This is in response to Adam Greenwood’s post titled “Revelation: A Syllogism” in which, and in the comments, he argues that revelation can’t be perfect, since men are so limited in what they can know relative to God. Based on this, and on a prior discussion I had with Adam, I understand his position to be that God must necessarily, in a sense, falsify revelation to us; which is not to say he lies, but that he doesn’t give us “the whole truth”, but must simplify and omit many things, so that we end up with an incomplete and possibly distorted picture of the truth. (If I misrepresent Adam’s point it’s unintentional and I welcome correction.)
I argued in the comments to Adam’s post, that the fact that we can’t know and grasp the whole truth, doesn’t necessarily mean that the picture we receive from God’s revelation is in any way a false picture of reality. You can have a true picture of reality, even if that picture is incomplete. I gave the example of an ant walking on a globe: He may not be able to have knowledge of the whole globe (assuming for the sake of argument that he can have knowledge at all). Nevertheless, the knowledge that he has of the part of the globe on which he walks, could be totally true, notwithstanding that it’s incomplete.
Not knowing that Aquinas had covered this topic, I was pleasantly surprised to come across the following in my daily reading of a tiny part of the Summa:
Article 1. Whether any created intellect can see the essence of God?
It seems that no created intellect can see the essence of God.
On the contrary, It is written: “We shall see Him as He is” (1 John 2:2).
I answer that, Since everything is knowable according as it is actual, God, Who is pure act without any admixture of potentiality, is in Himself supremely knowable. But what is supremely knowable in itself, may not be knowable to a particular intellect, on account of the excess of the intelligible object above the intellect; as, for example, the sun, which is supremely visible, cannot be seen by the bat by reason of its excess of light.
Therefore some who considered this, held that no created intellect can see the essence of God. This opinion, however, is not tenable. For as the ultimate beatitude of man consists in the use of his highest function, which is the operation of his intellect; if we suppose that the created intellect could never see God, it would either never attain to beatitude, or its beatitude would consist in something else beside God; which is opposed to faith. For the ultimate perfection of the rational creature is to be found in that which is the principle of its being; since a thing is perfect so far as it attains to its principle. Further the same opinion is also against reason. For there resides in every man a natural desire to know the cause of any effect which he sees; and thence arises wonder in men. But if the intellect of the rational creature could not reach so far as to the first cause of things, the natural desire would remain void.
Hence it must be absolutely granted that the blessed see the essence of God.
Then he says in response to an objection, “[I]t does not follow that He cannot be known at all, but that He exceeds every kind of knowledge; which means that He is not comprehended.”
Thus the key word for St. Thomas seems to be “comprehend”. We can know God, but can’t comprehend, i.e. fully grasp him. However we can know the part that we can grasp: not that “He cannot be known at all, but that He exceeds every kind of knowledge”. An eight-ounce cup can’t contain a gallon of water, but it can contain as much of the water as will fill it; and the water it contains is true water.