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88. Man's Knowledge of Nonmaterial Things

1. Since the proper object of intellect, in the present earthlylife of man, is the essences of material things, the intellectunderstands by using phantasms, that is, sense-images of materialthings presented in imagination. Now, there are no phantasms ofnonmaterial things. Therefore, in this life, the human intellectcannot knownonmaterial things directly or per se. Itcannot know, for example, what nonmaterial substances, such asangels, are in themselves.

2. We know material things by turning the light of theagent intellect on phantasms; this is a sort of intellectual X-raywhich penetrates what is individual in the phantasms and shows uptheir essence. We call this process abstraction. We say that theintellect abstracts its ideas from phantasms. This is a kind ofprocess of de-materializing and de-individualizing material things.And we can continue this process, refining more and more, drawingideas from ideas, and reaching more and more abstract ideas. But wecan never attain by such a process to the perfect idea of spiritualsubstance as such. Spirit is an essence altogether different frommatter; hence no process of de-materializing can reveal spirit asit is in itself.

3. We cannot, therefore, have a perfect knowledge ofinfinite spirit. By reasoning we can know God's existence, andmany of the divine attributes. But to know God directly in hisspiritual essence is something we cannot have this side of heavenwith its light of glory. Therefore, here on earth and exercisingnatural powers, man cannot know God directly in himself, butindirectly by reasoning back to the First Cause of creatures.Therefore those teachers are much mistaken who hold that thefirst thing known by the human intellect is God.

"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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"To think of oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more frail than yourself. "
Thomas á Kempis

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"The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God in all things, prosperous or adverse. In prosperity, even sinners find it easy to unite themselves to the divine will; but it takes saints to unite themselves to God's will when things go wrong and are painful to self-love. Our conduct in such instances is the measure of our love of God."
St Alphonsus de Liguori

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