Queen of the Sciences: Understanding the Throne of Theology [Part 1]
Listers, before we begin, let me say what this post is and is not. It is not necessarily apologetic in nature, because I have left out many of the arguments that would be necessary for a typical Catholic vs Atheist debate. What I hope to accomplish is what I believe St. Thomas Aquinas hoped to achieve in the very first question of his Summa Theologica. That is, I want to reiterate and supply the vocabulary and principles Holy Mother Church has given us to both live and understand our faith.
Often we spend so much time trying to prove our Faith correct, we forget to actually contemplate the Faith itself. I propose we step back and reflect upon the basic fundamentals of Catholic Theology. In doing so, I believe our lives will be enriched with God’s truth, and yes, consequently we will gain greater clarity and insight into our apologetics. With that said, we begin.
1. What does it mean to be wise?
Imagine the construction of a house. There is a plumber to handle the plumbing and a carpenter for the carpentry. And though these two arts are distinct, the two artisans must work together. Even if both workers excel within their own field, the overall order of the home will suffer if they are not in harmony.
However, neither plumbing nor carpentry can speak to how the home must be built as a whole. What is needed is a higher principle that can order both plumbing and carpentry to the proper goal of building a home. The principle is architecture; therefore, while the plumber and the carpenter may be wise concerning the principles of their respective arts, it is the architect who is wise concerning the order of the house. He is the wisest concerning the house, because his wisdom orders the lower principles according to the higher. In his own words, St. Thomas Aquinas states, “For since it is the part of a wise man to arrange and to judge, and since lesser matters should be judged in the light of some higher principle, he is said to be wise in any one order who considers the highest principle in that order.”
2. What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?
According to St. Augustine, “order is the appropriate disposition of things equal and unequal, by giving each its proper place.” As seen with the architect, wisdom is knowledge properly ordered, and the wise must have the prudence to do it.
3. What is the highest principle?
The highest cause, the Uncaused Cause, the cause the universe and its order, is God. Theology – more specifically the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the architectonic study that is most properly wisdom, because the “knowledge of divine things” sheds light on the appropriate order of all other things. Now, let us be clear. God is not only known through his self-revelation in Jesus Christ and in Scripture, but also in the imprint of the Creator upon Creation. Hence, the Catholic Church finds herself guarding and elucidating both Sacred Scripture and Nature. Certain truths, like the Trinity or the Incarnation of Jesus Christ had to be revealed to us, because they are above human wisdom. Other truths, such as the natural virtues, were discernable by human reason. These revealed and discerned truths are guaranteed by Christ and His Church and compose the Sacred Doctrine that orders all things and is rightly called the Queen of the Sciences.
4. What is a practical example of this teaching?
The examples are endless, because Sacred Doctrine orders everything from our souls to our finances. However, say a technological break through leads to a scientifically astonishing surgical procedure. Now say that technology is used for abortions. Just as the carpenter cannot speak to the proper order of a home as a whole, neither can science – as much as it tries – speak to the whole order of existence. We see this particularly in its inability to speak on moral order. It is not that science is necessarily deficient, but rather its judgments are limited by its empirical purview. Much like the plumber and carpenter, it begs for a higher principle to order its steps.
Our world is saturated by debates that fall directly into this dialogue. Whether it be stem cell research, gay marriage, education, or abortion, differing guiding principles are in steep competition. There is always a “highest principle” at work, but unfortunately many see that principle as the unhindered human will.
In the second part, we will look at why sacred doctrine is a science.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Angelic Doctor, pray for us. HHAmbrose