The Polyvalent Hierarchy of Wisdoms

The following are notes from the first week of this semester’s seminar on the Summa contra Gentiles.

The complexity of ScG (see here) suggests that we read the prooemium of the whole work in Book I alongside the prooemia specific to Books II–IV so as to get a sense of the whole. We will

  1. discuss the purpose of ScG, as well as
  2. the audience of interlocutors in ScG,
  3. consider the role of philosophic wisdom in ScG,
  4. distinguish that wisdom from revealed or sacred wisdom,
  5. and conclude by outlining the “sapiential vision” of ScG.

1. A Book of Wisdom for Fallen Man?

Aquinas’s ScG was composed from about 1259–1267—and thus prior to the Summa Theologiae (ST, composed c. 1265–1273)—when the saint was teaching in Paris and Rome. To understand its purpose and audience, let us consider the prooemium of the work, ScG I.1–9:

  1. The purpose of the work (I.1–2)
  2. The way of achieving this purpose (I.3–8)
  3. The order of proceeding in the work (I.9)

The first chapter considers the “office” (officium: duty, obligation) of the wise.

  • The wise consider ends, the finality of things, because wisdom is concerned with order.
  • But there are many sorts of wisdoms, because there are many ends; so, the one wise without qualification considers the end of all things, the end of the universe.
  • Since the end of the universe is truth (a weighty anticipation of later proofs), the wise one considers truth, and especially the first truth, and refutes the errors opposed to the truth.

Note a few things about this line of argument: first, Aquinas is already dialoging with Aristotle in the Metaphysics, I.1–2 (wisdom is about first principles); second, he is anticipating arguments in his compressed defense of why the end of the universe is truth (how can the end of the universe be truth? has the cosmos a mind?); third, the wise must know both the end (finis) and the beginning (principium) of the universe—who can do this most of all? Who is wise without qualification?

And for this reason divine wisdom, clothed in flesh, declares that he came into the world to make known the truth, saying, for this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37).[1]

ScG, I.1

Christ Incarnate—both Alpha and Omega—is wisdom, is the wise one, the highest manifestation of  truth and its teacher. This focus upon the person of Jesus Christ on the first page of ScG cannot go unnoticed.

St. Thomas shores up this theological claim with Aristotle. Already, we see that Aquinas draws upon Aristotle and the Bible to fill out his arguments. We could add another line from that part of Aristotle’s Metaphysics: such knowledge we seek “either God alone can have, or God above all others” (I.2, 983a9).

Having explained the positive duty of the wise, Aquinas points out the negative duty, to refute the errors opposite to the truth. This twofold officium is in his epigraph: “My mouth shall meditate truth, and my lips shall hate impiety.” (Prov 8:7) (How is hating impiety the same as refuting error?)

The second chapter completes St. Thomas’s explanation of his purpose. The chapter begins with a reflection upon the twofold office of the wise, namely, that “the study [studium; also means “zeal”] of wisdom is more perfect, more sublime, more useful, and more full of joy.” More than what? Here the comparative refers to any given alternative, making it superlative. St. Thomas then tells us he takes this officium (and its perquisites) upon himself:

Therefore, out of trust [fiducia] in divine compassion [pietate (pity; piety)], taking upon ourselves and pursuing the office of the wise, although it surpasses our own strength [vires], the objective at which we aim [propositum nostrum intentionis] is to manifest, in our little measure, the truth which the Catholic faith professes, casting out [eliminando (eliminare, from ex + limen to carry out of doors)] the contrary errors; for, in the words of Hilary …

ScG, I.2; my translation

Indeed, “it is possible to fail in many ways, for evil belongs to the class of the infinite” (Aristotle, Nic. Ethics, II.6, 1106b29), and Aquinas realizes this. His list of interlocutors includes pagans, Muslims, Jews, and Christian heretics. “How does Aquinas think that he is able to refute all of these classes of people?”[2]

His starting point cannot be a quaestio disputata in a theological mode or a Scriptural commentary (since the basis of revealed authority is not commensurate); rather, it must be a dialectic founded upon reason:

Thus we need to have recourse to natural reason, to which all are compelled to assent. And yet this falls short in matters of the divine. But while we are occupied in the inquiry about a particular truth, we shall show what errors are excluded thereby, and how demonstrable truth concords with the faith of the Christian religion.

ScG, I.2; translation modified

Thus, note St. Thomas proposes a triple concord as part of “the objective at which [he] aims”:

  • to manifest the positive accomplishments of natural reason in matters of the divine,
  • to cast out natural reason’s errors (since it falls short in this area),
  • and to manifest its concord with the truths of the Faith (insofar as this is possible).

We see this triple concord at work, for instance, in the last three paragraphs of ScG I.3. (How?)

2. From Science to Wisdom— Thomas and the Gentiles

This purpose of St. Thomas gives us some insight into his intended audience. While a long-standing history of ScG tells us that the work was primarily intended as a sort of apologetic manual for Dominican missionaries, contemporary scholars have cast doubt on the adequacy of this account. Still, we should agree with those who contend that the ScG “exhibits the truths of the Catholic faith set forth as a ‘wisdom of universal apostolic bearing.’”[3] It is a deep apologia. But an apologia to whom?

[St. Thomas’s ScG] promises an explicit and sustained consideration of the relationship between pagan and Christian wisdom. The plethora of references to the wisdom of the Old Testament in the first three books further illustrates the centrality of wisdom. No other work of Thomas focuses on the great debates of antiquity over the best way of life and over who teaches authoritatively concerning the highest good. . . . Only those who are practitioners of intellectual virtue will profit from the text.[4]

Thus, on the one hand, ScG is an apologia for Christian wisdom (an idea to which we return). On the other hand, however, its audience are those seeking wisdom in a determinate way: “Like the [Platonic] dialogue, the dialectical structure of the Contra Gentiles seeks to provoke the reader to inquiry, to an appropriation of the virtue of wisdom.”[5] St. Thomas is inviting his audience into an ever-deeper consideration of the Christian proposal, bolstered by faith and reason, a presentation that structures all four books (see Handout A). But whom is he inviting?

He is inviting those with whom he disputes—those whom he seeks to convince, his interlocutors or dialogue partners (“adversarius convinci” I.9). He is writing to pre- or extra-Christian man.[6] Thus, “its appropriate audience is made up of intelligent, educated non-Christians,”[7] or, perhaps, even Christians insofar as they must be convinci of the harmony of reason and faith.

Distinct from the philosophical dialectic and demonstration, the book has a directedness both towards and by way of key points of the narration of salvation history.

The structure of the Contra Gentiles is informed by precisely such an understanding of scriptural narrative. . . . the end and the reason for the proof . . . . “Thomas devotes most attention to those philosophic debates that touch upon scriptural teachings concerning the nature of God, his relationship to the universe, and his providential orchestration of human salvation. Scriptural narrative thus has a certain primacy even in the first three books.” . . . Far from being an anachronistic imposition, the emphasis on narrative is thoroughly Augustinian. Consider Augustine’s comment about human history: “Although the past institutions of human beings are set forth in historical narratives, history itself is not numbered among human institutions; for things that have transpired and cannot be undone belong to the order of time, whose author and administrator is God.”[8]

Indeed, the Selfsame author of history writes history as a protreptic, an exhortatory pedagogy that we might seek out Wisdom Incarnate, Jesus Christ. Thus, we read of St. Augustine’s Rome that it “withered in the hearts” of men; it was awaiting its Savior:

In cordibus aruerat—that was the innermost secret of the fall of ancient civilization. It had lost its roots in the human soul and was growing more and more empty and sterile. The vital centre of the society of the future was to be found, not in the city-state, but in the Christian ecclesia.[9]

In other words, the audience is grand and yet also suffering: the human race itself qua naturally born, fallen, and supernaturally bound. The audience is being told about itself in the plan of Wisdom itself. No wonder St. Thomas says he will attempt this “in our little measure [nostro modulo].”

Note how St. Thomas confirms his aim in ScG—with a quote from St. Hilary of Poitiers (d. 368, a Doctor of the Church, Feast: Jan 13). St. Hilary was a convert, and Book I is a short “confession” of his early pagan life (rich and leisurely), his turning to God, and his exhortation to Christian wisdom. Central to his story was reading the Gospel of John, as well as Exodus 3:14 (“I Am Who Am”) and pondering its implications. He comments:

Thus my mind, full of these results which by its own reflection and the teaching of Scripture it had attained, rested with assurance, as on some peaceful watchtower, upon that glorious conclusion, recognizing that its true nature made it capable of one homage to its Creator, and of none other, whether greater or less; the homage namely of conviction that His is a greatness too vast for our comprehension but not for our faith. For a reasonable faith is akin to reason and accepts its aid, even though that same reason cannot cope with the vastness of eternal Omnipotence.[10]

The line that St. Thomas quotes, however, is from the beginning Book I.37, which, together with I.38, forms a prayer of St. Hilary to God for assistance in writing his book. While he only quotes the first line, it is typical of a medieval practice St. Thomas follows to tell us that we should call to mind the entire passage. Implicitly, then, Aquinas invokes the words of St. Hilary as his own.[11]

3. Philosophic Wisdom versus Theological

Following the outline of ScG I.1–9 presented in §1.1, we should now consider the way in which St. Thomas intends to achieve his objective. Here is a division of I.3–8:

  1. The two ways of manifesting divine truth (I.3)
  2. Consideration of these two ways (I.4–8)
    1. The two ways in themselves (I.4–6)
      1. In regard to teaching, whether by natural reason (I.4) or by faith (I.5)In regard to learning, especially the believer (I.6)
    1. The two ways in comparison to each other (I.7–8)

The third chapter—beginning with the Aristotelian idea that the ways of manifesting the truth are not reducible to a single, universal method—introduces the idea that there is “a twofold way of truth [duplex veritatis modus]” in regard to what we Christians profess about God. Along one way, some truths must be believed because they exceed the power of human reason (e.g., that God is both unity and Trinity), while other truths can be attained by human reason (e.g., that God exists, that God is one). After this distinction, St. Thomas proposes philosophical arguments to show that truths in the first category do indeed exist:

  • The first argument is from our mode of knowing. (What is the key middle term?)
  • The second argument uses the idea of a gradation or hierarchy of intellects.
  • The last argument reflects upon our own experience of knowing in daily life.

How do these avoid proposing skepticism? The intrinsic intelligibility of all beings is assumed. Note how St. Thomas confirms his arguments in the last three paragraphs of I.3: from the Philosopher, from Scripture, and by noting an error thus refuted. This is a good example of the triple concord proposed in I.2.

Note, also, that St. Thomas continues an implicit dialogue with Aristotle’s discussion of the high and noble object of wisdom in the early parts of the Metaphysics, I.1–2:

  • ScG, I.1 uses Aristotle’s ideas of “architectonic” wisdom, and that God alone is or has it
  • ScG, I.2 presents various encomia of wisdom, as does Aristotle
  • ScG, I.3 brings to mind Aristotle’s image (Metaphysics, II.1) comparing us to bats

The fourth chapter discusses why, even though we can achieve certain truths about God, these truths are nonetheless revealed to us. Sometimes these truths are called by St. Thomas the “preambles of the faith” (the praeambula fidei). Aquinas says there three “inconvenientia”[12] would result if such naturally knowable truths were not also revealed: few would achieve them, and then only after a long time, and even then with a mixture of error.

  • [A] Only Few
    • Some are not able, yet lack the disposition for the pursuit of such wisdom
    • Some have the disposition, but lack the leisure for the pursuit
    • Some have the disposition and leisure, but are lazy and lack zeal for study [studium]
    • A striking passage: “For almost the entire consideration of philosophy [fere totius philosophiae consideratio] is directed to the knowledge of God, on account of which metaphysics, which is about divine things, is the last of the parts of philosophy to be studied.”
  • [B] After a Long Time
    • Because much preparation is required; not all persevere in the “exercise [exercitium]”
    • Because youth is a bad time for study (“tempore iuventutis, dum diversis motibus passionum anima fluctuat”),[13] so one must be older
  • [C] With a Mixture of Error
    • Because of the weakness of human judgment and reliance upon a spatiotemporally bound imagination; this is compounded by the “scandal of disagreement”[14]
    • One commentator notes that “this weakness of the human intellect is not some disease or something foreign to its nature happening upon it” but is due simply to our kind as the weakest type of intellect; thus, our mind of “its nature is adapted to [suapte natura] a feeble hold upon the truth and can be deceived easily.”[15]
    • Because fallacious or merely probable arguments are taken for demonstrations

St. Thomas notes that these three leave the human race “in the greatest shadows of ignorance [in maximis ignorantiae tenebris],” indeed a res inconveniens: an ugly state of affairs.

But there is a remedy: “The light shines in the darkness—lux in tenebris lucet.”[16] (John 1:5) Notice how St. Thomas’s conclusion rebuts each of the above three: “Therefore, the divine clemency helpfully provides that even some things which reason is able to investigate are held by faith, so that all may share [~A] in the knowledge of God easily [~B], and without doubt or error [~C].”

The properly theological or revealed truths we discuss next.

4. Wisdom Sacred or Profane? Jerusalem or Athens?

We proceed to the second way of knowing the truth about divine matters, through faith. In the fifth chapter, St. Thomas argues why it is necessary that such truths are revealed—not in the sense, of course, that they are unknowable and so must be revealed if we are to know them, but for what reason, as a final cause, would such naturally unknowable truths would be revealed at all? Ferrariensis suggests that the first reason is about something necessary simpliciter, while the others are necessary ad bene esse.

  • So that men might know the truth about their highest end
  • So that men might know God more fully
  • So as to restrain the presumption of (philosophical) knowledge
  • So as to grant even an imperfect grasp of the highest things by faith

Is Ferrariensis correct about his characterization of the first and last three arguments? Note how the first argument implies that something is necessary beyond what philosophy can give.

It is, furthermore, clear in ScG, I.6 just how efficacious the assent of faith is. St. Thomas highlights especially the proof of the conversion of so much of the world: “Now, such a wondrous conversion of the world to the Christian faith is a most indubitable proof that such signs did take place, so that there is no need to repeat them when they are so evidently apparent from their effect.”[17]

Again, in ScG, I.7 we are shown why these two modes are not in opposition. Jerusalem (or Rome) and Athens can live in harmony:

  • Because truth is not opposed to truth
  • Because God cannot contradict himself
  • Because God does not “impede” us by such disharmony
  • Because God does not induce contraries

Indeed, St. Thomas stresses in ScG, I.8, what we can know through our senses contain “a certain trace” (vestigium: footprint, track) of God. Thus, while we cannot thereby prove revealed truths, “however weak these arguments may be, it is useful for the human mind to be practiced in them.” There is a certain school of intellectual virtue in doing so.

5. The Sapiential Cosmology of St. Thomas in the Summa contra Gentiles

The conclusion of the prooemium in ScG discusses the “order and mode of proceeding.” It should be considered alongside ScG, II.1–5.

In ScG, I.9, recalling the “twofold truth of divine things [duplex veritatem divinorum],” Aquinas seems to divide the mode into two, and then introduces a certain order.

With the intention, then, of proceeding in the manner laid down, we shall first endeavor to declare that truth which is the object of faith’s confession and of reason’s researches, by adducing arguments both demonstrative and probable, some of which we have gathered from the writings of the philosophers and of holy men, so as to thereby confirm the truth and convince our opponents.

After this, so as to proceed from the more to the less manifest, we shall, with God’s help, proceed to declare that truth which surpasses reason by refuting the arguments of our opponents, and by setting forth the truth of faith by means of probable arguments and authority.

The first paragraph seems to describe the mode in Books I–III, which is itself twofold. The second paragraph seems to describe Book IV.

Here is the order which St. Thomas proposes for Books I–III:

Seeing, then, that we intend by the way of reason to pursue those things about God which human reason is able to investigate, the first object that offers itself to our consideration consists in those things which pertain to God in himself [Book I]; the second will be the procession of creatures from him [Book II]; and the third the relation of creatures to him as their end [Book III].

As many have noted, this order is not a philosophical order, but a theological order. Some attempt to find a philosophical order in Books I–III, a “philosophy from the top-down.”[18] However, it is not advisable to follow this view, since it would invert the philosophical order.

We can confirm this by looking at ScG, II.1–5, in particular, II.4. On the one hand, the philosopher considers creatures in themselves, while the faith (sacra doctrina, the theologian) considers creatures insofar as they are likenesses of or related to God. So, the form of their consideration differs. They begin from different principles (Which?). The subjects also differ, for philosophy considers everything about creatures, but the “doctrine of the faith” omits various things as unnecessary to its end.

All of this results in the consequence that the philosophical order differs from the theological order:

Hence again both teachings do not follow the same order. For in the teaching of philosophy, which considers creatures in themselves and leads us from them to the knowledge of God, the first consideration is about creatures, and the last of God. In contrast, in the teaching of faith, which considers creatures only in their relation to God, the consideration about God takes the first place, and that about creatures the last. And thus it is more perfect as being more like God’s knowledge, for he beholds other things by knowing himself.

In ScG, then, St. Thomas is still proceeding as a theologian, but by entering into discussion—a Socratic dialogue, a medieval dispute—with the philosophers (the gentiles; represented especially by Aristotle and his interpreters). At the same time, however, he does not limit the domain to only theological matters; he does not reduce philosophy to theology.

This will become especially clear as we encounter the philosophical aporia in the book, the places where the philosophers had to fall silent (or perhaps should have, to avoid error): “The aporias, which indicate the limitations of philosophy, provide an opening for a dialogue between revelation and reason; because they are no more than aporias, they cannot provide grounds for a philosophical anticipation of revelation.”[19] These areas include the beginning of the world, the ultimate good possible for human nature, and the nature and post-mortem fate of the human soul.

ScG, II.2 (to teach truth)ScG, II.3 (to refute opposing error)
1. Because it allows us to contemplate God’s wisdom.1. We avoid attributing creaturely attributes to God.
2. Because it allows us to admire God’s power.2. We avoid attributing divine attributes to creatures.
3. Because it inflames us to love of God’s goodness.3. We properly understand God’s causality in creation.
4. Because it bestows on us a divine likeness.4. We properly evaluate human dignity in the universe.

ScG II.2 and II.3 show the twofold officium of the wise (Who is …?):

Ferrariensis helpfully notes that, in chapters II.2–3, the phrase “Christian faith is not meant insofar as it is a theological virtue distinct from hope and charity, but insofar as it includes all those things pertaining to the Christian life.”[20] Indeed, note carefully how in ScG I.4 St. Thomas excludes the view that we have only to think rightly about God, and can err about creatures, “since error concerning creatures, by subjecting the human mind to causes other than God, amounts to a false opinion about God, and misleads the minds of men from God, to whom faith strives to lead them.”

In a sense, Books II and III show God Himself as Teacher, teaching through both creation and revelation (see Hebrews 1:1–3), and Book IV shows us Christ the Teacher. This suggests that there is a hierarchy of wisdoms at work in ScG. Thus, in II.4, theology is “what ought to be called wisdom most of all [maxima sapientia]” and philosophy should serve it. Book IV expands on this list, as it opens with a discussion of a threefold knowledge of divine things: (1) by the natural light of reason through creatures, (2) as revealed in words for belief, (3) when we are elevated to perfect vision.

Divine WisdomWe only participate in this in patria (see IV.1); Wisdom itself, see ScG, I.1
Mystical WisdomA gift of the Holy Spirit; implied in IV.1; see also ST, IIa-IIae, q. 45
Theological WisdomThe study of God and all things in light of divine revelation; its subject is God
Philosophic WisdomThe study of creatures in light of first causes, including God; subject is being
Lower WisdomsThese vary depending upon their subject and end; e.g., statecraft or politics

Our emphasis should be upon ScG as a protreptic in Christian wisdom.

The human being naturally seeks wisdom. A sign of this is that all human cultures inevitably seek to derive ultimate explanations of reality. … When Thomas Aquinas considers such questions, he distinguishes three forms of wisdom, that pertaining to philosophy, to theology, and to the mystical life of union with God. Each of these forms of wisdom is unique and has its own integrity, but they are also arranged hierarchically, as theological knowledge provides more perfect understanding of the ultimate reality than philosophy does, and mystical union provides a more perfect encounter with the ultimate reality of God than theological reflection does. Each form of wisdom is compatible with, and is subject to regulatory influence and inspiration from, the other two.[21]

And the Summa contra Gentiles not only exhorts (protreptic) but trains (logical rep’s and max’s):

The work presents the virtues of Christian wisdom above all by requiring that its readers practice them—in following its structures, in learning its locutions, in discovering the order of its arguments, in understanding its technical digressions. Perhaps most helpfully, the Contra Gentiles applies in hundreds of particular arguments the intelligible principia which are the seeds of speculative virtue. In this way, the protreptic structure is not only an exordium to wisdom, but a school for it.[22]

And, of course, we cannot forget Wisdom Incarnate, the focal point for St. Thomas in ScG. Indeed, “In the Incarnation, the object of contemplation is in some measure proportioned to our mode of knowing; through the Incarnation, the active life is ordered to, and harmonized with, the life of contemplation.”[23] As St. Thomas says, “If we consider the mystery of the Incarnation carefully and reverently, we shall discover such a depth of Divine Wisdom as will surpass all human knowledge.” (ScG, IV.54) And again, “In his Summa theologiae, Aquinas said straight out, ‘Christ above all others is wise and a friend.’ For whom else had Aquinas been working so hard?”[24]

* * *

Pope Benedict XVI on Study in the Christian Life and in Seminary

Stand firm in the faith! Do not let yourselves be confused! It often seems that science—the natural sciences on the one hand and historical research (especially exegesis of Sacred Scripture) on the other—are able to offer irrefutable results at odds with the Catholic faith. I have experienced the transformations of the natural sciences since long ago and have been able to see how, on the contrary, apparent certainties against the faith have vanished, proving to be not science, but philosophical interpretations only apparently pertaining to science; just as, on the other hand, it is in dialogue with the natural sciences that faith, too, has learned to understand better the limit of the scope of its claims, and thus its specificity. It is now sixty years that I have been accompanying the journey of Theology, particularly of the Biblical Sciences, and with the succession of different generations I have seen theses that seemed unshakable collapse, proving to be mere hypotheses: the liberal generation (Harnack, Jülicher etc.), the existentialist generation (Bultmann etc.), the Marxist generation. I saw and see how out of the tangle of assumptions the reasonableness of faith emerged and emerges again. Jesus Christ is truly the way, the truth and the life — and the Church, with all its insufficiencies, is truly His body. (“My Spiritual Testament” url:

Above all, your time in the seminary is also a time of study. The Christian faith has an essentially rational and intellectual dimension. Were it to lack that dimension, it would not be itself. Paul speaks of a “standard of teaching” to which we were entrusted in Baptism (Rom 6:17). All of you know the words of Saint Peter which the medieval theologians saw as the justification for a rational and scientific theology: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an ‘accounting’ (logos) for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). Learning how to make such a defense is one of the primary responsibilities of your years in the seminary. I can only plead with you: Be committed to your studies! Take advantage of your years of study! You will not regret it. Certainly, the subjects which you are studying can often seem far removed from the practice of the Christian life and the pastoral ministry. Yet it is completely mistaken to start questioning their practical value by asking: Will this be helpful to me in the future? Will it be practically or pastorally useful? The point is not simply to learn evidently useful things, but to understand and appreciate the internal structure of the faith as a whole, so that it can become a response to people’s questions, which on the surface change from one generation to another yet ultimately remain the same. For this reason it is important to move beyond the changing questions of the moment in order to grasp the real questions, and so to understand how the answers are real answers. (Letter to Seminarians:

* * *

The Prayer of St. Hilary, On the Trinity, I.37–38

I know, O Lord God Almighty, that I owe You, as the chief duty of my life, the devotion of all my words and thoughts to Yourself. The gift of speech which You have bestowed can bring me no higher reward than the opportunity of service in preaching You and displaying You as You are, as Father and Father of God the Only-begotten, to the world in its blindness and the heretic in his rebellion. But this is the mere expression of my own desire; I must pray also for the gift of Your help and compassion, that the breath of Your Spirit may fill the sails of faith and confession which I have spread, and a favoring wind be sent to forward me on my voyage of instruction. We can trust the promise of Him Who said, Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you (Luke 11:9); and we in our want shall pray for the things we need. We shall bring an untiring energy to the study of Your Prophets and Apostles, and we shall knock for entrance at every gate of hidden knowledge, but it is Yours to answer the prayer, to grant the thing we seek, to open the door on which we beat. Our minds are born with dull and clouded vision, our feeble intellect is penned within the barriers of an impassable ignorance concerning things Divine; but the study of Your revelation elevates our soul to the comprehension of sacred truth, and submission to the faith is the path to a certainty beyond the reach of unassisted reason.

And therefore we look to Your support for the first trembling steps of this undertaking, to Your aid that it may gain strength and prosper. We look to You to give us the fellowship of that Spirit Who guided the Prophets and the Apostles, that we may take their words in the sense in which they spoke and assign its right shade of meaning to every utterance. For we shall speak of things which they preached in a mystery; of You, O God Eternal, Father of the Eternal and Only-begotten God, Who alone art without birth, and of the One Lord Jesus Christ, born of You from everlasting. We may not sever Him from You, or make Him one of a plurality of Gods, on any plea of difference of nature. We may not say that He is not begotten of You, because You are One. We must not fail to confess Him as true God, seeing that He is born of You, true God, His Father. Grant us, therefore, precision of language, soundness of argument, grace of style, loyalty to truth. Enable us to utter the things that we believe, that so we may confess, as Prophets and Apostles have taught us, You, One God our Father, and One Lord Jesus Christ, and put to silence the gainsaying of heretics, proclaiming You as God, yet not solitary, and Him as God, in no unreal sense.

[1] When citing ScG in English, I will use the Aquinas Institute translation (at, with exceptions to be noted.

[2] Brian Davies, Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles: A Guide and Commentary (Oxford: OUP, 2016), 11; hereafter, cited as SCG Guide.

[3] Cessario and Cuddy, Thomas and the Thomists, 19–20.

[4] Hibbs, Dialectic and Narrative in Aquinas, 3 (with my emphasis).

[5] Ibid., 5.

[6] See ibid., 3, 11–12; Hibbs follows an argument from Mark D. Jordan, “The Protreptic Structure of the ‘Summa Contra Gentiles,’” The Thomist 50, no. 2 (1986): 173–209.

[7] Norman Kretzmann, The Metaphysics of Theism: Aquinass Natural Theology in Summa Contra Gentiles I (Oxford: Clarendon, 2004), 48.

[8] Hibbs, Dialectic and Narrative in Aquinas, 8. Hibbs’s first quote is from the scholar R. A. Gauthier (my emphasis); the second is from St. Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana, II.28, n. 44.

[9] Dawson, Medieval Essays, 37.

[10] St. Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, I.8 (my emphasis); New Advent:

[11] See the Appendix on p. 10 of this handout for the prayer. The line quoted by St. Thomas I have put in bold.

[12] An argument from convenientia is from fittingness (a sort of beauty); so, inconventientia are things that are unfitting, ugly.

[13] Thus, the virtues of temperance and chastity are needed for wisdom: see ST, IIa–IIae, q. 15, a. 3, and the ad 1um, noting that “natural genius, or of some habit superadded thereto,” is not enough.

[14] See Robert M. Augros, “A Response to the Scandal of Disagreement.” Lecture at Thomas Aquinas College,, for a very good discussion of the problems that arise when those reputed to be wise or “the experts” are seen to disagree and confuse students.

[15] See the commentary of Francis Silvestri of Ferrara (Ferrariensis) on ScG I.4 (Leon.13.12–13, n. IV).

[16] See St. Thomas, Super Iohannem, ch. 1, lect. 4, n. 107: “And so he says that the light, i.e., the incarnate Word of God, shines in the darkness, i.e., upon the men of the world, who are blinded by the darkness of error and ignorance.”

[17] For more on this chapter’s discussion of Islam, see Joseph Ellul, O.P., “Vetera Novis Augere et Perficere: Thomas Aquinas and Christian–Muslim Dialogue.” Nova et Vetera 20, no. 4 (2022): 1231–48;

[18] This is Kretzmann’s interpretation; see Metaphysics of Theism, 26–27 and 49–50.

[19] Hibbs, Dialectic and Narrative in Aquinas, 28.

[20] See Ferrariensis (Leon.13:277, n.II).

[21] Thomas Joseph White, O.P., The Trinity: On the Nature and Mystery of the One God, Thomistic Ressourcement Series 19 (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2022), 1–2.

[22] Jordan, Mark D. “The Protreptic Structure of the ‘Summa Contra Gentiles,’” The Thomist 50, no. 2 (1986): 173–209;

[23] Hibbs, Dialectic and Narrative in Aquinas, 157.

[24] Cessario and Cuddy, Thomas and the Thomists, 38–39.

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