) of the nature of this sacred doctrine in three articles: whether it is a science; whether it is one science; whether it is speculative or practical; (3) of its excellence compared with the other sciences, in articles five and six; (4) of its subject or proper object; (5) of its method: whether it is a matter of argument, the intrinsic and extrinsic sources being discussed in a general way in this article; there is also an article on the use of metaphor, and the last article concerns the use which theology makes of Holy Scripture.

As to the arrangement of these articles, the objection might be raised that St. Thomas ought to have treated of the subject or object of sacred doctrine before he discussed its nature and excellence, because the nature of a science depends upon its object. In answer to this it must be said that from the very beginning of this question he supposes the nominal definition of sacred doctrine, in which the object of this latter is expressed at least in a confused manner. After this, gradually and methodically, he makes the transition from the nominal to the real and scientific definition, which is completed in the seventh article, in which he speaks explicitly of the proper subject of this science.

Concerning the nominal definition, or the meaning of the words "sacred doctrine," there is a dispute as to what the holy Doctor implies by them. Does he mean faith? or theology? Or does he mean sacred doctrine in general according as it abstracts from faith and theology? Cajetan and several others hold this last view; but John of St. Thomas, Sylvius, and others contend that by these words St. Thomas means theology in the strict sense. This seems to be the true answer, although, of course, the first article is concerned more with sacred doctrine in.general. But immediately from the second article it is strictly a discussion of sacred science as distinguished from faith. Gradually St. Thomas passes from the confused to the distinct notion of this science.

First Article: Whether besides philosophy any further doctrine is required(1)

State of the question. Necessity is of many kinds. It is: (a) absolute; (b) hypothetical, which is either physical or moral.

It is a question of hypothetical necessity for the attainment of the end; but it is certainly not a question of absolute necessity that is presupposed by the very nature of the thing independently of the end to be attained, as when we say it is necessary for man to be a rational animal.

We must note that, a_thing is said to be necessary for the end in two ways. First, as indispensable for the attainment of the end (ad esse simpliciter), and this is called physical necessityi, as in the case of food for the preservation of human life. Secondly, a thing is said to be necessary for the convenient attainment of the end (ad bene esse), as in the case of a horse for a long journey, for otherwise there would be great difficulty in attaining the end, though it would not be a physical impossibility.

The difficulties placed at the beginning of the article by way of a statement of the question, are those which later on were proposed in another form by the positivists and the rationalists. These are: (1) that man must not seek to know those things that are above reason; so say the positive agnostics; (2) now a certain part of philosophy treats of God; so say several rationalists, who seek to reduce theology to philosophy, and they propose a merely natural interpretation of the mysteries of faith, as Spinoza and afterward Hegel did.

In the body of the article there are two conclusions which may be briefly expressed as follows- (1) the divine revelation of supernatural truths is hvpothetically necessary, but it is so indispensably (simpliciter) or physically; (2) the revelation of certain natural truths that pertain to religion, was hypothetically necessary, conveniently so (ad bene esse) or morally speaking.

First conclusion. This is proved in the body of the article according to St. Thomas' usual way by beginning with the minor, which is as follows: It is necessary that the end first be made known to men who are to direct their actions to the end. But according to revelation men are ordained to a supernatural end. Therefore it is necessary that the supernatural end first be made known to men by divine revelation.

It is evidently a question of hypothetical, but of indispensable (simpliciter) or of physical necessity, because nothing is willed unless it is foreknown. The middle term of the demonstration is: the foreknowledge of the end.

In this argument the major is founded upon reason; the minor is revealed, for the Scripture says: "The eye hath not seen, 0 God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee." (2) In like manner we read: "But to us God hath revealed them by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." (3) Hence the Vatican Council says that divine revelation is necessary "because God of His infinite goodness has ordained man to a supernatural end, to be a sharer of divine blessings which utterly exceed the intelligence of the human mind." (4) This council likewise declared that the mysteries of faith transcend also the natural powers of the created intellect, which includes even the angelic.(5)

The second conclusion concerns the moral necessity for the revelation of certain truths of the natural order that pertain to religion, such as the existence of God the Author of nature, His universal providence that extends even to the least detail, creation from nothing, the personal immortality of the human soul.

St. Thomas gives the reason for this, namely, that otherwise few there aree who would come to know these truths and this only after a long time, and with a mixture of many errors. This reason is developed by St. Thomas in another of his works,(6) and solemn utterance was given to it in the Vatican Council in the following words: "It is to be ascribed to this divine revelation, that such truths amongs things divine as of themselves are not beyond human reason can, even in the present condition of mankind, be known by everyone with facility, with firm assurance, and with no mixture of error."(7)

We have the confirmation of this in the history of philosophy, since the Greeks, who were particularly apt at speculation, having spent a long time in this pursuit, did not succeed in acquiring a clear idea of creation from nothing, and they had more or less doubts about the universal scope of Providence and the personal immortality of the soul. In this we clearly sec how first of all revelation, even from the very opening words of Genesis in which it speaks of creation, emphatically confirms from on high the certain findings of philosophy, as evidently is the case in Christian philosophy. This latter surpasses the philosophy of the more profound Greek philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, especially in two respects, namely, as regards the unwavering certainty concerning the most free creation of all things from nothing and the personal immortality of the soul. Thus philosophical speculation directed by faith reaches much loftier heights among the great Christian philosophers.

We have another confirmation of this from the history of modern philosophy, especially from the history of agnosticism, whether of the positivist or idealist type. A third confirmation is found in the history of religions, and of their fluctuating opinions about the great problems concerning God and the soul.

It is not as yet scientific theology but sacred doctrine according as it abstracts from faith and theology that is the subject matter of the body of the first article. There is also a reference to faith inasmuch as faith and not theology is necessary for salvation. Theology as a science is not indeed necessary for any of the faithful, but for the Church collectively, at least according to the ordinary law, since the teaching Church must also make use of human means in the discharge of her office, having recourse to reason in defending what is of faith against the objections of the adversaries.

In the reply to the second objection we find the first mention of theology as distinct from faith. This reply states that there is no reason why theology, guided by the higher light of divine revelation, may not teach those truths which philosophy already teaches us by means of the natural light of reason.

The reason for this is that sciences are differentiated according to the various means through which knowledge is obtained. For it is not the material but the formal object that differentiates the sciences, according as the knowledge is obtained from a different source. Thus the astronomer and the geologist prove that the earth is round in different ways, the former by mathematics, the latter by physics. Thus the distinction between the sciences is the result of the different degrees of abstraction.

Scotus, as Cajetan remarks, attacks this first article since he has a different conception of the distinction between human nature and grace. For Scotus, our soul is by its very nature positively ordained for the beatific vision," the desire for which would be natural and innate, although the soul cannot attain to it without God's help, to which it is not entitled, and which depends upon God's most free sanction.(9) This theory of Scotus is in harmony with
his teaching on being which, he says, applies univocally to God and creatures, and thus the infinite distance between the divine and human natures is not sufficiently safeguarded, as we shall see in question thirteen.

The Vatican Council speaks according to the terminology of St. Thomas when it says: "The Catholic Church, with one consent, has also ever held, and does hold, that there is a twofold order of knowledge, distinct both in principle and in object; in principle, because our knowledge in the one is by natural reason and in the other by divine faith; in object, because, besides those things to which natural reason can attain, there are proposed to our belief in mysteries hidden in God which, unless divinely revealed, cannot cannot be known . . . For the divine mysteries by their own nature [it not say according to God's free decree] so far transcend the created intelligence that, even when delivered by revelation and received by faith, they remain covered with a veil of faith itself, and shrouded in a certain degree of darkness." (10)

Index Top


1. See also Contra Gentes, Bk. I, chaps. 4, 6.

2. Is. 64: 4.

3. 1 Cor. 2: 10.

4. Denz., no. 1786; see also canons of the same council, ibid., nos. 1807 f.

5. Ibid., no. 1796.

6. Cf. Contra Gentes, Bk. I, chap. 4.

7. Denz., no. 1786.

8. According to the theory of Scotus, if the soul saw itself directly, it would behold in itself this positive ordination to the immediate vision of God. Cf. Scotus in Quaestio la Prologi Primi Sententiarum.

9. Concerning this difficulty, see question twelve. In this question it will be necessary to show that the innate desire for the beatific vision would have to be efficacious, otherwise God as the Author of nature would have given a natural inclination to an end to which as Author of nature He could not bring the creature, and thus there would be no proportion between agent and end.

10. Denz. nos. 1795 f.


"It is vanity to love what passes quickly and not to look ahead where eternal joy abides. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"Obedience is a short cut to perfection."

St Philip Neri

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"Let persons in the world sanctify themselves in their own houses, for neither the court, professions, or labour, are any hindrance to the service of God."

St Philip Neri

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