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CHAPTER XLIVThat God has Understanding

IN no order of causes is it found that an intelligent cause is the instrument of an unintelligent one. But all causes in the world stand to the prime mover, which is God, as instruments to the principal agent. Since then in the world there are found many intelligent causes, the prime mover cannot possibly cause unintelligently.

5. No perfection is wanting in God that is found in any kind of beings (Chap. XXVIII): nor does any manner of composition result in Him for all that (Chap. XVIII). But among the perfections of creatures the highest is the possession of understanding: for by understanding a thing is in a manner all things, having in itself the perfections of all things.9393The vastness of the stellar universe is in a manner the reach and amplitude of my mind, when I come to form some slight idea of it.

6. Everything that tends definitely to an end, either fixes its own end, or has its end fixed for it by another: otherwise it would not tend rather to this end than to that. But the operations of nature tend to definite ends: the gains of nature are not made by chance: for if they were, they would not be the rule, but the exception, for chance is of exceptional cases. Since then physical agents do not fix their own end, because they have no idea of an end, they must have an end fixed for them by another, who is the author of nature. But He could not fix an end for nature, had He not Himself understanding.9494This is the Argument from Design, so valuable to the theologian in dealing with evolution. See Chap. XIII.

7. Everything imperfect is derived from something perfect: for perfection is naturally prior to imperfection, as actuality to potentiality.9595Evolutionism says just the opposite. Is not the whole notion of development a process from the imperfect to the perfect? But the eternal question abides — What begot the first germ, containing in itself the promise and potency of the vast development which we see? St Thomas asserts a priority of nature of the perfect to the imperfect, not a priority of time. God, though prior in duration, is not prior in time to the creature, as He is not in time at all: there is no time antecedent to creation. In the series of created causes, the imperfect is doubtless prior in time to the perfect. The first verses of Genesis assure us of that, as well as all sound study of evolution. But the forms that exist in particular things are imperfect, for the very reason that they do exist in particular, and not in the universality of their idea, or the fulness of their ideal being. They must therefore be derived from some perfect forms, 33which are not under particular limitations. Such forms cannot be other than objects of understanding, seeing that no form is found in its universality or ideal fulness, except in the understanding. Consequently such forms must be endowed with understanding, if they are to subsist by themselves: for only by that endowment can they be operative. God therefore, who is the first actuality existing by itself, whence all others are derived, must be endowed with understanding.9696   The ‘forms’ here spoken of (not the human soul) are entities denoted by abstract names, as beauty, dexterity, squareness. They exist only in particular substances, and in each case imperfectly according to the imperfections of that in which they exist. Thus beauty is marred by the age, bodily infirmities and accidents, of any beautiful living being. No living being on earth is ideally beautiful. Is then every ideal ‘form’ something that practically cannot be? St Thomas thinks not. Recognising that the ideal cannot be except in a mind, he thereupon posits ideals which are themselves minds — self-conscious ideals, and these are the angels. The Platonic ideas, or ideals, are thus brought into rerum natura as angels, one angel being the self-conscious ideal of one quality, as, perhaps, of swiftness, another of another, as, perhaps, of accuracy. Thus he says in II, 93: “Separate substances (i.e., angels) are certain essences existing by themselves (quidditates subsistentes).” This essence, existing by itself, and conscious of itself — existing therefore in a mind, its own mind, as all ideal being needs to exist in a mind — this ideal essence, I say, is not limited, as forms are limited in the material universe, by being reduced to the particular. An angel, says St Thomas (Contra Gent., II, 93), is not reduced to the particular as one individual of many in a species: each angel is a species by himself, a living, conscious specific essence, sole of its kind. Thus among angels there are particular species, but not particular individuals of a species: this or that species is this or that individual, containing an ample measure, though not a divine fulness, of the specific essence. St Thomas does not say that specific forms necessarily exist by themselves: he does not teach the necessary existence of angels: all he argues is that, if these forms exist by themselves at all (si sint subsistentes), they must be self-conscious and intelligent beings. The utmost that he can be said to contend for is that angels are a fitting complement of the universe (II, 91). All that is absolutely necessary is the existence of a Supreme Being, who virtually contains in Himself all perfections which are represented in our minds by various abstract forms; a Being who is the Actuality of all ideal perfection (Chap. XXVIII).
   The argument then in the text is: ‘Imperfect forms are apparent everywhere in the material creation. Imperfect forms must come of perfect forms; perfect forms are ideal forms: ideal forms can exist nowhere but in the mind: if these ideal forms exist anywhere by themselves, they must themselves be minds conscious of what they are: such self-conscious ideals are the angels: anyhow, whether existing by themselves or not, ideals must be represented in one Perfect Mind: God therefore is Mind.’ The argument is Platonic; or rather, Neoplatonist, as the making of the ideals into angels shows. It is rather a probable intuition than an argument. As an argument, it has many difficulties. St Thomas cannot have meant to say that any angel was living perfect beauty, or living perfect wisdom, for then it would be God: but perhaps we might have a living perfect fragrance, or a living perfect agility; and we may suppose that only these minor perfections, which do not carry all other perfections with them, are personified in the angels, and that only in an imperfect way.

   Omitting the theory of angels, which will recur again (Book II, Chap. LV, XCVIII, with notes) we may formulate the matter finally thus: The ideal must be realised somewhere. It is realisable only in mind. Now whatever we may think of angels, and their intermediate realisation of ideals, we must arrive ultimately at one mind that realises the whole ideal order. That one grand realiser and realisation of all ideals is the Mind of God.

This truth also is in the confession of Catholic faith: for it is said: He is wise of heart and mighty of power (Job ix, 4): With him is strength and wisdom (Ibid. xii, 16): Thy wisdom is made wonderful to me (Ps. cxxxviii, 6): O depth of riches, of wisdom and of knowledge of God (Rom. vi, 33).

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