Question #150: Weird Thoughts for Serious Students

Fr. Edlefsen's Sunday Column
April 20, 2018

The Summa Theologiae. It’s St. Thomas Aquinas’ (1225-1274) masterwork.  Not many of you have read it, I suppose.  But I hope you do – at least some of it.  Chock-full of wisdom, it nonetheless reads like something published by Wildside Press.  Maybe I’m the only person in 800 years to think that the Summa is funny and weird.  But I do.  Some people think I’m a serious student of St. Thomas, but in truth I’m a non-serious student.  His “Objections” to some “Questions” make me laugh.  When I read Thomas, I wonder: Is he serious?  Or is he mocking me?  Is this scholastic theology or satire?  I’m often unsure.  Are we suckers for taking him seriously?

It’s been said that St. Thomas’ bloodline and my mother’s – the House of Savoie (Savoy) – were mixed.  Savoies hail from the Duchy of Savoie, which is like a prototype of Leonard Wibberley’s fictitious Duchy of Grand Fenwick in The Mouse that Roared.  In the story, the Duchy pondered propping a fake Communist Party in order to get U.S. funding to squelch it.  Instead, the Duchy one-upped the USA and USSR with an inadvertently captured Q Bomb that was really a dud.  Savoies are like that.  The last Antipope was a Savoie: Felix V.  From 1439-1449, he thought himself St. Peter’s successor from a chateau on Lake Geneva.  Not bad.  Mix that gene pool with Italians in the House of Staufen, which included Holy Roman Emperors Frederick I, Henry VI and Frederick II – predecessors of the Antichrist.  St. Thomas was born of that line in Roccasecca in central Italy which, at the time, was part of the Kingdom of Sicily. When these bloodlines mix – and ask transcendental questions, to boot (“What is God?” the boy Thomas would ask) – you get seriously theological satire.  Therefore, my suspicions about St. Thomas are warranted.  It’s hard to tell if those folks are serious or mocking. They go from seriousness to satire without your noticing.  Beware of their questions.  Savoies are Italians of French culture from the Land of Firs, the Alps.  They have hints of Byzantine, so take little of what they say at face value (which is why most Savoies need a good lawyer).  Thomas was German of Italian culture: satirical and crisp at once.  He was called the “dumb ox.”  But that’s a put-on.  I call him the Cousin.

Here’s how the Cousin works: He starts with a Question, which is really a topic.  The Question is explored in a series of Articles, which are questions that are really statements about the Question.  Beneath each Article (question) is a series of Objections – i.e. the arguments of the Cousin’s opponents. The Cousin doesn’t like direct hits, like the Irish.  Rather, he makes better arguments for his opponents than they make for themselves, which subtly makes them look foolish.  For example, take Question 22, Article 1 of the First Part of the Summa: “Whether providence can suitably be attributed to God?”

Objection 1.  It seems that providence is not becoming to God.  For providence, according to Tully (Cicero), is a part of prudence.  But prudence, since, according to the Philosopher (Aristotle) gives good counsel, cannot belong to God, who never has any doubt for which He should take counsel. Therefore providence cannot belong to God.

That’s a darned good argument. It’s also ridiculous.  Remarkable irony!

After his lineup of Objections, he states a Sed Contra (On the contrary) – an argument summarizing the reason(s) why he thinks the Objections are wrong.  The Cousin thinks that arguments from authority are real arguments, though the weakest. With an exception: Arguments from God’s Authority and Church Teaching are the strongest.  For example, see the Sed Contra to Question 22.  The Cousin quotes the Bible:

On the contrary, It is said, “But You, Father, govern all things by providence” (Wisdom 14:3).

Well, that settles that. Then, he makes a Respondeo (I answer that) explaining his position in detail.  The Respondeo begins like this:

I answer that, It is necessary to attribute providence to God.  For all the good that is in created things has been created by God…In created things good is found not only as regards their substance, but also as regards their order towards an end and especially their last end, which…is the divine goodness…

Crisp.  Cogent.  Then he makes a series of Replies to each Objection.  For example:

Reply to Objection 1.  According to the Philosopher (Aristotle), “Prudence is what, strictly speaking, commands all that ‘ebulia’  (right reason) has rightly counseled and ‘synesis’ (good conscience) rightly judged.”  Whence, though to take counsel may not be fitting to God, from the fact that counsel is an inquiry into matters that are doubtful, nevertheless to give a command as to the ordering of things towards an end, the right reason of which He possesses, does belong to God, according to Psalm 148:6: “He has made a decree, and it shall not pass away.”  In this manner both prudence and providence belong to God.  Although at the same time it may be said that the very reason of things to be done is called counsel in God; not because of any inquiry necessitated, but from the certitude of the knowledge, to which those who take counsel come by inquiry.  Whence it is said: “Who works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

Ha!  That’s razor sharp reason.  If you don’t get it, don’t worry.  You’ve got the rest of your life to figure it out.  That said, I’ll give you a full run on an entire Article from the Second Part of the Second Part of the Summa.  Have fun!

Question 150: Drunkenness

Article 1. Whether drunkenness is a sin?

Objection 1. It would seem that drunkenness is not a sin. For every sin has a corresponding contrary sin, thus timidity is opposed to daring, and presumption to pusillanimity. But no sin is opposed to drunkenness. Therefore drunkenness is not a sin.

Objection 2. Further, every sin is voluntary (St. Augustine). But no man wishes to be drunk, since no man wishes to be deprived of the use of reason. Therefore drunkenness is not a sin.

Objection 3. Further, whoever causes another to sin, sins himself. Therefore, if drunkenness were a sin, it would follow that it is a sin to ask a man to drink that which makes him drunk, which would seem very hard.

Objection 4. Further, every sin calls for correction. But correction is not applied to drunkards, for St. Gregory says that "we must put up with their ways, lest they become worse if they be compelled to give up the habit."  Therefore drunkenness is not a sin.

On the contrary, The Apostle says, “Not in orgies and drunkenness” (Romans 13:13).

I answer that, Drunkenness may be understood in two ways. First, it may signify the defect itself of a man resulting from his drinking much wine, the consequence being that he loses the use of reason. On this sense drunkenness denotes not a sin, but a penal defect resulting from a fault. Secondly, drunkenness may denote the act by which a man incurs this defect. This act may cause drunkenness in two ways. On one way, through the wine being too strong, without the drinker being cognizant of this: and in this way too, drunkenness may occur without sin, especially if it is not through his negligence, and thus we believe that Noah was made drunk as related in Genesis 9. On another way drunkenness may result from inordinate concupiscence and use of wine: in this way it is accounted a sin, and is comprised under gluttony as a species under its genus. For gluttony is divided into "orgies and drunkenness," which are forbidden by the Apostle.

Reply to Objection 1. As the Philosopher (Aristotle) says, insensibility which is opposed to temperance "is not very common," so that like its species which are opposed to the species of intemperance it has no name. Hence the vice opposed to drunkenness is unnamed; and yet if a man were knowingly to abstain from wine to the extent of irritating nature grievously, he would not be free from sin.

Reply to Objection 2. This objection regards the resulting defect which is involuntary: whereas immoderate use of wine is voluntary, and it is in this that the sin consists.

Reply to Objection 3. Even as he that is drunk is excused if he knows not the strength of the wine, so too is he that invites another to drink excused from sin, if he be unaware that the drinker is the kind of person to be made drunk by the drink offered. But if ignorance be lacking neither is excused from sin.

Reply to Objection 4. Sometimes the correction of a sinner is to be foregone, as stated above (Question 33, Article 6). Hence Augustine says in a letter, “It seems such things are cured not by bitterness, severity, harshness, but by teaching rather than commanding, by advice rather than threats. Such is the course to be followed with the majority of sinners: few are they whose sins should be treated with severity."

Fr. Frederick Edlefsen, Pastor