Thomistic Philosophy Page
How is Aquinas's view of human reason important in understanding God's relationship with humanity?
For Aquinas, it is a principle of his epistemology that "nothing is in the intellect which was not first in the senses." Therefore, in order for us to know anything, we must think of it in a sensory sort of way, making use of images (phantasms in Aquinas' terminology) (Summa Theologiae Ia, q. 84, a. 6; 85, 1). Even the most abstract sorts of thoughts involve the use of some sort of phantasm. This applies also to what is the absolute farthest from sense experience, God. Unaided human reason is able to rise to the knowledge of God only by arguing from sensible effects (and rational principles derived therefrom) to God who is the cause of those effects (ST Ia, 2, 2). We are not able to know God, or any immaterial thing, perfectly in this way,(ST Ia, 88, 2) however, since everything we know about God by natural reason is a conclusion from what we know about sensible things because sensible things are what are the first and natural objects of our intellect.
It is also a principle of his philosophy that "whatever is
received, is received according to the mode of the receiver" (as opposed
to the mode of the one giving whatever is received). Therefore, even
though God can do anything doable, if He is to communicate with humans who
must, by their very nature (of which He also is the author), think by
making use of images, He must communicate in a way which humans can
understand. Thus, even in the supernatural realm of divine revelation,
the grace of God does not destroy (human) nature, but builds on it
(another Thomistic principle). As a result, Aquinas, says that it is
appropriate that Sacred Scripture makes use of signs in order that God
communicate with man (
ST Ia, 1, 9).
Copyright © 1996-2015 Joseph M. Magee, Ph.D. - Last Updated 3/21/15