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Category: SAMT

A tour through Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles.

November 25, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: Some Know More About God Than Others

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The obvious joke is that it pays to study.


1 Since the mode of operation results from the form which is the principle of operation, and since the principle of the vision in which the created intellect sees the divine substance is the aforementioned light, as is clear from what we have said, the mode of the divine vision must be in accord with the mode of this light.

Now, it is possible for there to be different degrees of participation in this light, and so one intellect may be more perfectly illuminated than another. Therefore, it is possible that one of those who see God may see Him more perfectly than another, even though both see His substance.

2 Again, whenever there is a highest member which surpasses others in a genus, we also find that there are degrees of more and less, depending on the greater proximity to, or distance from, this highest member. For instance, certain things are more or less hot depending on whether they are more or less near to fire, which is the highest type of hot thing. But God sees His own substance most perfectly, being the only One Who comprehends it, as we showed above. And so, of those who see Him, one may see His substance more or less than another, depending on whether one is more or less near to Him.

3 Besides, the light of glory elevates to the divine vision due to the fact that it is a certain likeness of the divine intellect, as we have already stated. Now, it is possible for a thing to become more or less like God. Therefore, it is possible for one to see the divine substance more or less perfectly.

4 Furthermore, because the end is related in a proportional way to the things which are directed to the end, these things must participate in the end differently, depending on the different ways in which they are disposed toward the end. But the vision of the divine substance is the ultimate end of every intellectual substance, as is clear from what we have said. Now, not all intellectual substances are disposed with equal perfection to the end; some, in fact, are more virtuous and others less, and virtue is the road to felicity. So, there must be diversity within the divine vision: some seeing the divine substance more perfectly; others, less perfectly.

5 Thus it is that, in order to indicate the variation in this felicity, the Lord says: “In My Father’s house there are many mansions” (John 14:2).

Notes Another way to state this is that Equality is false. As the next point emphasizes.

6 On this basis, then, the error of those who say that all rewards are equal is refuted.

7 Moreover, just as the different degrees of glory among the blessed are evident from the mode of this vision, so from the side of the object that is seen the glory appears to be the same, for the felicity of each person is due to his seeing God’s substance, as we proved. Therefore, it is the same being that makes all blessed; yet they do not all grasp happiness therefrom in equal degree.

8 Hence, there is no contradiction between the foregoing and what our Lord teaches (Matt. 20:10), that to all who labor in the vineyard, though they may not do equal work, there is paid nevertheless the same reward, namely, a penny, because it is the same reward that is given to all, to be seen and enjoyed, namely, God.

9 On this point we must also take into consideration the fact that the order of corporeal movements is somewhat contrary to that of spiritual movements. For there is numerically the same first subject for all corporeal motions, but the ends are different. While there are, on the other hand, different first subjects for spiritual movements, that is to say, for acts of intellectual apprehension and of willing, their end is, however, numerically the same.

November 18, 2018 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: You Can Know Some About God

Summary Against Modern Thought: Limits Of Our Knowledge Of God

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Last few weeks we learned there are limits to how well we can know God. This week we learn that having an intellect means knowing a small part of God.


1 Since the created intellect is exalted to the vision of the divine substance by a certain supernatural light, as is evident from what has been said, there is no created intellect so low in its nature that it cannot be elevated to this vision.

2 It has been shown, in fact, that this light cannot be connatural with any creature, but, that it surpasses every created nature in its power. But what is done by supernatural power is not hindered by a diversity of nature, since divine power is infinite. And so, in the case of the healing of an afflicted person, accomplished miraculously, it makes no difference whether the person is much or little afflicted. Therefore, the varying level of the intellectual nature does not hinder the lowest member of such a nature from being able to be brought to this vision by the aforementioned light.

3 Again, the gap between the intellect, at its highest natural level, and God is infinite in perfection and goodness. But the distance from the highest to the lowest intellect is finite, for there cannot be an infinite distance between one finite being and another. So, the distance which lies between the lowest created intellect and the highest one is like nothing in comparison to the gap which lies between the highest created intellect and God.

Now, that which is practically nothing cannot make a noticeable difference; thus, the distance between the center of the earth and our level of vision is like nothing in comparison with the distance that lies between our eye level and the eighth sphere, in regard to which sphere the whole earth takes the place of a point; this is why no noticeable variation results from the fact that astronomers in their demonstrations use our eye level of sight as the center of the earth. Therefore, it makes no difference what level of intellect it is that is elevated to the vision of God by the aforementioned light: it may be the highest, the lowest, or one in the middle.

Notes Again we have a kind of mathematical proof about infinities by our good saint!

4 Besides, it was proved above that every intellect naturally desires the vision of the divine substance, but natural desire cannot be incapable of fulfillment. Therefore, any created intellect whatever can attain to the vision of the divine substance, and the inferiority of its nature is no impediment.

Notes This means atheists, too.

5 Hence it is that the Lord promises men the glory of the angels: “They shall be,” He says, speaking of men, “like the angels of God in heaven” (Matt. 22:30). And also it is said that there is “the same measure for man and for angel” (Apoc. 21:3-7). For this reason, too, almost everywhere in Sacred Scripture angels are described in the shape of men: either wholly, as is evident of the angels who appeared to Abraham in the likeness of men (Gen. 18:2); or partially, as is the case of the animals of whom it is said that “they had the hands of a man under their wings” (Ez. 1:8).

Notes Something to look forward to. Or to be fearful of, if you end up on the wrong side of the empyrean.

6 By this conclusion we refute the error of those who have said that the human soul, no matter how much it be elevated, cannot attain equality with the higher intellects.

November 11, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: You Can’t Know All About God

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Nietzsche was wrong. Plus, except for the truly satanic, I do not think it is disputed that one cannot know all of God. A very simple lesson this week.


1 It is evident from this that, though the created intellect may see the divine substance, it does not know all that can be known through the divine substance.

2 For it is only in the case of the principle being comprehended by the intellect that, once the principle is known, all its effects are of necessity known through it. Indeed, in that case, when all its effects are known from itself, a principle is known in its entire capacity. Now, other things are known through the divine essence, as the effect is known from its cause. But, since the created intellect cannot know the divine substance in such a way that it comprehends it, the intellect does not have to see all things that can be known through this substance, when it sees it.

3 Again, the higher the nature of an intellect, the more does it know: either in the sense of a multitude of things, or even in the sense of a greater number of reasons for the same things. But the divine intellect surpasses every created intellect. So, it knows more than any created intellect does, and it does not know anything without seeing its essence, as we showed in Book One [49]. Therefore, more things are knowable through the divine essence than any created intellect can see, through the aforesaid essence.

4 Besides, the quantity of a power depends on the things that it can do. So, it is the same to know all the things that a power can do and to comprehend the power itself. But, since the divine power is infinite, no created intellect can comprehend it, just as its essence cannot be comprehended, as we have proved. Nor can the created intellect know all that the divine power can do. But all things that the divine power can do are knowable through the divine essence, for God knows all and in no other way than through His essence. Therefore, the created intellect, seeing the divine substance, does not see all that can be seen in God’s substance.

Notes Not forgetting there are infinities and infinities, in a never-ending stream of cardinalities.

5 Moreover, no cognoscitive power knows a thing except under the rational character of its proper object. For instance, we do not know anything by sight except according as it is colored. Now, the proper object of the intellect is that which is, that is, the substance of a thing, as is stated in Book III of On the Soul [4: 429b 10]. Therefore, whatever the intellect knows about any thing, it knows through knowing the substance of the thing. Consequently, in any demonstration through which the proper accidents become known to us, we take as our principle that which is, as is stated in Posterior Analytics I [4: 73a 37].

Now, if the intellect knows the substance of a thing through its accidents, in accordance with what is said in Book I of On the Soul [1: 402b 21], that “the accidents contribute a good deal to the knowing of that which is,” this is accidental, inasmuch as the intellect must attain to substance through the knowledge of sensible accidents. For this reason, this procedure has no place in mathematics, but only in the area of physical things. Therefore, whatever is in a thing and cannot be known through a knowledge of its substance must be unknown to the intellect.

However, what a volitional agent wills cannot be known through a knowledge of his substance, for the will does not incline to its object in a purely natural way; this is why the will and nature are said to be two active principles.

So, an intellect cannot know what a volitional agent wills except, perhaps, through certain effects. For instance, when we see someone acting voluntarily we may know what he wishes: either through their cause, as God knows our will acts, just as He does His other effects, because He is for us a cause of our willing; or by means of one person indicating his wish to another, as when a man expresses his feeling in speech. And so, since many things are dependent on the simple will of God, as is partly clear from earlier considerations, and will later be more evident, though the created intellect may see God’s substance it does not know all that God sees through His substance.

6 Of course, someone can object against the foregoing that God’s substance is something greater than all the things which He can make, or understand, or will, apart from Himself; hence, if the created intellect can see God’s substance, it is much more possible for it to know all things which God understands, or wills, or makes, except for Himself.

7 But, if it is carefully considered, the fact that something is known in itself does not have the same meaning as that it is known in its cause. For some things easily known in themselves are not, however, easily known in their causes. So, it is true that it is a greater thing to understand the divine substance than anything whatever other than that substance which might be known in itself. However, to know the divine substance and to see its effects in it is a more perfect knowledge than to know the divine substance without seeing the effects in it. And this seeing of the divine substance can be done without comprehension of it. But for all things which can be understood through it to be known is something which cannot happen without comprehending this substance, as is evident from what we have said.

November 4, 2018 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Limits Of Our Knowledge Of God

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There are limits to how well we can know God.


1 However, since the type of action appropriate to any agent depends on the efficacy of its active principle, and thus a thing whose heat is stronger performs the act of heating more intensely, then it must be that the manner of knowing depends on the efficacy of the principle of the act of knowing.

2 Now, the aforementioned light is a certain principle of divine knowledge, because the created intellect is elevated by it to the seeing of the divine substance. Therefore, the mode of the divine vision must be commensurate with the power of this light. Of course, the aforementioned light, in its power, falls far short of the clarity of the divine intellect. So, it is impossible for the divine substance to be seen as perfectly by means of this kind of light, as it is seen by the divine intellect itself.

Indeed, the divine intellect sees its substance as perfectly as its perfect capacity to be seen permits. In fact, the truth of the divine substance and the clarity of the divine intellect are equal, or, better, they are but one.

So, it is impossible for a created intellect, by means of the aforesaid light, to see the divine substance as perfectly as its perfect capacity to be seen permits. Now, everything that is comprehended by a knower is known by him in as perfect a way as the knowable object permits. For instance, a person who knows that a triangle has three angles equal to two right angles, but merely as a matter of opinion on the basis of probable reasoning, since it is said to be so by wise men, does not yet comprehend it; but only the man who knows this as a definite knowable object, by means of whatever is its cause. It is impossible, then, for the created intellect to comprehend the divine substance.

Notes All teachers will appreciate that analogy! That “probable reasoning” is what I elsewhere called “local truths”, and is obviously a good use of the argument by authority. The conclusion is not necessarily true, but probably true.

3 Again, a finite power in its, operation cannot be on a par with an infinite object. But the divine substance is something infinite in relation to every created intellect, since every created intellect is limited under a definite species. So, it is impossible for any created intellect’s vision to be equal to the seeing of the divine substance; that is to say, to seeing it as perfectly as its capacity to be seen permits. Therefore, no created intellect may comprehend it.

4 Besides, every agent acts perfectly to the extent that it participates in the form which is the principle of its operation. Now, the intelligible form, by which the divine substance is seen, is the divine essence itself, and, though it becomes the intelligible form of the created intellect, the created intellect does not grasp it according to its entire capacity. So, it does not see it as perfectly as its capacity to be seen permits. Therefore, it is not comprehended by the created intellect.

Notes A point which, when grasped, should produce a deep humility. The most fundamental and important stuff we know is given to us. We at best figure out tiny intellectual puzzles.

5 Furthermore, no object of comprehension exceeds the limitations of the one who comprehends. Thus, if the created intellect were to comprehend the divine substance, the divine substance would not exceed the limits of the created intellect. But this is impossible. Therefore, it is not possible for a created intellect to comprehend the divine substance.

6 Now, this statement that the divine substance is seen by the created intellect, yet not comprehended, does not mean that part of it is seen and part not seen, because the divine substance is entirely simple. Rather, it means that it is not seen as perfectly by the created intellect as its visibility would permit. In the same way, a man who has an opinion regarding a demonstrative conclusion is said to know it but not to comprehend it, since he does not know it perfectly, that is, in a scientific way, though there is no part of it that he does not know.

Notes I like to call this “owning the fact”. Students can memorize a fact, and repeat it, but their incomprehension (for the most part) about the fact does not make it false. The fact is held largely on authority, which is weak because any little thing can disturb it. Think of the premises built up about a fact, or rather from which a fact is deduced, as a sort of wall. Authority is one brick, easily assailed. But as premises (knowledge) increase, so does the strength of the wall. Losing one premise won’t make the conclusion fall.