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Category: SAMT

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

July 5, 2015 | 4 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Pure Truth

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Last time we met, one month ago, we learned God is Truth. Go back and review. This week we’ll ease back into things with a short chapter, but one which contains some important points vis-à-vis realist vs. idealist or skeptical philosophy.

Chapter 61 That God Is The Most Pure Truth (alternate translation)

[1] THE foregoing being established it is evident that in God there is pure truth, in which there can be no alloy of falsehood or deception. For falsehood is incompatible with truth, even as black with white. Now God is not merely true, but is truth itself.[1] Therefore there can be no falsehood in Him.

[2] Moreover. The intellect is not deceived in knowing what a thing is, as neither is the sense about its proper sensible.[2] Now all knowledge of the divine intellect is as the knowledge of one who knows what a thing is, as was proved above.[3] Therefore it is impossible that there be error, deception or falsehood in the divine knowledge.

[3] Further. The intellect does not err about first principles, whereas it does sometimes about conclusions, to which it proceeds by arguing from first principles. Now the divine intellect is not argumentative or discursive, as we proved above.[4] Therefore there can be no falsehood or deception therein…

Notes Your senses do not err, you see what you see, or rather, your optical bits present, in whatever form they are currently capable, of information to your intellect, which sorts them out. Now you might hallucinate and, say, think that man ahead is Bob, and your intellect knows Bob. But that is not because your senses falsely reported Bob, but because you reasoned improperly from the sense impressions you had and possibly because of other false premises or thoughts you entertained (“Bob is supposed to meet me” but it turns out he was delayed).

Also, we would not know there were such things as hallucinations if we also didn’t know there were real perceptions. And while all of are are supplied, via induction, fundamental truths, i.e. first principles, which we know indubitably, each of us occasionally reasons incorrectly. Example: God is love, therefore love is God, therefore love is all you need.

Lastly, don’t forget that God does not need to reason, to move from premises to conclusion, because God knows all at once.

[5] Moreover. An intellectual virtue is a perfection of the intellect in knowing things. Now the intellect cannot, according to an intellectual virtue, speak false, but always speaks true: because to speak true is the good act of the intellect, and it belongs to virtue to perform a good act.[5] Now the divine intellect is more perfect by its nature than the human intellect is by a habit of virtue, for it is in the summit of perfection.[6] It remains, therefore, that falsehood cannot be in the divine intellect.

Notes The intellect cannot speak falsely, but our will can make us lie. We know we lie, and we know because of our intellects. A lie is an imperfection. Now lying is a huge subject, one which St Thomas considered fully. See this.

[6] Further. The knowledge of the human intellect is somewhat caused by things; the result being that man’s knowledge is measured by its objects: since the judgment of the intellect is true through being in accordance with things, and not vice versa. Now the divine intellect is the cause of things by its knowledge.[7] Wherefore His knowledge must needs be the measure of things: even as art is the measure of the products of art, each of which is so far perfect as it accords with art. Hence the divine intellect is compared to things as things to the human intellect.

Now falsehood resulting from inequality between man’s mind and things is not in things but in the mind. Wherefore if there were not perfect equality between the divine mind and things, falsehood would be in things but not in the divine mind. And yet there is no falsehood in things, because as much as a thing has of being, so much has it of truth. Therefore there is no inequality between the divine intellect and things: nor is any falsehood possible in the divine mind.

[7] Again. As the true is the good of the intellect, so is falsehood its evil:[8] for we naturally desire to know the true and shun to be deceived by the false. Now evil cannot be in God, as was proved above.[9] Therefore falsehood cannot be in Him.

Notes Notice that all knowledge of the human intellect is caused by things, only that some is. Some knowledge, that which we receive by induction or revelation, is caused divinely. But what is true is still that which accords with what is. And, as our good saint says, a falsehood is not in things but in us, in our intellects.

Plus, I’m sure the indirect point that falsity is evil did not escape your notice.


[1] Ch. lx.
[2] Cf. ch. lix.
[3] Ch. lviii.
[4] Ch. lvii.
[5] 2 Ethic. vi. 2.
[6] Ch. xxviii.
[7] Ch. 1.: In evidence…p. 109; Sum. Th. P. I., Q. xiii., A. 8.
[8] 6 Ethic. ii. 3.
[9] Ch. xxxix.

May 31, 2015 | 30 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is Truth

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

There is more than the usual amount of material culled leading up to our ultimate goal, that God is Truth. But these are easy, relative to the normal chapters. Not many notes are needed. God is Truth itself.

Chapter 56 That God’s Knowledge Is Not A Habit (alternate translation)

[2] …For wheresoever knowledge is habitual, all things are not known simultaneously, but some actually and others habitually. Now God knows all things actually in the same instant, as we have proved. Therefore in Him knowledge is not a habit.

Notes Never forget that God is outside time; and that we’re stuck in it.

Chapter 57 That God’s Knowledge Is Not Discursive (alternate translation)

[2] …Our thoughts are argumentative when we pass from one thought to another, as when we reason from principles to conclusions. For a person does not argue or discourse from the fact that he sees how a conclusion follows from its premisses, and considers both together: since this happens not by arguing but by judging of an argument: even so neither does material knowledge consist in judging of material things. Now, it was shown that God does not consider one thing after another successively as it were, but all things simultaneously. Therefore His knowledge is not argumentative or discursive: although He is cognizant of all discourse and argument.

[3] Again. Whosoever argues views the premisses by one consideration and the conclusion by another: for there would be no need after considering the premisses to proceed to the conclusion, if by the very fact of considering the premisses one were to consider the conclusion also. Now God knows all things by one operation which is His essence, as we have proved above.[2] Therefore His knowledge is not argumentative.

[4] Further. All argumentative knowledge has something of potentiality and something of actuality: since conclusions are potentially in their premisses. But potentiality has no place in the divine intellect, as we have shown above.[3] Therefore His intellect is not discursive…

Notes Arguments imply incompleteness. If you don’t know the answer in advance, which is not at all unusual, your intellect is in potential to that answer, and therefore there is change. But God cannot change; in God there is no potentiality. God knows everything at once.

Chapter 58 That God Does Not Understand By Composition And Division (alternate translation)

[3] …Further. In God there cannot be before and after. Now composition and division come after the consideration of what a thing is, for this consideration is their foundation. Therefore composition and division are impossible in the divine intellect.

[4] Again. The proper object of the intellect is what a thing is: wherefore about this the intellect is not deceived except accidentally; whereas it is deceived about composition and division; even as the senses are always true about their proper objects, but may be deceived about others. Now, in the divine intellect there is nothing accidental, and only what is essential. Wherefore in the divine intellect there is no composition and division, but only simple apprehension of a thing.

Notes Decided accidentally by, for instance, holding a false premise. The senses will pick up wavy wiggles on the horizon and your intellect will say, “Hey! There’s an oasis.” Senses right, intellect wrong. It’s not that senses can break, but when they break, they still do what they do. Your intellect is still required to sit on top sense data and (the pun o’ the day) make sense of them. If you follow that, you have reached the sunny uplands of thought.

Chapter 59 That God Is Not Ignorant Of The Truth Of Enunciations (alternate translation) The translation switches to the alternate here because Saint Wiki is down again.

[2] …For since the truth of the intellect is the equation of thought and thing, in so far as the intellect asserts that to be which is, and that not to be which is not, truth in the intellect belongs to that which the intellect asserts, not to the operation whereby it asserts. Because the truth of the intellect does not require that the act itself of understanding be equated to the thing, since sometimes the thing is material, whereas the act of understanding is immaterial. But that which the intellect in understanding asserts and knows, needs to be equated to the thing, namely to be in reality as the intellect asserts it to be. Now God, by His simple act of intelligence wherein is neither composition nor division, knows not only the essence of things, but also that which is enunciated about them, as proved above.[4] Wherefore that which the divine intellect asserts in understanding is composition or division. Therefore truth is not excluded from the divine intellect by reason of the latter’s simplicity.

Notes “…truth in the intellect belongs to that which the intellect asserts, not to the operation whereby it asserts.” Truth is epistemological; it’s all in your head. I speak colloquially: the intellect is not material and therefore not really in your head, though it makes use of it. The act of understanding is immaterial.

Chapter 60 That God Is Truth (alternate translation)

[2] …For truth is a perfection of the intelligence or intellectual operation, as stated above. Now God’s act of intelligence is His substance: and since this very act of intelligence is God’s being, as we have shown, it is not made perfect by some additional perfection, but is perfect in itself, just as we have said about the divine being. It remains therefore that the divine substance is truth itself.

[3] Again. Truth is a good of the intellect, according to the Philosopher. Now God is His own goodness, as we have shown. Therefore He is also His own truth…

Notes This follows from recalling truth is the good of the intellect; it is what is reaches for—and doesn’t always grasp. God knows all, therefore God knows all truth, and since what God knows is His essence, God is Truth itself.

May 17, 2015 | 55 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Knows All At Same Instant

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

God is outside time, hence He knows everything at once. How is this possible? We can only argue by analogy. Be sure at least to see the hill analogy below. We are now two weeks away from “God is Truth.”

Chapter 55 That God Understands All Things At The Same Instant (alternate translation)

[1] FROM the foregoing it is also made evident that God understands all things at the same instant…

[4] Moreover. The intellect of one who considers many things in succession cannot possibly have only one operation: for since operations differ according to their objects, the operation whereby the intellect considers the first thing must needs be distinct from that whereby it considers the second. But the divine intellect has only one operation, which is its essence, as proved above.[3] Therefore it considers all that it knows, not simultaneously but successively.

Notes Also, if you’re not now thinking of hot dogs and how awful they taste, but instead thinking about how God could know all at once, then your intellect is in potential to thinking about hot dogs. If you are now thinking about hot dogs, then your intellect is in act with respect to these most disgusting of all sausages. But as Thomas proved much earlier, God is pure act, and is never in potential. Thus He must know all things simultaneously.

[5] Further. Succession is inconceivable apart from time, and time apart from movement: since time is the measure of movement according to before or after.[4] Now no movement is possible in God, as may be gathered from what has been said above.[5] Therefore in God’s thought there is no succession: and consequently whatever He knows He considers simultaneously.

Notes Here’s our analogy. Think of you traveling through time as a journey along a hilly line. Draw a stick figure, representing your intellect, standing on a very choppy line where the peaks are all much higher than the figure’s head. You can only see what is right ahead of you because the hills further on block your view (and also behind!). But now, way above, imagine God is looking down. Since He is so high up, He can see all at once. Meaning, He can understand all at once, whereas you, stuck in time, can only think about one thing at a time.

In the skipped arguments, St Thomas shows, through technical arguments, why you can only think of one thing at a time. It doesn’t mean that you can’t switch between hot dogs and St Thomas very rapidly, or even imagine St Thomas eating a hot dog, but you can’t focus your intellect on more than one genera at a time. I mean, you are not and cannot now, in this instant, think of everything you know. Try doing that. You will fail. This is amplified by the next point.

[6] Again. God’s act of understanding is His very being, as shown above.[6] Now there is no before and after in the divine being, but it is all simultaneously, as proved above.[7] Therefore neither is there before and after in God’s thought, but He understands all things simultaneously.

Notes The analogy holds with even more force here if you consider there is nothing above God in our crude picture. If you are able to think mathematically, imagine the time line on which ordinary intellects must trek as extending very far to the left and right. And then put God higher and higher so that all below is just a speck. Well, it’s an analogy and the “distance” God is away from us (in intellectual ability) is infinite. Hence He can know all there is to know at once.

[7] Moreover. Every intellect that understands one thing after another is at one time understanding potentially, and at another time actually: for while it understands the first thing actually, it understands the second potentially. But the divine intellect is never in potentiality, but is always understanding actually.[8] Therefore it understands things, not successively, but altogether simultaneously.

Notes This by now follows easily. Next week we sprint through four chapters, picking up some interesting items about the Nature of God’s thoughts, and two weeks from today we return to juicier topics, starting with God is Truth.


[1] 3 De Anima iv. 12; v. 2.
[2] Ch. xlvi.
[3] Ch. xlv.
[4] 4 Phys. xi. 5.
[5] Ch. xiii.
[6] Ch. xlv.
[7] Ch. xv.
[8] Ch. xvi.

May 10, 2015 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: More On God’s Omniscience

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

The reading looks thick this week, but it really isn’t. Don’t forget to review first. Use the SAMT Category links at the bottom of the page. Since we’re discussing what God knows and how, we also discover what and how we know things. This leads to unexpected insights. We’re also now half way through Book 1!

Chapter 53 Solution of the foregoing doubt (alternate translation)

[1] THE foregoing doubt may be easily solved if we examine carefully how things understood are in the understanding.

[2] And in order that, as far as possible, we may proceed from our intellect to the knowledge of the divine intellect, it must be observed that the external objects which we understand do not exist in our intellect according to their own nature, but it is necessary that our intellect contain their species whereby it becomes intellect in act. And being in act by this species as by its proper form, it understands the object itself.

And yet the act of understanding is not an act passing into the intellect, as heating passes into the object heated, but it remains in the one who understands: although it bears a relation to the object understood, for the very reason that the aforesaid species, which is the formal principle of intellectual operation, is the image of that object…

Notes When you think of a dog, you don’t create a dog inside your head. And when you look at one and recognize it for what it is, you don’t take anything from it. You form the essence of the beast (its species in this technical language) in your intellect. It’s not just seeing and acknowledging that-object, like an animal does, but recognizing this-species-is-dog-and-dogs-are-like-this. Kant was wrong. We can and do know things as they are in themselves—further, this knowledge is not a material thing. Meaning, as we say very often, we are not our brains (or not just our brains).

Chapter 54 How the divine essence, though one and simple, is a proper likeness of all things intelligible (alternate translation)

[2]…As the Philosopher says (8 Metaph.)[1] forms of things, and their definitions which signify them, are like numbers. For in numbers, if one unit be added or subtracted the species of the number is changed; as appears in the numbers 3 and 4. Now it is the same with definitions: for the addition or subtraction of one difference changes the species: thus a sensible substance minus rational and plus rational differs specifically.

[3] Now in things which include many, it is not the same with the intellect as with nature. For the nature of a thing does not allow of the separation of those things that are required essentially for that thing: thus the nature of an animal will not remain if the soul be taken away from the body.

On the other hand the intellect is sometimes able to take separately those things which are essentially united, when one is not included in the notion of the other. Wherefore in the number 3 it can consider the number 2 alone, and in a rational animal it can consider that which is only sensible.

Hence the intellect is able to consider that which includes several things as the proper notion of several, by apprehending one of them without the others. For it can consider 10 as the proper notion of 9, by subtracting one unit, and in like manner as the proper notion of each lesser number included therein. Again, in man, it can consider the proper type of an irrational animal as such, and of each of its species, unless they imply the addition of a positive difference. For this reason a certain philosopher, Clement by name, said that the things of higher rank are the types of those of lesser rank…[2]

Notes Rationality is what separates man from beast. And don’t forget the “soul” of an animal is its form. Take away the form of a beast and all you’re left with is a pile of organic chemicals and water. But we can—and just did—mentally dissect the matter of the beast from its soul. Our intellect can take things apart, which is probably now obvious.

[5] Since, however, the proper notion of one thing is distinct from the proper notion of another, and since distinction is the principle of plurality; we must consider a certain distinction and plurality of understood notions in the divine intellect, in so far as that which is in the divine intellect is the proper notion of diverse things.

Wherefore, since this is according as God understands the proper relation of similarity which each creature bears to Him, it follows that the types of things in the divine intellect are not many nor different, except in so far as God knows that things can be like Him in many and divers ways. In this sense Augustine[4] says that God makes man after one type and a horse after another, and that the types of things are manifold in the divine mind. Wherein also the opinion of Plato holds good, in that he held the existence of ideas according to which all that exists in material things would be formed.[5]

Notes Think of it this way. The forms that make things into what they are, are not material, but must exist somewhere, else no thing could be formed (an apt pun). And all the forms that exist do so in the mind of God. Some (but not all) also exist in ours.

Next week: God knows everything in the same instant. We’re about two weeks away from showing God is Truth.

[1] D. 7. iii. 8.
[2] Cf. Dion., Div. Nom. v.
[3] Ch. xxxi.
[4] QQ. lxxxiii., qu. 46.
[5] Cf. ch. li.: Nor again . . . p. 112.