If you haven’t yet been convinced of St Thomas’s argument for God’s existence, re-read all of the posts on Chapter 13, starting with this one. The terminology and concepts we have developed are absolutely necessary to know before continuing on. We have learned that the Unmoved Mover, the Unchanged Changer, must exist, or nothing else could move or change. But that’s all we learned. Today, we start with the consequences of this knowledge. But we’re not doing much in today’s lesson. Is everybody away on vacation?
Chapter 14: That in order to acquire knowledge of God it is necessary to proceed by the way of remotioni
1 ACCORDINGLY having proved that there is a first being which we call God, it behooves us to inquire into His nature.
2 Now in treating of the divine essence the principal method to be followed is that of remotion. For the divine essence by its immensity surpasses every form to which our intellect reaches; and thus we cannot apprehend it by knowing what it is.ii But we have some knowledge thereof by knowing what it is not: and we shall approach all the nearer to the knowledge thereof according as we shall be enabled to remove by our intellect a greater number of things therefrom.iii
For the more completely we see how a thing differs from others, the more perfectly we know it: since each thing has in itself its own being distinct from all other things. Wherefore when we know the definition of a thing, first we place it in a genus, whereby we know in general what it is, and afterwards we add differences, so as to mark its distinction from other things: and thus we arrive at the complete knowledge of a thing’s essence.
3 Since, however, we are unable in treating of the divine essence to take what as a genus, nor can we express its distinction from other things by affirmative differences, we must needs express it by negative differences. Now just as in affirmative differences one restricts another, and brings us the nearer to a complete description of the thing, according as it makes it to differ from more things, so one negative difference is restricted by another that marks a distinction from more things.
Thus, if we say that God is not an accidentiv, we thereby distinguish Him from all accidents; then if we add that He is not a body, we shall distinguish Him also from certain substances, and thus in gradation He will be differentiated by suchlike negations from all beside Himself: and then when He is known as distinct from all things, we shall arrive at a proper consideration of Him. It will not, however, be perfect, because we shall not know what He is in Himself.v
4 Wherefore in order to proceed about the knowledge of God by the way of remotion, let us take as principle that which is already made manifest by what we have said above, namely that God is altogether unchangeable.vi This is also confirmed by the authority of Holy Writ. For it is said (Malach. iii. 6): I am God (Vulg., the Lord) and I change not; (James i. 17): With Whom there is no change; and (Num. xxiii. 19): God is not as a man…that He should be changed.vii
iOED: “The method or process of examining the concept of God by removing everything which is known not to be God; (also) a thing known not to be included in a concept.”
iiThe analogy given earlier is that we can know, say, that infinite numbers exist, and even describe some of their characteristics, but we cannot know everything about the infinite; we certainly cannot experience it. For example, Don Knuth invented the following notation: , or 10 billion, where the arrow has replaced the caret, but then , which is 10 raised to the 10 raised to the 10 raised to the 10, etc., 10 times (the arrow iterates the caret) Now that’s a big number! We can write it down all right—Knuth calls it K—but we cannot know it, cannot form a real appreciation for it. It’s too big.
Knuth, a computer scientist, invented the terminology because, as he says in his classic paper, “Finite numbers can be really enormous, and the known universe is very small. Therefore the distinction between finite and infinite is not as relevant as the distinction between realistic and unrealistic.” That’s true for mechanical computer operations, but if you rely, as some are tempted, on “really very big” to replace “infinite”, you’ll go astray. The two just aren’t the same. Even K is still infinitely far from infinity. It is a small number in that sense, but incomprehensibly large to us. But we are not God.
iiiIt’s too tempting not to quote Sherlock Holmes here, expressing a related sentiment: “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
 Ch. xiii.
ivaccident: “In Aristotelian thought: a property or quality not essential to a substance or object; something that does not constitute an essential component, an attribute.” OED again!
vFinite minds cannot grasp the whole of the infinite. Most of us cannot even remember what we had for lunch two weeks ago Tuesday.
viThis was proved in Chapter 13. It’s the Unmoved Move, the Uncaused Cause, the Unchanging Changer. It followed from the premise that whatever is moved is moved by another. The Unmoved Mover is not moved by another, and is therefore unchanging. Now we called this necessary force, the Prime Mover, God, but that to modern ears sounded like a cheat. Why call what after all is a physical force “God”? Well, that’s what we’re about to find out. Not uncoincidentally, Ed Feser was talking about the First Cause argument the other day.
viiThere are any number of poor critiques of Biblical passages in which God is shown to have changed, because, for instance, He “changes his mind.” Atheists are awfully prone to read the Bible everywhere literally and, worse, are then satisfied that they have plumbed all possible depths.
Next week we learn God is eternal. Eternal? Change? What’s that? Stick around.