Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Simultaneity of Beatific Knowledge


1.  Continuing his inquiry into what is known in the vision of God’s essence, St. Thomas next asks whether the things given to those who see God to see in him are seen simultaneously or successively.  He proposes two objections.

2.  First, he cites Aristotle to the effect that only one thing is understood by the intellect at a time.  We may know many things (by habitual or potential knowledge) simultaneously, but the adversion of the mind to a particular form is exclusive.  Thus if many things are understood by those who see God, they must be understood successively.

3.  Second, he cites Augustine’s literal commentary on Genesis (in fact, a passage he has quoted above, in the discussion of angelic time, cf. 1.10.5), which seems to imply that there is succession in the angelic vision of God.

4.  For the Sed Contra he cites Augustine again, who says that “omnem scientiam nostram uno simul conspectu videbimus”.  We shall see all that we know (lit. “all our science”) by one glance.

5.  In the Corpus he cites the same principle appealed to in the first objection.  The mind can actively be informed by one idea or intelligible species at a time.  Since those who behold God are intellectually directed toward him, they see him, and whatever else they see they see in him and through him, just as one who knows the principle of a science deeply can, by thinking of that principle, simultaneously grasp many things which follow from it.  Thus the vision of things in God by the blessed is simultaneous.

6.  Note that instead of simply referring to what is seen in the divine essence, he refers to “ea quae videntur in verbo” the things which are seen in the Word.

7.  In response to the first he clarifies that when only one thing is understood by an idea, only one thing can be thought at a time, but where a single idea extends to many things, many things can be understood simultaneously in that one idea.  He gives examples of composite things which involve the simultaneous conception of various different things (e.g. “house”).

8.  To the second objection he says that the angels have succession in their natural knowledge, but the knowledge they have from the beatific vision is simultaneous.


- Only one thing can be understood by the mind at a time.
- Augustine speaks of succession in angelic understanding.

- Only one thing can be understood by the mind at a time.
- The blessed see God, therefore whatever else they see they see through him.
- Everything they see in God they see by the likenesses pre-existing in him, so that they see all that they see simultaneously in the vision of God.

- Only one idea or intelligible species can be understood by the mind at a time, but if that idea extends to many objects, then many things can be understood through it simultaneously.
- Augustine speaks of the natural succession of knowledge in the angels, and not their beatific knowledge.

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