Monday, January 14, 2013

The Method and Limits of Theology

In this and following posts, I hope to write sections that will be incorporated into my thesis. Although I am writing with a view to the main thesis topic, each of the preliminary are independent enough that they can be considered individually:

Theology simply means divine science, or the science about God and divine things. Often this word is used exclusively to mean the study of sacred scripture and the truths revealed by God through the prophets, but this is not the only way to approach a study of God. At the conclusion of the Physics, Aristotle proves that there must be some intelligent being without a body. Since it belongs to natural science to consider bodies, it must belong to some other science to consider what does not have a body. This proof of God's existence from material things is the beginning of a philosophical theology which does not depend on faith in the words of a prophet.

Since God is not present to our senses and is unlike anything in common experience, knowledge about him is reached through argument and most often through a denial of attributes which are seen in creatures. For example, St. Thomas Aquinas's articles on divine simplicity proceed by showing that various modes of composition which are present in creatures do not exist in God. Another way of proceeding in theology is by discussing how the perfections of creatures are found in God. Since the arguments for God's existence are from his effects, the perfections of these effects must exist within God in a higher way, without the imperfections that accompany them in creatures. For example, wisdom is a habit in men which can be attained or lost, whereas in God it is the same with his essence.

Because of how distant God is from creatures, it is necessary to consider the names we use about God and how they are able to signify something true about him. Aristotle begins his Categories by making a distinction between univocal and equivocal names. Names are said univocally of two things when both the sound and the account are the same for the things spoken about. Names are said equivocally of two things when the same sound is said of two things, but the account differ. No name will be said univocally of God and creatures, for everything in creatures is caused, whereas nothing is caused in God. On the other hand, if names are said wholly equivocally of God and creatures, it will be impossible to speak about God, for all the names we use have their meaning from creatures. The names said about both God and creatures are called analogous, which is a certain kind of equivocal name. Some names are equivocal on account of chance, such as bat, which is said of both the winged mammal and the instrument of a baseball player (footnote confirming that those are etymologically unrelated words); such names are of no use in considering God. On the other hand, some names are said equivocally of several things because of they have a relationship of cause and effect. For example, healthy is said of both man and food, where man is primarily called healthy and food is called healthy because it makes a man to be healthy. Such names are analogous, and these will be useful for talking about God, since all creatures are his effects.

[Next segue into talking about God's knowledge, and how this will require a preliminary consideration of knowledge more generally and how it relates to immateriality. From what I've written so far, it is not clear how this consideration is necessary for the overall paper, but that can be fixed.]

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