what God is like
So what does that leave? Aquinas thinks the mystery behind existence
is like what we think of as form. And that means the following.
(At least I think it does; all you Thomists out there feel free
to chime in.)
Let's think about form in terms of music. You know the experience:
after listening to music you love for a long time, you get to
the point where you can recognize not only a particular song but
the mark of the artist. You can hear just a couple of seconds
of a song and know, "that's Dave Matthews" or "that's
the Stones" or "that's Mozart." It's hard to put
into words: imagine trying to describe to someone the gist of
Dave or Mozart. Yet when you know something well, its essential
form is clearly recognizable and quite real. Let's think of other
examples. What is it that makes the Italians Italian? Or what
gives golden retrievers their essential golden retrieverness?
What is the heart of friendship or bravery or loyalty or humor?
Whatever it is, it is what we derive, distill and abstract from
all instances of whatever it is we're thinking about: all the
Dave songs, all the Mozart, all the Italians we've ever met. It's
the essential something we recognize when we recognize a category.
It's not an instance or a person or an individual, but it is the
very nature of the thing, the form itself.
This is why Aquinas goes on about God not being a person; he
wants to get to this idea that God is not an individual or an
instance, but the form itself. We are instances of the life form
"human," but we are not "humanity." With God,
it's the exact opposite: Aquinas thinks that God is not a divine
person, but divinity itself, whatever that might be. So while
he doesn't forget the idea that we can't really know God, Aquinas
does think we can deduce some things, one of which that God is
like what we know to be essential form.
And then there's this, which I think he also says. When we understand
the essence of a form, it's only after months or years of listening
to every Dave or Mozart work ever recorded; the form only comes
to us after repeated exposure to its individual instances. But
God doesn't have to do this. He already is form, and maybe all
possible forms, some instances of which have already been reflected
by existing in the uinverse.