Appeared in Fall 1993, Vol. XIX, No. 2,3
Thomas aquinas in his Commentary on the Gospel of John reflects on the above passage by stating that “. . . God is his ‘to be’ … therefore the knowledge by which God is seen through creatures is not of his essence itself but obscure and in a mirror and from afar off.”1 Indeed, Thomas follows up this by referring to a favorite focus of his, the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius the areopagite.2 In this regard Thomas says we do not know what God is. Rather, as taught in the above-mentioned commentary as well as in the Summa theologiae,3 we can know that God is (Deum esse) and what he is not. Thus, we can know God through his effects because he is their cause, but his essence remains hidden. We can only know creatures because their essence is not their “to be” (esse). Instead, each creature has its “to be,” possesses it by participation. As participating in God as causal ground of all finite “to be,” creatures are thereby mirrors of God, an obscurity or darkness of God, which as the Commentary on the Gospel of John declares, is nonetheless a light (lux) or manifestation (manifestatio) of God.4
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