Monday, September 13, 2010

"God Revealing Man to Himself": Nouvelle Theologie and Naturalism in Theological Conclusions

From Greenstock, David, T.O.P. "Thomism and the New Theology" The Thomist 13 (1950), 567-96, quoted at 575-8 (emphasis added and footnotes redacted; submitted by an Ite ad Thomam reader).

St. Thomas’ view of this problem of the relationship between faith and reason which gives rise to the science of theology was both deep and clear and is admirably set out and defended by John of St. Thomas. Theology is a true science, indeed it is the most noble of the sciences worthy in every way of the name of sapientia. The principles upon which it relies in its evolution and in its investigations are those divine facts which have been revealed by God. However, as a science, those divinely revealed principles do not form its proper object, that is the role of the conclusions which are drawn from them with the help of human reason. Such a statement, which seems so clear to us now, was a real revolution when it was first made. The object of the science of theology is the theological conclusion strictly so called. Now, in order to deduce these conclusions from revealed truth there is need of a fitting instrument with which to work. Sometimes this instrument takes the form of another revealed truth, while at other times it is a truth which is known to human reason by its own unaided efforts. Now, obviously, the minor premise which contains another revealed truth will have far greater influence on the conclusion than one which contains a truth known to human reason alone. But, and here is the crux of the whole question, even though the human truth occupies an inferior position, that of a mere instrument, the revealed truth in the major premise does exercise a great influence on that human instrument. That is why St. Thomas speaks of these natural truths which are so used in theology as that “handmaidens” of that science, in the sense that theology, as a true science, makes use of these human truths for its major purpose, which is to explain revealed truth in human language, so far as that is possible.

The position of the new theologians is very different from that of Aquinas. Their idea is that theological reasoning consists in using revealed truth in order to draw out of the full latent content contained in human truths--the contrary, in fact of the Thomist position. This is a logical conclusion which follows from their vitalistic attitude towards truth and especially from their statements that the theological conclusion strictly so called has little or no value. It also follows from their teaching with regard to the evolution, necessarily connected with contemporary history, through which theology must pass if it is to remain alive and to play an effective part in the modern world. As one of the partisans of the new theology expresses it, “L’histoire manifeste donc a la fois la relativite des notions, des schemes ou la theologie et, en mem temps, offer aux regards de la foi l’affirmation absolue, la Parole divine qui s’y est incarnee.” (Henri Bouillard)  Thus, human reasoning, which changes according to the dictates of its historical evolution and the necessities of the times, uses the permanent element, which is divine truth, as an instrument to develop and present its latent content.

Thus the central problem which confronts us here is quite simply one of two contrary ways of considering the relation between revelation and reason. Either reason is the instrument in the development of revealed truth or the revealed truth is the instrument of reason. It is our opinion that, unless the fact which we have mentioned before–of the great influence of the revealed truths on the natural truth which is used as an instrument in their full developmentis understood and clearly brought to light, then this fundamental error in the new theology will never be completely overcome. For that reason it is useful to notice that the same conclusion could have been reached by a consideration of the role of the middle term in the theological syllogism, which in one case–that of the major premise–is a revealed truth, and in the other minor premise, a truth of human reason. In order that this middle term in the minor premise may have exactly the same sense as that which it has in the major premise, thus avoiding four terms in the syllogism, it must of necessity have the “approval,” as it were, of the revealed truth. If we examine it carefully we shall see that it is just this approval which gives to the theological conclusion its full force as an element in the expression of divine revelation which also brings to light the role of human truth as an instrument in theology.

We know that, according to St. Thomas, the instrument has a double activity, i.e., its own, which is attributed to its personal activity in the forming of the effect, and also another power which it receives from that cause which uses it as an instrument. Thus, in the theological conclusion we are not dealing with a series of probabilities, but with strict conclusions in the form of judgments which correspond to the ontological truth virtually contained in the revealed principles. This doctrine has been very clearly expressed by John of St. Thomas, when he said: 

Praemissa naturalis consideratur dupliciter. Primo secundum quod praecise naturalis est, et sic ex hac parte non concurrit nisi ministerialiter…Alio modo consideratur praemissa naturalis ut conjuncta praemissae supernaturali de fide, scilicet u tab ea elevator quia approbatur et corrigitur ab ipsa et eius certitudinem participat: et hoc modo etiam praemissa naturalis concurrit non principaliter, et per se, sed sub altiori lumine. (Cusus Theologicus, I, q. 1, a. 6.)
From all these various angles we reach one and the same conclusion, namely that it is the truth of faith which plays the active part in the theological process of reasoning, using the natural truth to develop the latent content in revelation, and using it as a strict instrument in the Thomist sense of that word. For this reason those theological conclusions are more certain than any merely natural truth could ever be, because they are reduced, in their final analysis, to a higher principle than natural reason, one which is supernatural and divine, which colours all that is human in the theological process, giving it a new and a supernatural value. It is this divine element in theology which unifies everything, even speculative and the practical aspects of it. Because the new theology has failed to appreciate this truth with regard to the theological conclusion it has also failed to realize the role of the merely human truth as an instrument of faith.


Geremia said...

Regarding: The position of the new theologians is very different from that of Aquinas. Their idea is that theological reasoning consists in using revealed truth in order to draw out of the full latent content contained in human truths--the contrary, in fact of the Thomist position.

He seems to think that theology can never bear on natural reason; I thought the relationship was reciprocal. E.g., Pope St. Pius X said in Iucunda Sane: "Human science gains greatly from revelation, for the latter opens out new horizons and makes known sooner other truths of the natural order, and because it opens the true road to investigation and keeps it safe from errors of application and of method. Thus does the lighthouse show many things they otherwise would not see, while it points out the rocks on which the vessel would suffer shipwreck." (cf. also Card. Newman's Idea of a University part 1, discourse 3).

Anonymous said...

Faith certainly enlightens reason, the author points out as much when he says that the philosophical minor assumes a new dignity in light of the supernatural truth in the major. The question rather pertains to theology as a SCIENCE. The object of the SCIENCE is the theological conclusion. If you recall Louis Bouyer's recent comments posted on this blog, he makes a mockery of this very notion. Thus, there conception of the science theology is very different.

Peregrinus said...

You misunderstand Mr. Greenstock’s argument, Geremia. Mr. Greenstock discusses the nature of the science of theology in the passage presented, and not the relationship between theology and the other sciences. He would agree that the truths of revelation can confirm and illuminate, so to speak, the truths of reason and reject errors in reasoning, assuming that he is a good Thomist; but he does not agree that doing so is the proper function of theology per se. Theology’s proper subject-matter is the nature of God as known through divine revelation, and not God or any kind of creature as known apart from revelation (see Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 1., a. 6f.).

Note that the subject matter treated in the example of a theological conclusion in the blog article is not, precisely speaking, only theological; for the premises in the example contain truths known through anthropology and metaphysics, as well as by divine revelation. The example, then, is not a good one. Is it the one given in Mr. Greenstock’s essay?

t said...

For those interested, the whole article is available online here.

Geremia said...

Thanks, Peregrinus; that helped. So Bouyer et al. don't consider only God as the object of theology? Thanks again

Peregrinus said...

Greenstock argues that the relativism of the Nouvelle Theologie results in making theology the study of God based on “human reasoning” about divine revelation, instead of on the “revealed truth” of divine revelation itself. The “new theologian,” then, according to Greenstock recognizes the true the subject-matter of theology but not the correct method or approach of the science.

Indeed, the “new theologian” ultimately denies that theology is a science (i.e., an ordered body of knowledge) by doing so, if Greenstock’s assessment is accurate. Every science derives knowledge about its subject-matter by arriving at valid conclusions from proper principles. There is no knowledge or content of the science and, consequently, no science, if no conclusions can be drawn. The “new theologian,” Greenstock claims, has denied that “strict theological deductions” leading to conclusions can be made (p. 570). This theologian rejects that it is possible for “reason…[to] attain to a true understanding of the truths of the faith” (pp. 570-571). That is to say, the “new theologian” denies that one can truly know the meaning of divine revelation, which, as Aquinas notes, forms the principles of theology. If one is ignorant of the principles, then one cannot draw conclusions from them. Consequently, one has no body of knowledge for a science.

Anonymous said...

There must be a reason why guys like Bouyer deride the idea that theology can consist in a body of absolutely certain conclusions and Greenstock hits the nail on the head. De Lubac and Von Balthasar also mocked the conclusions of theology. They laughed at Thomas' doctrine concerning Angels for example, saying, "Where did all those conclusions come from?" Indeed, Bouyer dared to assert that John of St. Thomas completely divorced Thomism from reality and distorted it by way of theological conclusion. There conception of theology IS totally different than traditional Thomism.

Greenstock brilliantly touches on the essence of the problem. More work needs to be done examining this issue for I think it will go along way explaining why the novus ordo establishment is so distorted.

Geremia said...

Regarding how "More work needs to be done examining this issue," there is a more recent article (year 2000) in The Thomist by Aidan Nichols, O.P., entitled "Thomism and the Nouvelle Théologie."