Whether there are many ideas in God
(Super I Sententiarum, Dist. 36, Quaest. 2, Art. 2)
translated by Samuel Pell vis-à-vis Lonergan’s reference to this text in his Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, p. 19 (University of Toronto edition)
Turning to the second question, we proceed in this way.
1. It seems that there are not many ideas. For an idea is said to be a similitude through which the thing is known. For, as the tradition tells us, God knows everything through His own essence. Since therefore his Essence is one, it would seem that there is only one Divine Idea.
2. If you were to say, that [there are many ideas because] there are many ways that God relates [respectus] to things, one could object with the following argument. The relations which exist between God and His creation are really in creatures and not in God. Creatures, however, have not existed from eternity. Therefore there are no relations between God and creation. Therefore, a plurality of ideas has not existed from eternity. But God does not know the things that He made according to any other mode than that by which he knew them before he made them, as it is held by Augustine in Book V of A Literal Commentary on Genesis, cap. xv, col. 332, t. III. Therefore He does not know things through many ideas, but only through one.
3. On the other hand, as it is said, an idea reflects [habet se ad] its corresponding reality, just as the form of the craft, which is in the mind of the craftsman, reflects the product. But a diversity of products arises from the plurality of forms which are in the mind of the craftsman, and not from a single form. Therefore it seems that, [were there only one Divine idea], a diversity of things would not be able to exhibit a plurality of ideas.
4. On the other hand, the idea is said to be relative to the ideatum in the same way that knowledge is said to be relative to the knowable thing. But although there are many things known by God, nevertheless there is only one knowledge. Therefore for all things which are wrought by God, there is only one idea.
But to the contrary, something in which there is not some innate plurality, is not able to be signified in the plural. But Augustine, in his book 83 Questions, quaest. xlvi, col. 30, t. VI, refers to ideas in the plural, saying that ideas are established forms [rationes] of things, existing in the divine mind; and although they neither rise nor converge, all things which converge and rise come to be because of them. Therefore there are many ideas.
5. Meanwhile, according to Damascene, in book three of The Orthodox Faith, cap. VII, col. 1014, t. 1, difference is the cause of number. But, according to Augustine in his book 83 Questions, loc. cit., God created man and horse through different forms [rationes]. Therefore it seems that there are many ideal forms of things in God.
I reply that it ought to be said, that because God has a particular concept about singular things, it is fitting that his essence is a similitude of the singularity of things. Diverse things express the divine essence in diverse ways according to their own capacity, although the divine essence itself displays itself as a complete expression. Creatures do not imitate it perfectly, but deformedly. This is on account of both their diversity and their defect, as Dionysius says in Book II of On the Divine Names, Section 6, col. 643, t. I. Hence, when the word “idea” refers to the divine essence inasmuch as it is an exemplar imitated by a creature, the divine essence will be some particular idea of that thing, depending on the mode of imitation. And because different creatures imitate the divine essence by different modes, therefore it is said that man and horse are created by means of different ideas or concepts; and from there it follows that there are many ideas inasmuch as there are many things which imitate the divine essence by various modes, although the essence that is imitated is one: as is clear from the preceding (Dist. II, q. 1, art. 3). Whatever perfection is in things, converges as a whole in God insofar as He is one, the same, and indivisible, whether that perfection is being, living, understanding, or whatever else. However, although all creation imitates that essence according to the mode of being, not everything imitates it according to the mode of living: put in a different way, not everything that imitates it according to the mode of being, participates in being in the same way, since certain things exist more nobly than others. From this we find that the divine essence can be related to those things which exist only and to those things which exist and live, and similarly to those which exist by other modes: and from this there are many ideal concepts, according to which God understands his own essence insofar as it is imitable by this or that mode. These concepts of understood imitation, or modes, are ideas; for an idea, as we have shown above, refers to a form insofar as it is understood, and not as it exists in the nature of the one who is understanding.
Reply to the first objection: An idea does not just name an essence, but is an imitable essence. Whence we find that many ideas exist according to the inexhaustible imitability of the divine essence, on account of the fullness of its own perfection.
Reply to the second objection: Although the relations between God and creation, are really found in creatures, nevertheless they are also in God according to his reason and intellect; However, I do not just mean a human intellect, but also angelic and divine; and therefore although created things have not existed from eternity, nevertheless the divine intellect was understanding his own essence according to various modes imitable by creatures; and because of this there was a plurality of ideas in the divine intellect from eternity, not in His own nature. For the form of a horse and the life of a horse do not exist in God according to the same mode; because the form of a horse is not in God unless as an understood concept; but the concept of life is in God, not only as something understood, but also as it is in the established nature of the thing.
Reply to the third objection: Although the plurality of ideas ought to be attended to as relations to things; the plurality of things is not the cause of the plurality of ideas. Rather, the contrary is true. For things imitate the divine essence by different modes because the divine intellect gazes on them in different ways, and not the other way around. For the divine intellect is the cause of everything; however a distinction among ideal concepts exists according to the operation of the divine intellect, just as it understands its own essence in various modes imitable by creatures.
Reply to the fourth objection: The divine essence is one, and the relations are many; and therefore when we refer only to the essence, it is not able to be signified in the plural. In the same way knowledge, which is bound up with the knower, is one insofar as it is the form of the knower. The concept, however, which is bound up with the thing, is many insofar as it is able to be consignified and signified in the plural: for we say there are many concepts. An idea, however, exists as if by a middle way. This is because it conveys both the essence and the concept that, by means of a relation, imitates the essence. And so, even if we find that a plurality of things are consignified by the word “idea”, as when the word is used in many ways, we find that this plurality is hardly if ever signified through the addition of a numerical term, as is the case when we speak of many ideas. This is because plurality is expressed more by signification than by consignification.