Johannes Tauler (†1361), the Image of God, and the ‘Dominican’ Proclus

For those interested in the recovery of Neoplatonic texts in Late Medieval Europe and/or the Protestant Reformation, TaulerJohannes Tauler should be quite interesting. He was a Dominican student of Meister Eckhart and his works were quite influential for Martin Luther. Tauler’s concept of the imago Dei was one of the most unique of his time. In a sermon on John 3:11 Tauler explicitly distances himself from Thomas Aquinas’s concept of the imago. For Tauler the Seelengrund (ground of the soul) is the true image of the Trinity as opposed to the traditional Augustinian concept of the imago as reflected in memory, understanding, and will. One may only enter their Seelengrund, says Tauler, by shedding “all outward attachments” and “pious action” since, in one’s return to the hidden God “exterior precepts and techniques will be of no avail.” Tauler’s doctrine of the Seelengrund is unique because it is partly influenced by his readings of a quite recently translated passage from Proclus’s De Providentia. Tauler explains:

(English translation below)

Hievon sprach ein heidenscher meister Proculus: alle die wile und also lange da der mensche mit den bilden die under uns sint, umbget und mangeld do nút, so ist daz nut gelouplich daz der mensche in disen grunt iemer komen múge; das ist uns zümole ein ungloube daz das in uns si; wir múgent nút gelouben das es si und ouch in uns si, sunder – sprach er – wiltu daz bevinden das ez si, so la alle manigvaltekeit und sich dis an mit eime verstentlichen gesihte dis ein; wiltu nu noch hoher kummen, so la das vernúnftige gesihte und daz ansehen, wan die vernunft ist under dir unde wurt eins mit dem einen, und er nemmet dis eine alsus: eine stille swigende sloffende götteliche unsinnige dúnsternisse. Kinder, das ein heiden dis verstunt und darzü kam, das wir dem also verre und also ungelich sint, das ist uns laster und grosse schande. Dis bezúgete unser herre do er sprach: ‘das rich Gottes ist in úch’…

A pagan master, Proclus, has this to say on the subject [of the imago Dei]: “As long as man is occupied with images inferior to himself, and as long as he does not go beyond them, it is unlikely that he will ever reach this depth. It will appear an illusion to really believe that this groung exists within us; we doubt that it can actually exist in us. Therefore,” he continues, “if you wish to experience its existence, you must abandon all multiplicity and concentrate your attention on this one thing with the eyes of your intellect; and if you wish to rise higher, you must put aside all rational methods, for reason is now beneath you, and then you may become united with the One.” And he calls this state a divine darkness: still, silent, at rest , and above all sense perception. Beloved, it is a disgraceful thing that a pagan philosopher understood and attained this truth, while we are so far from both. Our Lord expressed the same truth when he said: “The kingdom of God is within us.” – Tauler, translated by Maria Shrady in Johannes Tauler: Sermons, The Classics of Western Spirituality, (Paulist Press, 1985), 105.

According to Loris Sturlese, Tauler does not merely quote Proclus as an authority but implies that he understands the context and some of the more intricate details of Proclus’s philosophy. Judging the content of Tauler’s few references to Proclus, Sturlese determines that he must have had full access to three whole chapters of Proclus’s De Providentia (from where the references originate) within the Tria Opuscula translated by William of Moerbeke ca. 1268. Sturlese explains the full extent of the influences on Tauler’s concept of the Seelengrund:

(English translation below)

Tauler lehnt die thomistische These ab, die Gottebenbildlichkeit der Seele bestehe in der aktuallen Entfaltung ihrer Seelenvermögen (Gedächtnis, Verstand und Wille), und betont, das Bild Gottes liege vielmehr »in dem allerverborgensten tieffesten grunde der selen«, wobei er sich ausdrücklich auf Proklos … und stillschweigend auf Dietrich und Berthold beruft […]. Die Lehre Dietrichs, die er für sich in Anspruch nimmt, ist seine bekannte Identifizierung des Bildes Gottes mit dem »abditus mentis« Augustins […]. Die Lehre des Proklos ist die des »unum animae«, in noch ausführlicherer Weise im Rahmen der Erklärung des Begriffes vom Gemüt … dargestellt wird […]. Tauler macht sich das Proklische »unum animae« zunutze, um der Interpretation des »abditum mentis« im Sinne des Intellekts, die Dietrich von Freiberg – einem Motiv Alberts des Großen folgend – vorgetragen hatte (Tauler kennt sie…), die Deutung des »abditum mentis« als transintellektuelles Prinzip gegenüberzustellen […]. Hierbei zeigt sich Tauler als vom philosophischen Denken Bertholds von Moosburg abhängig, denn er interpretiert die Proklischen Texte zum »unum« in einer Weise, die bei Berthold, und nur bei ihm, eine genaue Entsprechung findet… Unter dem Gesichtspunkt der damaligen deutschen philosophischen Debatte betrachtet, ist Taulers Übereinstimmung mit Berthold als eine Stellungnahme gegen den Thomismus anzusehen, welche die in der Dominikanerprovinz verbreitete Stimmung reflektierte, die ihre markanteste Erscheinung im Prokloskommentar des Moosburger Lektors fand… – Loris Sturlese, Homo Divinus: Philosophische Projekte in Deutschland zwischen Meister Eckhart und Heinrich Seuse, (Kohlhammer GmbH: Stuttgart, 2007), 194, 195).

Tauler rejected the thomistic position, that the image of God in the soul consists in the actual development of its faculties (memory, understanding, and will), and stresses , that the image of God lies, rather, “in the completely hidden, deepest ground of the soul,” whereby he makes explicit reference to Proclus … and by implication to Dietrich [von Freiberg] and Berthold [von Moosburg] […] Dietrich’s theory, which [Tauler] claimed for himself, is his well-known identification of the image of God with the “abditus mentis” [the hidden depth of the mind] of Augustine. Proclus’s theory is that of the “unum animae” [the one in the soul], depicted in a yet more detailed way in the context of the representation of ideas from the mind. Tauler made use of Proclus’s doctrine of the “unum animae” in order to counterpose the interpretation of the “abditum mentis” as properly intellectual – and Tauler knew that Dietrich von Freiberg followed the motive of Albert the Great in handing down this concept – with the reading of the “abditus mentis” as a trans-intellectual principle. By this Tauler shows that he is dependent upon the philosophical thought of Berthold von Moosburg, because he interpreted the text of Proclus regarding the “one” in such a way that one finds an exact equivalent [of it] in Berthold’s work and only in his work. When viewed from the perspective of the German philosophical debate of the time, Tauler’s agreement with Berthold is seen as a reaction against Thomism, which reflected a common attitude in the Dominican Order and which found its most marked appearance in the Proclus-commentary of the Moosburg lecturers.

Tauler was a fellow Dominican and resided in the same cloister as Berthold von Moosburg, the first in the European West to read and comment upon a major work of Proclus’s, i.e., the Elements of Theology – Aquinas commented on a portion of the Liber de Causis which contains selections from Proclus’s Elements translated from Arabic. So, Sturlese argues, it is most likely the case that Tauler received excerpts from Proclus’s De Providentia from his Dominican brother. Combining this new teaching of the “one in the soul” with the mysticism of Albertus Magnus mediated by Dietrich’s earlier teaching (which Eckhart also incorporated into his theology) on Augustine’s abditus mentis, Tauler was able to construct a theology of the imago Dei that challenged the hegemony of the Dominican magisterium. Tauler’s theology also functioned as an apologetic for what he saw as humanity’s absolute need of the divine mediation of Christ to enable one to lose oneself and return to the One within the Seelengrund, which, as he says, is the “Kingdom of God within us.”

The Originality of Aquinas’s Epistemology

In question 84 of the prima pars, Thomas Aquinas attempts to reconcile his adoption of Aristotle’s epistemology contra Plato’s theory of innate intelligible species with his allegiance to the traditional Augustinian doctrine of divine illumination. His answer to this question was quite novel in its time, and considering the influence of his philosophy on successive generations, quite revolutionary. Robert Pasnau relates a bit of the substance of and the historical reaction to Aquinas’s particular theory of illumination:

Many of Aquinas’s early adversaries noticed only the negative aspect of Aquinas’s claims about divine illumination. Roger Marston (c. 1235-1303) spoke of those who, “drunk on the nectar of philosophy … twisted toward their own sense all of Augustine’s authoritative texts on the unchanging light and eternal rules” (De anima 3 ad 30 (p. 273)). Viewed only in the light of [Summa Theologiae I] 84.5, it is not clear why there should have been such hostility. The view that Aquinas here rejects is one that was universally rejected at the time: no one held that human beings in this life have the divine ideas as an object of cognition. Moreover, everyone agreed that divine illumination is not sufficient on its own, without the senses. Still, Aquinas would be controversial because he understands divine illumination to have occurred at the time when the soul was created. Others, in contrast, would argue for special illumination, an ongoing influence from above, constantly required for the intellect’s operation. From one perspective this introduces an important difference between Aquinas and his opponents. According to Henry of Ghent, for example

“It should be said unconditionally, therefore, that there is nothing a human being can have pure truth about by acquiring knowledge of it through purely natural means. Such truth can be had only through the divine light’s illumination” (Summa I.2 [f.8rM]).

Aquinas in contrast, is able to hold that

“Just as other natural active capacities, when connected to their passive counterparts suffice for their natural operations, so also the soul, which has within itself an active and a passive capacity, suffices for the perception of the truth” (InDT I.Ic).

It is not that Aquinas denies God’s influence, merely that he thinks this influence does its part at the outset, furnishing human beings with a sufficient capacity for thought on their own, without the need for any “new illumination added onto their natural illumination” (Ia2ae 109.Ic). It is this step toward naturalism that Aquinas’s opponents would find so objectionable. Thus Marston decries his opponents for holding that “we see all things in the first truth because we see in a light derived from that truth – namely, in the natural light of our mind, which is part of the soul” (De anima 3 resp. (pp. 252-53). (Pasnau, Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature, 305).

Pasnau notes that Aquinas’s epistemology is motivated by his goal to provide a justification for sense knowledge as an essential aspect of the hylomorphic nature of humanity. For Aquinas, the Platonists (those whom he knew primarily through Macrobius) had not sufficiently done this. For them the body does not aid but provides an obstacle to the intellect that must be removed. Rather, the active intellect depends upon the senses for its reception of phantasms which it uses in its crafting of intelligible species within the passive intellect. Nonetheless, this crafting is done by an innate power which “comes to the soul from the separated substances and especially from God as from its first source” (De Veritate., 10.6).

Subjectivity in Aquinas

 

"The Triumph of Thomas Aquinas" by Andrea da Firenze 1365-c.1367
“The Triumph of Thomas Aquinas” by Andrea da Firenze 1365-c.1367

According to Anthony Flood in a recent article in the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, the search for a concept of subjectivity or the “conscious awareness of oneself as a person” in Aquinas’ thought , aside from the risk of superimposing a modern problem over a medieval synthesis, is not a fruitless endeavor. Flood responds to yet is dependent upon John Crosby’s notion of subjectivity. Flood argues:

The “interiority” of one’s personal being is the totality of a person as subject, which is marked by one’s own unique lived experience of and interactions with the world. In more colloquial terms, interiority is the sum and source of one’s personality, though understood not as another person experiences me, for instance, but as I experience my own self. All ongoing personal experiences are “anchored”  or grounded in one’s own interiority, which constitutes the subjective term of  those experiences (Flood, “Aquinas on Subjectivity: a response to Crosby,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 84:1 [2010], p. 71).

Flood differs from Crosby in his optimism regarding the presence of such a concept of subjectivity in Aquinas’ thought.

Modern scholars of Thomas Aquinas have recognized the importance that love plays in his motivational theory and in his soteriology. According to Flood, Aquinas’ philosophy of love is the window to his latent view of the self. Aquinas’ idea of self-consciousness is founded on dilectio. For Aquinas amor is a natural appetite that moves things toward particular objects.  However, argues Flood dilectio and the “dilectio-based relation” of the individual to his or herself differs from an “amor-based relation” in that the former includes a rational choice of the will.

Flood notes that, “As a person relates to himself through acts of dilectio, the self-relation becomes self-conscious and properly human” (p. 77).  Therefore, the dilectio-based relation is the source of self-consciousness. Self-friendship, which is the center of Aquinas’ subjectivity, is an activity of the dilectio-based relation. In other words, the conscious choice that an individual makes to love him or herself is self-friendship, which is the source of self-knowledge. Though Flood’s goal in this article is to map out a purely natural concept of subjectivity in Aquinas, it is worth noting that for Aquinas this self-friendship through dilectio is imperfect apart from divinely infused charity. Through charity the subject is brought into a supernatural friendship with God. In fact, by means of charity each person is enabled to truly love him or herself, because those without charity focus on exterior objects and are not able to truly reflect upon the “inward man” (ST II-II, Q. 25, a. 7.).

Grace and charity are crucial to self-knowledge and self-love for Aquinas. He explains, with reference to Romans 7:5-6, that the perfection of one’s natural self-love in acquired or political virtues (such as prudence and temperance) does not suffice for human perfection without the infusion of grace and charity. Accordingly, human nature requires the infusion of grace and charity because without these perfections political virtue does not attain to God as its ultimate end. For, Aquinas notes, “infused virtue means that we refrain totally from obeying sinful desires” (On the Virtues, Cambridge: 2005, p. 70).   These desires turn the self toward mutable good and set up an obstacle to perfect subjectivity. Though the political virtues seek the mean between vices in the precepts of reason, the infused political virtues lead to complete interiority because they seek the mean outside and above reason, that is, the mean provided in Holy Scripture (Ibid., p. 68). If one agrees with the plausibility of Flood’s discovery of subjectivity in Aquinas’ thought, then the question of the transition of subjectivity through the infusion of grace, charity, and the infused political virtues, I would argue, is a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Siger of Brabant on the Eternity of the World & Epistemology

Image

I happen to be reading through various Medieval texts on the question of the eternity of the world, so I’ll deposit a few thoughts here as I go along. I will be revisiting Bonaventure and Aquinas on this issue in the coming weeks but for now my focus is on selections from King’s translation of Siger’s De aeternitate mundi.

Siger of Brabant’s reading of Aristotle presents a helpful contrast to Bonaventure’s view (which I will present sometime soon) because they both represent the various poles – one sided furiously loyal to Aristotle and the other to Plato.

Siger accepts Aristotle’s arguments from Physics 8 and De Generatione et Corruptione, namely, that the Universe is eternal, yet not “eternal” in the same way as the First Mover. The existence of the First Mover curbs the logical paradox of an infinite regress, thus placing a limit on finitude by means of the division between potency and act. However, the Universe is eternal in the same way that circular motion is eternal. Any “beginning” in circular motion must be preceded by another “beginning” and another and so on. Thus, individual species are also eternal. Any concept of a “first” man presupposes temporality and there could not have been a time before time when “man” would have not existed since time is the measure of motion and motion is circular.

From [§ 22] it follows that the human species, according to philosophers, always exists, and that it did not begin to exist at a time when it had not previously existed at all. For to say that [the species] will have begun to exist at a time when it had not previously existed at all is to say that some individual belonging to the [species] will have begun to exist, before which there existed no other individual belonging to that species. And since the human species is not caused in any other way, according to philosophers, save as having been generated through the generation of [one] individual before [another] individual, the [species] began to exist. Even though in every case everything generated begins to exist, still, [the species] begins to exist, since it did exist and previously had existed. (De aeternitate mundi, I.24.)

This is all quite perplexing partly because “eternity” strains the capacities of reason.

Now, what if we add a further complication to this in order to understand what the implications of this doctrine of the eternity of the world would have on the doctrine of God or the Prime Mover? It seems that for Siger – and as it appears for Aristotle also – the Prime Mover, defined as “thought thinking on thinking” (nous noêsis noeseôs) does not comprehend the totality of existing things within itself without those things simultaneously (if that word works) existing as individuals sempiternally. In other words the Prime Mover does not create based on “forms” that preexist as perfections of the things existing in reality but rather knows itself in the manner of a species within the existing individual species. The division between Prime Mover and “species” is purely logical just as the division between thought, thinking, and thing thought is purely logical. I’d be happy to entertain correction to my reading of Siger but, as it stands, it seems to me that his interpretation of Aristotle represents a more nominalist epistemology than realist of any variety.

Philip Schaff on Aquinas’s Distinction b/twn Theology and Philosophy

Thomas made a clear distinction between philosophy and religion, reason and revelation, than had been made before by any of the Schoolmen. The reason is not competent by its own powers to discover the higher truths pertaining to God, such as the doctrine of the Trinity. The ideas which the natural mind can reach are the preambula fidei, that is, the ideas which pertain to the vestibule of faith. Theology utilizes the reason, not it is true, to prove faith, for such a process would take away the merit of faith, but to throw light on doctrines which are furnished by revelation. Theology is the higher science, both because of the certainty of its data and on account of the superior excellence of its subject-matter. There is no contradiction between philosophy and theology. Both are fountains of knowledge. Both come from the same God. (History of the Christian Church, Vol. 5: The Middle Ages 1049-1294, pp. 666, 667). 

Why Some Consider Aquinas’s Use of Reason Autonomous

The ambience of faith within which the believer engages in philosophy has seemed to some to entail that the believer cannot truly engage in philosophy at all.  This criticism is rooted in quite modern notions of how philosophy begins.  Unlike the assumptions … that the philosopher begins with truths everyone already knows – since Descartes the initial task of the philosopher has been taken to be the rinsing from his mind of all prior knowledge claims.  Various methods were devised to carry this out, such as methodic doubt, and the suggestion is that philosophizing is presuppositionless.  The philosopher ideally is uninfluenced by his upbringing and culture; he is an isolated mind, and little else, to which somehow questions occur.  (Ralph McInerny, Aquinas, p. 32)

McInerny’s point, that since Descartes “Philosophy” has come to mean something much different, is an idea that modern Christians need to keep in mind when traversing Aquinas’s thought for neat ideas on apologetics and evangelism.  Those who see Aquinas as forsaking God’s authority for autonomous reason are reading, anachronistically, a modern definition of Philosophy back into St. Thomas.  As I mentioned in the last post, Aristotle did not believe that he was reasoning autonomously.  Aquinas, in agreeing with certain of Aristotle’s first principles was not giving up his own but was recognizing that even the natural man can get some things right.  He was not doing Philosophy as we know it but “divine science.”

Who Needs the Forms?

The whole realist/nominalist argument among the Medieval philosophers often seems arcane and pedantic to us post-moderns.  I mean, who cares if the form is in the thing or somewhere else?  The whole idea of a form in things is way too “spooky.” Reality is given to us; we don’t need forms right?  Well, without answering that question directly I must point out that the import of the Medieval argument between the realists and nominalists can be seen when we realize that they were seeking an answer to the same question with which we are often plagued; the question, “How do I know that what I believe about reality is true?” Pilate asked a similar question to Jesus, recorded in John’s Gospel 18:38:  “What is Truth?”  

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John 18:38

Obviously, Pilate was not asking Jesus how one comes to know the essence of a thing, but I can’t help but notice the irony of the situation.  St. Thomas also noticed – it caused him to get sidetracked in his commentary on this Gospel. Here’s what he had to say:

Apropos of this [Pilate’s] question, note that we find two kinds of truth in the gospel. One is uncreated and making: this is Christ: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (14:6); the other truth is made, “Grace and truth came [were made] through Jesus Christ” (1:17).  By its nature truth implies a conformity between a reality and the intellect. The intellect is related in two ways to reality. An intellect can be related to things as a measure of these things; that would be the intellect which is the cause of these things. Another intellect is measured by things, this would be an intellect whose knowledge is caused by these things. Now truth is not in the divine intellect because the intellect is conformed to things, but because things are conformed to the divine intellect. While truth is in our intellect because it understands things, conforms to them, as they are. And so uncreated truth and the divine intellect is a truth which is not measured or made, but a truth which measures and makes two kinds of truth: one is in the things themselves, insofar as it makes them so they are in conformity with what they are in the divine intellect; and it makes the other truth in our souls, and this is a measured truth, not a measuring truth. Therefore, the uncreated truth of the divine intellect is appropriated, especially referred, to the Son, who is the very concept of the divine intellect and the Word of God. For truth is a consequence of the intellect’s concept.

Pilate’s question about Truth interrupted Aquinas’s train of thought.  Perhaps he asked himself the same question and needed to reiterate it in relation to what he saw in the text – a man asking Jesus, “What is Truth?”  Aquinas immediately thought to himself that Truth is a conformity between reality and the intellect. But that’s not all.  Man’s conception of Truth cannot be all there is.  This would mean that Truth is relative. There has to be one who establishes Truth, one who makes the things in his mind exist in reality as they are in his mind.  This One is God and his Son is the eternal Idea who sustains the life of all things. This is where the forms come in – the essence/quiddity/nature of things.  If God makes them the way he thinks them then they are true. If they are true then they cannot change. If they do not change then they cannot be reduced to matter.  Therefore, we need the forms.  We need our immaterial minds to get to the immaterial thing behind the thing.  We need the “spooky” stuff.  The Medievals knew this (some of them liked it way too much).  I fear that we’ve become too materialistic to recognize it.

Aquinas’s Contra Gentiles Also Contra Autonomy

Rudi Te Velde says that Aquinas did not write the Summa contra Gentiles as a missionary manual for Dominicans to evangelize the Muslims.  This timeless work was written to refute certain errors that had come to light in the Medieval context. These errors go beyond that of the Muslim faith.

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas

The list of errors is not restricted to contemporary thought. The errors are attributed to the ancient natural philosophers, to the “Platonists,” to Avicenna and Averroes (they are not in all respects trustworthy guides in interpreting Aristotle), to heretics like Origen and the Manichees, but most of all simply to “quidam,” to anonymous teachers who hold a more or less reasonable opinion, based on philosophical principles, that conflicts with the truth of Christian faith. (Te Velde, “Natural Reason in the Summa Contra Gentiles” in Brian Davies, ed. Thomas Aquinas: Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives, p. 127)

Aquinas must be seen in his context.  The Christian world had known the philosophy of the Neo-Platonists since the very beginning but the Medieval world experienced a rebirth of Aristotle, who was being introduced and interpreted mainly by Muslim and Jewish authors.  Aristotle’s non-Christian interpreters were leading Medieval teachers at the University of Paris and elsewhere astray with their extreme synthesis. Therefore, Aquinas saw it as his goal to rescue Aristotle from the extremists and preserve the Christian faith, all in the name of Truth.  Te Velde also affirms that Aquinas did not present arguments based on pure reason divorced from Christian Truth.  He was doing the opposite – basing his arguments for truth on the first principles claimed by his opponents:

Aquinas’s strategy is to discuss and combat the claims in the light of reason’s own criteria and rules learned from the philosophi themselves. Insofar as faith requires not only confession but also reflection and understanding in order to be a human faith, Aquinas shows the believer how ‘philosophical’ reason can be assimilated if only reason is brought to correct its errors and false pretensions and becomes aware of its human point of view in relation to the truth of faith. (Ibid)

The contra Gentiles was therefore written for Christians to consider the arguments of the philosophi and their contradictions, not only with the claims of Sacra Pagina but with those philosophi’s own first principles of knowledge.  That’s not all either. Aquinas aimed to demonstrate the foolishness of relying solely on natural reason as a foundation for claims at Truth.  Te Velde continues:

A reason that cannot tolerate our being asked to hold something on faith represents a veritable Trojan horse for the Christian community.  If reason were justified in its claim to autonomy, the only way Christianity could affirm its faith would be by rejecting reason, by excluding rational reflection based on philosophy.  Aquinas chooses not to go along that way.  It is his conviction that natural reason can be integrated in the Christian consciousness of truth, but not unless reason gives up its claim to autonomy and acknowledges its human condition in knowing the truth [emphasis added].  Not reason as such, but the presumption of reason to have an absolute hold on truth prevents a reasonable understanding of the truth of faith.  So the issue is not a defense of the ‘reasonableness’ of Christian faith before reason. Aquinas’s objective is to confirm natural reason with its own condition, to make reason aware of its limitations in order to prevent reason from unreflectively imposing its own limits on the search for truth.  We need more truth than our reason can grasp. (Ibid., p. 129) 

So, contrary to what Evangelical Christians often assume about Aquinas his was actually an argument against autonomy.  The contra Gentiles was not written to atheists nor to anyone outside the Christian community.  It was written to Christians as a guide for the perplexed in order to answer the “new” philosophical arguments that seemed to contradict Christian tradition and faith.  In the end Aquinas’s answer to the gentiles was based on the authority of scripture, pointing out the absurdity of claiming absolute Truth and certainty from an autonomous appeal to the human intellect.

Good Article on Aquinas’s Theory of Knowledge

In a previous post I quoted Fergus Kerr who noted that Aquinas’s epistemology presupposed theology. Because the Christian God created the world and creatures in order for them both to interact on an essential level the world can be known by man.  Norman Kretzmann’s article “Infallibility, Error, and Ignorance” (in the 1992 Supplementary Volume 17 of the Canadian Journal of Philosophy) is the most thorough and clear treatment of Aquinas’s epistemology that I have come across. He places the Thomistic theory of knowledge within the camp of reliabilism – that the mind is a reliable tool for discovering truth outside of the mind.  He notes that Aquinas did not cease to follow Aristotle in his philosophy of knowledge but:

For Aquinas, the theological component of his theistic reliabilism naturally comes first […] The component of cognitive reliability in theistic reliabilism could reasonably be said to be implied by a few basic theological doctrines which Aquinas of course argued for, quite independently of their implications for epistemology:  God, the creator, is omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good; and part of his purpose in creating is the manifestation of himself to rational creatures. From those central doctrines alone it seems to follow that skepticism is frivolous – that human beings must have been created with reliable access to created reality and with reliable faculties for the processing of the reliably acquired data. (Kretzmann, pp. 162, 163)

These assertions on Kretzmann’s part are immediately backed up by Aquinas’s own language:

The immediate purpose of the human body is the rational soul and its operations, since matter is for the sake of the form, and instruments are for the sake of the agent’s operations.  I maintain, therefore, that God designed the human body in the pattern best suited to that form and those operations. (ST Ia.91.3c)

Therefore, because God designed the human body with the rational soul as an instrument for comprehension then truths outside of the mind can be known, and thus man can have infallible knowledge. Coming from a Reformed perspective, and Van Tilian at that, this relationship between theology and epistemology in St. Thomas, as a friend of mine responded to me the other day, sounds “presuppositional”. I’d recommend this article (although it may be hard to find) by Kretzmann to anyone interested, especially newbies like myself.

Vermigli on the Visio Dei

In eternal life the essence of God will be known by the blessed, not of course by the senses but by the soul or mind; as John says: “When he appears we shall see him as he is.” Paul affirms the same thing: “Now we see him through a glass darkly, but then face to face.” […] No one doubts that God sees us absolutely and essentially. But we should not persuade ourselves by this that the blessed will know the nature and substance of God completely and in all respects, but only according to our capacity.  For the finite cannot fully receive what is infinite.  Nor is the creature able to comprehend its creator totally and perfectly …. Thus it is given only to Christ, who is God, to know the essence of God perfectly and fully.  Others will also see it, buy only according to their capacity. (The Peter Martyr Vermigli Library, Vol. 4: Philosophical Works, pp. 148, 149)