Summary Against Modern Thought: More On God’s Omniscience

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

The reading looks thick this week, but it really isn’t. Don’t forget to review first. Use the SAMT Category links at the bottom of the page. Since we’re discussing what God knows and how, we also discover what and how we know things. This leads to unexpected insights. We’re also now half way through Book 1!

Chapter 53 Solution of the foregoing doubt (alternate translation)

[1] THE foregoing doubt may be easily solved if we examine carefully how things understood are in the understanding.

[2] And in order that, as far as possible, we may proceed from our intellect to the knowledge of the divine intellect, it must be observed that the external objects which we understand do not exist in our intellect according to their own nature, but it is necessary that our intellect contain their species whereby it becomes intellect in act. And being in act by this species as by its proper form, it understands the object itself.

And yet the act of understanding is not an act passing into the intellect, as heating passes into the object heated, but it remains in the one who understands: although it bears a relation to the object understood, for the very reason that the aforesaid species, which is the formal principle of intellectual operation, is the image of that object…

Notes When you think of a dog, you don’t create a dog inside your head. And when you look at one and recognize it for what it is, you don’t take anything from it. You form the essence of the beast (its species in this technical language) in your intellect. It’s not just seeing and acknowledging that-object, like an animal does, but recognizing this-species-is-dog-and-dogs-are-like-this. Kant was wrong. We can and do know things as they are in themselves—further, this knowledge is not a material thing. Meaning, as we say very often, we are not our brains (or not just our brains).

Chapter 54 How the divine essence, though one and simple, is a proper likeness of all things intelligible (alternate translation)

[2]…As the Philosopher says (8 Metaph.)[1] forms of things, and their definitions which signify them, are like numbers. For in numbers, if one unit be added or subtracted the species of the number is changed; as appears in the numbers 3 and 4. Now it is the same with definitions: for the addition or subtraction of one difference changes the species: thus a sensible substance minus rational and plus rational differs specifically.

[3] Now in things which include many, it is not the same with the intellect as with nature. For the nature of a thing does not allow of the separation of those things that are required essentially for that thing: thus the nature of an animal will not remain if the soul be taken away from the body.

On the other hand the intellect is sometimes able to take separately those things which are essentially united, when one is not included in the notion of the other. Wherefore in the number 3 it can consider the number 2 alone, and in a rational animal it can consider that which is only sensible.

Hence the intellect is able to consider that which includes several things as the proper notion of several, by apprehending one of them without the others. For it can consider 10 as the proper notion of 9, by subtracting one unit, and in like manner as the proper notion of each lesser number included therein. Again, in man, it can consider the proper type of an irrational animal as such, and of each of its species, unless they imply the addition of a positive difference. For this reason a certain philosopher, Clement by name, said that the things of higher rank are the types of those of lesser rank…[2]

Notes Rationality is what separates man from beast. And don’t forget the “soul” of an animal is its form. Take away the form of a beast and all you’re left with is a pile of organic chemicals and water. But we can—and just did—mentally dissect the matter of the beast from its soul. Our intellect can take things apart, which is probably now obvious.

[5] Since, however, the proper notion of one thing is distinct from the proper notion of another, and since distinction is the principle of plurality; we must consider a certain distinction and plurality of understood notions in the divine intellect, in so far as that which is in the divine intellect is the proper notion of diverse things.

Wherefore, since this is according as God understands the proper relation of similarity which each creature bears to Him, it follows that the types of things in the divine intellect are not many nor different, except in so far as God knows that things can be like Him in many and divers ways. In this sense Augustine[4] says that God makes man after one type and a horse after another, and that the types of things are manifold in the divine mind. Wherein also the opinion of Plato holds good, in that he held the existence of ideas according to which all that exists in material things would be formed.[5]

Notes Think of it this way. The forms that make things into what they are, are not material, but must exist somewhere, else no thing could be formed (an apt pun). And all the forms that exist do so in the mind of God. Some (but not all) also exist in ours.

Next week: God knows everything in the same instant. We’re about two weeks away from showing God is Truth.

[1] D. 7. iii. 8.
[2] Cf. Dion., Div. Nom. v.
[3] Ch. xxxi.
[4] QQ. lxxxiii., qu. 46.
[5] Cf. ch. li.: Nor again . . . p. 112.

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