Monday, March 03, 2008

The Natural Desire To See God

“Question 12 of the First Part of the Summa asks how God can be known by us and its first article asks: Can any created intellect see God in his essence? The ultimate end of man resides in the activity of his highest faculty, intellect; if a created intellect could never see the essence of God, either it would never attain happiness or its happiness lies elsewhere, which is against the faith. Man has a natural desire to know the cause when he knows the effect that elicits his wonder. But if the human intellect cannot attain the first cause of things, a desire of nature would be vain. So it must be said that the blessed see the essence of God. Cajetan suggests a twofold difficulty with this.

The first is as such and ad hominem. For it does not seem true that the created
intellect naturally desires to see God, since nature does not give to a thing an
inclination to that which the whole strength of that nature cannot reach. A sign
of this is that nature gives organs to each power that it puts into the soul.
And in On the Heavens it is said that if the stars had the power to progress
nature would have given them appropriate organs. It seems to imply therefore
that nature gives the desire for the divine vision and that it cannot give the
requisites for that vision, namely, the light of glory. And in St. Thomas’s
teaching, as we saw in the first article of this work, man is ordered to
happiness, not naturally, but obedientally. Therefore…

The second dubium is that, granting the argument, the conclusion does not follow. All that one can infer from the premises is that man can know the first cause, that is, knowledge of God as the cause of things seems naturally desired, but not to see his essence.

Cajetan resolves the first doubt by distinguishing between considering the rational creature absolutely and as ordered to happiness. ‘If he is considered in the first way, his natural desire does not extend beyond the capacity of nature, and in this sense I concede that he does not naturally desire the vision of God absolutely in himself. But if he is considered in the second way, thus he naturally desires the vision of God, because thus he knows some effects, as of grace and glory, whose cause is God, as God is in himself absolutely, not as the universal agent. Effects being known, it is natural for any intellect to desire knowledge of the cause.’ The desire for the vision of the divine essence, although it is not natural in the first sense, is natural in the second sense, supposing the revelation of such effects, and that is why Thomas says in III Summa contra gentes, caput 50, that the desire of the created intellectual nature would be inane if he could not see God. In this theological work, Cajetan adds, in which things are considered not absolutely, but as ordered to happiness, it is a properly theological conclusion that the vision of God is naturally desired.

Feingold draws attention to an apparent emendation of this explanation later in Cajetan’s commentary on IaIIae, q. 3, a. 8.

In Cajetan’s commentary on I-II, q.3, a. 8, on the other hand, the natural
desire to see God does not come directly from man’s elevation to a supernatural
destiny (as for de Lubac), or from the possibility of such a perfection
(Scotus), or from the revelation of supernatural effects of God (Cajetan’s
earlier solution). It comes simply from having an intellectual nature with a
natural desire to know the essence of a cause, having seen its effect. This
produces a natural desire to see God in anyone who considers that there must be
a (hidden) First Cause of all effects. The desire depends on a consideration of
things that can be naturally known, and does not depend upon being ordered to a
supernatural end. This view is the only one that is in harmony with the texts of
St. Thomas.

-Ralph McInerny in Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosphers.

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