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CHAPTER LIXHow they who see the Divine Substance see all things

SINCE the vision of the divine substance is the final end of every subsistent intelligence, and the natural desire of every being is at rest when it has attained to its final end, the natural desire of every intelligence that sees the divine substance must be perfectly set at rest. But it is the mind’s natural desire to know the genera and species and capabilities of all things and the whole order of the universe, as is shown by the zeal of mankind in trying to find out all these things.617617By the keen pursuit of physical science. Every one therefore of those who see the divine substance will know all the above-mentioned objects.

2. In this is the difference between sense and intellect, as shown in De anima, III, iv, that sense is spoilt or impaired by brilliant or intense sensible objects, so that afterwards it is unable to appreciate similar objects of lower degree: but intellect, not being spoilt or checked by its object, but simply perfected, after understanding an object in which there is more to understand, is not less but better able to understand other objects which afford less scope for understanding. But the highest in the category of intelligible beings is the divine substance. When then an understanding is raised by divine light to see the substance of God, much more is it perfected by the same light to understand all other objects in nature.

4. Though of those who see God one sees Him more perfectly than an other, every one nevertheless sees Him with such perfection as to fill all his natural capacity, nay, the vision transcends all natural capacity (Chap. LII). Every one therefore, seeing the divine substance, must know in that substance all things to which his natural capacity extends. But the natural capacity of every intelligence extends to the knowledge of all genera and species and the order of creation. These things therefore every one of those who see God will know in the divine substance.

Hence to Moses asking for a sight of the divine substance the Lord replied: I will show thee all good (Exod. xxxiii, 19); and Gregory says 231(Dialogues iv, 33): “What is it that they do not know, who know Him who knows all things?”

But on careful reflection upon what has been said it appears that they who see the divine substance in one way know all things, and in one way they do not. If by ‘all things’ is meant whatever belongs to the perfection of the universe, the arguments alleged prove that they do see all things.618618By ’seeing all things that belong to the perfection of the universe,’ St Thomas would mean, in modern terminology, ‘having a comprehensive scientific view of the universe as a whole’: this would include knowledge of the constitution of matter, and of its working arrangements, molar and molecular; and understanding of electricity, of gravitation, of vegetable and animal life, of the genesis of nebulae and stars, of the origin of species, animal and vegetable, of the workings of the mind, such as free will. A very wonderful knowledge, but much less wonderful than the vision of God. To the perfection of natural being belong specific natures, with their properties and powers: for the intention of nature fixes on specific natures: as for individuals, they are for the species.619619The ‘intention of nature’ is for corn to grow, but not for every grain to germinate. The ‘waste of nature,’ noticed by Bishop Butler, is a waste of individuals, but not usually of species. It belongs then to the perfection of a subsistent intelligence, that it should know the natures and capabilities and proper accidents of all species. And by the knowledge of natural species individuals also existing under these species are known by the intelligence that sees God.620620Yes, if the intelligence sees in the substance of God His decree for the creation of these and those individuals. But St Thomas makes a difficulty about the vision of the divine substance extending to a vision of the divine decrees: see Chap. LVI, n. 4, and the last words of this chapter. One of the Blessed can see me in God, if he can read in God the divine volition to create and conserve me in being. He cannot see me in the species ‘man,’ for I am not adequately there: my individualising accidents are not contained in the species. Even if they were, I should not be known as an existing, but only as a possible being. No knowledge of the specific type of Julius Caesar could tell you that a Julius Caesar ever actually lived and died. This cannot be denied except by one who is prepared to break down all distinction between the a priori scientific order and the a posteriori historical order of things, and to make all beings and events ultimately a priori, as part of the inevitable evolution of the Absolute. He who will go this length may march with Hegel, or, if he will, with Hobbes: but St Thomas, with Aristotle, distinguishes the contingent from the necessary. You cannot, no one possibly can, read the contingent in the necessary. But all individual existence, except that of God, is ultimately contingent; while the specific ratio is necessary. Cf. B. II, Chap. C.

But if by ‘all things’ is meant all things that God knows by seeing His essence, no created intelligence sees all things in the substance of God, as has been shown above (Chap. LVI).621621It is important to attend to these explanations, since the headings of Chapp. LVI, LIX, seem at first sight contradictory. The power, goodness and will of God remain beyond the full comprehension of the Blessed, and consequently many of their possible effects in creation. This may be verified in various respects. First, as regards things that God can do, but neither does nor ever means to do. All such things cannot be known without a thorough comprehension of His power, which is not possible to any created intelligence (Chap. LV). Hence it is said: Perchance thou wilt seize upon the footprints of God and perfectly discover the Almighty. He is higher than heaven, and what wilt thou do? He is deeper than hell, and whence shalt thou know? Longer than the earth is his measure, and broader than the sea (Job xi, 7-9). Secondly, as regards the plans of things made, no intelligence can know them all without comprehending the divine goodness. For the plan of every thing made is taken from the end which the maker intends; and the end of all things made by God is the divine goodness: the plan therefore of things made is the diffusion of the divine goodness in creation. To know then all the plans of things made, one would have to know all the good things that can come about in creation according to the order of the divine wisdom: which would mean comprehending the divine goodness and wisdom, a thing that no created intelligence can do. Hence it is said: I understood that of all the works of God man cannot find out the plan (Eccles. viii, 17). Thirdly, as regards things that depend on the mere will of God, as predestination, election, 232justification, and the like, which belong to the sanctification of the creature, it is said: The things that are in man none knoweth but the spirit of man that is in him: in like manner the things that are of God none knoweth but the Spirit of God (1 Cor. ii, 11).


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