Lesson 2: The Natural Desire to See God - Solution

"Man is called to an end by nature that he cannot attain by nature, but only by grace because of the exalted character of the end." I ended the last lecture with this quote, and it must set the motif for the rest of the classes. The Nominalist metaphysics of Fr. Rahner have led to a strange distinction between nature which is ordered to grace and the Vision of God as the ultimate end and the nature which comprises the powers of the soul: intellect, will, emotions and body. This solution is called the "supernatural existential". The "supernatural existential" is the nature ordered to grace. One Jesuit author has correctly analyzed Fr. Rahner's Nominalism.

. . . Rahner took issue with Kòng and attempted to refute Kòng's thesis that the Church could not define infallibly because no human statement could be absolutely true, arguing instead that the judgement does take the mind to reality. . . . While we have seen how Rahner argued to this conclusion, we have also seen that there is an inherent weakness within his thought. . . . it is not transparently clear how conceptual thought in Rahner's epistemological system can be preserved from relativisation.

The modern solution to this problem is worse than Cajetan's. At least, for Cajetan the creation of man in grace raised nature as such to a different end than he would have had without being created in grace. In the modern authors, there is no real nature to raise as a whole. Nature in the abstract is not real. The only nature, which is real, is the concrete individual. Fulton Sheen said many years ago that the great problem of modern philosophy was seeing the universal as an impoverished sense experience. The desire for God and ordering for grace are treated this way especially by Fr. Rahner. This desire is zapped into each individual in creation, but has no relation to any powers of the human soul. This desire also makes nature completely different than it would have been without this desire. The modern theologians destroy nature, because they are looking for the desire in the wrong place, the will, and interpreting it as a rational appetite.

The true solution of St. Thomas can be found in the Summa contra Gentiles (hereafter SCG) III, 25-50 and Summa Theologiae, (hereafter ST) I, 12, 1. A tour of these pages yields the conclusion that the natural desire to see God is a desire of the intellect and not of the will. In SCG, St. Thomas identifies this desire with the desire in all men to know spoken of in the first book of the Metaphysics by Aristotle. He uses almost exactly the same language.

Besides, there is naturally present in all men the desire to know the causes of whatever things are observed. Hence, because of wondering about things that were seen but whose causes were hidden, men first began to think philosophically; when they found the cause, they were satisfied. But the search did not stop until it reached the first cause, for 'then do we think that we know perfectly, when we know the first cause.' Therefore, man naturally desires, as his ultimate end, to know the first cause. But the first cause of all things is God. Therefore, the ultimate end of man is to know God. (III, 25)

Someone might object that this was the knowledge of God through his effects to which Cajetan refers. In the following chapters, St. Thomas examines each power and each kind of knowledge in which the ultimate end of man can consist. After a long process of elimination, he concludes that the knowledge of God cannot be the kind which the philosophers were able to attain.

Moreover, the will rests its desire when it has attained the ultimate end. But the ultimate end of all human knowledge is felicity. So, that knowledge of God which, when acquired, leaves no knowledge of a knowable object to be desired is essentially this felicity. But this is not the kind of knowledge about God that the philosophers were able to get through demonstrations, because, even when we acquire this knowledge, we still desire to know other things that are not known through this knowledge. Therefore, felicity is not found in such a knowledge of God. (SCG, III, 39)

St. Thomas denies that this happiness can consist in contemplation from faith. In fact the knowledge of God gained from faith "does not put this desire to rest but rather sets it aflame, since every man desires to see what he believes" (SCG III, 40). St. Thomas proves that this desire cannot be put to rest with any experience in this life.

If, then, ultimate human felicity does not consist in the knowledge of God, whereby he is known in general by all, or most, men, but a sort of confused appraisal, and again if it does not consist in the knowledge of God which is known by way of demonstration in the speculative sciences, nor in the cognition of God whereby he is known through faith, . . . and if it is not possible in this life to reach a higher knowledge of God so as to know Him through his essence, or even in such a way that, when the other separated substances are known, God might be known through the knowledge of them, as if from a closer vantage point . . . and if it is necessary to identify ultimate felicity with some sort of knowledge of God . . . then it is not possible for man's ultimate felicity to come in this life. (SCG III, 48)

St. Thomas then goes on to show that the desire for knowledge must be satisfied in the next life without the body. The logical question would be whether or not the angels could satisfy this desire in only knowing God through his effects which in their case is their own nature. If man could be satisfied with this sort of knowledge, even more it seems the angels should be as they are certainly better metaphysicians than any man. He concludes: "It is impossible for the natural desire in separated substances [the angels and our souls after death] to come to rest in such a knowledge of God" (SCG, III, 50). St. Thomas then gives six arguments to show that this natural desire for knowledge must even in the angels be for the Vision of God. They could each be reduced to a syllogism. I will give the paragraph they refer to in Chapter 50 of Book Three of the Summa contra Gentiles.

  1. What is imperfect desires perfection.
  2. The knowledge of God the angels have through the knowledge of their own substance is imperfect.
  3. Therefore, the angels seek to know God in Himself and not through his effects. (SCG, III, 50, 2)
  1. One who knows the effect desires to know its cause.
  2. Angels know they are effects of God.
  3. Therefore, angels desire to know the cause in itself. (SCG, III, 50, 3)
  1. One, who knows the existence of something, desires to know the essence.
  2. Angels know that God exists.
  3. Therefore they desire to know his essence. (SCG, III, 50, 4)
  1. Nothing finite fulfills the power of the intellect to know.
  2. Angels are finite.
  3. Therefore, angels, in knowing God through themselves, cannot fulfill the desire of the intellect to know. (SCG, III, 50, 5)
  1. Someone who desires knowledge, also desires to flee ignorance.
  2. Angels know that God surpasses their natural knowledge, and so they are ignorant of him.
  3. Therefore, angels desire to rid themselves of the ignorance they have in regards to God. (SCG, III, 50, 6)
  1. The closer a thing comes to an end, the more it desires the end.
  2. Angels are closer to God in being than man.
  3. Therefore, angels desire to know God more in his essence than men do. (SCG, III, 50, 7)

All of these arguments are based on the power of the intellect to know the truth. One cannot arrive at knowing God in his essence (the Vision of God) by his own power. This is a supernatural goal and grace is needed for it. Notice that there is no reference to the creation of man in the state of grace as the cause of this desire. Instead, the desire is identified with having an intellect because even the angels have it. The angels could not have this desire from some state of nature because they have no common nature like man. Every angel has a unique nature. St. Thomas conclusively denies that this desire is one of the will at the end of this chapter when he says:

The conclusion from these considerations is that the ultimate felicity of separate substances does not lie in the knowledge of God, in which they know Him through their substances, for their desire still leads them on toward God's substance. (SCG, III, 50, 8)

Also quite apparent in this conclusion is the fact that the ultimate felicity is to be sought in nothing other than an operation of the intellect, since no desire carries on to such sublime heights as the desire to understand the truth. Indeed, all our desires for pleasure, or other things of this sort that are craved by men, can be satisfied with other things, but the aforementioned desire does not come to rest until it reaches God, the highest reference point for, and the maker of things. . . . Let those men be ashamed, then, who seek man's felicity in the most inferior things, when it is so highly situated. (SCG, III, 50, 9)

The Natural Desire to See God is identical with the power of the intellect. There is no such thing as a separate state of pure nature or an abstract nature apart from the need of man for the supernatural order. God created man in grace not as the cause of this desire but because God wished to give man the ability to realize this desire from His own goodness. There is no justice which demands this on God's part. He is not forced to create man in grace by anything in creation. If God does this, it is a result of His own goodness because God created man to enjoy Him.


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