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§ 18. (3.) The Attributes of God.

The doctrine of the attributes of God comprises only the more specific description of the divine nature, as the same is set forth in the Holy Scripture. [1] The attributes are, therefore, not to be considered as something supplementary to the essence of God, which may be laid aside without detriment to the substance of God; [2] but in them we describe the divine essence only according to its special features, because we cannot otherwise conceive of it (they are thus variously characterized on account of the feebleness of our conception). Hence it also follows that the attributes are to be regarded as unchangeable and permanent. [3]

We acquire our knowledge of the divine attributes, in general, only from the Holy Scriptures, as has been already said, and yet these are here taught, either only by way of popular representation, or without any design of aiding us in constructing a systematic doctrinal statement of the divine attributes. To accomplish this, we must have recourse to other expedients. A correct and exhaustive arrangement of the divine attributes we may, however, attain, if, starting out with the proposition that God is the Most Perfect Essence, we endeavor to enumerate all His perfections; inasmuch as the attributes of God are nothing else than the description of the most perfect Essence. These perfections we ascertain in a threefold way:

1. By ascribing to God, in the highest sense, all the perfections which we can discover in His creatures, inasmuch as no perfection can be wanting to God of which we find creatures possessed.

2. By removing from our conception of God all imperfections which we observe in creatures, as nothing in any wise imperfect can be ascribed to Him, and by attributing to Him all the opposite perfections.


3. By ascribing to Him all the perfections which necessarily must have belonged to one who was able to create and accomplish what God has done. It is, therefore, by the way of eminence, [4] of negation, [5] and causality, [6] that we arrive at a comprehensive knowledge of the divine attributes.

The attributes found in this way may be variously classified; usually they are divided either into negative and positive (HOLL. (237), “the former being those by which the imperfections found in creatures are removed from God; the latter, those by which perfections are simply affirmed concerning God;” or, into such as describe God as He is in Himself and such as describe Him in His relation to the world). Therefore, a. Attributes ανενεργητα, quiescent (which, viz., have no specific reference to certain acts), or immanent, which describe the divine essence absolutely and in itself, without reference to an operation, and so directed towards no act; b. Attributes ενεργητικα, or operative, and exerting themselves outwardly, having reference to other things, which describe the divine essence relatively, with reference to an operation, and so are recognized as ordained for certain acts. [7] We follow the former division, and arrange the attributes of God, therefore, in the following manner:

BR. (174): I. The NEGATIVE are: unity, simplicity, immutability, infinity, immensity, eternity.

1. “Unity; the attribute of God, by which we conceive the divine essence to be absolutely single; not only undivided, but also indivisible and incommunicable by any multiplication of Himself.” HOLL. (238) “Unity is ascribed to God, as well absolutely, i.e., that the divine essence is undivided; as exclusively, i.e., when we recognize God as one, beside whom there is none other. Deut. 6:4; 4:35; 2 Kings 19:19.” BR (175). [8]

2. “Absolute Simplicity, by which God is truly and really uncompounded (not compounded of matter and form, of integral parts, of subject and accident, of nature and subsistence). Ex. 3:14.” (Ibid.) [“Spirituality, John 4:24, is comprised in Simplicity.” QUEN. I, 286.]

3. “Immutability consists in this, that God is liable to no change, either as to existence (inasmuch as He is immortal 119and incorruptible. Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17, 6:16), or as to accidents (James 1:17), or as to place (Jer. 23:24), or us to will or purpose (Numb. 23:19; Prov. 19:21; Mal. 3:6).” BR. (176). [9]

Immutability is the perpetual identity of the divine essence and all its perfections, with the absolute negation of all motion, either physical or ethical.” QUEN. (I, 288).

4. “Infinity, because the essence of God is contained within no bounds (either of time. of place, or of anything else). Ps. 145:3.” BR. (177).

5. “The Immensity of God consists in this, that the divine essence cannot be measured by, or included within, any local limits. Jer. 23:24; 1 Kings 8:27.” BR. (178).

Immensity is the interminable ubiety, by virtue of which God cannot but be everywhere, in His own essence, or it is the absolute interminability of the divine essence. It flows from infinity, which, with respect to time, is eternity, and, with respect to space, is immensity.” QUEN. (I, 288). From this there follow: a, the power of being illocally present, absolutely everywhere; b, the (ubiety and) omnipresence, by virtue of which God is actually present to all His creatures.” [10]

6. The Eternity of God, absolutely so called (for it does not signify merely a very long time), indicated that the existence or duration of God is permanent, without any beginning or end, without succession or change. Ps. 102:27; 90:2; Gen. 21:33; Isaiah 40:28; 1 Tim. 1:17; Rev. 1:4 and 8, 11:17; 16:5.” BR. (185).

II. THE POSITIVE ATTRIBUTES. BR. (174): “Life, knowledge, wisdom, holiness, justice, truth, power, goodness, perfection.”

1. Life. QUEN. (I, 289): “The attribute by which the divine essence always shows itself active.” [11]

2. Knowledge. QUEN. (I, 289): “By which He, through one simple and eternal act of the intellect, knows all things whatever that have been, are, and shall be, or even in any way can be. Nor only absolutely, but also that which is conditionally future or possible. 1 Sam. 2:3; 1 John 3:20; 1 Kings 8:39; Ps. 7:9; 34:15; 139:1; Pr. 15:3.” [12]

3. “The Wisdom of God signifies that most accurate judgment 120of God, by which He knows how to dispose and ordain all causes and effects in a most admirable manner for the attainment of His end. Job 12:13; 28:20; Rom. 11:33.” BR. (191). [13]

“The Omnisapience of God is that, by which He most thoroughly penetrates all those things which infinitely surpass the reach of human and angelic judgment.” QUEN. (I, 290).

4. “Holiness, by which He, conformably to His own Law, desires all things that are right and good. Deut. 32:4; Ps. 92:15; Lev. 11:44; 1 Pet. 1:15.” BR. (200). [14]

“The holiness of God is the supreme purity in God, absolutely free from all stain or vice, and requiring due cleanliness and purity in creatures.” QUEN. (I, 292).

5. Justice. “The supreme and immutable rectitude of the divine will, demanding from rational creatures that which is right and just.” QUEN. (I, 292).

“Justice is a divine attribute ενεργητικον, by virtue of which God wishes and does all those things which are conformed to His eternal Law (Ps. 92:15), prescribes suitable laws to creatures (Ps. 19:7), fulfils promises made to men (Is. 45:23), rewards the good (Rom. 2:5-7; 2 Thess. 1:6, 7), and punishes the wicked (Ps. 119:137; Rom. 1:32; Acts 17:31; 2 Thess. 1:6; Rom. 3:8, 25).” HOLL. (268).

6. “Veracity, by which God is unfailing in speaking the truth and keeping His promises. Numb. 23:19; Heb. 6:18; Deut. 32:4.” BR. (202).

7. Power. “The divine attribute by which God can accomplish everything that can possibly be done without implying an imperfection in God.” HOLL. (272).

“Power is that by which God independently, through the eternal activity of His own essence, can do absolutely everything that does not involve a contradiction. Matt. 19:26; Luke 1:37; 18:27; Eph. 3:20.” QUEN. (I, 293). [15]

8 and 9. “Goodness belongs to God, not only absolutely and in itself, which is His very perfection, or the essence of God, since He contains within Himself all perfections (Matt. 5:48; Luke 18:19), either formally or by way of eminence; but also, respectively or in relation to creatures, to whom God is good, since He efficiently produces every created good (Acts 17:25, 28; 121James 1:17; 1 Cor. 4:7), and this according to His own perfection, as the ideal or pattern of created perfection; and it attracts also, and excites to the love and desire of Himself as the chief good.” BR. (205). [16]

[1] QUEN. (I, 284): “Attributes are nothing else than inadequate conceptions of the divine essence, involving in part the essence itself of the object, and inwardly designating the same. Inasmuch as our finite intellect cannot adequately conceive of the infinite and most simple essence of God by a single adequate conception, therefore it apprehends the same by distinct and inadequate conceptions, inadequately representing the divine essence which inadequate conceptions are called the affections and attributes of God; affections, because they designate the divine essence; attributes, because they are attributed to the same by our intellect.”

HOLL. (234): “The attributes of God are called perfections, because they most perfectly declare God’s essence.”

[2] CHMN. (Loc. Th. I,29): “An accident does not belong to God. . . . By an accident, that is meant which can either be lost, or can be added to a substance before existing, or can depart while the substance itself remains.”

CAL. (II, 221): “The attributes are by no means accidental, but, on the part of the object, they are the essence of God itself, regarded under various modes or respects of consideration, since essentials are usually referred to by that name. For if they were accidents, they would add a new entity or perfection, and the essence of God would not of itself be complete. If they were to belong to God in the manner of accidents, God’s essence would not be altogether immutable, because liable to accidents.”

QUEN. (I, 296): “Before any operation of our intellect, divine attributes are truly and properly in God; yet they are not accidents, nor are they predicated of God in the manner of inherence or composition.” And this is further explained by the following: (I, 297): “The divine attributes do not denote anything superadded to the divine essence, but are only inadequate conceptions of an infinitely perfect essence. The divine essence is like a boundless ocean of all infinite perfections, which the human intellect has not the ability to exhaust, by one single conception, and, therefore, by means of various conceptions, draws drop by drop, as it were, something from that infinity.” (Ibid.) “The divine attributes imply the divine essence itself, which we apprehend now with this and then with another perfection, as if we would distribute the essence itself into a number of conceptions, representing the same 122essence inadequately, inasmuch as our finite intellect cannot at the same time distinctly recognize its infinite perfections.”

Hence follow the proposition (GRH. III, 84): “The divine attributes, considered in and of themselves, are really and absolutely one with the divine essense.” CAL. (II, 222): “IF they really differed from the essence after the manner of accidents, a composition in God would be predicated; and since, by nature, accidents come after essence, former and latter in the order of nature would have a place in God, both of which are contrary to the faith. If they were to be actually distinguished, they would not be predicated in the abstract of God, who in the abstract is said to be truth, life, love. If God’s power were to differ from His essence, God would not be αυτεξουσιος, i.e., powerful in Himself, but on account of the power superadded to His essence.”

There is, indeed, a certain difference between essence and attributes, otherwise they would not be separately treated. This distinction is thus stated by QUEN. (I, 300): “The essential attributes of God are distinguished neither from the divine essence nor from each other really, or from the nature of the object, as matters altogether diverse, or as two or more different objects or diverse modes of one and the same simple object, but they are so distinguished only to the reason.”

A distinction from the nature of the object, would occur if the objects were different, as body and soul; but a distinction from reason occurs, when anything is only conceived of as distinct, although it is not distinct in fact. HOLL. (235) expresses this distinction thus: “Divine attributes are distinguished from the divine essence and from each other not nominally, nor really, but formally, according to our mode of conceiving, not without a certain foundation of distinction.” To wit: not “nominally” because “divine attributes imply distinct conceptions, therefore they differ more than nominally” nor “really,” because “the divine essence is most simple, destitute of all real composition” but “formally,” etc., “because we form single conceptions of the operations of the single attributes, although they do not exist separately in the divine nature.”

[3] GRH. (III, 84): “The attributes exist inseparably in God; for, as it is impossible that the essence of an object be separated from the object itself, so also the attributes cannot be separated from God, since they are the very essence of God.”

[4] HOLL. (190): “By way of eminence, according to which whatever we discover in creatures to be especially perfect, we ascribe in the most eminent manner to God, by virtue of the very 123familiar principle in nature: ‘Whatever exists in an effect, pre- exists in the cause.’ From which we infer that all perfections which are in creatures, are in the Creator, either formally or by way of eminence. For indeed, in creatures, such perfections shine forth absolutely, as involve in their formal conception no imperfection, but are better than the creatures themselves. Thus we notice in men, the most eminent of visible creatures, the power to understand and to will, wisdom, goodness, justice, etc. These perfections exist formally, and, indeed, in the most excellent manner, in God.”

While here perfections are ascribed to God which in a certain sense can be predicated also of a creature, GRH. (III, 86) appends the twofold remark: (1) That we must be careful to observe that they belong to man only secondarily, but to God originally. . . . “Of God they are predicated essentially, εξοχικως, and, therefore, altogether in a peculiar way; of certain creatures only accidentally and through a participation and resemblance: of God they are predicated in the abstract; of creatures, only in the concrete. The goodness of God not only belongs to God essentially, and is itself the essence of God, but also in the cause and rule of goodness in man.” (2) That those attributes which in the case of man express an affection, when ascribed also to God do not indicate a weakness or mutability like that of the creature, in accordance with the principle (ibid): “Whatever things are transferred from creatures to God must first be freed from all imperfections, and then only, as that which is perfect, are they to be ascribed to God.” (I, 110): “Nor do those affections which Scripture ascribes to God prove any mutability of the divine essence; for those things which are spoken of ανθρωποπαθος, must be understood θεοπρεπως.”

CHMN. (Loc. Th., 29): “It is objected that some things are affirmed of God with respect to time: as, ‘the Word was made flesh,’ and became for us a Creator, an aid in times of trouble, and a refuge. Therefore, all this is predicated of God accidentally. Cyril replies: ‘With respect to creatures, some things are affirmed of God under the limitations of time; and these are affirmed accidentally,’ not because anything happens, with change, to God’s substance, but as an accident of the creature in which the change occurs.”

[5] HOLL. (191): “By way of negation, according to which we remove from God whatever implies imperfection in creatures, and ascribe to Him an opposite perfection, according to the self-evident principle of nature, that there is no defect in that which is supremely perfect. Relying upon this principle of nature, we call God independent, 124infinite, incorporeal, immense, immortal, incomprehensible.”

[6] HOLL. (190): “By way of causality, according to which we recognize from the effects an efficient First Cause; from creatures, a Creator; and from the most beautiful and wise government of this universe, a most excellent, most powerful, and most wise Preserver and Governor. Here an argument is derived from the very evident axiom: An effect is proved from the cause, and its perfection.” N.B. Except in the writings of GRH., we find the method adopted after the time of Dionysius only incidentally noticed, it is true; and HOLL. mentions it barely as that by which we can acquire a natural knowledge of God: but we may with good reason assign it this place; for, although it is not questioned that we obtain a clearer and more comprehensive knowledge of the divine attributes from revelation than natural knowledge teaches, yet we cannot believe ourselves limited, with regard to the divine attributes, to the Holy Scriptures in such a way as only to have the single attributes enumerated for us out of the Scriptures, but we must rather be able from them to form for ourselves such a conception of the Divine Essence that we may from it deduce the attributes; and thus, from the standpoint of revelation itself, this threefold way of eminence can be evolved.

[7] GRH. (III, 85) enumerates still other distributions: “(1) Some attributes are predicated at the same time of God and of creatures, such as those by which things are signified which in creatures are accidents, but in God are substances, as when God is said to be good, wise; but others are predicated of God alone, as those by which things which belong to God alone are explained, as when He is said to be eternal, infinite. (2) Some attributes are attributes to God properly, as that He is good, wise, etc.; others improperly and figuratively, when, by anthropopathy, human members and affections are ascribed to Him. (3) Some are affirmed of God in the abstract, as when He is said to be life, goodness, truth; others in the concrete, as when He is said to be living, good, and true. (4) Some are internal, as infinity, eternity, spirituality; others are external, and these are either inimitable, as omnipotence, etc., or imitable. (5) Some belong to God from eternity, as that He is infinite; others belong to Him in time, as that He is the Creator and Preserver, yet these, as relative terms, do not prove any change made in God Himself in time, but denote that a new work has been produced by Him, and that a change has been made in creatures.”

Those Dogmaticians who divide the attributes into immanent and externally operative, usually cite a greater number. CALOV. (II, 125233, seq.) thus enumerates them: “I. The immanent attributes pertain either to essence, or infinity, or spirituality. To the essence belong God’s perfection (and thence, majesty and happiness), unity (and thence, simplicity), truth (and thence, immutability), goodness, holiness. To infinity belong immensity, eternity. To spirituality, immortality, life (intellect, will). II. To the attributes exerting themselves outwardly belong omnipotence, omniscience, grace, justice, truth, omnipresence.”

[8] HOLL. (238): “God is said to be one, not in kind, but in number, since He is a being entirely alone, not only in Himself undivided, but also indivisible, because of the entire simplicity of the divine essence, as there is no composition in God.”

GRH. is the only one of the Dogmaticians who considers unity as not an attribute, but as a characteristic, of the divine essence. For the relation of the unity of God to the Trinity, see § 19.

[9] GRH. (I, 124): “But did the work of creation change God, or make Him changeable? By no means; for in time He did that which, from eternity, He had decreed in His immutable will.”

[10] GRH. (III, 122): “The immensity and essential omnipresence of God is thus to be understood (1), that God is present to all things, not only by virtue and efficacy, nor only by sight and knowledge, but also in His entire and individual essence, for He is immense and infinite, not only in power and knowledge, but also in essence; (2), that God is everywhere present, not συνεκτος, so as to be comprehended, but συνεκτικως, so as to comprehend and contain all things; not περιεκτως and περιγραπτως, but περιεκτικως. The Scholastics say that God is everywhere, not locally or by way of circumscription, . . . nor definitively, . . . but repletively;44See Appendix II, under Circumscriptio. yet this must not be understood in a gross and corporeal manner, that God fills all places just as a body which fills its own place in such a manner as to hinder another body from being located in the place which it occupies, but in a divine manner, that God, being confined to no place because of the immensity of His essence, contains all places; (3), that God is everywhere present, not by the multiplication of His essence, for He is ολως ολον τι, a most simple being, and, therefore, whatever He is He is entire, neither by the division of His essence, . . . nor by extension and rarefaction, . . . nor by commingling; . . . (4), that God is, by His essence, everywhere present, not subjectively, as an accident inheres in a subject, because God is neither composite, nor can He admit of composition, . . . but that He is effectively present as the source and cause of the thing which He effects; for God is not contained in a place, but rather gives to place and 126the things that are in place their own existence. The presence is (a), illocal; (b), indivisible; (c), incomprehensible to our reason; (d), effective and operative; (e), containing within itself all things, like a most minute point.

HOLL. (275): “God’s omnipresence is a divine ενεργπτικον attribute, by virtue of which God is present to all creatures, not only by the nearness of His substance, but also by His efficacious working. The divine presence, according to the Scriptural idiom and its complex meaning, implies two things (1), αδιαστασια, or the substantial presence of God with creatures; (2), ενεργεια, or effectual operation. Therefore, two things are here to be proved: (a), that God, with respect to His substance, is everywhere present; (b), to a full and accurate definition of the divine presence, the effectual operation also of God as a definitive part is required by the light of the Holy Scripture.”

[11] QUEN. (I, 289): “God is life (1), essentially, for He is αυτοζωος, having life εν εαυτω (John 5:26), i.e., in Himself and of Himself, by His own nature and essence; (2), ενεργητικως, effectively, because He is to all the cause and origin of life, or He is the life of all that live, not formally, but causally. (Acts 17:28; Deut. 32:39.)” This is negatively expressed by immortality. 1 Tim. 6:16, and incorruptibility, Rom. 1:23; 1 Tim. 1:17.

[12] QUEN. (I, 289): “Although the knowledge of God is one and simple, and cannot be separated into parts or species, yet, with respect to objects, a manifold distinction is generally observed. This distinction is (1) into natural, or that of simple intelligence, and free, or that of sight. The former, which is called also abstract and indefinite, is that by which God knows Himself, and not only those things which are, which have been, or are about to be, but also all possible things, viz., those which can happen and exist, although they never will happen or exist; yea, He is acquainted even with those things which are impossible. The latter, viz., the knowledge of free vision, which is called both intuitive and definite, is that by which God regards all things as present, sees Himself in Himself, and all other things which at any time have existed, or now exist, or will truly exist, both in Himself, as in the universal cause, and in their proximate causes and in themselves. The Scholastics add a third, and name it mediate, according to which they say that God is acquainted with those things which can exist, with the condition interposed that it is limited to that which the creatures, if created with certain conditions, would be free to do, or would be allowed to effect. Natural knowledge precedes every free act of 127the will. Free knowledge is said to follow a free act of the will. Mediate knowledge is said indeed to precede an act of the will, yet in such a manner that it sees something as future only on the hypothesis of such will.

[13] BR. (191 and 192) discusses the topic of the will of God, not as a separate attribute, as many Dogmaticians do, but as supplementary to the attribute of wisdom; and from the will of God deduces the attributes of holiness, justice and truth.

HOLL. (261): “The will of God is the divine essence itself, conceived of under the mode of power, seeking the good and shunning the evil that is known by the intellect.”

The name of the divine will is more particularly described as follows:

BR. (193): “The will of God is distinguished into natural and free. According to the former, God is said to will that which He is not able not to will. According to the latter, He is said to will that which He was able also not to will, or to will the opposite. According to the former manner, He is said to will Himself; according to the latter manner, created things.”

HOLL. (262): “You say: The necessity to will and love Himself seems to be an imperfection in God, both because it is like the mode of operation of natural agents, which is imperfect, and also because freedom is a greater perfection than necessity. Reply: Necessity in acting is threefold. One kind is violent, which is from without. A second is natural, which is, indeed, from within, yet is inanimate or at least irrational. Both are imperfect. A third is natural, vital, and in the highest degree voluntary. This is a great perfection, and such a necessity to will and love exists in God in respect to that which is a supreme and infinite good. Yea, this necessity is more perfect than the freedom to which it is opposed.”

BR. (194): “The free will of God is distinguished as: (1) efficacious and inefficacious. That is efficacious by which God wills something to be effected. Inefficacious is that by which something in itself please God, although He does not intend to effect it. The efficacious will again is divided into absolute, by which God wills something without a condition; and conditional, by which He wills something under a condition; (2) absolute, by which He wills that something be effected by His own absolute power, or by His power as not bound by second causes; and ordinate, by which He wills that something be effected by His own ordinate power, or by His power as bound to second causes and to a certain order of means appointed by Himself; (3) first or antecedent, by which He wills something from Himself alone, or entirely from His own inclination, without any regard being had to the circumstances; and second 128or consequent, by which He wills something with a consideration of the circumstances, or in consideration of a cause or condition, regarded with respect to the creature for which He wills something.”

BR. (198): “A distinction of the divine will also occurs, into a will of the sign and of the purpose. The former is meant when the name, will, is ascribed to an effect or object of the divine will, namely as a sign of the will in God.55As illustrations, he cites Matt. 6:15; 12:50, and especially 1 Thess. 4:3. The latter denotes the act itself of the divine will, by which it wills anything. Whence it is manifest that the distinction is analogical. But we must take care not to imagine such a will of the sign as to conflict with the will of the purpose which the sign, according to the plan, ought to signify.”

[14] HOLL. (246): “God is holy, (1) independently and by His essence: creatures dependently and through a quality superadded to the essence; (2) immutably, inasmuch as the holiness of God cannot fail, or undergo a change like that of a creature, James 1:17; (3) efficiently, because He is the author of all holiness, 1 Thess. 5:23; (4) by way of example, since the holiness of God is the model of all holiness, which the holy sons of God perpetually contemplate and imitate. This imitation the Heavenly Father demands of them, Lev. 11:44; cf. Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet. 1:17; (5) objectively, because the holiness of God must be sacredly recognized and celebrated by us, Is. 6:3.”

[15] QUEN. (I, 293): “The objects of the divine omnipotence are not only such things as God wills to do, but also such as are in any way possible, and therefore, all those things which do not involve contradiction, as (1) such as have no mode of existence. Thus God is unable to render a deed undone; (2) such as imply a fault or defect, as to be able to lie, to sin, to die. For to do such things is not a proof of power, but of impotence. The potentia of God is not separated from divine potestas, δυναμις, from εξουσια,66“Potentia denotes a merely factitious power, which can be exerted at will, like δυναμις; potestas, a just and lawful power, with which a person is intrusted, like εξουσια.” — Doederlein’s Latin Synonyms. as the Calvinists wish; for, although these can be distinctly conceived of, and among other things outside of God have frequently been separated, yet in God they are most intimately joined, and are one and the same thing.”

“Although divine power is unique, yet because of its different relations, it can be distinguished into absolute, by which God can most absolutely effect whatever can exist; and ordinate, which the accustomed government of the universe displays. By the former, God can frame a new world, from the stones raise up children to 129Abraham (Matt. 3:9); the latter preserves the order established in nature. By this absolute power God can do many things, which, nevertheless, He does not do by His ordinary power.”

[16] HOLL. (245): “The goodness of God is the conformity of the divine essence to the divine will.” It has been distinguished into essential goodness, or perfection, and moral goodness, or holiness.

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