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Summary Against Modern Thought: How Angels See God

Previous post.

Back into some technicalities this week. But with some insight into cause and effect.


1 Moreover, we must inquire whether this knowledge whereby the separate substances and the soul after death know God, through their own essences, suffices for their ultimate felicity.

2 The first thing to be done, in investigating the truth of this question, is to show that the divine essence is not known through such a type of knowledge.

3 In fact, it is possible to know a cause from its effect, in many ways. One way is to take the effect as a means of finding out, concerning the cause, that it exists and that it is of a certain kind. This occurs in the sciences which demonstrate the cause through the effect.

Another way is to see the cause in the effect itself, according as the likeness of the cause is reflected in the effect; thus a man may be seen in a mirror, by virtue of his likeness. And this way is different from the first.

In fact, in the first way there are two cognitions, one of the effect and one of the cause, and one is the cause of the other; for the knowledge of the effect is the cause of the knowing of its cause.

But in the second way there is one vision of both, since at the same time that the effect is seen the cause is also seen in it. A third way is such that the very likeness of the cause, in its effect, is the form by which the effect knows its own cause. For instance, suppose a box had an intellect, and so knew through its form the skilled mind from which such a form proceeded as a likeness of that mind. Now, it is not possible in any of these ways to know from the effect what the cause is, unless the effect be adequate to the cause, one in which the entire virtuality of the cause is expressed.

Notes The second way is somewhat formally neglected in the sciences. It’s there, all right, and must be. But it’s not so much acknowledged.

4 Now, separate substances know God through their substances, as a cause is known through its effect; not, of course, in the first way, for then their knowledge would be discursive; but in the second way, according as one substance sees God in another; and also in the third way, according as any one of them sees God within itself. Now, none of them is an effect adequately representing the power of God, as we showed in Book Two [22ff]. So, it is impossible for them to see the divine essence itself by this kind of knowledge.

5 Besides, the intelligible likeness through which a thing is understood in its substance must be of the same species or, rather, of an identical species; as the form of the house which exists in the mind of the artisan is of the same species as the form of the house which exists in matter, or, rather, the species are identical; for one is not going to understand what a donkey or a horse is through the species of a man.

But the nature of a separate substance is not the same in species as the divine nature, not even the same in genus, as we showed in Book One [25]. Therefore, it is not possible for a separate substance, through its own nature, to understand the divine substance.

Notes The joke has been resisted.

6 Furthermore, every created thing is limited to some genus or species. But the divine essence is unlimited, comprehending within itself every perfection in the whole of existing being, as we showed in Book One [28, 43]. Therefore, it is impossible for the divine substance to be seen through any created being.

7 Moreover, every intelligible species whereby the quiddity or essence of any thing is understood comprehends that thing while representing it; consequently, we call words signifying what such a thing is terms and definitions. But it is impossible for a created likeness to represent God in this way, since every created likeness belongs to a definite genus, while God does not, as we explained in Book One [25]. Therefore, it is not possible for the divine substance to be understood through a created likeness.

8 Furthermore, divine substance is its own existing being, as we showed in Book One [22]. But the being of separate substance is other than its substance, as we proved in Book Two [52]. Therefore, the essence of a separate substance is not an adequate medium whereby God could be seen essentially.

9 However a separate substance does know through its own substance that God is, and that He is the cause of all things, that He is eminent above all and set apart from all, not only from things which exist, but also from things which can be conceived by the created mind. Even we are able to reach this knowledge of God, in some sense; for we know through His effects, that God is, and that He is the cause of other beings, that He is supereminent over other things and set apart from all.

And this is the ultimate and most perfect limit of our knowledge in this life, as Dionysius says in Mystical Theology. “We are united with God as the Unknown.” Indeed, this is the situation, for, while we know of God what He is not, what He is remains quite unknown. Hence, to manifest his ignorance of this sublime knowledge, it is said of Moses that “he went to the dark cloud wherein God was” (Exod. 20:21).

10 Now, since a lower nature only touches with its highest part the lowest part of the next higher nature, this knowledge must be more eminent in separate substances than in us.

This becomes evident in a detailed consideration. For, the more closely and definitely we know the effect of a cause, the more evident does it become that its cause exists.

Now, separate substances, which know God through themselves, are nearer effects and more definite bearers of the likeness of God than the effects through which we know God. Therefore, the separate substances know more certainly and clearly than we that God is.

Again, since it is possible to come in some way to the proper knowledge of a thing by means of negations, as we said above, the more a person can know that a large number of closely related things are set apart from an object, the more does one approach toward a proper knowledge of it. For instance, one approaches closer to a proper knowledge of man when he knows that he is neither an inanimate, nor an insensitive, being than when one merely knows that he is not inanimate; even though neither of them makes it known what man is.

Now, separate substances know more things than we do, and things that are closer to God; consequently, in their understanding, they set apart from God more things, and more intimately related things, than we do. So, they approach more closely to a proper knowledge of Him than we do, although even these substances do not see the divine substance by means of their understanding of themselves.

Also, the more one knows how a man is placed in authority over people in higher positions, the more does one know the high position of this man. Thus, though a rustic may know that the king occupies the highest office in the kingdom, since he is acquainted only with some of the lowest official positions in the kingdom with which he may have some business, he does not know the eminence of the king in the way that another man does who is acquainted with all the leading dignitaries of the kingdom and knows that the king holds authority over them; even though neither type of lower office comprehends the exalted position appropriate to the dignity of the king.

Of course, we are in ignorance, except in regard to the lowest types of beings. So, although we may know that God is higher than all beings, we do not know the divine eminence as separate substances do, for the highest orders of beings are known to them, and they know that God is superior to all of them.

Finally, it is obvious that the more the large number, and great importance, of the effects of a cause become known, the more does the causality of the cause, and its power, become known. As a result, it becomes manifest that separate substances know the causality of God, and His power, better than we do; even though we know that He is the cause of all beings.

Notes It’s good to be the king.

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