October 3, 2010
Dr. Paul Hillmer
The Relationship of Faith and Reason
Thomas Aquinas was of the firm belief that reason and faith could live in harmony. He argued that they were, in fact, not in contradiction to each other. Chapter VII of Summa Contra Gentiles explains Thomas Aquinas's thoughts about this thought. Thomas Aquinas's argument for the possibility of faith and reason living in harmony is well supported by the primary truths known as the first principle and the first condition.
The first principle and the first condition are essential elements in Thomas Aquinas's argument. In order to completely understand his argument, it is important to understand the primary truths. The primary truth called the first principle is known as the principle of non-contradictions. This means that if two things are contradictory they cannot both be true. An example of this in light of Thomas Aquinas's case is as follows: if reason and faith are both truths, they will not be at opposition with each other. The first condition is stated as "the ability of the mind to know the truth". If we are not capable of knowing the truth, there is no purpose to trying to find the truth. Also, everything we think we know would be discredited. Therefore, in order for faith or reason or anything to be true, our minds have to be able to know truth. These two truths are the foundation for the rationale Aquinas makes in Summa Contra Gentiles.
At the time of Thomas Aquinas, the Catholic Church rejected the teaching of Aristotle, and others who emphasized human reason. The church of the time felt threatened by the idea of truth being found anywhere other than the Bible. They, wrongly according to Aquinas, thought that revealing other means of gaining knowledge would lead people away from the church. Thomas Aquinas disagreed with this view. He set out to express his disagreement in the form of Summa Contra Gentiles. The Church rejected his writings originally, but eventually his writings came to be associated with the beliefs of the Orthodox Catholic Church. As the author states in the biography of Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Contra Gentiles, "The authoritativeness of the Thomistic doctrine was formally recognized by the Church in 1879 in the encyclical Aeterni Patris of Pope leo XIII, which ordered all Catholic schools to teach Thomas's position as the true philosophy (328)."
Thomas Aquinas verbalized his opinion that faith and reason were not at odds with each other through the Summa Contra Gentiles. Chapter seven was specifically about this topic. He argued that faith cannot be false because it is shown to be true by God. In a similar way, he argues that reason cannot be false, because it is a part of our nature. The first condition supports this statement, in that, if the human mind is capable of knowing truth, the natural means we have to arrive at truth must be legitimate. Thomas Aquinas said that God would not put in our nature something that is not true. He states:
For it is clear that those things which are implanted in reason by nature, are most true, so much so that it is impossible to think them to be false. Nor is it lawful to deem false that which is held by faith, since it is so evidently confirmed by God. Seeing then that the false alone is opposed to the true, as evidently appears if we examine their definitions, it is impossible for the aforesaid truth of faith to be contrary to those principles which reason knows naturally (Aquinas, 333).
Assuming that the aforesaid statements are true, the first principle determines that they cannot be contrary to each other. If they are both truth, than they cannot contradict, because truth does not contradict (333-334).
Thomas Aquinas's case is a good one. He uses solid arguments that are based on primary truths. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Catholic Church eventually accepted his position. He was not arguing against a truth but was simply stating how one truth does not threaten another. Thomas Aquinas did not disregard faith and the Bible as sources of truth. He simply believed that God gave us reason as a supplement to truth. The Bible supports his belief in many places including Proverbs 18:15, "The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out (NIV)." God did not create humans to passively receive knowledge. He wants his children to seek it out. The world of today would be quite different if not for the beliefs and writings of Thomas Aquinas. Many things that are taken for granted now were revolutionary when he wrote them. Not only the church, but also the rest of society would be extremely altered if not for Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Contra Gentiles. 327-334. Print.
Holy Bible. NIV. Proverbs 18:15. Print.