The sensible is to the mental (i.e., as the realm of percepts) as the mental is to the intellectual (i.e., as the realm of concepts).
The intellectual is to the mental as the divine is to the intellectual.
If any of these ontological “planes” or “spheres” can and do interact, then the forms of interaction we (think we) understand better (e.g., the neural basis of mentation, the physical basis of motion, etc.) can illuminate the other forms of interaction in appropriately analogous ways. If, for example, intellectual thought can somehow meaningfully depend on and causally relate to mental operations, without however being sufficiently produced by or causally “subjugated” to them, then perhaps divine action becomes more lucid as depending on and being causally connected to human existence, without being caused or limited by it.
Does intellectual action, on the whole, have any meaning apart from mental operations? Likewise, I ask, does divine “action” have any meaning apart from human operations? I suspect both human intellectual power and divine power have a real vitality ad intra, which is free from any powers activated ad extra, the former as a supra-mental contemplation of God, the latter as a supra-economical contemplation of the divine Persons.
P.S. It may be more illuminating (or perhaps just as bemusingly unilluminating, in a different way) to read the chain of analogy backwards: the divine is to the intellectual as the intellectual is to the mental; the mental is to the sensible as the sensible is to the physical; and the sensible is to the physical as the physical is to the material. Perhaps, then, the physical is to the material, in a strangely analogous way, as the God is to the world: as Pure Form-Act to pure material-potency.
I do not intend to suggest that the divine level of agency and insight it less “detailed” than a lower level; rather, that, because it is the most “general”, it is therefore the least “specific”; and that its utter generality enables it to encompass every detail in one transcendent formal act of love and "beholding". Because God’s knowledge of the world holds super-generally, it is true in every detail on every lower level of being.
A key premise in this “chain of being” is that the world is indeed real, but that its reality can be diversely and analogously manifested. The pure potentiality of the material is real only insofar as it stands in potency to the real physical determinations that influence it downwards. Likewise, the corporeal/sensible world we really know, is that which grounds the realness of the physical world as the world we can explore; objects are formally "superior" to the sheer flux of atomic physical reality. We don’t create the sensible world from physical nonreality; rather, we use the corporeal level in order to know and manipulate the physical (as in fires, chemical reactions, hydrogen bombs, etc.). Also, while our mental-theoretical constructions about the physical and corporeal world(s) are real (qua entia rationes), they are only real quatenis as they are informed by an intellectual (i.e., higher than mental) ordering of them in relation to the divine light that illuminates our intellects from above. Just as the intellect, via concepts, is the formal "master" of the mental percepts, so God is the super-formal "master" of all intellectual truth.
I don’t deny the reality of any level––I am not a constructivist––, but I am trying to work towards an insight of how one level’s impact on another, or relation to another, can shed light on other levels of being and agency. I suppose my chain could be read as a series of implicit analogies: the lower level stands in relation to the higher level as matter does to form, and, correspondingly, the higher level stands to the lower as form does to matter. Further, the form of agency (qua action) which a higher level can enact upon a lower level, will manifest either “filling in” privations in that lower level, or rearranging lower objects’ relations to that agency and its “co-ontic” neighbor-entities.
“Notice, also, that the proximate cause is the same as the posterior cause and that the remote cause is the same as the prior cause. Hence these two divisions of causes into prior and posterior, remote and proximate signify the same thing. Moreover, it must be observed that that which is more universal is always called the remote cause, but that which is more particular is called the proximate cause. For example we say that the proximate form of man is his definition, namely, rational animal; but animal is more remote and substance is still more remote. All superiors are forms of the inferiors. Again, the proximate matter of the statue is bronze, but the remote matter is metal, and the still more remote is body.”
“Sciendum est quod idem est dictu causa propinqua quod causa posterior, et causa remota quod causa prior. Unde istae duae divisiones causarum: alia per prius, alia per posterius; et causarum alia remota, alia propinqua, idem significant. Hoc autem observandum est, quod semper illud quod universalius est, causa remota dicitur, quod autem specialius, causa propinqua: sicut dicimus quod forma hominis propinqua est sua definitio, scilicet animal rationale mortale, sed animal est magis remota, et iterum substantia remotior est. Omnia enim superiora sunt formae inferiorum. Et similiter materia idoli propinqua est cuprum, sed remota est metallum, et iterum remotius corpus.”
De principiis naturae, cap. 5
I take St. Thomas here to mean that there is a sort of inverse proportionality between a thing’s conceptual remoteness (e.g., body is more remote from a statue than metal is) and its ontological priority (e.g., body as a general class of things is ontologically “superior” to a particular member of that class). It is by way of analogy that I am inclined to see God’s utterly transcendent remoteness from the vagaries of existence sub specie categorialis, as it were, as a possible grounds for His immanent priority over any creature. Just as ‘body’ is transcendentally prior to a body, yet fully immanent and ontological prior to any body, so God is removed on the one hand, yet immanent on the other.
So, I repeat my main thesis: the lower level stands in relation to the higher level as matter does to form, and only formal agency supervenes in a free, creative way to open reality as we know it.
Another reference from the Angelic Doctor I want to add to this, if for no other good than to add it to the stew before it slipped my mind:
“Although creatures have not existed from eternity, except in God, yet because they have been in Him from eternity, God has known them eternally in their proper natures; and for that reason has loved them, even as we, by the images of things within us, know things existing in themselves.” (ST I.20.2 ad 2).
“…licet creaturae ab aeterno non fuerint nisi in Deo, tamen per hoc quod ab aeterno in Deo fuerunt, ab aeterno Deus cognovit res in propriis naturis: et eadem ratione amavit. Sicut et nos per similitudines rerum, quae in nobis sunt, cognoscimus res in seipsis existentes.”
Again, I cite this to buttress, or perhaps simply coax out, the idea that, just as we transcend the sensible world, and even the mélange of percepts, by an act of immaterial intellection, so God might be seen as transcending the world in an analogous way. What I am hoping to accomplish with this line of thought, is explore how the mystery of divine action in the world can be made more intelligible, less fantastic to skeptics and deists, by way of analogy from the levels of causation they already admit.
In case anyone is still interested, I am getting some of these ideas from Wolfgang Smith’s The Quantum Enigma, esp. his discussion of vertical causation.