"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.


Sixth article: whether sacred theology is the same as wisdom

State of the question. We have seen that sacred theology is a science subordinated to the science possessed by God, that it is eminently speculative and practical. The question is whether it is worthy of the name of wisdom, as is the case with metaphysics or first philosophy among the sciences of the natural order.

The difficulty is that: (I) sacred theology borrows its principle from a higher science, and therefore is subordinate to this science whereas "it is for the wise man to direct," (62) and not to be directed (2) sacred theology does not prove or defend from on high the principles of the other sciences, as metaphysics, which treats of being, does by defending the principles invoked by the other sciences; (3) sacred theology does not seem to be supernatural wisdom, because this latter is infused, and is not acquired by human effort.

The reply, however, to this is that sacred theology is wisdom above all other human wisdom. Sacred doctrine is often called wisdom in Holy Scripture(63) St. Paul, comparing God's wisdom with the wisdom of this world, says: "Howbeit we speak wisdom among the perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, neither of the princes of this world that come to naught. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, a wisdom which is hidden. . . . For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God." (64) St. Paul speaks in this text, indeed, of revealed sacred doctrine, of faith illuminated by the gifts of the Holy Ghost. But sacred theology, which is acquired by human effort, proceeds from this faith, and thus it participates in the perfection of wisdom.

In the body of the article St. Thomas has recourse to the philosophical notion of wisdom as determined by Aristotle (65) who shows that metaphysics is not only a science, but wisdom, or the, highest of the sciences, because it is the knowledge of thingss acquired not only through their causes, but through the highest of causes. St. Thomas retains this notion of wisdom in the present article and in other parts of the Summa.(66)

The doctrine of the article is briefly expressed as follows; Wisdom is the knowledge of things through their highest cause. But sacred theology essentially treats of God, the highest cause, also so far as He is known to Himself alone and to others by revelation. Therefore sacred theology is first of all wisdom, and more so than metaphysics.

The major is the very definition of wisdom established by Aristotles(67) In this article St. Thomas briefly shows the validity of this real definition, beginning with the nominal. For, according to the nominal definition, wisdom is something of eminence in the cognitive order; thus we have the common saying that it is for the wise man to direct and judge. But a scientific judgment about a thing is obtained through its causes, inquiring what the thing is in itself, what are its efficient and final causes. The highest judgment is therefore obtained through the highest of causes. Thus wisdom surpasses the sciences, since science pure and simple is knowledge through proximate causes but wisdom is knowledge through the highest of causes. Thus metaphysics treats of being as such through its highest causes, and it therefore does not reach perfection unless it acquires a definite idea of creation or of the production of the totality of finite being from nothing, and of the end of creation, which is the manifestation of God's goodness. Aristotle did not acquire this definite idea that can be known by the natural power of reason, and which, moreover, is equivalently expressed in the first words of the Bible: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth." (68)

The nominal definition of sacred theology and the preceding remarks establish the evidence of the minor. For theology is the knowledge of God derived from revelation. Hence "it essentially treats of God viewed as the highest cause," (69) and not only as He is the cause of the being as such of created things, but as He is the cause of grace and glory, that is, as He is the Author of salvation. The reason is that it treats of God not only so far as He can be known naturally from creatures, but also so far as He is known to Himself alone and made known to others through revelation.

In other words, sacred theology not only treats of God as He is the first Being, the self-subsisting Being, and the cause of beings as such, but it treats of God in His intimate life or under the aspect of the Deity. This is what St. Paul said: "But to us God hath revealed them by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God," (70) or God's intimate life. That is, the object expressed in this utterance is God under the aspect of the Deity, because the Deity contains formally and eminently all absolutely simple perfections such as being, unity, truth, goodness ..., in which creatures are naturally capable of participation; whereas the Deity is not capable of participation except by grace, which makes us "partakers of the divine nature." (71) Thus the Deity in a certain manner transcends being and the one, since it contains all these perfections formally and eminently in its higher eminence. It contains them more so than whiteness contains the seven colors of the rainbow, which are included in it not formally and eminently but only virtually and eminently.(72)

Hence sacred theology is especially wisdom because it treats essentially of God, the highest cause, in His intimate life. Nevertheless theology, especially that of the wayfarer, does not attain to a quiddative knowledge of God as He is in Himself; it does not see the Deity, but reaches this in the midst of faith, especially when it discusses the mystery of the Trinity. Thus sacred theology can from on high judge of all created things and of human life, namely, through the highest cause of being and of grace, and through the ultimate end not only natural but also supernatural.

In the reply to the first objection it is stated that sacred theology derives its principles not from any human knowledge but from the divine science, and thus it remains wisdom. Its principles are especially the fourteen articles of faith from which also the other articles of faith can be deduced.

First doubt. How does sacred theology judge of other sciences? In his reply to the second objection St. Thomas says that:

1) "Theology is not concerned with proving the principles ofother sciences," because its proper sphere of action extends to what has been supernaturally revealed, and the principles of the natural sciences are either directly known or are proved in a subalternating science, as geometry proves the principles of optics. In like manner metaphysics defends the first principles of reason.

2) Sacred theology judges, however, of the other sciences, and this in two ways. It judges negatively because "whatever is found in other sciences contrary to any truth of this science must be condemned as false." Thus many hypotheses that have not been scientifically proved, from the very fact that they are contrary to divine rcvelation are repudiated by theology. But it positively approves of a certain proposition of metaphysics or of natural philosophy or of ethics, according as it is otherwise revealed, or at least is in conformity with revelation. Thus it approves of propositions about the immortality of the soul or the foundation of moral obligation or the distinction between virtuous, pleasant, and useful good.

Corollary. Thus the legitimate and relative autonomy of the natural sciences is preserved intact according as they proceed from their own naturally known principles and make use of their own method, as the Vatican Council states.(73) But they cannot affirm as scientific certainty what is contrary to revealed truth, because truth does not contradict itself.(74) Hence the rationalist assertion of the absolute autonomy of reason was condemned by the Vatican Council in the following words: "If anyone shall say that human wisdom is so independent that faith cannot be enjoined upon it by God, let him be anathema." (75)

Thus there are several declarations of the Church about the benefits of revelation. By means of it reason is freed from error, enlightened and confirmed in truth .(76) It upholds the certainty and purity of natural knowledge; (77) it is the infallible guide of philosophy,(78) and its indispensable norm;(79) not only the philosopher but even philosophy is subject to its teaching authority.(80) In the Syllabus of Pius IX the following proposition is condemned against moderate rationalism: "As the philosopher is one thing, and philosophy another, so it is the right and duty of the philosopher to subject himself to the authority which he shall have proved to be true; but philosophy neither can nor ought to submit to any such authority." (81) This is practically the same assertion as that condemned as heretical by the Vatican Council, which reads: "Human reason is so independent that faith cannot be enjoined upon it by God." (82) This latter assertion is tantamount to saying that the formal motive of a philosophical admission does not come within the scope of the formal motive of infused faith, namely, the authority of God revealing, and thus in the final analysis the certitude of infused faith would rest not only materially and extrinsically but even formally and intrinsically upon the natural evidence of the signs of revelation. Thus human reason would remain the supreme judge of truth and falsehood. This was the semi-rationalist error of Gunther, Hermes, and the Modernists.

Second doubt. How does theological wisdom differ from the gift of wisdom? St. Thomas answers this question in his reply to the third objection of this article, and more explicitly when he discusses the gift of wisdom .(83) Theological wisdom which is acquired by human effort guided by the light of divine revelation, judges according to the perfect use of reason, namely, by analyzing the concepts of the principles of faith or of the enunciation of the mysteries, and by deducing the conclusions contained in these principles. Contrary to this, the infused gift of wisdom, under the special
inspiration of the Holy Ghost, transcending the discursive method, jiudges of divine things by way of an inclination or connaturalness for them, and it has its foundation in charity. This connaturalness arising from charity, is a loving sympathy, and by means of this quality the revealed mysteries manifest themselves not only as true, as revealed by God, but as most good since they admirably correspond to our higher aspirations.

So also in the natural order, there are two ways of judging, for instance, in questions of morality. It is accomplished either by way of scientific knowledge, as he judges who is well versed in moral science even though he is not virtuous; or it is accomplished by way of an inclination, as he who is virtuous, who is chaste, for instance, even though he has no knowledge of moral science, judges well of those things that pertain to chastity, because these are in conformity with his virtuous inclination. According to each one's inclination or affection, so does he see the fitness of the end, said Aristotle. Wherefore the prudent judgment is said to be practically true by reason of its conformity with a right appetite, that is, with an upright intention, even though it is speculatively false because of an involuntary error.(84) Thus prudence presupposes all the moral virtues, and without it they cannot be virtues. In like manner, knowledge that is the fruit of the gift of wisdom, presupposes charity, whereas acquired theology remains in a theologian who is in a state of mortal sin.

The reply to the third objection of this article must be carefully read and compared with what St. Thomas has to say later on about this subject.(85) Some who read these passages superficially, see in the knowledge resulting from the gift of wisdom but a loving connaturalness for divine things (and this is already present in the act of living faith that is informed by charity, even without the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost). What others perceive is this special inspiration, but they do not sufficiently advert to the fact that the Holy Spirit by means of this special inspiration makes use of the aforesaid loving connaturalness to manifest how excellent are the mysteries of faith, in that they admirably satisfy our nobler aspirations,: "O taste and see that the Lord is sweet." (86) If this special inspiration of the Holy Ghost is not considered, one fails to understand why Hierotheus is said "to be patient of divine things."

Great theologians excel in both kinds of wisdom. Thus knowledge that is not discursive and that is the result of the gift of wisdom, illustrates and confirms from on high the discursive knowledge of acquired theology. This is clearly seen in the writings of St. Augustine and not infrequently this reinforcement from on high in some way makes up for the imperfection that is of philosophical formulation.

Another corollary. Apologetics is not a science specifically distinct from sacred theology, but it is theology functioning according to the principles of reason, and pertains to it, inasmuch as theology is wisdom and inasmuch as it defends the principles of faith and adheres to the same against those denying them. This has been more explained in another of our works.(87) It will be made clearer in the eighth article, in which it is said that theology defends its principles against those who deny them, and it does not leave this defence to another science, because it is wisdom or the highest of
the acquired sciences. But in this rational or apologetic function of theology, it makes use of history and philosophy.

Index Top


65. Metaph., Bk. I, chaps. 1 f.

66. Cf. Summa theol., Ia, q. 14, a.1 ad 2um; Ia IIae, q.57, a.2 ad 1um.

67. Metaph., Bk. I, chaps, 1 f.

68. Gen. 1:1.

69. Summa theol., 1a, q. 1i, a.6.

70. 1 Cor. 2: 10.

71. II Pet. 1: 4.

72. Cf. infra, q. 13, a.3, 5.

73. Cf. Denz., no. 1799.

74. Ibid., nos. 1797 f., 1878 f.

75. Ibid.,no. 1810; see also no. 1789.

76. Ibid., nos. 1799, 1807.

77. Ibid., no. 1786.

78. Ibid., nos. 1656, 1681.

79. Ibid., no. 1714.

80. Ibid., nos. 1656, 1674f., 1682f., 1710, 1714, 2073, 2085f.

81. Ibid., no. 1710.

82. Ibid., no. 1810.

83. Cf. Summa theol., IIa IIae, q.45, a.2.

84. Ibid., IIa IIae, q.57, a.5 ad 3um.

85. Ibid., IIa IIlae, q.45, a.2.

86. Ps. 33:9.

87. De revelatione, I, chaps. 2 f.


"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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"Whoever wants to stand alone without the support of a master and guide will be like the tree that stands alone in a field without a proprietor. No matter how much the tree bears, passers-by will pick the fruit before it ripens. "

St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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"Obedience is a short cut to perfection."

St Philip Neri

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