JOST on the beatific vision

(I’m here simplifying John of St. Thomas’s Cursus Theologicus Q. XII a. 4 How the union of the divine essence with the intellect comes to be.)

Objections against the possibility of the beatific vision: 

1.) God either merely assists the vision or entirely informs it. But the object of beatitude cannot merely assist a power so that the power might see the object since the object itself has to be elicited from the power knowing it; and it is repugnant to God both as creator and imperfectible to inform some power, and thereby be a part of a composite whole.* 

2.) The form imparted in the beatific vision is either created or uncreated. If created it is not God and if uncreated it cannot come to be from the union with the intellect.  

3.) Beatitude is the union of God and the intellect, but no such union is possible. A substantial union requires the dissolution of both God and man into some third thing, an accidental union requires that something formally divine be part of a larger whole and so be perfectible and creatible. 

Response: Information is the imparting of form, but this happens in radically different ways in the order of being and the intelligible order. In the order of being, the information always gives rise to some third nature of which the form is a part, but in the intelligible order information consists in an object that perfects a cognitive power while necessarily remaining itself. Again, in the order of being a form informs only so far as it is incomplete and imperfect, but in the intelligible order forms inform so far as they are complete and perfect. God, therefore, cannot inform in the order of being but it befits him most of all to inform things in the intelligible order.  

The union in which beatitude consists is not in the order of being, but it nevertheless can be understood analogously to other modalities of union. 

1.) The union of a person to his nature. The perfection of the person is such that it draws the nature into itself though this union does not and cannot constitute some third nature. The existential act of the person is shared with the nature making the nature subsist within it while not giving rise to a person-nature composite. 

2.) The union of body and rational soul. Here again, soul bestows and shares (communicare) an existence and self-subsistence that it already has in itself upon a body, making the body subsist by participation. This analogy of course fails so far as this gives rise to a real composite in the order of being. 

3.) The union of the humanity of Christ with the Second Person. The union of the humanity of Christ with the divine person makes this humanity formally divine while the relation of the humanity to divinity is created. In the same way God’s communication of himself to the blessed makes those same blessed formally divine in the intelligible order while the relation of the relation of the blessed to divinity is a created relation. 


*The premises of (1) and (2) are also used to argue for one interpretation of the essence-energies distinction, namely that God cannot be pure act but must be an unknowable essence and revealed energies that manifest themselves in time. 

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