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EVERYTHING that is imperfect in any species desires to gain the perfection of that species. He who has an opinion about a thing, opinion being an imperfect knowledge of the thing, is thereby egged on to desire a scientific knowledge of the thing.602602Mankind would be a race of philosophers, if this were true of the generality of men. Men generally will not take the trouble of thinking, they have not the ability, they have not the time (B. I, Ch. IV). St Thomas is speaking of beings in a perfect state, where all solicitudes are removed, and all passions are under control (or wholly absent), and intellect has perfect sway. But the aforesaid knowledge, which pure spirits have of God without knowing His substance fully, is an imperfect kind of knowledge. The main point in the knowledge of anything is to know precisely what it essentially is. Therefore this knowledge which pure spirits have of God does not set their natural desire to rest, but rather urges it on to see the divine substance.
2. The knowledge of effects kindles the desire of knowing the cause: this search after causes set men upon philosophising. Therefore the desire of knowing, naturally implanted in all intelligent beings, does not rest unless, after finding out the substances of things made, they come also [etiam, not etiamsi] to know the cause on which those substances depend. By the fact then of pure spirits knowing that God is the cause of all the substances which they see, the natural desire in them does not rest unless they come also to see the substance of God Himself.
4. Nothing finite can set to rest the desire of intelligence. Given any finite thing, intelligence always sets to work to apprehend something beyond it. But the height and power of every created substance is finite. Therefore the intelligence of a created spirit rests not in the knowledge of any created substances, however excellent, but tends still further in a natural desire to understand that substance which is of infinite height and excellence, namely, the divine substance (Chap. XLIII).
6. The nearer a thing is to the goal, the greater is its desire. But the 223intelligences of pure spirits are nearer to the knowledge of God than is our intelligence: therefore they desire that knowledge more intensely than we do. But even we, however much we know that God exists and has the attributes above mentioned, have not our desire assuaged, but still further desire to know God in His essence: much more then do pure spirits. The conclusion is, that the final happiness of pure spirits is not in that knowledge of God whereby they know Him through knowing their own substances, but their desire leads them further to the substance of God.
Hereby it sufficiently appears that final happiness is to be sought in no other
source than in activity of intellect, since no desire carries so high as the desire
of understanding truth. All our other desires, be they of pleasure or of anything
else desirable by man, may rest in other objects; but the aforesaid desire rests
not until it arrives at God, on whom all creation hinges and who made it all. Hence
Wisdom aptly says: I dwell in the heights of heaven, and my throne is in the
pillar of a cloud (Ecclus xxiv, 7);
and it is said, Wisdom calls her handmaids to the citadel (Prov.
ix, 3). Let them blush therefore who seek in basest things the happiness
of man so highly placed.603603 A well-known difficulty arises from this chapter.
If pure spirits and disembodied souls, for there is question of both here, have
a natural desire of seeing the substance, essence, or what Holy Writ calls the face
of God, which sight is called by theologians the ‘beatific vision’; and this natural
desire of the beatific vision points to a corresponding possibility of realisation;
then either this vision can be attained by natural means, a piece of ultra-Pelagianism
which St Thomas is the first to repudiate (Chapp. LII,
LIII); or men and angels, as such, require to be raised to
the supernatural state, and could never possibly have been left by God to the mere
intrinsic powers of their nature, a position virtually Pelagian, as making grace
a requisite of nature, — a position formally condemned by the Church in Baius (Michael
Le Bay of Louvain) and Jansenius, and rejected by all modern Catholic theologians,
who insist on the absolute possibility of what they call a ’state of pure (mere)
nature.’ Three Popes, in 1567, 1579, 1641, condemned this proposition of Baius:
“It is an opinion excogitated by vain and otiose men, according to the folly of
philosophers, that man in his first origin was the recipient of gifts superadded
to his nature, and so was elevated by the divine bounty and adopted to be a son
of God.” Baius meant that these gifts of adoption and sonship were proper to human
nature. Again this saying of Quesnel is condemned in the Bull Unigenitus of 1713:
“The grace of God is a consequence of nature, and was due to nature sound and whole.”
This matter is lucidly explained in Father Harper’s Peace through the Truth,
First Series, pp. 293-296. I have written upon the subject, Ethics and Natural
Law, pp. 21-25; Oxford and Cambridge Conferences, First Series, pp. 211—217,
But how deliver St Thomas from the dilemma? The usual escape is by saying that he writes, not of human souls and angels as they are from the pure view of philosophy, in puris naturalibus, but as they actually are in the historical order of Providence, elevated to the supernatural state, destined and fitted by God’s gratuitous bounty to see Him ultimately face to face. But the Saint’s arguments in this chapter are purely rational and philosophical, containing not the slightest reference to any fact presupposed from revelation.
>Or shall we say that he deals only in εἰκότα, arguments of congruity, but not of necessity, or as he says (B. I, Ch. IX), rationes verisimiles ad fidelium exercitium et consolationem? Against this interpretation it is to be considered that the chapter is an essential link in a long chain of arguments (Chapp. XXVI-LIV) evidently meant for a demonstrated theory of happiness.
I think we should consider what St Thomas would have said to the following reply to the argumentation of this chapter.
There is no natural desire of that which created nature, as such, is not capable of attaining in any shape or form.
But created nature, as such, is not capable of attaining, in any shape or form to the vision of God face to face: therefore.
This difficulty I doubt if St Thomas ever raised to himself, or had brought before him. It came into prominence three or four centuries later in the disputes with Baius and Jansenius. Had St Thomas been confronted with it, I am confident that he would have met it as Catholic theologians now do. He would have acknowledged that angels and human spirits, in their mere natural condition, would find satisfaction and perfect natural happiness in a vision of God mediate and indirect. He might possibly still argue a certain congruity in such intelligent creatures being raised to the supernatural state and made capable of seeing God. He might and he might not, for such elevation is a stupendous advance upon nature; and the vision of God, but for its being a revealed fact, would be beyond any creature’s dream. It hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive (1 Cor. ii, 9). But once raised to the supernatural order and endowed with grace, St Thomas would argue invincibly that there is no proper happiness for created spirits except face to face with the beauty and glory of God.
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