Theology

Four Ways


St. Thomas’s solution to the natural desire to see God is found in the intellect, not the will1 and this desire is only fulfilled with the vision of God.2 Man’s intellect can know of God in four ways. He can know God in a general and vague way and this is the way most of mankind know God.3 Man can know God by reason alone as the Unmoved Mover, the first cause of all nature’s effects. This is the knowledge of God attained by Aristotle and is the pinnacle of man’s ability to reach God. And Aristotle, and all those who achieve knowledge of God by reason alone, go away sad if they stop here because they are “like the fox before the grapes” and have not the means to achieve happiness even though they can see that God is the fulfillment of their desire.

Thirdly, we can know God through His revelation to us, but even this falls short of fulfilling our desire for God since “the knowledge of faith does not bring rest to desire but rather sets it aflame, since every man desires to see what he believes.”4 Now, “one who believes gives assent to things that are proposed to him by another person, and which he himself does not see”5 yet, as stated before man’s desire to know God is only fulfilled in the beatific vision. Hence, there must be a fourth way to know God, that which surpasses faith and this way is to know God in His essence; to know God as He knows Himself and this is achieved by seeing God face to face. Of course, it should be abundantly clear that seeing God’s face is not “achieved” in the sense of a human accomplishment, but as a divine gift. “Man is naturally drawn to an end by nature which he cannot attain by his own power”6 and is only attained by grace.

From this, it should be clear that God is objectively true, yet this is contrary to what modern philosophy posits. Instead of viewing God as objectively true, modernity follows Kant and reduces God to a subjective need of humanity. For modern theology “God is a projection of human need not an objective being.. the formal object [of modern theology] is something about human need or experience, not about revelation itself.”7 This view is not divinely focused, but worldly8 and “God has to be identified with creation or with human need”9 instead of an end in Himself and as our ultimate end. “What does not correspond to the God we need, by our subjective interest, does not exist in theology as truth.”10

This Kantian subjectivity has become prevalent not only in Protestantism, but also in Catholic circles even though such a view has been denounced by the Magesterium. A very poignant example of Catholics adhering to this belief can be found in liberation theology especially as influenced by Karl Rahner.

So, how then does St. Thomas’s solution repair the damage of Kant’s view of God? Primarily it keeps the proper order between God and man. St. Thomas clearly asserts that God is the ultimate end of man and that seeing God face to face is necessary for felicity. Since God is our ultimate end and truth is “the mind’s conformity to the thing” not the “thing’s conformity to the mind,” Kant’s subjective view violates the order of man and God. This can be seen in the reversal of truth that came out of the Enlightenment. In the proper understanding of truth:

“God’s mind measures (gives order to the nature of other things), but is not measured by anything. The things that human beings know are measured by God and measure the human mind. The human mind (by nature) is measured (we don’t create truth), but does not measure. It is true that our mind measures some things but these are things like science and technology.”11

Yet, this order has been completely reversed and has lead to the modern crisis of thought.

Since man is made for a end that he cannot attain through his own nature, man must rely on divine revelation to achieve felicity and divine revelation must be asserted to be objectively true, not merely appealing to human sentiment or developed out of the early church’s “needs.” Truly it can be said, as St. Augustine did, “unhappy the man who knoweth all these” (i.e. all creatures)” and knoweth not Thee! but happy who so knoweth Thee although he know not these. And who so knoweth both Thee and them is not the happier for them, but for Thee alone.”12

1 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Four: The Natural Desire to see God and the Supernatural Order.” (Lesson presented for Holy Apostles Seminary and College 2015.)
2 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Five: The Nature and Object of Theology I.” (Lesson presented for Holy Apostles Seminary and College 2015.)
3 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Four.”
4 Summa contra gentiles III c.40.
5 Summa contra gentiles III c.40.
6 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Four.”
7 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Five.”
8 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Five.”
9 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Five.”
10 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Five.”
11 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Three: The Problem of the Supernatural Order and Modern Philosophy.”
12 Fr. Mullady. “Lesson Four.”

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