Aquinas on the Divine Ideas as Exemplar Causes. By Gregory T. Doolan


Pp. xviii, 277 , Washington, D.C. , Catholic University of America Press , 2008 , $74.95 .

With this volume Doolan takes his place beside Fabro, Geiger, Wippel and te Velde as a serious expositor of the role of exemplar ideas as both principles of God's knowledge and as productive or causal principles for the world. He is expert at exposing the pivotal or ‘swivel’ role they play in reconciling two apparently opposing claims: that God must be engaged in the highest activity directed toward the highest object – i.e., he can only know himself – and the claim that he knows, creates, and loves objects distinct from himself. The solution, of course, is that he knows the diverse ways his nature is imitable, so that in knowing us he is in a sense knowing himself. In creating the world, he is at the same time producing a self-portrait (p. 223). Doolan demonstrates an astounding mastery of the Thomistic distinctions that allow a fine-veined analysis of created effects being produced by a ‘double causation’ of divine creativity and natural agents, in a way that seems cogent and essential rather than confusing and sophistic. The limitation to a Thomistic analysis is that such dissections and surgeries seem always context-specific, so that it is difficult to generate an analytical diagram or flow-chart that brings them together; the latter might be helpful in a future edition. It is also to be regretted that Doolan does not even mention an historical problematic that bestows even greater significance to exemplar ideas. A basic axiom of Greek philosophy is that it is wrong to love an object above or below its merits. The Christian ‘good news’, however, is that God loves us not only as creatures, but as sinful creatures – enough to send his son to suffer and die for us. This ‘good news’ appears too good – an apparent violation of the Greek axiom, and the result of wishful thinking and self-flattering illusion. It took the Christian tradition a thousand years to grudgingly accept the validity of the Greek claim, and to devise a solution with Bonaventure and Aquinas in the doctrine of exemplar ideas. These describe how we should (and with God's grace, could) be, and it is this that is the adequate object or attraction of God's love. In a sense, he loves us ‘towards’ them. This problematic is hinted at only in a brief mention of providence (p. 159) which opens into theology, but of course the whole philosophy/theology distinction is foreign to Thomas.