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Aquinas on Philosophy and Religion

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the greatest of medieval Christian philosophers, was a professor at the University of Paris. Just as Maimonides had done for Judaism, Aquinas attempted to reconcile Christianity with the philosophy and logical techniques of Aristotle.

In the following excerpt from his Summa Theologica, Aquinas argues that revelation is necessary because most people are incapable of philosophical reasoning, and that some things, especially the truths of revealed religion, are too important to be left to reason alone.






First Article: Whether Besides the Philosophical Sciences, any Further Doctrine Is Required?

We proceed thus to the First Article:--

Objection 1. It seems that, besides the philosophical sciences, we have no need of any further knowledge. For man should not seek to know what is above reason: "Seek not the things that are too high for thee" [Ecclesiasticus 3:22]. But whatever is not above reason is sufficiently considered in the philosophical sciences. Therefore any other knowledge besides the philosophical sciences is superfluous.

Objection 2. Further, knowledge can be concerned only with being, for nothing can be known, save the truth, which is convertible with being. But everything that is, is considered in the philosophical sciences -- even God Himself; so that there is a part of philosophy called theology, or the divine science, as is clear from Aristotle. Therefore, besides the philosophical sciences, there is no need of any further knowledge.

On the contrary: It is written -- "All Scripture inspired of God is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct, to instruct in justice" [2 Timothy 3:16]. Now Scripture, inspired of God, is not a part of the philosophical sciences discovered by human reason. Therefore it is useful that beside the philosophical sciences there should be another science -- i.e., inspired by God.

I answer that: It was necessary for man's salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God, besides the philosophical sciences investigated by human reason. First, because man is directed to God as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason. . . .

For the truth about God, such as reason can know it, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors; whereas man's whole salvation which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, 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. It was therefore necessary that, besides the philosophical sciences investigated by reason, there should be a sacred byway of revelation.