The format of the following discussion by Thomas Aquinas on whether God can be known in this life by natural reason excludes a close exegetical examination of passages from God's Word in the Bible. The few passages referred to are taken out of context in violation of the normative rules of language, context and logic and are simply quoted inferring support of one point or another when in fact they do not support any of the points made when examined via normative rules of language, content & logic.

These relatively few passages are not explained, nor is their context established. Proof is not offered that they support what is maintained.

Thus we must conclude that Thomas Aquinas is examining whether or not man's reasoning can arrive at some understanding about God without properly consulting the reasoning of God on the matter in the Bible. This is tantamount to assuming that the premise is true in order to prove the premise, which is faulty circular reasoning.]



"Whether God can be known in this life by natural reason?


Objection 1: It seems that by natural reason we cannot know God in this life. For Boethius says (De Consol. v) that "reason does not grasp simple form." But God is a supremely simple form, as was shown above (Question [3], Article [7]). Therefore natural reason cannot attain to know Him.

Objection 2: Further, the soul understands nothing by natural reason without the use of the imagination. But we cannot have an imagination of God, Who is incorporeal. Therefore we cannot know God by natural knowledge.

Objection 3: Further, the knowledge of natural reason belongs to both good and evil, inasmuch as they have a common nature. But the knowledge of God belongs only to the good; for Augustine says (De Trin. i): "The weak eye of the human mind is not fixed on that excellent light unless purified by the justice of faith." Therefore God cannot be known by natural reason.


'''On the contrary, It is written (Rm. 1:19), "That which is known of God," namely, what can be known of God by natural reason, "is manifest in them." '''

[Biblical perspective]

And if you continue reading in this passage you will find that the phrase, 'that which is known of God', is rejected by man and thus not reasoned through naturally by him as true. On the contrary, it is reasoned through by man and rejected:

a) [Ro 1:21-23]:

(v. 21) "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

(v. 22) Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

(v. 23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."

[Notice that 'although they knew God....their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened' and they believed otherwise.

So as a result of their 'foolish hearts' becoming darkened and their 'futile' thinking, the information was rejected that proved out Who God is. Thus the minds of man are futile and darkened in their reasoning, unable to come to an acceptance and thus an understanding of spiritual truths]

[Aquinas, cont.]

"I answer that, Our natural knowledge begins from sense. Hence our natural knowledge can go as far as it can be led by sensible things.

[Biblical perspective]:

There is such a thing as abstract thought that extends beyond the reception of the senses.]


"But our mind cannot be led by sense so far as to see the essence of God; because the sensible effects of God do not equal the power of God as their cause.

Hence from the knowledge of sensible things the whole power of God cannot be known; nor therefore can His essence be seen. But because they are His effects and depend on their cause, we can be led from them so far as to know of God "whether He exists," and to know of Him what must necessarily belong to Him, as the first cause of all things, exceeding all things caused by Him."

[Biblical perspective]:

As investigated in Ro 1:20-23, Scripture indicates that man naturally denies the existence of God.

Here are some more passages which teach total depravity:

b) [Gen 8:21b]:

"The intent of man's heart is evil from his youth."

[Notice that it is the intent of man's heart which blocks his understanding of revelation from God. Ro 1:21-23 corroborates this:

i) [Compare Ro 1:21-23]:

(v. 21) "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

(v. 22) Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

(v. 23) and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles."

c) [Lk 18:19]:

" 'Why do you call Me good? Jesus answered. 'No one is good - except God alone. ' "

[Only God is good - man is totally depraved and cannot reason his way to revelation from God, nor do any good]

d) [Job 14:1-4]:

(v. 1) "Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.

[This speaks of ALL men, not just some]

(v. 2) He springs up like a flower and withers away; like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.

(v. 3) Do You [God, (cp. v. 5)] fix Your eye on such a one? Will You bring him before You for judgment?

(v. 4) Who can bring what is pure from the impure? No one!

e) [Eccl. 7:20]:

"There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins."

f) [Jer 17:9]:

"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.

Who can understand it?"

[Note: the heart = the mind. The deceitful mind will not accept spiritual truth]

g) [Ps 51:5]:

"Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me."

[King David of Israel and by application all mankind. Thus all men are sinful at conception. This does not exclude the mind where sinful actions are conceived thus contamination man's ability to reason his way to spiritual truth.]

h) [Ro 8:6-8]:

(v. 6) "The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;

[Notice that the mind of sinful man's reason is dead, i.e., unable to discern spiritual truths. But the mind controlled by the Spirit, i.e., the mind of the believer who submits to the control of the Holy Spirit "is life and peace", and thus can discern spiritual truths.]

(v. 7) the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.

(v. 8) Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God."

[Notice that the sinful mind cannot submit to God's law, nor please God with belief in spiritual truths.]

i) [Isa 64:6]:

"For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment, and all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away."]

[Aquinas, cont.]

"Hence we know that His relationship with creatures so far as to be the cause of them all; also that creatures differ from Him, inasmuch as He is not in any way part of what is caused by Him; and that creatures are not removed from Him by reason of any defect on His part, but because He superexceeds them all.

Reply to Objection 1:

Reason cannot reach up to simple form, so as to know "what it is"; but it can know "whether it is."

Reply to Objection 2:

God is known by natural knowledge through the images of His effects.

[Biblical perspective]:

See above examination of Ro 1:20-23 which indicates that by natural knowledge man denies the existence of God.

j) [Luke 10:22]:

"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."

[Notice that regardless of revelation from God and man's reason, "No one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."]

k) [Compare Mt 16:16-17]:

(v. 16) '''Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

(v. 17) Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven." '''

Notice that it took a special revelation to Peter by the Father in order to receive this information. Thus this infers the possibility that man cannot receive godly revelation without God's supernatural intervention which overrides man's depraved mind.

l) [Compare Jn 6:63-65]:

(v. 63) ''' "The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.

(v. 64) Yet there are some of you who do not believe." For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.

(v. 65) He went on to say, "This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him." '''

[Notice that in order for man to even express a moment of faith in Jesus, God the Father has to enable him to do that.]

[Aquinas, cont.]:

"Reply to Objection 3: As the knowledge of God's essence is by grace, it belongs only to the good; but the knowledge of Him by natural reason can belong to both good and bad; and hence

Augustine says (Retract. i), retracting what he had said before: "I do not approve what I said in prayer, 'God who willest that only the pure should know truth.' For it can be answered that many who are not pure can know many truths," i.e. by natural reason.

[Biblical perspective]:

There is no one who is pure except God alone:

m) [Lk 18:19]:

[Jesus said]:"Why do you call Me good?" Jesus answered. "No one is good--except God alone."

[Notice that Jesus says that there is no one good but God alone. The Rich Young Ruler who is conversing with our Lord does not understand to Whom he is speaking, (the Son of God), nor does he understand that man is incapable of doing good to please God. Thus our Lord tells him to forget trying to be and do good, no one can, except God alone. Thus man is totally depraved, even his reasoning is incapable of deciding to do good or accept spiritual truths]


[Aquinas, cont.]:

"Whether by grace a higher knowledge of God can be obtained than by natural reason?


Objection 1: It seems that by grace a higher knowledge of God is not obtained than by natural reason. For Dionysius says (De Mystica Theol. i) that whoever is the more united to God in this life, is united to Him as to one entirely unknown. He says the same of Moses, who nevertheless obtained a certain excellence by the knowledge conferred by grace. But to be united to God while ignoring of Him "what He is," comes about also by natural reason. Therefore God is not more known to us by grace than by natural reason.

Objection 2: Further, we can acquire the knowledge of divine things by natural reason only through the imagination; and the same applies to the knowledge given by grace. For Dionysius says (Coel. Hier. i) that "it is impossible for the divine ray to shine upon us except as screened round about by the many colored sacred veils." Therefore we cannot know God more fully by grace than by natural reason.

Objection 3: Further, our intellect adheres to God by grace of faith. But faith does not seem to be knowledge; for Gregory says (Hom. xxvi in Ev.) that "things not seen are the objects of faith, and not of knowledge." Therefore there is not given to us a more excellent knowledge of God by grace.


'''On the contrary, The Apostle says that "God hath revealed to us His spirit," what "none of the princes of this world knew" (1 Cor. 2:10), namely, the philosophers, as the gloss expounds.

I answer that, We have a more perfect knowledge of God by grace than by natural reason. Which is proved thus. The knowledge which we have by natural reason contains two things: images derived from the sensible objects; and the natural intelligible light, enabling us to abstract from them intelligible conceptions.

[Biblical perspective]:

[Information is received through our faculties & is then perceived in our minds in accordance with our contaminated perspectives. It thus becomes what we know, i.e., knowledge - contaminated by our sin natures. The bible indicates that our capacity to perceive is flawed. Thus any information we perceive of God is flawed, regardless of it being provided by the grace of God.]

[Aquinas, cont.]:

'''Now in both of these, human knowledge is assisted by the revelation of grace. For the intellect's natural light is strengthened by the infusion of gratuitous light; and sometimes also the images in the human imagination are divinely formed, so as to express divine things better than those do which we receive from sensible objects, as appears in prophetic visions; while sometimes sensible things, or even voices, are divinely formed to express some divine meaning; as in the Baptism, the Holy Ghost was seen in the shape of a dove, and the voice of the Father was heard, "This is My beloved Son" (Mt. 3:17).

Reply to Objection 1: Although by the revelation of grace in this life we cannot know of God "what He is," and thus are united to Him as to one unknown; still we know Him more fully according as many and more excellent of His effects are demonstrated to us, and according as we attribute to Him some things known by divine revelation, to which natural reason cannot reach, as, for instance, that God is Three and One."

[Biblical perspective]:

This information was not arrived at by human reasoning as already pointed out from Scripture]

[Aquinas, cont.]:

"Reply to Objection 2: From the images either received from sense in the natural order, or divinely formed in the imagination, we have so much the more excellent intellectual knowledge, the stronger the intelligible light is in man; and thus through the revelation given by the images a fuller knowledge is received by the infusion of the divine light.

Reply to Objection 3: Faith is a kind of knowledge, inasmuch as the intellect is determined by faith to some knowable object. But this determination to one object does not proceed from the vision of the believer, but from the vision of Him who is believed. Thus as far as faith falls short of vision, it falls short of the knowledge which belongs to science, for science determines the intellect to one object by the vision and understanding of first principles."

[Biblical perspective]:

Faith is no kind of knowledge at all. The bible defines faith as an acceptance of the truth of the testimony of God, which then presumes that you understand the truth of God and accept it as true, but that comes outside of man's natural reasoning which Scripture teaches]


Now let's take a closer look at a few more passages on this subject:


The Bible actually contradicts Aquinas - man cannot rely on his reason to arrive at spiritual truths at all:


a) [Isa 55:8]:

(v. 8) "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways declares the LORD.

(v. 9) As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts."

Therefore man cannot correctly reason his way to the thoughts of God which include Who God is and what He has plainly revealed to man.


On the other hand, the bible is God's inspired thoughts, words and reason which man wrote down as a result of God's supernatural inspiration within the minds of the men that penned the 66 books of the Bible.

So if man is to discern the mind of God he must then examine God's reasoning as revealed in the bible and by the auspices of the Holy Spirit he will believe in God's reasoning, (1 Cor 2:14-15), otherwise without the Holy Spirit God's revealed wisdom will be foolishness to man:

The passage in 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:15 supports this:

a) [1 Cor 1:18-31]:

(v. 18) "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

[Notice that while one remains an unbeliever one reasons that the message of the cross of the cross is foolishness. So an unbeliever's reason cannot arrive at the truth of the gospel. Only those who have been saved have been provided by God with the perspective that the message of the cross is indeed the power by which God saved them]

i) [Compare Ro 8:7-8]:

(v. 7) "The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.

(v. 8) Those controlled by the sinful nature [which is all unsaved individuals and carnal believers (Ro 6:17-20) cannot please God."

Notice that man has the capacity to obey God but his sinful nature has turned his will totally against the exercise of that capacity, hence he cannot please God because he will not.

Just as some individuals with the capacity and intelligence to do well in school cannot do well because they will not, i.e., they have an incorrigible attitude problem - they will not do homework, nor study, nor carry books, nor appear studious in any way because it would jeopardize their self-image and association with a peer group or for a number of other arbitrarily rebellious reasons; so all unsaved individuals all of which have the capacity to trust alone in Christ alone unto eternal life, (otherwise God would not ask them to trust in His Son, (Jn 3:5-18, etc.), cannot please God by trusting in Christ as Savior because they will not, i.e., because they all have totally depraved natures that simply will not accept anything that God commands them to understand and do. They cannot believe in Christ as Savior because they will not.

a cont.) [1 Cor 1:18-31 cont.]:

(v. 19) "For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.'

[Notice that the reasoning of even the most intelligent and wise unbeliever is frustrated from arriving at the truth. The OT reference by Paul is from Isa 29:14:

[David K. Lowery states, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, New Testament, Walvoord and Zuck Editors, Victor Books, USA, 1988]:

"Paul illustrated his point by an example of Israel who, following humanly wise counsel, formed an alliance with Egypt as a defense against Assyria, when in fact only the miraculous intervention of God was able to save them."]

(v. 20) Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

(v. 21) For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe.

[Notice that no matter how wise, scholarly or philosophically adept man's reason is, i.e., the wisdom of the world, the result is nevertheless foolish, i.e. not able to arrive at the truth of the gospel of salvation and of the knowledge of God Himself. Yet those who believe (how they came to believe is not stipulated here except the inference that God somehow Himself enabled them to believe outside of man's reasoning capacity, (cp Jn 6:63-65). This is specifically supported later in v. 24]

(v. 22) Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom,

(v. 23) but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,

(v. 24) but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

(v. 25) For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom [i.e., his reason] and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

[Notice that man's reason was futile. But to those whom God sovereignly called - they received the wisdom of God by God's sovereign enablement, (Jn 6:63-65), and through the gift of faith, (Phil 1:29), and the Holy Spirit, the Teacher of Spiritual things, (1 Jn 2:27), and not at all by man's reasoning which is irretrievably blocked by his negative will, (Ro 1:21-23).]

(v. 26) Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.

(v. 27) But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

(v. 28) He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are,

(v. 29) so that no one may boast before him.

(v. 30) It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, Who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

(v. 31) Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'

[Notice again that God enabled not the wise of the world, nor the influential, nor the strong to know the wisdom of God but the lowly, the weak and those the world considered in their human viewpoint as foolish, and those that the world despised. Again the simplest of truths would only be known by those whom God chose and not as a result of man's reasoning. Thus no one can claim to have arrived at the wisdom of God utilizing their own reasoning. So verse 31 says: 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.' for this wisdom.]

b) [Compare 1 Cor 2:13-14]:

(v. 13) "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.

(v. 14) The man without the Spirit [i.e, the unbeliever, ref. Eph 1:13-14] does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned."

[Notice that inspite of human wisdom man cannot discern spiritual truth. It takes the indwelling Spirit of God to do that.]:

(v. 15) The spiritual man makes judgments about all things..."

[All of this is confirmed by Dr. Joseph Magee, Ph.D. a graduate of the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas, Houston, Texas. http://www.aquinasonline.com/]:

"Thomistic Philosophy is inspired by the philosophical methods and principles used by Thomas Aquinas (1224/5-1274), a Dominican Friar and Theologian, in his explanation of the Catholic faith. Aquinas, who is most renowned for his Five Ways of Proving the Existence of God, believed that both faith and reason discover truth, a conflict between them being impossible since they both originate in God. Believing that reason can, in principle, lead the mind to God, Aquinas defended reason's legitimacy, especially in the works of Aristotle."