Aquinas On The Source Of Truth

Aquinas did not view truths of reason and truths of revelation as incompatible or in need of synthesis. Underlying the theological project of Aquinas’ two Summas is the assumption that what is true is true whatever its immediate source, given that all truth ultimately comes from God who is true. Aquinas’ project is not an attempt to synthesize incompatibles. Read More»

Richard A. Muller | “Misrepresenting Aquinas with Prejudice: Why Reformed Theology is Not Sectarian” | July 2, 2022


Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. So at the end of the day, Aquinas and CVT both attest to the same biblical realities as noted in scripture and the confessions. The confusion only exists due to philosophical jargon. I think the problem lies with natural law theorists who expect too much from fallen humanity.

    • AJ,

      I think you missed Prof Muller’s point.

      1. The question is how are Aquinas’ views and intentions represented or described by some scholars? Are they described or represented accurately? Prof. Muller’s contention is that CVT did not represent or describe Aquinas’ views accurately. This does not meant that CVT’s apologetic project is invalidated but it does mean that his followers should not take his account of the history of Christian theology at face value without reading the sources for themselves. I wrote about this very phenomenon recently.

      2. Yes, CVT and Aquinas agreed more than many of CVT’s followers recognize.

      3. You should follow the link and read Prof. Muller’s essay. His work is always worth reading.

      4. When you say “natural law theorists” do you refer to Calvin, since he is well known for his advocacy of a high-Augustinian view of sin and depravity and yet he was also a strong advocate of natural law. That sentence would be true of virtually the entire orthodox Reformed tradition before the 20th century. I wrote about Calvin’s view of natural law 25+ years ago.

      5. Before you draw hard and fast conclusions about natural law, you should take some time and do a little more reading. Start here. The Reformed view of natural law has nothing to do with optimism about human ability.

  2. This gentleman makes a distinction from what I would call a Jeffersonian conception of natural law….
    “ Carlton Wynne
    July 31, 2017
    Being fully committed to the Protestant Reformed tradition–especially as it is represented at Westminster Theological Seminary–I have developed a basic understanding of natural law theories over the years. If by “natural law” we mean a moral order that is (a) revealed by God in nature, (b) stands behind conscience, (c) obligates all people to worship and obey Him, and (d) is sufficient to leave all without excuse and liable to divine judgment for sin, then I affirm it. However, one standard theistic account of natural law (NL) as a moral theory goes further. This account claims that all people can not only apprehend certain moral truths by unaided reason – apart from biblical revelation – but that people can, in principle, espouse and properly act upon those truths, again, apart from saving grace. It’s this feature of NL theory–perhaps the critical feature, it seems to me–that allegedly opens up “common ground” for Christians to cooperate with people of other faiths (or of no faith at all) on issues pertaining to the “common good.”

    Now, I have learned to leave the majority of negative assessments to my colleague and resident pessimist, Carl Trueman. But I must say that, from a Reformed perspective, this additional claim by many Natural Law theorists runs into a number of obstacles. I wish to briefly mention two.

    I believe this aspect of the Natural Law theory in view–that people can reason their way to actionable truths apart from God’s special revelation–is too optimistic about the powers of unaided reason after the fall. The general revelation of God in nature and beneath conscience must be “carefully distinguished from the reaction that sinful man makes to this revelation” (Van Til). The apostle Paul says that unbelievers “suppress the truth” that they know (including the truth of their moral obligation to God), that they are, at root, “hostile to God” (Rom 8:7); that they have become “futile in their thinking” (Rom 1:21). They are, Paul says elsewhere, “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph 4:18).

    These are hard words, no doubt. But they point to one side of what has been called the “antithesis” between belief and unbelief, a moral and spiritual conflict of basic commitments that touch all that Christians and non-Christians think about and discuss. According to this Scriptural principle, fallen man is slavishly committed to his own moral autonomy, while Christians are to view all things under the Lordship of Christ and the light of His Word. This means that, at the deepest level, there is no mutually acknowledged common ground between Christian and non-Christian. And this, it seems to me, leaves NL proponents calling for peace when there is no peace.

    This is not to deny that by God’s common grace, many unbelievers are immensely gifted and do morally upright things–often outstripping many Christians in good deeds. But such acts do not spring from an essentially unfallen rational ability, in principle, to discern and apply precepts of natural law. Rather, it is God who mercifully restrains the unbeliever’s hostility against Him, so that the unbeliever is led, to some degree, to live inconsistently with his moral depravity. So common grace may facilitate a kind of formal agreement between the Christian and non-Christian. But common grace remains just that–grace. God gives it when and where He wills. You can’t count on it as a foundation for public policy. This is a second reason why, I think, the NL theory I have in mind is a non-starter for programmatically advancing public morality.

    To close on a positive note, Christians should confidently reason from Scripture in all of life, including life in the public square–rather than appeal to fallen unaided reason. We should do it because failing to do it leads, at best, to what we could call various forms of “well-articulated pragmatism.” We should do it because God designed for us to read His general and special revelation together, never to separate the two. But Christians should reason from Scripture, above all, because it is there that we meet the Christ in whom are hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3), including wisdom for the public square. Such a Christ-centered theology for the public square, I think, better comports with what God says to us, and does not depend on what we say to ourselves.”

    • Well, A. J., I’ve been teaching natural law at Westminster Seminary for 25 years and I first wrote about natural law at Westminster Seminary in 1987.

      Van Til’s story about natural law is simply incorrect. He was not a very good historical theologian. He was an idealist and as such he ignored some really important historical distinctions, the biggest of which is the distinction that must be made between Christian antiquity and Modernity. Aquinas was not a Modern. He wasn’t Kant before Kant. He was a Christian. Now, to be sure, as I said in my essay for Credo Magazine, Thomas was wrong about some important things but the ninth commandment and the second great commandment require us to endeavor to tell the truth about our brothers and sisters who lived before us. Thomas was a convenient punching bag for CVT as he has been for some of his successors but a good history must dispute Van Til’s story.

      Second, you’re assuming that natural law unleashes some sort of autonomy. The Apostle Paul did not share that fear. Please read Romans 1 and 2 very carefully where you will see him appealing quite plainly to natural law. He did not share Van Til’s view that there is no “common ground” between believers and unbelievers. Here is where the Van Tullian tradition (of which I am a part) must be very careful lest it verge into a kind of Gnosticism, which I have seen happen over the years. Paul had no qualms about appealing to universal sense experience. I believe that he used the adjective “plain.” If it is plain to them and to us believers then it is a shared human experience.

      What distinguishes believers from unbelievers is not their sense experience but what they make of it. The unbeliever suppresses the significance of the natural revelation that he can plainly experience with his senses.

      I really wish that you would take some time and do some more reading. The standard Van Tillian account of natural law is at variance with the entire Reformed tradition and very ironically has more in common with Barth than with Calvin. That fact alone should alarm those Van Jillian’s (of which I am one) who think that Van Til’s basic insights are important and must be preserved and who want to remain connected to the Reformation and Reformed orthodox traditions (as I think we must).

Comments are closed.