Of God and His Creatures

In the days of the schoolmen, as in those of Aristotle, exclusive of philosophy and theology, one speculative science alone had attained any real development, mathematics. Philosophers therefore drew their illustrations from mathematics. Now it is true in mathematics that a perfect comprehension of the universal carries a knowledge of all subordinate particulars. Whoever comprehended a hexagon completely, would know all things that ever could be affirmed of any hexagon, as such. And it is only with the hexagon as such, that is to say with the hexagon as a form, that the mathematician is concerned: he cares nothing about its material. But in the world of natural history, while still only the lion, as such, or the fig, as such, is the strict matter of science: nevertheless this scientific knowledge is only obtainable by observation and experiment upon actual lions, or figs; and scientific men busy themselves accordingly about the vicissitudes that do actually overtake such existing things. The most thorough comprehension of the specific essence of a fig could not instruct a man, -- no, nor an angel either, -- on the fact whether there will be a plentiful or a poor crop of figs in Palestine in the year 1910. This fact, and indeed the whole course of natural history, -- apart from the free acts of God and man, and the effect of those acts upon material things, is absolutely deducible from a knowledge of the 'universal nature' of physical agents, joined to a knowledge (not contained in the 'universal') of the primitive collocation of materials. But could even angelic intellect make this stupendous deduction of the whole history of the physical universe from its primary data?

We judge of angels from the analogy of the human mind. The human mind knows what is called at Oxford 'the manifold' of individual material things through the senses. To the intellect of man, away from sensation, this 'manifold' of individuals is unintelligible, as St Thomas also says it is unintelligible, because intellect always universalises. How then shall pure intelligence, apart from all faculty of sensation, know the individual? The analogy, which has been our guide, here breaks down. We cannot deny to the angel the cognition of individual things: not, I think, even with St Thomas for our guide, can we give a satisfactory account of how he has that cognition. If the schoolmen had a fault, it was that of explaining too much: though, I dare say, they considered many of their explanations merely hypothetical and tentative. See B. I, Chapp. VIII, IX.

In the Summa Theologica, I, q. 55, art 2, St Thomas more clearly faces the difficulty of attributing to angels any knowledge of the actual facts of creation. He acknowledges (art. 1) that the mere consciousness of themselves in their own essential nature would be insufficient to afford them such knowledge. Therefore he supposes that, over and above their essential nature, there was stamped upon them at their creation a multitude of intelligible impressions, innate ideas in fact, corresponding to the facts of creation; and that by knowing themselves, as thus impressed, they know the world. Scotus disagrees with St Thomas on this point: indeed it remains a very open question. St Thomas's words are (l.c.):

"The impressions whereby angels understand are not gathered from things but are connatural to the said angels. . . . Angels are wholly free from bodies, subsisting immaterially in intellectual being: and therefore they gain their intellectual perfection by an intellectual efflux, whereby they received from God presentations of known things along with their intellectual nature. . . . In the mind of an angel there are likenesses of creatures, not from the creatures themselves, but from God, who is the cause of creatures."

But from this it would seem that angels ought to know all future events, a corollary rejected by St Thomas, q. 57, art. 3.

Of God and His Creatures: 2.100