Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

CHAPTER IV. The Divine Intellect.

156. THE Divine attributes of which we have thus far treated do not explicitly suggest to us anything about the action of God. We come now to others which represent Him in His Divine activity.

The first of them is the Wisdom of God, which we shall consider under five sections.

(1) The perfection of the Divine Intellect contrasted with the defects of the human.

(2) The knowledge of God completely determined by His Essence.

(3) The objects of Divine Thought.

(4) The way in which God knows the free acts of rational creatures.

(5) The knowledge of God distinguished according to the diversity of its objects.

SECTION 1. -- The perfection of the Divine Intellect contrasted with the defects of the human.

Thesis XXV. -- The knowledge of God is not capable of progressive improvement; but whatever a human intellect can understand by compounding together dsfferent ideas in affirmative and negative judgments and by the processes of inductive or deductive reasoning, is grasped "eminently" and with absolute perfection by one simple unchangeable act of the Divine Intellect.

157. This proposition, being intimately connected with the doctrine of the intellectual nature and infinite perfection of God as proved in the First Book, needs rather explanation than demonstration.

We say, then, first that there is no progressive development about the Divine knowledge, no gradual growth of information. The various things of this world which fall under the experience of a child, are in the beginning represented by his mind under very general and confused ideas. Only in the course of time does he become aware of their particular properties, and is able to form judgments affirmative or negative concerning them. Years pass by before he properly begins to reason, whether by the ascent of induction from particular facts to general principles, or by the descent of deduction applying universal truths to individual cases. What the reader has here to notice is that this method of procedure involves the multiplication of ideas in the human mind. Ideas are formed in vast numbers of the various objects of consideration. Judgments, another kind of idea, and reasonings, which are still another kind, have to be formed in vast numbers so as to arrange and classify these innumerable ideas according to the exigencies of the objective order. Yet to the end man remains ignorant of the greater portion even of those truths which are accessible to human understanding. The more facts he tries to master, the less attention can he devote to each. If we consider even the whole treasure of human knowledge, stored up through countless generations, by multitudinous mental acts of innumerable men, how imperfect is it all! How are the greatest geniuses baffled by unsolved problems! How many centuries shall mankind still wait for philosophy and science to be complete? But in vain do we wait for such a consummation. The human mind is unable to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of even one of the innumerable species of creatures that surround us. And as regards spiritual things, man left to his natural faculties will never proceed beyond an analogous conception of their nature.{1}

With the Divine mind there is none of all these shortcomings. The Divine knowledge is infinitely perfect In its embrace of every conceivable object of thought, and it is infinitely perfect from the first, or rather from eternity. And this infinite perfection of knowledge is attained not by any succession of ideas, not by any compounding of predicates with subjects, nor again by any passage from premisses to conclusions. It is attained by one all-embracing act of intuition. And this one act what else can it be but the Divine Essence itself? If it were anything really distinct from it, God's essence would neither be simple, nor infinite, nor immutable nor eternal, as we have proved it to be. We must then conclude with St. Thomas, "It must be affirmed that God's knowledge is His substance."{2} He, the infinite Being, is unchangeable, infinite, actual Thought.

{1} St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 88. art. 1.2.3.

{2} "Est necesse dicere quod intelligere Dei est ejus substantia." (St. Thomas. Sum. Theol. Ia. 14. 4. c.)

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