Reason and Faith
St. Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus The question of faith and reason is thought in many cases to be a problem of consistency among the dictates of reason and those of faith and is formulated in terms of the reliability of the many ways of justifying true belief. Thus the qualm `Which is more reliable?' may change into a doubt and eventually it is asked whether faith justifies knowledge: "Another type of claim to knowledge ... is faith. The same difficulty that plagued the claims to knowledge by intuition and revelation occurs here ... Thus sense experience and reasoning, not faith, are the basis for the claim of reliability... Indeed, it seems too obvious to mention that when people appeal solely to faith as a way of knowing, they do so because there is no evidence that what they say is true ... "1 The above explanation taken from the finale of a section discussing the sources of knowledge in a somehow outdated textbook of philosophical analysis written in our century is not in essence very far removed from the debates which had taken place among medieval philosophers after the twelve hundreds. The former may be more straigtforward in rejecting faith as knowledge. But the latter too must have comprised strong arguments against the reliability of faith. Scotus formulates several of these arguments, which reject the reliability of faith after a cursory examination, in the first question of the Prologus to the Ordinatio.2 In the course of ScotusÙ evaluation of the controversy for and against the reliability of faith not only do we discover the familiar qualms about faith in comparison to sense-experience and the employment of reason, but also we learn about the two distinct manners in which Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus were teaching in favor of faith. The first question of Scotus' prologue to the Ordinatio develops the issue of faith from various perspectives. There are two questions which concern us. The first question is about the reliability of faith in the eyes of Scotus and Thomas. The other question is about the difference, if any, between their thoughts on faith and reason. As to the first question, it is quite clear that both doctors proclaim the reliability of faith. As to the second question, the answer is that there are differences between the two teachings. Scotus states that there can not be conclusive arguments in philosophy pro the reliability of faith; all that can be done is to use persuasive arguments from faith and at the same time to keep making the effort of showing with strictly philosophical reasoning that the arguments of the philosophers for the reliability of the intellect, the senses or some other source is not as foolproof as one would like to have them. (n. 12, nn. 66-71). Aquinas on the one hand holds that faith is reliable, but on the other hand he maintains an Aristotelian theory of knowledge. All knowledge is derived from the senses. The human intellect can not operate without phantasms or sensory data. And yet, the human intellect is not dependent on a corporeal organ for its proper operations and the human soul is incorruptible. There is one human soul for each human person and that soul is the form or act of the human body. It is the business of the intellect to know natures and essences in their common or absoluteley considered natures. But still, a knowledge both of itself and of particular things is possible for the human intellect. The final cause for mankind is salvation and felicity in beholding God. It will be presented below that Aquinas leaves an allowance for philosophers who interpret Aristotelian philosophy as a philosophy devoid of sympathy for faith. He suggests that the end of man may also be known solely in philosophy without recourse to faith. (II) The views of the two doctors In the critical edition of the Ordinatio, St. Thomas is cited by the editors in the footnotes to the text. In the controversy between the philosophers and the theologians, philosophers put forward three important arguments. Philosophers uphold the perfection of nature. Theologians recognize the necessity of divine grace and perfection. The Saint is mentioned in relation to the second argument of the philosophers in connection with Aristotle who divides the speculative sciences into mathematics, physics and metaphysics. It seems that Aristotle proves the impossibility of there being more speculative sciences because - in those three, both as it is in itself and in asmuch as it is in every part, the whole of being is thoroughly taken into account; by a similar argument there can not be more practical sciences than those acquired by mankind. (n. 8) St. Thomas is also mentioned in relation to a certain argument, again from the side of the philosophers, against the need for faith. The argument again takes off from Aristotle: `Nature never leaves out what is necessary'; if it is not deficient in imperfect faculties, i.e., the senses, much less will it be deficient in the intellect. (n. 2) In other words, if supernatural aid is not needed by the senses for apprehending their objects, neither will it be needed for the intellect which is a more perfect faculty. However, St. Thomas Aquinas acknowledges the necessity and hence the reliability of sacred doctrine in his Summa Theologica. `Whether, besides the philosophical disciplines, any further doctrine is required?' he asks, and his reply is in the affirmative: `It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a doctrine revealed by God, besides the philosophical disciplines investigated by human reason ... because man is directed to God as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason'.3 Consequently, it becomes to a certain extent difficult to locate the similarities and differences between Aquinas and Scotus. They both seem to be inclined alike for the necessity and therefore the reliability of faith as knowledge. The prologue of the Ordinatio determines two positions: in the beginning that of St. Thomas and later the position of St. Augustine. But with neither of them does Scotus agree totally. Although he must have had St. Thomas in mind at least with respect to some philosophers and theologians, he must be credited with fairness to Aquinas. It is with an allusion to the works of St. Thomas that Scotus' triple argument in defense of the necessity and therefore reliability of faith sets out: distinct knowledge of his end through cognition is necessary for every agent. (n. 13) Furthermore, in his replies to the arguments of the philosophers Scotus makes an explicit reference to St. Thomas by citing him by name; moreover, he quotes from the aforementioned very first article of the Summa. (n. 79) With three principal considerations Scotus sets forth the view that divine revelation is necessary and that scientific knowledge derived just through sense-experience and reason is not sufficient. A human being is a rational agent and as such requires a Adistinct knowledge of his end. (nn. 13-15) Even if reason suffices to prove that beholding God is the end of man, it could not conclude that such a vision and enjoyment perpetually becomes and agrees with a human being perfect both in body and in soul. Scotus is of the opinion that the perpetuity of a good of this kind is the very condition that makes this end desirable. (n. 16) On a declaration of the immortality of the human soul - `The intellective soul is incorruptible' - Scotus reasons that it can not be proved: It can be stated that although there are probable reasons for this second proposition, these are not demonstrative, nor for that matter are they ever necessary reasons.4 Starting from a framework in which natural agents desire the end on account of which they operate, the first persuasive argument considers this to be necessary also for a knowing agent. Scotus points out that human beings can not know their end distinctly from natural sources. He utilizes passages of Nicomachean Ethics to demonstrate that even the Philosopher himself was not very clear on this topic. (n. 14) We can show something from the behavior manifest to us of a substance and that something would just be - that such an end may agree with such a nature. The proper end of no substance is cognized by us. We do not experience or cognize any acts to belong to us in this life so that through them we may naturally know some special end to agree with our nature. (n. 15) Scotus' second persuasive argument is as follows: `It is necessary for every conscious agent in pursuit of an end to know by what means and in what way such an end may be attained; and also the knowledge of all things which are necessary to that end is necessary; and thirdly the knowledge that all that suffices for such an end is necessary'. (n. 17) And in his third and last persuasive argument Scotus enjoins that if the enjoyment of God is in itself manÙs end, God acts contingently and we can not ascertain with the certainty of necessity that God does or does not accept merits as worthy of such a reward. (n. 18) (III) Conclusion One student of Scotus has explained the situation with respect to Scotus and Aquinas in the following way: we do not know our nature in that aspect which would enable us to deduce its spiritual destiny from the nature. Though by the light of nature we may know that man is a spiritual being or even accept St. Thomas' proof that he needs grace, yet we can not infer from man's nature the promises of the Gospel (Duns might say rather, `the contingent will of God'), and therefore, since the Gospel is the mending or fulfilment of Creation, we can not from our knowledge of man's nature infer that final end which depends upon the Gospel.5 It is evident from the prologue that the conclusion above about St. Thomas and Duns Scotus follows from their respective thoughts on faith. Scotus quotes from St. Augustine to back up the criticism of his own standpoint that although man can naturally know of his natural end, indeed he can not know about his supernatural end: `the possibility of having faith like the possibility of having charity belongs to human nature, but the actual possession of faith like the actual possession of charity pertains to the grace vouchsafed to the faithful'.6 Scotus concedes to St. Augustine that God is the natural end of human beings. The part he will not allow is that God naturally may be attained: the possibility of having charity as it is a disposition with respect to God in Himself under the proper notion of loving agrees with human nature according to a special notion, which is not common to it and to sensibles; and hence, that potentiality of human beings is not naturally recognizable in this life, just as man is not known under the notion by which his potentiality is his own. (n. 32) Scotus' explicit quotation from the Summa of Aquinas clarifies the difference between their teachings. Aquinas says that `there is no reason why those things which are treated by the philosophical disciplines, so far as they can be known by the light of natural reason, may not also be treated by another science so far as they are known by the light of the divine revelation'.7 He thus in this manner implies that sacred doctrine by way of the divine revelation is not absolutely necessary. In fact St. Thomas Aquinas says in the same article of the Summa the following: `in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they be taught divine truths by divine revelation'.8 It is a question of more or less fitness and certainty and hence the logical consequence is that sacred doctrine may not be as good and reliable as reason based on sense-experience; the reliability of faith as a justification of true belief may be doubted. NOTES: 1 John Hospers, An Introduction to Philosophical Analysis , 2nd ed. (1967; rpt. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1970) p. 140. 2 John Duns Scotus, Ordinatio Prologus, Opera Omnia I (Civitas Vaticana: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950). 3 Summa Theologica , p. I ch. 1 q. 1. 4 Allan Wolter, O.F.M., trans., Philosophical Writings: A Selection, The Nelson Philosophical Texts, ed. Raymond Klibansky, The Library of Liberal Arts (1962; rpt. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational Publishing, 1978) pp. 146-147. 5 Nathaniel Micklem, Reason and Revelation: a question from Duns Scotus (Edinburgh: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1953) p. 18. 6 Ibid. , p. 17; n. 22. 7 Anton C. Pegis, ed., Basic Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas (2 vols., New York: Random House, 1945) p. 6; p. I ch. 1 q. 1. 8 Ibid.