Monday, 27 January 2014

Question 94 – The State of the First Man with Respect to Intellect.


The final section of the Treatise on Man is dedicated to consideration of questions about the state of being of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is well known in Christian teaching that they were created in a state of grace, a state which they lost at the fall. This simple statement leaves unanswered many questions about what that initial state was, and about what were the consequences of the fall in leaving that state of grace. Therefore Aquinas dedicates the next three questions (Ia.q94 on the intellect and Ia.q95-6 on the will) to the state of man’s soul in the initial state of grace; then there are five questions (Ia.q97-101) on bodily issues. The treatise is rounded off by a question (Ia.q102) on paradise.

Why this Question Matters

As human beings are uniquely bodily intellectual creatures, it is natural for Aquinas to start his consideration of the state of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with questions about their intellects. Created in a state of grace and possessing some extraordinary gifts consistent with human nature, one naturally wonders how the fall from paradise was possible. We will have to wait until IIa-IIae.q163 for Aquinas’s approach to that question, but in the meantime here he lays the groundwork by discussing the state of the intellect of the first human beings.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: Adam’s existence in the Garden of Eden was so wonderful it is natural to ask whether he had the beatific vision of God while in paradise. That is, did Adam see God through His essence? Aquinas quickly recalls that anyone who has the beatific vision cannot turn away from that vision; as Adam sinned, one must infer that he did not have that vision of God.

However, Adam did have a cognition of God that is higher than we do in our present fallen state, albeit less perfect than that of the beatific vision. Aquinas explains that in his initial state Adam was created upright (Latin rectus); in this state of rectitude all his lower powers were subject to his higher powers. To expand on this we should notice, along with St. Paul, that one of the features of our current state of existence is that our powers are often at odds with one another. We may will to do something but find ourselves unable to do it; what we want with our heart may be very different from what we want with our head. Adam didn’t have this problem; all of his intellectual, sensory and bodily powers were aligned to common purpose. This means that Adam was not distracted by his senses to spend too much time thinking about sensible things to the detriment of the consideration of intelligible things. Now God is more clearly understood through his intelligible effects (that is, effects that are directly intelligible to the intellect) than through His sensible effects; we have seen from the first questions of the summa how hard it is to arrive at the intelligible effects of God though reasoning about created sensible things! So in the first state of grace man’s natural knowledge of God’s intelligible effects was not masked by sensible tittle-tattle. Aquinas goes on to quote Augustine to the effect that the first man, walking with God in paradise,  may also have been directly illuminated with knowledge of these intelligible effects. Again, Adam’s rectitude would have meant that this divine illumination was clearly received rather than masked by sensible considerations.

In his reply to the third objection, Aquinas goes further: Adam did not have to arrive at a cognition of God by demonstrations rooted in knowledge of God’s effects (as we have to do). Instead, he had an immediate cognition of God though his effects. Human beings, including Adam, have to see God through a mirror, as it were. For us in our present state that mirror is darkly obscured and we arrive at natural knowledge of God through great effort and with much trial and error. For Adam, that mirror was clear; clear enough for him to see God immediately in all His effects.

A2: If Adam did not have a vision of God through His essence, then perhaps he could see angels through their essences. After all, we have seen (in Ia.q89.a2) that a separated soul has a perfect intellective understanding of other separated souls and an imperfect understanding of the higher separated substances. Surely the state of Adam’s soul must have been at least on a level with separated souls in this regard?

Aquinas answers by distinguishing between two different ways of looking at the state of the soul. In the first way we can distinguish between the two natural modes of existence of the soul: the first being when it is joined with the body; the second when it is separated from the body. The second distinction is between the states of integrity (before the fall) and corruption (after the fall). The mistake lying behind the thesis that Adam had a vision of the angels through their substance is that of making the wrong distinction between Adam’s soul and our souls. Adam’s soul was in a state of integrity but was still joined to his body. This means that the mode of operation of the soul of Adam is like that of ours: it is ordered to the abstraction of intelligible species from phantasms presented to it by the sense. Adam was just better at it than we are.

Our natural mode of cognition with soul joined to the body is sufficient to have cognition of the quiddity of exterior things and from thence to have cognition of our own act of understanding (Ia.q87.a3). However, this type of cognition is simply insufficient to make a leap up to the cognition of the angels.

A3: Aquinas asks in this article whether Adam had scientia (sometimes translated as knowledge and sometimes as scientific knowledge) of everything. The structure of the article will make it clear that Aquinas is going to answer this in the affirmative. Since this is such a startling claim, it is important to understand exactly what he means by scientia.
Scientia is the knowledge of things in their causes, which one might informally refer to as understanding or an ability to understand; in particular, scientia is a knowledge of universals rather than of particulars. The claim that Adam had this sort of understanding of everything is not the claim that Adam knew every fact that there is to know but that rather he had an intellect equipped with the knowledge of universals sufficient to understand everything that he did experience.

Even this is an extraordinary claim because it seems to set Adam apart from all other human beings. As we grow up we have to accumulate  these universals in our intellects through experience; if Adam already had them, without having to accumulate them, it seem that he either had to have a sort of connatural knowledge that we do not have or that he received them through a process of divine infusion, rather like the angels.

Aquinas is quite ready to defend such a position. Adam has such scientia though direct infusion from God; the fact that he is the very first human being makes him unique with respect to the rest of us and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that he has this very special gift. Adam didn’t have to progress through life accumulating such universal knowledge, but he did have to accumulate particular knowledge and put it into the context of that universal knowledge.

Aquinas’s fundamental reason for supporting such a position lies in the principle that actuality is prior to potentiality. In order for something to move from potentiality to actuality there has to be something actual that is the cause of that move. God created things in a state of perfection, not only so they existed in themselves, but so they might also be the principles of subsequent things. God created Adam in a perfect bodily state (that is, as a fully formed adult) so that he could be the principle of generation of subsequent human beings; He created his soul with complete scientia so that Adam might lead subsequent human beings in knowledge. So Adam had all the first principles of knowledge virtually containing everything that can be known naturally by human beings.

In addition to such natural universal knowledge, Aquinas claims that Adam had sufficient knowledge of the supernatural to direct him to his ultimate end.

A4: In the Genesis account of the fall, the serpent deceives Eve into eating the apple from the tree of knowledge. The deception is a subtle one that turns on an equivocation of God’s warning to Adam and Eve that they will die if they touch the tree, but it is a deception nonetheless. So it seems perfectly obvious that despite their graced existence in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were capable of being deceived.

Aquinas’s startling conclusion in this article goes against this line of reasoning, claiming that they could not be deceived in their initial state of grace. Before justifying his conclusion he outlines another opinion in which a distinction is made between a sort of cursory assent to a false belief and a firm assent. Some have argued, he claims, that the first humans in their original state could not be deceived in the latter sense, but could be deceived in the former sense concerning non-scientific knowledge (recalling that they had possession of all scientific knowledge).

Aquinas rejects even this position. In the state of innocence it was not possible for humans to acquiesce to any positive falsehood; this would have been simply inconsistent with such a graced existence. A falsehood in the intellect is an evil in the same way that a truth is a good and no such evil could be present. A second line of reasoning argues that in the state of rectitude all of man’s faculties were aligned with each other and co-operating; the only way that the intellect is deceived is if it is deceived by a lower power (as the intellect is infallible with respect to its own proper object), and this cannot therefore happen.

So how could Eve have been deceived? Aquinas answers, via Augustine, that the deception was preceded by a prior sin; that of a “love for her own power and a proud presumptuousness regarding that power”. In other words, there had already been a movement of the will away from God and the fall itself was complex of sins that culminated in the disobedience of eating the apple. The deception occurred after the state of innocence had started to be corrupted.

Other objections suggested that humans naturally are apt to make mistaken judgements, for example, about things in the distance that stretch the abilities of the senses or about future contingents or the interior thoughts of others. For the former, Aquinas argues that man would not have been deceived as he would have been aware of the limits to the sense data available to him and would have therefore made an appropriate judgement. For the latter, two answers are given: the first that Adam would have made contingent judgements not committing himself to a definite answer; the second that God would have assisted him in such circumstances.

Handy Concepts

  • In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve were created in a state of grace and bodily integrity. Thus all their faculties were united rather than divided against one another as they are in our postlapsarian state. Despite these gifts of grace neither Adam nor Eve benefited from the beatific vision; however, they did have an immediate cognition of God though his effects.
  • Adam and Eve did not have a direct cognition of angels through their substance; the first humans’ cognitive apparatus worked in the same way as ours.
  • Adam had an intellect equipped with the knowledge of universals (scientia) sufficient to understand everything that he experienced.
  • Adam and Eve before the fall had such perfect rectitude of body and mind that they were not capable of being deceived. The deception of the serpent occurred after the fall had already started.


  • In the first article Aquinas distinguishes between the sensible effects and the intelligible effects of God; perhaps this distinction is not crystal clear. We can take it for granted that God is fully capable of communicating some element (consistent with man’s capacity) of His intelligibility to humans by divine illumination. However, this distinction between sensible and intelligible effects appears to pertain to cognition of God though His created effects. Also, these appear not to be different classes of effects associated with different types of created effect. Rather, Aquinas is differentiating between sensible and intelligible effects in the same thing. We have seen that we can infer, through a process of hard logical demonstration, that God’s sensible effects lead us to certain aspects of His intelligibility. What Aquinas appears to be arguing here is that Adam had a sort of intuitive immediate access to what is intelligible about God through His creation, rather than having to go through our process of argument. Adam saw God through a clear mirror rather than one darkened by sin and obscured by our focus on the sensible aspects of the material world.
  • The obvious and very standard question arises that if Adam was so gifted, why did he fall? If he was gifted with free will as well as the gifts of grace and rectitude, why was his free will not a subject of that rectitude?
  • Adam and Eve were created in grace and were given the preternatural gifts (such as the rectitude and infused scientia described above but also immortality and the absence of concupiscence). The latter gifts are gifts that are consistent with human nature whereas the former gift exceeds human nature. After the fall, we do not possess the preternatural gifts and we can only hope for the gifts of grace by faith and our end in the beatific vision. In the spirit of filling a gap, theologians have speculated on what a human being created in a state of pure nature or in a state of unimpaired nature would look like. The former state consists of the absence of grace and of the preternatural gifts but also the absence of sin; the latter state lacks the gifts of grace but possesses the preternatural gifts and benefits from the absence of sin.

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