There and Back Again:

A Metaphysical Journey from Multiplicity of Understanding to the Unity of God's Essence, Back to Multiplicity in Creatures.

In this article I trace the movement from multiplicity to unity in our attempt to understand the immanent operations of God, and then show how the very account of that unity allows for and is the cause of multiplicity. Then, as regards the latter, I give an account not only of the existence of multiplicity, but of the order found within it both as concerns its relation to God and the mutual relation of creatures within this order.

Having discussed the principles of the science, and made arguments for God's existence and attributes, St. Thomas turns to the operations of God (PP QQ. 1-13, Q.14 intro.). In his introduction to the fourteenth question he divides operations into immanent operations and those that proceed externally. Since, therefore, we are proceeding as a theologian, it is proper to first consider the immanent operations, since we desire to understand all things in light of the proper subject of our science, namely God (PP Q. 1 a.7). St. Thomas considers these operations according to two major divisions, namely intellect and will. When considering these immanent operations we find a seemingly strange, and certainly difficult mixture of unity and multiplicity. The utter unity being on the part of God, and the multiplicity on that of creatures. Part of the reason for this difficulty is that we must begin with the multiplicity of our understanding to reach the unity of God, and then we later must see this very unity as the cause of the multiplicity.
This multiplicity reaches its fullness with the forty-fourth question when we examine the procession of creatures from God, and most of all in the first article of the forty-seventh question where St. Thomas explicitly addresses the question of whether multitude and distinction of things comes from God. However, long before we reach this article, as has already been suggested, we begin to see, as it were, the seeds of this multiplicity in our understanding of God's immanent operations. Indeed the confusion with which we perceive the multiplicity and unity in those questions regarding his operations can be clarified and resolved by considering the following: In understanding and naming God's operations, we must deny multiplicity and any defect of the words or ideas that we have in order to properly treat the divine unity; but it is this very unity that is the cause of multiplicity in creatures, insofar as their similitude to the divine essence is considered.
First, then, to be considered is a brief account of how we name God. Then each of the immanent divine operations will be considered, i.e. intellect, and will in their unity, as seen through the multiplicity of our understanding. Following this will be a consideration of the source of multiplicity in both of the immanent operations and then by God's power. There will follow a consideration of the multiplicity in general. This final consideration will be in three parts. First the cause of multiplicity in things as discussed by St. Thomas in question forty-seven, article one. Second, the order of multiplicity as related to God's knowledge and will. Finally, the relation of creatures within that order.
In the introduction to the second question St. Thomas says “...second, [we must consider] how [God] exists, or rather, how He does not exist.”1 This cannot be understood only in terms of what is termed “negative theology” that is, that we only negate things of God and never speak of Him directly. This is contradicted by St. Thomas when he argues that we can name God substantially and properly, and that such names are said of Him first before all creatures (PP Q.13 aa. 2, 3, 6). Rather, we must understand “how He does not exist” as showing that me must remove what is imperfect from our mode of speaking. St. Thomas says as much in the first article of the same question, saying that we must name Him “through the mode of excellence and remotion.” He goes on to explain this further:

“Thus [God] is able to be named by us from creatures, not as though a name can signify Himself, expressing the divine essence according as it is, just as this name, man expresses by its signification the essence of man according as it is; for it signifies the the definition, declaring his definition; for the ratio which this name signifies is the definition.”2

From the above, therefore, we have gained three important principles that will aid us in our understanding of how we speak of God. First, that we can indeed speak positively of him. Second, that this will be by way of excellence and remotion. Third, that these names in no way express the divine essence. Armed with these principles we can dare to go forward and discuss His operations.
In his first article of the fourteenth question St. Thomas shows that there is knowledge in God. This article clearly manifests the movement from multiplicity to unity of God's knowledge. St. Thomas first begins with creatures, and indeed with non intelligent creatures contrasting them with knowing creatures. He points out how the creatures that lack knowledge posses only their own forms, while those that posses knowledge are disposed to receive many forms. This manifests what the Philosopher says in De Anima III, namely, that “the soul is in a way all things.” From here we see that as forms become more immaterial, the approach nearer to infinity, thus giving us the ratio of knowing, immateriality. Immateriality is present most of all in God, since He is wholly simple, infinite, and one.
This unity of His intellect is manifested in another way in considering the object of His knowledge. Since the proper object of the intellect is Himself, since the object of all understanding is ens, and he is ens par excellence. Thus, we see the unity of His intellect in as much as He has one proper object, as distinct from ourselves who understand thing according to various intelligible species, and consider first one thing and then another.
Again, if we consider what it means for God to know himself we see his unity from multiplicity. St. Thomas first points out that in immanent operations the term of the operation is in the operator. (PP Q.14 a. 2) He goes on to point out that in understanding, the intelligible in act is the act of the understanding, and that the intellect is distinct from the intelligible species insofar as it is in potency to the thing. Thus, we have our multiplicity, which we will now deny to understand the operation in God. For, in God there is no potentiality, but He is pure act. Therefore in God the intellect and the thing understood are the same, so that as St. Thomas says,

“Neither does he lack the intelligible species, just as our intellect when it knows in potency, nor is the intelligible species other than the substance of the divine intellect as it is an accident in our intellect when it is understanding in act. But the intelligible species is the divine intellect itself.”3

When St. Thomas considers the will of God, we once again see the movement from multiplicity to unity. He first points out that will is consequent upon intellect (PP Q.19, a.1). He proceeds to set up a proportion: The perfection of a natural thing is through its form as the perfection of an intellectual thing is through its intelligible form. Therefore, just as a natural thing desires its form, so an intellectual thing desires an intelligible form. Thus, we see that there is will in God, and we now must move from this multiplicity to unity. For, since God is His own intellect and intelligible species, it is clear that He wills Himself and that His will is none other than Himself, since He is utterly simple and one.
Having established His unity in His operations, we may now see how multiplicity arises from this very unity of. We shall first consider the intellect. In the fifth article of the fourteenth question St. Thomas argues that God does know things other than himself. St. Thomas argues that since He knows Himself, perfectly and comprehensively (PP Q.14 aa2-3), He therefore understands all other beings through himself, since he is the cause of all other beings and posses their perfections in a super-immanent way (PP. Q.14, a 5). Here we have arrived at multiplicity. How exactly He has knowledge of creatures other than himself is shown more clearly when St. Thomas discusses the ideas.
St. Thomas defines the ideas as “the forms of things existing apart from the things themselves.”4These forms then are considered the exemplar causes of things created by God. Just as the artist has the artifact in his mind as the exemplar cause of the artifact. St. Thomas argues that the ideas are many in God because God knows that He knows. That is, since he knows His own essence perfectly and comprehensively, He knows it in every way that it can be known. Therefore, God can know His essence in so far as it is able to be participated. This is the account of the idea. For, the knowledge of a thing in as it is able to participate in the divine essence is an exemplar, and formal cause of that thing. Note, that this knowledge of how He is able to be participated arises precisely because He is His understanding. Therefore, we see the multiplicity arise from the unity of God's essence.
Multiplicity can also be seen as arising from the unity of God's will. To see this, St. Thomas introduces the principle, the good is diffusive of itself. This is appropriate, because as St. Thomas points out,

For natural things not only have a natural inclination with respect to proper goods, such as it acquires when it does not have them, or rests in that when had; but it diffuese that proper good into others, insofar as it is possible.5

Thus, insofar as the agent is perfect, it makes another like itself. This is seen clearly in the case of men. When this man is grown he is able to bring forth another like himself. A child, however, cannot. Therefore, it pertains to the nature of the will to communicate its good insofar as it is able, and this can be limited either on the part of the agent or on the part of the effect. Since, God is a perfect agent, we need not concern ourselves with such a defect, but since creatures are, by definition, limited, we must expect the likeness to be somewhat remote. Therefore, we can see that communicating a likeness belongs to the perfection of the agent, and this must therefore be attributed to God. Then, as St. Thomas says, “Thus, therefore, [God] wills both himself and others to be. But himself as end and others as towards an end, inasmuch as the divine goodness concedes even another to participate in itself.”6 Therefore, we see that it belongs to willing His own goodness that it be communicated to others in some way7; and therefore insofar as God is his own good, and that good is able to be participated, God will others.
To complete our examination of the source of multiplicity we must look to the power of God, of which St. Thomas says in the preface before question fourteen, “...concerning the power of God, which is considered as the principle of operations proceeding into as external effect.”8 The power of God is most proximate to the multiplicity of creatures, and is therefore more readily seen as the source of multiplicity in creatures.
It is important to note that we must consider power only as active power in God. In no way can we attribute potency to Him in anyway. Therefore, we must understand the power of God as the active principle of his external operations and to belong perfectly to His unity. As St. Thomas says,

Power is not placed in God as something differing from knowledge and will secundum rem but only secundum rationem, namely, inasmuch as power carries the ratio of principle of executing that which the will commands and that knowledge directs, which three things belong to the same in God. Or it is said that knowledege itself of the divine will according as it is and effective principle, has the account of power. Whence the consideration of knowledge and will precede the consideration of power in God, just as a cause precedes the operation and effect.9

Therefore, we come to say power of God, because we see that there are external effects. This power however, differs only in ratio from His knowledge and will. Therefore, the accounts of multiplicity that follow God's knowledge and will belong, by necessity, to the account of God's power. In fact, any external effect belongs more properly, secundum rationem to God's power. It is only by some extension of the accounts of knowledge and will that we speak of them as “touching” creatures. It is thus that we speak of the knowledge of approbation, and God's effective will.
We will now briefly consider multiplicity in a general way. Since God causes all things, the multiplicity of creatures must be traced back to God. We have seen this multiplicity arise from the very unity of His will and intellect. Fundamental to this multiplicity is the notion of participation. The question that has been lingering behind our consideration thus far, is why there is anything besides God. Up to this point, we have been answering (or at least attempting to answer) how there can be many things, but the why has thus far eluded us. The answer, to be frank, is a mystery. We can say with St. Thomas only this:

The distinction of things and the multitude [of things] is from the intention of the first agent, which is God. For he brings a thing into esse in order to communicate his goodness to creatures, and through them to be represented.10

St. Thomas will go on to say that since the divine essence can only be represented imprefectly by any given creature, He is more perfectly and fully represented by a multitude of creatures. Therefore, questions about why is some idea the exemplar of an actual being and another is only of a potential being, is impossible to answer. We must yield that it belongs to the divine will to choose, for to Him, above all, belongs the perfection of Freedom.
The above consideration naturally leads us to consider the relation of the multitude of creatures to one another. For it is not in some chaotic mass that the divine essence is represented, but rather in an ordered whole. We see this first when we consider that God intends the final end of all things since He is the principle agent cause of all things. It is clear that the universal order of things is the greatest good for creatures and is therefore included in the account of the final end of things. The final end of creatures is intended by God and is God. Now the order of things can be either material or formal. It is clear that material diversity belongs to things of the same form and therfore there is an essential equality. However, a formal difference requires inequality as St. Thomas points out, quoting Aristotle, “forms of things are as numbers in which the species are differed through the addition or subtraction of unity,”11 and between two unequal things there is some order.
This very order among creatures manifests their order to God. For the order of creatures forms a heirarchy, with the lower being ordered to the higher. Such an order is evidence of God's existence as is clear from the fourth way. (PP. Q2, a3) Moreover, we seethat this order arsise in creatures from the inability of any one creature to manifest the perfection of God. Therefore, by there being an order the essence of God is more clearly manifested. Finally, since creatures are limited and many, both as belonging to some genus and by being composed, they are ordered to God simply because of His a of the utterly one God. Springing forth from the abundance of His perfection we arising the multiplicity of creatures, this perfection which is precisely His unity. Finally, His unity provides for an order, not just of creatures to God, but of creatures to one another as they manifest in their maniness, the perfection of God.
perfection. In His unity His absolute perfection is manifested and well as his super-emminence of being. Per impossible, were we co-eternal with God, and not created by Him, we still would owe Him worship because He is His own esse. The nobility of such a one cannot be given too much honor.
Therefore, we have traced the path from mulitplicity to unity and back again. From the very mulitplicity of our understanding we are able to arrive at the idea of the utterly one God. Springing forth from the abundance of His perfection we arising the mulitplicity of creatures, this perfection which is precisely His unity. Finally, His unity provides for an order, not just of creatures to God, but of creatures to one another as they manifest in their maniness, the perfection of God.

1 ...secundo, quomodo sit, vel potius quomodo non sit.
2 Sic igitur potest nominari a nobis ex creaturis, non tamen ita quod nomen significans ipsum, exprimat divinam essentiam secundum quod est, sicut hoc nomen homo exprimat sua significatione essentiam hominis secundum quod est, significat enim eius definitionem, declarantem eius essentiam; ratio enim quam significat nomen, est definitio.
3...neque careat specie intelligibili, sicut intellectus noster cum intelligit in potentia; neque species intelligibilis sit aliud a substantia intellectus divini, sicut accidit in intellectu nostro, cum est actu intelligens; sed ipsa species intelligibilis est ipse intellectus divinus.
4 Unde per ideas intelliguntur formae aliarum rerum, praeter ipsas res existens. (PP, Q.15, a.1)
5 Res enim naturalis non solum habe naturalem inclinationem respectu proprii boni, ut acquirat ipsum cum non habet, vel ut quiescat in illo cum habe; sed etiam ut proprium bonum in alia diffundat, secundmum quod possibile est.
6 Sic igitur vult et se esse, et alia. Sed se ut finem, alia vero ut ad finem, inquantum condecet divinam bonitatem etiam alia ipsam participare.
7 This is in no way to be understood that the God is in anyway compelled to create. The emphasis here is on “some way.”That is to say, that we cannot, a priori, discern precisely how God diffuses his goodness. potentia Dei, quae conideratur ut principium operationis divinae in effectum exteriorum procedentis.
9 Potentia non ponitur in deo ut aliquid differens a scientia et voluntate secundum rem, sed solum secundum raionem; inquantumscilicet potentia importat rationem principee exequentis id quod voluntas imperet, et ad quod scientia dirigit; quae tria deo secundum idem conveniunt. Vel dicnedum quod ipsa scientia vel voluntas divina, secundum quod est principium effectivum, habere rationem potentiae. Unde considerationem potentiae, sicut causa praecedit operationem et effectum.
10 “...distinctio rerum et multitudo est ex intentione primi agentis, quod est Deus. Produxit enim res in esse propter suam bonitatem communicandam creaturis, et per eas repraesentandam.”
11 “formae rerum sunt sicut numeri in quibus species variantur per additionem vel subtrationem unitas.” (PP.Q.47, a2)

Newer Posts Older Posts Home