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CHAPTER XXVIThat the Divine Understanding is not limited to certain fixed Effects

NOW that it has been shown (Chap. XXIII) that the divine power does not act of physical necessity, but by understanding and will, lest any one should think that God’s understanding or knowledge extend only to certain fixed effects, and that thus God acts under stress of ignorance, though not under stress of physical constraint, it remains to show that His knowledge or understanding is bounded by no limits in its view of effects.

2. We have shown above (B. I, Chap. XLIII) the infinity of the divine essence. Now the plane of the infinite can never be reached by any piling up of finite quantities, because the infinite infinitely transcends any finite quantities however many, even though they were infinite in number.235235Any quantitative infinite, — allowing its possibility, — still is infinite only in a certain category. But God transcends all the categories. An infinite number would not be intelligent, or just, or beautiful. Therefore it would fall infinitely short of God. But no other being than God is infinite in essence: all others are essentially included under limited genera and species.236236It is said, I think, by Aristotle, that only natural objects fall into genera and species, not artificial beings. It is no concern of St Thomas here to deny that artificial things may anyhow be classified, though it be not by generic and specific differences. To classify is to limit. God is above all classification. Howsoever then and to whatsoever extent the effects of divine production are comprehended, it is ever within the compass of the divine essence to reach beyond them and to be the foundation of more. The divine understanding then, in perfectly knowing the divine essence (B. I, Chap. XLVII), transcends any infinity of actual effects of divine power and therefore is not necessarily limited to these or those effects.

4. If the causality of the divine understanding were limited, as a necessary agent, to any effects, it would be to those effects which God actually brings into being. But it has been shown above (B. I, Chap. LXVI) that God understands even things that neither are nor shall be nor have been.

5. The divine knowledge stands to the things produced by God as the knowledge of an artist to the knowledge of his art. But every art extends to all that can possibly be contained under the kind of things subject to that art, as the art of building to all houses. But the kind of thing subject to the divine art is ‘being’ (genus subjectum divinae artis est ens), since God by His understanding is the universal principal of being (Chapp. XXI, XXIV). Therefore the divine understanding extends its causality to all things that are not inconsistent with the notion of ‘being,’ and is not limited to certain fixed effects.

Hence it is said: Great is our Lord, and great his power, and of his wisdom; there is no reckoning by number (Ps. cxlvi, 5).

Hereby is excluded the position of some philosophers who said that from God’s understanding of Himself there emanates a certain arrangement of things in the universe, as though He did not deal with creatures at His discretion fixing the limits of each creature and arranging the whole universe, as the Catholic faith professes. It is to be observed however that, though the divine understanding is not limited to certain effects, God nevertheless has determined to Himself fixed effects to be produced in due order by His wisdom, as it is said: Thou hast disposed all things in measure, number and weight (Wisd. xi, 21).237237   This common Hegelian position is that the world is necessary to God, and the whole arrangement of the universe likewise an a priori necessity, nothing else being possible: in fact that the term ‘actual being’ includes at once all that is and all that ever could be, while the terms ‘possible,’ ‘necessary,’ ‘contingent,’ express nothing whatever but certain limitations of our field of view. Neither Hegel, nor any sane man who believes in a God at all, could ever suppose that there were things, producible in themselves, which could not be produced because God did not know of them. One wonders what opponents St Thomas could have met guilty of this absurdity. Ex hypothesi God is a Being whose mental vision extends everywhere; so that what God has no idea of, must be blank nonsense, and impossible as nonsensical. To Hegelians, however, God is exhausted in the production, or evolution of the universe: He gives being, and that of necessity, to all things whatsoever to which He possibly can give being: nothing realisable, or actualisable, remains behind, nothing potential. St Thomas meets this by insisting that God is infinite, and therefore inexhaustible; ten thousand such worlds as this would not exhaust His capacity of production; and over them all He would still remain, immeasurably exalted, distinct, independent, supreme.
   There is however something, — we cannot call it a limitation, but we may call it a condition of divine intelligence and creative power, — a condition less regarded by St Thomas, but forcibly commending itself to us, upon six centuries longer experience of the prevalence of evil on earth. Fewer combinations, far fewer perhaps, than St Thomas thought possible, and our short-sighted impatience might crave for as remedial, may be really possible at all. The range of intrinsic impossibilities may extend considerably, beyond the abstract regions of logic and mathematics, into the land of concrete physical realities, one reality, if existent, necessarily involving, or necessarily barring, the existence of some other reality. Such necessity, such there be, is no limitation of divine power or divine intelligence. God still discerns endless possibilities, and can do whatever He discerns as possible; but much that men take for possibility is rendered on this hypothesis sheer absurdity, — as impossible, let us say, as a ‘spiritual elephant.’ We wonder why God does not mend matters, as we would mend them, had we His power. Had we His power, we should also have His intelligence, and discern that there is no riding out of our troubles on the backs of spiritual elephants.

   There is some hint of the matter of this note in Chapp. XXIX, XXX following.

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