Truth in Aquinas

By John Milbank; Catherine Pickstock | Go to book overview
Save to active project


Truth and vision


If truth, for Aquinas, as we have seen, is inherently theological, then is the theology involved, an affair of reason or of faith? Or is it first an affair of reason, and later an affair of faith?

In the most usual interpretations, Aquinas is seen as espousing a sharp distinction between reason and faith, and concomitantly between philosophy and theology. Furthermore, this distinction is viewed as both benign and beneficial: on the one hand, it safeguards the mystery and integrity of faith; on the other hand, it allows a space for modern secular autonomy, while discouraging the growth of political theocracy and hierocratic control of knowledge.

The present chapter will, however, argue that this dualistic reading of Aquinas is false. Dualism concerning reason and faith emerges not from Thomas, but rather from intellectual and practical tendencies within the late mediaeval and early modern periods (even if they were somewhat enabled already by the Gregorian reforms with their sharper divide of the lay from the clerical). Moreover, its consequence was not benign, but instead itself encouraged, with and not against early modernity, a theocratic and hierocratic authoritarianism.

For the more science and politics were confined to immanent and autonomous secular realms, then the more faith appealed to an arational positivity of authority invested with a right to rule, and sometimes to overrule, science and secular politics, whose claimed autonomy, being construable as pure only in formalistic terms, was by the very same token open to substantive breaching. Theocracy required the ‘other’ realm of the secular in order to have something over which to exert its sway: thus the most theocratic construals of papal authority emerged only in the later Middle Ages, as physicalist theories of the rights of a finite power legitimated by absolute power over lesser powers enjoying, intrinsically, only a limited sway. Quite shortly afterwards, similarly theocratic theories were deployed by absolute monarchs, and the resulting blend of theological voluntarism and physicalist theory of the rights of de facto power is not without echo in the later articulation of totalitarian philosophies. 1


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Truth in Aquinas


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 144

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?