Natural Reason in the Summa contra Gentiles
RUDI A. TE VELDE
A distinctive feature of Aquinas's Summa contra Gentiles is the central role the author assigns to natural reason in his project of manifesting the truth of Christian faith. Reason is supposed to give a rational account of the truth of what faith professes about God, to arrive at a veritas demonstrativa, which will be shown to accord with the Christian religion. It is mainly because of this emphatic and what seems to be a rather presumptuous role of natural reason that the work has occasioned so much discussion and, consequently, diversity of opinion among the interpreters of Aquinas's thought. Is the Contra Gentiles, insofar as reason is the leading principle of the investigation, to be regarded as a kind of 'philosophical' summa, asitwas sometimes labeled in the past? The objection immediately arises that the fourth book explicitly deals with those truths of faith which are above reason. And further, on account of its declared subject-matter—the truth of the Catholic faith—it seems unmistakably a theological work or, more exactly, a work in which the truth of Christian faith is expounded and defended. Those who stress the theological character of the work, a work written from the point of view of faith, usually refer to what seems to be the original title: “On the Truth of the Catholic Faith against the Errors of the Infidels. ” 1
The riddle of the Contra Gentiles goes deeper than the question of whether it is intended primarily as a theological or as a philosophical work, based on reason as a common human faculty for truth. As Pegis notes in his introduction to the English translation, the work has posed two main problems for its interpreters. 2 One concerns the purpose and nature of the work with reference to the historical situation that occasioned it. What position does it take in the historical encounter of the Latin West with the Greco-Islamic philosophical conception of the world? The second problem, according to Pegis, concerns the internal organization of the Contra Gentiles. How are its
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Publication information: Book title: Thomas Aquinas: Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives. Contributors: Brian Davies - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 117.
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