I'll be reading, glossing, and posting Thomas Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles, chapter by chapter, about twice a week, until the final Amen. Your comments, questions, and constructive criticisms are welcome!

Monday, May 9, 2011


[1] But, again, it can seem to someone difficult or impossible that one and the same simple being, the divine essence for example, is the proper model or likeness of diverse things. For, since among diverse things there is a distinction by reason of their proper forms, whatever is like something according to its proper form must turn out to be unlike something else. To be sure, according as diverse things have something in common, nothing prevents them from having one likeness, as do man and a donkey so far as they are animals. But from this it will follow that God does not have a proper knowledge of things, but a common one; for the operation that knowledge is follows the mode in which the likeness of the known is in the knower. … the likeness of the known in the knower is as the form by which the operation takes place. Therefore, if God has a proper knowledge of many things, He must be the proper model of singulars. How this may be we must investigate.

The annotated edition explains: "As the likeness, so the knowledge. For a knowledge at once particular and all-embracing, there must be in the mind a likeness of all and each of the things known. But God has such a particular knowledge of all and each of His creatures…. There must then be in God a mental likeness of each and every such creature. But whatever is in God is God's own essence, which is one and simple. How then can the one, simple essence of God be a particular likeness of each of the whole multitude of actual and possible creatures? That is the question."

[2] As the Philosopher says in Metaphysics VIII [3], the forms of things and the definitions that signify them are like numbers. Among numbers, the addition or subtraction of unity changes the species of a number, as appears in the numbers two and three. It is the same among definitions: the addition or subtraction of one difference changes the species. For sensible substance, with the difference rational taken away and added, differs in species.

[3] Now, with reference to things that contain a multitude, the intellect and nature are differently disposed. For what is required for the being of something the nature of that thing does not permit to be removed. … But what is joined in reality the intellect can at times receive separately, when one of the elements is not included in the notion of the other. Thus, in the number three the intellect can consider the number two only, and in the rational animal it can consider that which is sensible only. Hence, that which contains several elements the intellect can take as the proper notion of the several elements by apprehending one of them without the others. It can, for example, take the number ten as the proper notion of nine by subtracting unity…. So, too, it can take in man the proper exemplar of irrational animal as such, and of each of its species, except that they would add some positive differences. On this account a certain philosopher, Clement by name, said that the nobler beings in reality are the exemplars of the less noble [cf. Pseudo-Dionysius, De div. nom. V, 9].

[4] But the divine essence comprehends within itself the nobilities of all beings, not indeed compositely, but, as we have shown above, according to the mode of perfection [Sounds rather Scotistic.]. Now, every form, … considered as positing something, is a certain perfection; it includes imperfection only to the extent that it falls short of true being. The intellect of God, therefore, can comprehend in His essence that which is proper to each thing by understanding wherein the divine essence is being imitated and wherein each thing falls short of its perfection. Thus, by understanding His essence as imitable in the mode of life and not of knowledge, God has the proper form of a plant; and if He knows His essence as imitable in the mode of knowledge and not of intellect, God has the proper form of animal, and so forth. Thus, it is clear that, being absolutely perfect, the divine essence can be taken as the proper exemplar of singulars. Through it, therefore, God can have a proper knowledge of all things.

[5] …we must observe in the divine intellect a certain distinction and plurality of understood exemplars, according as that which is in the divine intellect is the proper exemplar of diverse things … [and] as God understands the proper relation of resemblance that each creature has to Him, it remains that the exemplars of things in the divine intellect are many or distinct only according as God knows that things can be made to resemble Him by many and diverse modes. …


… [2] Our intellect cannot understand in act many things together. The reason is that, since “the intellect in act is its object in act,” if the intellect did understand many things together, it would follow that the intellect would be at one and the same time many things according to one genus—which is impossible. I say “according to one genus” because nothing prevents the same subject from being informed by diverse forms of diverse genera, just as the same body is figured and colored. Now, the intelligible species, by which the intellect is formed so as to be the objects that are understood in act, all belong to one genus; for they have one manner of being in the order of intelligible being…. … when certain things that are many are considered as in any way united, they are understood together. For the intellect understands a continuous whole all at once, not part after part. So, too, it understands a proposition all at once, not first the subject and then the predicate, since it knows all the parts according to one species of the whole [This points to one of many problems I have with perdurantism: if there is no subsistent entity to endure through a defense of perdurantism, no one could ever believe, much less defend, perdurantism as a unified doctrine/proposition. Since, however, the propositional unity of perdurantism abides even for and "in" a perdurantist, perdurantism is ipso facto false. Cf. Jaki, Means and Message, performative contradictions, etc.].

[3] …whenever several things are known through one species, they can be known together. But all that God knows He knows through one species, which is His essence. Therefore, God can understand all things together.

[4] Again, a knowing power does not know anything in act unless the intention be present. … But things that must fall under one intention must be understood together; for he who is considering a comparison between two things directs his intention to both and sees both together.

[5] Now, all the things that are in the divine knowledge must fall under one intention. For God intends to see His essence perfectly, which is to see it according to its whole power, under which are contained all things. Therefore God, by seeing His essence, sees all things together.

[6] Furthermore, the intellect of one considering successively many things cannot have only one operation. … But the divine intellect has only one operation, namely, the divine essence…. Therefore, God considers all that He knows, not successively, but together.

[7] Moreover, succession cannot be understood without time nor time without motion, since time is “the number of motion according to before and after.” But there can be no motion in God…. There is, therefore, no succession in the divine consideration. Thus, all that He knows God considers together [i.e. in an essential, perfect whole].

[8] Then, too, God’s understanding is His being, as is clear from what we have said. But there is no before and after in the divine being; everything is together….

[9] Every intellect, furthermore, that understands one thing after the other is at one time potentially understanding and at another time actually understanding. … But the divine intellect is never potentially, but always actually, understanding. Therefore, it does not understand things successively but rather understands them together.

[10] Sacred Scripture bears witness to this truth. For it is written: “With God there is no change nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17).


… [2] Where there is habitual knowledge, not all things are known together; some are known actually, and some habitually. But, as we have proved, God has actual understanding of all things together. There is, therefore, no habitual knowledge in Him.

I understand "habit" here to mean an abiding, potential power for some operation(s).

[3] Furthermore, he who has a habit and is not using it is in a manner in potency, … [but] we have shown that the divine intellect is in no way in potency. …

[4] Moreover, … an intellect that knows habitually is lacking its operation, but its essence cannot be lacking to it. In God, however, as we have proved, His essence is His operation. …

[5] Again, an intellect that knows only habitually is not at its highest perfection. That is why happiness, which is something best, is posited in terms of act, not in terms of habit. If, therefore, God is habitually knowing through His substance, considered in His substance He will not be universally perfect. We have shown the contrary of this conclusion.

[6] It has also been shown that God understands through His essence, but not through any intelligible species added to His essence. Now, every habitual intellect understands through some species. For either a habit confers on the intellect a certain ability to receive the intelligible species by which it becomes understanding in act, or else it is the ordered aggregate of the species themselves existing in the intellect, not according to a complete act, but in a way intermediate between potency and act. … [7] Then, again, a habit is a certain quality. But no quality or accident can be added to God….

[8] But because the disposition by which one is only habitually considering or willing or doing is likened to the disposition of one sleeping, hence it is that, in order to remove any habitual disposition from God, David says: “Behold He neither slumbers nor sleeps, who keeps Israel” (Ps. 120:4). Hence, also, what is said in Sirach (23:28): “The eyes of the Lord are far brighter than the sun”; for the sun is always shining.

Friday, May 6, 2011

SCG, Book I, Chapter 51–53


[Too much Latin here of prime value not to inscribe.]

[1] [Although God knows other things beside Himself [
quod Deus cognoscit alia a se, cf. I, 49–50],] the multitude of intellectual objects [multitudo intellectorum in intellectum divinum], however, [do not] introduce a composition into the divine intellect…. [2] Now, this multitude cannot be taken to mean that many intellectual objects have a distinct being in God. For either these objects would be the same as the divine essence, and thus a certain multitude would be posited in the essence of God…; or they would be added to the divine essence, and thus there would be some accident in God….

[3] Nor, again, can such intelligible forms be posited as existing in themselves. This is what Plato, avoiding the above difficulties, seems to have posited by introducing the Ideas.
For the forms of natural things cannot exist without matter, since neither are they understood without matter.

[Roughly, tell me everything you can about a "horse" without adverting to its material nature. An eternal, hoofless, headless, organless, spatially undispersed thing is still somehow a "horse"? Right….]

[4] And, even if this position were held, it would not enable us to posit that God has understanding of a multitude. For, since the aforementioned forms are outside God’s essence, if God could not understand the multitude of things without them, … it would follow that His perfection in understanding depended on something else, and consequently so would His perfection in being, since His being is His understanding. …

[A thing is perfect––a thing perfectly "be's"––only insofar as it attains the end to which it tends. But since non-intellectual entities cannot tend to their ends without the guidance of a (superior) intellect (cf. I, 49–50 and the glosses and links therein), and since finite intellects can only attain their ends by a discursive ascent through diverse beings and syllogisms, only a perfect Being perfectly knows and, crucially, only a perfect Knower perfectly exists.]

[5] Furthermore, since whatever is outside His essence must be caused by Him, … if the aforementioned forms are to be found outside God, they must be caused by Him. … Therefore, so that these intelligibles may have existence,
it is required according to the order of nature that God first understand them. Hence, God does not have knowledge of multitude by the fact that many intelligibles are found outside Him.

[6] Furthermore,
the intelligible in act is the intellect in act [The demolition of critical idealism.], just as the sensible in act is the sense in act. According as the intelligible is distinguished from the intellect, both are in potency, as likewise appears in the case of the sense. … If, then, the intelligible objects of God are outside His intellect, it will follow that His intellect is in potency, as are also its intelligible objects. Thus, some cause reducing them to act would be needed, which is impossible, since there is nothing prior to God.

[7] Then, too,
the understood must be in him who understands. Therefore, to posit the forms of things as existing in themselves … must be in the divine intellect itself. [8] [Chapter 52] …the multitude of the aforementioned intelligibles cannot reside in any intellect other than the divine intellect—for example, that of a soul or an angel or intelligence. If this were true, the divine intellect would depend on a lower intellect for some operation. …

[9] Then, too, …
the divine understanding, by which God is a cause, is a prerequisite for the being of the aforementioned intelligibles in some lower intellect. … [11] Furthermore, just as each thing has its own being, so it has its own operation.each thing is through its own essence, not through the essence of another. Therefore, by the fact that there are many intelligible objects in some secondary intellect it could not come about that the first intellect knows a multitude.



We can solve the above difficulty with ease [Praemissa autem dubitatio faciliter solvi potest] if we examine diligently [si diligenter inspiciatur] how the things that are understood by the intellect exist within the intellect [qualiter res intellectae in intellectu existant].

So far as it is possible, let us proceed from our intellect to the knowledge that the divine intellect has [Et ut ab intellectu nostro ad divini intellectus cognitionem, prout est possibile, procedamus]. Let us consider the fact that an external thing understood by us does not exist in our intellect according to its own nature; rather, it is necessary that its species be in our intellect, and through this species the intellect comes to be in act [oportet quod species eius sit in intellectu nostro, per quam fit intellectus in actu]. Once in act through this species [in actu per huiusmodi speciem] as through its own form, the intellect knows the thing itself. … Understanding remains in the one understanding, but it is related to the thing understood because the abovementioned species, which is a principle of intellectual operation as a form [quae est principium intellectualis operationis ut forma], is the likeness of the thing understood.

[As if Kant were the first to wed first primary metaphysics to the order of knowledge! His mistake was to leave the marriage for a masturbatory celebration of the latter per se.]

[3] …the intellect,
having been informed by the species of the thing […intellectus, per speciem rei formatus], by an act of understanding [intelligendo] forms within itself a certain intention of the thing understood [quandam intentionem rei intellectae], that is to say, its notion [quae est ratio ipsius], which the definition signifies [quam significat definitio]. This is a necessary point [Et hoc quidem necessarium est], because the intellect understands a present and an absent thing indifferently [intellectus intelligit indifferenter rem absentem et praesentem; cue the ontology of fiction and a chaste Meinongism!]. In this the imagination agrees with the intellect [in quo cum intellectu imaginatio convenit]. But the intellect … understands a thing as separated from material conditions [sed intellectus … intelligit rem ut separatam a conditionibus materialibus], without which a thing does not exist in reality. But this could not take place unless the intellect formed the abovementioned intention for itself.


[4] Now, since
this understood intention is, as it were, a terminus of intelligible operation [Haec autem intentio intellecta, cum sit quasi terminus intelligibilis operationis], it is distinct from the intelligible species that actualizes the intellect [est aliud a specie intelligibili quae facit intellectum in actu]…. For, by the fact that the intelligible species … is the form of the intellect and the principle of understanding, [it] is the likeness of the external thing…, since such as a thing is, such are its works [Per hoc enim quod species intelligibilis quae est forma intellectus et intelligendi principium…: quia quale est unumquodque, talia operatur]. And because the understood intention is like some thing, it follows that the intellect, by forming such an intention) knows that thing.

[As the intellect partakes of the intelligible by a likeness of being, so the existent takes part of He Who Is by a related, analogous likeness likeness of being.]

[5] Now,
the divine intellect understands by no species other than the divine essence…. Nevertheless, the divine essence is the likeness of all things. … [T]he conception of the divine intellect as understanding itself, which is its Word, is the likeness not only of God Himself understood, but also of all those things of which the divine essence is the likeness [Intellectus autem divinus nulla alia specie intelligit quam essentia sua…. Sed tamen essentia sua est similitudo omnium rerum. … conceptio intellectus divini, prout seipsum intelligit, quae est verbum ipsius, non solum sit similitudo ipsius Dei intellecti, sed etiam omnium quorum est divina essentia similitudo] [NB: A strong suggestion of the eternal decree of the Incarnation!]. In this way, therefore, through one intelligible species, which is the divine essence, and through one understood intention, which is the divine Word, God can understand many things.

[So much for Islam. A theology which posits a pure monad as the epitome of being, has no way to account for the diversity of being as we ourselves diversely manifest it, much less the love of Allah for things outside himself.]

Thursday, May 5, 2011

SCG, Book I, Chapter 49–50

It has been some time since my last posting, so I want to make a quick note of context for the following. In the previous chapters, Thomas has discussed the existence, essence, comprehensibility, and essential self-knowledge of God. He now turns to God's knowledge of and relation to all other "things", basically, the foundation of the doctrine of Creation.


[1] From the fact that God understands Himself primarily and essentially we must posit that He knows in Himself things other than Himself.

This is a remarkable inference to make, since the thesis of the previous chapter was "that God primarily and essentially knows only Himself"! Let us follow the Doctor's dialectic….

[2] An effect is adequately known when its cause is known. So “we are said to know each thing when we know the cause.” But God Himself is through His essence the cause of being for other things. Since He has a most full knowledge of His essence, we must posit that God also knows other things [as their cause].

[3] Moreover, the likeness of every effect somehow preexists in its cause; for every agent produces its like. But whatever is in something is in it according to the mode of that in which it is. If, then, God is the cause of certain things, since according to His nature He is intellectual, the likeness of what He causes will exist in Him in an intelligible way. …

If the objects of God's power were unintelligible––such as a square triangle or a past event that had never happened or, yes, a rock so large that God could not move it––, not just to Him, but essentially intelligible, then they would not be objects of His power. Unreal objects can not be effected, much less generated. Since, however, God knows the likeness of existential power which everything has with His own essential being––i.e. God can "see Himself qua being in all things qua intelligible"––, then God knows those things in the knowledge of His existent power of existence.

[4] Again, whoever knows perfectly a given thing knows whatever can be truly said of it and whatever befits it according to its nature. But it befits God according to His nature to be the cause of other things. Since, then, God knows Himself perfectly, He knows Himself to be a cause. This cannot be unless He somehow knows what He causes.

This ties in with the point above.

[5] If we put together these two conclusions, it appears that God knows Himself as primarily and essentially known, whereas He knows other things as seen in His essence.

[6] This truth is expressly taught by Dionysius…: “In seeing them, God does not insert Himself in singulars, but He knows them as contained within a single cause” [De div. nom. VII, 2]. And later on: “the divine wisdom, knowing itself, knows other things.”

[7] To this judgment, too, the authority of Sacred Scripture bears witness. For it is said of God in the Psalms (101:20): “He looked forth from His high sanctuary”; as though to say that God sees other things from His own height.

While flying from Cebu to Camiguin in the Phlippines a few years ago, I was pondering special relativity and how, the higher one gets, the relatively slower things move. From an infinite distance, therefore, one would see all things in perfect stasis. The key is not to think of God's vision as "really good eyesight", but rather as a form of "ontic intuition" in every nook and cranny of existent reality, which sees, as it were, its own being immediately in those nooks and crannies. This intuition, this non-focal vision, is infinite precisely because it suffuses the extent of being. It is infinite in scope not because it is far from all things and takes them all in, but because it is so close to all things and thus takes them all in as single power of being. Consider what St Athanasius writes in De Decretis (HT to Siris, my emphasis):

For God creates, and to create is also ascribed to men; and God has being, and men are said to be, having received from God this gift also. Yet does God create as men do? or is His being as man’s being? Perish the thought; we understand the terms in one sense of God, and in another of men. … [M]en, being incapable of self-existence, are enclosed in place, and consist in the Word of God; but God is self-existent, enclosing all things, and enclosed by none; within all according to His own goodness and power, yet without all in His proper nature.


[1] …it remains for us to show that God knows all other things as they are distinct from one another and from Himself. This is to know things according to their proper natures.

[2] In order to show this point, let us suppose that God is the cause of every being…. Now, when the cause is known, the effect is known. … By knowing Himself, God knows whatever proceeds from Him immediately. When this is known, God once more knows what proceeds from it immediately; and so on for all intermediate causes down to the last effect. Therefore, God knows whatever is found in reality. But this is to have a proper and complete knowledge of a thing, namely, to know all that there is in that thing…. Therefore, God has a proper knowledge of things, in so far as they are distinct from one another.

[3] Furthermore, whatever acts through an intellect knows what it does according to the proper nature of its work; for the knowledge of the maker determines the form for the thing made. Now, God causes things through His intellect, since His being is His understanding and each thing acts in so far as it is in act.

As the annotated edition remarks: "Since the Creator is an understanding, He understands whatever He gives being to; and giving being to each thing in particular, He understands each in particular."

[4] Moreover, the distinction of things cannot be from chance, because it has a fixed order. … It cannot be from the intention of a cause acting through a necessity of nature, for nature is determined to one course of action, and thus the intention of no thing acting through the necessity of nature can terminate in many effects in so far as these are distinct. It remains, then, that distinction in things comes from the intention of a knowing cause. … Now, the universal distinction of things cannot be from the intention of some secondary cause, because all such causes belong to the world of distinct effects. It belongs to the first cause, that is through itself distinguished from all other things, to aim at the distinction of all things. God, therefore, knows things as distinct.

The annotated edition explains: "This merely means that physical causes act without any definite intention on their part of any particular results to follow from their action. Electrical tension in the air tends to discharge itself in the form of lightning, but not to kill this particular man under the tree, although it does kill. The volcanic nisus prompts to an eruption, but not to the destruction of such and such a city that is built over the volcano."

I recently discussed the order of natural beings and causal finality in this post at FCA, and this section is an interesting textual sidelight. Insofar as art is aimed a diversity of ends, achievable by a range of means, it differs from nature per se, which is necessarily inclined to its own proper end. Thomas' point is that, given a "necessarily monocausal" entity, it will result in a single state of affairs. But the world is not characterized by a single state of affairs, but by formal distinctions, and therefore nature is not self-organized, but subject in its unified diversity to an intelligent guide, God. Thomas will discuss these points at length in II, 39–45, but you'll just have to wait a while till I get to it!

[5] Again, whatever God knows He knows most perfectly. For, as was shown above, there is all perfection in God as in the absolutely perfect being. … Since, then, by knowing His own essence God knows things in a universal way, He must also have a proper knowledge of things.

[6] Then, too, whoever knows a certain nature knows the essential accidents of that nature. The essential accidents of being as being are one and many, as is proved in Metaphysics IV [3]. If, then, by knowing His essence, God knows the nature of being in a universal way, it follows that He knows multitude. But multitude cannot be understood without distinction. Therefore, God knows things as they are distinct from one another.

Cf. I, 50, 9, below.

[7] Whoever, furthermore, perfectly knows a universal nature knows the mode in which that nature can be possessed. In the same way, he who knows whiteness knows that which receives it more and less. … If, then, by knowing Himself, God knows the universal nature of being, and this not imperfectly, … God must know all grades of beings. …

[8] Furthermore, he who knows something perfectly knows all that is in it. But God knows Himself perfectly. Therefore, He knows all that is in Him according to His active power. But all things, in their proper forms, are in Him according to His active power, since God is the principle of every being. Therefore, God has a proper knowledge of all things.

[9] Again, he who knows a certain nature knows whether that nature is communicable. He who did not know that the nature of animal is communicable to many would not know it perfectly. Now, the divine nature is communicable by likeness. God, therefore, knows in how many modes there can be something like His essence. But the diversities of forms arise from the fact that things imitate the divine essence diversely; and so the Philosopher has called a natural form “something divine.” Therefore, God has a knowledge of things in terms of their proper forms.

Cf. I, 50, 6 and I, 49, 3 with gloss, above. To know the fullness of being is to know every possible mode and instance of being. As God perfectly knows Himself qua Pure Being, He knows all things by virtue of their diversely properly likeness to Him qua co-be-ings.

The annotated edition has a note worthy of much consideration:
This is an important principle, often laid down as follows: -- God knows His own nature in all the various modes in which that nature can be copied outside Himself In knowing this, He knows the ideal order, every detail and all inter-relations of details in any possible universe. This is called the knowledge of simple understanding, inasmuch as it is the knowledge of all creatable creatures and their ongoings, antecedent to and apart from the creation and actual existence of any: this knowledge however dwells only in the ideal order of possibilities, and may therefore be called general and universal, though not abstract, inasmuch as it deals with types of individual things, but not with particular existences in rerum natura as actually existing, but only as potentialities. God further knows things outside Himself as they actually and individually exist, inasmuch as all things are of His causation and creation, and exist and act under His will and power. He knows them by insight of Himself, not as He is a mere nature, but as He is a nature willing to create on these particular lines. This knowledge of the universe as the universe actually is for all time, is called the knowledge of vision. For these two knowledges sec Chap. LXVI. The knowledge of simple understanding is not abstract, inasmuch as God knows, not only types of species, but types of different individuals possible in each species; and all these several types He knows, not by so many several ideas, but in the one act by which He knows Himself.

[10] Moreover, men and other knowing beings know things as distinct from one another in their multitude. If, then, God does not know things in their distinction, it follows that He is the most foolish being of all, as He must have been for those who held that God did not know strife, a thing known to all––an opinion that the Philosopher considers to be untenable in De anima I [5]and Metaphysics III [4].

Or the more recent "arguments" by atheists that God cannot be omniscient since, lacking hands, He cannot have the know-how to do a handstand, or, lacking hands, cannot know what it feels like to strangle someone, or, being Truth, cannot know the feeling of lying, and so on. Sigh.

[11] We likewise receive this teaching from the canonic Scriptures. For it is said in Genesis (1:31): “And God saw all things that He had made, and they were very good.” And in Hebrews (4:13): “Neither is there any creature invisible in His sight: but all things are naked and open to His eyes.”

Notice the link in Gen 1:31 between having been made––being––and being good. As truth is the known proper order of all things, the integrated goodness of "all things" in God's knowledge once more signals the convertibility of being, goodness, and truth.