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Category: SAMT

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

October 28, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Illumine’s Our Intellect

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Some old, and no longer common, objections to the idea God does not illumine us.


1 Now, someone will object against the preceding statements. No light that is added to the power of vision can elevate this power to a vision of things which exceed the capacity of bodily sight, for the power of sight is able to see colored objects only. But divine substance exceeds all the capacity of a created intellect, even more than understanding exceeds the capacity of sense. Therefore, the created intellect could not be elevated by any adventitious light so as to see the divine substance.

2 Again, the light which is received in a created intellect is something created. And so, it is infinitely removed from God. Therefore, the created intellect cannot be elevated to the vision of the divine substance by this kind of light.

3 Besides, if the aforesaid light can in fact do this because it is a likeness of the divine substance, then since every intellectual substance, by the fact of being intellectual, bears the divine likeness, the very nature of any intellectual substance whatever is adequate to the divine vision.

4 Furthermore, if this light is created, then nothing prevents it from being created connatural with some creature; hence, there could be a created intellect which, by its own connatural light, would see the divine substance. The contrary of this has been proved.

5 Moreover, “the infinite as such is unknown.” Now, we have shown in Book One [43] that God is infinite. Therefore, the divine substance cannot be seen by means of the aforesaid light.

6 Again, there must be a proportion between the understander and the thing understood. But there is no proportion between the created intellect, even when perfected by this light, and the divine substance, because their distance apart still remains infinite. Therefore, the created intellect cannot be elevated to the vision of the divine substance by any light.

7 For these and similar reasons some men have been moved to assert that the divine substance is never seen by any created intellect. Of course, this position both takes away true happiness from the rational creature, for it can consist in nothing other than a vision of divine substance, as we have shown; and it also contradicts the text of Sacred Scripture, as is evident from the preceding texts. Consequently, it is to be spurned as false and heretical.

Notes And now the counter arguments. The attempted rebuttals above do not carry as much force with us, given that we routinely speak of infinities (in math).

8 Indeed, it is not difficult to answer these arguments. The divine substance is not beyond the capacity of the created intellect in such a way that it is altogether foreign to it, as sound is from the object of vision, or as immaterial substance is from sense power; in fact, the divine substance is the first intelligible object and the principle of all intellectual cognition. But it is beyond the capacity of the created intellect, in the sense that it exceeds its power; just as sensible objects of extreme character are beyond the capacity of sense power. Hence, the Philosopher says that “our intellect is to the most evident things, as the eye of the owl is to the light of the sun.” So, a created intellect needs to be strengthened by a divine light in order that it may be able to see the divine essence. By this, the first argument is answered.

9 Moreover, this sort of light raises the created intellect to the vision of God, not on the basis of a diminution of its distance from the divine substance, but by virtue of a power which it receives from God in relation to such an effect; even though it remains far away from God in its being, as the second argument suggested. In fact, this light does not unite the created intellect with God in the act of being but only in the act of understanding.

10 Since, however, it is proper to God Himself to know His own substance perfectly, the aforesaid light is a likeness of God, inasmuch as it conduces to the seeing of God’s substance. But no intellectual substance can be a likeness of God in this sense. For, since the divine simplicity is not equaled by any created substance, it is not possible for a created substance to have its entire perfection in the same identity; indeed, this is proper to God, as we showed in Book One [28], for He is being, understanding and blessed, identically. So, in a created intellectual substance, the light whereby it is beatified in the divine vision is one thing, while the light whereby it is in any sense perfected within its natural species, and whereby it understands in a manner proportioned to its substance, is quite a different thing. From this the answer to the third argument is evident.

11 Now, the fourth is answered by the fact that the vision of the divine substance exceeds every natural power, as we have shown. Hence, the light whereby the created intellect is perfected for the vision of the divine substance must be supernatural.

12 Nor does the fact that God is called infinite hinder the vision of the divine substance, as the fifth argument suggested. For, He is not called infinite in the privative sense, as quantity is. This latter kind of infinity is rationally unknown, because it is like matter devoid of form, which is the principle of knowledge. Rather, He is called infinite in the negative sense, like a self-subsistent form, not limited by matter receiving it. Hence, a being which is infinite in this sense is most knowable in itself.

13 Now, the proportion of the created intellect to the understanding of God is not, in fact, based on a commensuration in an existing proportion, but on the fact that proportion means any relation of one thing to another, as of matter to form, or of cause to effect. In this sense, then, nothing prevents there being a proportion of creature to God on the basis of a relation of one who understands to the thing understood, just as on the basis of the relation of effect to cause. Hence the answer to the sixth objection is clear.

October 21, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: You Need God To Know Anything

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We’re still on the theme that you need God to see God. Indeed, you need God to know anything.


1 For such a noble vision, the created intellect must be elevated by means of an influx of divine goodness.

2 Indeed, it is not possible for what is the proper form of one thing to become the form of another unless the latter thing participates some likeness of the thing to which the form belongs. For instance, light can only become the act of a body if the body participates somewhat in the diaphanous. But the divine essence is the proper intelligible form for the divine intellect and is proportioned to it; in fact, these three are one in God: the intellect, that whereby understanding is accomplished, and the object which is understood. So, it is impossible for this essence to become the intelligible form of a created intellect unless by virtue of the fact that the created intellect participates in the divine likeness. Therefore, this participation in the divine likeness is necessary so that the substance of God may be seen.

3 Again, nothing is receptive of a more sublime form unless it be elevated by means of a disposition to the capacity for this form, for a proper act is produced in a proper potency. Now, the divine essence is a higher form than any created intellect. So, in order that the divine essence may become the intelligible species for a created intellect, which is needed in order that the divine substance may be seen, it is necessary for the created intellect to be elevated for this purpose by a more sublime disposition.

Notes Another way to put this is that you need God to know any truth.

4 Besides, suppose that two things are not united at first, and then later they are united; this must be done by changing both of them, or at least one. Now, suppose that a created intellect starts for the first time to see God’s substance; then, necessarily, according to the preceding arguments, the divine essence must be united with it for the first time as an intelligible species. Of course, it is not possible for the divine essence to be changed, as we showed above. So, this union must start to exist by means of a change in the created intellect. In fact, this change can only come about by means of the created intellect acquiring some new disposition.

Indeed, the same conclusion follows if it be granted that a created intellect is endowed with such a vision from the start of its creation. For, if this vision exceeds the capacity of a created nature, as we have proved, then any created intellect may be understood to enjoy complete existence in the species proper to its nature, without seeing the substance of God. Hence, whether it begins to see God at the start of its existence, or later, something must be added to its nature.

5 Furthermore, nothing can be elevated to a higher operation unless because its power is strengthened. But there are two possible ways in which a thing’s power may be strengthened. One way is by a simple intensification of the power itself; thus, the active power of a hot thing is increased by an intensification of the heat, so that it is able to perform a stronger action of the same species.

A second way is by the imposition of a new form; thus, the power of a diaphanous object is increased so that it can shine with light, by virtue of its becoming actually luminous, through the form of light received for the first time within it. And in fact, this latter kind of increase of power is needed for the acquisition of an operation of another species.

Now, the power of a created intellect is not sufficient to see the divine substance, as is clear from what we have said. So, its power must be increased in order that it may attain such a vision. But the increase through the intensification of a natural power does not suffice, since this vision is not of the same essential type as the vision proper to a natural created intellect. This is evident from the difference between the objects of these visions. Therefore, an increase of the intellectual power by means of the acquisition of a new disposition must be accomplished.

Notes Another—and the same as above—way to put this, is that you need God to know that which cannot be proved.

6 However, since we reach the knowledge of intelligible things from sensible things, we also take over the names proper to sense knowledge for intellectual knowledge, especially the ones which apply to sight, which, compared to the other senses, is more noble and more spiritual, and so more closely related to the intellect. Thus it is that this intellectual knowledge is called vision. And since corporeal vision is not accomplished without light, those things whereby intellectual vision is perfected take on the name fight.

Hence, even Aristotle, in Book III of On the Soul [5: 430a 15], likens the agent intellect to light, because of the fact that the agent intellect makes things actually intelligible, just as light in a way makes things actually visible. Therefore, this disposition whereby the created intellect is raised to the intellectual vision of divine substance is fittingly called the light of glory; not because it makes some object actually intelligible, as does the light of the agent intellect, but because it makes the intellect actually powerful enough to understand.

7 Now, this is the light of which it is said in the Psalms (35:10): “In Thy light we shall see the light,” that is, of the divine substance. And it is said in the Apocalypse (22:5; see also 21:23): “The city,” that is, of the Blessed, “has no need of the sun, nor of the moon . . . for the glory of God bath enlightened it.”

And it is said in Isaiah (60:19): “You shall no more have the sun for your light by day, neither shall the brightness of the moon enlighten you; but the Lord shall be an everlasting light for you, and your God for your glory.”

It is also so, because in God to be and to understand is the same thing; and because He is for all the cause of understanding, He is said to be the light (John 1:9): “That was the true light which enlightened every man that comes into this world” (John 1:9); and: “God is light” (1 John 1:5); and in the Psalms (103:7): “You…are clothed with light as with a garment.” And for this reason also, both God and the angels are described in Sacred Scripture in figures of fire (Exod. 24:17; Acts 2:3; Ps 103:4), because of the brilliance of fire.

October 14, 2018 | 27 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: You Need God To See God

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You can’t do everything on your own: be sure to first review last week for an understanding of what that means.


1 However, it is not possible for any created substance, by its own power, to be able to attain this manner of divine vision.

2 Indeed, a lower nature cannot acquire that which is proper to a higher nature except through the action of the higher nature to which the property belongs. For instance, water cannot be hot except through the action of fire. Now, to see God through His divine essence is proper to the divine nature, for it is the special prerogative of any agent to perform its operation through its own form. So, no intellectual substance can see God through His divine essence unless God is the agent of this operation.

Notes Hence, “if you seek Him you have already found him.”

3 Again, the form proper to any being does not come to be in another being unless the first being is the agent of this event, for an agent makes something like itself by communicating its form to another thing. Now, it is impossible to see the substance of God unless the divine essence itself is the form whereby the intellect understands, as we have proved. Therefore, it is not possible for a created substance to attain this vision, except through divine action.

4 Besides, if any two factors are to be mutually united, so that one of them is formal and the other material, their union must be completed through action coming from the side of the formal factor, and not through the action of the one that is material. In fact, form is the principle of action, while matter is the principle of passion. For the created intellect to see God’s substance, then, the divine essence itself must be joined as an intelligible form to the intellect, as we have proved. Therefore, it is not possible for the attainment of this vision to be accomplished by a created intellect except through divine action.

Notes This ties to what we have been saying about the highest forms of knowledge, i.e. that which comes directly from God, as insight or (sometimes) intuition. I.e. induction, of a sort.

5 Furthermore, “that which is of itself is the cause of that which is through another being.” But the divine intellect sees the divine substance through itself, for the divine intellect is the divine essence itself whereby the substance of God is seen, as was proved in Book One [45]. However, the created intellect sees the divine substance through the essence of God, as through something other than itself. Therefore, this vision cannot come to the created intellect except through God’s action.

6 Moreover, whatever exceeds the limitations of a nature cannot accrue to it except through the action of another being. For instance, water does not tend upward unless it is moved by something else. Now, seeing God’s substance transcends the limitations of every created nature; indeed, it is proper for each created intellectual nature to understand according to the manner of its own substance. But divine substance cannot be understood in this way, as we showed above. Therefore, the attainment by a created intellect to the vision of divine substance is not possible except through the action of God, Who transcends all creatures.

7 Thus, it is said: “The grace of God is life everlasting” (Rom. 6:23). In fact, we have shown that man’s happiness, which is called life everlasting, consists in this divine vision, and we are said to attain it by God’s grace alone, because such a vision exceeds all the capacity of a creature and it is not possible to reach it without divine assistance. Now, when such things happen to a creature, they are attributed to God’s grace. And the Lord says: “I will manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21).

October 7, 2018 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: How God Will Be Seen

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Some good news this week!


1 Since it is impossible for a natural desire to be incapable of fulfillment, and since it would be so, if it were not possible to reach an understanding of divine substance such as all minds naturally desire, we must say that it is possible for the substance of God to be seen intellectually, both by separate intellectual substances and by our souls.

2 It is already sufficiently apparent from what we have said what should be the mode of this vision. For we showed above that the divine substance cannot be seen intellectually by means of any created species. Consequently, if the divine essence is seen, it must be done as His intellect sees the divine essence itself through itself, and in such a vision the divine essence must be both what is seen and that whereby it is seen.

Notes And this is not be what we think of as rational thought or reasoning. This is a higher form of knowledge.

3 Now, since the created intellect cannot understand any substance unless it becomes actual by means of some species, which is the likeness of the thing understood, informing it, a person might consider it impossible for a created intellect to be able to see, by means of the divine essence serving as a sort of intelligible species, the very substance of God. For the divine essence is a certain being subsisting through itself, and we showed in Book One [26] that God cannot be a form for any other being.

4 In order to understand the truth of this matter, we must consider that self-subsistent substance is either a form only, or a composite of matter and form. And a thing composed of matter and form cannot be the form of another being, because the form in it is already limited to this matter in such a way that it could not be the form of another thing. But a being which subsists in such a way that it is a form only can be the form of another, provided its being is such that it could be participated by that other thing, as we showed concerning the human soul, in Book Two [68]. However, if its being could not be participated by another, it could not be the form of any other thing, for then it would be determined within itself by its own being, just as material things are by their own matter.

Now, this should be observed as obtaining in the same way in the order of intelligible being as it does in substantial or physical being. For, since the perfection of the intellect is what is true, in the order of intelligible objects, that object which is a purely formal intelligible will be truth itself. And this characteristic applies only to God, for, since the true is consequent on being, that alone is its own truth which is its own being. But this is proper to God only, as we showed in Book Two [15]. So, other intelligible subsistents do not exist as pure forms in the order of intelligible beings, but as possessors of a form in some subject. In fact, each of them is a true thing but not truth, just as each is a being but not the very act of being.

So, it is manifest that the divine essence may be related to the created intellect as an intelligible species by which it understands, but this does not apply to the essence of any other separate substance. Yet, it cannot be the form of another thing in its natural being, for the result of this would be that, once joined to another thing, it would make up one nature. This could not be, since the divine essence is in itself perfect in its own nature. But an intelligible species, united with an intellect, does not make up a nature; rather, it perfects the intellect for the act of understanding, and this is not incompatible with the perfection of the divine essence.

Notes The first paragraph here is all the refutation of gnosticism you’ll ever need. The other two are contra those religions which say you’ll, somehow, attain godhood yourself, or will be one with God in an essential way: see also [6] below. As for the rest—what dreams may come!

5 This immediate vision of God is promised us in Scripture: “We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). It is wrong to understand this in a corporeal way, picturing in our imagination a bodily face of the Divinity, since we have shown that God is incorporeal. Nor is it even possible for us to see God with our bodily face, for the power of corporeal vision, which is associated with our face, can only apply to corporeal things. Thus, then, shall we see God face to face, in the sense that we shall see Him without a medium, as is true when we see a man face to face.

6 In this vision, of course, we become most like unto God, and we are partakers in His happiness. For God Himself understands His own substance through His own essence; and this is His felicity. Hence it is said: “When He shall appear, we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). And the Lord says “I dispose to you, as My Father has disposed to me… my table, that you may eat and drink at my table, in my kingdom” (Luke 22:29-30). Of course, this can be understood not in reference to corporeal food or drink, but to Him who is received at the table of Wisdom, of whom Wisdom speaks: “Eat My bread and drink the wine which I have mingled for you” (Proverbs 9:5). And so, may they who enjoy the same felicity whereby God is happy eat and drink at God’s table, seeing Him in the way that lie sees Himself.