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Category: SAMT

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

July 22, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: Man’s Knowledge of God Through Faith

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Have faith, we’re getting there.

That Human Felicity Does Not Consist In the Knowledge of God Which is Through Faith

1 Now, there is still another knowledge of God, in one sense superior to the aforementioned knowledge, and by this God is known to men through faith. In comparison with the knowledge that we have of God through demonstration, this knowledge through faith surpasses it, for we know some things about God through faith which, because of their sublimity, demonstrative reason cannot attain, as we said at the beginning of this work. Yet, it is not possible for man’s ultimate felicity to consist in even this knowledge of God.

2 Felicity, indeed, is a perfect operation of the intellect as is clear from what we have said. But, in the knowledge of faith, there is found a most imperfect operation of the intellect, having regard to what is on the side of the intellect, though the greatest perfection is discovered on the side of the object. For the intellect does not grasp the object to which it gives assent in the act of believing. Therefore, neither does man’s ultimate felicity lie in this kind of knowledge of God.

3 Again, we showed above, that ultimate felicity does not consist primarily in an act of the will. But in the knowledge of faith the will takes priority; indeed, the intellect assents through faith to things resented to it, because of an act of will and not because it is necessarily moved by the very evidence of the truth. So, man’s ultimate felicity does not lie in this knowledge.

Notes Stand by for a terrific analogy on faith versus reason.

4 Besides, one who believes gives assent to things that are proposed to him by another person, and which he himself does not see. Hence, faith has a knowledge that is more like hearing than vision.

Now, a man would not believe in things that are unseen but proposed to him by another man unless he thought that this other man had more perfect knowledge of these proposed things than he himself who does not see them.

So, either the believer’s judgment is false or else the proposer must have more perfect knowledge of the things proposed. And if the proposer only knows these things by hearing them from another man, this cannot go on indefinitely, for the assent of faith would be foolish and without certitude; indeed, we would discover no first thing certain in itself which would bring certainty to the faith of the believer. Now, it is not possible for the knowledge of faith to be false and empty, as is evident from what we have said in the opening Book [I, 7]. Yet, if it were false and empty, felicity could not consist in such knowledge.

So, there is for man some knowledge of God which is higher than the knowledge of faith: either the man who proposes the faith sees the truth immediately, as is the case when we believe in Christ; or he takes it immediately from one who does see, as when we believe the Apostles and Prophets. So, since man’s felicity consists in the highest knowledge of God, it is impossible for it to consist in the knowledge of faith.

Notes Belief is a step beyond probability, if you will. You can judge a proposition’s truth or falsity, or in-betweenness, and that’s probability. But how you act on the proposition if your belief. Hence the next paragraph.

5 Moreover, through felicity, because it is the ultimate end, natural desire comes to rest. Now, the knowledge of faith does not bring rest to desire but rather sets it aflame, since every man desires to see what he believes. So, man’s ultimate felicity does not lie in the knowledge of faith.

6 Furthermore, the knowledge of God has been called the end because it is joined to the ultimate end of things, that is, to God. But an item of belief is not made perfectly present to the intellect by the knowledge of faith, since faith is of things absent, not of things present. For this reason the Apostle says, in 2 Corinthians (5:6-7), that “while we are in the body we walk by faith and we are absent from the Lord.” Yet God is brought into the presence of love through faith, since the believer assents to God voluntarily, according to what is said in Ephesians (3:17): “that Christ may dwell by faith in our hearts.” Therefore, it is not possible for ultimate human felicity to consist in the knowledge of faith.

July 15, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: Man’s Knowledge of God Through Demonstration

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Ultimate felicity does not come in reading chapters like this. But it’s sure to put you in a good mood.

That Human Felicity Does Not Consist In the Knowledge of God Gained by Demonstration

1 On the other hand, there is another sort of knowledge of God, higher than the foregoing, and we may acquire it through demonstration. A closer approach to a proper knowledge of Him is effected through this kind, for many things are set apart from Him, through demonstration, whose removal enable Him to be understood in distinction from other beings. In fact, demonstration shows that God is immutable, eternal, incorporeal, altogether simple, one, and other such things which we have shown about God in Book One[15-38].

Now, we reach a proper knowledge of a thing not only through affirmations but also through negations; for instance, it is proper to a man to be a rational animal, and so it is proper to him not to be inanimate or irrational. But there is this difference between these two modes of proper knowledge: through affirmations, when we have a proper knowledge of a thing, we know what the thing is, and bow it is separated from others; but through negations, when we have a proper knowledge of a thing, we know that it is distinct from other things, yet what it is remains unknown. Now, such is the proper knowledge that we have of God through demonstrations. Of course, this is not sufficient for the ultimate felicity of man.

Notes Though it sometimes harder to notice the negations.

2 For, the things which pertain to a species extend to the end of that species, in most cases; in fact, things which are of natural origin are so always, or in most cases, though they may fail in a few instances because of some corruption. Now, felicity is the end of the human species, since all men naturally desire it. So, felicity is a definite common good, capable of accruing to all men, unless an impediment occurs by which some may be deprived of it. Now, few men attain the knowledge of God that we have just mentioned, acquired by way of demonstration, because of the obstacles to this knowledge which we touched on in the beginning of this work. Therefore, such knowledge of God is not essentially identical with human felicity.

Notes Especially since these teachings are now verboten in state-sponsored schools.

3 Then, again, to be actual is the end of what is potential, as is clear from the foregoing. So, felicity which is the ultimate end is an act to which no potency for further actuality is attached. But this sort of knowledge of God, acquired by way of demonstration, still remains in potency to something further to be learned about God, or to the same knowledge possessed in a higher way, for later men have endeavored to add something pertinent to divine knowledge to the things which they found in the heritage of their predecessors. Therefore, such knowledge is not identical with ultimate felicity.

4 Moreover, felicity excludes all unhappiness, for no man can be at once unhappy and happy. Now, deception and error constitute a great part of unhappiness; in fact, that is what all men naturally avoid. But manifold error can accompany the aforesaid knowledge that is acquired about God, and this is evident in many men who learned some truths about God by way of demonstration, and who, following their own opinions in cases where demonstration fails them, have fallen into many errors. In fact, if there have been any men who have discovered the truth about divine things in such a way, by means of demonstration, that no falsity attached to their judgment, it is clear that there have been few such. This is not appropriate to felicity, which is a common end. So, man’ ultimate felicity does not lie in this knowledge of God.

5 Besides, felicity consists in a perfect operation. Now, certainty is required for perfect knowledge; for this reason we are not said to know unless we learn something that cannot be otherwise, as is evident in the Posterior Analytics [I, 2: 72a17]. Now, the knowledge we have been talking about includes much uncertainty; the diversity of the sciences of divine matters among those who have tried to find out these things by way of demonstration shows this. Therefore, ultimate felicity is not found in such knowledge.

6 Moreover, the will rests its desire when it has attained the ultimate end. But the ultimate cud of all human knowledge is felicity. So, that knowledge of God which, when acquired, leaves no knowledge of a knowable object to be desired is essentially this felicity. But this is not the kind of knowledge about God that the philosophers were able to get through demonstrations, because, even when we acquire this knowledge, we still desire to know other things that are not known through this knowledge. Therefore, felicity is not found in such knowledge of God.

Notes Thinking only gets you so far. Revelation is therefore necessary. And is even common, if you take, as I do, knowledge of universals (and other sorts of infinities) to be (let us call them) mild revelations.

7 Furthermore, the end of every being which is in potency is to be brought into act, for it tends toward this through the motion by which it is moved to its end. Of course, every being in potency tends to become actual, in so far as that is possible. Now, there is one kind of being in potency whose entire potency can be reduced to act; hence, its end is to be completely reduced to act. Thus, a heavy body in some unusual position is in potency to its proper place. But there is another kind of thing whose entire potency cannot be reduced to act at the same time. This is the case with prime matter, and that is why, through its change, it seeks to be actuated successively under different forms which cannot be simultaneously present in it, because of their diversity.

Now, our intellect is in potency to all intelligible objects, as was explained in Book Two [47]. But two intelligible objects can exist simultaneously in the possible intellect, by way of the first act which is science, though perhaps not by way of the second act which is consideration. It is evident from this that the entire potency of the possible intellect can be reduced to act at one time. So, this is required for its ultimate end which is felicity. But the aforesaid knowledge of God which can be acquired through demonstration does not do this, since, even when we possess it, We still remain ignorant of many things. Therefore, such knowledge of God is not sufficient for ultimate felicity.

July 8, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: Ultimate Happiness Man’s Knowledge of God

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Three-word summary: Avoid bad books.

That Human Felicity Does Not Consist In the Knowledge of God Which is Generally Possessed by Most Men

1 It remains to investigate the kind of knowledge in which the ultimate felicity of an intellectual substance consists. For there is a common and confused knowledge of God which is found in practically all men; this is due either to the fact that it is self-evident that God exists, just as other principles of demonstration are—a view held by some people, as we said in Book One—or, what seems indeed to be true, that man can immediately reach some sort of knowledge of God by natural reason.

For, when men see that things in nature run according to a definite order, and that ordering does not occur without an orderer, they perceive in most cases that there is some orderer of the things that we see.

But who or what kind of being, or whether there is but one orderer of nature, is not yet grasped immediately in this general consideration, just as, when we see that a man is moved and performs other works, we perceive that there is present in him some cause of these operations which is not present in other things, and we call this cause the soul; yet we do not know at that point what the soul is, whether it is a body, or how it produces these operations which have been mentioned.

Notes That there must be an orderer is easily proved. However things work, at base, there has to be a creator of how things work. How things work could not have come about “randomly”, which is impossible, or from nothing, which is also impossible. There must therefore be an author (or, as our good saint says, at least one, the singularity of the one not yet proven).

2 Of course, it is not possible for this knowledge of God to suffice for felicity.

3 In fact, the operation of the man enjoying felicity must be without defect. But this knowledge admits of a mixture of many errors. Some people have believed that there is no other orderer of worldly things than the celestial bodies, and so they said that the celestial bodies are gods.

Other people pushed it farther, to the very elements and the things generated from them, thinking that motion and the natural functions which these elements have are not present in them as the effect of some other orderer, but that other things are ordered by them.

Still other people, believing that human acts are not subject to any ordering, other than human, have said that men who order others are gods. And so, this knowledge of God is not enough for felicity.

Notes The first “gods” fallacy is mostly dead. The second “physics” fallacy is alive and prospering. We are the generation privileged to see the true birth of the “man-as-god” fallacy, which we might also call the “final fallacy.”

4 Again, felicity is the end of human acts. But human acts are not ordered to the aforementioned knowledge, as to an end. Rather, it is found in all men, almost at once, from their beginning. So, felicity does not consist in this knowledge of God.

5 Besides, no man seems to be blameworthy because of the fact that he lacks felicity; in point of fact, those who lack it, but are tending toward it, are given praise.

But the fact that a person lacks the aforesaid knowledge of God makes him appear very blameworthy. Indeed, a man’s dullness is chiefly indicated by this: he fails to perceive such evident signs of God, just as a person is judged to be dull who, while observing a man, does not grasp the fact that he has a soul.

That is why it is said in the Psalms ( 13:1, 52:1): “The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God.” So, this is not the knowledge of God which suffices for felicity.

6 Moreover, the knowledge that one has of a thing, only in a general way and not according to something proper to it, is very imperfect, just like the knowledge one might have of a man when one knows simply that he is moved.

For this is the kind of knowledge whereby a thing is known only in potency, since proper attributes are potentially included within common ones. But felicity is a perfect operation, and man’s highest good ought to be based on what is actual and not simply on what is potential, for potency perfected by act has the essential character of the good. Therefore, the aforementioned knowledge is not enough for our felicity.

July 1, 2018 | 2 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Ultimate Happiness Comes In Contemplation Of God

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Finally, the grand (and not unexpected) reveal!

That the ultimate felicity of man consists in the contemplation of God

1 So, if the ultimate felicity of man does not consist in external things which are called the goods of fortune, nor in the goods of the body, nor in the goods of the soul according to its sensitive part, nor as regards the intellective part according to the activity of the moral virtues, nor according to the intellectual virtues that are concerned with action, that is, art and prudence—we are left with the conclusion that the ultimate felicity of man lies in the contemplation of truth.

2 Indeed, this is the only operation of man which is proper to him, and in it he shares nothing in common with the other animals.

3 So, too, this is ordered to nothing else as an end, for the contemplation of truth is sought for its own sake.

4 Also, through this operation man is united by way of likeness with beings superior to him, since this alone of human operations is found also in God and in separate substances.

5 Indeed, in this operation he gets in touch with these higher beings by knowing them in some way.

6 Also, for this operation man is rather sufficient unto himself, in the sense that for it he needs little help from external things.

7 In fact, all other human operations seem to be ordered to this one, as to an end. For, there is needed for the perfection of contemplation a soundness of body, to which all the products of art that are necessary for life are directed. Also required are freedom from the disturbances of the passions—this is achieved through the moral virtues and prudence—and freedom from external disorders, to which the whole program of government in civil life is directed. And so, if they are rightly considered, all human functions may be seen to subserve the contemplation of truth.

Notes The internet, upon which these words are delivered, excels at disturbing the passions. So that if anything is learned upon it it is only by supreme discipline of the reader not to distract himself. This is why quiet is needed for superior contemplation, and it why (I am convinced) we cannot find quiet easily.

8 However, it is not possible for man’s ultimate felicity to consist in the contemplation which depends on the understanding of principles, for that is very imperfect, being most universal, including the potential cognition of things. Also, it is the beginning, not the end, of human enquiry, coming to us from nature and not because of our search for truth. Nor, indeed, does it lie in the area of the sciences which deal with lower things, because felicity should lie in the working of the intellect in relation to the noblest objects of understanding. So, the conclusion remains that man’s ultimate felicity consists in the contemplation of wisdom, based on the considering of divine matters.

Notes Any true scholar will tell you that the greatest joy is found in figuring our or discovering the most difficult truths.

9 From this, that is also clear by way of induction, which was proved above by rational arguments, namely, that man’s ultimate felicity consists only in the contemplation of God.