In 1 Sent. 3.1.1

Commentary on the First Book of the Sentences of Peter Lombard, Distinction III, Question 1, Article 1.

Whether God can be known by the created intellect.

To the first article we proceed thus:

  1. It seems that God cannot be known by the created intellect. For Dionysius says in Chapter 1 of On the Divine Names, that we can neither say nor understand God, which the following proves. Knowledge is proportional to the existence thing. But God is above all existence. Therefore, He is above knowledge.
  2. Again, God is more distant from every existing intelligible thing known to us, than the intelligible is from the sensible. But sense cannot know the intelligible. Therefore, neither can God be known by our intellect.
  3. Again, all knowledge is through some species, through which information comes about by the assimilation of the knower to the thing known. But some species cannot be abstracted from God, since He is most simple. Therefore, He is not knowable.
  4. Again, as the Philosopher says in Book III of the Physics, every infinite thing is unknowable. The reason for this is that it belongs to the notion of the infinite that there (always) be something of the infinite outside of whatever was grasped, and such it is unknowable. But God is infinite. Therefore, He is unknowable.
  5. Again, the Philosopher says, in Book III of De Anima, that just as colors are related to sight, so phantasms are related to the intellect. But, corporeal sight sees nothing without color. Therefore, our intellect understands nothing without a phantasm. Since, therefore, a phantasm cannot be formed about God, as Isaiah 40: 18 says: “What image will you make for Him?” it seems that (God) is not knowable by our intellect.


  1. In Jeremiah 9: 24 it is said that “In this is he glorified who would be glorified, to know and understand Me.” But it is not vain glory to which God exhorts (us). Therefore, it seems that it is possible to know God.
  2. Again, as was said above, even according to the Philosopher, in Book X of the Ethics, Chapter 10, the ultimate end of human life is contemplation of God. If, therefore, man is not able to attain to this, in vain would he be constituted; because that is vain, according to the Philosopher in Book II of the Physics, which is directed to an end, but which does not attain it. And this not fitting, as is said in Psalm 88: 48: “For how vainly you have made him.”
  3. Again, as the Philosopher says in book III of De Anima, in this does the intelligible differ from the sensible, that the intensely sensible destroys the sense; but the exceedingly intelligible does not destroy, but strengthens the intellect. Since, therefore, God is maximally intelligible insofar as He is in Himself (because He is the primary intelligible thing (primum intelligibile)), it seems that He can be understood by our intellect. For (the intellect) would not be impeded except by His excellence.

Solution: I respond that it should be said that this is not the question whether God can be seen immediately in His essence, for this belongs to another discourse. The question is whether (God) can be known in any way at all. And so we say that God is knowable; not however that He is so knowable that His essence can be comprehended. Because every knower has the knowledge of the thing known, not according to the mode of the thing known, but according to the mode of the knower. The mode, however, of no creature attains to the height of the divine majesty. Wherefore, it is necessary that He is known by no creature perfectly, as He Himself knows Himself.

Replies to Objections

  1. Just as God is not an existent according to this existence, but rather the nature of entity is eminently in Him, and so He is not in all ways devoid of entity; so even He is not in all ways devoid of knowledge that He may not be known. But He is not known by the mode of other existing things, which can be comprehended by the created intellect.
  2. Although God stands more distantly from every intelligible thing, according to the propriety of nature than the intelligible from the sensible, nevertheless, the notion of knowability is more befitting to God. For everything that is separate from matter shares in this notion as far as it is known as intelligible. However, what is material is known as sensible.
  3. The species, through which cognition comes about, is in the knowing power according to the mode of that knower. Wherefore, the species of those things that are more material than (a pure) intellect is in the intellect more simply than in the things. And so, such are said to know through the mode of abstraction. However, God and the angels are more simple than our intellect, and so the species which are effected in our intellect through which they are known are less simple (than they are). Wherefore, we are not said to know them through abstraction, but through the impression of them on our intelligences.
  4. The infinite is said in two ways, namely, privitively and negatively. The privitive infinite is that which, according to its genus, is born to have an end but does not. And such a thing, since it is imperfect, owing to its imperfection is not perfectly knowable. The negative infinite is said of that which is no way finite; and this is something which extends itself to everything and is most perfect, not being fit to be comprehended by the created intellect, but only to be touched upon.
  5. The Philosopher, in Book III of De Anima, is speaking of the knowledge of the intellect which is connatural to us in this life. And in this way, God is not known by us except through the phantasm, not of Him Himself, but of His effects through which we come (to knowledge) of Him. But through this mode (the objection) is not removed unless the intellect were able to have some knowledge, not through the natural way, but (through) a higher (way), namely through the influence of divine light for which a phantasm is not necessary. The rest (of the objection) we concede.

Nevertheless, to the last (contra), which concludes that God even now is maximally knowable by us, it should be responded that the intellect and the senses are in a certain way similar, and in a certain way dissimilar. They are similar in that just as sense cannot (know) that which is not proportional to itself, so neither can the intellect, since all knowledge comes about through the mode of the knower, according to Boethius in Consolation of Philosophy, Book V. However, they are dissimilar in that the extremely intelligible does not corrupt as the extremely visible does. Wherefore, the intellect does not fail in knowledge of the extremely intelligible because it is corrupted, but because it does not reach it. And so the created intellect cannot see God perfectly.

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