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Thomas International Center
September 2006


Ralph McInerny


Sola Scriptura



The writings of the late Florent Gaboriau did not gain a lot of attention during his lifetime, doubtless because he always wrote with a polemical edge. Well, almost always. And, like most of us, he tended to write the same book over and over. His final work, Trente Ans de Théologie Francaise is no exception. For all that, his polemics had a positive point, and that was to grasp what Thomas Aquinas meant by theology.

The opening question of the Summa theologiae has puzzled most readers. Thomas in beginning a summary of theology seems to vacillate between talking of theology and Scripture. Chenu found the phrase sacra doctrina ambiguous, and he was not alone. For Gaboriau there is no ambiguity at all. Sacra doctrina = Scripture = theology. The effort to speak of a science of theology apart from Scripture, or to wedge Tradition into the mix, seemed to Gaboriau to exhibit a manifest misreading.

In one sense, Gaboriau is making an obvious point. Philosophy has as it principles truths which are in the common domain, known to all on the basis of natural cognitive equipment. Theology, by contrast, takes as its principles truths revealed by God, mysteries which, apart from revelation, would not be known. Theological arguments must, therefore, always be reduced back into revealed truths, into Scripture. Surely, there is nothing problematical about that.

But Gaboriau made his point with a vigor that sometimes calls it into question. This can be seen in his constant reference to a remark to be found at the end of Thomas=s exposition of the Gospel of John. A..sola canonica scriptura est regula fidei.@ (n. 2656) Gaboriau titled one of his books Sola Sciptura on the basis of this text. Of course Thomas is there distinguishing between apocryphal and canonical writings and the passage hardly carries the weight Gaboriau would give it. Gaboriau became, in Aristotle=s phrase, a man in the grips of a theory.

For all that, his basic corrective is to be embraced, as a reading of Thomas and of Dei Verbum bears out. The arguments of theology can only be vehicles of truth for one who accepts on faith the principles from which they proceed, and those principles are to be found in revelation.


Ralph McInerny