And to me, how difficult it is for me to fathom your thoughts, O God! How vast are their sum total! Psalm 139
According to a long held tradition in Christianity, God’s knowledge extends as far as His bestowal of esse (being) and there exists in God, an idea of every being that He knows. So in God, there are ideas of individuals, of accidents, of possibles, and even prior to their creation, each of these pre-existed eternally and simultaneously in the mind of God as divine ideas.
The doctrine of divine ideas has a long and rich history. In some important ways it goes all the way back to antiquity. Recall how Plato had developed his theory of Ideas or Forms, a realm of pure intelligibility, which stood in contrast to the sensible, changeable world. Now Plato gives an account in the Timaeus of how the demiurge made the universe. This being looked the realm of Ideas as the patternfor his creative work, and so fashioned the sensible world accordingly. Early christians found the notion of eternal ideas or forms quite reasonable but it could not have been true that God looked to anything outside Himself in order to create. Such a notion would be absurdity in excelsis. Rather, they insisted, the ideas are to be thought of as existing in the mind of God as the very thoughts of God. Even further still, Augustine and Pseudo-Dyonisius after him would insists that the ideas are not merely “in” the divine mind (like water is “in” a cup), but the ideas just are the divine mind.
This is a dark saying. In fact I find everything about this doctrine perplexing, yet I am still drawn to it. I suppose my attraction is directly proportional to the utter strangeness of the doctrine (even Aquinas was willing to admit of some mystery to the teaching). Nevertheless, it seems the more I read, the less I understand.