Hunter/Dogmatic Theology/I/VII

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Outlines of Dogmatic Theology


73. Subject of the Chapter. — In this chapter the force of the word "certain" is sketched, and it is shown that the Christian Revelation is shown to be Divine with full certainty.

74. Definitions. — We will now see what has been proved by the preceding chapters. We maintain that miracles and prophecies render it certain that the Christian Revelation is Divine: is the voice of God speaking to His creature, and demanding attention and submission. The argument admits of indefinite development, but enough has been said to show its nature. This all-important word certain, however, admits of a variety of meanings, which must be clearly understood. If I consider a question which admits of only two answers, Yes and No, I may see that there are reasons in favour of Yes and reasons in favour of No, and if these reasons are equally balanced, or nearly so, I am left in doubt as to the answer, and am in no sense certain. But it may be that, although I see something in favour of No, yet the reasons that favour Yes are so far predominant that I have no hesitation in acting as if Yes were the truth, at the same time that I feel a misgiving which I recognize as prudent, that possibly No may be the truth. In this case I am said to be morally certain of the answer Yes, in one sense, and that the looser and lower, of that much abused term; I have a sort of certainty sufficient to direct my conduct (mores). If I pay money into a bank in good repute, I am morally certain that my cheques will be honoured. A Christian must have more than this lower sort of moral certainty of the fact that God has spoken: as will be explained in the Treatise on Faith.

But I may see that the reasons in favour of Yes so far exceed those that favour No, that I cannot prudently attach any weight to these latter. If I pleased, I might by an effort of the will withdraw my attention from all that favours Yes, and fix my attention upon what favours No, but I feel that such a use of my will would be imprudent, and not according to reason: I am then certain of the affirmative in the proper sense of the term. The reasons for the affirmative may be derived from the nature of things, and the certainty is termed metaphysical; or from the rules by which inanimate and irrational beings act, and it is called physical; or it is moral, derived from what we know of the conduct of beings that are rational and free. Thus the immortality of the soul is metaphysically certain; that the fire will burn me if I touch it, is physically certain; while it is morally certain that my bank has failed, if the newspapers continue for three days to discuss the calamity. The action of those concerned in getting up the papers is free, but it would be imprudent in me to cling to any hope that they were conspiring to mislead the public. It is in this sense that we assert the Divine origin of the Christian religion to be certain, with moral certainty.

Lastly, the reasons for the affirmative may so wholly outweigh those for the negative as to destroy them, or rather, there may be strong reasons for the affirmative, and no reasons at all that make for the negative. When the thing comes before me in this shape it is said to be evident, and no effort of my will can avail to hinder my assenting. The axioms of geometry are metaphysically evident: the power of fire to burn is physically evident: the existence of America is morally evident to those who have never visited the country.

75. Cogency of the Argument. — In all these discussions it is understood that the matter is sufficiently proposed to me before I form a judgment: reasons of which I know nothing are to me non-existent, and do not affect my judgment. In saying that the laws of motion are physically certain, we mean to assert our belief that no normally constituted man can without imprudence doubt them, when what is to be said upon the subject is brought to his notice. So with the Christian evidences, we believe that no normally constituted man can know and weigh them, and yet believe that it would be consistent with prudence to doubt their force. The matter is not evident: it does not force itself on the intellect, but the will can, if it pleases, withdraw attention from the argument in favour of the Christian claim and fix it on imaginary difficulties. If it were evident, the act of faith would no longer be free, and the whole economy of the Christian scheme would be upset. (See n. 316.) But although not evident, the Revelation cannot prudently be rejected, and there is therefore a duty to accept it with all its consequences. What these consequences are we shall inquire in future Treatises; accepting as a Divine message whatever comes to us, mediately or immediately, from Christ our Lord.

The fourth and fifth canons, on Faith, of the Vatican Council contain among other things the doctrine of this chapter. (Denz. 1660, 1661.) The whole matter belongs more properly to the sixth Treatise, on Faith, to which the reader is referred; but it seemed convenient to sum up the result of our first Treatise in this place.

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