"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.


Third article: whether sacred doctrine is one science

State of the question. The question is whether it is one science reduced to its ultimate species, or whether it is divided into several sciences, just as there are several mathematical sciences, namely, geometry, arithmetic, and several philosophical sciences, as logic, natural philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics.

The difficulty is, as stated in the beginning of the article, that sacred theology treats not only of God, but also of created beings, namely, of angels, of man, or irrational creatures, as also of the morality of human acts. But these various subjects pertain to different philosophical sciences, namely, metaphysics and ethics. Hence it seems that dogmatic theology, which treats especially of God, is a science distinct from moral theology, which is concerned with the morality of human acts. Thus there seem to be several theological sciences, as, among the Scholastics, Vasquez thought subsequent to the time of such nominalists as Durandus and Gabriel Biel.

The answer of St. Thomas is that sacred doctrine is one science. This indeed is what its name, "sacred theology," implies, for it is singular and not plural in form.

The conclusion is proved as follows: The unity of a faculty or habit is gauged by the unity of the formal aspect of its object; but sacred theology considers all things according as they are knowable by revelation; therefore sacred theology is one science reduced to its ultimate species.

The major is philosophically certain. Thus sight is specified by the colored object perceived by the light of the sensitive faculty, logic by being that is a creation of the mind, natural philosophy by mobile being perceived by the light of reason according to the first degree of abstraction, mathematics by quantitative being according to the second degree of abstraction, metaphysics by being as such perceived by the light of reason according to the third degree of abstraction, namely, as removed from all that is material, and ethics is specified by human acts.

The minor. But sacred theology considers everything as it is knowable by revelation. It thus includes all that is formally revealed and believed as of faith, and likewise all that is virtually revealed, which means all that can be deduced from revealed principles. These virtually revealed truths can be said to be, as stated in the body of this article, potentially revealed. They are known by the light not of formal but of virtual revelation. What is formally revealed is the formal motive of faith. But virtual revelation is the light or formal motive why we assent to theological conclusions.

Therefore everything that is considered in theology, namely, God, creatures, morality of human acts come under the one formal aspect of the object, according as they are considered as included within the scope of virtual revelation, which is the objectum formale quo of sacred theology.(37)

1) This conclusion receives its confirmation from the reply to the first objection, which is as follows: "Sacred doctrine does not treat of God and creatures equally, but of God primarily; and of creatures only so far as they are referable to God as their beginning or end. Hence the unity of this science is not impaired."

This reply is concerned with the objectum formale quod (38) of sacred theology. This will be more explicitly determined in the seventh article in which the question will be taken up of the proper and formal subject of this science. But even from its nominal definition theology is evidently concerned principally with God and only secondarily with those things that proceed from God, namely, creatures, and the movement of the rational creature toward God. Thus the unity of the science is not impaired. And how this unity of sacred theology depends upon both formal objects, namely, quo and quod, will be more clearly seen from the explanation of the seventh article. For theology treats of God under the aspect of Deity, in so far as this comes within the scope of virtual revelation. Thus it is distinct from metaphysics, which treats of being as such, and of God as included in the notion of being, in so far as He is known by the light of natural reason.

It is, however, the common teaching in philosophy that the sciences derive their species and unity from the unity of both formal objects quo and quod. Thus the difference between physics, mathematics, and metaphysics consists in this, that physics treats of mobile being according to the first degree of abstraction; mathematics, of being according to the second degree of abstraction; metaphysics, of being as such according to the third degree of abstraction. Thus any science is specified by its object, not as this latter is an entity, but as it is formally an object, such being the means or precise reason why it can be known.

2) This conclusion is furthermore confirmed by the reply to the second objection, in which it is shown that although there are different philosophical sciences, yet theological science is specifically one. The reason is that the higher science considers its object in its more universal aspect, just as the common sense, which is the lowest of the internal senses and in which the five objects of the external senses are united, attains the visible, the audible, the tangible, and other objects according to the more common notion of the sensible.

So these things discussed by philosophical sciences, namely,by natural philosophy, metaphysics, and ethics, sacred theology can consider under one aspect, inasmuch as they are capable of being divinely revealed, or are virtually revealed, and according as all these are directed to God, as being the principle whom they manifest and the end to whom they tend.

We shall see in the sixth and seventh articles that God in His intimate life can be known only by divine revelation, and this applies equally to those things that participate in God's intimate life, such as grace, the infused virtues, and the gifts. So we shall see that the formal object quod and the formal object quo in theology are interchangeable, as in the other sciences. The Deity and the divine light are interchangeable, just as being as such and the light of reason in the third degree of abstraction are, just as mathematical quantity and the light of reason in the second degree of abstraction are, just as the colored object and sense perception are.

First corollary. Positive theology and speculative theology are not two sciences, but they are, so to speak, the inductive and deductive parts of the same science. For positive theology brings together the revealed truths by the inductive method from Holy Scripture and tradition. After this, speculative theology takes up the analysis of the concepts of these truths, defending them against opponents by arguments drawn from the analogy of things known by the natural power of reason, and it deduces conclusions that are virtually contained in them.

Second corollary. Positive theology, since it is truly a part of theology, reaches its conclusions under the guidance of the light of revelation, and thus it is distinct from history; but it makes use of history, just as speculative theology makes use of metaphysics.

Third corollary. Specialization is a more difficult process in theology than the other sciences, and this because of its unity. The relationship between moral theology and grace, the infused virtues, the gifts, merit and demerit cannot be fully perceived without a profound knowledge of what dogmatic theology teaches about God's love for us, the divine motion, redemption and its application to us. Hence specialization in theology sometimes leads to a too material and superficial knowledge, which no longer penetrates to the very vitals of this corporate doctrine.

Sometimes specialists in this or that branch of theology have an insufficient knowledge of theology in general, and therefore of those things that are fundamental in theology, so that the branch in which they specialize, for instance, ascetic or mystic theology, is not properly understood by them. Doctors, too, must not be ignorant of the general principles of medical science, otherwise their knowledge of that in which they particularly specialize is deficient.

It is evident from St. Thomas' reply to the second objection that sacred theology, even when discussing man and the morality of his acts, examines in them what is strictly divine, what can be known only by the light of virtual revelation, and what is related to God as such, that is, to His intimate life. In this we see the sublimity of theology since it considers what is divine in all things by means of the divine light, namely, the various participations of God's intimate life - grace, the virtues, the gifts, their acts, the modalities of these acts, these being meritorious and their opposites demeritorious, in that contraries are governed by the same law.

Just as in the preaching about Christ no distinction is drawn between tween the dogmatic and the moral parts, but the kingdom of God is spoken of, or God's life as it is in itself and as it is participated in by us, so sacred theology does not consist of two specifically distinct sciences, dogma and moral but is only one scientific habit which treats of God as knowable by revelation and of those things that refer to God. Therefore St. Thomas says at the end of the reply to the second objection: "So that in this way sacred doctrine bears, as it were, the stamp of the divine science which is one and simple yet extends to everything." Hence dogmatic theology and moral theology are but branches of the same science, and this applies more so to soteriology, mariology, asceticism, and mysticism.

Fourth corollary. In the human sciences, metaphysics bears a certain relation to theology since it treats of being as such, that is, it treats of supreme generalities and higher principles. Thus it is one and yet it discusses all things from a higher point of view, accord ing as they are reduced to being and to the first principles of being.

Sacred theology considers all things from a higher plane according as these are directed to God, and in this it is guided by divine light. Hence the unity of this science is perfect, and it thus disposes one for the contemplation enjoyed by the blessed, which is a still more simplified process.

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37. By the objectum formale quo, or the formal aspect under which or by means of which of any science, is meant in scholastic language, the light inherent in the first principles of such a science by which one is able to reach the conclusions pertaining strictly to such a science. It means the objective evidence of the conclusions borrowed from the first principles of such a science. In other words it is the objective evidence by which the conclusions of such a science are made known clearly to all. (Tr.)

38. A few words of explanation may again be of help to those not well versed in scholastic terminology. There is a distinction between the material and the formal object as such (objectum formale quod) of any science. By the material
object are meant the realities or entities which constitute the subject matter of that science. The particular point of view from which the subject is discussed constitutes the formal object of that science. An example will help to make this clearer. Thus the extension or extended quantity of cosmic bodies constitutes the material object of geometry. The measure of this continuous extension constitutes its formal object (objectum formale quod); for it is the measure of the dimensions of these bodies which is particularly enunciated and considered in the theorems of geometry. Finally, the axiomatic principles of geometry are the source of light by which the theorems are made evident. These are called by the Scholastics the objectum formale quo or the ratio formalis sub qua of geometry. For these principles constitute formally or actually the object by which, or formally the reason by which, the theorems and conclusions of geometry are made evident. Yet it must be carefully noted that the objectum formale quo is what truly and adequately specifies a science, and not its objectum formale quod, for this latter may, sometimes be the same in different sciences. Thus the measure of extended bodies (objectum formale quod) is what is formally considered both by geometry and hydrostatics, but the method of approach in each (objectum formale quo) is different. (Tr.)


"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."

St Augustine

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"God commands not impossibilities, but by commanding he suggests to you to do what you can, to ask for what is beyond your strength; and he helps you, that you may be able."

St Augustine

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"The greatest glory we can give to God is to do his will in everything."

St Alphonsus de Liguori

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