A thomistic account of the Eternal Thou

For Buber, God is a thou who can only be thou, and any attempt to speak about him as an it – and thus any scientific theology – is wrong and impossible. St. Thomas clearly cannot agree to this without qualification, but be can agree with it in an interesting sense, namely as a description of how God is known in the beatific vision.

Assume you and I get together to speak about God. We might even be doing it now. God thus becomes an object outside of our dialogue and so is third person. Now assume we are having the same discussion in beatitude. According to St. Thomas, God is no longer third person because the very idea by which we understand him is God. God, says St. Thomas, becomes not just the object we know but the intelligible form by which we know him. It is thus impossible for God in beatitude to be third personal, and so he fits exactly Buber’s description of the Eternal Thou. Some other saint might be referred to third personally, but God himself cannot be.

In fact, it is only in beatitude, I think, that we can have an adequate and unified epistemology. So far all other attempts to unify the second person in a non-reductive manner have not been promising. Philosophy demands both objectivity and totality but its hard to see how including a robust sense of the second person can include both. We haven’t even figured out how the first person can be included in the scheme.

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1 Comment

  1. Kristor said,

    June 12, 2014 at 11:17 am

    It is in the second personal relation to God of beatitude that the communion of saints consists. In beatitude, God is the intelligible form by which the saints know God *and (mediately, in virtue of that knowledge of him) know everything else,* including themselves. So when in beatitude God is immediately second personal to us, our relations to all other things become mediately first personal. Instead of “me in relation to you,” the saints relate to each other as a we: members of a corporate subject. Rather as if a husband and wife were to apprehend each other in and by virtue of their marriage in God, rather than being to each other in a second person relation. Or, similarly, as if the members of a company apprehended each other in and by virtue of their common fealty and love for their captain.

    As to the adequacy of our epistemology resting on the perfected knowledge of beatitude, it would seem that knowing as such relies upon the fundamental relation of creature to God. And that’s inviolable, so long as the creature subsists. It may be vitiated or corrupted, but cannot be altogether destroyed except by a complete destruction of the creature. So far then as we truly know anything, we know it by way of God’s knowledge of it – by way, i.e., of the truth of that thing.

    The defective knowing of our fallen state is then an incomplete participation in beatitude.


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