JMC : The Knowableness of God / by Matthew Schumacher, CSC


It has been well said that Agnosticism is rather a mental attitude than a doctrine. There is so much truth in it, and it enters so largely into the actual state of our cognitions, that it is unfortunate that it should have set itself to combat ex professo the limited knowledge that it is our portion to attain and possess. Its position, however, is not legitimate, and the human mind will hold all the more tenaciously to its birthright, because it is so meagre, and still more because there are men leagued to wrest this little from it. And yet Agnostics themselves lay claim to a great store of knowledge, quite sufficient to destroy their profession of ignorance. There is some truth in the statement of Ladd: "A more stupendous system of alleged cognitions that have absolute value, and that concern ultimate and permanent entities and unalterable truths, has never been put forth by any reflective mind than the system issued under the cover of this agnosticism."{1} A definition of terms would go a great way in giving the true position of the limits of our knowledge.

We find it frequently stated in Theistic presentations that the manifestation of the Creator in His works is of such a nature that a further knowledge of Him through another source, namely, Revelation, is almost a necessary consequence. In fact, Prof. Flint devotes a chapter in his work on Theism, to discussing what he calls the Insufficiency of Mere Theism. St. Thomas also advocates the moral necessity of Revelation in arguments that have become commonplaces in Apologetics. The knowledge of God is "the result of a studious inquiry" that most men can not undertake -- either on account of their "natural indisposition to know ", their occupations in life, or indolence, since the "consideration of almost the whole of philosophy is related to the knowledge of God." Moreover, this would be a lifelong quest, and even then "on account of the weakness of our intellect in judging, error is generally found in the investigation of human reason." "Therefore the Divine Clemency has fruitfully provided, that even those things that reason can investigate, be held by faith; and thus all men can easily become partakers of divine knowledge, without doubt and without error."{2} Revelation gives us a firmer and more extended knowledge than we can attain to by the simple light of reason. Yet St. Thomas finds the gift of Revelation very inadequate to exhaust the knowledge we can have of God.

We have seen how St. Thomas held that all men have a knowledge of God in confuso, in the sense explained; they ascend to a higher knowledge through Demonstration, which is still very imperfect; Revelation adds its portion, and still, to the mind of Aquinas, we are far from being satisfied. Man craves for more knowledge, he is longing for a view that will end his desires while it will not cease to employ his knowing power. This satisfaction and reposeful mental activity can only find a home in the presence of the Power that implanted this unrest in man. "We, in as far as we know that God exists, and other facts already presented, are not quieted in desire, but we desire yet to know God in His essence,"{3} we seek His Face. St. Thomas then concludes that man's ultimate happiness is to know God. Ultimate happiness is to be sought in the operation of the intellect alone, since no desire leads to such a height as the desire of understanding the truth. All our desires, whether of pleasure or any kind what< - 186 - >soever, can not rest in aught else. But the desire of truth is not satisfied till it reach the highest Source and Author of all."{4}

We noted before that in the system of Aquinas God is the Creator and End of Man. The imperfection of our knowledge, and the desire we have for a more and more perfect knowledge, opens out the prospect of another life to Aquinas, where the God we know so little about at present will be known as the Infinite, All-embracing Reality that will give us not only intellectual peace, but will spread before us riches now unknown. Aquinas then justly remarks, "let those blush who seek the happiness of man, so highly placed, in lower things."{5}

{1} Phil. of Knowledge, p. 592.

{2} C.G., l. 1. c. 4.

{3} C.G., l. 3, c. 50.

{4} C.G., l. 3, c. 50.

{5} C.G., l. 3, c. 49.

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