Monthly Archives: September 2011

Sermon on the Mount Part 6

The first Psalm has often been my prayer when I do not have time to read and pray the entire Sermon on the Mount.  I have found it to contain what the Didache, a very early Christian writing from the first century (or at the latest, the early second century,) calls “the two ways.”

“There are two ways, one of life and one of death, but a great difference between the two ways. The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself, and do not do to another what you would not want done to you. And of these sayings the teaching is this: Bless those who curse you, and pray for your enemies, and fast for those who persecute you. For what reward is there for loving those who love you? Do not the Gentiles do the same? But love those who hate you, and you shall not have an enemy.” (The Didache, opening sentences)

We opened our study of the Sermon on the Mount a few weeks ago with the first two verses of Psalm 1.

“Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence. But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night.”(Psalm 1:1-2)

This is the “first way, the one of life.” We said earlier that “The law of the Lord” is therefore none other than the law of Christ, and that “In a word, the true morality of Christianity is Love.” Therefore the Didache tells us that “The way of life, then, is this: First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself.”

What is the result of this Love of God and of neighbor?” The beatitudes tell us that “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy” and “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

The third verse of the Psalm tells us “And he shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season. And his leaf shall not fall off: and all whosoever he shall do shall prosper.” This is not necessarily worldly prosperity, but eternal. Planted near running waters, we will bring forth the fruit of our labors.  We will be like “unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.” (Matt 7:24) “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”

But the Psalm continues, with the second way, the “one of death.”  “Not so the wicked, not so: but like the dust, which the wind driveth from the face of the earth. Therefore the wicked shall not rise again in judgment: nor sinners in the council of the just.” (Psalm 1:4-5) ”Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” (Matt 7:17-18)

For the Lord knoweth the way of the just: and the way of the wicked shall perish. (Psalm 1:6)

Sermon on the Mount Part 5

Last week we examined, in light of the early Christian writings, what we might call the first part of the Lord’s Prayer.  “Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” The first part of the prayer is centered on God the Father and His will. We therefore say “Thy Name,” “Thy Kingdom,”  “Thy Will.” This can be seen as a parallel with the Ten commandments, the first of which are about justice towards God, whereas the second “tablet” dealt with our justice towards one another.

In a similar way, the second half of the Lord’s Prayer reflects on our needs, as a community, from God. “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

If we didn’t notice from the start the fact that we begin this prayer not with “My Father” but “Our Father,” it should become obvious here that the prayer Jesus taught us is one of community, and not primarily individualistic.  In fact there is no “I” or “me” in the prayer at all.

We again turn to the fathers for wisdom and insight: “Before all things, the Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer to be made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not “My Father, which art in heaven,” nor “Give me this day my daily bread; “nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one. The God of peace and the Teacher of concord, who taught unity, willed that one should thus pray for all, even as He Himself bore us all in one.” (Treatise of St. Cyprian on the Lord’s Prayer)

In fact, in Matthew’s Gospel, at the conclusion of the prayer, Jesus adds, almost as if to strengthen the bond of unity and charity taught here, “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.” (Matt 6:14-15)

Much could be said of each petition in particular, of course, but here we must emphasize the point so often neglected in our individualistic society.  We close our thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer with wise words of St. Augustine, given as part of his “Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount”; “And thanks be to the mercy of Him who requires this of us, that He should be our Father, a relationship which can be brought about by no expenditure of ours, but solely by God’s goodwill. Here also there is an admonition to the rich and to those of noble birth, so far as this world is concerned, that when they have become Christians they should not comport themselves proudly towards the poor and the low of birth; since together with them they call God “Our Father,” an expression which they cannot truly and piously use, unless they recognize that they themselves are brethren.”

We have touched upon Psalm 1 when reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount, as it is about reflecting on “The law of the Lord,” which is brought to fulfillment in Christ and explained in the Sermon. Next week, we will reflect on it as a short way to meditate on all that has been said thus far.

Sermon on the Mount Part 4

What reflection on the Sermon of the Mount would be complete with meditating on the Our Father? And what better guide than to meditate on it with our fathers in the faith?  We will here examine some of the writings of St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyprian, and St. Augustine and see both the communal and personal importance of this prayer in the Church and in our individual prayer life.

“What praying to the Father can be more truthful than that which was delivered to us by the Son who is the Truth, out of His own mouth? So that to pray otherwise than He taught is not ignorance alone, but also sin;” (Treatise of Cyprian on the Lord’s Prayer) Now, St. Cyprian is not telling us that to use any other words in pray besides that strictly in the Our Father is wrong, but we can glean two important insights here.

First, there is untold depth in the prayer itself.  One could meditate for their entire life on the first words, pondering what it is to be able to call God “Father, Abba, Daddy.”  “See how He straightway stirred up the hearer, and reminded him of all God’s bounty in the beginning. For he who calls God Father, by him both remission of sins, and taking away of punishment, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption, and adoption, and inheritance, and brotherhood with the Only-Begotten, and the supply of the Spirit, are acknowledged in this single title. For one cannot call God Father, without having attained to all those blessings.” (Chrysostom, Homily 19 on Matthew)

Our Father, Who art in Heaven. St. Chrysostom continues “He says, “in Heaven,” He speaks not this as shutting up God there, but as withdrawing him who is praying from earth, and fixing him in the high places, and in the dwellings above.” Our goal is to be in Heaven with God, and that God’s creation is fulfilled, as we were in the beginning to be partners with Him in bringing about the fruits of creation. “And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:28).

The separation of Heaven and earth was not intended in the beginning, but was caused by our sin.  Jesus teaches us here we can now, through Him, call God our Father. But as we lost our vision of God through sin, which is nothing more than a turning away from God, we must now pray that we do not fall back to that state.  We, therefore continue, “Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.” Space prevents us from doing any more than scratching the surface of the depths of this prayer. Indeed, volumes have been written over the last two thousand years by those who have reflected deeply upon the Our Father, and yet it’s depths have scarcely been searched. We shall continue next week.

Sermon on the Mount Part 3

I’d like to turn our attention to a topic from the second part of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus begins His “But I say to you” expositions. “But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou Fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath any thing against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift.” (Matt 5:22-24)

We see the clearest application of this in the Mass. In the primitive church the kiss of peace was offered after the first part of the Mass and before the Eucharist. In the Western Church the sign of peace was moved quite early to where it was as Augustine described it, and to where it is today. The Western Church saw a close link between peace and communion–peace with one another before receiving the Prince of Peace, as can be easily inferred from the passage above. For reasons beyond the scope of our meditation, in the middle ages the laity were excluded from the sign of peace and it was then dropped altogether. Vatican II, however, restored the ancient rite of peace to all who participate at Mass.

The most important thing we may take away from this is that God is a father, and a father cannot be pleased with his children when they offer him love while not loving their brothers and sisters. St. John tells us in a letter, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother, abideth in the light, and there is no scandal in him.” (1 John 2:9-10)

For if thou hadst desired sacrifice, I would indeed have given it: with burnt offerings thou wilt not be delighted. A sacrifice to God is an afflicted spirit: a contrite and humbled heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.  Deal favourably, O Lord, in thy good will with Sion; that the walls of Jerusalem may be built up. Then shalt thou accept the sacrifice of justice, oblations and whole burnt offerings: then shall they lay calves upon thy altar. (Psalm 50:18-21 DR)

Interpreted in light of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we do not offer it merely in its objective form (which is of course always perfect, being the perfect Sacrifice of Christ) but, with a contrite and humble heart.  And one cannot have a contrite and humble heart and yet hate his brother. Humility and meekness will lead us to see our own faults, the “beam in our own eye” (cf. Matt 7:3) and, in turn, remove our judgment of others.” For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matt 7:2)

We see here an application of the beatitudes (Blessed are the meek), explained in the Sermon, and lived in the life of the Church.  We would do well to reflect on the Sermon often, and let these things come to light in our hearts.

Sermon on the Mount Part 2

“And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him. And opening his mouth, he taught them…” (Matt 5:1-2) This is the way we are introduced to the Sermon on the Mount, which has often been called a summary of the Gospel.  And the beatitudes, first in the Sermon, have been called a summary of the Sermon on the Mount.  We could easily devote our entire study to them, and in fact, several of the major religious orders see them as the primary subject of meditation and contemplation, both at the beginning of the religious life and throughout.

Of course, upon first reading the beatitudes, we may find it difficult to make sense of them, seeing them as perhaps nothing more than pious platitudes. “Blessed are the poor? Blessed are those who mourn?”

The first thing we must see is that these are not a random list of “blesseds.” When we read the commentary of such saints as Augustine of Hippo and Thomas Aquinas, we see a remarkable unity and order to the beatitudes.  As Fr. Pinkaers says in reflecting on Augustine’s commentary, “St. Augustine establishes an ascending order of beatitudes…The journey begins with humility, taught in the first beatitude, and gradually mounts, passing through a loving and docile openness to the Word of God, …to wisdom or the contemplation of truth which gives peace to man and makes him like God” (p.189-190).

In other words, the entire spiritual life can be seen to be contained in the beatitudes.  Likewise, all of Christian morality can be found in the beatitudes.  The rest of the Sermon on the Mount, in fact, is an exposition of particulars and application of that which is contained in the beatitudes.  Thus, before Jesus goes on to give us examples of living out this spirituality, He says, “Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matt 5:17)

What follows the beatitudes, although we will hear the words “You have heard it said…but I say to you,” are not intended to abolish, but to fulfill, what is said in the Old Law, in the Torah, in the Ten Commandments.  The heart, reflecting upon the beatitudes, and conforming itself with them, will understand the entire Sermon on the Mount as showing forth what the Old Law always intended; a heart formed by love, and not a list of rules to be followed merely out of fear.”

As the first Psalm says, we are blessed when we meditate on the law of the Lord. The beatitudes likewise tell us we are blessed, because, conforming our hearts to Christ, we begin to live with, through, and in Him, and this is the goal of our striving. “Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.”

Sermon on the Mount Part 1

Blessed is the man who hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the chair of pestilence. But his will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night. (Psalm 1)

It is well that we meditate on the law of Christ, and there is no place we find this more profoundly written than in the Sermon on the Mount, especially as given in Matthew’s Gospel in the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters.  “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him. And opening his mouth, he taught them…” (Matt 5:1-2)

In Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth Volume I, he says, reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount, that “In a word, the true morality of Christianity is Love.” (p.99) “The law of the Lord” is therefore none other than the law of Christ, which is why the pope can say just before this that “…the Sermon on the Mount is a hidden Christology.” (p.99)

Too often we are of the opinion that morality is a set of rules.  While it is true that there are certainly objective “dos and don’ts in the way we should live, these are a means, and not the end.  The end is love, for the end is God, and “God is love.” (1John4:8) In fact, the verse stated in full says that “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  Therefore, our focus in the weeks that follow will be to learn the truth that “…in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 7:12)

To truly understand any of this, we must make it our primary task in life to know Christ. As Thomas a Kempis says in The Imitation of Christ, “He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, saith the Lord. These are the words of Christ; and they teach us how far we must imitate His life and character, if we seek true illumination, and deliverance from all blindness of heart. Let it be our most earnest study, therefore, to dwell upon the life of Jesus Christ.”

This in fact could be seen as a commentary on the first Psalm; “Blessed is the man who, on his law, shall meditate day and night” We will return many times to the first Psalm in the course of our reflections, for it is a short prayer that reflects on our ultimate end, of which there are only two.  There is the way of those that love God and neighbor, and live in Christ, seeing Christ in others and loving them.  Those who live in Christ are made righteous, and will inherit the Kingdom of God. “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.”

We are told, in the Sermon, something that should sound alarming, even shocking, to us, if we take it seriously.  “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”(Matt 5:20) He goes on to command us to “Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt 5:28)

“And Jesus beholding, said to them: With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible.” Thanks be to God and the grace merited by His Son on our behalf. Let us thank “Our Father, Who art in Heaven…”

Natural Law and Virtue

St. Thomas, in Question 94 (I-II) explains, quoting St. Augustine, that the natural law cannot be blotted out or effaced, written as it is on our hearts. What’s then, is the importance, in light of the permanence of natural law, of our intentional growth in virtue?

“Virtue is that powers utmost extent. The utmost extent is that to which a power reaches in order to perform a perfect operation, and that in turn is the operation’s being good. Clearly then each things virtue is that through which it produces a good operation. (Disputed Questions on Virtue, Aquinas).”

To be good is simply to mean that which we are meant to be. A good clock keeps time because that is what a clock is meant to do. A good man, likewise, is meant by nature to do certain things. But unlike artifacts, man has free will and with that, habits.

But since man is endowed with intelligence and determines his own ends, it is up to him to put himself in tune with the ends necessarily demanded by his nature. This means that there is, by the very virtue of human nature, an order or a disposition which human reason can discover and according to which the human will must act in order to attune itself to the essential and necessary ends of the human being. (Man and the State, J. Maritain)

Of course, for Thomas Aquinas, habits are more than they are to us today. Nevertheless, as creatures who, to some extent, determine their own end through free will, but are also made for a purpose by their Creator, we must develop habits that lead us to act in conformity with that end, or rather, the development of virtue helps us to attain the one end that is both determined for us and that we determine ourselves towards.

Servias Pinckaers uses the wonderful example of a piano player as a means to show what virtue can do for someone who seeks true freedom towards a specific end:

In the beginning the child, despite the desire to learn will often feel that the lessons and exercises as a constraint imposed on freedom and the attractions of the moment. There are times when practice has to be insisted upon…Of course, anyone is free to bang out notes haphazardly on the piano, as the fancy strikes him. But this is a rudimentary, savage sort of freedom… On the other hand, the person who really possesses the art of playing the piano has acquired a new freedom. (The Sources of Christian Ethics, p.355)

We see, then, that to truly be free to attain the very ends we were both made for and should aspire to attain to, that our freedom involves both a responsibility and a joy in becoming what we are meant to be. It should come as no surprise that, at the same time a new teaching on freedom overtook society (a freedom which emphasizes indifference rather than excellence) the virtues fell out of common knowledge and pursuit.

If we are to once again become a culture that seeks excellence, we must be a culture that strives after virtue. We are meant to be something, and we are meant to have a part becoming that something. We are truly both what we are (as created) and what we make of ourselves: a sort of theistic existentialism. Made in the image of God, we are meant to be free, but free to be what He made us to be.

Philosopher Kings

Although in reality The Republic is about justice, it certainly is about politics.  The first thing we should not fail to notice here is that they must go hand in hand, and are related in the deepest way.

Justice has to do with rights, because it is the giving to others what is their due.  This much is simple. The problem, however, lies in the fact that most people think they are “due” something, and perhaps others are as well.  But they seem to have no solid basis on which to found these rights.

Only from a failure to understand this can we include such “rights” as a woman’s to kill the unborn and reject those of the unborn themselves.  Our rights, in reality, are a gift. In no way can we know our rights, then, apart from knowing something of the giver.

Pope St. Pius X told us something in his encyclical Vehementor Nos (2/11/1906) that many today would reject (including, sadly, many Catholics) : “That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Remove the agreement between Church and State, … it will become more difficult to see where the truth lies, and great confusion is certain to arise. Finally, this thesis inflicts great injury on society itself, for it cannot either prosper or last long when due place is not left for religion, which is the supreme rule and the sovereign mistress in all questions touching the rights and the duties of men. Hence the Roman Pontiffs have never ceased, as circumstances required, to refute and condemn the doctrine of the separation of Church and State.”

The pope was not advocating a pure theocracy, by any means.  Aristotle called the political body the perfect society, and in the way he meant it, we should agree.  After all, it is for the purpose of the common good, and is the highest realization of the highest good in its sphere (i.e., the temporal world).  Of course, our eternal and complete highest good is primarily individual, although common as well, in the beatific vision.

I hope to expand on the above in the future, since I have laid out many objectionable claims with little depth as of yet.  But in simple terms, an effect will not exceed its cause (or the sum of its causes, if we decide to term it that way).  While I think much of Plato’s idealistic society was not only erroneous but repugnant, especially in many of its details, he was certainly correct in saying that there will be no just societies until kings become philosophers or philosophers become kings. On a related note,Thucydides told us that “That [state] which separates its scholars from its warriors will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”  A philosopher, in fact, is a lover of wisdom, and no wisdom should be more loved or better known than Wisdom itself.
Until we are led by those who know and honor the Creator, who is Just by nature, we will never have a just society. After all, in the Eternal City, we will not be ruled by a democracy, but by submission to a wise King.

Universals, Nominalism, and Natural Law

It has been said that the question of universals was the question of the Scholastics.  Sadly, it seems to have ended with the winner (at least as far as unaware secular society is concerned) being the nominalism of Ockham (which I would attribute the beginnings of his errors to Scotus, as I believe our current Pope did in a lecture some time back).

After reading Servias Pinckaers’ masterpiece The Sources of Christian Ethics, I had been enlightened into how this rejection of universals (for all practical purposes) forever changed the world’s outlook on morals and made God (if He still existed) into an arbitrary dictator at best.

Certainly, in the realm of natural law, it will be hard to justify the truth of natural law as related to human nature if no such thing as human nature can be affirmed.

In my theological and philosophical studies, probably no single sentence has affected me more than one written by Ettiene Gilson in his book The Unity of Philosophical Experience:

When and where piety is permitted to inundate the philosophical field, the usual outcome is that, to better extol the glory of God, pious-minded theologians proceed joyfully to annihilate God’s own creation (pg. 30)

However, the Catholic position, rightly taken from the encyclical Faith and Reason, is well stated here:

The unity of truth is a fundamental premise of human reasoning, as the principle of non-contradiction makes clear. (notice the appearance of the important foundation of non-contradiction) Revelation renders this unity certain, showing that the God of creation is also the God of salvation history. It is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (34)

Ockham seems to me to have been one such “pious-minded theologian.” The result has been a separation of faith and reason.  We can no longer affirm natural law.  We can no longer say that is implies ought.  The secular world has had a field day with this.  On the other side, especially among the reformers and those who follow the protestant tradition, every truth must now come from the Bible, and reason is looked upon with suspicion.

Fr. Coplestone points out what happened quite clearly:

Of course, in all medieval systems of thought the uniformity and regularity of natural processes were regarded as contingent in as much as the possibility of God’s miraculous intervention was admitted by all Christian thinkers. But the metaphysics of essence had conferred on nature the comparative stability to which Ockham deprived it. With him relations and connections in nature were really reduced to the coexistence or successive existence of absolutes. And in the light of the divine omnipotence, believed on faith, the contingency of relations and of order in nature was seen as the expression of the all-powerful will of God. (History of Philosophy Vol. III)

All sorts of philosophies have followed this arbitrary connection between God’s creation and what it does, such as occasionalism, etc.  We see it in Descartes’ (almost fictional) connection between the mind and the body.  We see it leading to both empiricism and idealism, depending on its interpreter. But the point is, if universals are not something that is truly objective in “the things themselves,” we either have an arbitrary God or no god at all; neither is conducive to establishing natural law.

How to read the Summa (and the Scholastics in general)

The Summa Contra Gentiles is fairly straightforward, and reads in a similar way to a more contemporary work, so we will focus here on the Summa Theologica.  The Summa Theologica, as well as the majority of Thomas’ writings there are generally Questions containing several Articles, which have the following general outline:

1. Article

2. Objections

3. “On the contrary” (Sed contra)

4. “I respond that” (Respondeo)

5. Replies to the Objections

One way to quickly see Thomas’ stand on each question is to read through the Sed contra of each article within a Question (sometimes it helps to look at the beginning of the Respondeo as well if the answer isn’t clear enough in the Sed contra).  If we take the second Question of the Summa, we might read it like this:

Question 2. The existence of God

1. Is the proposition “God exists” self-evident?

2. Is it demonstrable?

3. Does God exist?

Article 1. Whether the existence of God is self-evident?

On the contrary, No one can mentally admit the opposite of what is self-evident; as the Philosopher (Metaph. iv, lect. vi) states concerning the first principles of demonstration. But the opposite of the proposition “God is” can be mentally admitted: “The fool said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 52:1). Therefore, that God exists is not self-evident.

Article 2. Whether it can be demonstrated that God exists?

On the contrary, The Apostle says: “The invisible things of Him are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). But this would not be unless the existence of God could be demonstrated through the things that are made; for the first thing we must know of anything is whether it exists.

Article 3. Whether God exists?

On the contrary, It is said in the person of God: “I am Who am.” (Exodus 3:14)

I answer that, The existence of God can be proved in five ways.

WE NOW KNOW THOMAS’ GENERAL VIEW OF THE QUESTION ON THE EXISTENCE OF GOD. (This is important, because many can become confused while reading Thomas’ objections, that are often so strong as to make one think that the objection is Thomas’ position)

There are different techniques to reading each article as well, besides simply reading straight through.  Often, within each article, one finds it easier to read the Sed contra and Respondea first, and then read each Objection and its Reply.

Lets take Article 1 of the second Question in the Summa, and read it in this way:

Article 1. Whether the existence of God is self-evident?

No one can mentally admit the opposite of what is self-evident; as the Philosopher (Metaph. iv, lect. vi) states concerning the first principles of demonstration. But the opposite of the proposition “God is” can be mentally admitted: “The fool said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 52:1). Therefore, that God exists is not self-evident.

I answer that, A thing can be self-evident in either of two ways: on the one hand, self-evident in itself, though not to us; on the other, self-evident in itself, and to us. A proposition is self-evident because the predicate is included in the essence of the subject, as “Man is an animal,” for animal is contained in the essence of man. If, therefore the essence of the predicate and subject be known to all, the proposition will be self-evident to all; as is clear with regard to the first principles of demonstration, the terms of which are common things that no one is ignorant of, such as being and non-being, whole and part, and such like. If, however, there are some to whom the essence of the predicate and subject is unknown, the proposition will be self-evident in itself, but not to those who do not know the meaning of the predicate and subject of the proposition. Therefore, it happens, as Boethius says (Hebdom., the title of which is: “Whether all that is, is good”), “that there are some mental concepts self-evident only to the learned, as that incorporeal substances are not in space.” Therefore I say that this proposition, “God exists,” of itself is self-evident, for the predicate is the same as the subject, because God is His own existence as will be hereafter shown (3, 4). Now because we do not know the essence of God, the proposition is not self-evident to us; but needs to be demonstrated by things that are more known to us, though less known in their nature — namely, by effects.


Objection 1. It seems that the existence of God is self-evident. Now those things are said to be self-evident to us the knowledge of which is naturally implanted in us, as we can see in regard to first principles. But as Damascene says (De Fide Orth. i, 1,3), “the knowledge of God is naturally implanted in all.” Therefore the existence of God is self-evident.

Reply to Objection 1. To know that God exists in a general and confused way is implanted in us by nature, inasmuch as God is man’s beatitude. For man naturally desires happiness, and what is naturally desired by man must be naturally known to him. This, however, is not to know absolutely that God exists; just as to know that someone is approaching is not the same as to know that Peter is approaching, even though it is Peter who is approaching; for many there are who imagine that man’s perfect good which is happiness, consists in riches, and others in pleasures, and others in something else.

Objection 2. Further, those things are said to be self-evident which are known as soon as the terms are known, which the Philosopher (1 Poster. iii) says is true of the first principles of demonstration. Thus, when the nature of a whole and of a part is known, it is at once recognized that every whole is greater than its part. But as soon as the signification of the word “God” is understood, it is at once seen that God exists. For by this word is signified that thing than which nothing greater can be conceived. But that which exists actually and mentally is greater than that which exists only mentally. Therefore, since as soon as the word “God” is understood it exists mentally, it also follows that it exists actually. Therefore the proposition “God exists” is self-evident.

Reply to Objection 2. Perhaps not everyone who hears this word “God” understands it to signify something than which nothing greater can be thought, seeing that some have believed God to be a body. Yet, granted that everyone understands that by this word “God” is signified something than which nothing greater can be thought, nevertheless, it does not therefore follow that he understands that what the word signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally. Nor can it be argued that it actually exists, unless it be admitted that there actually exists something than which nothing greater can be thought; and this precisely is not admitted by those who hold that God does not exist.

Objection 3. Further, the existence of truth is self-evident. For whoever denies the existence of truth grants that truth does not exist: and, if truth does not exist, then the proposition “Truth does not exist” is true: and if there is anything true, there must be truth. But God is truth itself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) Therefore “God exists” is self-evident.

Reply to Objection 3. The existence of truth in general is self-evident but the existence of a Primal Truth is not self-evident to us.

Of course, this is not the only technique for reading the scholastic style.  I would certainly suggest reading the questions and articles more than once, and once familiar with the outline, one should try to read each article in order, for seeing the objections up front can give context to the problem.

Certainly it can help to read summaries (summas of the Summa) as I recommended HERE.

Hope this helps, and feel free to ask questions.