Does Theology Retard One’s Ability To Do Philosophy Well?


Pope Leo XIII wrote a marvelous encyclical, Aeterni Partis, which has to do with the restoration of Christian philosophy.

In it he responds to the objection that one’s commitment to theology hampers one’s ability to do philosophy well. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard people try to discredit St. Thomas Aquinas in this way: “Thomas was under the thumb of the Church and so we can dismiss his work as a philosopher.”

Not only does this commit the genetic fallacy (where one seeks to invalidate a conclusion based solely on how it originated), it’s actually not necessarily true that theology inhibits philosophy.

Here’s what Pope Leo XIII has to say on the matter:

We know that there are some who, in their overestimate of the human faculties, maintain that as soon as man’s intellect becomes subject to divine authority it falls from its native dignity, and hampered by the yoke of this species of slavery, is much retarded and hindered in its progress toward the supreme truth and excellence.

Such an idea is most false and deceptive, and its sole tendency is to induce foolish and ungrateful men willfully to repudiate the most sublime truths, and reject the divine gift of faith, from which the fountains of all good things flow out upon civil society. For the human mind, being confined within certain limits, and those narrow enough, is exposed to many errors and is ignorant of many things; whereas the Christian faith, reposing on the authority of God, is the unfailing mistress of truth, whom who so followeth he will be neither enmeshed in the snares of error nor tossed hither and thither on the waves of fluctuating opinion.

Those, therefore, 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 detracts in nowise from its dignity, but adds greatly to its nobility, keenness, and stability.


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