Theology

A Brief Explanation of the Nature of Philosophy, Science, Theology and their Relationship


The Nature of Philosophy

Philosophy is defined as “literally the love of wisdom”1 and is “the science in which natural reason, apart from divine revelation, seeks to understand all things by a knowledge of their first causes.”2 Though modernity has increasingly discarded philosophy as a relevant study or science, this term “has been used to refer to all the reasoned examination of every world from nature to human life [emphasis added].”3 Initially, this was done most thoroughly in ancient Greece and included three levels so to speak. The first was physics — that which “depended on matter for existence and knowledge;”4 the second was mathematics — which “depended on matter for existence but not for knowledge;”5 the third and highest level was metaphysics —which “did not depend on matter for either…existence or knowledge.”6

The Nature of Science

Science was — as shown in the very definition of philosophy as a science — once a broadly encompassing field that included philosophy including metaphysics. It wasn’t until the 17th century that science was reduced to that which can only be investigated by sense knowledge alone.7 As modernity knows it, science is synonymous with the scientific method and that which goes “beyond sense description or come[s] from common sense would have no necessary truth to them.”8 It is important to reiterate that this view of science breaks from centuries of western thought on the matter.

The Nature of Theology

Theology is literally the “science of God.”9 Initially used by Ancient Greek Philosophers, St. Augustine defined theology as “reasoning or discourse about the divinity”10 and St. Thomas Aquinas further defended theology as a science “because it investigates the contents of belief by means of reason enlightened by faith [emphasis added].”11 Concisely put, “it is like science in that it involves concepts, definitions and reasoning. It is unlike science in that the origin of its principles does not come from reason, but from faith.”12

The Relationship Between Philosophy, Science, and Theology

As shown in the brief examination of the natures of philosophy, science, and theology, both philosophy and theology can be properly called sciences because they use reasoning to discern truth. Modernity disagrees, but they remain sciences none-the-less. The relationship between philosophy and theology, though seemingly more complex is also rooted in simplicity; both are reasoned discourse on existence and both can be used in conjunction to discern truth. “Theology which is logically reasoned discourse about God owes much of its effectiveness in communicating the Gospel to philosophy for the foundation of its “reasoned discourse.” Though Theology depends on the light of divine revelation and so can never be completely reduced to human definition and logic, still it is received by human beings and so the ideas presented in faith cannot be seen as logically contradictory or absurd.” 13

Put another way, the two follow the same process when contemplating truth; they use reason, that which makes man a rational animal. While philosophy can only go so high, it can in fact reach — through reason alone — the truth that God exists. “Because it seeks ultimate causes, philosophy can also examine the nature of God.”14 Aristotle reached this point when he discovered our ultimate cause, God, which he termed the Unmoved Mover.

However, many truths of faith go beyond the point that human reason can reach. An example of this is that of the Trinity. “Man by reason can know that God exists and his attributes, but cannot penetrate directly to him. There is need for another knowledge, the knowledge of faith to remedy this.”15 Yet, even when beyond the scope of unenlightened reason, the truths of faith are not contradictory to the truths of philosophy because they are both examining the one and same truth. Further, when the light of faith tells us of a truth like God’s Triune nature, our reason can be employed to demonstrate the reasonableness of such belief. “Since they are received by a human mind, one can investigate their meaning and logically conclude tings about them by affirmation or denial.”16 God’s revelation to us is utterly reasonable; we simply could not know of these truths without His divine intervention, but once they are revealed, we can use our reason to understand and contemplate them.

St. Thomas Aquinas

Termed the “Angelic Doctor,” St. Thomas Aquinas’s many works consistently affirmed and demonstrated the complementary relationship between philosophy and theology, between reason and faith. For example, he argued that “the gifts of grace are added to nature in such a way that they do not destroy but rather perfect nature. Thus the light of faith which is infused in us by grace does not destroy the natural light of reason divinely given us.”17 St. Thomas realized “that something must have gone wrong in the philosophical discourse that has led to a conclusion which contradicts the faith [emphasis added].”18 Understanding this, St. Thomas was largely responsible for clarifying and properly understanding Aristotle’s texts by scrutinizing them and cutting away the improper conclusions reached by commentators like Avicenna.

1 Hardon, John. Catholic Dictionary (New York: Image Books, 2013) 382.
2 Ibid.
3 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson One: The Necessity of Philosophy for Theology.” (Lesson presented for Holy Apostles Seminary and College 2015.)
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 Hardon. Catholic Dictionary. 2013.
10 Ibid.
11Ibid.
12 Mullady. “Lesson One: The Necessity of Philosophy for Theology.”
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.
15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.
17 McInerny, Ralph. A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas: A Handbook for Peeping Thomists. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013), 18
18 McInerny. A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas, 62.

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