Saturday, March 12, 2011

Around the Net

The following is a quote from a First Things essay by Edward Oakes, SJ on Newman's idea of a university:

Precisely as a science that is obedient to a supervenient revelation and yet must use reason to reach its conclusions, theology is inherently volatile, and within it a legitimate pluralism must be recognized. Thus, theologians are bound to disagree about reason’s proper role in submitting to revelation, and differing positions on that initial point will legitimately generate different schools of thought. One is no less Catholic if one agrees with Duns Scotus on the univocity of being over against Thomas Aquinas’ preference for the analogy of being, despite the fact that a large majority of theologians competent to have an opinion on the matter prefer Thomas over the Scot. Nor is one less faithful to revelation if one prefers Plato over Aristotle—or at least we must say this: If one wants to argue Aristotle’s precedence over Plato, this position will have to be decided on strictly philosophical, not theological, grounds—a point on which the medieval theologians were all agreed.

Oakes is a Balthasarian, I believe, so such statements as admitting that one is no less catholic if one sides with Scotus is probably not so remarkable as it would be if he were a straight-laced Thomist. Many are the real-time conversations in which Thomists have tried to convince me that the Church requires us all to be Thomists (surely an odd appeal to authority from a group that regularly attacks nearly all non-Thomists for not respecting the faith-reason distinction). But it is a rather remarkable statement given the current climate in post-modern theology, in which the "narrative" of "univocalist ontology" generally relegates Scotus to the category of monster.

Regarding said narratives, the beef some of us have with them is that they don't deal with arguments. What is actually interesting about Scotus is that he makes good and interesting arguments. It's not about system-building (though there is a system), or reconciling authorities, or building a giant mosaic of the fathers, but about arguments. Revelation supplies the data, the cold hard facts that can't be ignored, and reason supplies arguments. That is the appeal I, and I suspect my co-blogger Michael, finds in Scotus. And this is also the source of our irritation with some species of modern theology: they deal with vague notions of how general ontologies and onto-theologies somehow "lead" to other nasty conclusions like the holocaust or abortion, and quote nary an argument on the way.


Michael Sullivan said...

Yes, I go to Scotus for the arguments. It's certainly not for his literary style!

Many moderns who fancy themselves on Thomas' side could do with a reminder that Thomas' philosophy is all about the arguments too. It's really irritating to read a lot of stuff about the triumph of Reason and Thomism without any actual reasoning.

One shouldn't hastily generalize, and there certainly are fine exceptions, like our friend Dr Feser, who both makes good arguments and also is a Thomist without being a Thomistic Triumphalist.

Lee Faber said...

Sure, sure, one mustn't generalize. That's why I said "real-time" conversations, because that's 99% true, while internet thomists are maybe more around 90%.