Thomistic Philosophy Page
[ Topics | Questions | Bibliography | Links | Bookstore ]
Commentary on the First Book of the Sentences of Peter Lombard,
Distinction III, Question 1, Article 3.
Whether God can be known by man through creatures.
To the third we thus proceed.
- It seems that God can be known through creatures by man. Romans I, 20:
The invisible things of God are clearly seen being understood by a creature
of the world through the things that are made." The creature is called man
according to the exposition of the Master. Therefore, though creatures
(God) can be known by man.
- Again, it seems (that God can be known) by angels. For knowledge of God
through creatures comes about through the fact that the divine goodness is
seen reflected in creatures. But an angel knowing things in their proper
genus sees the divine goodness in them. Therefore, it knows the Creator
- Again, it seems that even brute animals (know the Creator). For no one
is made subject to a law except he who knows the law. But in Jonah, Chapter IV,
it is said, that the Lord commands the worm and will strike the ivy.
Therefore, a worm can know the divine precept, and so it can even know the
the law giver.
- Again, it seems that even by sinners (God) can be known, for it is said
in Romans, I, 21. Although they knew God, they did not likewise glorify God.
Such, however, were sinners. Therefore, etc.
- Every effect leading to the knowledge of its cause is in some way
proportionate to it. But creatures are not proportionate to God. Therefore,
from them man is not able to come to knowledge of Him.
- Again, it seems that neither angels (can know God through creatures).
Indeed, what is known through them is not known through something else. But
God is known by angels through themselves, seeing him through their essence.
Therefore, they do not know him through creatures.
- Again it seems that neither (can God be known) even by brute animals.
Indeed, no power affixed to an organ has the power for knowing except the
material species by (reason of) the fact that knowledge is in the knowing
thing according to the mode of the very knowing thing. But brute animals
do not have knowing powers, except the sensitive one, which are affixed to
organs. Therefore, in no way are they able to know God who is in all ways
- Again, it seems that neither even by sinners (can God be known). Indeed,
Ambrose says, commenting on that passage of Matthew V, 8: Blessed are the
pure of heart, because they will see God: "If those who are pure of heart
will see God, therefore others will not; nor indeed will the wicked see God,
nor will he who does not wish to see God be able to see God."
I respond that it should be said that since creatures exemplarily proceed
from God Himself just as from a cause in someway similar by analogy, from
creatures one is able to come upon God in those three ways that were said,
sc. through cuasality, remotion and eminence.
Two things are required for someone to come upon God through creatures:
sc. that God himself be in someway able to be grasped, and so it does not
belong to brute animals to have such a process of knowledge. Secondly it
is required that divine knowledge in them begin from creatures and terminate
in the Creator; and so it does not belong to angels to know God through
creatures, nor to the blessed humans, who proceed from knowledge of the
Creator to creatures. But this process belongs to men according to this
life, good and evil.
Replies to objections
- The first, therefore, we conceed.
- To the second it should be said that although angels know the divine
goodness reflected in creatures, it is not, however, that from creatures he
reaches the Creator, but the reverse.
- The law of God does not reach the worm such that it grasps the intention
of the precept, but that the divine power has moved the estimative power
of it by a natural motion toward fulfilling that which God disposed.
- The fourth we conceed.
- A creature is an effect not proportionate to the Creator; and so it does
not lead to perfect, but to imperfect, knowledge of Him.
- The sixth and seventh we conceed.
- Ambrose speaks about the vision of God through (His) essence, which there
will be in (our) heavenly home, to which no evil person will be able to
come to (pervenire). Similarly, even for the knowledge of faith no one
comes except the faithful. But the natural knowledge about God is common
to the good and the bad, the faithful and non-believers.
Return to the Aquinas on the Existence of God