I Sentences, Distinction 3, Question 1
Concerning Man's Knowledge of God

Utrum Deus possit cognosci ab intellectu creato.
First Article
Whether God can be known by a created intellect.
Ad primum sic proceditur. 1. Videtur quod Deus non sit cognoscibilis a creato intellectu. Dicit enim Dionysius, cap. I De div. nom., quod Deum nec dicere nec intelligere possumus: quod sic probat. Cognitio est tantum existentium. Sed Deus est supra omnia existentia. Ergo est supra cognitionem.We proceed thus to the first issue. 1. It seems that God is not knowable by a created intellect. For Dionysius says, in Chapter 1 of On the Divine Names, that we can neither speak about nor understand God, which he proves in this manner. Knowledge pertains only to existing things. But God is above all existing things. He is, therefore, above knowledge.
2. Item, Deus plus distat a quolibet existentium intelligibilium notorum nobis, quam distet intelligibile a sensibili. Sed sensus non potest intelligibile cognoscere. Ergo nec Deus potest a nostro intellectu cognosci.2. Moreover, God is more distant from any existing intelligible things known by us than an intelligible thing is from a sensible thing. But the senses cannot know an intelligible thing. Therefore, neither can God be known by our intellect.
3. Item, omnis cognitio est per speciem aliquam, per cujus informationem fit assimilatio cognoscentis ad rem cognitam. Sed a Deo non potest abstrahi aliqua species, cum sit simplicissimus. Ergo non est cognoscibilis.3. Again, all knowledge arises by means of some species through the formation of which an assimilation of the knower to the thing known is produced. But some species cannot be abstracted from God, since he is most simple. He is, therefore, not knowable.
4. Item, ut dicit Philosophus, III Physic., omne infinitum est ignotum; cujus ratio est, quia de ratione infiniti est, ut sit extra accipientem secundum aliquid sui, et tale est ignotum. Sed Deus est infinitus. Ergo est ignotus.4. Besides, as the Philosopher says in Book 3 of the Physics, every infinite thing is unknown. The reason for this is that it belongs to the notion of an infinite thing that, according to something of itself, it is beyond the one receiving it, and such a thing is unknown. But God is infinite. He is, therefore, unknown.
5. Item, Philosophus dicit, III De anima, quod ita se habent phantasmata ad intellectum, sicut colores ad visum. Sed visus corporalis nihil videt sine colore. Ergo intellectus noster nihil intelligit sine phantasmate. Cum igitur de Deo non possit formari aliquod phantasma, ut dicitur Isa. XL, 18: Quam imaginem ponetis ei? videtur quod non sit cognoscibilis a nostro intellectu.5. Furthermore, the Philosopher says, in Book 3 of On the Soul, that phantasms are related to an understood thing just as colors are related to a seen thing. But bodily vision sees nothing without color. Our intellect, therefore, understands nothing without a phantasm. Since, therefore, some phantasm of God cannot be formed - and thus it is said in Isaiah 40, 18: What image will you set up for him? - it seems that he is not knowable by our intellect.
Contra, Jerem., IX, 24, dicitur: In hoc glorietur qui gloriatur, scire et nosse me. Sed ista non est vana gloria ad quam Deus hortatur. Ergo videtur quod possibile sit Deum cognoscere.On the contrary, in Jeremiah 9, 24, it is said: Let him who glories, glory in this, that he knows and has become acquainted with me. But that to which God exhorts is not vainglory. It seems, therefore, that it is possible to know God.
Item, ut supra dictum est, etiam secundum Philosophum, X Ethicor., cap. X, ultimus finis humanae vitae est contemplatio Dei. Si igitur ad hoc homo non posset pertingere, in vanum esset constitutus; quia vanum est, secundum Philosophum, II Phys., quod ad aliquem finem est, quem non includit; et hoc est inconveniens, ut dicitur in psalm. LXXXVIII, 48: Numquid enim vane constituisti eum.Moreover, as was said above, the contemplation of God is the ultimate end of human life, according to the Philosopher in Book 10, Chapter 10 of the Nicomachean Ethics. If, therefore, man were not able to attain this, he would have been made in vain. For, according to the Philosopher in Book 2 of the Physics, a vain thing is that which exists for the sake of some end that it does not include. And this is unreasonable, as is said in Psalm 88, 48: Did you, in fact, make him in vain?
Item, ut dicit Philosophus, III De anima, in hoc differt intelligibile a sensibili, quia sensibile excellens destruit sensum; intelligibile autem maximum non destruit, sed confortat intellectum. Cum igitur Deus sit maxime intelligibilis quantum in se est; quia est primum intelligibile, videtur quod a nostro intellectu possit intelligi: non enim impediretur nisi propter suam excellentiam.Furthermore, as the Philosopher says in Book 3 of On the Soul, an intelligible thing differs from a sensible thing in that an exceedingly strong sensible thing destroys a sense organ; the greatest intelligible thing, however, does not destroy but strengthens the intellect. Therefore, since God, as he is in himself, is the most intelligible thing because he is the first intelligible, it seems that he can be understood by our intellect; it would be hampered, in fact, only on account of his excellence.
SOLUTIO. Respondeo dicendum, quod non est hic quaestio, utrum Deus in essentia sua immediate videri possit, hoc enim alterius intentionis est; sed utrum quocumque modo cognosci possit. Et ideo dicimus quod Deus cognoscibilis est; non autem ita est cognoscibilis, ut essentia sua comprehendatur. Quia omne cognoscens habet cognitionem de re cognita, non per modum rei cognitae, sed per modum cognoscentis. Modus autem nullius creaturae attingit ad altitudinem divinae majestatis. Unde oportet quod a nullo perfecte cognoscatur, sicut ipse seipsum cognoscit.Solution: I respond that it should be said that the question here is not whether God can be seen immediately in his essence - this is, indeed, a different issue - but whether he can be known in any way whatsoever. And therefore, we say that God is knowable, however not that he is knowable so that his essence may be comprehended. For every knower has knowledge of the thing known, not according to the mode of the thing known, but according to the mode of the knower. The mode of no creature, however, reaches the height of the divine majesty. Hence, it is necessary that God is known perfectly, as he knows himself, by no one.
Ad primum ergo dicendum, quod sicut Deus non est hoc modo existens sicut ista existentia, sed in eo est natura entitatis eminenter; unde non est omnino expers entitatis; ita etiam non omnino est expers cognitionis, quin cognoscatur; sed non cognoscitur per modum aliorum existentium, quae intellectu creato comprehendi possunt.To the first, therefore, it should be said that as God is not existing in the same way as existing things, but in him the nature of being is present eminently, it follows that he is not altogether devoid of the character of being. He is thus also not altogether immune from knowledge but may be known. But he is not known according to the manner of other existing things, which can be comprehended by a created intellect.
Ad secundum dicendum, quod quamvis plus distet Deus a quolibet intelligibili, secundum naturae proprietatem, quam intelligibile a sensibili, tamen plus convenit in ratione cognoscibilitatis. Omne enim quod est separatum a materia, habet rationem ut cognoscatur sicut intelligibile: quod autem materiale est cognoscitur ut sensibile.To the second, it should be said that, although God is more distant from any intelligible thing, according to the quality of nature, than an intelligible thing is from a sensible thing, he nonetheless agrees more in the concept of being able to be known. For every thing that is separate from matter has a concept so that it may be known as an intelligible thing; every thing that is material, however, is known as a sensible thing.
Ad tertium dicendum, quod species, per quam fit cognitio, est in potentia cognoscente secundum modum ipsius cognoscentis: unde eorum quae sunt magis materialia quam intellectus, species est in intellectu simplicior quam in rebus; et ideo hujusmodi dicuntur cognosci per modum abstractionis. Deus autem et angeli sunt simpliciores nostro intellectu; et ideo species quae in nostro intellectu efficitur, per quam cognoscuntur, est minus simplex. Unde non dicimur cognoscere ea per abstractionem, sed per impressionem ipsorum in intelligentias nostras.To the third, it should be said that a species by which knowledge arises exists in potency in the knower according to the mode of the knower himself. Hence, a species of the things that are more material than the intellect exists in the intellect in a more simple way than in things, and for this reason, things of this sort are said to be known by way of abstraction. God and angels, however, are simpler than our intellect, and for this reason, a species that is formed in our intellect by which they are known is less simple. Hence, we are not said to know them by abstraction but by an impression of them in our understandings.
Ad quartum dicendum, quod infinitum dicitur dupliciter, scilicet privative et negative. Infinitum privative est quod secundum suum genus est natum habere finem, non habens; et tale, cum sit imperfectum, ex sui imperfectione perfecte non cognoscitur, sed secundum quid. Infinitum negative dicitur quod nullo modo finitum est; et hoc est quiddam quod se ad omnia extendit, perfectissimum, non valens ab intellectu creato comprehendi, sed tantum attingi.To the fourth, it should be said that a thing is called infinite in two ways, namely, privatively and negatively. In the privative sense, a thing is infinite that, according to its genus, was begotten to have a limit but does not possess one, and such a thing, since it is imperfect, is not known perfectly on account of its own imperfection but is known in a certain respect. In the negative sense, a thing is called infinite that is limited in no way, and this is a certain thing that extends itself to all things, the most perfect thing that cannot be comprehended, but only touched, by a created intellect.
Ad quintum dicendum, quod Philosophus, III De anima, loquitur de cognitione intellectus connaturali nobis secundum statum viae; et hoc modo Deus non cognoscitur a nobis nisi per phantasma, non sui ipsius, sed causati sui per quod in ipsum devenimus. Sed per hoc non removetur quin cognitio aliqua possit esse intellectus, non per viam naturalem nobis, sed altiorem, scilicet per influentiam divini luminis ad quam phantasma non est necessarium.To the fifth, it should be said that, in Book 3 of On the Soul, the Philosopher speaks about the intellect's knowledge that is connatural to us according to the condition of this life. And in this way, God is known by us only through a phantasm, not a phantasm of himself but of an effect of his by which we reach him. But, as a result of this, the fact that there can be some knowledge of God in the intellect is not withdrawn - knowledge not by the way natural to us but by a higher way, namely, by the influence of the divine light for which a phantasm is not necessary.
Alia concedimus. Tamen ad ultimum, quia concludit, quod Deus etiam nunc maxime cognoscatur a nobis, respondendum est, quod quodammodo est simile in intellectu et sensu, et quodammodo dissimile. In hoc enim simile est quod sicut sensus non potest in id quod non est proportionatum sibi, ita nec intellectus, cum omnis cognitio sit per modum cognoscentis, secundum Boetium, De cons., lib. V, prosa VI, in hoc autem dissimile est quod intelligibile excellens non corrumpit, sicut excellens sensibile; unde intellectus non deficit a cognitione excellentis intelligibilis, quia corrumpatur, sed quia non attingit. Et ideo non perfecte Deum videre potest intellectus creatus.We concede the other arguments. Nonetheless, to the last one because it concludes that God may also now be known by us in the greatest way, it should be stated in reply that there is, in a way, a similarity and, in a way, a dissimilarity between the intellect and the senses. For there is a similarity in the fact that, just as the senses cannot attain knowledge in relation to that which is not proportionate to them, neither can the intellect, since all knowledge exists through the mode of the knower, according to Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy, Book 5, Prose 6. There is a dissimilarity, however, in the fact that an exceedingly strong intelligible thing does not corrupt the intellect, as an exceedingly strong sensible thing corrupts the senses. Hence, the intellect does not fail to attain knowledge of an exceedingly strong intelligible thing because it is corrupted, but because it does not reach it. And for this reason, a created intellect cannot see God perfectly.

© John Laumakis

The Aquinas Translation Project