Thomas Aquinas – Doctrine of Scripture II

For me, the doctrine of Scripture (what one believes about the nature of scripture) is the most fascinating topic in Christian theology. I enjoy reading contemporary works on the subject but I find that I most identify with ‘older’ works where the debate does not center on defining, qualifying, accepting, rejecting inerrancy and/or infallibility. Therefore, over a series of posts I am going to examine doctrines of Scripture found in various ‘older’ writings.

Up first: Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (Book 1, Question 1, Articles 1-10). The first post (here) looked at his view of the divine nature of Scripture and the connection of reason and faith. This post considers Aquinas’ thoughts on metaphors and the next one will look at his view on plurality in Scripture.

A second aspect of Aquinas’ methodology influenced by his doctrine of Scripture is his interpretation of scriptural metaphors as God’s deliberate means to communicate truth.  Scripture is God’s self-revelation and Aquinas states, “Sacred science is established on principles revealed by God” (1.1.2).  He is alluding to the fact that Scripture is based on premises self-evident only to God and the blessed[1] (1.1.2).  Nevertheless, God designed Scripture to reveal himself to humanity.  In other words, the very purpose of Scripture is to teach the truths necessary for salvation to humanity so it must be understandable to mankind if it is to be effective; it must act in accord with God’s designed purpose.

In order for Scripture to accomplish its central purpose, Aquinas believes God must accommodate himself in Scripture to humanity’s level of understanding, or as Aquinas writes, “according to the capacity of our nature” (1.1.9).  Therefore, since humankind naturally learns through external senses (1.1.9) Aquinas determines “it is befitting Holy Writ to put forward divine and spiritual truths by means of comparisons with material things” (1.1.9).  Thus, Scripture’s use of metaphors is not unbecoming of its intent rather it is fitting with its purpose of revealing God.  Aquinas asserts, however, metaphorical readings must be governed so that one can judge between acceptable and unacceptable meanings.  In this regard, he says that everything Scripture teaches metaphorically is elsewhere in Scripture taught more openly (1.1.9).[2]  Here again, Aquinas’ doctrine of Scripture, as divinely authored with a purpose, influences his methods of interpreting Scripture and accordingly, he treats metaphors not as barriers to truth but as a fitting channel through which God communicates His truth to mankind.

[1] “The blessed” are those who have seen God face to face.  Thus, knowledge of God is no longer veiled but fully discovered.

[2] This alludes to another aspect of Thomas’ methodology for interpreting Scripture, namely that Scripture interprets Scripture.  Even though he does not stress this in certain terms within his Summa Theologica it becomes self evident when one studies his exegetical works.

One thought on “Thomas Aquinas – Doctrine of Scripture II

Join the conversation...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s