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.

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