The Commanding Position of Theology over “All Other Modes of Knowledge” in “Radical Orthodoxy” and Thomas Aquinas

In his April 1, 2014, post on the blog, Against the Grain, “Mulcahy on Milbank,” Christopher Blosser quotes the following passage from Bernard Mulcahy, Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac (New York: Peter Lane Publishing, 2011):

RO [Radical Orthodoxy] views any self-limiting theology—all liberal theology—as colluding in its own marginalisation. Radical Orthodoxy intends to reverse this marginalisation by proclaiming theology’s true scope, and by insisting on theology’s relevance in determining the validity of all modes of human discourse. The establishment of the commanding position of theology over all other modes of knowledge, and in regard to all other scholarly and scientific discourse, will thus be a step toward the building of a new Christian modernity. The hope of RO is that this new modernity will be one in which divine wisdom and peace reign over all.

It is evident throughout the post, more explicitly towards the end, that Blosser shares with Mulcahy some major concerns with the approach taken to the thought of Thomas Aquinas by one John Milbank, described as a “leading proponent of Radical Orthodoxy.” To put it briefly, it seems that they have every reason for those concerns. But yet, I find myself asking whether the thesis of “the commanding position of theology over all other modes of knowledge, and in regard to all other scholarly and scientific discourse” is in any way opposed to orthodox Roman Catholic thought. More specifically, and of more immediate importance to me as someone who falls somewhere within the broadly Aristotelian tradition, is it not a thesis held by Thomas Aquinas himself? In his Summa Theologiae, Thomas says (1a, Q. 1, art. 6 ad 2):

Et ideo ad eam [i.e., theologiam sive sacram doctrinam] non pertinet probare principia aliarum scientiarum, sed solum judicare de eis. Quiquid enim in aliis scientiis invenitur veritati hujus scientiae repugnans totum condemnatur ut falsum….

That is:

And so it does not belong to it [that is, theology or sacred doctrine] to prove the principles of the other sciences, but only to judge of them. For whatever is encountered in the other sciences which is contrary to a truth of this science is entirely condemned as false.

Now I willingly grant to Thomas the logical point that whatever is contrary to a truth must be a falsehood. It follows then that any thesis of any science that is contrary to a truth included among the propositions of theology must be false. But it also follows that any thesis of theology which is contrary to a truth included among the propositions of any other discipline must be false.

As it happens, in a recent post, the “The Inconsistency of the Doctrine of (the Distinction of Divine Persons and so That of) the Trinity with Monotheism,” of April 4, 2014, I have offered two theses of the logic or, more carefully, the ontology of identity as providing conjointly an example of a truth from another discipline to which a thesis, also a conjunction, of orthodox Christian theology stands as a contrary and as thus a falsehood. The two theses of ontology are those of the reflexivity of identity and the transitivity of identity, respectively:

For any existent x, x is identical with x.


For any existents x, y, and z, if x is identical with y and y is identical with z, then x is identical with z.

(Those of a traditional training or bent will recognize the two as, rfespectively, versions of the “Principle of Identity” and the “Principle of Triple Identity.”)

The two conjoined theses of orthodox Christian theology the conjunction of which needs therefore to be recognized as false are those of the doctrine of the Trinity, i.e., first, the thesis of monotheism:

There is one and only one god, God.

and then that of the triadicity or trinity of divine persons:

There are three distinct divine persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

I have wondered how Thomas would have responded, had he been presented with the proof, and I use the word, “proof,” advisedly, presented in that post of the inconsistency of the thesis of monotheism with that of the plurality of divine persons and thus of the falsehood of their conjunction. I have also wondered how contemporary Thomists, scholastic philosophers and theologians, and Catholic and Christian thinkers in general would respond, were they to actually read and think through the proof.

I continue to wonder.

Until next time.


About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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