Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Mediation of Beatific Knowledge of Creatures


1.  Next he asks whether the things that those who see the divine essence see in God will be seen by some likeness.  He gives two objections.

2.  The first objection is that knowledge comes about by the assimilation of the knower to the known, i.e. knowledge itself is the conformity of the mind to the object known, just as sensation is the conformity of the sense faculty to what is sensed.  Thus it is impossible for there to be knowledge of an object without the mind receiving a similitude of the object into itself, so that the mind must know whatever it knows in God by some sort of received likeness.

3.  The second objection comes from the nature of memory.  In memory we keep records of things seen, which serve as likenesses by which we can think of them again in their absence.  St. Paul discusses his vision of God in rapture and thus clearly remembers things that he saw.  But if there is memory, then what is remembered is known through a likeness, therefore etc.

4.  His Sed Contra is taken from the analogy between our knowledge of things in God and seeing by reflection in a mirror.  We see what we see in a mirror by the same means that we see the mirror itself.  But we see the essence of God without recourse to any likeness.  Therefore whatever we see in God is seen in the same manner, and not by any likeness.

5.  His answer in the Corpus is rather intricately stated.  He affirms the principle of the objections: that what is known is known insofar as the likeness of the known is in the knower.  But he observes that in the vision of the divine essence, what is known is known by union with God, and not by a received similitude.  So in the knower, what is known is not known by a similitude.  However, the forms of things exist in God not as themselves, but as likenesses.  So what is known in God is known by a likeness, but a likeness in God and not in the knower.  More will be said about the likenesses of things in God later on (1.15).

6.  One further note about the Corpus of this article: St. Thomas returns again to the distinction between knowing a thing by apprehending its image in another thing, and knowing it by apprehending it itself (cf. 1.4.3 and 1.12.2), and again he says that when a thing is known through an image of it, it is only known as it is in the image and not as it is in itself.

7.  In response to the first objection he says that the intellect is assimilated to what is seen in God not by a likeness in the intellect but by a likeness in God, to which the intellect is immediately united.

8.  The second objection is solved by observing that some of the powers of the mind form images of what is known, as for example the imagination when it synthesizes an image of something never seen based on two things actually seen.  His example is a golden mountain, but we might also think of a unicorn, or a statue made out of chicken kidneys, etc.  The memory likewise forms images of what is known, and thus he supposes that Paul’s mind formed in itself a likeness of what he saw in God when the vision was given to him.  But of course this vision by an image or likeness in the memory differs from the original apprehension of the thing by union.


- What is known is known by assimilation to the knower, i.e. by the formation of a likeness to the known in the knower.
- St. Paul remembered what he had seen in God after the vision had been removed, thus there was a likeness in him by which he remembered, and so he must have known by means of a likeness.

- The act of knowing depends on the assimilation of the knower to the thing known.
- This assimilation may happen in two ways: either by the direct apprehension of what is known, or by the apprehension of the object through its likeness in something that is directly known.
- In the vision of God’s essence we know without recourse to a similitude, but what we know in him of other things is known by a similitude pre-existing in him.

- The intellect of the one who sees God is assimilated to the things known in God by union with the divine essence, and not by the reception of a similitude.
- St. Paul’s memory formed an image of what was known, but this does not imply that what was known was known originally by an image or likeness.

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