The Divine and Scientific Textbooks


I was reading St. Thomas’ commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics, and I ran into an simply yet interesting passage:

He says that, since there are many operations and arts and sciences, there must be different ends for each of them, for the ends and the means are proportional. This he shows by saying that the end of medical art is health; of shipbuilding, navigation; of strategy, victory; and of domestic economy or managing a household, riches. He accepts this last example on the opinion of the majority of men, for he himself proves in the first book of thePolitics that riches are not the end of domestic economy but the instruments thereof.*

According to St. Thomas, the wise Aristotle used an erroneous example, one that he himself knew was erroneous, because the view that economy is for riches was accepted enough that it made it easier for Aristotle to explain his point about operations having different ends to “the majority of men.”

Now, it is often asserted that there are certain erroneous views, especially regarding the origin of species and cosmology, expressed in Scripture, and this demonstrates that the writings cannot be inspired.

On the contrary, we must understand that Scripture was authored both by men and by God. Just as the Word was begotten both from the Father and the Virgin Mary, the Scripture is begotten both from God and from man. Every word that the Prophets and Apostles write God agrees with.

However, no saint has ever taught that this means God agrees with the intention in which the human authors use a word.

And so, the human authors probably truly believed the earth was a flat disk floating on the ocean, with a tent as the sky: and so, even though they wrote with the mindset that this cosmology is true, that doesn’t mean God wrote with such a mindset.

But then, why did he allow such erroneous views? If we turn back to St. Thomas’ words, we can see an answer: God decided to express Divine Truths through these human errors, because this would make it easier for “the majority of men” to understand the truths He was conveying. The aim of Scripture is express the personality of God to men, and so should be expressed in terms men can understand. These erroneous scientific views were then instruments to make His point understood.

But there is a deeper point still, one that Chesterton beautifully and ingeniously expresses in his The Everlasting Man: a mythology can be “poetically” true while not being scientifically true. There are many truths expressed in Homer, even if these truths are not literal history, for example.

Our minds were made poetically, and so it is fitting that Scripture expresses Divine Truths through these poetics in order to make them not only more universally understood to all men, but also make their depth and completed better expressed, as poetry has a wholeness and subtly of perspective that the literal and scientific sense really does not.

Christi pax.


I think I agree with your post in substance, though in a few cases I would use different language. There is a possible difference regarding intention: I firmly believe that the sacred authors are accurate in everything that they intended to assert. With this principle in mind, it is impossible that they intended to teach anything false, such as that the earth is a disk on water under a tent.

That said, for at least some of the biblical authors, I think it is supremely unlikely that they held such an unscientific view of the world. The author of Wisdom, writing (probably) around 50 B.C. in Alexandria, almost certainly knew better. There is good evidence that the author was taught in Hellenistic schools, and would have known as well as you or I that the earth is a globe.


Yes, this is true. On a flat earth, the sun would rise on everyone regardless of where they were. The moon is obviously spherical for anyone who held a ball in the sun. The curvature would be obvious. The oceans would drain into space if the earth was flat.



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