“What are the different ways of knowing God? Why are some of these mixed with error? If the error was removed are these properly the highest knowledge of God or is this only achieved through contemplation in the next life?”
The main two ways of knowing God are through general contemplation of life, and all of the characteristics which follow, itself, and contemplation about the nature of God. When observing life itself to come to an understanding of God there are many misconceptions (confused knowledge), as well as an intrinsic error. Man, can either “know” God by almost a sense of complacency while subscribing to the idea of God, or Man can have a confused knowledge of God through natural reasoning itself. The aforementioned at first seems to make sense but after closer examination the way of coming to know God falls apart. If nature is ordered, then it seems that there is an orderer of what has been ordered. The epistemological flaws in the ordered to orderer reasoning lies in that there are works of man that do not go in the order of nature, so by default there is an exclusion of the soul of every man. While it could be argued that the soul does not exists, there then would not be a solid reason for the works of man (both ordered and non-ordered works). There is also a flaw in that it can become easy for man to view himself as the orderer, especially if solely governing a body of people; or even that there is no such order and that everything is controlled by the elements. Now as for knowing God through the reasoning of His nature, while it might not be possible to know God through his Essence, God can be known through what he has done. Excluding the latter, these examples cannot lead to a fuller understanding of God and who He is. Felicity, it is said, can only be reached as an end human act, or before death. Life is a process of coming into relationship and knowledge of God. Therefore, true understanding of God, and all of his glory, as well as ultimate felicity comes in the next life.
“What is the highest good? What is felicity and how is it attained? Why must it be connected to knowledge of what is lasting?”
The highest good is not found in just applying reason to any topic but to the topics of God and divine matters. Wisdom is achieved through the discernment of divine matters and ultimate felicity comes from the contemplation of wisdom. Felicity is the happiness and joy that man experiences. These things come from an understanding of what is lasting, because it is God himself who is lasting. All things eventually come to an end, so therefore cannot lead to an ultimate happiness.
“Aquinas quotes Jesus as saying that there is a treasure in heaven, and Paul as saying we will see face to face. In their context, what else might these be about rather than the beatific vision?”
The ultimate felicity of man is found not in a physical reward in heaven, like the Greek dualists, but that coming to know God and to be in union and contemplation with him is man’s ultimate felicity. When Paul is saying that we will come face to face with God it is not to say that we see in the way we understand sight now. It is more of an understanding. There is an essential flaw with the thought of seeing God face to face, in a human form. God is not corporeal, so it is not possible to see an incorporeal person in corporeal vision. Which also then means that then we cannot see God in our own corporeal face, we eventually will see God without a medium, or as Aquinas says “as true as men face to face”.
Contrast the direct vision of God (which is called contemplation or immediate knowledge) with the knowledge of God through the works of God (creation and providence, mediate knowledge).
The ability of direct vision of God is achieved through the contemplation of the nature of God, which cannot reach fulfillment until union with God, whereas to see God through his works is to observe that from all things (God being the only eternal being) there is God and God is behind all that exists; which can refer back to Augustinian thinking.
“In what way is Aquinas an empiricist? In what way does he continue the assumptions of Greek dualism?”
Aquinas is seen as an empiricist by his understanding that heaven is not in correlation to the Christian’s who had Greek Dualistic thoughts. Aquinas had the understanding that heaven, both the gift Christ promised and seeing God face to face as Paul mentioned, is not in a physical form, but rather that these are a human way of understanding. Aquinas, using reason, could know that being with God is the ultimate felicity of man. It seems that this idea might have continued the Greek Dualistic view by stating that being in contemplation with God is what awaits us in the afterlife. This idea of being one in contemplation loosely relates is reflective of Plato’s thoughts on who God is.