On Divine Omniscience versus Creaturely Partiscience

Divine Omniscience and our own creaturely, partial, imperfect knowledge – our partiscience – are categorically different sorts of operations. Both are sorts of discernment – from the Latin scindere, “to cut, divide,” thence from the PIE root *skei-, “to cut, split” – but they are fundamentally different sorts of cut. They cut in opposite directions.

Omniscience cuts, and so differentiates. Partiscience cuts and so sorts the resultant differentiae, so as to integrate them (so far as it can).

Thus the Perennialist intuition, altogether correct, that creation is outward from an Original Unity, whereas creaturity is a return toward that Unity from Partiality.

Omniscience cuts himself. His discernment consists entirely in understanding himself; in understanding what it is that he is, and so does; and thus, in the bargain, what every other thing – of which he is himself both source and end – ever is and ever does. Genesis recounts his creative discernments of all those things (of our cosmos – other kosmoi are not mentioned) that are eternally implicit in him potentially, and rendered forth actually by his mere act of discernment respecting himself; by his separations: of Ocean from what is within the Firmament of our world, of our sea from our dry land, and so forth.

Omniscience is nowise by its kenotic differentiation impeached (for, it is impossible by any subtraction or division to reduce infinity to anything less than infinity). On the contrary; creation (of howsoever many kosmoi) is florescent perfection of Perfection (there may well be more than one sort of such florescences; indeed, how not? (that supposition is frankly supposed in the Credo: in secula seculorum, “in [the] world of worlds”)).

We are quite different; we are the opposite; we move in the other direction, from separation to union.

Of what is not itself, partiscience cuts what is true from what is false, what is good from what is bad, what is beautiful from what is ugly; and, then, integrates its inputs in a new concrescence more or less good, beautiful, true.

Concrete: con, “together,” + crescere, “to grow.” From PIE *ker-, “to grow;” cf. kernel, corn, horn, cranium, corner, cornucopia, Ceres, create, increase, griot, Kore, crescent, creature.

Partiscience knows. Knowledge is of some object distinct from the subject knower. In and by the act of knowledge, the knower is joined to the known, in a novel integration.

Omniscience simply is, and feels what it is to be itself.

Omniscience is purely inward. It does not know some other. It rather just is.

Partiscience too is inward, but is also outward. Both sorts of experience – inward and outward – are present in our every act of being. Partiscience necessarily involves inwardness. Each partiscient act involves knowledge of other acts, other prior or previous actualities. But each such act involves also an inward enjoyment of what it is to be knowing or feeling such other prior or previous acts; and of what it is to be just itself. When creatures feel or apprehend other things, they feel also their own feelings of those others; they feel what it is to feel those feelings. No inward feeling → no outward feeling.

Omniscience feels itself; as the basis of all others, and their subvention, their source and only proper end, in so doing it feels them, too; and that, just as they are to themselves.

Partiscience begins with the apprehension of the other, and proceeds to its own integration of its apprehensions.

Omniscience begins (and ends) with himself, and proceeds (and succeeds) to the differentiation – and, by them, the integration in him – of all others.

Omniscience is in no doubt about what is true, but rather is concerned only with what is, and what is not. Partiscience is per contra not so much worried about what is, as interested to understand, from what simply is (so far as it can tell), just what it is that must therefore be true.

Partiscience cuts by distinguishing between what is true and what is false. It operates always by integrating what is true and disintegrating what is false (likewise good and evil, beautiful and ugly: same thing, in the last analysis).

Omniscience, on the other hand, cuts by distinguishing in himself what is and what is not. His discernment of what is and his creation of what is are the same procedure.

8 thoughts on “On Divine Omniscience versus Creaturely Partiscience

  1. I was thinking about Scholastic epistemology, which is kinda relevant. E.g. Feser is telling people the ability to have knowledge of particulars is an entirely natural ability of the mind (so animals can have it) but to have knowledge of abstractions, universals, essences is a supernatural ability because abstractions do not exist in nature: only triangular objects exist in nature, trianglehood, triangularity does not, yet we are able to perceive this.

    So it seems Scholastics, medievals had the view that thinking is a perceptive activity, ideas are out there, we just spot them. Contrast this to the modern view where thinking is a creative activity, we make abstractions, we make models, we make the universals, we invent trianglehood by abstracting away the common features of triangular objects, it doesn’t exist as such.

    I tend to support the modern, creative view, but not without reservations. One of the reasons I support it is that the Scholastic account is incoherent, because they are also saying essences like triangularity exist in a pure form only in God’s mind, and in nature they always appear mixed with matter (hylomorphic dualism, matter-form dualism). Since we do not have a telepathic link to God’s mind, we cannot possible just perceive those essences, it is clear we are creatively abstracting them away from their instances as they are implemented in matter. They might exist in God’s mind, but we can’t perceive that.

    One reservation is that everybody who ever invented a mathemathical concept felt like they discovered something, not invented or built something. While there is no evidence of a Platonic realm where ideas live existing somewhere, doing mathemathical research surely feels like there is one, and who am I to argue with the guys actually doing the job? (Source: Penrose, TENM).

    The second is that I worked with information all my life, I respect information, consider it a very important thing, and I find simple materialism tends to underestimate its importance. Saying the world consist of matter only sounds like a cobbler insulting a programmer. Of course the world consists of matter and information. Information is not matter, the whole point is that it can take any material form, the number four can expressed as the pixels in a 4 shape on a screen or IV scrawled into sand. And scrawling IV into sand very much feels like mixing information with matter. Using a 3D printer very much feels like mixing information with matter. Hylomorphic dualism can’t be all bunk.

    So I support the modern, creative accounting of thinking, not the medieval, perceptive account: abstractions, universals, essences are models made by us, they don’t just exist. And yet I feel like there is something to hylomorphic dualism, to see things as mixtures of matter and information, is a natural and accurate way to see them. Because otherwise we end up thinking information isn’t a big deal, it is just some insignificant property of matter and I know that is not true, being a professional information-processor. I managed to think myself into a bag somewhere, it seems.

    • It seems to me that the disjunction between Platonic universals and Aristotelian universals is not exclusive. Both are true. Aristotle pointed out that universals are present only in concretes, from which we abstract them intellectually. Philo rescued the actuality of the universals by adducing the ancient Hebrew intuition – shared by most ancient cultures – that they are primordially concrete in and as angels. Augustine rescued the Platonic Realm by identifying it with the Lógos, who is concrete – who is, indeed, the most concrete thing of all.

      If as hylomorphism insists matter is nothing at all unless it is formed into some thing, then the process of in-formation by which a material thing takes in that form by abstracting its formal elements from those appearing in its causal influences just makes sense.

      A novel occasion of becoming could then abstract formal elements both from its mundane predecessors and from God or his angels. Either way, it would be abstracting, recombining, and integrating in itself the same universals. The logical relations that bind together all the universals are relations found, then, in both our mundane surroundings and in the Lógos. No matter where we happened to source the universals we happen to be considering, to see their logical relations with the eye of the intellect then just is to see the structure implicit in the Lógos.

      Is it really true that we can’t read God’s mind? I mean, sure, we can read his mind in nature, the way that we read Aristotle’s mind by reading a book he has written. But who is to say that the Holy Ghost is not operating in us from moment to moment, and infusing us at all times with the logos proper to us at the moment, given our nature and circumstances?

      Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Let this mind be in you, which is also in Christ Jesus. Go ahead; let it.

      • I suppose if it was true, it would let itself in. I mean, if this was true, it would surely change our understanding of what free will and choice is. If something controls the inputs of choice, it is not entirely free.

        Not saying that opposite, it does *entirely* stop being meaningful. Just mostly so. I mean, if you tell a child a fairy tale and ask him which characters he finds good and bad, you are controlling the inputs of the choice. And yes, people are not entirely mechanical, so some kid will says Cinderella’s fairy godmother was bad. But it will be very rare and unexpected.

        One of the classic questions of doubt is why a loving God does not push us harder to accept Him and the answer is in general that He respects our free will. Yes, but He could “advertise” it harder, not relying on two thousand year old stories about martyrs and it would be still a free choice. Similarly, if the Logos would be constantly operating in us, our way of thinking would be far more God-oriented. That unbelievers like me would see an obvious God-shaped hole in their thoughts. I do see a big hole in my thoughts. It just doesn’t seem God-shaped.

        Doesn’t it weird you out that we have a lot of quite reliable knowledge about insignificant things and yet the most important question or choice ever is shrouded in uncertainty?

      • I suppose if it was true [that if we knock, it shall be opened unto us,] it would let itself in.

        You mean, it would let itself in whether or not we opened the door? On the one hand, it’s already inside, whether or not we choose to knock. On theism, God is the forecondition and matrix, and so the means, of the entire structure, door and inhabitant included. He is thus also the forecondition, matrix and means of your knocking, or failing to knock; of your choice.

        On the other hand, the choice is truly yours. If he forced you to take it, it could not be; and in that case, you would not be. You would be rather only an instrument of his choice, in just the way that your hammer is not itself free to choose, but is rather an instrument of beings that can choose.

        If something controls the inputs of choice, [the choice] is not entirely free.

        The facts of history constrain all creaturely choices. If the constraint of those facts was complete and exhaustive – if it constrained those choices completely – they would not be choices in the first place. That there is a choice at all – that there is a being at all – means that there is freedom.

        Yes, but He could “advertise” it harder, not relying on two thousand year old stories about martyrs and it would be still a free choice.

        Actually, once you start looking, you find his advertisements all over the place. They are implicit in the structure of thought itself, because they are implicit in the order of logic, and therefore of all being – which mutatis mutandis must be all and completely logically coherent, somehow or other (it being impossible to enact a logical contradiction).

        The events of thousands of years ago too must then likewise somehow all fit. And once you have understood theism properly, they do.

        Similarly, if the Logos would be constantly operating in us, our way of thinking would be far more God-oriented. That unbelievers like me would see an obvious God-shaped hole in their thoughts. I do see a big hole in my thoughts. It just doesn’t seem God-shaped.

        If you are aware of a hole in your thoughts, you can be pretty sure that at least part of it is God-shaped, whether or not you are yet aware of the fact. My experience is that most men who do not see a way to believe in God are not actually thinking about God when they use the term “God.” They are thinking rather about something quite different than what God actually is. Not because they are intellectually dishonest or slothful or tendentious, but only because they have not yet been properly taught.

        If you are not clear on the shape of God, then you can’t be clear on the shape of the hole in your thoughts where he fits. This is just a way of saying that you can’t actually think about him at all.

        Once you understand something of what “God” must properly mean, then you begin to see that all your thoughts have all along been oriented to God.

        Doesn’t it weird you out that we have a lot of quite reliable knowledge about insignificant things and yet the most important question or choice ever is shrouded in uncertainty?

        Not really. It’s just what I would have expected. In the first place, I’m cynical about how reliable any of our knowledge is.

        In the second, while that knowledge might seem reliable to us, we forget that once it was not. We forget that we began ignorant about everything whatsoever. We have arrived at the feeling that we know quite a few things pretty reliably by dint of a really appalling amount of intellectual labor, most of which we quite forget having done.

        In the third, we generally trouble ourselves to gain knowledge only about such things as trouble us. It is possible to go through life without ever wondering about the Big Questions – any of them – because once we figure out how to avoid pain, we can afford to relax, intellectually. To avoid pain, it is not necessary first to understand the answers to the Big Questions. Because why? Because the very structure of being, and thus of the ways that we can possibly discover that we can possibly order our behavioral policies so as to avoid pain, both presuppose the correct answers to the Big Questions; so that you can’t actually live your life even badly or wickedly without implicitly presupposing those correct answers.

        Viz., Hume doubted that we can reach a reliable conclusion about whether there is causation, but he admitted that you can’t proceed to live your life unless you presuppose that there is.

        You are at present uncertain about God. Once, you were uncertain about gravity. You did a ton of work to figure out how gravity works. Have you yet done that sort of work on the notion of God?

      • >They are thinking rather about something quite different than what God actually is. Not because they are intellectually dishonest or slothful or tendentious, but only because they have not yet been properly taught.

        True – I’ve read Feser on the errors of theistic personalism vs. the doctrine of divine simplicity. That God’s isn’t just a superman. But this is actually my first obstacle: the word god, gott, deus, theos etc. was originally used to described pagan mythological characters who were very much like supermen. No wonder Thor fits into a modern superhero comic, he was really imagined as a superhero and not a metaphysically fundamental ground of being. So why did Christianity even borrow this noun from the pagans? It is entirely predictable that it would confuse people and it does.

      • It is an interesting question. Most pagan polytheisms are like the religion of Israel: there are many gods, who are somehow or other derived from the Most High God, and are somewhat like him – i.e., somewhat imago dei. Israel called him El Elyon – God of gods – and Christianity (being itself the religion of Israel) calls him deus in excelsis, deus de deo.

        The gods and Sons of God of the OT are the angels – or, if they have Fallen, the demons.

        What I am about to say will perhaps make the whole thing even more confusing. In the OT, elohim can be used to refer both to the company of the gods – a standard plural noun – or to El Elyon – a usage similar to that of the majestic plural. Insofar as elohim terminates both upon El Elyon and upon his host of angels, El Elyon then is somehow identified with his angelic host; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that in some sense the angelic host terminates upon El Elyon, who is its ultimate source, end, and governor.

        The fact of the tradition in so many languages of the majestic plural – the nosism – is indicative. The people – including the king himself – refer to the king in the plural because he is in some sense – a not altogether symbolic sense, but a real and literal sense – in his own body animal also the body of his whole people: he just is the body politic. This way of thinking about the king, and monarchical authority in general, is usual in ancient cultures.

        By a straightforward reciprocation, the subject of the king then is therefore in a sense – again, a not altogether symbolic sense, but a real and literal sense – himself a member and thus a salient of his king, and of his whole people. Likewise, Abraham was construed as literally present and operative in all the members of his House, throughout all her generations; so that to be of the Seed of Abraham was to enact Abraham himself.

        In a type of this notion, the acts of the US Ambassador to Egypt *just are* the acts of the USA and its whole people, and oblige them. This is far more than a merely symbolic signification, although it is indeed that, to be sure; for, the signature of the Ambassador legally binds his lord – and through that lord, his whole people – just as the signature of a corporate officer legally binds his whole corporation (“corporation” also signifies; it means, literally, embodiment). Indeed, even a lowly employee or subject can by his acts or misadventures involve his whole corporation. The misbehavior or mistreatment of an American citizen overseas can provoke global war.

        This way of thinking about authority was pertinent to the hierarchy of the heavens as much as to those of the Earth. More so, indeed; for legitimate earthly hierarchy derives all from, is subsidiary to and governed by, the hierarchy of the heavens. Thus although they were beings distinct from their Lord El Elyon, the gods of the heavens were in virtue of their loyal membership in his feudal household and thus of the total congruence of their wills with his also his literal salients. Where they were, he was; when they spoke, he spoke. Thus were they truly and reliably his messengers; his angeloi.

        The hierarchy of the heavens was continuous with that of our world, and of our nations. Each nation had an angel, a divine advocate, ruler, and tutelary god (in just the way that each human person has a guardian angel). And the king was the vicar of that Principality (in just the way that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ). Thus in addition to embodying the whole people, the king was also the embodiment of the angelic Principal of his nation (in just that way that the priest celebrates the Eucharist in persona Christi – as, i.e., himself an angel and embodiment of his Lord (priestly surplices are white because angelic bodies are basically white, glorious with uncreate Light pouring through and from them – to don the surplice over the cassock is then in signification to don an angelic body, a Resurrection Body, the True Body that is righteous altogether). When the king entered his throne room, the god of the nation entered with him, in him and through him (the Benedictus qui venit is an ancient Israelite hymn of praise at that entry into his throne room of the king in the person of – i.e., in the name of – the Angel of Israel, YHWH; it is sung in the Mass in celebration of the advent of the body of God (“in the name of the King” means “in virtue of the authority I derive from the King, and speaking as his angel – as, i.e., myself in my own person also vicariously the person of the King himself (thus when Christians make the sign of the cross upon their bodies and invoke the Name, they signify – to themselves, at least – that they are in their very bodies and in all their acts salients and angels of YHWH and of his Body, the Church – they consecrate their bodies to the Name))).

        All these notions about the relations within and between the hierarchies of the Earth and of the heavens prevailed in the ancient world. It would be naïve to think that they no longer do. Naïve in two ways: first, naïve to think the ancients were simply wrong about all this; second, naïve to think that these notions no longer operate in us, and in our societies. They do. Viz., the feeling of supernatural dread – of awe – that arises in people even today when a president or a judge enters the room (or, even, an admired star – of movies, war, sport, arts, or sciences – who has not by gross public immorality corrupted his image – his godlike imago – and so ruined our love (the stars in their glory are the bodies and realms of the gods; an angel is a star, and vice versa (so that the rock musical was literally correct: Jesus Christ *is* the Superstar, YHWH the Angel King of all the angels, the Star of all the proper, true stars, who have not Fallen from their proper realms, or who, having Fallen, have again Risen with him and taken up again their angelic bodies and their rightful original crowns of sovereignty over their proper realms of glory))).

        There is good reason, then, that “god” can be used to indicate either an angel or his God, or that “elohim” can be used to indicate either the heavenly host Sabaoth or El Elyon, the Father of their King and captain YHWH. The confusion of God with his angels is real; they are, really and literally, confused: fused together, in one coherent, coordinate Body. To miss this confusion or to overlook or disparage it is to fail to adequate comprehension of the Incarnation, of ecclesiology, of the liturgy and the sacraments, of religious discipline, and of salvation.

        The confusion of God with his angels is not, NB, a sort of befuddlement or mess. It is the opposite: it is enlightenment, and ordainment; is light, and order.


        PS: How can a Christian be confused with Jesus, in one Body with him who is her Head? Consider that our bodies are composed of bodies (that are composed of bodies that are composed of bodies …) that are separated from each other by relatively vast distances. This is so even of stones, that are not themselves embodiments of persons, as the Church is.


        We take our own embodiment for granted most of the time, as not worth consideration in itself. But, really, our own embodiment is no harder – and no easier – to understand than that of the Lógos in the Church.

  2. It may be our telos to move from separation to union, but that does’t seem to be the direction of our science. As you most helpfully emphasize, the nature of our scientific advancement to discern two things where it formerly discerned only one, and the result is endless disintegration. “We murder to dissect,” as the old poet said. There are certainly efforts to move in the opposite direction, all of these being of a religious or quasi-religious nature, but I’m loath to call this by the same name as dissecting science. Perhaps I’m letting the cutting power of discernment get the best of me, but I’m strongly inclined to call analysis science and synthesis something else.

    Within the frame of your argument, omniscience would seem to be an infelicitous and perhaps even oxymoronic word. Isn’t the last step in anti-analysis a collapse of the division between being and nothingness? And when you mix being and nothingness, don’t you get nothingness? Isn’t this what would happen if we ran the first chapter of Genesis in reverse?

    • It’s not possible to mix being with non-being, because non-being is not out there, anywhere, to be mixed with. An actual instance of nothingness is – by definition of “nothing” – impossible. All that there is is stuff that is. Being, then, is the beginning and end of the story, and also everything in between.

      If you run Genesis in reverse, you end at ens realisissimum. So the last step in anti-analysis is the absolute impossibility of nothingness, and the necessity of God.

      But anti-analysis – running cosmogony backward – is not what we are engaged in, going forward toward the eschaton. We are engaged rather in novel syntheses – each new moment of being is one such – that lead all forward toward a gigantic and total novel synthesis, which includes all the disparate creatures that have flowed out of the Divine cornucopia. Worlds are multiplications of being.

      As for science, analysis is its necessary first step. You have to figure out what exactly you are investigating before you can begin to figure out how it works, and thus discover the logic that constrains and governs its operations. But the urge of all science is toward a Grand Unified Theory – i.e., toward the Lógos. Science wants to subsume all the data it has discovered, catalogued and analyzed under an all encompassing and wholly adequate synthesis – literally, a togetherness of theses.

      That’s all true of real, true science, at least. Lots of what is called science these days is not the genuine article.


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