"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.


Second article: whether sacred doctrine is a science

State of the question. From this title we see that it is now not merely a question of sacred doctrine in general according as it abstracts from faith and theology, but it is a question of theology as a science.

The difficulty is that every science proceeds from principles directly known and evident, whereas sacred theology proceeds from principles of faith, which are obscure and not admitted by all.Moreover, science is not concerned with individual facts but with universal principles, whereas sacred doctrine treats of particulars, namely, of Christ, the apostles, the patriarchs, and the prophets.

The reply of St. Thomas is this: sacred doctrine, that is, sacred theology is a science, but it is a science that is subordinated to a higher science possessed by God, and in a lesser degree by the blessed. It is proved to be a science in the counter-argument from the authority of St. Augustine who says: "to this science alone belongs that whereby saving faith is begotten, nourished, protected, and strengthened."(12) In this descriptive definition obtained from the effects, the divers functions of theology are already to some extent distinguished, for, as theology is somewhat apologetic, by means of it saving faith is begotten; afterward, by the theological explanation of sacred doctrine, faith is nourished and is defended against those denying it, and it is strengthened since the various points of faith are so arranged as to constitute one body of doctrine, and, like the setting of precious stones in a diadem, its value becomes increasingly apparent by this orderly arrangement.

Nevertheless the difficulty remains if we contend that theology is a science not only in the broad sense but in the strict sense; for science properly so called is certain knowledge of truth that is deduced by demonstration from true and certain principles. More over, the certitude of sciences has its foundation in the evidence of the principles, and, contrary to this, the principles of sacred theology are not evident.

To solve this difficulty, St. Thomas establishes the second part of the conclusion: that theology is a science subordinated to th higher science of God and the blessed. It is proved as follows:

A subordinate science proceeds from principles known by the light of a higher science, as the science of perspective (optics) proceeds from principles established by geometry. Now sacred theology proceeds from principles transmitted by God through revelation. Therefore sacred theology is a science subordinated to the science of God and the blessed. We say "of the blessed," because they see God's essence, although in a finite way, a point which we will discuss in question twelve.

Thus in the reply to the first objection the difficulty presented at the beginning is solved. For the principles of any science are either in themselves sefl-evident - and thus a science is not subordinated - or else they are reducible to the conclusions of a higher science. Hence, too, the conclusions of a subordinated science are reduced to self-evident principles but through the intermediary a subordinating science.

First corollary. The principles of a subordinated science can be known in two ways: either by faith and without evidence of reason or by higher science already acquired, and then there is evidence of reason.

Thus the optician, if he is not a geometer, believes the principles transmitted by geometry, and then his optics is truly a subordinated science, but as yet imperfect. If afterward this optician becomes a geometer, then his optics will be not only a truly subordinated science, but a perfect one. Likewise, the musician believes the principles he receives from arithmetic, if he does not know arithmetic; but he can acquire this knowledge.

In the same manner, the theologian who is still a wayfarer, believes the principles transmitted by God revealing and proposed by the Church; and thus his theology is truly a subordinated science, but as yet imperfect. But when this theologian afterward attains to the beatific vision or comes into possession of it, then he not only believes but sees the principles transmitted to him by God through the beatific vision, or in the Word, and he still can, outside the Word, make use of his discursive theology, which then is truly not only a subordinated science, but a perfect one. Thus with the attainment of the beatific vision faith is made void, but not theology. St. Thomas' conclusion concerns sacred theology as it is in itself, and this can be in the theologian either as wayfarer, or as one of the blessed or possessors of God.

Second corollary. The theologian, will have the same theological habit in heaven as he now has on earth; just as the optician does not lose his science of optics when he becomes a geometer. So Christ when on earth had acquired knowledge as well as the beatific vision.

Third corollary. Therefore what is substantially a true science is sometimes imperfect under certain conditions. Thus in the theologian as wayfarer, theology is substantially a true science (and is neither an opinion nor faith), because its conclusions are reducible to evident principles. But if, in fact, the reduction does not result in actual evidence, this is not owing directly to the defect of this science but is, as it were, accidentally so, because of the defect in the person knowing, as in the case of the optician who would not know geometry. Hence the theology of the wayfarer is a true science, but it is imperfect as to its status.

In other words, a science that is imperfect, not in itself but because it is in the initial stage of its development can still be called a science, because as such its conclusions are reducible to principles. The optician who is not a geometer has good grounds for thinking that his optics is a science and not merely an opinion.

It must be observed that this distinction between the essence of a science and its state, is of almost similar application in many other problems, and there is a most certain foundation for this. In fact, one as yet merely a boy or even an infant is, as regards his nature, a true human being, but he is in an imperfect state. In like manner, the acquired moral virtues in a sinner can be true virtues, but they are in an imperfect state as regards their disposition. Thus the acquired virtue of true temperance differs from the temperance of the miser which has not as yet reached the perfect state of a virtue that is practically stabilized, but is still in the imperfect state of a fickle disposition.

Likewise the Christian philosophy of St. Thomas does not differ specifically, as regards its formal object, from Aristotle's philosophy; but the difference consists in this, that in Aristotle the habit was imperfect, whereas in St. Thomas it was perfect. Thus Aristotle did not succeed in acquiring a clear idea of creation from nothing, nor of providence that extends even to the least detail, nor was he fully convinced of the personal immortality of the soul. His philosophy never penetrated to such depths as this. In our days some would wish to relegate Christian philosophy to Christian apologetics, which is sacred theology functioning by an appeal to reason. To be sure, the Christian philosophy of St. Thomas did not differ specifically from the philosophy of Aristotle except in its circumstances, because it was fortified from on high by divine revelation as its guiding star; because of this positive fortification and the perfection resulting therefrom, it is called Christian.


Durandus, Scotus, and Aureolus raised objections against the conclusion of St. Thomas. These objections are examined by Cajetan.

First objection. According to Aureolus, since the theologian does not have evidence of the truth of the conclusions, theology is the science of consequences or of logical inferences, but not of the conclusions themselves, or of actual facts. In other words, it would be but a good application of logic to matters of faith.

We reply with Cajctan that from this it follows that theology is a science in an imperfect state, but not that it is not a science. The theologian is not only a logician applying logic to matters of faith, but he must also be a metaphysician, and in addition to this a theologian in the strict sense of the term, treating not only of logical being, or merely of being purely as such, but of the mystery of God's life.

Second objection. A subordinating science states the reason why the principles of a subordinated science are true. But it does not give the reason why the principles of faith are true.

Reply. Wayfarers do not see the reason for this; however there is such a reason. Thus there is a certain reason on account of which God is triune, for He is triune by reason of Himself. Likewise there is a certain reason for the free decree of the redemptive Incarnation.

Third objection. The object of a subordinated science is distinct from that of a subordinating science, as optics with reference to geometry. But theology and the beatific vision have the same object. Cajetan (12) replies to this objection by the following distinction that theology has the same object as it is an entity, this I concede; as it is an object, this I deny; for the object of the beatific vision is God clearly seen, whereas the object of theology is God as revealed, abstracting both from clarity and obscurity. But if, moreover, a subordinating science has a limited object, such as geometry, then the object of the subordinated science, such as optics, is also distinct as an entity.

This distinction between the object as an entity and the object as an object, is of great importance. Thus God, although He is most simple as an entity, is the object of several specifically distinct habits, namely, of the light of glory, of infused faith, of the gifts of understanding and wisdom, of sacred discursive theology (whether in the blessed or in wayfarers), and of natural theology. And these various habits remain specifically distinct by reason of their object, not as it is an entity, but as it is an object. Likewise man is the material object of various sciences, namely, of biology, psychology, metaphysics, and even theology.

In reply to the second objection of this article, St. Thomas remarks why sacred theology can treat of individual facts, although science treats of universals. In truth, it treats of these things, namely, the deeds performed by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, not as constituting the principal object but as they are examples, and to establish the authority of those through whom the divine revelation came down to us. But when it treats of Christ, it considers in Him what the redemptive Incarnation is, just as physics or astronomy treats of the sun, considering its influence in the solar system.

First doubt. For true theology is it enough for one to have a knowledge of supernatural things, not through infused faith but faith acquired by human efforts, such as the formal heretic has? In other words, is infused faith necessary for theology so that the loss of infused faith through heresy would mean the loss of theology?

Vasquuez replies that acquired faith suffices for theology: (1) because theology survives in the heretical theologian; (2) because theology is a naturally acquired habit and therefore does not necessarily depend upon any infused habit. It suffices that the principles of faith be believed by whatever kind of faith.

John of St. Thomas, on the contrary, justly replies that the opposite opinion must by all means be held; and he says that it is the one commonly held among theologians, especially the Thomists. This we deduce from the text of St. Thomas who, when comparing the certitude of theological science with other sciences, says "whereas this derives its certitude from the light of the divine knowledge, which cannot be misled"; (13) and he shows that is divine revelation which gives to theology its formal aspect.(14)

Now the acquired faith of the formal heretic is uncertain, cause he believes by an act of his own judgment and will those truths which he approves of, and rejects others that have been revealed, thus rejecting the formal motive of infused faith, which is the authority of God revealing as regards all revealed truths. Those which he retains are believed on grounds of human reason. Hence the faith of the formal heretic is some kind of opinion from which certainty of conclusions cannot be deduced.(15)

Hence many ideas concerning matters of faith survive indeed materially in the theologiann who becomes a formal heretic, there is no longer the formal connection between these ideas, and in the conclusions deduced the word "is" implies an affirmation that is merely an opinion and not a certainty. Hence nothing is left but the corpse, as it were, of theological science in such a person. For science is a habit or simple quality together with subordination of ideas. But this simple quality is specified by the formal object, which in this case is God as made known to us by virtual revelation. Hence, when divine revelation is rejected by formal heresy, this simple quality or theological habit no longer remains but in its place we have only ideas that are precariously connected under the dominance of a fickle opinion which is the result of heretic's own judgment and volitional act. Thus the human body when the soul has departed, is no longer truly a human body; lacking what formally connects the various parts, it is but a corpse in the process of corruption or disintegration. The habit of sacred theology implies the presence of a theological bent of mind, and this the heretic, such as Luther or Calvin, no longer possesses.

In reply to Vasquez, it must be said that theology, since it is acquired and not infused, is formally natural, though radically it is supernatural, in that it has its root in infused faith, as we shall state later on. Nor can anyone be said to have acquired a subordinated science who is not certain of having acquired a subordinating science; nor can such a science be acquired by one who accepts from a subordinating science what he approves of and nothing else, as in the case of the optician who would accept from geometry only those things which he approved of; for he would be accepting these things not on scientific but aesthetic grounds.



12. Com. in Summam S. Thomae, Ia, q. 1, a. 2, no. 13.

13. Summa theol., Ia, q. 1, a.5.

14. Ibid., a.4.

15. Ibid., IIa IIae, q.5, a.3.


"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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"God has no need of men."

St Philip Neri

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"As the flesh is nourished by food, so is man supported by prayers"

St Augustine

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