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

SECTION 2. -- God's Knowledge completely determined by His Essence.

Thesis XXVI. -- The Divine Mind does not need any determination from without to enable it to know all truth. God's mere Essence is determination sufficient for Him to comprehend whatever there is to know. Hence His Essence is the "species intelligibilis" by which He understands all things different from Himself as well in general as in particular.

158. The mind of man is in communication with that which it knows; nay, it possesses it in a certain way within itself. This truth is implied by the terminology of common language, as when people say: "I have grasped it; I comprehend it," in order to signify that they have understood something. As often as the object understood is not one and the same with the mind by which it is understood, the union between the two cannot be such that the actual reality of the thing known shall be in the knowing mind, but a representation only will be present there. This representation is a certain property or quality in the mind, in Virtue of which it is determined to know a certain object. Intelligible Species is the name by which scholastic philosophers call this mental representation, whereby the human mind is determined to grasp and understand the object. As is explained in the Psychology of this series, there is a special spiritual power of the human soul called by scholastics intellectus agens. By this are formed the intelligible species that afford a direct mental intuition of material things, after they have been perceived by sense. Before sense-perception and the action of the intellectus agens following it, the human understanding is quasi tabula rasa, a blank tablet on which nothing has as yet been written. Stimulated by sensitive representations, the soul may form intelligible species of countless material objects, and ascend by steps from the cognition of things sensible to that of things spiritual; but considered in its essence alone, the soul is not determined and adapted to the knowledge of anything whatsoever. It needs intelligible species.

159. Now the question arises, Is there in God anything corresponding to the "intelligible species" determining the Divine mind to the possession of an intellectual representation of the object: and if so, how are we to explain it? Some among the scholastic philosophers were inclined to believe that the term in question is not predicable of God in its proper sense. St. Thomas, however, and others are of a contrary opinion; and we go with them. It is true that in the concrete an intelligible species of the human mind is not a pure perfection, but has a very limited and imperfect being. Yet this does not prevent us from affirming it of God, if only in the abstract it can be conceived without connotation of defect. And it can be so conceived by fixing our attention on this feature alone, that an intelligible species is a perfection by which the mind is adapted to know something different from its own being.

Doing so, we conceive neither beginning nor multiplicity, nor change, nor limitation; and thus do not connote any defect mixed up with its perfection. At the same time the perfection thus conceived is not denoted by any other term accurately except "intelligible species" or its synonyms. Consequently we must predicate this term in its proper meaning of God. Let us now hear what St. Thomas has to say on this subject.{3} "As God can have no potentiality for further perfection, but is pure actuality, there cannot be in Him any difference between intellect and intellectual representation. Consequently He is neither without an intelligible species, as our intellect, before it understands something actually; nor is His intelligible species different from the substance of the Divine Intellect, as is the case with our intellect when it has actual understanding. On the contrary, the intelligible species (of God) is the Divine Intellect itself."

This comes to the same thing as saying that the Essence of God is the intelligible species of His Intellect; for we have seen in the preceding thesis that His Essence is His Intellect. Let us set forth the same truth in other words, so far forth as it applies to the knowledge God has of the actual world. Since all things else save God are so many adumbrations of Himself which He has called into existence, His Essence bears to each and all of them the character of a pattern in which whatever perfection they have has its archetype and its perfect representation. He needs, therefore, no other determination by which to know them adequately. To compare great things with small, He beholds them all adequately in His Essence as the architect beholds the building he has set up in the plan which he has in his own mind and which he has faithfully copied. The Divine Essence exceeds indeed all creatures infinitely by its own Infinite Being; nevertheless, it expresses all and each of them distinctly, in so far as its Infinite Being is identical with Infinite Thought, and God's creative power realizes accurately His conceptions of creatures chosen for Creation.

{3} "Cum igitur Deus nihil potentialitatis habeat, sed sit actus purus, oportet quad in eo intellectus et intellectum sint idem omnibus modis; ita scilicet ut neque careat specie intelligibili, sicut intellectus noster cum intelligit in potentia; neque species intelligibilis sit aliud a substantia intellectus divini, sicut accidit in intellectu nostro, cum est actu intelligens; sed ipsa species intelligibilis est ipse intellectus divinus." (St. Thomas, Sum.Theol. Ia. q. 14. art. 2. in corp.)

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