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CHAPTER LVThat God understands all things at once and together

THE reason why our understanding cannot understand many things together in one act is because in the act of understanding the mind becomes one with the object understood;111111There is no idealism in this statement. See Aristotle, De Anima, iii, 8. The act of understanding consists in forming in the mind an image of the thing understood. The mind in understanding becomes an image, and the object in being understood becomes that same image. So St Thomas explains in the opening of Chapter LIII. whence it follows that, were the mind to understand many things together in one act, it would be many things together, all of one genus, which is impossible. Intellectual impressions are all of one genus: they are of one type of being in the existence which they have in the mind, although the things of which they are impressions do not agree in one type of being: hence the contrariety of things outside the mind does not render the impressions of those things in the mind contrary to one another. And hence it is that when many things are taken together, being anyhow united, they are understood together. Thus a continuous whole is understood at once, not part by part; and a proposition is understood at once, not first the subject and then the predicate: because all 41the parts are known by one mental impression of the whole.112112The argument is this. The mind cannot resolve itself into several distinct and independent things at once: but unify those things somehow, subordinate and make a whole of them, so doing the mind can ‘be all those things,’ that is to say, it makes to itself a representation of them altogether, regarding them as one, lumping them together from one point of view. Hence we gather that whatever several objects are known by one mental presentation, can be understood together: but God knows all things by that one presentation of them, which is His essence; therefore He can understand all together and at once.

2. The faculty of knowledge does not know anything actually without some attention and advertence. Hence the phantasms, stored in the sensorium, are at times not actually in the imagination, because no attention is given to them. We do not discern together a multitude of things to which we do not attend together: but things that necessarily fall under one and the same advertence and attention, are necessarily understood together. Thus whoever institutes a comparison of two things, directs his attention to both and discerns both together. But all things that are in the divine knowledge must necessarily fall under one advertence; for God is attentive to behold His essence perfectly, which is to see it to the whole reach of its virtual content, which includes all things. God therefore, in beholding His essence, discerns at once all things that are.

6. Every mind that understands one thing after another, is sometimes potentially intelligent, sometimes actually so; for while it understands the first thing actually, it understands the second potentially. But the divine mind is never potentially intelligent, but always actually: it does not, then, understand things in succession, but all at once.

Holy Scripture witnesses to this truth, saying that with God there is no change nor shadow of vicissitude (James i, 17).

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