Second Part of the Prologue
Pr.2.1 On the Kinds of Knowledge
If we are speaking broadly, we may give the name 'knowledge' to anything involving the mind's assent to truth, but there are many kinds of mental assent to truth and failure to distinguish among these often leads to shipwreck in philosophical discussions. Thus it is is worthwhile, when we ask what it is we know, if anything, in sacred doctrine, first to lay out the major ways in which we can know something.
The intellect is said to function well, or work properly, to the extent it considers truth, and truth may be known in itself or in something else. In this sense there are three basic states of the intellect in which it stably functions well. They are ways the intellect itself may be fulfilled and completed. These serve in a way as the beginning, middle, and end of good intellectual functioning.
(1) What is known in itself is understood by the intellect without the need for further mental discourse; naturally, and so to speak effortlessly. For this reason the stable state of mind in Latin is called intelligentia and in Greek is called nous or noesis, both of which suggest that it is the basic act of the intellect. In English we usually call it understanding, although in older texts one sometimes finds 'intelligence'. It captures the principles without which we know nothing else, and is thus the beginning of the intellect's complete consideration of truth. Without understanding, there can be no consideration of truth at all.
(2) Truths that are known through something else are understood by way of inquiry, and therefore serve as a terminal point or end. There are two ways a truth can be an end of reasoning, (a) as an end in a particular genus or domain, or (b) as an end of rational inquiry as such. Those truths that are the end of a particular genus of inquiry give us the stable state that is called in Latin scientia and in Greek episteme, both of which suggest that it is in some sense the most normal or paradigmatic kind of thing that we call knowledge. This state serves as a sort of middle for good intellectual functioning, since it extends assent beyond the principles of understanding along the myriad paths allowed by the world. Thus in English we usually call it knowledge, although we often use the term 'science', especially in contexts in which we are translating the Latin. Although sometimes it is only in an indirect way, science is the aim of teaching and learning in their most proper senses, for in both teaching and learning we seek to know one thing through another, whether it be through experiences of singular things or through general principles. It is in this sense that sacred doctrine or theology is said sometimes to be a science.
This last name, 'science', requires us to make a distinction, for it has become common to use the term 'science' to cover not merely a stable state of the intellect, but a form of inquiry that tends toward it in a particular way. This extended use causes many different kinds of confusion. One way it confuses is by leading people to over-assimilate theological reflection to empirical inquiry, since empirical inquiry like chemistry or physical experimentation is the sort of thing to which the label 'science' is most often applied today. A second way it confuses is by obscuring the difference between a form of inquiry and its result. And a third way it confuses is by treating too much of sacred doctrine as if it were achieved by method alone, rather than requiring both prayer and ascetic discipline.
(3) The second way in which truth can be a terminal point of inquiry is as the end of rational inquiry as such. Assent to truth in this way is called in Latin sapientia and in Greek sophia. In English we often call it wisdom. This state is in many ways like understanding, for like understanding it concerns itself with first principles; in this sense, the completion of the good functioning of the intellect requires it to return to its beginning. Truth and knowledge in first principles depends on the terms of those principles: recognizing what a whole is, we recognize what a part is, and can judge the principle that every such whole is greater than its part. To understand in a proper way what being and nonbeing are and what things are that follow on being, all the things that form the terms of first principles and basic presuppositions, is the function of wisdom. Thus wisdom makes use of first principles, which are the object of understanding, and it goes beyond them just as knowledge does, and indeed, it can in some way be considered both understanding and knowledge; but it transcends them in that it does not simply do so by drawing conclusions but by evaluating them, passing judgment on them, vindicating them against those who deny them, seeing them in light of even more fundamental and important principles. Thus wisdom is the highest stable state of intellect, and, because it exercises judgment over all other stable states of the intellect, it sets them all in order, giving them their proper place with respect to each other and to life itself, as the architect of the intellectual city.
All three of these directly concern themselves with truth in reasoning, and because truth and reason are both unified they cannot always be strictly separated from each other. The conclusions of science can be principles of another science, and they can therefore be both known (science) and understood (intelligence). Wisdom differs from knowledge not by opposition but by an additional note, setting all other knowledge in order.
There are, however, stable states that concern themselves with truth insofar as it is relevant to practice. These stable states are what can be called practical knowledge or know-how. There are two kinds.
(4) Prudence, which in Latin is called prudentia and in Greek phronesis, is the intellectual virtue concerned with making balanced and moderate practical decisions that are harmonious with their circumstances. Prudence differs from science in that it concerns what is to be done; it therefore is continually concerned with contingent particulars, and especially insofar as they pertain to goodness and badness for people. It is the foundation of all moral virtues, for, as Aristotle says, such virtue is a kind of second nature concerned with decision that consists in a mean relative to us as determined by the reason of a prudent person.
(5) Skill or art, which in Latin is called ars and in Greek techne, is that state which is analogous to prudence but is concerned specifically not with choice and decision themselves but with production. Like prudence, skill concerns contingent particulars, but unlike prudence does so insofar as they are relevant to making rather than to doing.
All of these stable states are distinguished from more conjectural, tentative, and provisional states, such as suspicion, which is a probability hinging on something particular and contingent, and opinion, which is a probability hinging on what is general. However, both of these are also sometimes called knowledge when they are backed by a rational account or justification, insofar as they then receive an extrinsic stability. When suspicion or opinion is of this sort, it is often called 'justified true belief', which is knowledge-like to the extent it is stable, but which cannot be knowledge in a proper sense; as Plato argues in the Theaetetus, where the stability is not intrinsic but based on some extrinsic stability, such as the stability of the account with which it is associated, it falls short of knowledge.
A more complicated question arises in discussing faith. Faith in the broadest sense is trust in someone as an authority, and it is often called 'belief', a name it shares with its typical act. 'Belief' is sometimes used for the acts of other states of mind, but here it is the act of intellectual assent to something that is true on account of the will's adherence to something that is good. One form this takes is faith in human authority or testimony on the basis of some good with respect either to the authoritative person or testifier or the authoritative judgment or testimony. But in the divine case, the true and the good it considers are the same thing, namely, God.
In light of what has been said, we can thus clarify the senses in which faith is and is not knowledge. Faith in human testimony is like opinion, and thus not in itself knowledge, although it may be knowledge in a broad sense through some extrinsic stability of end and established connection with truth, and, indeed, many of the things we claim to know are held on faith in human testimony. In the case of ordinary faith in divine testimony, however, the end provides stability and the connection with truth is at least of the right kind as to be sure. God is a better authority and source of human testimony than any human authority. In this way, faith in divine testimony or authority is even more properly called 'knowledge' than any faith in any human testimony whatsoever. But in the case of the faith that provides a new internal supplement and illumination to reasoning in divine matters, neither the stability nor the connection to truth are extrinsic, but intrinsic to the state of believing. Thus it is even more properly called knowledge than ordinary belief in testimony, whether human or divine. Thus the Dionysian says (Div. Nom. 7.4), Faith is the solid foundation of the believer, establishing him in the truth, and showing forth the truth in him. Nonetheless, it is not itself knowledge in the strictest sense, namely, that which has been given the name of science, scientia, episteme. It is clear, however, that a lesser science might accept its principles through faith as well as understanding, as when someone doing physics trusts that the geometers have reasoned correctly about some difficult geometrical problem that is relevant to physics.
Faith is also not knowledge in the sense of understanding, because it is related to understanding as beginning to end; as we investigate in order to know, so we believe in order to understand. We accept the testimony of someone about a car crash so that we can come to understand what caused it; we accept people's representations of themselves to the extent that these representations help us understand them. St. Augustine discusses this in the context of religious faith in his work on the utility of believing. He notes that one of the differences between Catholics and the Manichaeans is that the Catholics held that in divine matters one must have faith before reason, whereas the Manichaeans claimed that the reverse should be true and, of course, claimed to offer precisely that. This has a certain appeal, because we recognize credulity and gullibility as faults. But just as we do not call someone 'suspicious' just because he suspects something, and do not call someone 'studious' just because he studies something, so we should not consider people credulous merely because they believe something. We cannot have friendship or good familial relations, for instance, except by believing beyond proof, and to make sense of history, we also have to believe things beyond what we strictly know. Thus he concludes (De util. 24), But in religion what can there be more unfair than that the ministers of God believe us when we promise an unfeigned mind, and we are unwilling to believe them when they enjoin us any thing. Lastly, what way can there be more healthful, than for a man to become fitted to receive the truth by believing those things, which have been appointed by God to serve for the previous culture and treatment of the mind? This is a theme that Augustine raises elsewhere, following one translation of Isaiah 7:9, Unless you believe, you shall not understand, saying (Tract. in Io. 29), Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that you may understand. Those who attempt to understand in order to believe attempt to go backwards, and therefore try to position themselves in an impossible place. This is all well-summarized in a phrase that St. Anselm used as his original title for what was later titled the Proslogion, Faith Seeking Understanding.
Pr.2.2 On Sacred Doctrine as Science
Turretin argues (Institutes 1.6.4) that theology cannot be any of the five habits (wisdom, understanding, science, prudence, art) "because they are all habits of knowing and theology is not a habit of knowing, but of believing." In addition, he argues that it cannot be understanding, because theology is concerned with conclusions; it cannot be science, because its principles are not evident but believed on faith; it cannot be wisdom for the same reasons it cannot be understanding or science; it cannot be prudence because it is not confined to what is to be done; and it cannot be art because it is not concerned with producing a work. However, this argument is too swift.
Not every case of science as an intellectual virtue is derived from evident principles, because science can presuppose the conclusions of another science. That is to say, knowing in this sense does not always follow directly from principles understood directly; some cases derive from some other knowing. What is more, this other knowing could well be in some other person. Thus they who, receiving the conclusions of mathematicians, conclude the implications of those conclusions for another field, develop the habit of science. As St. Thomas says (Super Boeth. de Trin. 1.2.2 ad5), In subalternate sciences, something is presupposed and believed from a superior science, and which is not self-evident (per se nota) except to superior sciences. It is clear that sacred doctrine would have to be this kind of derivative or subalternate science: it is derived from the superior knowledge of God and the heavenly saints. Its principles are known by God, and revealed by him; on the basis of this, the teacher of sacred doctrine concludes how these principles apply to this or that. Thus St. Thomas immediately continues, And in this way the articles of faith, which are the principles of this science, are related to divine thought, because what is self-evident (per se nota) in the science God has of Himself, is presupposed in our science, and believed on the basis of what is pointed out by his messengers.
We can be more precise about this. We identify a science in terms of its principles, its object, its subject, and its end.
(1) With regard to principles of knowledge, they can be known in two ways.
(1.1) They may be known by natural reason's own understanding, as one may understand a principle in geometry.
(1.2) They may be borrowed from some other kind of knowledge, as when navigators use as their principles the conclusions of spherical trigonometry. Sacred doctrine falls into this second category, borrowing its principles from a more powerful science.
(2) It is an unusual case of this second kind of science, however, because the higher knowledge from which it borrows its principles is not a human knowledge at all, but the knowledge possessed by God and the blessed. As optics borrows geometrical conclusions for its principles, so we receive the principles of sacred doctrine, which are the articles of faith, from such divine knowledge as has been revealed to us by God. Since what is revealed by God is to be believed, sacred doctrine considers everything in light of that which is divinely revealed. This is its object; everything it considers, it considers under this aspect.
(3) Its subject is God, and, because all other things relate to God, who is their beginning and their end, it is also knowledge of everything else insofar as it relates to God. Thus Aquinas says (ST 1.1.3ad2), Sacred doctrine is like an impress of divine knowledge, which is one noncomposite knowledge of all things. Of these, some are especially notable due to their importance, such as creation, sacraments, salvation, Christ as the Head of the Church, and so forth, but sacred doctrine is concerned with them all because of how they are related to God, its true subject.
(4) We further distinguish sciences into those that are practical, which have action as their end, and those that are speculative, which have understanding as their end. Since the subject of sacred doctrine is so fundamental, it in some way, whether directly or indirectly, can be said to include all other sciences, regardless of whether they are practical or speculative. Thus it has something of the character of both, and this has led at times to puzzlement about whether it should be regarded as practical or speculative at its very root. However, if sacred doctrine were practical at its foundation, then in a sense the science would not be knowledge of God but knowledge of human life as related to God. This is certainly part of what sacred doctrine covers. But it is really concerned with God more completely than this, and even in practical matters chiefly concerns itself with what pertains in some way to that loving contemplation of god in which our true happiness and fulfillment consists. Thus it is primarily speculative, although it is so in such a way that it encompasses practical matters as well.
Since they are often confused, it is perhaps worthwhile here to distinguish between 'science' as a state or an acquired disposition of mind and what might be called a 'system', that is, a set of propositions in inferential order. They cannot be the same because knowledge is a personal quality, not a set of propositions, however arranged. They are related, however, since we articulate our intellectual habits by means of explicit reasoning, judgment, and conception; the system is an articulation, or an attempted articulation, of the state of mind. Likewise, Christian faith is articulated into articles of faith, opinions into working hypotheses, and suspicions into tentative hypotheses. However, even a true articulation cannot fully capture the state of mind it articulates, and no system fully captures the science it articulates. Further, how we articulate our knowledge may differ depending on other goals. We may articulate it one way if speaking with children and in another way if speaking with adults. We may choose to focus on one thread for one purpose and focus on another thread for another purpose. The system, however good and however accurate, is as it were a flat representation or projection of a volume, like a map of a world.
It has at times been a contentious question as to what is the relation between faith and sacred doctrine as a kind of science, and it is clear that it is because he regards faith and theology as the same that Turretin denies that the latter is a science. It seems clear, however, that the two must be distinct despite being related, for divine faith is to sacred doctrine much like understanding is to science in other matters. Indeed, sacred doctrine as a science flows from the principles of understanding and, as even higher principles, the articles of faith. This makes sense; sacred doctrine, as its name implies, is a kind of teaching, and in particular it is a teaching of and out of the articles of divine faith, and therefore a science; but divine faith itself is not taught but received, and is not itself a kind of teaching but an intimation of glory that, articulated into articles of faith, is clarified in sacred doctrine. And as we shall later discuss, the divine faith endures, ever the same, but sacred doctrine develops and its articulations are adapted to circumstance.
From all this we see, moreover, the sense in which it can be said that sacred doctrine is also a kind of wisdom. The wise are said to order and judge all things; and we may say that someone is wise with respect to a certain genus or field when that person understands the highest causes and first principles of that genus or field, thus allowing him or her to set things in order and assess them. Thus the one who reaches to the highest cause of the whole world, which is God, has a wisdom above all other kinds of wisdom. This is precisely what wisdom does, for it treats of God as the highest principle, and that insofar as God Himself reveals Himself, and not merely insofar as the mind might come to him indirectly. Thus sacred doctrine is, as Aquinas says (ST 1.1.6), wisdom above all human wisdom; not merely in any one genus, but absolutely. However, while it is absolutely above all wisdom that human beings can acquire and cultivate on their own, there is higher wisdom yet, wisdom that is more purely wisdom, to which sacred doctrine only looks forward.
Pr.2.3 On Revealed Philosophy
As previously noted, 'theology' has a threefold sense, being applied to metaphysics, to sacred doctrine, and to mystical theology. These are, however, related to each other, and therefore, as sacred doctrine is a medium or middle between the other two, it naturally has features that connect it both to metaphysics as a rational science and to mysticism as a higher kind of wisdom, looking back to the one and forward to the other, for in each case the higher part of the lower is like the lower part of the higher. The first we may call revealed philosophy; the second we may call symbolic theology. We will consider these in turn.
Revealed philosophy, sometimes called Christian philosophy, is not the foundation of sacred doctrine but as it were sacred doctrine's transfiguration of metaphysics for its own use. Therefore, in a sense it can be considered both metaphysics and sacred doctrine, although in the sense we use it here it is properly the lower aspect of sacred doctrine. In revealed philosophy, metaphysics is appropriated and reordered to the ends of sacred doctrine; the iron of rational metaphysics is made to glow with fire, its water is made to be wine; it is made more incorruptible, splendid, agile, and subtle than it otherwise could be, for it is aided by a higher light. Yet it is not, for all that, rendered different in kind, but merely takes on a shape ancillary to a higher science. Those who to the study of philosophy unite obedience to the Christian faith are philosophizing in the best possible way; for the splendor of the divine truths, received into the mind, helps the understanding and not only does not harm its dignity, but adds greatly to its nobility, keenness, and stability.
We can be more specific about this. Receiving the light of faith does not obliterate the light of reason, but strengthens it for the purposes of thinking about divine things, by making it able to use an external supplement, namely, revelation, properly. As Leo XIII says (Aeterni Patris), "Gifts of grace are added to nature in such a way that they do not destroy it, but rather perfect it; so too the light of faith, imparted to us as a gift, does not do away with the light of natural reason give to us by God." Thus there can be no contradiction between the two, and there will be various things found in rational metaphysics that can, in faith, be seen to point to, imitate, or be explained by things of which we are aware by faith. As Aquinas says (Super Boeth. de Trin 1.2.3), they incorporate some likenesses of higher truths, and some things that are preparatory for them, just as nature is the preamble to grace.
Given this, we can clarify the way in which it is suitable for sacred doctrine to have metaphysics as an ancillary or subordinate science. We can know principles in two ways.
(1) By a confused knowledge, sufficient to know that they are, such as when the terms of a proposition are apprehended through sense and experience; this suffices for scientia of terms in any specific science. An example is when we know in geometry that lines have length; we can in a sense just see that it is so, although not very articulately.
(2) By a distinct knowledge, knowing what they are and according to what category, with proper definitions known from the evident terms, and this happens in metaphysics through division and composition. In this sense we say that other sciences are subordinate to metaphysics, for any principles of any science are known more completely in metaphysics. Therefore if metaphysics were not suitable to be handmaiden to sacred doctrine, then a fortiori no other rational field of inquiry would be, whether empirical, or historical, or philosophical.
We can also consider the other side, and the way in which sacred doctrine takes up metaphysics into itself when it makes use of metaphysics as an ancillary. Metaphysics is useful to sacred doctrine insofar as it contributes toward truth, and therefore its proper use concerns the major ways in which metaphysics contributes toward truth: demonstration, reasons to conclude or believe, defense against error. Each of these has at least two forms.
(1) First, metaphysics may supply proper demonstrations or proofs of some truths that are preambular to faith, which are presupposed by faith, or related to those things presupposed by faith. Aquinas says (Super Boeth. de Trin. 1.2.3), Such are the things proved by natural reason about God, for example, that God is, that he is one, and other things of this sort about God or creatures proved in philosophy that faith presupposes.
(2) Similarly, metaphysics may provide the materials for demonstrations ex convenientia, or from appropriateness, in which it proves things that are harmonious with, or that converge toward, the things of faith.
(3) Third, even where proof is not yet attained or not possible, metaphysics may give lesser reasons for thinking something true, by probability or analogy.
(4) Fourth, metaphysics may provide things that serve as indirect and sometimes defeasible signs of further truths, by showing directly not that they are true but that they are good to believe.
(5) Fifth, to defend against error, metaphysics may supply the instruments for making claims more precise and thus avoiding errors arising from ambiguities of language or similarities of concepts.
(6) Sixth, to defend against error, metaphysics may supply refutations of errors contrary to faith and doctrine.
Just as there is a proper use, however, there is also an abuse, and one must take into account the dangers. The first kind of danger is when people decide to subordinate faith and sacred doctrine to metaphysics, for instance by refusing to accept anything in sacred doctrine that cannot be proven by metaphysics or by trying to explain away the mysteries of the faith. In reality, sacred doctrine is a higher science, and the attempt to explain away the mysteries of the faith is like trying to remove layers of an onion to get to the real onion. As the Apostle says (2 Cor. 10:5), We...take every thought captive to obey Christ. The second kind of danger occurs when people follow after philosophical claims that are contrary to the faith, and thus contaminate doctrine with heresy. These people, too, put things backwards and upside down, since they make metaphysics to reorder sacred doctrine rather than the reverse. In all things proper order must be maintained. The most common reason for both of these errors is pride leading the mind astray and, and due to the beauty and sweetness of philosophy and reason, ascribing to itself a wisdom it does not have, and thus we may say with St. Gregory Palamas (Triads 1.1.21), In the case of secular wisdom, you must first kill the serpent, in other words, overcome the pride that arises from this philosophy.*
Metaphysics properly used, however, is rightly appropriated by sacred doctrine. There are some who attempt to avoid this conclusion and try to deny the possibility of revealed philosophy, i.e., metaphysics appropriated by sacred doctrine, entirely. However, this is an untenable position. First, it is untenable because it would require the brutalization of the human mind; for metaphysics is in its first beginnings natural to human beings, and as rational beings we cannot help but assume metaphysical principles in all of our reasoning. This does not cease to be true in matters of faith; given the light of faith, human beings will do metaphysics in the light of faith. Second, it is untenable because it is impossible to hold that no other kinds of knowledge, whether empirical, historical, or philosophical, are relevant to faith, but how these sciences are relevant to faith cannot be determined wholly by themselves. It is metaphysics that establishes how the conclusions of one science related to another, by saying how the sciences in question build on the concept of being. It is metaphysics that gives the general principles on which the other sciences draw conclusions. And it is metaphysics as appropriated by sacred doctrine that will tell you how an experiment, or physical theory, or historical discovery, or philosophical argument bears on matters of faith.
Pr.2.4 On Symbolic Theology
All inquiry begins in wondering, as Plato and Aristotle tell us. Aquinas tells us (Super Ioan. 1.7), To marvel or wonder is what happens in a rational and intellectual soul when the desire arises to know the hidden cause of a seen effect. In sacred doctrine, we often find this to be the case with Scripture; for Scripture is an effect with hidden causes and reasons for its being the way it is. That is to say, there are many points in Scripture at which one can wonder why Scripture says this, rather than that, or why this is done, rather than something else, or whether there might be something important about some feature that seems initially unimportant. Thus we begin to inquire.
It seems clear that this is why revelation as given to us in Scripture is not merely a listing of what is necessary to know for salvation; for there are many divine mysteries that can only be appreciated fully and properly if we, having wondered about something, discover them ourselves. Inquiring ourselves, we learn them better, and, since, as Aristotle says (Rhetoric 1371a), "the object of wonder is an object of desire", we desire them more and therefore enjoy them more when they are discovered. For the purpose of this inquiry we necessarily make use of what is required to discover, and this includes symbolizing and reflection on symbols.
The basis for symbolic theology is that all things that come from God are signs of Him; as Stein says (KF 101), God is the Primal Theologian. His 'symbolic theology' is all of creation. And St. Ephrem says (Hymns on Virginity 20.12), If you look anywhere, His symbol is there, and wherever you read, you will discover His types. For all creatures were created by Him, and He inscribed his symbols upon His possessions. Behold, when He created the world, He looked upon it and adorned it with His images. Fountains of His symbols were opened; they flowed and poured forth His symbols upon its members. Divine truths, then, may be expressed in sensible images. We find divine truths being expressed by Jacob's vision of the ladder (Gn 28:11-17), in the burning bush (Ex 3:2), in Noah's ark (1 Pt 3:21), in the relation between Sarah and Hagar (Gal 4:21ff), and in many other places. It can also be expressed in metaphors based on the sense, which are are presented to the intellect, as when Moses asks the Lord to show him the divine glory and the Lord responds (Ex 33:18-23). It can also be expressed in rites, such as temple sacrifices or Church sacraments. And, of course, it can be expressed in nonmetaphorical terms, in which case we directly affirm or deny. However, as divine matters are not confined to those things falling within the ambit of human reason, it is inevitable that our direct affirmations and denials will only get us so far. When literal speech runs out in any context, we expand our vocabulary by figurative speech; when all speech runs out, we consider sensible images as signs of something higher. Thus as sacred doctrine looks forward to mystical theology, which involves union with divine things, it prepares for it by symbol. As metaphysics looks forward to sacred doctrine by natural theology, so sacred doctrine looks forward to mystical theology by symbolic theology.
Symbolic theology, therefore, insofar as it is part of sacred doctrine, makes an apt preparation for theology in the proper sense. As sacred doctrine's use of metaphysics connects it to natural theology, while not being reducible to it, so also its symbolic theology looks forward to mystical theology. Therefore this symbolic theology in a sense belongs to both sacred doctrine and holy theology, because it is the former preparing and disposing for the latter, as set in order by the latter. Thus the Dionysian says (Ep 9.1), symbolic or initiative theology, acts and implants one in God by instructions in mysteries not learned by teaching; that is to say, symbolic theology rises to God through Scripture on the basis of things that go beyond what sacred doctrine in and of itself can provide.
We can therefore see that symbolic theology, while the higher part of sacred doctrine that prepares for mystical theology, can be distinguished from sacred doctrine in its core sense of a science, that is, simply insofar as it draws conclusions from principles We can do this even insofar as sacred doctrine concerns symbols, metaphors, images, and the like. The difference is not one of substance but of purpose. Symbolic theology is in its purpose not analytical or clarificatory but experiential, because we recognize our experience of God in the images and are likewise guided in our practice by those images. And likewise, Edith Stein, discussing the Dionysian conception of symbolic theology, says (KF 129) that it is a symbolic intimation of an experience in a new meaning. In symbolic theology therefore, the conclusions of sacred doctrine subserve the experience of God in and through the symbols of Scripture, the Church, and the world.
Sacred doctrine has an aptness for being this sort of preamble to mystical theology in two ways.
(1) As it is common for human beings to feign experiences, and also common for human beings to be deceived in their interpretation of experiences, sacred doctrine prepares the mind for mystical theology by establishing the signs whereby the true experience of God may be known and the means whereby experiences deceptively seeming to be of God may be avoided. In this way sacred doctrine is like a map, which may describe the world despite being of a lesser order than the world itself, and which despite its flatness may help one to navigate in the world as it really is.
(2) As we reason in order to judge and judge in order to conceive, so the conclusions of sacred doctrine about symbols of divine things give the mind a better disposition for the life of mystical theology, in which one is seized by God. Mystical theology requires going beyond the senses and imagination. Rising above the perception of the senses and the images of the imagination is difficult for human beings, however, who have a tendency to fall back on them as a crutch. By the reasoning and conclusions of sacred doctrine, we come to a better understanding of the symbols by which God is revealed, and thus are better prepared to go beyond them when it is necessary to do so.
Thus in sacred doctrine as a science we learn truths about God from Scripture, which tells us in figurative speech that God is a rock. By analysis of this metaphor, we recognize its connection to the doctrine of divine immutability as a foundation for our faith, and how this same immutability is the foundation for the durability of being of all things. But this is not merely a teaching of a truth about God; it can also be recognized as a symbolic preparation and preamble for a higher union with God, in which one in some sense experiences this immutability through the certainty of faith and the durability of being of things. The symbolic preparation is not that experience, which can only be had by divine act; but it disposes the mind to it and prepares the mind to draw upon it in prayer and practice, should God give it. If God gives that experience, it transfigures sacred doctrine, bringing into vivid brightness the truths one learned before, and showing in them a richness that could not be wholly seen merely from the doctrine. That is but the lowest part of mystical theology, sometimes also called symbolic theology, for beyond it the symbols are shed as veils no longer necessary.
From this we can see that symbolic theology, as such, does not prove the conclusions of sacred doctrine, for it just is those conclusions insofar as they anticipate experiential confirmation. However, symbolic theology is essential for true sacred doctrine in a number of ways:
(1) First, the symbols recognized by faith show, in light of union with God, congruences between doctrines that might otherwise not be seen.
(2) Second, by intimation and suggestion of something higher, symbolic theology seeds fruitful inquiry into matters that themselves fall within the order of sacred doctrine. Likewise, it draws attention to the points that might be otherwise overlooked, which facilitates proof. When sacred doctrine is guided by the higher science, it is in a sense being encouraged by something beyond itself, just as errors in metaphysics may be corrected and metaphysics kept focused on truth by sacred doctrine.
(3) Third, symbolic theology prepares one for practical life in accordance with the truths expressed in sacred doctrine and raises us gradually in such a way that sacred doctrine is not nullified but transfigured.
Understanding this, we are better fitted to consider Scripture, which is the substance of revelation with which reason is enriched so as to make possible sacred doctrine.
* Gregory Palamas, The Triads, Meyendorff, ed., and Gendle, tr. Paulist Press (Mahwah, NJ: 1983), p. 29.