Listers, the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church is the Queen of the Sciences, and all other sciences are her handmaidens. I would again like to stress that this article is an introduction to the vocabulary and principles of Catholic thought. While it is a platform for apologetics, it is not in itself apologetic in tone. As with the first post, the following is taken from the very first question of St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica. Let us remember Catholicism is not just another system of beliefs, but the proper view of reality.
Queen of the Sciences: Understanding the Throne of Theology [Part 1]
1. What is a science?
We have spoken of the architect, but how should we articulate the knowledge of architecture? We may refer to architecture as a science. Any organized body of knowledge that is known through its causes may be called a science. So just as architecture is a body of knowledge that refers to certain principles or causes in the art of construction, biology is said to be the body of knowledge that deals with the observable principles of life, and so on for any science.
2. How do the sciences differ from one another?
Science can be distinguished according to whether it is practical or speculative. Practical sciences have as their end or goal a certain human activity or product. Architecture, politics, and morality are all practical sciences. Architecture is orientated toward buildings, politics toward a just society whereby all may live well, and moral science is orientated toward right action.
Now, whereas the practical sciences consider human operations, the speculative sciences seek truth and contemplate it for its own sake. Speculative science is threefold: the studies of natural science, the studies of mathematics, and the study of the divine science.
3. Is there a natural order to the sciences?
Let us consider the common ground of architecture and music. Their commonality is found in mathematical principles. Yet, how should we articulate this relationship? St. Thomas teaches “there are some [sciences] which proceed from a principle known by the natural light of the intelligence, such as arithmetic and geometry, and the like.” However, other sciences are not known in this manner, but “proceed from principles known by the light of a higher science.” Mathematics would then be the higher science from which both architecture and music draw their principles.
Simply speaking, arithmetic is the study of number. Geometry would be the study of number in place. Music would then be the study of number in time, while the science of astronomy would be the study of number in place and time. In this hierarchal understanding, a natural order of the sciences takes a definitive shape.
4. Is Sacred Doctrine a science?
While we can acknowledge that sacred doctrine is an organized body of knowledge, what about its causes? St. Thomas raises the following objection: “every science proceeds from self-evident principles. But sacred doctrine proceeds from articles of faith which are not admitted by all.” It seems therefore that sacred doctrine cannot be a science.
However, we have already seen that it is not necessary for a science to have self-evident principles. Arithmetic and the like have self-evident principles, while other sciences are “reducible to the conclusions of a higher science,” as geometry and music are both built upon arithmetic. Therefore, to answer the objection, St. Thomas states, “just as the musician accepts on authority the principles taught him by the mathematician, so sacred science is established on principles revealed by God.” Moreover, “Sacred Doctrine is a science, because it proceeds from principles established by the light of a higher science, namely, the science of God and the blessed.”
Unapologetically, we state that by faith we have certitude in God’s self-revelation, which grants us the truths that are above human reason. These truths, e.g., the Trinity and the Incarnation, are the pillars of divine science, which not only reveals to us those truths that we could not discern from our natural world, but also purifies the natural wisdom humanity did and does discern.
5. Is faith necessary?
Faith is necessary to accept God’s revelation, because those truths exceed the grasp of man’s reason. Moreover, all humanity is orientated toward God; thus the entire divine science is necessary for the salvation of man, as it illuminates those truths about God we would not otherwise know. Man can look at Creation and discern there is a God, but he cannot discern the Trinity or the Incarnation without revelation. However, once those truths are revealed, they are rational, even if they are ultimately mysterious, like the Trinity. For example, on one level we can rationally speak of the Trinity as three persons with one substance, but truly grasping that reality is beyond human comprehension. The very heart of Catholicism’s insistence that faith and reason are harmonious lies in this discussion.
6. Is Sacred Doctrine the Noblest of Sciences?
The science of Sacred Doctrine is primarily a speculative science since it contemplates God and his Truth. However, since God knows both Himself and his works – Creation and man – the divine science is secondarily practical, because it speaks to the activity of humanity.
A science can be higher in two ways: first in the “higher worth of its subject-matter,” and secondly, “reason of its greater certitude.” We spoke at length about the higher ordering the lower sciences in our first discussion regarding architect and the house. Regarding the second point, the divine science differs in certitude from all other sciences, because while other sciences are based on human reason and are subject to error, the divine science as revealed by God and safeguarded by Holy Mother Church –is without the possibility of doctrinal error.
Therefore, the divine science is the queen of the sciences due to its supreme subject matter, the certitude of its truths, and the universality of its principles – for it is the highest wisdom of all sciences since it is itself both a speculative and practical science.
7. Is this a System of Power or Wisdom?
“Knowledge is power” – the banner of our age. While wisdom orders the sciences according to their principles, our modern world only values the sciences that grant us the greatest products. Our esteem of practicality and technology has fragmented our search for truth. Without knowing our Catholic tradition, what science would we claim is highest? Many of us would have defaulted to equating “highest” with “most powerful” or “most productive.”
The Divine Science, our Queen of the Sciences, is not a tyrant seeking to dominate, but a queen who speaks softly. She does not seek to become politics or biology, she simply speaks the higher principles those sciences need to be well ordered – principles that are by definition outside their purview.
8. How does the Queen of the Sciences speak to our world?
We must ask ourselves many questions: Are our universities dedicated to a natural order of learning or to producing economic cogs? How has our predilection for power affected our sciences and our understanding of the human person? Are there any higher principles to guide politics, or is it truly just the will of the people? Our culture is rife with these questions, because we have abandoned the divine science of God, reallocated value according to power and the human will, and separated the sciences into autonomous bodies.
Unfortunately, many Christian ecclesial communities have adopted these modern errors. Disorder begets disorder; thus, as the principle of wisdom was unseated by the human will, the divine science of God disintegrated into a heap of fragmented theologies and opinions. The result is a malformed Christian body all too willing to baptize the old pagan ideologies, while presenting itself to the world as something more akin to a personalized fairy tale than a principled science. Though a critique of Protestantism is just in its own right, I say this more to advise Catholics. There are many within our own ranks that would welcome disorder in Holy Mother Church.
In a world – both secular and Christian – that is progressively seeking to enthrone the human will, we must remember the Queen of the Sciences and her order.
St. Thomas Aquinas, “Light of the Church,” pray for us. HHAmbrose