Question 1: The nature and extent of sacred doctrine.
Sacred Doctrine is Divine Revelation and the Catholic Church says:
Catechism of the Catholic Church #74 God "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth": that is, of Christ Jesus. Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth:
God graciously arranged that the things he had once revealed for the salvation of all peoples should remain in their entirety, throughout the ages, and be transmitted to all generations.
75 "Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips. In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline."
79 The Father's self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: "God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church - and through her in the world - leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness."
One common source. . .
80 "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal."40 Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own "always, to the close of the age".41
The first question addressed by St. Thomas in his summary of the Christian faith is two fold.
1. What is the nature of sacred doctrine?
To put it another way, is Christian doctrine revealed by God? The question is asked primarily by those who, being prompted by the grace of God, are seeking to know about their Creator and the purpose of their lives. Therefore, they want to know and in fact, need to know, whether or not the Teachings of the Catholic Church are without error. Because that is what it means to be of Divine origins. If something can be proved to contain error, then it is not of God. Because God does not err.
So, this question is very important for those who are seeking God.
2. What is the extent of sacred doctrine?
The second part of Question 1, can be restated, in my words, to ask, "does Christian doctrine teach us about God as well as about man?" I think this question is also important to those who are converting to faith in God because they are anxious to know both His will and what is the appropriate response which we should have to His will. Therefore, they want to know whether the Teachings of the Catholic Church have Divine authority over our lives.
St. Thomas examines those two questions in even finer detail. He asks ten question which deal with the nature and extent of sacred doctrine. They are as follows:
- Is it necessary?
- Is it a science?
- Is it one or many?
- Is it speculative or practical?
- How it is compared with other sciences?
- Is it the same as wisdom?
- Is God its subject-matter?
- Is it a matter of argument?
- Does it rightly employ metaphors and similes?
- May the Sacred Scripture of this doctrine be expounded in different senses?
In the weeks to come, I will attempt to make sense of his explanations by breaking them down into the major points and rewriting them in my own words. This is primarily for my own understanding. But, perhaps, they will help you as well.
If I would dare to critique the Angelic Doctor, it is that I have not found a direct answer to Question 1. I was hoping to see something like this:
Sacred Doctrine is of divine origins and thus of divine nature. But it must be expressed in human terms in order that human beings may understand the message which is being conveyed. Sacred Doctrine extends into the heavenly realms and truthfully and without error expresses the mysteries of God as far as they can be understood in human terms. But it also delves into the deepest mysteries of God's creatures, revealing things about this world and about ourselves that we would not know unless they were revealed by God. Therefore, Sacred Doctrine's extent is infinite both up to the heavens and inwards to our very souls.
I believe that the answers to those ten questions can be summarized in that which I put in italics, above.