He Saw God’s Very Essence

From Summa Theologiae, IIa.iiae.174 (ca. 1273)

Although in some respect one or other of the prophets was greater than Moses, yet Moses was simply the greatest of all. In prophecy we may consider not only the knowledge, whether by intellectual or by imaginary vision, but also the announcement and the confirmation by miracles. Accordingly, Moses was greater than the other prophets. First, as regards the intellectual vision, since he saw God’s very essence, even as Paul in his rapture did, according to Augustine. Hence it is written (Num. 12:8) that he saw God “plainly and not by riddles.”

Secondly, as regards the imaginary vision, which he had at his call, as it were, for not only did he hear words, but also saw one speaking to him under the form of God, and this not only while asleep, but even when he was awake. Hence it is written (Exodus 33:11) that “the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man is wont to speak to his friend.”

Thirdly, as regards the working of miracles which he wrought on a whole nation of unbelievers. Wherefore it is written (Deuteronomy 34:10-11): “There arose no more a prophet in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face: in all the signs and wonders, which he sent by him, to do in the land of Egypt to Pharaoh, and to all his servants, and to his whole land.”

St. Thomas Aquinas (ca. 1225-1274) is sometimes described as the greatest thinker of the medieval Church. His various theological treatises, above all his Summa Theologica, seek to reconcile inherited Christian teaching with the newly rediscovered metaphysical writings of Aristotle. The Summa Theologiae, which was left unfinished at his death, was his master work, an exploration of the central topics of Christian doctrine. His modern feast day is January 28. This text has been slightly adapted for contemporary readers.

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