The Role of the Theological Virtue of Faith in Scriptural Interpretation

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by Fr. Chad Ripperger, Ph.D. open-bible

The modern age has presented tremendous challenges to the study of scripture. The supplanting of faith as the light or principle of judgment of the Scriptures appears to have begun in modern history most notably with Spinosa, who employed the process of systematically applying false philosophical understandings for political motives.1 This process continued with Locke, who separated and subjected faith to reason, leading to the separation and subjection of faith to science, including the theological science of which Scripture study is a part.2 Reimarus then asserted that understandings of the Scriptures come from the believer imposing his own knowledge or understanding on what is contained in the Scriptures, a notion that would come to full fruition in Feuerbach’s theory of projection and Freud’s psychological theory of projection.3 This whole approach demands that if we are going to know what the Scriptures really mean, we have to put aside our faith in order to arrive at knowledge of what really happened, the res facti, in the words of Reimarus.4 Comte continued the development of this approach through his philosophical positivism, which insisted on the necessity of abandoning the theological/fictitious and the metaphysical approaches to knowledge in favor of the empirical method.5 For Comte, a truly scientific study of Scripture would entail the abandonment of faith and adoption of a purely empirical methodology. The rationalist approach to reality and Scripture rejects faith as a form of bias coloring the objective judgment of the individual. For the rationalist, reason alone must stand as the criterion for scientific investigation of all matters, even the Scriptures.6

It is not the intention of this article to address every aspect of the deconstruction of Scriptural exegesis that has occurred among modern philosophers and theologians, since that simply would require far more space than is afforded here. However, one aspect of the modernist/rationalist approach to Scripture that must be addressed is the role of faith in the science of theology in relation to Biblical interpretation. While faith was presupposed in prior centuries as the sine qua non of biblical interpretation, because of the history of modern scriptural scholarship, this is not necessarily the case today. Therefore, it is necessary to provide a philosophical and theological foundation for the role of faith in Biblical interpretation.

If a science is defined as an organized body of knowledge of things through their causes, the goal of the science of theology is to know the causes of revelation.7 Before any science engages in an investigation of its proper object, it is necessary to know those things which constitute each science in general in order to be certain that one’s science is properly engaging its object. In other words, one must know those things that are required for each science to be certain that the particular science under question fulfills the requirements necessary to comprise a valid science. Given the aforesaid, this article will consider the following: what comprises each science; the nature of theology and its object of study; and the necessity for the theological virtue of faith to engage Scripture scientifically.

The Constituents of Every Science

The intellect of man is fundamentally designed to know the truth. Knowledge of the truth pertains either to his practical intellect or to his speculative intellect.8 “The speculative has for an end the truth which it considers, while the practical directs the truth considered to an activity as to an end.”9 The practical intellect seeks knowledge for the sake of action whereas the speculative intellect considers truth for its own sake. Thus, the science of metaphysics studies the existence of things for the sake of the knowledge itself. Ethics or morals, on the other hand, seeks knowledge for the sake of acting in accordance with the knowledge it grasps.

When considering the objects of the practical and speculative intellects, we see that every valid science has three constituents, viz. the material object, the formal object and the method. The material object of a science is the subject matter or the thing the science studies. Hence, one science is different from another insofar as its object of study differs from the other sciences, e.g. biology studies living things and chemistry studies chemical reactions. Since the sciences are divided according to their objects, there are practical sciences, such as ethics, ergonomics, etc., and there are speculative sciences, such as philosophy and astrophysics.10 The various speculative sciences are therefore based on their different objects or subject matters.

It may happen that one science studies something from another science. Regarding this, St. Thomas makes the following observation:

One science is contained under another in two ways, in one way, as its part, because its subject is part of the subject of that other science, as plant is a certain part of natural body. Hence the science of plants is also contained under the natural science as a part. In another way, one science is contained under another as subalternated to it, when, namely, in a higher science there is given the reason for what a lower science only knows as fact, as music is contained under arithmetic.11

Here St. Thomas is noting that one science may be subordinate to another in two ways. The first is when one science is a branch of another broader science, e.g., inorganic chemistry is a branch of the broader science of chemistry. The second is when one science is subalternated to another science. By this St. Thomas means that one science receives its principles from another science, e.g., the science of epistemology receives its principles from philosophical anthropology, logic and metaphysics. Therefore, in the consideration of the subject matter of the science, one must also consider if it is a branch of a broader science, i.e. if a science studies a subject matter that is covered at least in part by another science, which considers the object of study more absolutely. In this case, the higher science will supply conclusions about the object of study to the lower science, which assumes those conclusions as principles in its reasoning.12 The subject matter in philosophical discourse is called the material object.

The second of the three constituents of every science is the formal object. The question of the formal object arose because some sciences study the same thing and so the question is what makes them different. St. Thomas makes the following observation:

Although the subjects of the other sciences are parts of being, which is the subject of metaphysics, nevertheless, it is not necessary that the other sciences are its parts. For each of the sciences treats one part of being according to a special mode of consideration other than the way in which it is considered in metaphysics. Hence, properly speaking, its subject is not part of the subject of metaphysics; for it is not part of being according to that point of view from which being is the subject of metaphysics, but considered from this point of view, it is a special science distinct from the others.13

St. Thomas is noting two things of importance: the first is that one science can differ from another science by the point of view (ratio) the respective sciences take. Hence, the philosophical science of nature differs from the empirical sciences of natural things by virtue of the fact that they look at the same things from different points of view. The philosophical science of nature considers physical things from the point of view of their essences whereas the empirical sciences are not interested in the essences of things as such, but some part of the things — e.g. chemistry studies the various elements and how they react, biology considers cellular structures and their interrelations, etc. The perspective or point of view (ratio) taken within each science is called the formal object.14

The second thing of importance is regarding the method. St. Thomas notes that each science treats a thing in a special way, which means that each science has a different method of proceeding that is proper to that science.15 Moreover, it also means that the way we look at the subject matter, i.e. formal object, determines the method of proceeding. Thus, philosophy does not proceed in the same manner as the empirical sciences, which use physical tests to arrive at their conclusions. Rather, its method is proportionate to its object, e.g. the objects of metaphysics do not admit of an empirical method and therefore demand a different method.16 Therefore, we must be clear that the method must be proportionate to the perspective or subject matter, which is likewise dependent upon the point of view taken. We must also clearly understand that the formal object, the point of view, must be proportionate to the subject matter, which ultimately determines the proportionality of the method to the object.

Considering the aforesaid, we can now move to the third constituent of a science and that is the method. The method is defined as the mode of proceeding within a given science; it answers the question “how” (quomodo in Latin) the science investigates the object under consideration. Since the method is governed or determined by the object, both formal and material, there will be different methods of proceeding based upon the different objects of consideration. The empirical sciences begin with an induction (formulation of a hypothesis), deduce certain things from the hypothesis, confirm or deny the hypothesis based on experimentation and then reformulate the hypothesis, if need be, based on data received from the confirmation stage of the method.17 The philosophical method varies with the material object but it does not contain the confirmation stage even though its knowledge of the object is drawn from things as they exist in reality and its conclusions can be judged to be true or not by looking at the object in reality.18 Therefore, each science will have a method proper to its material and formal objects.

The Science of Theology and Scripture

The term theology comes from the Greek terms ???? and ?????, which mean the science or study of God. Insofar as theology is an organized body of knowledge of things known with certainty, it is a true science. Since theology is based upon God’s knowledge, it is said to be a subalternated science; nonetheless, as a science, it has a material object, a formal object and a method.19

Theology is the science of God and so its material object per se and primarily is God.20 The material object also includes created things under the aspect of their relation to God and so created things are part of the material object per accidens and secondarily. It must be clear that theology is not about created things per se or essentially speaking but only insofar as they are seen in relation to God. As a result, theology is ultimately about God. Theology considers God and all created things from the point of view of God; it is wisdom (sapientia), since wisdom is the consideration of the highest causes of things and God is the highest cause of all.21

With respect to the formal object of theology, a distinction must be made. Man is capable of arriving at knowledge of God by the natural light of reason and this is called natural theology.22 Natural theology is a philosophical science and is a branch of the broader study of metaphysics. However, natural theology only tells us what we can know about God through His effects, i.e. creation. Supernatural theology, sometimes called sacred theology or revealed theology, tells us things which can be known only by revelation and cannot be known through the natural light of reason. That does not mean that sacred theology does not include things that can be known through the natural light of reason. Rather, it differs from natural theology by its mode of knowing, viz. sacred theology knows things about God and creatures in relation to God by means of divine revelation.

For this reason, the formal object of sacred theology is from the perspective of what is accepted or known by faith from revelation. Revelation is pivotal in understanding the proper object of theology, viz. God. St. Thomas observes that the formal object of theology is from the point of view of deity.23 St. Thomas thus calls attention to the fact that sacred theology concerns God in Himself, i.e. the interior life of the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation. As a result, the natural light of reason will not suffice for this form of knowledge. Rather, we need a different science that can tell us about God in Himself. While St. Thomas observes that the formal object is from the point of view of deity, this is because we do not study God through His effects, but what He is in Himself. This is why the formal object of deity and revelation are not at odds. One seeks knowledge of God in Himself. One can only do this through the light of revelation. Revelation tells us about God in Himself. Therefore, the two are not at odds.

The method of sacred theology is essentially the same as the philosophical method, i.e. it proceeds by induction and deduction. Theology procedes by induction since it draws from a variety of places in Scripture or Tradition and comes to a conclusion about some doctrine; for example, Tanquerey observes that the doctrine that the human nature in Christ is hypostatically joined to the divine nature is derived from a variety of places in Scripture. Moreover, in the area of moral theology, much is based upon induction about the nature of man in its relation to divine justice. Theology is also deductive since the articles of faith, i.e. the things revealed, constitute principles from which we deduce other things contained within the articles of faith.24 We do not deduce to something contrary to the faith, “but to manifesting other things which are given in these doctrines.” St. Thomas observes, however, that this science is not different than other sciences in that theology does not prove the principles like other sciences.25 This follows from the fact that the articles of faith are revealed and so they are accepted as principles from a higher science and therefore do not pertain to the science of theology to be demonstrated.

The Need for a Theological Virtue

Since revelation is supernatural in its cause as well as in the knowledge that it presents about God and creatures as seen in relation to God, human reason alone cannot know that revelation is true. Man needs an additional light in order to know the truths of the propositions of revelation. We call that light faith. Faith is a theological virtue and insofar as it is a virtue, faith is a good habit. Since each virtue is specified by its object and since God is the object of this virtue, St. Thomas observes that the formal object of faith is the first truth, which is God Himself.26 Virtues are distinguished according to their formalities or points of view, e.g. a woman can be the object of the virtue of temperance when looked at from the point of view of reproduction but she can also be the object of the virtue of justice insofar as one must render to her what is due to her. Hence, the same object materially can formally pertain to different virtues. God is the material object of each of the theological virtues, so it is necessary to look at God under different formalities in order to distinguish the different theological virtues.

Man looks at God from the point of view of first truth insofar as man gives assent to what God reveals because it is God Who reveals. Now God reveals not only Himself in revelation but also other things; the material object is not merely God but other things that have an order to God. Thus, faith includes certain things revealed about man, angels and the like, but these are viewed under the ratio Dei, i.e. from the perspective of God. One can say that the object of faith in one way is uncomplex as to the thing believed, viz. God and all things in relation to God. It is because all things are viewed in relation to God that faith concerns an object that is simple, viz. God. However, the object of faith on the side of the believer is complex since it is expressed through ennunciables. The ennunciables are things to be believed that the believer distinguishes according to articles or symbols.27

Each virtue inclines us to act. The virtue of faith inclines us to assent to what we believe, since to give assent is the act of faith. Assent is an act of the intellect in which the intellect sees or adheres to some proposition as true. We may define faith as a virtue (habit) residing in the possible intellect (the subject of the habit or virtue) by which one gives assent (act of virtue) to those things revealed by God (object of virtue sometimes called the deposit of faith).28 This definition of faith does not differ in substance from the two definitions that St. Thomas gives of faith. The first is substantia sperandam rerum argumentum non apparentium (the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen). In this definition, faith refers to the things in which one must believe, i.e. those things revealed by God; to this St. Thomas gives the phrase the substance of things hoped for, for God and eternal beatitude are those things revealed and hoped for. The evidence (argumentum) of things not seen refers to two things. The first is to the faith that moves the intellect as if by argument, if you will, to see the truth of what is revealed. The second refers to the things unseen, since eternal beatitude, God, etc. are things which are unseen. St. Thomas gives another definition of faith: habitus mentis, qua inchoatur vita eterna in nobis, faciens intellectum assentire non apparentibus (a habit of the mind, by which eternal life is begun in us, making the intellect assent to things non-apparent). In this definition, the same elements in the other definition are to be found, viz. faith is a virtue or habit in the intellect by which we give assent to things that are non-apparent. But this definition also indicates that faith is the beginning of eternal life. Since faith is necessary to order us to God in a sufficient manner and since eternal beatitude consists in seeing God face to face, faith is the beginning by which we start striving for perfect beatitude.29

The act of the virtue of faith that gives assent we call belief. One who gives assent to what God reveals is one who believes. St. Thomas observes that with respect to faith and God there are three aspects. The first is that one believes God (credere Deo) and in this respect one believes what God has revealed because it is God Himself who reveals it. Since God is truth itself, He is to be believed whenever He tells or reveals anything to us. In this respect, St. Thomas says that in order for man to come to the beatific vision, he must believe God as a disciple (pupil) to the teaching master (magister).30 We have to believe the veracity of God. Man cannot reach the beatific vision by his own natural capacities, so he must believe God is telling him the way to eternal beatitude.

In the second respect, God is also the object of belief and so we say that we believe there is a God (credere Deum). In the third respect, we say we believe in God as an end of our act of belief. In other words, we believe in God in the sense that through our belief we strive to attain God. In this respect, St. Thomas observes that belief in God refers to the motion of the will. Faith makes it possible for the intellect to see the truth of the revealed propositions, but the propositions alone do not provide sufficient grounds for giving assent. Rather, there must be a motion of the will to move the intellect to give assent to those things that the intellect sees as true through faith. The motion of the will that moves the intellect to give assent to a supernatural object or proposition must likewise be supernatural. Since the theological virtues concern a supernatural object, only a supernatural act of the intellect is proportionate to that object. Faith is the theological or supernatural virtue that makes it possible for the intellect to perform this action. In order to move the intellect to a supernatural act, a supernatural motion of the will is required. For this reason, St. Thomas observes that the will, in regard to moving the intellect to believe, is moved by grace.31 We can see that faith is an act of the intellect presupposing an act of the will since the will must move the intellect to give assent to the object of belief seen as true by faith.

Since the act of faith is an act of the intellect, faith involves knowledge. The knowledge that pertains to faith concerns those things revealed by God. We must, however, make a distinction regarding the term “knowledge.” Those who believe what is revealed know what is revealed, yet there are some who know what is revealed and yet do not believe that it is true (they lack faith). “To know,” for St. Thomas, means that one knows the truth of a proposition through the natural light of reason, whereas “to believe” means that the proposition exceeds the capacity of the natural light of reason to know the truth of the proposition. Therefore, to believe and to know are mutually exclusive as taken in this sense.32 When we talk about the knowledge of revelation as understanding it to be true, this is not to be understood in the same way as is knowledge in the proper sense, i.e. that preceding by the natural light of reason.

This is not to deny that there are certain things that can be known by some but believed by others. Here we have in mind those certain things that can be known about God through the natural light of reason. For instance, by following certain arguments, one can come to know that God exists through the natural light of reason. The natural light of reason can discern many of His attributes, e.g. one can know that God is omniscient; however, some people simply do not have the intellectual capacity or intellectual formation to follow the arguments laid down and so they may not come to knowledge of God’s existence and attributes through the natural light of reason. Therefore, God’s existence and attributes for such persons remain in the domain of faith. Still, the natural light of reason cannot discern everything about God, e.g. that God is triune.33 This indicates that for all people certain things about God remain in the domain of faith, while other things can be known through the natural light of reason.

Faith is more certain than the intellectual virtues on the side of the cause, for the intellectual virtues have man as their cause whereas faith has God as its cause and God is a more certain cause than humans. However, on the side of the subject, faith is not more certain than the intellectual virtues. On the side of the cause of faith, we are more certain about the things of faith than we are the things falling under the intellectual virtues. However, because of the disposition of our intellect and because the objects of the intellectual virtues fall within the natural capacities of the human intellect, those things pertaining to the three intellectual virtues are more certain. Since certitude is taken on the side of the cause, faith is more certain simply speaking whereas the intellectual virtues are more certain in a certain respect.34

Faith, insofar as it is a virtue, can be increased by performing actions in congruity with the virtue. It can be said to be greater in one than another on the part of the intellect (subject), as one has greater certitude or firmness (greater habit) than another. Still, as an infused virtue, faith cannot be begun by human capacities but is caused first by God. On the other hand, to reject one article of faith (heresy) causes the loss of the virtue.35 Every habit is corrupted by the opposite action and so faith can be corrupted by a single action contrary to the virtue. Theological virtues differ from acquired virtues (moral or intellectual) in that they may be lost through a single contrary action.

Faith requires adherence to the infallible rule of the Church, i.e. that to whom the teaching of revelation has been entrusted. If one does not put one’s rule in the authority that has the right to teach (Magisterium), then the rule finds itself in the will, resulting in it becoming a matter of opinion. Two things are required for faith: that it be proposed to man, and that man gives his assent. As to the first, God must reveal what man must believe, since faith concerns knowledge exceeding man. As to the second, assent has a twofold cause. The first is exterior inducements, e.g. miracles, persuasions, etc. These are not sufficient causes since many see or hear the same things and some believe and some do not, as was previously mentioned. The second is an interior cause in which God moves one by grace to give assent. In this respect, God is the cause of faith insofar as it is a theological virtue, i.e. it is an infused virtue.36

Given the aforesaid, we can now shift the discussion to the Scriptures. Scripture is part of revelation and is therefore a supernatural object. Insofar as it is a supernatural object, some of the truths contained in Scripture exceed the capacities of human reason.37 We read in the document Filius Dei of Vatican I the following:

It was, however, pleasing to his wisdom and goodness to reveal himself and the eternal laws of his will to the human race by another, and that a supernatural, way. This is how the Apostle puts it: In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son . . . Now this supernatural revelation, according to the belief of the universal church, as declared by the sacred council of Trent, is contained in written books and unwritten traditions, which were received by the apostles from the lips of Christ himself, or came to the apostles by the dictation of the holy Spirit, and were passed on as it were from hand to hand until they reached us. The complete books of the old and the new Testament with all their parts, as they are listed in the decree of the said council and as they are found in the old Latin Vulgate edition, are to be received as sacred and canonical. These books the church holds to be sacred and canonical not because she subsequently approved them by her authority after they had been composed by unaided human skill, nor simply because they contain revelation without error, but because, being written under the inspiration of the holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and were as such committed to the church. Now since the decree on the interpretation of holy scripture, profitably made by the council of Trent, with the intention of constraining rash speculation, has been wrongly interpreted by some, we renew that decree and declare its meaning to be as follows: that in matters of faith and morals, belonging as they do to the establishing of Christian doctrine, that meaning of holy scripture must be held to be the true one, which holy mother church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of holy scripture. In consequence, it is not permissible for anyone to interpret holy scripture in a sense contrary to this, or indeed against the unanimous consent of the fathers.”38

There are several things that are important for the current discussion regarding this text. The first is that sacred Scripture has God as its cause since He is its author. Every science is knowledge of a thing through its causes, therefore, any science of Scripture must take into account in its methodology God as the cause of Scripture.39 Only the virtue of faith makes it possible for someone to give assent to the proposition that God is the author of Scripture, i.e. only the virtue of faith gives one the knowledge of one of the causes of Scripture. Therefore, since a science investigates all of the causes, only faith makes it possible to investigate scientifically the causes of Scripture.

The second thing of importance concerning the above text is that Scripture contains supernatural truths. Because these truths are supernatural, they exceed the natural light of reason. Reason needs a further light by which to see the truth of the propositions in Scripture and that light is called the virtue of faith, as was discussed above. It is only by the virtue of faith that one is able to see whether the actual contents of Scripture are true or not. This is why, both at the time of Christ and even now, if one does not have faith, he does not see the truth of the propositions pertaining to the teachings of the faith. Since every science seeks to know the truth about its object, only by the light of faith can one study Scripture in a scientific manner, i.e. to know the truth about the object of study (the Scriptures).

The third point of importance is that the canonical Scriptures, inspired in all of their parts, have a supernatural cause.40 That does not mean that what is contained in each and every proposition in the Scriptures is supernatural as to its dogmatic, spiritual or moral meaning since, as was observed, many aspects of Scripture can be known through the natural light of reason. However, only the supernatural virtue of faith will provide one with the ability to see whether a particular proposition contains something supernatural or not. For this reason, faith is necessary to distinguish scientifically which statements contain something inherently supernatural or not. Even if one were to argue that every proposition of Scripture has some spiritual meaning since it is supernaturally caused, that meaning can only be known and known as true by faith.

Yet, the above passage adds one last thing of importance: that “in matters of faith and morals, belonging as they do to the establishing of Christian doctrine, that meaning of holy Scripture must be held to be the true one, which holy mother church held and holds, since it is her right to judge of the true meaning and interpretation of holy scripture.” Since science seeks to know the truth about its object of study, the science of Scripture must depend upon the declarations of the Church in order to know with certitude the truth about certain particular propositions in Scripture. While the Church does not always declare every meaning of a particular proposition in Scripture, when one scientifically interprets a particular proposition in Scripture, he must ensure that his interpretation does not contradict the declaration of the Church.41

Given the aforesaid, we see that the infused virtue of faith, which is a supernatural light, is the only way in which one can engage Scripture scientifically. Since Scripture is supernatural, there must be a proportionate light or virtue by which man is able to grasp the meaning of the propositions. It is by a metaphysical analysis that we realize that only a supernatural virtue is proportionate to a supernatural object.42 To use a methodology which is not guided and dependent upon the virtue of faith is to employ a methodology which is not proportionate to the object of study of the science of Scripture. Faith makes it possible to see Scripture from its proper formal object, i.e. deity or revelation that reveals God. Therefore, since the formal object that determines the method must be proportionate to the material object, faith determines and is necessary for a method to be proportionate to Scripture, i.e. the material object.

Scriptural Methods in Light of the Foregoing Conclusions

We must observe that it is faith that makes the use of any sound methodology proportionate to the object of faith. This also means that since the judgment or interpretation of the proposition contained in Scripture will proceed from faith, it is faith that will limit and govern one’s judgment and methods regarding the Scriptures. In other words, while metaphysics may indicate that under certain conditions a particular method can be applied to Scripture, it is the virtue of faith that will determine when a method suits the particular passage or proposition contained in Scripture. This flows from the fact that only the virtue of faith will indicate what supernatural content is contained in the passage. The virtue of faith makes it possible for one to know whether a specific term in a proposition in Scripture has a supernatural meaning or not. For example, if one traverses the Scriptures to find the various ways in which the term “father” is used, only faith will indicate that the meaning of the term in a particular case may refer to God the Father rather than some particular figure in the Old Testament, such as Solomon whose father was King David. Therefore, when an interpreter makes inductions regarding specific terms in Scripture, he can only do so scientifically when he employs faith to grasp the way that Scripture is using the terms. Hence, the term “father,” when taken through the whole of the Scriptures is understood to be an analogical term since faith tells us that Christ’s Father was God and not a mere man.

Only faith makes it possible to engage in deduction validly in this science, for only by the light of faith can one know what the terms in a proposition from Scripture actually mean. Only by faith can one know whether the terms used in the syllogism are the same, whether they are distributed, and so forth. Therefore, if one takes the middle term in a syllogism from a proposition or propositions from Scripture, only faith will let one know if the middle term is properly distributed. Faith will tell one if the term “father” is used in the same way in the following syllogism:

All fathers beget their son by physical generation
God is the Father of Christ.
Therefore, God begot Christ by physical generation.

In this syllogism, the term “father” has various meanings. It is being used in analogical ways and the difference in the meanings results in the drawing of the invalid conclusion. It is only by the light of faith that one can know whether a proposition from Scripture is true. Even if a syllogism is validly drawn from propositions in Scripture, only faith will tell one whether the conclusion in fact follows from the propositions and is therefore true, since knowledge of the truth of propositions is necessary to know the truth of the conclusion. Therefore, faith will limit the application of a method based upon knowledge of the supernatural or natural content of a given proposition in Scripture.

Another principle that will affect how one judges methods has to do with the understanding of the nature and number of efficient causes of Scripture. Since all of the parts of Scripture are inspired, de facto all parts of Scripture have two efficient causes, i.e. the sacred human writer and God who is the author of the text. Inspiration is a specific mode of causation different from the natural modes of causation with respect to the conservation of the being of a created thing and movement of the secondary cause on the part of the primary cause. Therefore, when interpreting Scripture, one must keep in mind that a different mode of causation is in effect. It is a sad fact, however, that due to the adoption of Cartesian and Humean perspectives on the nature of the sciences, many deny or intentionally ignore the primary cause either in theory or in practice and/or they have denied the specific mode of causation on the side of the primary cause by denying the nature of inspiration.43 As has been maintained throughout this article, this destroys the scientific character of the method.

Since faith must regulate and make possible valid inductions and deductions in Scripture, all valid forms of Scriptural interpretations and exegesis are dependent on the infused virtue of faith when applying those methods to Scripture. Therefore, whether one is interpreting Scripture based upon the different senses or by a modern exegetical method, one’s inductions and deductions (i.e. one’s very methodology) are limited by the infused virtue of faith.44 If a Scriptural interpreter adheres to these conclusions, he is less likely to commit fundamental errors. He will be more likely to know whether a conclusion which follows from his research and scientific investigation is actually valid.

If a Scripture scholar does not employ the virtue of faith in the exercise of the methods in Scripture, he will fall into error. As St. Thomas says, one adds or takes away from Scripture due to the corruption of faith.45 If one does not have faith or if he has a corrupt faith and approaches the Scriptures, he will not interpret the Scriptures scientifically since he will not understand the terms of the propositions that contain supernatural content. He will not engage the Scriptures scientifically since he will not use the faith by which he grasps God as the cause of the Scriptures. In like manner, if a man has the faith but approaches the Scriptures denying the use of faith, his methodology will not be proportionate to the object of this science, nor will all of his conclusions be valid or true. It is unscientific to approach the Scriptures without the virtue of faith being operative.


  1. There were, of course, precursors to Spinosa, but in the modern period Spinosa appears to be the most notable. See Baruch Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise. See also David Laird Dungan, A History of the Synoptic Problem (New York: Doubleday, 1999), chapter 16.
  2. John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in The Empiricists (Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc. [copyright not given]). See especially chapters 17-18. Locke also asserts that the passing of revelation is not possible since words are natural and revelation is something supernatural that cannot be expressed through natural signs.
  3. Herman Samuel Reimarus, The Goal of Jesus and His Disciples (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1970), especially chapters 7, 9 and 25. See Ludwig Feurerbach, Essence of Christianity (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1957). Feuerbach’s essential position in the aforementioned text is that religion and religious doctrines are merely projections of the perfections and traits that man sees in himself, i.e. it is anthropology as religion.
  4. Reimarus, The Goal of Jesus and His Disciples, part 1, chapter 3.
  5. See in general, August Comte, Introduction to Positive Philosophy (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1988).
  6. For a good introduction on the rationalist interpretation of Scripture, see Giuseppe Ricciotti, The Life of Christ (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1949), chapter 13. Some subsequent editions of this text lack this chapter.
  7. See SCG I, c. 94, n. 3 and Aristotle, Posterior Analytics as found in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. by Richard McKeon (New York: Random House, 1941), I, 2 (71b10). All references to St. Thomas’ works are from Thomae Aquinatis Opera Omnia, Iussu Impensaque Leonis XIII, edita, Roma: ex Typographia Polyglotta et al., 1882. All translations are the author’s own unless otherwise noted.
  8. This first section of the article is taken in substance from the author’s work Introduction to the Science of Mental Health (Lincoln, Nebraska: Chad Ripperger, 2003), vol. I, p. 3-7. These are not two different faculties in man, but the same intellect considered from the point of view of its different objects of consideration.
  9. St. Thomas Aquinas, In Librum Boethii de Trinitate (henceforth, De trinitate), p. 3, q. 5, a. 1: “speculativus habet pro fine veritatem quam considerat, practicus vero veritatem consideratam ordinat in operationem tamquam in finem.”
  10. Ibid. ‘And therefore it is necessary to divide the speculative sciences by the differences of speculative objects, insofar as they are speculative” (“et ideo oportet scientias speculativas dividi per differentias speculabilium, in quantum speculabilia sunt”). The term “speculative” is not to be understood as it is in modern parlance, viz. something of opinion or which is not based on fact or systematic investigation. Speculation is a philosophical term which refers to the process of reasoning by which we arrive at the knowledge of the truth about something. It is based on experience of reality and employs rules of reasoning (logic) in order to arrive at certain knowledge of its object. Outside the philosophical sciences, this term usually refers to formulating a theory or opinion based on uncertain facts or lacking all of the facts and therefore reaching a conclusion which is uncertain. This is not the case in scholastic philosophy.
  11. Ibid., ad 5: “aliqua scientia continetur sub alia dupliciter, uno modo ut pars ipsius, quia scilicet subiectum eius est pars aliqua subiecti illius, sicut planta est quaedam pars corporis naturalis; unde et scientia de plantis continetur sub scientia naturali ut pars. Alio modo continetur una scientia sub alia ut ei subalternata, quando scilicet in superiori scientia assignatur propter quid eorum, de quibus scitur in scientia inferiori solum quia, sicut musica ponitur sub arithmetica.”
  12. A science is a higher science the more abstractly or the more completely it considers its subject matter in comparison to another. So, for instance, philosophy of man is a higher science than epistemology since it studies man in a more complete and abstract manner than epistemology which only studies a part of man, viz. how his intellect comes to true knowledge. St. Thomas observes that the division of sciences is threefold, viz. that which treats what is in matter and in motion and this pertains to physics. Here, physics is to be understood according to its Greek derivation, i.e. it studies those things which are part of nature. Hence, in a modern context, this would include all of the empirical sciences and the philosophy of nature. The second division of the sciences is that which treats of what is without matter or motion of that which is in matter, i.e. mathematics. For Aquinas, mathematics would be what is called today geometry insofar as geometry considers things which exist in reality but not concerned with the actually existing thing as such, e.g. it considers how one can calculate angles based on knowledge of the length of the sides of a triangle, even though it is not looking at a specific triangular thing, like a child’s building block. Modern mathematics actually employs both geometry and aspects of the empirical science of physics. The last division of the sciences is that which considers those things that are neither in matter nor in motion and this pertains to the science of metaphysics which considers the nature of being as such. These three divisions are seen in De trinitate.
  13. Ibid., ad 6: “quamvis subiecta aliarum scientiarum sint partes entis, quod est subiectum metaphysicae, non tamen oportet quod aliae scientiae sint partes ipsius. Accipit enim unaquaeque scientiarum unam partem entis secundum specialem modum considerandi alium a modo, quo consideratur ens in metaphysica. Unde proprie loquendo subiectum illius non est pars subiecti metaphysicae; non enim est pars entis secundum illam rationem, qua ens est subiectum metaphysicae, sed hac ratione considerata ipsa est specialis scientia aliis condivisa.”
  14. Here an observation must be made regarding the prejudice of the empirical sciences in reference to the philosophical sciences. Since a science is defined as an organized body of knowledge of things through their causes, philosophy which studies the essences and causes of things is just as much a science as the empirical sciences. In fact, it is more of a science because it studies the essence and nature of causality as such which is completely beyond the scope of the empirical sciences. Moreover, since philosophy studies the nature of causes, the empirical sciences are dependent upon philosophy to tell them the nature of causality. Without a working presupposition about what causality is, the empirical sciences are incapable of engaging their proper method. Therefore, just because philosophy uses a different method and takes a different point of view to the objects which empirical sciences study does not make it any less of a science.
  15. Ergo, it must not be assumed that the empirical method is the only valid scientific method. While it may be used in all of the empirical sciences adjusted to each subject matter, nevertheless, philosophy is a science which proceeds in a different manner than the empirical sciences, but that does not make it any less accurate or inferior. In fact, it is the opposite since the more abstract and therefore universal one considers an object, the more noble that consideration will be and therefore the method of philosophy is more noble than the method of the empirical sciences.
  16. Empirical scientists should also avoid assuming that the empirical method is the only valid method of proceeding for any science whatsoever. While the empirical method is proper to its own material object, it is not proper to philosophy which is also a valid science. Very often, empirical sciences try to reformulate the definition of a science in order to exclude philosophy (and theology) from being considered sciences. However, such an attempt on their part is inherently contradictory, for the formulation of the definition of a science is not open to the empirical method and therefore to give a true formal definition requires one to engage in philosophy. So either empirical scientists accept that philosophy is a science or they are left with the unseemly prospect of not having a “scientific” definition of science itself.
  17. By virtue of the fact that empirical sciences begin with an induction means that they can never have absolute certitude in their conclusions. This follows from the fact that the conclusions are drawn from the premises, and one of the premises, which is the hypothesis, is not absolutely certain. Therefore, since one cannot assert in a conclusion what is denied or lacking in the premises, one cannot make absolutely certain assertions or conclusions when the premises do not provide it.
  18. The various philosophical methods are explicated by St. Thomas in De trinitate, p. 3, q. 6, a. 1.
  19. This part of the article is taken in substance from the author’s work Introduction to the Science of Mental Health (Lincoln: 2003), vol. 2 p. 1-4. On these matters, see also Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, De Revelatione per Ecclesiam Cathlolicam Proposita (editio emendatat operas integri Romae, F. Perrari, 1945), vol. 1, p. 7; Adolphe Tanquerey, Synopsis Theologiae Dogmaticae (ParisiisTornaci etc., typis Societatis sancti Joannis Evangelistae, Decsclee et socii, 1927), vol. 1, p.1 and Pietro Parente, Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1951), p. 282; Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1974), p. 1. Contrary to modern understanding, theology is indeed a science since, as will be seen, it has the necessary constituents to be a science. Modern man usually conceives theology as merely matters of opinion. The term “science,” however, in regard to the empirical, philosophical and theological sciences is applied analogically. Essentially this means that the science upon which theology is based is the knowledge possessed by God and the blessed in heaven (scientia Dei et beatorum); see ST, I, q. 1, a. 2; Ott, loc. cit. and Garrigou-Lagrange, op. cit., p. 13. It is based on the knowledge (scientia) of God since He has revealed truths regarding Himself and the created order and it is also based upon the knowledge of the blessed (scientia beatorum) because through history, angels and saints have revealed certain things as messengers of God or under His divine inspiration.
  20. Ott, op. Cit., p. 1; Donald Attwater (New York: Macmillan, 1941), A Catholic Dictionary, p. 520; Catholic Encyclopedia Dictionary (The Gilmary Society, New York, 1941], p. 945; Catholic Encyclopedia (henceforth, C.E. [The Gilmary Society, New York, 19131958]), vol. XIV, p. 580 and Garrigou-Lagrange, op. cit., p. 1.
  21. ST I, q. 1, passim; Ott, op. cit., p. 1; Tanquerey, op. cit., p. 2 and Garrigou-Lagrange, op. cit., p. 9. This is important to bear in mind since the current historical conditions have left people thinking that religion and theology are about man or themselves. This immanentism was warned against and condemned by Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi Dominici Gregis, passim. Since theology studies God and since theology studies the teachings revealed by God, St. Thomas calls theology the science of sacred doctrine (sacra doctrina); see ST I, q. 1, passim. ST I, q. 1, a. 6.
  22. Vatican I, Filius Dei. See also ST I, q. 1, a 1; ibid., ad 2; Ott, op. cit., p. 1; Tanquerey, op. cit., p. 1-2; C.E., vol. XIV, p. 580 and Garrigou-Lagrange, op. cit., p. 1.
  23. ST I, q. 1, a. 1; ibid., ad 2; ibid., q. 1, aa. 2 and 3; Ott, op. cit., p. 1; Tanquerey, op. cit., p. 1-2; C.E., vol. XIV, p. 580 and Garrigou-Lagrange, op. cit., p. 1. See ST I, q. 1, passim and Garrigou-Lagrange, op. cit., p. 9.
  24. Tanquerey, vol. 1, p. 4. ST I, q. 1, a. 7.
  25. ST I, q. 1, a. 8, ad 2: “sed ad manifestandum aliqua alia quae traduntur in hac doctrina.” ST I, q. 1, a. 8.
  26. ST II-II, q. 4, a. 1; Questiones Disputatae de Veritate (henceforth, De ver.), q. 14, a. 3. This part of the article is taken in substance from the author’s work Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, vol. 2, p. 51-56. ST II-II, q. 4, a. 5. ST II-II, q. 4, a. 1. ST II-II, q. 1, a. 1 and De ver., q. 14, a. 8. ST II-II, q. 1, a. 1.
  27. ST II-II, q. 1, a. 1. ST II-II, q. 1, a. 2. Faith is a single virtue because of the formality of the object of the virtue (i.e. God and the things pertaining to God) and so the perspective of God which is the first truth is the formality of the virtue. This one formality makes the virtue one or singular, see ST II-II, q. 4, a. 6. Ibid. An ennunciable is something which has the capacity to be announced or spoken. ST II-II, q. 1, a. 6. St. Thomas calls these the credibilia or “believables,” since they are things capable of belief. ST II-II, q. 1, a. 9. The term “symbol” is used to refer to the fact that certain things which are to be believed are capable of being put into words which are a kind of symbol or other kinds of symbols which refer to the thing revealed.
  28. ST II-II, q. 1, a. 4. ST II-II, q. 2, a. 1. See Attwater, A Catholic Dictionary, p. 40. That faith is in the intellect as in a subject, see ST II-II, q. 4, a. 2 and De ver., q. 14, a. 4. This act of belief is in the second act of the intellect of judgment, see De ver., q. 14, a. 1.
  29. Hebrews 11:1 and 13. For St. Thomas’ use of the St. Paul’s definition, see De ver., q. 14, a. 2. ST II-II, q. 4, a. 1. Here “argument” is used in the philosophical sense as “1. A reason or reasons for or against (a proposition, thesis, hypothesis, opinion, action, etc). 2. The process of finding, presenting or organizing reason for or against something.” In effect, the virtue of faith makes the propositions or articles of faith believable since one can see the truth of the propositions by faith. For this reason, St. Thomas observes that the term argumentum indicates conviction which means that one holds firmly to the truth of the thing, or literally overcome with (cum vincere) the truth of the proposition. See De ver., q. 14, a. 2. ST II-II, q. II-II, q. 1, a. 4 and De ver., q. 14, a. 2. See ST I-II, q. 62, a. 1 and especially ibid., ad 1. See ST I-II, qq. 1-5.
  30. See ST II-II, q. 4, a. 2. ST I, q. 16, a. 5; SCG I, c. 60-62; ibid., III, c. 51 and De ver., q. 1, a. 7. ST II-II, q. 2, a. 3.
  31. These three respects can be found in ST II-11, q. 2, a. 2. ST II-II, q. 4, a. 1; ibid., q. 4, a. 2 and ibid., ad 2. ST II-II, q. 2, a. 9.
  32. ST II-II, q. 1, a. 5 and ibid., q. 2, a. 4, ad 2.
  33. ST I-II, q. 2, a. 4. St. Thomas gives four ways of proving God’s existence in SCG I, c. 13 and in ST I, q. 2, a. 3 he gives five ways of proving God’s existence, all from the natural light of reason. This is formally defined in Vatican I, Filius Dei, passim. SCG I, c. 50. ST I, q. 32, a. 1.
  34. ST II-II, q. 4, a. 8. See below ST II-II, q. 4, a. 8. Ibid.
  35. ST II-Il, q. 5, a. 4. This indicates that faith can be greater in one individual than another based upon how much virtue one has. While faith cannot be greater in one individual than another according to the formal object which is God (see ibid.), it can be greater on the side of the material object as articles of faith are taken more or less explicitly in one individual than another (see ibid.). What this means is that some people simply know more about the faith than others. In another way, faith can be greater in one individual than another on the side of the will, insofar as it moves the intellect with greater promptness, devotion or confidence (see ibid.). ST II-II, q. 5, a. 1.
  36. ST II-II, q. 5, a. 1. ST II-II, q. 5, a. 1. See also ST II-II, q. 10, a. 2. Opinion differs from belief in that belief concerns whether one gives assent to the one and the same proposition or not, whereas opinion occurs when there are two contradictory positions and one can give assent to one or the other proposition. Concerning the difference between belief and opinion see De ver., q. 14, a. 1. The following comes from ST II-II, q. 6, a. 1. De ver., q. 14, a. 4. Infused virtues are counter-distinguished from acquired virtues based upon their cause. An acquired virtue has the person performing the action as its cause whereas infused virtues are those placed in the soul by God Who is their cause.
  37. Here the term “some” is used since some of the truths contained in Scripture can be known by the natural light of reason, even though the mode of revelation of the natural truth is supernatural.
  38. Session IV (taken from Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent trans. by H. J. Schroeder [St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1950], p. 296): “. . . Ut sublatis erroribus puritas ipse evangelii in ecclesiae conservetur, quod promissum ante prophetas in scripturis sanctis Dominus poster Jesus Christus Dei Filius proprio ore primum promulgavit, deinde per suos apostolos tamquam fontem omnis et salutaris veritatis et morum disciplinae omni creaturae praedicari jussit; perspiciensque hanc veritatem et disciplinam contineri in libris scriptis et sine scripto traditionibus, quae ipsius Christi ore ab apostolis acceptae, aut ab ipsis apostolis Spiritu Sancto dictante quasi per manus traditae ad nos usque pervenerunt, orthodoxorum patrum exempla sicut omnes libros tam veteris quam novi testamenti, cum utriusque unus Deus sit auctor, necnon traditiones ipsas, turn ad fidem turn ad mores pertinentes, tamquam vel oretenus a Christo, vel a Spiritu Sancto dictatas et continua successione in ecclesia catholica conservatas, pari pietatis affectu ac reverentia suscipit et veneratur.” C. 2 (translation as found in Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, ed. Norman Tanner. S.J. as provided by Eternal Word Television Network at [23 May 1996]). The here provided comes from Conciliorum oecumenicorum decreta (Instituto per le Scienze Religiose, Bologna, 1973): “Non hac tamen de causa revelatio absolute necessaria dicenda est, sed quia Deus ex infinita bonitate sua ordinavit homine ad finem supernaturalem, ad participanda scilicet bona divina, quae humanae mentis intelligentiam omnino superant… Haec porro supernaturalis revelatio, secundurn universalis ecclesiae fidem a sancta Tridentina synodo declaratam, continetur in libris scriptis et sine scripto traditionibus, quae ipsius Christi ore ab apostolis acceptae, aut ipsis apostolis Spiritu sancto dictante quasi per manus traditae, ad nos usque pervenerunt. Qui quidem veteris et novi testamenti libri integri cum omnibus suis partibus, prout in cuiusdem concilii decreto recensentur, et in veteri vulgata latina editione habentur, pro sacris et canonicis suscipiendi sunt. Eos vero ecclesia pro sacris et canonicis habet, non ideo quod sola humana industria concinnati, sua deinde auctoritate sint approbati; nec ideo dumtaxat, quod revelationem sine errore contineant; sed propterea quod Spiritu sancto inspirante conscripti Deum habent auctorem, atque ut tales ipsi ecclesiae traditi sunt. Quorum vero, quae sancta Tridentina synodus de interpretatione divinae scripturae ad coercenda petulantia ingenia salubriter decrevit, a quibusdam hominibus prave exponuntur, nos, idem decreturn renovantes, hanc illius mentern esse declaramus, ut in rebus fidei et morum, ad aedificationem doctrinae christianae pertinentium, is pro vero sensu sacrae scripturae habendus sit, quem tenuit ac tenet sancta mater ecclesia, cuius est iudicare de vero sensu et interpretatione scripturatum sanctarum; atque ideo nemini licere contra hunc sensum, aut etiam contra unanimen consensum patrum ipsam scripturam sacram interpretari.”
  39. See also ST I, q. 1, a. 10. That Scripture must be read and interpreted with the divine authorship in mind, see Vatican II, Dei Verbum, para 12. See also Benedict XV, Spiritus Paraclitus.
  40. See also Vatican I, Filius Dei, can. 4. As to which text this applies, viz. the Old Latin Vulgate, specific questions regarding that exact text will not be addressed here since it would take the discussion too far afield.
  41. See reference above for section from Vatican I. Certitude is necessary for any scientific endeavor, otherwise it is left to the realm of opinion. Here we may say more specifically the declarations of the Magisterium since it is the place of the Magisterium to pass judgment on the meaning of Scripture, i.e. upon the contents of revelation, see Vat. I, Filius Dei, chpt. 2, para. 8, Pius XII, Humani Generis, Denz. 3886/2314 and Vat. II, Dei Verbum, chpt. 2, para 10.
  42. In fact, in the Thomistic understanding of the sciences, it pertains to metaphysics to judge whether the other sciences engage their object proportionately or with a proper methodology. St Thomas observes in ST I-II, q. 57, a. 2: “Ideo id quod est ultimum respectu totius cognitionis humanae, est id quod est primum et maxime cognoscibile secundum naturam. Et circa huiusmodi est sapientia, quae considerat altissimas causas, ut dicitur in I Metaphys. Unde convenienter iudicat et ordinat de omnibus, quia iudicium perfectum et universale haberi non potest nisi per resolutionem ad primas causas.” Insofar as metaphysics considers the various causes in themselves, it is able to judge whether the formal object and method of a particular science is adequated to the material object. Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, bk. I, chpts. 1 & 2.
  43. In light of the many papal documents over the past century or more regarding the Scriptures, such as Pope Leo XIII’s, Providentissimus Deus, Pope Benedict XV’s, Spiritus Paraclitus and Pope Pius XII’s, Divino Afflante Spiritu, we are lead to accept the not uncommon definition of inspiration as it is found in Hugh Pope’s text entitled The Catholic Student’s ‘Aids’ to the Bible (R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., London, 1918), vol. 1, p. 40: “Inspiration is a supernatural impulse to write — an impulse, too, which is maintained while the writing is continued; by reason of this motion, and with the assistance of a divine illumination, the Sacred Writer writes all those things, and only those things, which God bids him write.” It is not helpful nor scientifically insightful to say that because the sacred writers were human, they introduced elements into Scripture which were not from God but a product only of themselves, leading to the conclusion that one has to strip away the texts of the Scriptures to get to the “real” message that God intended. Metaphysically, man is a secondary cause in relation to God Who is the primary cause. Just as a woodworker uses different chisels of precise shapes in order to form the wood as it turns on the lathe, so too God used specific men, using their particular writing styles and human qualities to form the Scriptures precisely as He so desired. God can choose any human instrument He wants. In other words, by saying that the human element either blocks or adds to what God intended to be in the Scriptures is like saying the chisel forms the wood independently of the intention of the woodworker. God is capable of producing absolutely precise effects even with a secondary cause (instrument) which has freewill. The inspired texts of Scripture have the precise contents and character intended by God.
  44. This would include textual criticism, higher criticism and historical criticism.
  45. IV Sent., d. 3, q. 1, a. 2c, ad 1.

Ripperger Fr. Chad Ripperger, PhD is a Theologian, Thomistic Psychologist, Philosopher, and Author. Fr. Ripperger has served as professor of Dogmatic and Moral Theology and Philosophy at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska. Father Ripperger was ordained in 1997. He currently works in the Diocese of Tulsa. His published works include “Introduction to the Science of Mental Health”, “The Binding Force of Holy Tradition”, “The Metaphysics of Evolution”, “The Morality of the Exterior Act: In the Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas”, and “Topics on Tradtion.”


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