Knowing God as opposed to naming him (iii)

My central interest in the divine names is this: we name God using both an abstract and a concrete names, but while we have no name which transcends this difference (and so no one adequate name for God himself), it is not clear that we have no thought which transcends it (our thought of being or reality or whole, etc. might have a sort of infinity that cannot be captured by a word.) In some ways, this is an odd position to find myself in – shouldn’t I just be able to look in myself and know if I know something that transcends the difference between the abstract and the concrete? Still, there are obvious reasons why I become confused about what I was seeing inside myself as soon as I try to speak of it.

A propos this There is a fascinating text from Contra Gentiles III. 51 which argues that God alone can be the happiness of the intellectual nature because he alone transcends the division between what we name in abstraction or concretion.

A substance that is subsisting of itself is either nothing but a form or a composite of matter and form. Now what is composed of matter and form cannot be the form of another because the form that is in it is contracted to a particular matter…But something that is only a form can be the form of another since its being is such that it can be participated in by another – which we showed was the case with the human soul (supra. Bk. II)  For if it could not be participated in by another, it could not be the form of something, for it would be determined in itself just as a material thing is determined by matter. Now just as we can consider this in substantial or natural being, so we can consider it in intelligible being, namely, because the perfection of the intellect is the true, so too the intelligible thing that would be nothing but form is truth itself. But only God is truth itself, since truth follows existence and God alone is his own existence (supra. Bk. II)

Now other separated substances are not  pure forms in the intelligible order, but are forms possessed in some subject: e.g. no true reality is the truth any more than a particular being (ens) is being itself (ipsum esse). So it’s clear that the divine essence can be compared to a created intellect as the intelligible species by which it understands; which is not the case for the essence of a separated  substance.

substantia quae est per seipsam subsistens, est vel forma tantum, vel compositum ex materia et forma. Illud igitur quod ex materia et forma compositum est, non potest alterius esse forma: quia forma in eo est iam contracta ad illam materiam…. Illud autem quod sic est subsistens ut tamen solum sit forma, potest alterius esse forma, dummodo esse suum sit tale quod ab aliquo alio participari possit, sicut in secundo ostendimus de anima humana. Si vero esse suum ab altero participari non posset, nullius rei forma esse posset: sic enim per suum esse determinatur in seipso, sicut quae sunt materialia per materiam. Hoc autem, sicut in esse substantiali vel naturali invenitur, sic et in esse intelligibili considerandum est. Cum enim intellectus perfectio sit verum, illud intelligibile erit ut forma tantum in genere intelligibilium quod est veritas ipsa. Quod convenit soli Deo nam cum verum sequatur ad esse, illud tantum sua veritas est quod est suum esse, quod est proprium soli Deo, ut in secundo ostensum est. Alia igitur intelligibilia subsistentia sunt non ut pura forma in genere intelligibilium, sed ut formam in subiecto aliquo habentes: est enim unumquodque eorum verum, non veritas; sicut et est ens, non autem ipsum esse. Manifestum est igitur quod essentia divina potest comparari ad intellectum creatum ut species intelligibilis qua intelligit: quod non contingit de essentia alicuius alterius substantiae separatae.


  1. Peter said,

    November 2, 2012 at 3:09 pm

    Perhaps you should say more. It seems that to hold the position you are entertaining, you would have to hold that ens commune is known before the categories, while it is actually arrived at after them by negation. Hence, that being is univocal. Further, that the mind would be able to think connaturally of God, and would have an adequate concept of him (since the distinction at hand follows upon the distinction between essence and esse).

    • November 2, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      I was content for years to conclude from the fact that we have no term transcending the abstract and concrete that we have no idea that so transcends. I still more or less think this is true, but now I’m raising objections to the point just to see what is there.

      I hadn’t thought to claim we know ens commune by negation. I think this is basically right, but I need to balance it against the fact that common being is also somehow the most formal of our concepts and that it more satisfies what we mean by the term being.

      • Peter said,

        November 5, 2012 at 11:43 am

        How is the following attempt to explain the negative nature and yet formality of ens commune? Let us say that common being – ens commune – is that which has some sort of relation to esse (relation taken in general sense, of course). Substance, then, determines the mode of ens to: that which has esse – it determines this relation. Likewise, quantity measures what has esse; and so on with the other categories. So ens commune, though being later in our knowledge and vague, is more formal than any determinate kind of being because it includes determinately in its meaing only that which is determining – formal – in very case. Still, it includes composition in its meaning, though not any determinate kind.

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