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Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas.

Fr. Jenkins's particular concern is with `the central notion of scientia in Aquinas, and how this concept plays a role in the scientia of sacred doctrine, the scientia of Christian theology which is based upon faith and presented in Aquinas's magnum opus, the Summa Theologiae' (p. 1). His major thesis is that `Aquinas's distinctive notion of scientia shaped his thought and writing in ways which have not been fully appreciated in the literature' (p. 3). In setting the scene for, and in developing this thesis, Fr. Jenkins aims to provide an answer to the question `What was Aquinas trying to do in writing his Summa Theologiae?'. He was, so Fr. Jenkins argues, trying to provide a work of `second-level pedagogy which would present material moving from causes to effects' (p. 97).

Following a brief introduction, the book begins with a chapter on Aquinas and scientia. The word scientia featured prominently in Latin translations of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, and, since Aquinas calls sacra doctrina (the focus of the Summa Theologiae) a scientia, Fr. Jenkins starts by seeking to explain what Aquinas meant by it. He basically argues that, according to Aquinas, one has scientia (we might translate this by `scientific knowledge') when one understands why something is the case by understanding why it has to be the case given the nature of what accounts for it -- implying, so one might say, that scientia involves understanding causes better than effects (or, as Fr. Jenkins puts it, that `a key condition of scientia for Aquinas is that the principles of a demonstration be better known than the conclusion') (p. 15). According to Fr. Jenkins, therefore, `although Aquinas recognizes that certain truths may be per se nota (`known of themselves', i.e., self-evident) to us, the goal of inquiry is that we may come to grasp what is per se notum in itself, and reason to conclusions from these truths' (p. 49). So Fr. Jenkins adds, this task requires `a period of training and discipline under the guidance of those more accomplished with the field, so that we may acquire the intellectual habits to apprehend what is per se notum as such' (p. 49).

In chapter 2, Fr. Jenkins goes on to argue that Aquinas views the sacra doctrina with which the Summa Theologiae is concerned as fully scientia in the above sense (Fr. Jenkins calls it `PA scientia'). Especially criticizing Fr. Marie-Dominique Chenu, he maintains that sacra doctrina is, for Aquinas, essentially Aristotle's scientia, and that it is such scientia that Aquinas is out to impart in the Summa Theologiae. Drawing on the notion that one can arrive at PA scientia only after much previous study, he goes on (in chapter 3) to suggest that the Summa Theologiae was written `for very advanced students in theology' (p. 97). This thought is what Fr. Jenkins has in mind when calling the Summa Theologiae a work of `second-level pedagogy'. In defending this reading of the work, he relies on textual exposition. He also discusses and (for reasons of various kinds) rejects accounts of the purpose of the Summa Theologiae offered by Fr. James Weisheipl (Friar Thomas D'Aquino, New York, 1974), Fr. Chenu (Towards Understanding Saint Thomas, Chicago, 1964) and Fr. Leonard Boyle (The Setting of the Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas, Toronto, 1982). These authors basically defend what Fr. Jenkins calls the `standard interpretation' of the Summa Theologiae (p. 97): they see it as in some serious sense written for non-experts or beginners. Fr. Jenkins, by contrast, maintains that the Summa Theologiae is anything but `an introduction for neophytes' (p. 81) in which `important but difficult details have been glossed over' (p. 83). Rather, it presents `Aquinas's clearest, most precise and most philosophically subtle treatment' of various matters (p. 83) and is best read as intended for `a student pursuing a degree in theology, for one aspiring to be a Magister in sacra pagina, or for someone at a comparable level' (p. 87). It is best read as written for `extremely well prepared and highly capable students who studied, and eventually commented upon, the Sentences of Peter Lombard at the University of Paris' (p. 89).

Having characterized the Summa Theologiae as a kind of `theologizing from the top down', so to speak, Fr. Jenkins devotes the rest of his book to three of the Summa Theologiae's central themes: the natural light of the intellect (chapter 4), grace, theological virtues and gifts (chapter 5) and the light of faith (chapter 6). The idea linking these chapters is the one presented in chapter 3 (emphasized again in a concluding chapter 7): they contain attempts by Fr. Jenkins to develop his account of the Summa Theologiae's purpose; they also deal with a variety of likely objections to it (including four major objections raised at the end of chapter 3). But the chapters can also be read on their own as expositions of Aquinas's treatment of the topics to which they are devoted -- expositions which can be appreciated by readers who may be less than persuaded by Fr. Jenkins's presiding thesis concerning the purpose of the Summa Theologiae. Among other things, they contain lively and critical discussions of recently published readings of Aquinas by authors such as Bernard Lonergan, Terence Penelhum, Alvin Plantinga, Eleonore Stump, and James Ross.

There can be little doubt that Fr. Jenkins's book is one which anyone seriously interested in Aquinas should read. Though he clearly finds Aquinas to be of contemporary philosophical significance (cf. pp. 126 ff.), Fr. Jenkins is not offering a serious evaluation of Aquinas from the viewpoint of philosophy (or, indeed, theology). His project is essentially expository and historical. But he engages in this project with (by the standards of contemporary analytical philosophy) a high degree of philosophical sophistication. And, though the title of his book may lead prospective readers to think that its focus is relatively narrow, such is not the case. Fr. Jenkins provides his readers with an account of some central themes in Aquinas, and his way of developing his account has effectively led him to write what may justly be regarded as a full-scale introduction to the Summa Theologiae. I am not persuaded by his arguments against the `standard interpretation' of Aquinas's intentions in drafting the Summa Theologiae. They seem to me to fall to do justice to what Aquinas says in the prologue to the work -- remarks which, if we read them with an eye on theological writings of which Aquinas was well aware, are most naturally to be construed along the lines of the `standard interpretation'. Yet both this interpretation and that of Fr. Jenkins are never going to be proved to be true or false in some absolute sense, for there must have been all sorts of factors resulting in the Summa Theologiae in its final (unfinished) form with respect to which we must satisfy ourselves with conjecture. For this reason, Fr. Jenkins's `angle' on the text may be taken as potentially fruitful when it comes to understanding the thinking presented in it. And, if we forget about the readers which Aquinas may or may not have had in mind when writing the Summa Theologiae, if we concentrate on its explicit teaching, we ought, I think, to conclude that Fr. Jenkins has done a good job of exposition. His account of Aquinas on scientia seems to me to be accurate and well defended, though it is, perhaps, made to do more work than is proper when it comes to Fr. Jenkins's overall reading of the Summa Theologiae. Equally accurate and well defended are Fr. Jenkins's accounts of Aquinas on grace and faith, in which some badly misguided readings of Aquinas are properly corrected. If pressed to criticize Fr. Jenkins's expositions, I should note that these frequently insist that the Prima Pars moves from cause to effect (cf. p. 220), which is a puzzling claim since Aquinas, in the Prima Pars makes it perfectly clear that he is, for much of the time, reasoning from effects (known) to cause (unknown). I might add that, in his account of Aquinas on faith, Fr. Jenkins ascribes to Aquinas the notion that believers `understand the articles of faith to be believed on divine authority' (cf. p. 196) -- a view which is arguably not present in Aquinas in quite the way that Fr. Jenkins seems to imply. But these, as they say, are matters for further discussion. The main point to stress here is that Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas is a lively and informed contribution to the study of Aquinas today. Indeed, it is one of the most interesting books on Aquinas to have appeared in recent years.
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Author:Davies, Brian
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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