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Article Seven

Whether the Articles of Faith have Increased with the Passing of Time

We proceed to the seventh article thus:

1. It seems that the articles of faith have not increased with the passing of time. The apostle says in Heb. 11:1, “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Now the same things are to be hoped for at all times. It follows that the same things are to be believed at all times.

2. Again, as the philosopher explains in i Metaph., texts i and 2, the sciences which men have devised have grown because of the limited knowledge of those who invented them. But the doctrine of the faith was not invented by man, since it is a bequest from God. As it is said in Eph. 2:8, “it is the gift of God.” Knowledge of the things of faith must therefore have been perfect from the beginning, since there cannot be any limitation of knowledge in God.

3. Again, the operation of grace is not less orderly than the operation of nature. Now nature always begins from the perfect, as Boethius says (3 De Consol. 10). It seems, then, that the work of grace must have begun from the perfect. Hence those who first handed down the faith must have known it perfectly.

4. Again, just as the faith of Christ was delivered unto us by the apostles, so in the old Testament was knowledge of the faith handed down by the earlier fathers to those who came after them, according to Deut. 32:7: “ask thy father, and he will show thee.” Now the apostles were thoroughly instructed in the mysteries, since they received them “more fully than others, just as they received them earlier,” as the gloss says on Rom. 8:23: “but ourselves also, which have the first fruits of the Spirit.” Hence it seems that knowledge of the faith has not increased with the passing of time.

On the other hand: Gregory says (Hom. in Ezech. 16), and also Hugo St. Victor (1 De Sacrament., Part 10, cap. 6): “the knowledge of the holy fathers increased with the fullness of time, . . . and the nearer they were to the coming of the Saviour, the more fully did they understand the sacraments of salvation.”

I answer: in the doctrine of the faith, the articles of faith have the same relative status as self-evident principles in the doctrines of natural reason. Now there is a certain order in 231these principles. Some of them are implicitly contained in others, and all of them depend on this as the first, namely, “it is impossible to affirm something and to deny it at the same time,” as the philosopher explains in 4 Metaph., text 9. In a similar way, all the articles are implicitly contained in certain fundamental matters of faith, such as that God is, and that he cares for the salvation of men. This is in accordance with Heb. 11:6: “he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” The “being” of God includes all things which we believe to exist eternally in God, and in which our blessedness consists. Faith in providence embraces all that God provides in time for the salvation of men, and which leads to blessedness. The other articles are consequential to these, and some of them are contained in others. For example, faith in the incarnation of Christ, and in his passion, and all matters of this kind, is implicitly contained in faith in the redemption of man.

It must therefore be said that the articles of faith have not increased in substance with the passing of time. Everything that the later fathers have believed was contained, at least implicitly, in the faith of the earlier fathers. But the number of explicit articles has increased, since some things of which the earlier fathers had no explicit knowledge were known explicitly by the later fathers. Thus the Lord said to Moses: “I am the Lord: And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, . . . but by my name Jehovah was I not known to them” (Ex. 6:2-3).5151Migne: “I am the God of Abraham; the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob; and my name Adonai have I not shown unto them.” Thus also David says in Ps. 119:100: “I understood more than the ancients,” and the apostle in Eph. 3:5: “Which in other ages was not made known [the mystery of Christ] . . ., as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.”

On the first point: the same things are to be hoped for from Christ at all times. But since it is only through Christ that men have come to hope for them, the further they have been removed from Christ in time, the further have they been from receiving them. Thus the apostle says (Heb. 11:13): “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off.” Now the greater is the distance from which a thing is seen, the less clearly is it seen. The good things to be hoped for were therefore known more distinctly by those who lived near the time of Christ.


On the second point: there are two ways in which knowledge progresses. The knowledge of the teacher progresses as time goes on, be he one or many. That is the reason why sciences invented by human reason increase. But there is also the knowledge of the learner. A master who knows the whole art does not impart it to his pupil all at once, since he could not absorb it, but imparts it gradually, in accordance with his pupil’s capacity. Now it is as learners that men have progressed in knowledge of the faith with the passing of time. Hence the apostle likens the Old Testament to childhood, in Gal. 3:24.

On the third point: two causes are required for natural generation, namely, an active cause, and a material cause. According to the order of the active cause, the more perfect is naturally prior. Hence in respect of the active cause nature begins with what is perfect, since it is only through something perfect which already exists that the imperfect can be brought to perfection. According to the order of the material cause, on the other hand, the imperfect comes first, and nature advances from the imperfect to the perfect. Now in the manifestation of the faith, God is as the active cause, having perfect knowledge from eternity, while man is as the material cause, receiving the influence of God as the active cause. Hence in men, knowledge of the faith was bound to progress from the imperfect to the perfect. Yet some men have been like an active cause, as teachers of the faith. For the manifestation of the Spirit is given to some to profit withal, as it is said in I Cor. 12:7. Thus the fathers who formulated the faith were given such knowledge of it as could be profitably imparted to the people of their time, either openly or by way of metaphor.

On the fourth point: the final consummation of grace was achieved through Christ, whose time is consequently called “the fullness of time” in Gal. 4:4. Hence those who were nearer to Christ in time, whether earlier like John the Baptist, or later like the apostles, had a fuller knowledge of the mysteries of the faith. We see the same thing with regard to a man’s condition, which is perfect in his youth, and more nearly perfect the nearer he is to his youth, whether before it or after it.

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