JMC : Logic and Mental Philosophy / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

Chapter II.
The Essence of God.

228. The essence of a thing is that which constitutes it intrinsically, making it what it is; it is the note or notes without which a thing can neither exist nor be conceived.

We shall consider in this chapter: 1. The difference between the physical and metaphysical essence of God. 2. The infinite perfection of His physical essence. 3. The simplicity of His physical essence.


229. The physical essence is the essence viewed exactly as it is in the being itself, not introducing into it such distinctions as do not belong to it in the objective reality. Now, there are no real distinctions in the essence of God, as we shall show further on; therefore His physical essence is simply the sum total of His perfection.

230. But the metaphysical or notional essence of a being is its essence as conceived by us, i.e., as it is traced out by our mind, and marked out in different perfections with logical distinctions, which are not objectively real, though they have a foundation in the reality. The metaphysical essence is viewed as distinguished from the attributes, and, in a created being, as distinguished from the accidents. In God there are no accidents; for He necessarily is all that He is. Now, the essence as distinct from the attributes is conceived as, (a) so proper to a being as to distinguish it from every other being, and (b) so primary that all the attributes flow from it.

231. The metaphysical essence of God, therefore, must be that perfection in God which is conceived by our finite intellect as, (a) so peculiar to God that it distinguishes Him from all other beings, and (b) so primary or principal that all His other perfections flow from it. Now, this perfection seems to be self-existence; for (a) it distinguishes God from all other beings, since a self-existent being can be proved to be necessary, independent, infinite -- in a word, to be God; and (b) it is primary in Him, since from it all His other perfections flow and can be logically proved.

232. We have said that God's physical essence is the sum total of His perfection; and we shall now proceed to prove two theses with regard to it: 1. That God contains all possible perfections in an infinite degree. 2. That there is no real distinction of any kind between those perfections.

233. Thesis II. God is infinitely perfect.

Explanation. We mean by a perfection any real entity, anything which it is better to have than not to have. A being is infinitely perfect when it has all possible entity in the highest possible degree. It is clear at once that God, being the cause of the world, must have all the perfections that are actually in the world; for there can be no perfection in the effect which is not in the cause. But besides, He must have, we maintain, all perfections that are intrinsically possible, i.e., all that imply no contradiction. We must, however, distinguish between pure perfections -- i.e., such as imply no imperfection, e.g., knowledge, goodness, justice, power, etc.; and mixed perfections -- i.e., such as imply some imperfection, e.g., reasoning, which implies that some truth was first unknown. Now, we mean that God has all pure perfections formally or as such, and the mixed He possesses eminently, i.e., in a better way, without any imperfections.

Proof. Whatever the necessary Being is, it is that necessarily; but God is the necessary Being; therefore, whatever He is, He is that necessarily. Therefore, if there is any limit to His perfection, that limit is necessary; i.e., further perfection is excluded by the very nature of His physical essence; in other words, the entity or perfection of His being would exclude some further perfection. But no perfection excludes other perfection, or is incompatible with further perfection; there can be no contradiction between good and good, entity and entity, but only between good and not good, entity and non-entity, perfection and imperfection. Therefore no perfection can exclude any other perfection; hence no perfection is excluded either in kind or in degree; therefore God is infinitely perfect.

234. Objections: 1. Our finite intellect cannot know the nature of the infinite Being. Answer. We cannot know the nature of the infinite Being adequately, but we can know many things about it; for they are applications of first principles -- e.g., that there can be no effect without a cause, that no effect can be greater than the cause, that entity or good as such is not opposed to entity, but to non-entity, etc.

2. The Holy Scriptures warn man not to search into things too high for him: "He that is a searcher ot majesty shall be overwhelmed by glory" (Proverbs xxv. 27). Answer. It is not too high, but most appropriate for man to know his Creator, that he may reverence Him as he ought: "For the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made: His eternal power also and divinity; so that they (the ungodly) are inexcusable" (Rom. i. 20). But we are warned not to criticise the ways of God when they surpass our understanding: it is unreasonable for creatures to require of the Creator that He shall render them an account of His government of the world.

3. We ought not to ascribe human perfections to God else we make Him an anthropomorphic God. Answer. Since all creation is some representation of God's perfections, there must be an analogy between the perfections of creatures and the perfections of God; but there is only an analogy. Human perfections are not predicated of God univocally, but always with a difference; and thus God is not made an anthropomorphic or human God. Our view of God is true as far as it goes, but it does not do full justice to God; thus, we say that a picture is a true representation of a statue, though it is unlike the statue in certain respects.

4. It is better, with Agnostics, to call God the great Unknown than to represent Him inadequately. Answer. This plea is not even plausible, though it is one of the most specious pretexts of modern infidelity. Inadequate knowledge, acknowledged to be inadequate, is better than total ignorance of any great truth -- it is true as far as it goes; but to call Him unknown of whom we know so much is a violation of truth, a negation of what we know. Besides, it is most unjust, since it deprives the Creator of the honor which is due to Him by His creatures; for who will worship the Unknown, even though it be spelled with a capital U? It is also most injurious to society; for it throws doubt upon the final accountability of men, and thus destroys the only adequate sanction of the natural law,


235. We have seen that all perfections. belong to God; we must now prove that they are all really one, not distinct from one another except in our manner of conceiving them: this is meant by saying that God is perfectly simple. For simplicity, as explained in Ontology (No. 90), is the perfection which makes a being identical with all that is in it; while composition, the opposite of simplicity, implies a distinction of parts. Composition is real when the parts are distinct from one another in fact, in the compound object itself; it is logical, or mental, when the distinction is only between our concepts. Now, we do not pretend that there is no distinction between the various concepts which we form of God's perfections, that we do not trace logical distinctions in Him; in fact, we. cannot help doing so, and our mental distinctions have a true foundation in the reality. For we cannot take in all the being of God at a glance; we learn His essence, as it were, piecemeal from what we observe in creatures, whose perfections must have some prototype in His own nature; therefore we affirm distinct attributes of God, and we have reasons to do so. But we are now to show that the perfections of God which correspond to our distinct concepts are not really distinct in Him; they are but the different aspects under which we view the same reality.

236. Thesis III. God is absolutely simple.

Proof. That being is absolutely simple which excludes every kind of real composition; now, such is God; therefore He is absolutely simple.

The minor may be proved: I. In general. Any real composition must consist of finite parts, else the parts would be equal to the whole; but no union of finite things can make up an infinite being, as God is; therefore He does not consist of parts. II. In particular. God excludes all composition.

1. Of physical parts.

(a) Of integral parts; for integral parts make up quantity, and in the infinite being they would have to make up infinite quantity; but an infinite quantity actually existing is absurd.

(b) Of substantial parts, such as matter and form; for each part would be finite, and no union of finite things can make the infinite.

(e) Of accidental parts; for nothing can be accidental in the necessary being.

2. Of metaphysical parts, viz.:

(a) Of essence and existence; for existence is essential to the necessary being.

(b) Of substance and accident; for the accident would be something finite and the substance something finite; and these two finite things would constitute an infinite being.

(c) Of power and act; for the infinite Being has essentially all perfection, and therefore all action, since action is more perfect than mere power of action.

(d) Of essence and attributes, for all its attributes are essential, are its physical essence.

(e) Of some attributes and other attributes; for if these were really distinct from each other, they would be finite, and finite things would make up an infinite being.

(f) Of genus and species; for the genus and the specific difference would be finite. Besides, God is not in any genus; nothing is univocally predicated of Him and of a creature. (No. 16.)

(g) Of species and individual; for God is essentially whatever He is, and therefore His very individuality is essential to Him.

237. Some important corollaries flow from this thesis: 1. That God is a substantial act, a pure act without potentiality or power as distinct from action or from the reception of any further perfection, one infinite act, embracing all the objects of His activity. 2. That matter, which is essentially potential, cannot be God nor part of God; and therefore that Pantheism, which makes all things God, is an absurdity. 3. That the nature of God is not divisible; and therefore that, once we learn by Revelation that there are three really distinct Persons in God, we know that they must have the same individual nature; nor can there be a real distinction between the nature of God and the Persons, but only between the Persons as such, so that the Father is not the Son, and yet He is the same being as the Son.

238. Objections: 1. Holy Writ attributes hands and feet to God, as also passions, all which supposes an organism. Answer. Holy Writ usually presents God to us in figurative language wisely adapted to our manner of understanding, viz., in connection with our imagination.

2. Pantheists argue that an infinite substance excludes all finite substances, and therefore whatever exists must be a part of God Answer. There is no contradiction between the existence of the infinite substance and that of finite substances; these are not to be conceived as bodies which naturally exclude one another from the place they occupy.

3. But if God has all entity, He contains all creatures, for these are entities. Answer. God contains all entity eminently, but not the formal entities that constitute the creatures. It is proper to remark here that various modern theories are implicitly pantheistic, making the world the one necessary being. Now, Pantheism is not only metaphysically absurd, as proved in the first chapter of Cosmology, but it is also destructive of morality among men; for if we are God, or parts of God, we certainly can do no wrong, we are not responsible to a supreme Judge and Lord; each of us is fully justified in doing as he pleases. With such a doctrine there is an end to all moral obligation, and there would soon be an end to human society.

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