Sunday, March 3, 2013

On "Theistic Rationalism"

Marcus Tullius Cicero [106 BCE – 43 BCE]:
A human being was endowed by the supreme god with a grand status at the time of its creation. It alone of all types and varieties of animate creatures has a share in reason and thought, which all the others lack. What is there, not just in humans, but in all heaven and earth, more divine than reason? When it has matured and come to perfection, it is properly named wisdom. . . . Reason forms the bond between human and god.
The Romans didn't use capital letters, so we can't know if Cicero would have capitalized "God." [What did he mean by the supreme god?  If they used capital letters, would He get one?]

What we do know is that from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas [natch!] to John Locke to Thomas Paine, man's reason is believed to be God-given---and when a man uses "right reason," he participates in the divine. God is logical, and doesn't violate his own rules, cannot violate logic. The universe makes sense.  There is a [one] God and it all makes sense if you tap your noodle. Theistic rationalism. The best of the Greek and Roman traditions were Aristotle and Cicero, culminating here in what is called "natural theology."  Not just Aquinas but the early Church---and Paul the Apostle of the epistles---saw Christianity as the fulfillment of not just the Hebrew scriptures, but of the best of Greco-Roman theo-philosophy---of reason itself!

Reason meets revelation, the philosophers shake hands with the scriptures.  What's not to like?

There's nothing wrong with "theistic rationalism" as a descriptive term but it was "natural theology" long before the American Founding, and as we see, it fits Christians and non-Christians as well.  It tells us something, but not enough.  John Locke is more religious---Christian---than Aristotle.

That's all. No big revelation here. And you don't need the "divine revelation" of holy books like the Bible to figure out what "right reason" might be. Aristotle, Cicero and Paine all stipulated the idea that truth---and a natural law---exist without divine revelation [Paine despite it!], i.e., a Bible. The sky is blue. These days not so much, but back in the Founding days, they all agreed it was.

[Whatever "blue" means, but that's another discussion, eh?]


jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "What we do know is that from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas [natch!] to John Locke to Thomas Paine, man's reason is believed to be God-given"

I don't think that Aristotle fits this model. I don't recall him mentioning God, or the gods, as creator (or creators) of man. I seem to recall that A's God was the Prime Mover or Unmoved Mover responsible for getting things going and even keeping things in motion, but I don't think that A's God was active in the world or the creator of man's intellect or reason.

But, if you can point me in the right direction.....

Tom Van Dyke said...

Perhaps you can help me phrase it better. I'm getting at nous.

jimmiraybob said...

Victor Caston (Brown University) provides some insight (1) into Aristotle’s conception of nous, or intellect, and some history of how Aristotle’s De anima (2) has been received and interpreted. Caston presents an analysis of some previous views and of the text itself and concludes (p. 224):

“In sum, De anima 3.5 voices a familiar set of Aristotelian themes, namely, the similarity and difference between the human and the divine. The chapter thus concerns two separate species of mind, and not divisions within a mind. More importantly, it does not involve what we would call a 'causal' relation. It is one of final causality, which Aristotle controversially believes is the primary and ultimate explanation of why there is change in the first place.

“Had those brief 15 lines constituting chapter 5 dropped out of the tradition, I do not believe we would have missed anything significant as regards the psychological mechanisms of thought. But we would have missed something of great importance to Aristotle: namely, how mind fits into the world and where it tends, and above all, how we, like the heavenly spheres, are moved in all we do through our imperfect imitation of God.”

1) Victor Caston, 1999. Aristotle’s Two Intellects; a Modest Proposal. Phronesis; a Journal of Ancient Philosophy. XLIV/3. pgs. 199-227.,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bvm=bv.43148975,d.b2U&fp=880e1274df72a191&biw=1333&bih=607

2) General background:

and for some more insight on actualities, potentialities, mechanisms, etc., this seems pretty good if you have an hour or so (YouTube lecture video):

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx. I think what I was getting at is more in Aristotle's Metaphysics, but basically it was simply to bring him under the umbrella with Cicero and Aquinas, that intellection is man's highest activity, participation in or with the divine mind.

The point holds with or without Aristotle, I believe, so better just to delete him.

Hostility to reason can be found in a surface reading of Luther or Calvin, but not in their successors/colleagues such as Melanchthon, Beza, and Peter Martyr [Vermigli], and certainly not in Aquinas' Schoolmen. What I'm getting at is we do not need Enlightenment-style deism to arrive at a "theistic rationalism." Aquinas and the Schoolmen's project is to reconcile Christian scripture with the best and truest of Greco-Roman thought and "natural theology." And the Protestant Reformation, in disavowing the Roman Church's divine authority to interpret and regulate the content of scripture, makes "every man a minister," so aside from claiming divine revelation himself, every minister is going to have to apply his reason to the scriptures.

Hence, Gregg Frazer's definition of normative Christianity at the time of the Founding generally holds, but as we see, Christian Unitarians also claim that scripture denies the Trinity.

So whether inspired by the Holy Spirit or using their God-given reason, somebody's wrong, but it's not the historian's job to decide who.

Thx for your research.

Jason Pappas said...

Good points Tom ... now I don't have to make them.

One a minor point, I believe Cicero was indeed a monotheist but don't remember the details of his personal religion. However, even Greek/Roman polytheists use the singular at times in which case they are referring to Zeus (or Jove) as the "big guy." Of course, Zeus and Deus have similar etymological roots.