The MOST Theological Collection: The Living God
"II. The Nature of God"
1. Our knowledge of God is entirely analogical: that is, the words we use to apply to Him and to creatures are partly same in sense, partly different.
Example: In Mt 19. 17 ff a young man asked Jesus: "Good Master, what must I do to attain eternal life?" Jesus answered him dramatically; "Why do you call me good? One is good." God. He meant that the word good, when applied to God, and when applied to all else, has meaning part same, part different - but the differences are much greater than the similarity. Cf. W. Most, Our Father's Plan, Introduction & Cap 1. Cf. also Plato saying that Good is "beyond being", Republic 6. 509B and Plotinus, Enneads 6. 9.
Failure to understand this has led to the foolish, "Death of God" positions of Thomas Altizer and others: "'God is dead' are words that only truly may be spoken by... the radical Christian who speaks in response to an Incarnate Word that empties Itself of Spirit so as to appear and exist as flesh." (Radical Theology and the Death of God, Indianapolis, 1966, p. 54).
2. God is a Spirit: Cf. John 4. 24 (to Samaritan woman). Here we are using a term that designates an object of which we have no experience. We mean the opposite of material. Yet in early centuries, some thought spirit and matter were not opposite, e.g., cf. A. Grillmeier, Christ in Christian Tradition, I. p. 119: "By the substance of God, Tertullian understands a light, fine, invisible matter which while being a unity is differentiated within itself." He got the idea from the Stoics. Cf. Tertullian,
On the Soul 5. 2: "It is the Stoics I am speaking of, who will easily prove that the soul is a body, even though they almost agree with us in saying that the soul is a spirit; for spirit and breath are very nearly the same thing." Tertullian got to this point because he thought body and substance were the same, and wanted to say the soul is substantial. Tertullian was early, and terminology and classifications had not yet developed.
We can show from Aristotle's principles that God is not material, since He is Pure Act, and matter is potency.
In OT, ruah means basically breath, then can extend to wind, or movement of air. It is also thought of as a power or force that comes from God to do what He wills. It does not seem, in OT to have taken on the meaning of disembodied soul.
2 Cor 3. 17-18 speaks of God as the Spirit.
When St. Paul uses the word spirit, we need to watch to see sense from context - he may use OT sense at times.
3. Attributes of God. As we said, all are identified with His nature. Some of the chief attributes are: Simplicity, immutability, eternity, immensity, infinity, unicity. These are negative - we will speak of positives when we take up the divine operations.
4. Simplicity of God: Vatican I: "He is one, singular, altogether simple, and unchangeable spiritual substance". DS 3001.
As we already said, He is a Spirit. But a spirit has no parts. We also saw above that He is Pure Act, no potency. Hence He is not composed of really distinct essence and existence. In creatures these are really distinct. In Him, they are not really distinct, for His very nature is to exist. Other beings need not exist. If they were necessary, we would say their essence or nature is to exist. The probable meaning of Yahweh: He who is. Some thing it means "causes to exist." But that would have to be a hiphil form of the Hebrew verb to be - not known on that verb. It is probably an (imperfective) verbal form of Hebrew haya, (perhaps originally hwy) to be. The name occurs on the Moabite Stone and may be a part of some names in Egyptian, Ugaritic, Nabatean and Amorite, and also Eblaite. In postexilic times Jews gradually developed such reverence for this name that they did not pronounce it in public reading, but used instead said Adonai, Lord. Only the priests were allowed to say it on Yom Kippur and in blessing the people (Numbers 6. 23ff). At Qumran, they wrote the word in ancient Hebrew script, out of reverence. Modern devout Jews often substitute ha shem, the name. Only the consonants were written, of course. The Masoretes used the vowel points for Adonai to remind the reader to say Adonai, not Yahweh. Jehovah is merely a mistake, reading what was never intended to be there.
Yet even with this absolute simplicity, God takes care of almost infinite details. Cf. Mt 10;30: "The very hairs of your head are all numbered." And in Mt 10. 29 we find that not even a sparrow falls to the ground without His permission.
An old Portuguese proverb says that God can write straight with crooked lines.
5. Immutability of God: The text cited above from Vatican I on simplicity also speaks of immutability. He is immutable in Himself, and also in His decrees. When the OT speaks of Him as repenting, it is only an anthropomorphism, meaning human conditions have changed, and so His rules apply differently to the different picture. From this immutability flows the conclusion that He is eternal, in the sense of having a duration that has only present, no past, no future - that would involve change.
Of course, His eternal decrees are always there, but He can order them to have their effects at any point on the scale of time He designates.
6. Eternal. Vatican I, DS 3001 teaches this. It is a consequence of immutability . Time is a restless unending succession of future- present-past. But if God is immutable, there is no past, no future for Him. Our poor minds cannot begin to picture this. We say He created the world, a past statement. But to Him it is present. We say Christ will return, a future statement. But to His eye it is present. St. Thomas Aquinas, as we saw above, uses this fact to start to explain how He can know future contingents. But Thomas then stops, and does not say HOW He knows, once they are present to Him.
The eternity we speak of here is not what Aristotle had in mind - he meant unending time, unending change. Our eternity really is the simultaneous possession of all of perfect life. Eternity allows for no change at all. Time allows all sorts of changes, and includes constant accidental change. Aristotle says time is a measure of change on a scale of before and after. In between there is aevum - for which we have no English word. It
is a kind of duration that allows no substantial change, or constant accidental change, but only accidental change at some points. We say when someone dies he goes to eternity - a loose use of the word. Strictly, it applies only to God. Aevum is the duration for departed souls, and for angels, and for devils.
7. Immensity and ubiquity. Defined by Vatican I in DS 3001, cited above.
Hebrews 4. 13: "And before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to His eyes."
Acts 17. 27: "He is not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being."
2 Chron. 6. 18: "Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built."
Isa. 40. 15: "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as dust on the scales."
A spirit does not need or use space. A spirit is present wherever it produces an effect. So God is present everywhere in that He keeps all things in existence. He is present more or again in a soul in grace, in which He lives, transforming it, making it radically capable of taking part in the life of the Holy Trinity. He can be said to come again when in Confirmation and Holy Orders, He produces additional effects.
8. Infinite in perfection: All perfections seen in creatures come from HIm, . So they are in Him too, after removing all imperfections, and raising them to the highest degree. Through them we know Him,"though a glass in a dark manner" 1 Cor 13. 12.
9. Unicity. There is only one God. He is infinite, and so would coincide with any other infinite.
10. Love: 1 John 4. 8 says "God is love." Love is a will for the wellbeing and happiness of another for the other's sake. If not for the other's sake, one would be using the other, not loving. The Three Persons love one another, and give selves to one another so fully that the Three are One.
As to creatures: God wills all men to be saved - this is willing supreme happiness and wellbeing to creatures. Hence this salvific will is another expression of His love. Hence Bañez and Cajetan who say that the salvific will is only a voluntas signi or eminent will in God, are terribly wrong. One can as it were measure love by what obstacles it can surmount to bring happiness to the other. The obstacle He surmounted was the terrible death of His Son. Hence in Rom 5. 8,"God proves His love for us."
The Glory of God. Vatican I defined (DS 3025) that God created for His own glory. However the sense intended was explained by Bishop Gasser, President of the Deputatio de Fide (Collectio Lacensis, VII, 116): "Nam utique de fine creati et non creantis, sermo est, quia dicitur in canone, 'aut mundum ad Dei gloriam conditum.... '" this means that God did not create to acquire glory (finis creantis) but that creatures might reach God by glorifying Him (finis creati)." That is, He created to give, not to receive - He cannot receive anything.
This love for us is brilliantly explained in the Haurietis aquas Encyclical on the Sacred Heart, of Pius XII. The Heart of Jesus is as it were the organ of divine love for us. He has a threefold love: (1)The love in as much as He is God; (2) The love in His human spiritual will; (3) A love in the sphere of feeling, since He as a real humanity. .
Still further, so no one could suspect that His Heart, being divine, has ways that are above our ways as the heavens are above the earth (Isa 55. 8-9), and so we could not feel secure about His love - improper suspicion - He has added the love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for us -- a Heart fully in unison with the Heart of God, yet a heart that is entirely human.
Pius XII, ibid, taught that devotion to the Sacred Heart is not a peripheral thing, but part of the mainline of our religion - for it is honor paid to the love of God for us, as found in the Heart of His Son.
His love is also expressed in the New Covenant, in which He paid the price of redemption (cf. 1 Cor 6. 20) and therefore the Father pledged a similarly infinite gift, an inexhaustible treasury (claim to ) of grace and forgiveness. This is not just for the human race in a block, but for each individual human: Gal 2. 20. Vatican II, Church in Modern World #22, explained: "Each one of us can say with the Apostle: the Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me." Hence there is in favor of each one, an infinite objective claim to grace and forgiveness. -- How then could anyone fail? Could someone live it up and pull up short at the end? Reply: Then he would become hardened, and incapable of perceiving the light of grace. Cf. Mt 6. 21: "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also" , as explained in Our Father's Plan, cap. 19. On the covenants which really are infinity beyond infinity, cf. OFP, chapters 3-11. (More in our treatment of Providence and Predestination).
11. He is identified with His perfections: It is theologically accurate to say God is love, for He is identified with His perfections. Similarly, we must say He does not have intellect or will, but He is intellect and will. And He is justice, He is mercy - therefore justice and mercy are identified in Him. We can only begin to understand how that can be. We think of a man who gets drunk for the first time. Next day, since it was the first time, he will have guilt feelings, from the clash of his faith and his actions. But our nature tries to get rid of clashes, and it will happen: either he will align his acts with his faith, or his beliefs will be pulled into line with his actions. As a result, after some time, he will no longer see anything wrong with getting drunk. And since moral truths, and others too are interconnected, his whole belief structure can be altered over a period of time. We could compare this to a spiral that feeds on itself, getting larger as it goes out. There is a spiral in the good direction too. If someone lives strongly on his faith that this world is of scant worth compared to the next, his ability to see spiritual truth grows, again, in a spiral.
Now in both spirals we see simultaneously mercy and justice. In the bad spiral, he deserves to be blinded, yet that blinding is also mercy, for the more we know the greater our responsibility (responsibility at the time of sinning is less --if he foresaw earlier he would become thus, and went ahead, he contracted added guilt then - probably did not foresee it). On the good spiral we see mercy, for the light given, like all gifts of God are in the most basic sense mercy: no one can by his own power establish a claim on God. Yet it is also justice, for his actions have (in a secondary sense) earned greater light.
12. Truths beyond reason. We can learn many things about God by reason- as we saw in our first section, and also now. But to go farther, revelation is needed, especially on truths like the Holy Trinity, which reason alone could never discover, and cannot in this life understand. -- We will study the Holy Trinity more later in this course -- (Some help now: God is love. Love is desire for wellbeing of other, and leads to gift of self -- in Holy Trinity, each Person gives self so fully that all are one, distinguished only by relationships of origin).
13. All works outside the divine nature are common to the Three Persons. Defined by Lateran Council (not general, but held with Pope Martin I, and has an anathema in the canon): DS 501. Also Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, DS 3814.
Yet here we encounter transcendence again. For if all are common, how can only the Second Person be Incarnate? (Can we say: relationship is given to the humanity only to the Second Person?) And theological reasoning forces us to say that God does not change in becoming Incarnate - yet that seems to mean that the humanity has a relation to the Second Person, but the Second Person has no relation to the humanity (else would acquire something not had before, have passivity). Yet we appropriate some works to one Person rather than to another - creation to the Father, redemption to Second Person, sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Redemption really is proper to the Second Person alone - other things are common to all three.
13. Providence: The universal preaching of the Church, which is infallible (LG 25) has always taught this providence. It is all over Scripture.
Providence governs nature, e. g, Wisdom 8. 1: "[Wisdom] reaches from end to end mightily and governs everything well." Jesus spoke beautifully of God's care for the lilies, the sparrows, sun and rain etc: Mt 6. 25-34; 10, 28-31.
Providence also governs human beings. Prov. 21. 1: "The heart of the king is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord. He turns it wherever He wills." Wisdom 6. 8-9 says man is like the clay of the potter in His hand.
Here we distinguish internal and external economies. External economy: Deals with the question of what position a person will have in the ordering of the world: will he be a doctor, lawyer, shoemaker etc. It also deals with the course of the events of nations - hence Prov. 21. 1 says the heart of the king is turned wherever God wills.
Internal economy: this deals with all that directly or indirectly control the eternal salvation of a man.
As to internal economy: God does not ordinarily move infrustrably in this economy (in such a way that He makes the first decision and the human seconds it freely but infallibly. This would be secondary, not primary freedom): a) If He did, there could be no one lost, for God could not say He wills all to be saved (1 Tim 2. 4) and at the same time so move a man that he would not attain salvation. He can, in extraordinary cases, move one infrustrably toward good - this is the case with extraordinary graces (cf. Fatima request to pray and make sacrifices for sinners for many are lost if no one does that for them). b) He has given free will. In infrustrable movement, there is only secondary liberty, i.e., to second what God was the first to determine. This would be a reduced liberty. As we said, God can do this extraordinarily, for good, of course, not for evil. The conversion of St. Augustine was such a case. It happens when someone puts into the scales of the objective order and extraordinary weight, heroic actions, to call for and as it were balance an extraordinary grace.
As to the external economy: the reasons given under (a) with regard to final salvation, do not apply to merely external matters, who will be a doctor or shoemaker etc. Nor does God contradict Himself if He uses such movements here (cf. b) above) for He has not made a commitment here to grant primary liberty (that in which the first decision comes from the human, not from God), since eternal salvation is not at stake. Cf Wm. Most, New Answers to Old Questions §§ 116-44.
In the internal economy, since there is primary freedom and salvation is at stake, there arises the question of human interaction with the power or grace of God. St. Paul has two sets of statements: 2 Cor 3. 5 and Phil 2. 13 speak of our need of Him to have a good thought and to make a good act of will, and to carry it out. On the other hand, 2 Cor 6. 1 -- and all of Scripture, exhorting us to turn to God -- imply we control in some way the outcome even when grace comes. To explain the HOW of these truths has brought bitter and long debates. On them cf. New Answers to Old Questions §§ 342 -60. Aristotle's potency/act is helpful here. God can actualize the potency of a man's mind to see something as good - or refrain from doing so, and by this way, affect the outcome. E. g. , Jesus did not at first actualize the potency of the disciples' minds to know Him as they walked to Emmaus - after a bit, He did so. So there was no deception - just not providing actualization.
God brings good out of evil, e. g, Genesis 50. 19-20 where Joseph tells his brothers they planned evil, but God brought good out of it.
Various Dualisms argue: There are good things in the world, so a good God made them; but there are evils, so some other power (not necessarily a god) made them. - The error is in the notion of evil - they think it a positive, it is really a privative negative.
Providence has promised to protect the teaching of the Church - and God has also given free will. Often enough these two go in opposite directions. So He draws a fine line, a sort of brinkmanship. As a result, in reading documents of Magisterium, we must read the text with great care, and study the history of the document to see what senses they attached to the words - for words often shift in meaning. But when we know, historically, that a certain idea was in the mind of the writers, but did not get down on paper, we must hold tightly to only what is put down on paper. Thus the drafters of the teaching on transubstantiation had in mind Thomistic philosophy, but did not canonize it. We take the word substance in the everyday sense, not the technical sense. Again Gregory XVI, Pius IX and Leo XIII may have had in mind more stringent demands against Protestants than they managed to set down on paper. So we draw again the tight line, and there is no contradiction with Vatican II, On Religious Liberty. The strongest text, from Pius IX, Quanta cura, said the state has an obligation to do more than just suppress things where public order demands that. Vatican II said religious liberty -liberty from being coerced by the state-- is only within due limits." But Vatican II also added in § 7 that the state must exercise "due custody for public morality" and also in § 4 said protestant churches must abstain from any action that would involve "improper persuasion aimed at the less intelligent or the poor."
God's knowledge: When we know, we do it either actively, by causing something, or passively, by taking on an impression and information we had lacked. God cannot lack anything, so the passive mode seems wrong for Him. But neither should we say He knows only what He causes - He would then be like a blind man. The Thomists commonly do say He knows only by causing. But St. Thomas, to explain His knowledge of future contingents, has recourse to eternity to make them present. Then Thomas stops short, and does not try to explain HOW He knows them when they are present. If Thomas really had in mind that God knows all by infrustrable causality, then no need to appeal to eternity, for then even as future they would be knowable. He would know them by intending to cause them.
So we appeal to transcendence, as we did above in speaking of inspiration: He is above and beyond all our categories. This is especially clear in His knowledge of the futuribles - which eternity cannot make present, since they will not be, but only would be. Yet Scripture shows Him as knowing these.
Attempts to explain the knowledge of God have resulted in bizarre errors: Aristotle (Metaphysics 12. 9) thought He thought only of thinking, and so did not know other things. Plotinus thought Him unconscious: else a duality, He and His thought.
14. Predestination: This is an arrangement of Divine Providence to see that someone (or some people) gets something. Gets what? Either of two things: full membership in the Church/People of God - or, gets to Heaven. OT never speaks of predestination. NT in a few places, chiefly Rom 8. 29ff and Eph. 1. 4ff, speaks of predestination, but only of predestination to full membership in the Church - failure to notice this context led to the bitter debates starting in 1597 by order of Clement VIII, ended by Paul V in 1607. Cf. Our Father's Plan chapter 12.
The "Thomists" have held and do hold that God decides both predestination to heaven and negative reprobation, without taking into account how a person lives, merits and demerits. But this leaves no room for the universal salvific will of 1 Tim 2. 4: "God wills all men to be saved". Later Thomists and Thomists today try to say there is room, but the founder of the system, Domingo Bañez OP explicitly wrote that there is no room. He said (Scholastica Commentaria in primam partem... Romae, 1584. In 1. 19. 6. c. col 363) that that will to save all is not in God formally, but only eminently - that is, He Himself does not will all men to be saved -- He causes people to wish that, and so we could attribute it to Him. The eminent Dominican theologian, Cardinal Cajetan, agreed with Bañez (cf. New Answers to Old Questions, p. 93 § 55). And when we know that the whole theory is really a refurbished version of St. Augustine's massa damnata, we can really see the truth. For St. Augustine in at least 5 places insists that God does NOT want all to be saved (cf. New Answers to Old Questions, § 206) -- only a small percent, whom He picks blindly - and so does not really care about any individual. He rescues some few, just to make a point, to show mercy. The rest, He deserts to show justice. (New Answers to Old Questions, §§ 209-10).
We offer two pieces of evidence for the above:
First evidence: we notice how the theory really works. Many Thomists claim that negative reprobation means God decides to permit sins He will not forgive - and then positively condemns people for those sins. (Some Thomists think reprobation is a positive exclusion from glory as from something not due: John of St. Thomas, Alvarez, Salmanticenses and others: Garrigou-Lagrange, De Deo uno, p. 532). But the usual Thomist theory holds there are two kinds of actual graces - sufficient, and efficacious. If God sends a sufficient grace, it gives the full power to do a good thing - but it is absolutely certain the man will not do good, but will sin. The reason is that he still lacks the application of that sufficient grace, without which it is metaphysically impossible to do good with the grace. (A comparison: fire has the power to cook food, but will never do it unless a cook applies the fire to the food or vice versa. Cf. St. Thomas, Contra Gentiles 3. 67). They sometimes add: If a person does not resist a sufficient grace, or prays, then he will get the efficacious grace. - But this does not solve the problem - for they say he needs an efficacious grace of nonresistance or an efficacious grace of prayer, so they are back at square one. This is not willing all men to be saved - and further, did not Jesus earn all graces by His death, so that St. Paul could say in joy (Rom. 5. 9): "But God proves His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Since therefore we are now justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." And similarly (Romans 8. 32): "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?"- In other words: God went so far as to send His Son to a horrible death to save us when we were still enemies - now that we have been justified, will He withhold anything that His Son has earned for us? Of course not. So He will not, for no fault in a man, withhold the grace that without which it is not possible for a man to do good instead of sinning. Also, St. Paul says in Gal 2. 20: "The Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me." That is, He died for each individual person. Vatican II, Church in Modern World § 22 says, "Each one of us can say with the Apostle, the Son of God loved me, and gave Himself for me. So there is an infinite objective title to grace in favor of each individual man. How then could He simply decide not to give what Jesus earned? Would He withhold it so as to permit sin for the purpose of showing justice by punishing? What kind of justice, when the person is metaphysically incapable of not sinning when he gets only a sufficient grace? And, according to them, efficacious grace is not extraordinary, it belongs to the ordinary sphere.
Second evidence: Garrigou-Lagrange, a great defender of the Thomist position, gave away the truth when he wrote (De Deo uno, p. 525): "This principle of predilection is revealed in these words of St. Paul, 1 Cor 4. 7: "'Who has distinguished you?'" Hence (p. 363): "According to these words of St. Paul, the distinguishing of one from the other ultimately must be sought not in the human will, but in God, who by His grace distinguishes one from the other." So then God will determine the eternal fate of a person without taking into account any condition within the person. How then could He still say He wills all men to be saved? - It is true, we will have no good unless God gives it to us. But Garrigou forgot that God does not give us our resistance to grace - we do that on our own. So there is something in man on which a difference can be made. Further, in 1 Cor 4. 7 Paul was really blocking - if one does not ignore the context - the pride of the Corinthians who were proud they got into the Church and got into a special faction within the Church. To blunt their pride, Paul says (1 Cor 12. 26-31): Look at your community: There are not many distinguished people in it, as the world counts things. He was not speaking of predestination or reprobation to heaven or hell.
Molinists said God decrees predestination and reprobation only after considering merits and demerits. But He could not decree predestination after merits, since merits are the result of His own gift - it would be a vicious circle.
New Answers to Old Questions solution: There are 3 logical moments in God's decisions on this: (1)He wills all to be saved - really and strongly, (2)He sees some resisting His graces gravely and so persistently that they could not be saved - with regret, He reprobates them, (3) All others He predestines - without merits yet being seen, and not even because of the lack of grave and persistent demerits, but because, in stage 1, that is what He wanted from the start, and they are not stopping Him. This is also parallel to the relation of children to parents in a normally good family. It may be seen implied in Rom 6. 23: "The wages (what we earn) of sin is death, but the free gift of God (unearned) is eternal life." Hence Paul often speaks of heaven as an inheritance, e.g., 1 Cor 6. 9 & 10. We do not earn an inheritance, but we could earn to forfeit it.
We will consider later predestination to full membership in the People of God, and the election of Israel and the problem of "No salvation outside the Church".
Luther held a blind predestination (The Bondage of the Will, tr. J. L. Packer, & O. R Johnston , Flemming H. Revell Co., Old Tappan. N. J. , 1957, pp. 103-04: "So man's will is like a beast standing between two riders. If God rides, it wills and goes where God wills.... If Satan rides, it wills and goes where Satan wills. Nor may it choose to which rider it will run... the riders themselves fight to decide who shall have and hold it."
St. Thomas Aquinas was not the real author of the system of Bañez. Thomas saw two starting points. In Contra Gentiles 3. 159: "... a man by the movement of free will can neither merit nor obtain divine grace, yet he can block himself from receiving it.... But they alone are deprived of grace who set up in themselves an impediment to grace, just as, when the sun shines on the world, he deserves blame who shuts his eyes if any evil comes thereby even though he could not see without having the light of the sun."
Had Thomas followed up this train of thought he might have reached the solution we offered above.
Thomas had a second starting point, namely the errors of Augustine commenting on Romans 8: 29ff. But in CG 3. 163 Thomas followed Augustine: "some by the divine working are directed to their ultimate end... but others , deserted by the help of grace fail to reach the ultimate end and because all things that God does are provided and ordained from eternity. According therefore as He directed certain ones from eternity to be sent to their ultimate end, He is said to have predestined them.... But those to whom He planned from eternity that He would not give grce, He is said to have reprobated or hated.... '
In 3. 159 God is like the sun who offers light to all. But in 3. 161 God foreordains not to give light to some.
In his Commentary on Romans 9. 2 &3 he has a mixture: " inasmuch that is, as God proposes to punish the wicked for sins, which they have of themselves, not from God, but He proposes to reward the just because of merits which they do not have of themselves. Osee 13, 9: "Your ruin is from yourself, Israel, only in me is your help".