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CHAPTER L: THAT GOD HAS PROPER KNOWLEDGE OF ALL THINGS

SINCE however some[1] have said that God has none but a universal knowledge of other things, in the sense that He knows them as beings, through knowing the nature of being from His knowledge of Himself; it remains to be shown that God knows all other things, as distinct from one another and from God. This is to know things by their proper ideas.


In evidence of this let us suppose that God is the cause of every being, which is clear to a certain extent from what has been said above,[2] and will be more fully proved further on.[3] Accordingly then there can be nothing in a thing without its being caused by Him indirectly or directly. Now if the cause be known its effect is known. Wherefore all that is in anything whatsoever can be known if God be known as well as all the causes intervening between God and that thing. Now God knows Himself and all the causes that intervene between Him and any thing whatever. For it has been shown already that He knows Himself perfectly.[4] And through knowing Himself He knows whatever proceeds from Him immediately: and again through knowing this, He knows whatever proceeds therefrom immediately, and so on as regards every intervening cause until the ultimate effect. Therefore God knows whatever is in a thing. Now this is to have proper and complete knowledge of a thing, namely, to know whatever is in a thing, whether common or proper. Therefore God has proper knowledge of things, according as they are distinct from one another.


Further. Whatever acts by intellect, has knowledge of what it does, as regards the proper idea of the thing done: because the knowledge of the doer appoints the form to the thing done. Now God is cause of things by His intellect: since His being is His act of intelligence, and every thing acts in so far as it is actual. Therefore He knows His effect properly, according as it is distinct from others.


Moreover. The distinction of things cannot arise from chance, for it has a fixed order. Hence it follows that the distinction among things proceeds from the intention of some cause. But it cannot proceed from the intention of a cause that acts from natural necessity: because nature is determined to one thing, so that nothing that acts from natural necessity can have an intention in relation to several things considered as distinct from one another. It remains therefore that the distinction among things arises from the intention of a cause endowed with knowledge. Now it would seem proper to an intellect to consider the distinction among things: wherefore Anaxagoras[5] declared that an intellect was the principle of distinction. But taken as a whole the distinction of things cannot proceed from the intention of any second cause, since all such causes are included in the universality of distinct effects. Wherefore it belongs to the first cause, which is of itself distinct from all others, to intend the distinction among all things. Therefore God knows things as distinct.


Again. Whatsoever God knows, He knows most perfectly: for in Him are all perfections as in that which is simply perfect, as shown above.[6] Now that which is known only in general is not known perfectly: since the chief things belonging thereto are ignored, namely its ultimate perfections whereby its own being is perfected; wherefore by such knowledge as this a thing is known potentially rather than actually. Accordingly if God, by knowing His essence, knows all things in general, it follows that He has also proper knowledge of things.


Further. Whoever knows a nature knows the per se accidents of that nature. Now the per se accidents of being as such are one and many, as is proved in 4 Metaph.[7] Wherefore if God, by knowing His essence, knows the nature of being in general, it follows that He knows multitude. Now multitude is inconceivable without distinction. Therefore He understands things as distinct from one another.


Moreover. Whoever knows perfectly a universal nature knows the mode in which that nature can be had: thus he who knows whiteness knows that it is susceptive of increase and decrease. Now the various degrees of being result from various modes of being. Therefore if God by knowing Himself knows the universal nature of being--and this not imperfectly, since all imperfection is far removed from Him, as we have proved above[8]--it follows that He knows all the degrees of being: and so He has proper knowledge of things other than Himself.


Further. Whoever knows a thing perfectly, knows all that is in that thing. Now God knows Himself perfectly. Therefore He knows all that is in Him in relation to His active power. But all things according to their proper forms are in Him in relation to His active power: since He is the principle of all being. Therefore He has proper knowledge of all things.


Again. Whoever knows a nature, knows whether that nature is communicable: for one would not know the nature of an animal perfectly unless one knew that it is communicable to several. Now the divine nature is communicable according to likeness. Therefore God knows in how many ways a thing can be like His essence. But the diversity of forms arises from the different ways in which things reflect the divine essence: wherefore the Philosopher[9] calls a natural form a godlike thing. Therefore God has knowledge of things in reference to their proper forms.


Moreover. Men and other beings endowed with knowledge know things as many and distinct from one another. Accordingly if God knows not things as distinct from one another, it follows that He is most foolish, as in the opinion of those who asserted that God is ignorant of discord, which all know, an opinion that the Philosopher considers inadmissible[10] (1 De Anima v. 10; 3 Metaph.).[11]


We are also taught this by the authority of canonical Scripture: for it is stated (Gen. i. 31): God saw all the things that He had made and they were very good: and (Heb. iv. 13): Neither is there any creature invisible in His sight: . . . all things are naked and open to His eyes.



  1. Averroës, 12 Metaph. 51.
  2. Ch. xiii.
  3. Bk. II., ch. xv.
  4. Ch. xlvii.
  5. 8 Phys. i. 2; ix. 3.
  6. Ch. xxviii.
  7. D. 3. ii. 5.
  8. Ch. xxviii.
  9. 1 Phys. ix. 3.
  10. Sum. Th. P. I., Q. xiv., A. 11.
  11. D. 2. iv. 15.




Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Contra Gentiles, trans. by The English Dominican Fathers from the latest Leonine Edition, Benzinger Brothers: New York, 1924.

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