In an essay on integralism I took issue with Steven Long’s claim that the natural and supernatural desires for God have formally distinct objects. Long claims that the natural desire to know the first cause of all things is only materially, not formally, a desire to know God–just as the desire to know Einstein under the ratio of “man wearing a raincoat” is only materially, not formally, a desire to know Einstein. To this I replied:
[The] relevant distinction between objects of natural and of supernatural desire is not matter and form, but rather confused and distinct. That is, to desire God based on one’s natural knowledge of Him through His effects is really to desire God, in Whom those effects really participate. Here the Platonic notion of anamnesis that Ratzinger takes up […] is extremely helpful. When one comes to know God by natural reason, one “recognizes” in Him the infinite ocean of perfection in which one’s own and all created being participates. But of course this knowledge is very imperfect, confused knowledge; the light of faith gives a much more distinct knowledge of Whom it is that one desires. [… The] natural desire to attain to God is really a desire to attain to God, and thus the desire given by grace really perfects, elevates, and completes that desire by revealing both more about Who God is, and by revealing an unspeakably perfect and beatifying mode of attaining to Him; it does not add another, independent desire.
Long himself sometimes speaks as though this were the case. Thus, a little after the Einstein-raincoat example he writes:
Where revelation makes the real possibility of beatiﬁc vision known, this renders the otherwise conditional desire to know God to become unconditional. Apart from revelation the desire would be conditional— “were it possible” one would will it. Just as one might wish to live forever, or never to make a mistake—both logically, but seemingly not really, possible—so one would wish to know the essence of the First Cause, save that in this case one genuinely would not know what one is wishing for. After revelation, the desire becomes unconditional. Once God reveals Himself and his gift of divine life, the natural desire thus elevated and supernaturalized in grace inclines toward it absolutely by inclining toward the inﬁnitely higher end of union with the Uncreated Persons of the Holy Trinity. For the object of the natural desire for God under the ratio of “cause of these effects” is incorporated within the graced desire of God as God. (Natura Pura, p. 21)
What Long says here fits quite well with my position. He is suggesting that the desire for God elicited by natural reason’s consideration of the things that He causes makes one desire to know God as much as possible. That desire would not be in vain in a state of pure nature, since to know even a little of God makes one happy, but the desire would not be so satisfied that one would not wish to know Him more. One would see that one’s knowledge of Him was indirect, through effects that fall infinitely short of Him, and one would wish “if it were possible” to know Him directly, in His essence. And so grace opens up a way of satisfying the natural desire infinitely more fully than it could be satisfied naturally. But if, on the other hand, the natural desire is really a desire for a formally distinct object, then this is much more difficult to see.
Oddly enough, De Lubac himself also distinguishes between two desires to know God with formally distinct objects–only he sees them both as natural desires. In The Discovery of God, De Lubac distinguishes between the “philosophical” desire to know the cause of all things, and the “mystical” desire to know the One as the One. By “mystical” in this context he does not mean something that comes from an infused gift of the Holy Spirit, but rather a natural desire for the beatific vision presumably common to Christian and non-Christian mystics. The philosopher, he argues, wants to “comprehend the universe,” and treats God only as an aid to explaining the world. The philosopher as philosopher is satisfied by this: “he does not ask for more.” (p. 148) The mystic, as mystic, who may be the same person as the philosopher but considered under another finality, does ask for more. De Lubac quotes a great many passages fro St. Thomas about how philosophy only knows God as cause of the world. But I think he is making a great mistake here. To say that philosophy only knows God through his effects does not mean that it is only interested in him as an explanation for His effects. All it means is that the highest knowledge which is what the philosopher really wants, that werein wisdom really consists, is only accessible indirectly. Consider the following passage of Plotinus:
We must ascend, therefore, once more to the Good, which every soul desires. If anyone […] passing in his ascent beyond all that is separative from God, by himself alone contemplates God alone, perfect, simple and pure, from Whom all things depend, to Whom all beings look, and in Whom they are, and live, and know. For He is the cause of Being, Life and Intelligence. If, then, anyone beheld Him, with what love would he be inspired! With what desire would he burn in his eagerness to be united with Him! With what bliss would he be overcome! (Ennead I,6,7)
Presumably De Lubac would call this a mystical rather than a philosophical text. And yet, it is wholly consistent with St. Thomas’s account of philosophy. Plotinus here has come to knowledge of God as the cause of being, life, and understanding; he does not see how God is in Himself, but he does see how he is not i.e. not-finite, not-complex (simple), not-mixed (pure). He is “perfect,” but his perfection is only known through imperfect things, by denying their imperfections of God. This leads Plotinus to wish for a more perfect knowledge:
How shall a man behold this ineffable Beauty which remains within, deep in Its holy sanctuaries, and proceeds not without where the profane may view It? (I,6,8)
De Lubac argues that St. Thomas sometimes confuses the philosophical and the mystical desires for God, and that he was unable fully account for their relation to each other:
St. Thomas, therefore. seems to have failed in his attempt to establish continuity between philosophy and mysticism, between the dynamism of the intelligence and the desire of the spirit. The doctrine of “the natural desire to see God” is central to his thought, and he has not succeeded in completely unifying it. N0 one will succeed where he has failed. (The Discovery of God, p. 151)
But St. Thomas did not have to integrate these two desires, because they are simply the same thing. Consider St. Thomas’s treatment of the question in the Summ Contra Gentiles III,25 (often quoted by Long, but interpreted by him with unnecessary subtly):
The ultimate end of each thing is God, as we have shown. So, each thing intends, as its ultimate end, to be united with God as closely as is possible for it. Now, a thing is more closely united with God by the fact that it attains to His very substance in some manner, and this is accomplished when one knows something of the divine substance, rather than when one acquires some likeness of Him. Therefore, an intellectual substance tends to divine knowledge as an ultimate end. […] Besides, a thing has the greatest desire for its ultimate end. Now, the human intellect has a greater desire, and love, and pleasure, in knowing divine matters than it has in the perfect knowledge of the lowest things, even though it can grasp but little concerning divine things. So, the ultimate end of man is to understand God, in some fashion. […] Besides, there is naturally present in all men the desire to know the causes of whatever things are observed. Hence, because of wondering about things that were seen but whose causes were hidden, men first began to think philosophically; when they found the cause, they were satisfied. But the search did not stop until it reached the first cause, for “then do we think that we know perfectly, when we know the first cause.” Therefore, man naturally desires, as his ultimate end, to know the first cause. But the first cause of all things is God. Therefore, the ultimate end of man is to know God.
Both De Lubac and Long understand the desire to know God qua cause of all things as being the desire to know an object formally distinct from God as God. But there is absolutely no need to make this distinction. Both De Lubac and his critic make a mistake common among very clever people: thinking that things must be more complicated than they are. The most profound things are the most simple and obvious.
De Lubac notes that in fact every philosopher is more than a philosopher and “the labor of elaborating an intelligible world does not save him from ‘the nostalgia of Being’,” and he adds in a footnote: “This is true even of Descartes, so often accused since the time of Pascal of only being interested in God for the sake of possessing the world.” (p. 153 with note 19) Here we perhaps see the real origin of De Lubac’s conception of the role of God in philosophy: Descartes! Descartes’s philosophical account of God is indeed only an aid to explaining the world, and this is what distinguishes “the god of the [French Enlightenment] philosophers” from the God of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. Descartes’s philosophical approach to God (as opposed to his religious approach) is not an approach to God at all, and his desire to know that “God” is a desire to know an object not only formally but also materially distinct from his desire to know the One True God. But that is just because the “god” of Cartesian philosophy is not God at all, but just a useful fiction.