views updated May 23 2018


The term divine science might also be used here. It brings into focus the heated, lengthy, and continuing theological controversy on the relationship between the certitude of God's knowledge and human freedom. Taken from this standpoint, the attribution of divine science to God signifies that He possesses infinitely perfect science or certain knowledge of Himself. He also knows perfectly all that has existed, exists, or will exist in both the physical and moral order. This divine science extends to every free act, but this foreknowledge implies no necessity. The Catholic Church defined at the First Vatican Council that God is infinite in all His perfections and possessed of intellect and will (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 3001). The council also stated that this knowledge whereby "all things are naked and open to his eyes" (Heb 4.13) is the foundation of the providential governance of all things, "even the future free actions of creatures" (Enchiridion symbolorum 3003; see free will and providence).

Historical Considerations. Viewing historically man's understanding of God's omniscience is a useful prelude to the systematic treatment.

Old Testament. In Biblical theology the existence of knowledge in God is a necessary consequence of the fact that for Biblical revelation God is a personal God. In general, therefore, this divine knowledge as personal is at heart a knowledge of God's people (see people of god). And, frequently, God's knowledge designates acts of care, help, and succor [see Jb 31.6; Ps 1.6; 72 (73).11; 102 (103).14; 143 (144).3]. It is also this highly personalist note that gives to the Biblical affirmations of the divine knowledge their strongly religious character. There is no shadow of doubt in the Old Testament (OT) that God knows all things, but the fundamental note is that He knows all that takes place on earth. All human existence is lived out in His sight and is known to Him. It is this fact that gives dramatic perspective to Job's sorrow (Jb 28.24). God knows the just and the unjust to the very roots of their being [Ps 10 (11).4; 32 (33).15; Prv 15.11;16.2]. Knowing men, God knows their thoughts, their intentions, their most secret actions [Ps 93 (94).12; Ps 138 (139)]. It is this conviction that informs the moral dimension of the religious activity of God's people.

It is, moreover, the conviction of God's perfect knowledge of all things that engenders Israel's confidence in God's providential designs. The deeply personal character of God's knowledge is also emphasized by the fact that it is concrete and experiential. God knows His people as the husband his wife. All things that exist are the work of His hand. The Psalmist proclaims that God knows all that He has created and that He who made the eye does indeed see [Ps 93 (94).9].

While this personal note is characteristic of the Biblical affirmation, there is another note that is peculiarly proper to the teaching on divine knowledge. For what gives to the OT teaching on God's knowledge an originality beyond merely natural theology is the note of wisdom. Not only does God know but He understands all these things. What is clear in the OT development is that the sapiential authors move from the idea of wisdom as a largely practical thing to the idea of wisdom being a kind of subsistent reality in God. It finally becomes a personal characteristic of such cosmic status that it is personified as the agent of God's creation and providential ordering of the universe (e.g., Prv 8.2231).

It is also from this standpoint of wisdom that the OT conception of God's knowledge has some areas of equivalence to the scholastic concept of divine science; for it is something beyond all human knowing and quite proper to God (e.g., Is 28.29; 40.13). To the sages of Israel God's wisdom in terms of the knowledge of good and evil is far beyond man'sGod alone is truly wise (Jb 28.1228; Is 40.13). It is this approach that makes of wisdom "an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty" (Wis 7.25). What is of note in the whole sapiential approach in the OT is that only by implication does it involve itself with the great prophetic themes of covenant, election, and salvation [see wisdom (in the bible)].

New Testament. It is in the New Testament (NT) that the whole notion of God's knowledge and wisdom is synthesized with His saving work. The personal character of wisdom is revealed in Christ to correspond to a Person distinct from the Fatherthe word (Jn ch. 1). It is this transcendent and creative wisdom that is incarnated in Jesus Christ (Col 1.1520). In Jesus Christ, the only Son of the Father, is revealed God's love for the world (Jn3.16). Wisdom as divine understanding is seen to subsist in the Son: " no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses to reveal him" (Mt 11.27). It is the knowledge that God has of Himself that the Son reveals: "No one has at any time seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has revealed him" (Jn 1.18). St. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, tells them that the deep things of God known only by the Spirit (1 Cor 2.1112) are the wisdom that is manifested in Christ: "From him you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us God-given wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Cor 1.30). The concern of the NT, like that of the OT, is not a natural theology but God's saving activity. Accordingly the divine knowledge to which they testify is essentially that which looks to salvation. Yet all these affirmations suppose and rest upon the fact: God truly knows.

Patristic Teaching. When one turns to the actual teaching of the gospel, he finds a new dimension with a radically new note not found in the Biblical affirmations. This dimension arises from the rational tradition that is so much a part of the Greco-Roman culture. Hence, from the beginning, the Greek Christian writers were called upon to make use of a variety of philosophical sources and elements in order to explain and defend the Christian revelation (see theology, influence of greek philosophy on). Thus, along with an extensive use of symbolism to explain the meaning of Christian revelation there is a consistent effort to establish a Christian philosophical notion of God and His actions. It is therefore in this context that the patristic teaching on God's knowledge must be set. For these Christian writers sought to establish and safeguard the spiritual nature, the holiness, and, above all, the supremacy of God through concepts appropriate to men trained in the schools of Greek philosophy.

The first note stressed in this teaching, which in turn forms the foundation for the divine knowledge, is what might be called the total supernaturality of God. G. L. Prestige thinks that "philosophically, this idea was expressed by the [Greek] word [symbol omitted]περοχή, which may fairly be translated transcendence" [God in Patristic Thought (London 1952) 25]. He points out that the word occurs in Irenaeus (Adversus. haereses 5.2.3; Patrologia Graeca 7:1127) but that its use is best illustrated in the Clementine Homilies: "He who would worship God ought before all else to know what is peculiar to the nature of God alone, which cannot pertain to another . This is peculiar to God, that He alone is, as the maker of all, so also the best of all. That which makes is indeed superior in power to that which is made; that which is boundless is superior in magnitude to that which is bounded; in respect of beauty, that which is comeliest; in respect of happiness, that which is most blessed; in respect of understanding, that which is most perfect. And in like manner in other respects He incomparably possesses transcendence" (Hom. clem. 10.9; cf. Prestige, 2526). This serves to illustrate the fundamental emphasis on the transcendent character of God's understanding and affirms the incomparable superiority of God over all that He has made.

The other general note in Greek Christian thought directly related to God's knowledge is the very heavy emphasis on His providence. For, while insisting on the divine transcendence, revelation also makes it clear that God is not remote from man but enters personally into his history. His nature, however, is revealed through His works and His providence (e.g., see Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autol. 1.5; Patrologia Graeca, 6:103031). In the explanation of this providential ordering there is strong emphasis on the notion of planning or designing. It is in this connection that the Greek word οκονομία (economy) plays a somewhat striking role. It undergoes in the Christian writers a gradual transformation from the simple meaning of administering or overseeing to planning or designing (cf. Prestige, 5762). Thus God economizes the affairs of the world, so that the man who realizes that God's providence rules the world knows that events come out for the best under the economy of the ruler (cf. Hom. clem. 2.36, Patrologia Graeca, 2:102; Clement of Alexandria, Strom. 3.17; Patrologia Graeca, 8:120508). In general, God's providence or economy involves His action in the world of nature, of human history, of salvation (see economy, divine). It finds its supreme expression in the incarnation, "for which, the word 'oekonomia,' without any verbal qualification, is the regular patristic term from the third century onwards" (Prestige, 67). Here can be seen how closely the notion of God's knowledge corresponds to the NT teaching.

Specifically, with regard to the divine knowledge, the basic Biblical teaching is constantly affirmed. God knows all that is and will be, and the whole measure and order of things is disposed in accord with His wisdom (see, e.g., Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 2.26.3, Patrologia Graeca, 7:801802; 2.30.9, Patrologia Graeca, 7:821823; Origen, Contra Celsum 2.30, Patrologia Graeca, 11:850851; Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechism 4.5, Patrologia Graeca, 33:459). However, in so affirming this, the Christian teachers were faced almost from the beginning by a problematic raised by the Gnostics. Some of the Gnostics would maintain that men are divided into different categories so that by their nature the spiritual will necessarily be saved, the earthly will necessarily be reprobated, and the psychic, who alone are unnecessitated, are alone free. Marcion, who wrote within the Christian framework itself, maintained that the God of the OT was distinct from the God revealed in the NT. On this basis Marcion held that the God of the Mosaic dispensation was arbitrary and unjust in His treatment of men, taking no account of their merits. Celsus, whose thought is the object of a major work by Origen, taught that if God has certain knowledge of man's future acts, then human freedom is not possible (cf. H. D. Simonin, OP, "La Prédestination d'après les pères grecs," Dictionnaire de théologie catholique 12.2:281532).

In the face of the issues raised by these heretical positions, there is found in the Fathers a constant defense both of God's foreknowledge of all human activity and of human freedom. Irenaeus sums up the basic problem: "But that which He said, 'how often have I desired to gather your sons and you would not,' demonstrates the ancient law of liberty, because God made man free from the beginning, having his own power even as his own soul to accept God's commands freely and not by compulsion" (Adversus haereses 4.37.1; Patrologia Graeca 7:1099). Scriptural texts in particular are interpreted to bring out this point. For example, Eusebius of Caesarea insists that the fact that God foreknew Judas would be a traitor does not force him to be such (Praep. evang. 6.11; Patrologia Graeca 21:491). John Chrysostom, interpreting the texts from Mt 18.7 and Lk 17.1 that it is necessary that scandals come, goes on to say that this does not take away free choice or liberty or subject life to necessity. For the fact that scandal is predicted is not what causes it to occur (see In Matt. hom. 59.1; Patrologia Graeca 58:573575). Augustine, dealing with predestination when he is writing against the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians, is forced to take up this point on a number of occasions. He affirms in general as well as in specific cases that what God foresees will be the future does not force that particular action to be done (Lib. arb. 3.4.11; Patrologia Latina 32:1276). In the case of Adam and Eve the cause of their fall is not the divine foreknowledge but their evil will (General ad literature 11.9.12; Patrologia Latina 34:434). God foresees, too, what is in our wills, but He does not take away free choice (Civ. 5.10.2; Patrologia Latina 41:153).

Carolingian Era. The whole question raised by Augustine comes to a head in the Carolingian era with the issues raised by Gottschalk (cf. É. Amman, L'Époque carolingienne, Histoire de l'église depuis les origines jusqu'à nos jours 6:320344). In an age when Augustine is the teacher par excellence, Gottschalk takes his ideas on predestination and presents them without their author's nuances or flexibility. It is also true that the Augustinian conceptions have already begun to be harshened under the influence of Isidore of Seville, but they now become the focus of a major conflict in the Carolingian world [cf. H. Rondet, Gratia Christi (Paris 1948) 170179]. For Gottschalk simply it is a fact that God predestines some to eternal life and they will not perish, and those not predestined to eternal life will perish; no question of merit or demerit or liberty appears to enter into his position.

In the controversy that follows upon this, all the great names of Carolingian theology are involvedHincmar, Rabanus Maurus, John Scotus Erigena, Florus of Lyons, and many others. Two councils are held, one under Hincmar at the royal residence at Quiercy and the other at Valence. The statements of these councils on the issue have a large role in the theological tradition that develops after them; in fact, for a good many modern theologians they have been looked upon as normative. One statement from the Council of Valence is particularly notable. It is largely a quotation from Florus of Lyons: "[We faithfully hold that] God foresees and has foreseen eternally both the good works that the good would do and the evil works that the evil would do . He has foreseen that thegood would be good entirely through His grace and would receive their reward through that grace, so also that the evil would be evil by their own malice and would be condemned by His justice to eternal punishment.But the foreknowledge of God has not placed on any evildoer a necessity whereby he could not be otherwise, but he was going to be by his own will just as God has foreseen in His omnipotent and unchangeable majesty"(H. Denzinger, Enchiridian symbolorum, 626627; cf. B. Lavaud, "La controverse sur la prédestination av XIIe siècle," Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 12.2: 290135). This statement may be taken as summing up the patristic response to the problematic that is so central to the whole matter of God's knowledge.

Systematic Theology. Revelation clearly affirms the fact that God knows. The task of systematic theology is to determine as far as it can what is to be understood by this revealed fact. It does this by bringing to bear on the revealed affirmation the psychological resources of a man who himself is able to know. It also employs the philosophic intelligence of the Church, since any treatment of knowledge and understanding implies a philosophic position. In the matter of divine knowledge, it should also be noted that the task is complex. For theology must show that God truly knows, but, in using man's knowledge as a resource in understanding, theology must not blur the explanation by excessive anthropomorphism [see anthropomorphism (in theology)]. Ultimately the act of divine knowledge must be reducible to the pure act of being.

Man's Knowing. Beginning with man's own experience of knowing, what stands out is the fact that in some way man as knower enters into a special relationship with objects other than himself. For the fact is that the knowledge of an object is the presence of the object in thought. The act of knowing appears to grasp the very nature of the object without modifying that object in its own actuality. Yet, in comprehending the object thought does not cease to be thought. Intelligence grasps the idea of a tree or a stone but does not itself become a tree or stone in actuality. Moreover, while the object known and the concept and judgments about it determine the content of knowledge, they are not the only element of knowledge. For there are operations of the central reality that is intelligence itself in action. Thus there is the reflexive consciousness of this knowledge, whereby the knower understands that it is knowledge and is conscious of this central operation of understanding; hence the capacity to reflect upon what he knows and relate it to the rest of what he knows. Finally, this act of knowledge is immanent in the one knowing since it takes place only in the subject, for the act by which the object exists in his thought is the very act by which he knowsthe understanding in act is the intelligible in act.

The root of this capacity to know is immateriality. In material things the coming of a new form means the disappearance of the previous form. It is the very possibility of this kind of change that is called matter, since change here means a loss of integrity. To know, on the other hand, means to be another in some way, yet retain integrity of being. St. Thomas, as the general scholastic tradition, explains this capacity by the use of the term species, which has been translated modernly as "knowledge-likeness" [cf. Summa Theologiae, v.4, Knowledge in God, tr. T. Gornall, SJ (New York 1964) 17]. This means that the object is present in thought "intentionally," that is, by reason of its form (that which makes it to be what it is) and with nothing of materiality. To know, therefore, means that the object known exists intentionally (as in contradistinction to actually) in the mind of the knower, or in an intelligible mode of existence. This is possible because intelligibility is present in all things; in the common Christian philosophical and theological tradition this follows from the very fact of creation. Because God has created all things, then the universe in its every part is a participation in God the supreme intelligible.

God's Knowing. It is in the light of this conception of knowledge that the general Catholic theological tradition stemming from St. Thomas has treated of the divine knowledge. It recognizes that in the created way in which man is knower and knows there is the knower not only in act but also in potency. It is also evident that the thing known is in potency as well as in act. Yet, it is maintained that this distinction arises not from the nature of knowing but because the act of knowing takes place in a creature, man. Knowing of itself is essentially act or perfection, and potency is not necessary to knowing. The more perfectly actualized, therefore, the more perfectly intelligible. The more potency is negated, the more closely identified are understanding and the thing understood. In God, as totally perfect and pure actuality, there is no potency; hence essence, intellect, understanding are all one and the same. "Since, therefore, God has no potentiality but is pure actuality, in Him intellect and what is known must be identical in every way" (Summa Theologiae 1a, 14.2). Further, since there is no form in God distinct from His existence, then it follows that His essence is the very way in which God knows. Necessarily, then, God's act of knowing is His essence and His very being ("ipsum eius intelligere sit eius essentia et eius esse" Summa Theologiae 1a, 14.4). In sum, what is argued is that God is an infinite, eternal, and substantial act of understanding [cf. B. Lonergan, SJ, "The Concept of Verbum in the Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas," Theological Studies 10 (1949) 359393].

Objects of Divine Knowledge. What traditionally have been called the secondary objects of divine knowledge may now be considered. By reason of the fact that God knows Himself perfectly (since His very being is His act of knowledge), then He knows His own power perfectly. This divine power, in turn, extends to other things by the very fact that it is the first efficient cause of all things. God, accordingly, knows things other than Himself, and He knows them immediately and specifically, not successively and generically. God also knows evil. While evil is a privation, an absence of good, yet because God knows all goods perfectly He knows that some of them will suffer corruption because of evils. So, through the very fact of knowing good, God also knows evil. God also knows individuals, and this again stems from His causality. For God's knowledge is coextensive with His causality. "He knows other things through His essence insofar as [His essence] is the likeness of all things as their productive principle; therefore, his essence must be the sufficient principle for knowing all things made through it not only in their universal nature but in their individuality" (Summa Theologiae 1a, 14.11). Finally God can know not only those things that actually exist or have existed but all that can be produced either by Himself or by creatures. Traditionally this is called the science of simple intelligence (scientia simplicis intelligentiae ), i.e., the certain knowledge of all possible participations of the divine essence. Once again this is a consequence of the proposition that the divine essence, through which the divine intellect knows, is the adequate likeness of everything that is or can be, both with regard to common principles and what is proper to each individual.

Divine Knowledge of the Future. A distinct place has been given to this matter of God's knowledge of the future because of the extensive theological controversy that has centered on it since the 16th century. As was seen above, the Christian Fathers were quite conscious of the problem of God's knowledge of the future, predestination, and human liberty. By way of a solution, basically, they had simply insisted that there was no incompatibility. In the 16th century, however, as a result of the Calvinist preaching, the question of predestination and God's foreknowledge becomes a central issue. For what is involved is man's free participation in God's salutary activity. This Calvinist preaching is made particularly acute by the teaching of baius (cf. H. Rondet, 287293). The polemical exigencies, in the end, make inescapable the Catholic theological controversy. Any study of this Catholic controversy makes it clear that there is no question that God knows all future events. What is in question is the mode of knowing future contingents, and, in particular, future contingents that are dependent on the exercise of free choice by man. As the controversy originates, both sides rest their case on the interpretation of St. Thomas. The basic article (Summa Theologiae 1a, 14.13) looks to showing that the divine knowledge of the future contingents is quite different from man's. Man can only foresee these conjecturally because he only knows them in their causes. God, on the other hand, knows these future contingents not only in their causes but in their existence. Hence, while contingents come into existence for men successively, God, who transcends time, knows them at once because His knowledge is measured by eternity. "All things that are in time are eternally present to God because He eternally surveys all things as they are in their presence to Him" (Summa Theologiae 1a, 14.13).

The problematic of the divine knowledge of the future as it came to the fore in the 16th century was in part the necessary consequence of a more immediate problem. The actual issue, as raised by the reformed preaching (and given immediacy by the teaching of Baius), was the relationship of divine grace and human liberty. Faced with this issue, the Dominican tradition had tended to respond by giving primacy to the omnipotence of the divine will. Contrariwise, directly confronted with the Calvinist preachers and the followers of Baius, the Jesuits had tended to stress human liberty.

It is these two basically related emphases that are brought into controversial confrontation by the ascendancy of Domingo Báñez to the leadership of the Dominican tradition at Salamanca in 1577. Basically, and at the risk of oversimplification, one may say that Báñez and the Thomistic tradition he gives rise to understand St. Thomas as teaching that God knows all future contingents in their causes inasmuch as they are determined by Himself, the first cause [cf. D. Báñez, Scholastica commentaria in primam partem Summae Theologiae s. Thomae (Madrid 1934) 351]. It is in the light of this principle that the subsequent Bañezian interpretation would seek to interpret the key statement of St. Thomas: "The divine knowledge must be regarded as the cause of things when taken in conjunction with His will" (Summa Theologiae 1a, 14.8). In this statement Bañezians would see St. Thomas as maintaining that the divine will must intervene if the purely possible is, in any sense, to become a future. So viewed, there can be no science of vision, no knowledge of what will be or might be unless the divine will decrees it to be. This decree cannot be a mere matter of execution; it must be a matter of determinationi.e., a predetermining decree (see predetermination). Only in this way can the merely possible become the future in any sense. In this framework liberty is preserved by making it have its source in man's judgmentthe choice of means. The actuality or the efficacy of the act, however, must come from God; this is the physical premotion. In this view, the unchangeable design of God does not bear on man's judgment and so does not destroy his liberty (see bÁÑez and baÑezianism).

This basic position as formulated by Báñez very quickly was brought into direct confrontation with the Jesuit teaching in Spain. The first confrontation was at a public disputation in Valladolid in 1582. From this point on debates took place all over Spain. Louvain was involved, the Inquisition in both Portugal and Spain was called on, and finally the controversy was brought to Rome (cf. E. Vansteenberghe, "Molinisme," Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 10.2: 20942101; 215466). In the midst of this theological turmoil the Concordia of Luis de molina appeared after much opposition, particularly by Báñez. As a result, it contained an extensive appendix defending the author's work against the critique of Báñez.

Molina had been assigned to comment on the first part of St. Thomas's Summa. In this task he had concentrated on the endeavor to reconcile human liberty, divine foreknowledge, providence, and predestination. The key to his whole conception is what he calls middle science (scientia media). As does every Catholic theologian, Molina accepts as indisputable the fact that the futurible (the hypothetical future) is an object of the divine knowledge. In the Bañezian conception these futuribles are a highly secondary issue to the future contingent. Molina, however, makes them a central element in his solution of the question since they are the object of the middle science. The question is: how are such hypothetical futures to be known by God? Molina is convinced that if these futuribles and future free contingents depend from a divine decree then human liberty is inconceivable. Consequently, he looks for another way, and this way is precisely signified by the term middle science. For Molina and those who follow him the divine knowledge of future contingents has, as it were, three stages, or moments. First, by natural science, or the science of simple intelligence, God knows all possibles. So He knows all that a given free agent placed in any possible condition will do. Second, by middle science God knows what any free agent would do if set in such and such a situation with such and such assistance, in a determined set of circumstances. These are the futuribles, the hypothetical futures. Finally, God decides to actualize a particular order of things. In this order are verified the circumstances and conditions already foreseen through the middle science. And so since God knows what this free agent would do, if placed in these circumstances, and then by a simple executive decree He actualizes a particular order, He knows infallibly what the free agent will do. This is free knowledge, or the science of vision. It is the contention of those who uphold this basic position that it preserves God's causal primacy since nothing in fact exists until God decrees it. Yet liberty is also safeguarded since the decree does not bear on man's free determination but only on the realization of a particular order and circumstances (see molinism).

The length of this article allows only for a bare statement of each position. It forbids any lengthy discussion of the very rigorous criticism that has been leveled by each side in the controversy, as well as the vigorous, if sometimes violent, defenses that have been undertaken by the proponents of the positions. For a bibliography one may consult E. Vansteenberghe's article on Molinism noted above. To be noted also is the fact that within the general Bañezian and Molinistic positions there are divergences and many carefully nuanced variations. So, for example, Suárez does not accept a number of the conclusions put forth by Molina. Accepting the middle science, Suárez nonetheless differs very strongly on the presentiality of future contingents. He also demands much more of determination with regard to the future contingents than Molina allows and is sharply critical of Molina in this regard (cf. Opuscula 2.7.3). Within the Bañezian tradition divergences can also be found, as well as efforts, in the general Thomistic tradition, to reconcilein such theologians as L. Billot and J. Van der Meersch in their tracts on the one God [J. Van der Meersch, De Deo uno et trino (2d ed. Bruges 1928); L. Billot, De Deo uno et trino (7th ed. Rome 1926)].

Contemporarily there has been a good deal of dissatisfaction with the focus of the controversy and its results. There is a tendency to judge the elements of the controversy as sifting down from too rigid an approach and the controversy itself as having been conducted on too narrow and too unhistoric a level. The genetic study of the thought of St. Thomas set in its actual historical context has given rise to a critical reevaluation of both the issues and the answers traditionally formulated. And so, B. Lonergan, SJ, believes that the Bañezian system runs counter to a whole body of doctrine and texts in St. Thomas [cf. "St. Thomas's Theory of Operation," Theological Studies 3 (1942) 387389; "St. Thomas's Thought on Gratia operans, " ibid. 565]. Lonergan would also maintain that the synthesis of St. Thomas himself demands instrumental cooperation rather than predetermination. He argues " the Molinist lacks the speculative acumen to make his grace leave the will instrumentally subordinate to divine activity. But the Bañezian has exactly the same speculative blind-spot: because he cannot grasp that the will is truly an instrument by the mere fact that God causes the will of the end " (ibid. 577). As Lonergan sees it, there is a failure on both sides to understand properly the position of St. Thomas on the divine transcendence (cf. ibid. 578). It is criticisms such as this that have inclined a number of others to restudy the whole question and to reduce its proportionate importance in the theological study of the divine nature[e.g., J. Farrelly, OSB, Predestination, Grace and Free Will (Westminster MD 1964); W. G. Most, Novum tentamen ad solutionem de gratia et praedestinatione (Rome 1963)].

For the believing Christian divine knowledge also implies Trinitarian doctrine and theology. Only through revelation is it possible to see that while much of the fact of God's knowledge can be formulated in the natural light of reason, some understanding of the full meaning and depth of this knowledge requires a knowledge of the Trinity. Here, it is affirmed that while God is an eternal subsistent act of understanding and each of the Divine Persons is the same act of understanding, yet only the Father understands as uttering the Word, His only begotten Son (cf. Summa Theologiae 1a, 34.1 ad 3;34.2 ad 4).

See Also: congregatio de auxiliis; free will; free will and grace; grace, articles on; grace, controversies on; providence of god (theology of); will of god.

Bibliography: a. michel, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 14.2:15981620. o. semmelroth, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 1:356358. p. descoqs, Praelectiones theologiae naturalis, 2 v. (Paris 193238). w. f. dewan, The One God (Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1963). p. dumont, Liberté humaine concours divin d'après Suárez (Paris 1936). r. garrigou-lagrange, The One God, tr. b. rose (St. Louis 1943); Providence, tr. b. rose (St. Louis 1937); Predestination, tr. b. rose (St. Louis 1939). f. genuyt, Le Mystère de Dieu (Paris 1963). john of st. thomas, Cursus theologicus II (Quebec 1948) 419684. r. jolivet, The God of Reason, tr. m. pontifex (New York 1958). b. g. murchland, ed. and tr., God Among Men (Notre Dame, IN 1960).

[e. m. burke]


views updated May 29 2018


Omniscience concerns God's (a priori) knowledge about the course of people's lives. More generally, it concerns God's knowledge about the whole course of history, including the future. This appears in that aspect of prophetical literature that expresses itself in a forecasting style, which, in turn, rests upon divine foreknowledge.

In the biblical literature, knowledge of the future is a distinctive characteristic of God over against pseudo-gods. In Christian theology, the notion of omniscience refers to the property by which God knows all past, present, and future things and all events, including all their circumstances and boundary conditions. Omniscience encompasses both the actual and possible things and events in past and present, but it includes knowledge of the possibilities that will be actualized as well as those that will not be actualized. Divine knowledge is therefore perfect as absolutely true. But characteristic of divine omniscience is also its immediate (intuitive) nature: It will never be discursive by means of any mediating epistemological process of experience and deduction.

The classical notion of divine omniscience states that God knows all events in past, present, and future simultaneouslyin one perspective, from the eternal (timeless) stance outside of time. Therefore, God knows all things "from eternity" at once because this knowledge transcends every temporal order, including that of its epistemological object, for example, the temporal course of the historical process, as discussed by the Roman philosopher Boethius (c. 480524) and the Christian theologians Augustine of Hippo (354430) and Thomas Aquinas (c. 12251274). Boethius's metaphor describes the all-knowing God outside time like a person who stands on the top of a mountain and sees what happens along the road in the valley. That person sees, as it were, simultaneously the past, the present, and the future of people walking along the road. A similar type of simultaneity was also defended by Wolfhart Pannenberg (1928). Within omniscience one distinguishes a scientia necessaria (knowledge about God and about all possibilities) and a scientia libera sive visionis (complete knowledge or vision of actual reality in past, present, and future).

One conceptual difficulty of this interpretation of divine omniscience concerns its epistemological range: Is experiential or existential knowing possible for an intuitively knowing God? Another difficulty: Is knowledge of a nonexistent future real knowledge? Knowledge of the future is conceivable in an atemporal ontology, but that makes time-experiences illusionary. Apart from that, such a reality seems to be determined because of the co-existence of past, present, and future. How is human freedom related to God's eternal knowledge of it? Is human moral responsibility in such a reality a real option? So-called incompatibilists will answer in the negative: Absolute timeless divine foreknowledge is incompatible with human freedom. Therefore, some of them argue against absolute foreknowledge whereas others use it against human freedom. Compatibilists will answer in the affirmative: Human freedom and absolute foreknowledge are compatible. Some of them will argue that there are alternative interpretations of a scientia media (middle or consequent knowledge about what each creature would freely do in any possible situation) that might solve the problem of compatibility.

See also God


craig, william lane. the only wise god: the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. grand rapids, mich.: baker book house, 1987.

fischer, john martin, ed. god, foreknowledge, and freedom. stanford, calif.: stanford university press, 1989.

kvanvig, jonathan l. the possibility of an all-knowing god. houndmills, uk: macmillan, 1986.

pike, nelson. "a latter-day look at the foreknowledge problem." international journal for philosophy of religion 33 (1993): 129164.

swinburne, richard. (1993). the coherence of theism. oxford: oxford university press, 1993.

zagzebski, linda trinkaus. the dilemma of freedom and foreknowledge. new york: oxford university press, 1991.

luco j. van den brom


views updated Jun 27 2018

477. Omniscience

  1. Ea shrewd god; knew everything in advance. [Babylonian Myth.: Gilgamesh ]
  2. God knows all: past, present, and future. [Christianity and Judaism: NCE, 10981099]
  3. Santa Claus he knows who has been bad or good. [Western Folklore: Misc.]
  4. Sphinx ancient Egyptian symbol of all-knowingness. [Heraldry: Halberts, 38]