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If I Had Written the Summa Theologiae

June 27, 2011

Following Darwin’s lead, Brandon imagines the basic argument structure of the Summa Theologiae were yours truly to have written it:

Whether (insert Church doctrine here) is true
It seems not.
For (insert some arguments against here)
OK, that was interesting. Now on to the next question!

Funny. And I cannot really disagree. Stylistically, the Summa isn’t the kind of massive tome I’d write if I were to write a massive tome. I’m old friends and sincerely cordial with both questions and answers, but I prefer the company of the inquirer to the pontificator. I spend more time and energy on deconstruction than I do on reconstruction. I find more satisfaction from problem-posing than from problem-solving. Maybe I’m just intellectually lazy, but I’ll suggest an alternative explanation, just in case.

While I know diddly–squat about theology, I’m reasonably well catechized. I’ve cracked open the catechism before, sometimes even annually, and I think I’ve understood it. I figure I could hold my own against Stephen Colbert. However, I’m admittedly less than learned when it comes to some of the arguments for the positions laid out in the catechism, and I’m doubly curious about non-religious based arguments for those positions. So, for example, I’ve asked before whether or not the procreative and unitive meanings of the sexual intercourse can be defended without reference to revelation. Why do I ask such questions? Well, to learn, really. There are a lot of erudite browsers in the sphere, and I aim to take advantage of their knowledge. Some bloggers have much to give. I have much to gain.

True, I tend to move on to another question without settling on a definitive answer to the present inquiry. Sometimes I’m unsatisfied with the answers. Sometimes I’m reasonably sure the problem’s been solved, but I want more time to mull it over. Sometimes I’m lazy. And sometimes my attention’s been captured by some other question.

Also, my wife says I’m a sanguine. She’s a melancholic-choleric, so I drive her nuts.

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  1. June 27, 2011 7:55 am

    The Summa is suspicious in that for all the endless arguing Aquinas does with himself, never once does he lose. It’s rigged.

  2. Phillip permalink
    June 27, 2011 8:35 am

    “She’s a melancholic-choleric…”

    That get’s you time off in Purgatory.

  3. Brian Killian permalink
    June 27, 2011 10:01 am

    I think a more creative philosophical program is possible. I call it the suspension of disbelief. It works like this:

    You assume the truth of Christian revelation, and see what the philosophical implications are, and then go from there. Where does it lead? Can it lead to interesting new insights or push philosophy into new fruitful directions?

    I remember borrowing an old book from the library called From Religion to Philosophy. It was about how religious concepts become philosophical concepts. I would go further and say that philosophical concepts, at least in Christianity, sometimes become scientific concepts. I’m thinking of some of Jaki’s work now.

    Personally, I find this to be a more adventurous path for the philosopher.

  4. June 27, 2011 10:07 am

    I used to be into Thomism–now, not so much. It has great insights and great problems, too.

    St. Thomas’ saving grace is that near the end of his life, after a profound vision, he quit writing altogether. When queried on this, he famously said, “Compared with what I’ve seen, everything I’ve written is as straw.” An example of true humility and words of wisdom for all of us theology/philosophy geeks who have too much of what Nietzsche would call “will to a system”.

  5. June 27, 2011 1:33 pm

    I wonder if what we need right now is more Summae. I think this is an age that yearns for answers, for explanation, even as it wallows in self-destruction. The answers don’t need to be easy (but let no one say that Aquinas didn’t use the best counter-arguments, either!), but how can our Faith really be a light to the world if it can’t provide answers through reason? Or hold up to any scrutiny at all? It almost seems like you’re advocating a light Fideism, where we can’t give good answers pro, but we might as well believe because it’s what we have.

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