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87. Man's Knowledge of Himself

1. The more a thing is freed from the limitations ofmatter, the more knowable it is. And the more independent aknowing-power is, in its being and its operation, from thehamperings of matter, the more perfect a knowing-power it is.Therefore we say, "Nonmateriality is the root of knowledge andof knowing." Since God is infinite spirit, he is whollynonmaterial; therefore God is supremely knowable, and supremelyknowing. God knows himself by his essence, by being God. The angelsare spirits, unhampered by matter; they know themselves intheir essence, for God gives them knowledge as he creates them andgives them their essence. Man's intellect knows itself, not byor in its essence, but by its operation. The mind directlyknows essences abstracted from phantasms (that is, it knows theessences of material things), and, by reflection, the mindcan know that it knows; it can know itself by knowing. Ofintellectual beings, God knows perfectly; angels less perfectly;man least perfectly.

2. Habits, in the intellectual order, are: (a) truthsacquired, retained, and ready for use in our reasoning; and (b) thepracticed facility to acquire knowledge by using these acquired andpermanently retained truths as mental equipment. Our grasp of firstprinciples (see above, 79, art. 12), whether intellectual or moral,is a habit; the intellectual first principles constitute a habitfundamental to our thinking; the moral first principles make ahabit basic to all our responsible conduct. The mind or intellectis not directly aware of habits as such; it knows them byreflection.

3. The intellect, exercising its connatural operation ofknowing the essences of material things, knows these essences inits own way, that is, in universal. And, as we have noted, theintellect can reflect, or turn its attention back upon itself; thusit can know things in singular, thus also it can know itself asoperating, and can know its operation.

4. And the intellect can know the will. Knowing itself andits operations it knows the tendency of man to follow knowledge, totend after what knowledge presents as desirable. Thus intellectknows will.

"The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you."
Thomas á Kempis

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"Lord, here burn, here cut, and dry up in me all that hinders me from going to You, that You may spare me in eternity."
St Louis Bertrand

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"Those who love God are always happy, because their whole happiness is to fulfill, even in adversity, the will of God."
St Alphonsus de Liguori

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