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CHAPTER I: FOREWORD
Lo, these things are said in part, of his ways: and seeing we have heard scarce a little drop of his word, who shall be able to behold the thunder of his greatness? (JOB xxvi. 14).
FOR as much as the human intellect acquires knowledge in a manner conformable with its nature, it cannot by itself arrive at an intuitive knowledge of the divine substance in itself, since the latter infinitely transcends the whole range of things sensible, nay all other beings whatsoever.
Nevertheless, seeing that man's perfect good consists in his knowing God in some way, lest so noble a creature should seem to be utterly void of purpose, through being unable to obtain its own end, man has been given the means of rising to the knowledge of God. For, since all the perfections of things come down from God the summit of all perfection, man begins from the lowest things and rising by degrees advances to the knowledge of God: thus too, in corporeal movements, the way down is the same as the way up, and they differ only as regards their beginning and end.
Now this descent of perfections from God presents a twofold aspect. In the first we look at it from the viewpoint of the origin of things: since divine wisdom, that there might be perfection in things, established a certain order among them, so that the universe might be made up of the highest as well as the lowest things. The second aspect is that of the things considered in themselves; for, since causes rank higher than effects, the things caused first fall short of the first cause, namely God, while they transcend their own effects, and so on until we come to those things that are caused last. And because in God, the summit of all things, there is found the most perfect unity; and since the more a thing is one, the greater its power and worth, it follows that the further we recede from the first principle, the more do we find things to be diversified and varied. Consequently the things that proceed from God must needs derive unity from their principle, and multiplicity from the ends to which they are ordained. Accordingly from the diversity of things we consider the diversity of ways, as beginning from one principle and terminating in different things.
Wherefore our intellect is able to mount by these ways to the knowledge of God; and yet by reason of the weakness of our intellect we are unable to know perfectly the very ways themselves. Because, as our senses, wherein our knowledge begins, are directed to exterior accidents, such as colour, smell, and the like, which are by themselves sensible, the intellect is scarcely able through suchlike externals to arrive at the knowledge of what lies within, even in those things whose accidents it grasps perfectly through the senses. Much less, therefore, will it be able to succeed in comprehending the nature of those things, of whose accidents but few can be grasped by the senses, and still less the nature of those things whose accidents cannot be grasped, although it may be partly gathered from certain effects that fall short of those things. But, even though the very natures of things were known to us, nevertheless their order, in so much as by divine providence they are both referred one to another and directed to their end, could be but little known to us, since we cannot succeed in knowing the purpose of divine providence.
Wherefore, if the ways themselves are known by us but imperfectly, how can they serve us as a means of obtaining perfect knowledge of their principle, which transcends them out of all proportion? Even if we knew those same ways perfectly, not yet should we have perfect knowledge of their principle.
Since then it was but a meagre knowledge of God that man was able to obtain in the above ways by a kind of intellectual insight, God of His overflowing goodness, in order that man's knowledge of Him might have greater stability, revealed to man certain things about Himself which surpass the human intelligence. In this revelation a certain order is observed, in keeping with human nature, so that the imperfect leads to the perfect, as happens in other things subject to movement.
Accordingly, at first, these things are revealed to man, yet so that he understands them not, but merely believes them as things heard by him, because his intellect, in this state of life wherein it is connected with sensibles, is utterly unable to rise so as to behold such things as transcend all proportion to the senses: but, when freed from this connection with the senses, then it will be raised so as to behold the things revealed.
Hence man's knowledge of divine things is threefold. The first is when man, by the natural light of reason, rises through creatures to the knowledge of God. The second is when the divine truth which surpasses the human intelligence comes down to us by revelation, yet not as shown to him that he may see it, but as expressed in words so that he may hear it. The third is when the human mind is raised to the perfect intuition of things revealed.
This threefold knowledge is indicated by the words of Job quoted above.--The words, These things are said in part of his ways refer to the knowledge in which our intellect rises to the knowledge of God by the way of creatures. And because we know these ways but imperfectly, he rightly adds in part: since we know in part, as the Apostle says (1 Cor. xiii. 9). The words that follow, And seeing we have heard scarce a little drop of his word, refer to the second knowledge, wherein divine things are revealed to our belief by way of speech: because faith, as it is said, is by hearing, and hearing is by the word of Christ, of which it is also said (Jo. xvii. 17): Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth. Wherefore, since the revealed truth in divine things is offered not to our sight but to our belief, he rightly says we have heard. And whereas this imperfect knowledge flows from that perfect knowledge whereby the divine truth is seen in itself, when revealed to us by God by means of the angels who see the face of the Father, the expression drop is appropriate: hence it is said (Joel iii. 18): In that day the mountains shall drop down sweetness. But since not all the mysteries which the angels and blessed know through seeing them in the first truth, are revealed to us, but only a certain few, he says pointedly a little. For it is said (Ecclus. xliii. 35, 36): Who shall magnify him as he is from the beginning? There are many things hidden from us, that are greater than these: for we have seen but a few of his works. Again the Lord said to his disciples (Jo. xvi. 12): I have yet many things to say to you: but you cannot bear them now. Moreover these few things that are revealed to us are proposed to us figuratively and obscurely, so that only the studious can succeed in understanding them, while others revere them as things occult, and so that unbelievers are unable to deride them. Hence the Apostle says (1 Cor. xiii. 12): We see now through a glass in a dark manner; wherefore Job adds significantly the word scarce, to indicate difficulty.--When he goes on to say, Who shall be able to behold the thunder of his greatness? he is referring to the third knowledge, whereby the first truth shall be known as an object not of belief but of vision, for we shall see him as he is (1 Jo. iii 2), wherefore he says behold. Nor shall a small portion of the divine mysteries be perceived, but the divine majesty itself shall be seen, and the entire perfection of good things: hence the Lord said to Moses (Exod xxxiii. 19): I will show thee all good; wherefore he says rightly greatness. Nor will the truth be revealed to man obscurely, but made clearly manifest: wherefore our Lord said to His disciples (Jo. xvii. 25): The hour cometh when I will no more speak to you in proverbs, but will show you plainly of the Father; hence the word thunder is significant as indicating manifestation.
Now the passage quoted is suitable to our purpose: because hitherto we have spoken of divine things, in as much as natural reason is able to arrive at the knowledge of them through creatures; imperfectly however and as far as its own capacity allows, so that we can say with Job: Lo, these things are said in part, of his ways.
It remains then for us to speak of those things that God has proposed to us to be believed, and which surpass the human intelligence. In what manner we are to proceed in this matter we are taught by the words quoted above. For seeing that we scarce hear the truth in the words of Holy Writ, coming down to us like a little drop, and since, in this state of life, no man is able to behold the thunder of His greatness, we must proceed in such sort that the things delivered to us in the words of Holy Writ shall serve as principles. Thus we shall endeavour in some fashion to grasp what is delivered to us in a hidden manner by the aforesaid words, and to defend them from the attacks of unbelievers; yet so as not to presume that we understand them perfectly. For such things are to be proved by the authority of Holy Writ, and not by natural reason: and yet we must show that they are not opposed to natural reason, so as to defend them from the attacks of unbelievers. This manner of procedure has in fact already been decided on at the outset of this work. And since natural reason rises to the knowledge of God through creatures, while on the other hand the knowledge of God by faith comes down to us by divine revelation, and since the way of ascent is the same as that of descent, we must needs proceed by the same way in those things above reason which are an object of faith, as that which we followed hitherto in those matters concerning God which we investigated by reason.
Accordingly we shall treat in the first place of those things concerning God which are above reason and are proposed to our belief, such as belief in the Trinity (Ch. ii.-xxvi.).
Secondly we shall treat of those things above reason that have been done by God, such as the work of the Incarnation and things that follow in sequence thereto (Ch. xxvii.lxxviii.).
Thirdly we shall treat of those things above reason to which we look forward in man's last end, such as the resurrection and glory of the body, the eternal happiness of souls, and matters connected therewith (Ch. lxxix.-xcvii.).
- ↑ Rom. x. 17.
|Source: St. Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Contra Gentiles, trans. by The English Dominican Fathers from the latest Leonine Edition, Benzinger Brothers: New York, 1924.|