Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Descartes and Malebranche on the Image of God

Descartes interprets it in the context of his argument for the existence of God (Meditation III; this is the John Veatch translation):

And, in truth, it is not to be wondered at that God, at my creation, implanted this idea in me, that it might serve, as it were, for the mark of the workman impressed on his work; and it is not also necessary that the mark should be something different from the work itself; but considering only that God is my creator, it is highly probable that he in some way fashioned me after his own image and likeness, and that I perceive this likeness, in which is contained the idea of God, by the same faculty by which I apprehend myself, in other words, when I make myself the object of reflection, I not only find that I am an incomplete, [imperfect] and dependent being, and one who unceasingly aspires after something better and greater than he is; but, at the same time, I am assured likewise that he upon whom I am dependent possesses in himself all the goods after which I aspire [and the ideas of which I find in my mind], and that not merely indefinitely and potentially, but infinitely and actually, and that he is thus God.

In the Treatise on Morals Malebranche prefers a more Trinitarian account (Oeuvres Complètes 11:186; this is C. Walton's translation in Treatise on Ethics (1684), Kluwer (Dordrecht: 1993) p. 163):

Each of the three persons of the Holy Trinity impresses its own mark upon all minds created in Its image. The Father, to whom power is attributed, makes them to share in his power, having established them as occasional causes of all they produce. The Son communicates his wisdom and discloses all truths to them through their direct union with intelligible substance, which is comprised of the Son as universal Reason. The Holy Spirit animates them and sanctifies them through their invincible impression toward the good, and through the charity or love of Order which It infuses into all hearts.


Malebranche is traditional in inspiration here. Of course, the result doesn't look very traditional; he translates it into his own system (he is both an occasionalist and an ontologist). The odd consequence, as you can see, is that the image of the Trinity is the Trinity itself (perhaps not so surprising, though, since for Malebranche the idea of God is God Himself, one reason for his many divergences from Descartes in his theory of ideas).

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