God knows creation into being

Anselm’s Theology of the Possible, part 9

In the previous post I interpreted Anselm as teaching that for God creation is less like the technicist’s or engineer’s knowing-then-making, but the artist’s knowing-through-making. Some important qualifications to this need to be made and objections answered.

The way this view is most likely to be misinterpreted is that it effectively puts God in the position of “learning” or “discovering” creation as something he was previously ignorant of. My first reply is that the charge that this makes God having to “learn” or “discover” something is inapplicable because the whole point of this reading of Anselm is to say that, apart from God’s intention to create, there is literally nothing “there” for God to learn (just as, according to the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, apart from God’s act of creation there is literally nothing “there” out of which he creates). The whole notion of God “learning” and “discovering” presupposes the very possibilist framework that I am here arguing that Anselm rejects: God can only “learn” what is in some sense already there as a divine possible-to-be-known. I am arguing from Anselm, however, that God’s creative, sovereign knowledge is such that it brings into being the very possibility of discovering or learning itself.

Furthermore, it needs to be said that God’s knowing-through-making is obviously not a “learning” insofar as, prior to his creative determination of the very possibilities of creation, God still knows creation “eminently” or “virtually” (as Aquinas puts it) by knowing himself in his Son and through the Spirit. To interpret this model, therefore, as saying that God therefore “learns” or “discovers” something he was previously ignorant of is to be guilty of construing the possibilities of creation as something that exists above, beyond, or in addition to God himself. Again, it is to impugn the very doctrine of divine aseity in knowledge that it portends to defend. Put simply, it is not the above reading of Anselm that makes God learn or discover things, but the critic. Far from God’s creative knowing-through-making being guilty of turning God into the divine learner, it is the only real alternative to it.  

Finally, having said all that, I do think there is a deep inconsistency in the mainstream theological tradition that leads it to balk at the idea of God knowing the possibility of his creation in and through his intention and act of creating (as I have been defining it), but which, on the other hand, is fine with the idea of God going from not creating a world he was able to create to him actually creating that world. If God, however, can go from not creating a world that he can create to actually creating it without there being an “increase” in God’s activity or actuality, then there can be no objection to God going from knowing himself in his infinite fullness to his creatively knowing this particular creation without there being any “increase” in his knowledge. If God’s power and actuality, in other words, can contain virtually or eminently his power to create a given world without his actually creating it, then God’s knowledge of himself can contain virtually or eminently his power to create that same world without his actually knowing it (i.e., knowing it in a determinate, worked-out sort of way). To put it slightly differently still, just as God does not create a thing out of some pre-existing material but rather from nothing, so God does not come to know his creation out of a prior state of ignorance, but he knows it “from nothing.” God’s knowledge is a creative knowledge: he knows things into being.

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