Philosophy vs Theology (IntroPhil 102.2)
How was the lecture on philosophy versus the special sciences? Now, let us dare to wonder into the world of “unnatural” or “revealed” science known as theology. What special relations are there between philosophy and theology? This lecture opens the door on that interesting perspective.
We have said in our previous lectures that Philosophy is the highest of the human sciences, that is, of the sciences which know things by the natural light of reason. But if there be a science which is a participation by man of the knowledge proper to God himself, obviously that science will be superior to the highest human science. Such a science, however, exists; it is theology – this is what theologians tell us.
The word theology means the science of God but we have to distinguish:
The science or knowledge of God which we can attain naturally by the unassisted powers of reason: Natural theology or Theodicy (which enables us to know God by means of creatures as the author of the natural order; it is a philosophic science – the supreme department of metaphysics – all metaphysical knowledge, including the metaphysical knowledge of God, is knowledge in terms of being in general).
But there is also a knowledge (or science of God) which is unattainable naturally by the unassisted powers of reason. It is possible only if God has informed men about himself by revelation. From this revelation our reason, enlightened by faith, subsequently draws the implicit conclusions. This is supernatural theology or simply theology. It is of this science that we are now speaking.
The object of Theology is something wholly inaccessible to the natural apprehension of any creature whatsoever. God known in himself, in his own divine life, not as the first cause of creatures and the author of the natural order.
The premises of theology are the truths formally revealed by God (dogmas or articles of faith). Its primary criterion of truth the authority of God who reveals it. Its light is no longer the more natural light of reason, but the light of reason illuminated by faith.
Theology is above all merely human sciences by the sublimity of its object, the certainty of its premises, and the excellence of its light. Theology it is unable to perceive the truth of its premises, which the theologian believes. Whereas the premises of philosophy are seen by the philosopher.
Nevertheless theology is a science superior to philosophy. Though the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments where human authority is concerned. The argument from the authority of God, the revealer, is more solid and powerful than any other. Theology claims with a far better title than metaphysics the name of wisdom. it is wisdom par excellence.
Relations between philosophy and theology?
As the superior science, theology judges philosophy in the same sense that philosophy judges the sciences. It therefore exercises in respect of the latter a function of guidance or government which consists in rejecting as false any philosophic affirmation which contradicts a theological truth.
The premises of philosophy, however, are independent of theology: being those primary truths which are self-evident to the understanding whereas the premises of theology are the truths revealed by God. The premises of philosophy are self-supported and are not derived from those of theology.
Similarly the light by which philosophy knows its object is independent of theology:
- Since its light is the light of reason, which is its own guarantee.
- For these reasons philosophy has no need of theology to defend its premisses (whereas it defends those of the other sciences).
- It develops its principles autonomously within its own sphere, though subject to the external control and negative regulation of theology.
It is therefore plain that philosophy and theology are entirely distinct, and that it would be as absurd for a philosopher to invoke the authority of revelation lo prove a philosophical thesis
But if philosophy and theology are entirely distinct, they are not therefore unrelated: philosophy is of all the human sciences pre-eminently the free science in the sense that it proceeds by means of premises and laws which depend on no science superior to itself. Its freedom -that is, its freedom to err- is limited by the control exercise on it by theology.
Philosophy severed from theology
In the seventeenth century the Cartesian reform resulted in the severance of philosophy from theology. Philosophy refused to recognise the rightful control of theology in respect of philosophy. This was tantamount to denying that theology is a science or anything more than a mere practical discipline.
And to claiming that philosophy, or human wisdom, is the absolutely sovereign science, which admits no other superior to itself. Thus, in spite of the religious beliefs of Descartes himself, Cartesianism introduced the principle of rationalist philosophy, which does not acknowledge revelation as having any control over philosophy.
On the other had philosophy renders to theology services of the greatest value where it is employed by the latter. In fact theology employs in its demonstrations truths proved by philosophy.
Philosophy thus becomes the instrument of theology and it is in this respect it serves theological arguments.
The theory of a double truth, by which the same thing may be true in philosophy, but false in theology, was invented by the mediaeval Averroists, who sought in ibis way to evade the censures of the Church. In various forms it has been revived in modern times.
In practice, however, on account of the human understanding, which can reason about the things of God only by analogy with creatures, theology cannot be developed without the assistance of philosophy. Therefore a system of theology could not possibly be true if the metaphysics which it employed were false.
It is indeed an absolute necessity that the theologian should have at his disposal a true philosophy in conformity with the common sense of mankind.
Philosophy taken in itself normally precedes theology. Certain fundamental truths of the natural order are indeed what we may term the introduction to the faith.
These truths, which are naturally known to all men by the light of common sense, are known and proved scientifically by philosophy. Theology, being the science of faith, pre-supposes the philosophical knowledge of these same truths.
We have already spoken of the services that theology renders philosophy: Reducing its risks of error; and suggesting lines of research.
Written by Kombian SOMTUAKA