CT 31: Identity between God and His Intelligence

Some while ago, Thomas showed that God’s essence is His existence; now, in Chapter 31, we see that God is His intelligence. I would have thought that it was sufficient to say that God is simple, without part, and that God has intelligence, as was previously shown, and that therefore God is His intelligence…but Thomas goes further than that:

God must be His own intelligence. Since “to understand” is second act, for example, to consider, whereas the corresponding first act is the intellect or knowledge, any intellect that is not its own understanding is related to its understanding as potency to act. For in the order of potencies and acts, what is first is always potential with respect to what follows, and what is last is perfective. This is true only with reference to one and the same being, for among different beings the converse obtains; thus a mover and an agent are related to the thing moved and actuated as act to potency. In God, however, who is pure act, there is nothing that is related to anything else as potency to act. Accordingly God must be His own intelligence.

The terms first act and second act are new, so I went looking for enlightement; and found an on-line glossary of terms from Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. This glossary has the following to say about potency, first act, and second act:

potency — This concept must be understood in relation to first act and second act.

Aristotle (from whom Aquinas gets it) introduces it by means of examples. The ability to learn (say, one’s multiplication tables) illustrates potency; knowledge (of such tables) illustrates first act; actually thinking the mathematical truths involved illustrate second act. The eye as a physical organ illustrates potency; the capacity for vision of a healthy eye illustrates first act; actually seeing something with a healthy eye illustrates second act. The ability to become honest (shared by most young persons) illustrates potency; being honest (having developed the virtue of honesty) illustrates first act; voluntarily doing the honest thing from honesty illustrates second act.

In a being, then, first act is to second act as potency to act: the human intellect, for example, has the capability to understand, and sometimes it really does understand. In the case of God, though, there is no potency, but only act. Consequently, it is not the case that God has an intellect which sometimes understands; rather God is an intellect which is understanding:

Furthermore, the intellect is related to its act of understanding as essence is related to existence. But God understands through His essence, and His essence is His existence. Therefore His intellect is His act of understanding. And thus no composition is attributed to Him by the fact that He understands, since in Him intellect and understanding and intelligible species are not distinct; and these in turn are nothing else than His essence.

Omniscience: check. Onward!

Comments are closed.