Thomistic vs. Lucretian theosis

The essentials of humanism have been articulated for a very long time as what you get when you tear down god and put man in his place. It’s hard to beat the haunting majesty of Lucretius’s way of putting this:

Opteritur nos exaeqat victoria caelo. 

[religion] has been torn down, and this victory makes us equal to the gods.

Christianity also has a way of making man equal to the gods though the Incarnation and, in its Western articulation, though a vision of the divine essence in which God himself takes the place of any possible idea or even direct intuition we might have of God. While St. Thomas’s attempt to articulate this is strained and hesitant, his last word on the problem is that the divine essence is united to the created intellect as the object actually understood, making the intellect in act by and of itself. While STA doesn’t push this argument to the next stage by pointing out that a similar thing would be said about the act of the will, so far as our idea of God is replaced by God himself we have to allow some sense in which self-love and love of God become identical, making the two greatest commandments coincide in a single action.

So there is both a Thomistic and Lucretian humanism corresponding to different accounts of divination or theosis. The two differ in means: the Lucretian is from the advance of a disenchanting scientific model of the world that reconstructs the whole of reality from principles whose natures are are clearly known from the beginning (space, void, force, particles) the Thomistic vision is the approach to a cause whose nature is known only at the end since beatitude is, so far as reason is concerned, the culmination of our attempts to know the essence of the cause of the world. The Lucretian advance of knowledge drives out the gods since it rules out ab initio any need to conclude to the principles of the world, the thomist argues that we can only know that there is a principle of the world from the beginning, not what it is in itself.

The two also differ in ends: the Lucretian theosis is mostly a narrative of liberation and authority where we throw off the impediments that kept down humanity and claim the right to determine our own destiny. On the one hand we want a brotherhood of all persons, now seen as free and equal with a dignity of existing for themselves; on the other hand the control of our destiny has to involve the power over life and death along with a rational disgust at the idea that our community would be allowed to arise from the dumb luck of whoever might happen to be born by random acts of conception and then raised by undirected acts of parenting. The Thomistic theosis is not something to be achieved now, and this present world is one whole ultimate reason is to be revealed later. Whatever cultivating or directing roles we take in natural processes are always subordinate to a larger narrative where what actually happens – mistakes and all – will be seen as part of a divine plan to be revealed in our vision of the cause of the world.



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