Introducing scientia et sapientia

Philosophers and theologians of many stripes have long distinguished between various forms of knowing. In his Nichomachean Ethics (1139b18-1141b27), Aristotle identified at least five different kinds of knowing: episteme (‘scientific knowledge’, inductive knowledge of particular things and their causes), techne (‘technical knowledge’, knowing how to do things), phronesis (‘practical wisdom’, knowing what is conducive to producing the good), nous (intelligence, direct intuition of first principles), and sophia (‘wisdom’, scientific and intuitive knowledge of the highest goods). Aristotle was thus keen to point out that there is an important difference, for example between a theoretical knowledge that “light flesh floods are digestible and wholesome” (epiteme) and the practical knowledge of which foods are “light flesh foods” and thus lead to good health (phronesis). So, he argued that these five are distinct ways of knowing, but he also emphasized that they are interdependent. His view of the relationship between theoretical and practical knowledge, then, could be anachronistically presented in Kantian guise: episteme without phronesis is empty, phronesis without episteme is blind. Consequently, for Aristotle, while we can make helpful distinctions between different ways of knowing, we make a fundamental mistake when we think they can be separated into autonomous ways of being.

Many contemporary thinkers echo Aristotle’s concern for distinguishing without separating various forms of knowing. For example, liberation theologians have emphasized another of Aristotle’s epistemological distinctions: that between theoria (theoretical knowledge), poesis (action that produces things), and praxis (action that is an end-in-itself)  (Politics 1.4, 1254). Although this is often expressed in a way that suggest a disjunction between theory and action, Aristotle intended it as a way of bringing the two together in a vital synthesis. A number of other theologians have focused on the distinction between orthodoxy (right thinking), orthopraxy (right doing), and orthopathy (right feeling). Again, this can be done is such a way as to emphasize one over the others, but a better approach is to recognize that all three are necessary and are mutually interdependent (i.e., right doxa, worship, necessarily entails right feeling and right doing, and vice versa). All of these distinctions find expression in Charles Wesley’s call to “reunite the pair so long disjoined, knowledge and vital piety.” Or, as P. T. Forsyth said, “Doctrine and life are really two sides of one Christianity; and they are equally indispensable, because Christianity is living truth.”

It is this interconnection between right thinking and wise living that I have chosen to emphasize as the title for this blog (we can always change it later if we want). The particular language that I cited, scientia et sapientia, goes back (at least) to the writings of Augustine who utilized it to distinguish between knowing about some object (scientia) and the love for that object that necessarily follows, along with the corresponding lifestyle (sapientia) (see esp. De Trinitate books 12-14). For Augustine, then, the distinction ultimately points to the inseparable relation between knowing about God and loving God, both of which necessarily produce a doxological lifestyle (i.e. a life lived in worship before God).

As I was thinking about our Th.M. program, I could think of no better way to express a conviction that I think we all share. The time that we spend in biblical and theological research is both enjoyable (normally) and necessary for our own personal development. But, it must not ever be separated from the ministry of the church, from our lives lived together in doxological community. Theory lives to serve practice. Theology is the bondservant of the church.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on September 23, 2008, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. This should be fun. I look forward to the conversation. Marc, your very well thought out post (this is a blog not a research paper by the way) made me think of this quote from Childs I ran across about the function of Scripture: ” . . . the Bible is a particular kind of literature. It was not written to satisfy human curiosity or to evoke religious speculation on heavenly mysteries, but it is a call for faithful response during one’s whole life.” In other words, it’s not about theory but about evoking a faithful response.

  1. Pingback: Allegorizing our new header « scientia et sapientia

  2. Pingback: Is it time for a new name? « scientia et sapientia

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