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Category: SAMT

A tour through Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles.

June 1, 2014 | 61 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Faith, Proof, & The A Priori

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide.

Chapter 5: That those things which cannot be investigated by reason are fittingly proposed to man as an object of faith

(4) There results also another advantage from this, namely, the checking of presumption which is the mother of error. For some there are who presume so far on their wits that they think themselves capable of measuring the whole nature of things by their intellect, in that they esteem all things true which they see, and false which they see not. Accordingly, in order that man’s mind might be freed from this presumption, and seek the truth humbly, it was necessary that certain things far surpassing his intellect should be proposed to man by God.i

(5) Yet another advantage is made apparent by the words of the Philosopher (10 Ethic.).[3] For when a certain Simonides maintained that man should neglect the knowledge of God, and apply his mind to human affairs, and declared that a man ought to relish human things, and a mortal, mortal things: the Philosopher contradicted him, saying that a man ought to devote himself to immortal and divine things as much as he can. Hence he says (11 De Animal.)[4] that though it is but little that we perceive of higher substances, yet that little is more loved and desired than all the knowledge we have of lower substances. He says also (2 De Coelo et Mundo)[5] that when questions about the heavenly bodies can be answered by a short and probable solution, it happens that the hearer is very much rejoiced. All this shows that however imperfect the knowledge of the highest things may be, it bestows very great perfection on the soul: and consequently, although human reason is unable to grasp fully things that are above reason, it nevertheless acquires much perfection, if at least it hold things, in any way whatever, by faith…ii

Chapter 6: That it is not a mark of levity to assent to the things that are of faith, although they are above reason

(4) On the other hand those who introduced the errors of the sects proceeded in contrary fashion, as instanced by Mohammed, who enticed peoples with the promise of carnal pleasures, to the desire of which the concupiscence of the flesh instigates. He also delivered commandments in keeping with his promises, by giving the reins to carnal pleasure, wherein it is easy for carnal men to obey: and the lessons of truth which he inculcated were only such as can be easily known to any man of average wisdom by his natural powers: yea rather the truths which he taught were mingled by him with many fables and most false doctrines. Nor did he add any signs of supernatural agency, which alone are a fitting witness to divine inspiration, since a visible work that can be from God alone, proves the teacher of truth to be invisibly inspired: but he asserted that he was sent in the power of arms, a sign that is not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. Again, those who believed in him from the outset were not wise men practised in things divine and human, but beastlike men who dwelt in the wilds, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching; and it was by a multitude of such men and the force of arms that he compelled others to submit to his law…iii

Chapter 7: That the truth of reason is not in opposition to the truth of the Christian faith

(1) NOW though the aforesaid truth of the Christian faith surpasses the ability of human reason, nevertheless those things which are naturally instilled in human reason cannot be opposed to this truth. For it is clear that those things which are implanted in reason by nature, are most true, so much so that it is impossible to think them to be false.iv

Nor is it lawful to deem false that which is held by faith, since it is so evidently confirmed by God. Seeing then that the false alone is opposed to the true, as evidently appears if we examine their definitions, it is impossible for the aforesaid truth of faith to be contrary to those principles which reason knows naturally.v

(2) Again. The same thing which the disciple’s mind receives from its teacher is contained in the knowledge of the teacher, unless he teach insincerely, which it were wicked to say of God. Now the knowledge of naturally known principles is instilled into us by God, since God Himself is the author of our nature. Therefore the divine Wisdom also contains these principles. Consequently whatever is contrary to these principles, is contrary to the divine Wisdom; wherefore it cannot be from God. Therefore those things which are received by faith from divine revelation cannot be contrary to our natural

(3) Moreover. Our intellect is stayed by contrary arguments, so that it cannot advance to the knowledge of truth. Wherefore if conflicting knowledges were instilled into us by God, our intellect would thereby be hindered from knowing the truth. And this cannot be ascribed to God.vii

(4) Furthermore. Things that are natural are unchangeable so long as nature remains. Now contrary opinions cannot be together in the same subject. Therefore God does not instill into man any opinion or belief contrary to natural Knowledge…

(7) From this we may evidently conclude that whatever arguments are alleged against the teachings of faith, they do not rightly proceed from the first self-evident principles instilled by nature. Wherefore they lack the force of demonstration, and are either probable or sophistical arguments, and consequently it is possible to solve them.viii


iModern intellectuals particularly avoid learning about or discussing God. The subject embarrasses them. At best, they might eagerly accept a weak counter-argument for God’s existence, glad to be shot of the obligation to investigate further, shoot opinions off the cuff, or quote a supposed witticism by some untutored New Atheist. Shameful behavior, really, on such an important question. Why not let’s examine the best arguments, as we should in all areas? Though St Thomas is right to emphasize that there are some things above us that we must take on faith, just as the common do when confronting most technical claims of Science—not everybody can understand all things. I repeat that we won’t be taking anything on faith, except for those bits of knowledge that come in-built (i.e. a priori knowledge).

ii[I]t happens that the hearer is very much rejoiced“. Isn’t this what the materialist rightly says about the higher truths in Science? That knowing it depths brings joy? Knowledge is good for its own sake. It us why mathematicians call their theorems beautiful. It is why once you hear St Thomas’s arguments in Chapter 13 and beyond, you will be happy.

iiiOf course, nowadays most come to Islam via other paths, but the promised carnality doesn’t hurt. Seventy-two virgins, is it? Not that all Muslims take that belief literally, of course. However, what Thomas says applies, I think, to the current rage for materialism. I can call myself any gender I want? Sign me up. What matters is what I desire and not what is? I’m right there with you. We are running from physics and metaphysics as fast as we can, straight into the arms of ourselves.

Mark Twain thought that the lack of a carnal nature in the afterlife of Christians was an argument against belief. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven bothered him greatly. Yet Plato in his Republic taught us that with age comes the diminishing of carnal thoughts and distractions, he showed us the great freedoms which accompanies this release.

ivNotice that this does work for propositions implanted by evolution. Suppose we were born with the innate knowledge that fire is hot because the unfit among our ancestors were burnt, much in the same way many animals are born with an innate fear of man. In this case, evolution would be creating a built-in belief which was true. But then suppose we were born with the innate idea that that we believe ideas because they make us happy and allow group cohesion, i.e. our ancestors who had happy notions bred more copiously than our ancestors who demanded proof and evidence. How would you ever know if you were a member of the former group? You could be fooling yourself that was actually false you think true because it is comforting. For example, we could be born with a gene for atheism (it can’t be that believing you are of variable “gender” or “sexuality” will help your reproductive chances). There is no reason to trust evolution leads to truth. We’re stuck with metaphysics and the grueling task of proving difficult claims.

On the other hand, there are some truths implanted in us, though not be evolution, that are true and impossible to think other than true. That a thing cannot exist and not exist simultaneously is one. That nothing which is not already actual can be a cause. That if x and y are integers and if x = y, then y = x. I don’t know if anybody has collected these truths. Would make a fascinating monograph.

vBe careful to understand Thomas is claiming a conditional true. If God told you to believe X because it is true, then X cannot be false. You needed yet believe in God to believe, which you must, that statement. See paragraph (3) for clarification.

viAnd now we see the candidate source for our a priori knowledge.

viiGod cannot lie to us (another conditional statement). But we sure can lie to ourselves (true by multiple overwhelming observation).

viiiI skipped over the (conditional) arguments about the veracity of scripture, which you won’t yet believe, and are at this point distracting. Thomas is talking to the teacher in the excised paragraphs, not the student. But here he repeats that we shall test and prove all things. I emphasize that you will not be asked to swallow anything, that all will be given ample demonstration.

Note We’re just getting past the introductory material and into the good stuff! Like I said, the juiciest bits start in Chapter 13, which I think we’ll reach in two or three weeks. Stick around.

[3] vii. 8
[4] De Part. Animal. i. 5.
[5] xii. 1.

May 25, 2014 | 23 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Things Which Block Truth

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide.

Chapter 4

(1) WHILE then the truth of the intelligible things of God is twofold, one to which the inquiry of reason can attain, the other which surpasses the whole range of human reason, both are fittingly proposed by God to man as an object of belief.i

We must first show this with regard to that truth which is attainable by the inquiry of reason, lest it appears to some, that since it can be attained by reason, it was useless to make it an object of faith by supernatural inspiration.ii

(2) Now three disadvantages would result if this truth were left solely to the inquiry of reason.

(3) One is that few men would have knowledge of God: because very many are hindered from gathering the fruit of diligent inquiry, which is the discovery of truth, for three reasons.

Some indeed on account of an indisposition of temperament, by reason of which many are naturally indisposed to knowledge: so that no efforts of theirs would enable them to reach to the attainment of the highest degree of human knowledge, which consists in knowing God.

Some are hindered by the needs of household affairs. For there must needs be among men some that devote themselves to the conduct of temporal affairs, who would be unable to devote so much time to the leisure of contemplative research as to reach the summit of human inquiry, namely the knowledge of God.

And some are hindered by laziness. For in order to acquire the knowledge of God in those things which reason is able to investigate, it is necessary to have a previous knowledge of many things: since almost the entire consideration of philosophy is directed to the knowledge of God: for which reason metaphysics, which is about divine things, is the last of the parts of philosophy to be studied.iii

Wherefore it is not possible to arrive at the inquiry about the aforesaid truth except after a most laborious study: and few are willing to take upon themselves this labour for the love of a knowledge, the natural desire for which has nevertheless been instilled into the mind of man by God.iv

(4) The second disadvantage is that those who would arrive at the discovery of the aforesaid truth would scarcely succeed in doing so after a long time. First, because this truth is so profound, that it is only after long practice that the human intellect is enabled to grasp it by means of reason. Secondly, because many things are required beforehand, as stated above. Thirdly, because at the time of youth, the mind, when tossed about by the various movements of the passions, is not fit for the knowledge of so sublime a truth, whereas calm gives prudence and knowledge, as stated in 7 Phys.[1] Hence mankind would remain in the deepest darkness of ignorance, if the path of reason were the only available way to the knowledge of God: because the knowledge of God which especially makes men perfect and good, would be acquired only by the few, and by these only after a long time.v

(5) The third disadvantage is that much falsehood is mingled with the investigations of human reason, on account of the weakness of our intellect in forming its judgments, and by reason of the admixture of phantasms. Consequently many would remain in doubt about those things even which are most truly demonstrated, through ignoring the force of the demonstration: especially when they perceive that different things are taught by the various men who are called wise. Moreover among the many demonstrated truths, there is sometimes a mixture of falsehood that is not demonstrated, but assumed for some probable or sophistical reason which at times is mistaken for a demonstration. Therefore it was necessary that definite certainty and pure truth about divine things should be offered to man by the way of

(6) Accordingly the divine clemency has made this salutary commandment, that even some things which reason is able to investigate must be held by faith: so that all may share in the knowledge of God easily, and without doubt or error.vii

(7) Hence it is written (Eph. iv. 17, 18): That henceforward you walk not as also the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind, having their understanding darkened: and (Isa. liv. 13): All thy children shall be taught of the Lord.


iFrom last time, there are some things we can work out for ourselves, but others which we must take on revelation, i.e. on faith.

iiDon’t panic. We’re starting with that which we can prove by reason. The juiciest arguments will be concrete, scientific, and oh so rational.

iiiTo his great shame, Yours Truly fits into category three. How about you, dear reader? I’ll flatter both of us that, because you regularly stop by here, that you at most suffer as I do, but that you’ll be capable of and have the time to understand the arguments to come.

ivDavid Stove, one of my favorite anti-modern modern philosophers said learning requires two things, libraries and leisure. The library of the internet is practically free, but leisure is harder to come by, particularly as we invent more and more labor-saving devices. Most Westerners now on purpose carry with them everywhere Thinking Suppression Devices so that not even by accident will they philosophize.

vIt is shocking that so many would try to figure out the greatest questions we could possibly ask on their own, without study. Would you try to figure quantum mechanics, the calculus, grammar from scratch on your own without consulting the relevant authorities? No, sir, you would not. So why are you so keen on consulting only your untutored thoughts on, say, whether God exists?

viOnce you are presented with an argument with true premises, a valid conclusion, and which is sound, you have no choice, if you are rational, other than to accept it. Likewise, if an argument you cherish is shown to have false premises, an invalid conclusion, or is shown unsound, you must, if you are rational, you must reject it. Thirdly, many of the arguments on which we rely are not well considered, but carried along habitually or because they are deeply pleasing to us. I used to be an atheist, too, so I know what it’s like. Time for some intense scrutiny.

Update Apropos quotation from Peter Kreeft (start 10:30) on why academics have turned traditionally Catholic colleges and universities away from the Truth. “Smart people are very good at just about everything intellectual, including fooling themselves. Ordinary people aren’t smart enough to fool themselves. They have no place to hide. But academics can create all sorts of excuses and places to hide from themselves.”

viiLike I said, this won’t be our path. We’re going to prove everything.

[1] iii. 7.

May 18, 2014 | 11 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: What We Can Know And What We Cannot

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide.

Chapter Two

(1) Now of all human pursuits, that of wisdom is the most perfect, the most sublime, the most profitable, the most delightful.i It is the most perfect, since in proportion as a man devotes himself to the pursuit of wisdom, so much does he already share in true happiness: wherefore the wise man says (Ecclus. xiv. 22): Blessed is the man that shall continue in wisdom…

Chapter Three

(2) Now in those things which we hold about God there is truth in two ways. For certain things that are true about God wholly surpass the capability of human reason, for instance that God is three and one:ii while there are certain things to which even natural reason can attain, for instance that God is, that God is one, and others like these, which even the philosophers proved demonstratively of God, being guided by the light of natural reason.iii

(3) That certain divine truths wholly surpass the capability of human reason, is most clearly evident. For since the principle of all the knowledge which the reason acquires about a thing, is the understanding of that thing’s essence, because according to the Philosopher’s teaching[3] the principle of a demonstration is what a thing is, it follows that our knowledge about a thing will be in proportion to our understanding of its essence. Wherefore, if the human intellect comprehends the essence of a particular thing, for instance a stone or a triangle, no truth about that thing will surpass the capability of human reason.iv

But this does not happen to us in relation to God, because the human intellect is incapable by its natural power of attaining to the comprehension of His essence: since our intellect’s knowledge, according to the mode of the present life, originates from the senses: so that things which are not objects of sense cannot be comprehended by the human intellect, except in so far as knowledge of them is gathered from sensibles.v

Now sensibles cannot lead our intellect to see in them what God is, because they are effects unequal to the power of their cause. And yet our intellect is led by sensibles to the divine knowledge so as to know about God that He is, and other such truths, which need to be ascribed to the first principle. Accordingly some divine truths are attainable by human reason, while others altogether surpass the power of human

(4) Again. The same is easy to see from the degrees of intellects. For if one of two men perceives a thing with his intellect with greater subtlety, the one whose intellect is of a higher degree understands many things which the other is altogether unable to grasp; as instanced in a yokel who is utterly incapable of grasping the subtleties of philosophy.vii

Now the angelic intellectviii surpasses the human intellect more than the intellect of the cleverest philosopher surpasses that of the most uncultured. For an angel knows God through a more excellent effect than does man, for as much as the angel’s essence, through which he is led to know God by natural knowledge, is more excellent than sensible things, even than the soul itself, by which the human intellect mounts to the knowledge of God.

And the divine intellect surpasses the angelic intellect much more than the angelic surpasses the human. For the divine intellect by its capacity equals the divine essence, wherefore God perfectly understands of Himself what He is, and He knows all things that can be understood about Him: whereas the angel knows not what God is by his natural knowledge, because the angel’s essence, by which he is led to the knowledge of God, is an effect unequal to the power of its cause.

Consequently an angel is unable by his natural knowledge to grasp all that God understands about Himself: nor again is human reason capable of grasping all that an angel understands by his natural power. Accordingly just as a man would show himself to be a most insane fool if he declared the assertions of a philosopher to be false because he was unable to understand them,ix so, and much more, a man would be exceedingly foolish, were he to suspect of falsehood the things revealed by God through the ministry of His angels, because they cannot be the object of reason’s investigations.

(5) Furthermore. The same is made abundantly clear by the deficiency which every day we experience in our knowledge of things. For we are ignorant of many of the properties of sensible things, and in many cases we are unable to discover the nature of those properties which we perceive by our senses. Much less therefore is human reason capable of investigating all the truths about that most sublime essence.

(6) With this the saying of the Philosopher is in accord (2 Metaph.)[4] where he says that our intellect in relation to those primary things which are most evident in nature is like the eye of a bat in relation to the sun.x


iI’ll take it we’re all on board with this. If not, this link is for you.

iiAquinas means that we cannot deduce all things; for example that God is triune, i.e. the Trinity. For this, revelation is needed. Though once that truth has been revealed, we can use it as a basis for other arguments. You, dear reader, are not yet asked to accept anything because of revelation. Aquinas’s point holds regardless.

iiiThat God exists can be known from reason and experience, as we’ll see when arriving at Chapter 13. Yes, a long way off. But so worth the effort getting there, that I’m willing to test your patience on this extended introduction. Skipping it would bespeak of laziness.

ivThe essence of a triangle is to have three straight sides with sum of angles 180 degrees and so on, and when we are finished we see that nothing about triangles escapes us. Rather, nothing escapes the man willing to put the effort into learning the essence of triangles. There is plenty we can and do know, but not everybody, and in some cases any of us, can know everything. You would think this point uncontroversial, but because of the scientism and Enlightenment ideals which infuse our culture, some people don’t like hearing it.

v“sensibles” = sensible things. Since, as it will turn out, God is infinite, and the human mind cannot encompass infinity, we cannot fully know God’s essence.

viDon’t let the first sentence slip by. Effects are not as “strong” as causes. Think of it this way. You can flick a crumb from your shirt, but somebody only seeing the effect of the crumb’s flight would not be able to infer your complete strength. An analogy for the second part: in mathematics, we can define infinity (in its various flavors) but we cannot, not ever, have direct experience of it. But knowing its definition allows us great latitude in defining and discovering mathematical propositions. The first to show where the analogy fails gets booted from class because, it should go without saying, all analogies fail by definition.

viiContra modern education “theory”, each of us ain’t as smart as the other, even though everybody thinks it. In plainer words, sometimes the failure to grasp a concept is your fault and not the author’s.

viiiAccept arguendo the existence of angels. That they exist is given to us by revelation. You do not need to accept this to profit from the argument.

ix“[A] man would show himself to be a most insane fool if he declared the assertions of a philosopher to be false because he was unable to understand them”. Repeat these words thrice.

xAnd let’s don’t forget why Socrates was so wise: he was the only man to recognize and acknowledge his limitations.

[3] 2 Anal. Post. iii. 9.
[4] D. Ia. 1, 2. In future references D. stands for the Didot edition of Aristotle’s and Plato’s works

May 11, 2014 | 7 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: The Office Of A Wise Man

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
The title is my liberal but reasonable translation of St Thomas’s Summa Contra Gentiles, a book which we will go through, post by post—which is to say, his chapters are, almost as if he anticipated the modern world, post length. I’ve created the new category SAMT, and will put a collections link on the Classic Posts page.

Most people are familiar with the Summa Theologica, which is lovely, but was meant as an introductory text for theology students. More importantly for us, Summa Contra Gentiles was written as a guide for folks lacking the vocabulary of classical metaphysics and theology, as we’ll see.

The translation is from the English Dominican Fathers, and you can go there for the complete original. We won’t need the whole book, so any expurgated text will be noted by ellipsis or notes. I’ll break text up in the modern way for easy screen reading.

I’ll keep the original bracketed footnotes, e.g. “[1]”, for references, and he helpfully numbered his thoughts within a chapter, e.g. “(3)“. I’ll add my footnotes in lowercase Latin, e.g. “iv“. Some chapters will need many notes, others scarcely any. I’ll also freely translate the titles, but always link back to the original.

I am not the best man to do this, in the sense that many others know orders of magnitude more than I, but since knowledge of classical metaphysics is so lacking yet so necessary, anything I can offer will be at least somewhat helpful. Plus, I am convinced that after you go through even a few chapters, you’ll be amazed if not convinced.

Book 1 has about 100 chapters, so that’s two years averaging one a week. Who’s in a rush? So without further ado, Chapter 1, which is a plea that one should not lead an unexamined life and that Truth is always our goal. Who could disagree with that? Nobody, that’s who, thus there are few notes.


My mouth shall meditate truth, and my lips shall hate wickedness.–PROV. viii. 7.

(1) The general use which, in the Philosopher’s[1]i opinion, should be followed in naming things, has resulted in those men being called wise who direct things themselves and govern them well…

Now the rule of all things directed to the end of government and order must needs be taken from their end: for then is a thing best disposed when it is fittingly directed to its end, since the end of everything is its good…

The same may be observed in the art of sailing in relation to the art of ship-building, and in the military art in relation to the equestrian art and all warlike appliances. These arts which govern others are called master-arts (architectonicæ), that is principal arts, for which reason their craftsmen, who are called master-craftsmen (architectores), are awarded the name of wise men.

Since, however, these same craftsmen, through being occupied with the ends of certain singular things, do not attain to the universal end of all things, they are called wise about this or that, in which sense it is said (1 Cor. iii. 10): As a wise architect, I have laid the foundation; whereas the name of being wise simply is reserved to him alone whose consideration is about the end of the universe, which end is also the beginning of the universe: wherefore, according to the Philosopher,[3] it belongs to the wise man to consider the highest causes.

(2) Now the last end of each thing is that which is intended by the first author or mover of that thing: and the first author and mover of the universe is an intellect, as we shall prove further on.[4] Consequently the last end of the universe must be the good of the intellect: and this is truth. Therefore truth must be the last end of the whole universe; and the consideration thereof must be the chief occupation of wisdom.

…Moreover the Philosopher defines the First Philosophy as being the knowledge of truth,[5] not of any truth, but of that truth which is the source of all truth, of that, namely, which relates to the first principle of being of all things; wherefore its truth is the principle of all truth, since the disposition of things is the same in truth as in being.

(3) Now it belongs to the same thing to pursue one contrary and to remove the other: thus medicine which effects health, removes sickness. Hence, just as it belongs to a wise man to meditate and disseminate truth, especially about the first principle, so does it belong to him to refute contrary falsehood.

(4) Wherefore the twofold office of the wise man is fittingly declared from the mouth of Wisdom, in the words above quoted; namely, to meditate and publish the divine truth, which antonomasticallyii is the truth, as signified by the words, My mouth shall meditate truth; and to refute the error contrary to truth, as signified by the words, and my lips shall hate wickedness, by which is denoted falsehood opposed to divine truth, which falsehood is contrary to religion that is also called godliness, wherefore the falsehood that is contrary thereto receives the name of ungodliness.


iThe Philosopher is always, and of course, Aristotle.
iiThe substitution of a title or epithet for a proper name, such as “Statistician to the Stars!” for William M. Briggs.

[1] 2 Top. 1. 5.
[3] 1 Metaph. i. 12; ii. 7.
[4] Ch. xliv.; Bk. II., ch. xxiv.
[5] Ia Metaph. i. 4, 5.