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57. Angelic Knowledge of Material Things

1. That an intellect (which is the spiritual faculty or power of understanding) can know material things is proved by our human experience. For we know material things by our intellect or understanding. We use our senses to know material things as singular or individual things. But we render these intelligible by the process of abstraction, and can know things in their essences, and can define them. We know material things in a non-material way, by essence and definition. Now, if the human intellect can know material things, it goes without saying that the angelic intellect can know such things, for it is more perfect than ours; what the less perfect mind or intellect can do, the more perfect can surely do.

2. In human intellectual knowledge the first and fundamental elements are ideas or concepts. We form these concepts by the process called abstraction. From our sense-knowledge of individual things the intellect draws out, or abstracts, a universal awareness of these things. For example, from our sense-knowledge of a tree (which is knowledge of an individual material thing) our mind can rise to a universal grasp of what any tree is, regardless of its size, location, botanical class, and soon. We can rise to the knowledge of tree as such. Hence we say that the senses deal with the individual or singular things, but the mind or intellect deals with things in universal. And after we have grasped a material thing in universal, the mind or intellect can also know it in the singular. The intellect asks, when a sense-object is presented, what kind of thing this is; after it has grasped the kind, the essence, it adverts, by a reflex action, to the individual thing and recognizes it as one of that kind. Now, knowledge of things in universal, and knowledge of singular things, are both perfections of the human intellect. These perfections cannot, therefore, be lacking in the superior angelic intellect. Hence angels know singulars as well as essences. But, as we have already noticed, angels do not have to work out any of their knowledge by abstraction or by studious attention. They have their knowledge with their nature, whereas man has, with his nature, not knowledge, but the ability to acquire knowledge.

3. Do the angels know the future? To know the future may mean one of several things: (a) to know, with physical certitude, what will happen by the operation of existing and necessitating causes; as, for example, to know that the sun will rise tomorrow;(b) to know conjecturally from present facts and circumstances what is very likely to occur in the future; thus, for example, a physician may know that his patient will be able to go back to work next week; (c) to know, with absolute certainty, future events themselves. This third type of knowing the future exists in God alone. Both angels and men have the first two types of knowledge of the future, angels more perfectly than men. But angels do not have direct and absolute knowledge of future events.

4. The secret thoughts of a man and his inner acts of freewill are known only to himself and God. A man may unconsciously give some outward sign of his thoughts and will acts, so that these may be known conjecturally even by other observant men; angels can know thoughts and will acts thus revealed. But the angelic intellect cannot penetrate directly into minds and wills. An angelcannot know our secret thoughts and will acts themselves, neither can one angel know the thoughts of another angel which depend onthat other angel's free will.

5. The mysteries of divine grace, which depend entirely on God's will, cannot be known naturally by angels. By the supernatural knowledge which beatifies an angel (that is, gives it the happiness of heaven in the vision of God), angels know such of the mysteries of grace as God chooses to reveal to them. And the higher angels, by their more perfect union with God, impart knowledge of such mysteries to the lower angels.

"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."
St Augustine

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"Spiritual persons ought to be equally ready to experience sweetness and consolation in the things of God, or to suffer and keep their ground in drynesses of spirit and devotion, and for as long as God pleases, without their making any complaint about it."
St Philip Neri

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"It is better to be burdened and in company with the strong than to be unburdened and with the weak. When you are burdened you are close to God, your strength, who abides with the afflicted. When you are relieved of the burden you are close to yourself, your own weakness; for virtue and strength of soul grow and are confirmed in the trials of patience."
St John of the Cross, OCD - Doctor of the Church

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