Skip to main content

Knowledge, Connatural


Knowledge through connaturality is an act of the intellect and is, like other forms of knowledge, an immanent activity whereby the knowing subject goes out and mingles in the life of others without ceasing to be himself. Unlike the rational, discursive knowledge characteristic of the sciences and philosophy, however, connatural knowledge is not achieved primarily through concepts and by way of demonstration. It is rather a knowledge resulting from an interaction between sensitivity and affectivity, intellect and will, knowing and loving. It is thus a type of knowledge caused in some way by the unitive tendencies of man's appetites, in particular his rational appetite, or will. As knowledge, it is essentially an act of the intellect; as connatural, it involves appetite and will. Because it is a mode of knowing involving desire as well as intellect, it is a highly personal act, evidencing in the concrete that knowing is an act of the whole man, of a person, who knows through his intellect but whose knowledge is affected, at times intrinsically, by noncognitive factors. Again, unlike rational, discursive knowledge, connatural knowledge is directed to the concrete individual, not to the abstract universal.

History. This type of knowledge, which is perhaps best illustrated in the saying from the Imitation of Christ (1.1), "I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it," has a rich philosophical heritage. Aristotle implicitly recognized it when he distinguished between the rational, scientific knowledge of moral questions and the knowledge of these questions based on virtuous habits within the person, maintaining that in moral matters virtue is more certain than science (Eth. Nic. 1143b 1113) and that "virtue and the good man are as such the measure of each thing" (ibid. 1176a 17). Connatural knowledge was implied also by pseudo-dionysius, who maintained that the spiritual man knows divine things not only because he has learned them but also because he "suffers" them.

The medieval schoolmen did not work out explicit theories of connatural knowledge, but they recognized it as a genuine mode of knowing. The discussions of man's moral conduct and his spiritual life, particularly in St. thomas aquinas, suggest the lines along which a more formal analysis of this type of knowledge can be developed. Aside from the Renaissance commentators on St. Thomas, in particular john of st. thomas, philosophers of the modern period paid little attention to this mode of human knowledge. The emphasis on inter-subjectivity in recent existential and phenomenological thought has helped redirect inquiry into this subject. Interest in it is reflected in J. H. Newman's distinction between notional and real knowledge, a distinction further elaborated by M. Blondel, and in H. Bergson's opposition of the knowledge characteristic of scientific inquiry to that achieved in intuition. The question of connatural knowledge has engaged a number of contemporary Thomists, particularly in discussions of ethical and aesthetic questions. Among those who have given much thought to this subject are T. Gilby, J. P. rousselot, R. O. Johann, B. Miller, and, in particular, J. Maritain.

Connaturality. The connatural is whatever is fitting to or in accord with nature (Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 26.1 ad 3). It refers to a linking or union of two natures (and is thus distinct from the natural), and it is a linking that springs from something intrinsic to the natures involved. Knowledge is itself a nature, and, as a nature, is distinct from the nature of the knowing subject. Yet it is fitting for man to know; this act is "in accord" with his nature. Thus, in a loose sense, one can say that knowledge itself is connatural to man. Moreover, one can apply the term connatural to whatever is fitting or proper either to the act of knowing itself, or to the faculties of knowledge, e.g., the intellect, or to the agent or subject of knowledge, the human person. Thus it is connatural for man's knowledge to be objective and to be derived from the senses: in this sense the term connatural is predicated of the act of knowledge as such. Again, acts of knowing, even in the speculative order, become con-natural to a person whose intellect has been strengthened through habits or virtues inclining him to judge easily in certain areas of judgment. In this way one who has acquired the speculative habit of mathematics, for example, is connaturalized to making judgments in mathematical questions. This is a type of connatural knowledge called by Maritain an intellective mode, one "by way of knowledge."

The type of knowledge usually referred to as connatural is knowledge through affective inclination, a knowledge wherein the connaturality influences not only the manner in which knowledge takes place but also what is known. It is a knowledge wherein "love passes into the condition of the object," as John of St. Thomas put it (Curs. theol. In 1am2ae, It is the type of knowledge characteristic of the good man in his judgments of moral questions, of the mystic with regard to divine things, of the artist with respect to his work. Connatural knowledge in the strict sense, then, refers to judgments that are based not "on the perfect use of reason," but rather on an inclination or affinity of the knowing subject to the object known, an inclination caused by affective factors within the knower (cf. ST 1a, 1.6 ad 3; 1a2ae, 68.1 ad 4; 2a2ae, 45.23).

Knowledge and Love. To see how knowledge through affective connaturality takes place, it is necessary to consider the relation between knowledge and desire and the effect of love on knowledge. The intellect itself is an appetite: it has a native desire or inclination for perfect union with beingfor the concrete, the individual, the whole substanceand for a union greater than that attainable through concepts and discursive thought. The need for discourse reveals the imperfection of man's intellect and of his inability to grasp reality in an allembracing intuitive vision. His intellect, moreover, has an elicited appetite, the will, which goes out to the goods presented by reason and draws him to things even more than does reason (cf. ST 1a2ae, 22.2). The object known is present to the intellect as a representation existing in a spiritual way, as an intentional species joining intellect to thing. But this is not enough for love; "in the intellect the object is present in a specific likeness, but in the will as a motive principle" (C. gent. 4.19), or, as Gilby puts it, objects are present to the intellect as meanings, but they are present to the will as magnetic forces (35).

There is, then, pressure on the intellect, both by reason of its native drive and by reason of the love it elicits, to a closer union with the real, with being. Intellect and will are spiritual powers of the same person; and because they are spiritual, they "mutually contain each other" (ST 1a, 16.4 ad 1) and interact. Not only does the will act on the intellect as an efficient cause, moving it to acts of knowledge, but it also acts on the intellect as a formal cause, intrinsically modifying the act of knowledge. As St. Thomas says, "the lover is not content with a superficial knowledge, but strives to enter into everything that belongs to the beloved"; he does not rest with an external and superficial attachment, but longs for a perfect and intimate possession (ST 1a2ae, 28.2). In this interaction of intellect and will, there is built up within the knowing subject, the person, an inclination or connaturality toward the object of his affections. Even his love can be said to discern "by causing discernment in the reason" (ST 2a2ae, 47.1 ad 1).

This type of knowledge is well described in the words of John of St. Thomas: "Love experiences its object with a sort of loving taste . In this way the one loving takes on the very condition of his object, that is, through the effective experience the object is rendered more conformed, more proportioned and united to the person, more suitable to him. For this reason the intellect is carried toward the object as something experienced, as brought into agreement with it" (Curs. theol. In 1am2ae, Because the object of connatural knowledge is so attuned, as it were, to the knowing subject, the type of knowledge achieved is in some ways similar to one's knowledge of oneself. And one's self-knowledge is not essentially dependent on concepts or representations: "For the mind to attend to itself a representation is not necessary. It is enough that the essence of the soul is present to the mind and is perceived through its activity" (De ver. 10.8). Representations and concepts are conditions, antecedents, and byproducts of one's consciousness of oneself, but are not formal constituents of self-knowledge itself (cf. ST 1a, 87.1).

The same reasoning is analogously true of man's knowledge of things through affective connaturality, as illustrated by the chaste man's knowledge of chastity, by a father's loving knowledge of his son, by a mystic's knowledge of God, by the poet's knowledge of his art. As knowledge, connaturality pertains to the intellect, but as connatural it introduces noncognitive factors and shows the truth of the Thomistic dictum that it is man, a person, who knows, not a disembodied intellect.

See Also: knowledge; judgment; first principles; synderesis.

Bibliography: b. miller, The Range of Intellect (London 1961). t. gilby, The Poetic Experience (New York 1934). r. o. johann, The Meaning of Love (Westminster, Md. 1955). j. maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (New York 1955); Distinguish to Unite, or The Degrees of Knowledge, tr. g. b. phelan (New York 1959); The Range of Reason (New York 1952). a. hayen, L'Ordre philosophique de Saint Thomas, v.2 of La Communication de l'être d'aprés Saint Thomas d'Aquin (Paris 1957 ).

[w. e. may]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Knowledge, Connatural." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . 17 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Knowledge, Connatural." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . (August 17, 2018).

"Knowledge, Connatural." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 17, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.