Saturday, July 12, 2014

No Heaven on Earth


1.  Having answered various questions regarding the nature and extent of the vision of God given to the blessed, Thomas devotes the last three articles of this question to the ways of knowing God available to those still in the wayfaring state.  He begins by asking whether anyone in the present life can see God through his Essence, and he provides four objections.

2.  The first is from the patriarch Jacob, who says that he has seen the face of God.  The second is from the words of God given in the book of Numbers, where he says that he speaks directly to Moses without any mediation.  The third is from certain passages in Augustine, which seem to indicate that knowledge of the divine essence is the basis for all our other knowledge and judgments of things.  The fourth is from a clever equivocation drawing on the fact (as proved above, cf. 1.8.3) that God is present in the mind by his essence.  Since the things which are in the mind in their essences are known by the mind, God must be known in this life.

3.  The Sed Contra is from Exodus: no one shall look upon God and live.

4.  The Corpus of this article contains an odd argument, which seems inconclusive.  He says that it is impossible for the human soul to see God in the present life, because the mode of knowledge follows from the nature of the knower, and thus a mind which is immersed in matter and naturally apt to receive only material forms cannot receive the vision of the Essence of God, until it is separated from matter, since then it will be better disposed to receive this vision.

5.  The argument is puzzling because in this very question he has affirmed his belief that St. Paul received temporarily a vision of God in his essence during his lifetime.  He will also affirm later on that the human soul of Christ possessed the beatific vision during his life on earth.  Furthermore, after the general resurrection, the souls of the blessed will be united with their glorified bodies, and yet will not be deprived of the vision of God.  Thus the argument is only an argument from the disposition of the soul given its union with a body, or from the un-fittingness of a human in the wayfaring state receiving the beatific vision.  As such an argument it works well.

6.  To the first objection he replies by citing Dionysius, who interprets this and similar passages as referring to mental images or phantasms or elevated contemplative states given to individuals by God, which are nonetheless distinct from the vision of his essence.

7.  In response to the second objection he explains that the vision of God granted to Moses and Paul is a miracle which exceeds the common order of things, but does not negate that order.

8.  To the third, he explains that God underlies every act of the intellect because the light of the intellect is a participated light received from God, without which we would be incapable of discerning anything or knowing anything, even naturally.

9.  He answers the fourth by distinguishing between God’s presence in the blessed which is by way of intelligibility, and his presence in wayfarers, which is by essence presence and power, as explained above.


- Jacob saw God face to face.
- Moses and Paul saw God in this life.
- Augustine seems to say that every act of the intellect presupposes God.
- God is present by his essence in all things, but what is present by its essence in the mind is known by the mind.

- The mode of knowledge is according to the mode of the knower.
- It is unfitting that a mind immersed in material things and naturally disposed to receive only material forms, should receive the vision of God’s essence.

- This is figurative, and refers to a vision or gift of supernatural contemplation.
- Moses and Paul saw God by miracles which transcend the common order of things.
- The intellect’s acts presuppose God’s illumination in the real order, but not in the order of discovery.
- God is present in the blessed by union and intellgibility, which is not true of everything else.

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