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

Chapter III.
The Quiescent Attributes of God.

239. We have stated above (No. 231) that self-existence is generally held to be the metaphysical essence of God; by which we simply mean that when our mind, incapable of understanding the infinite being by one concept, forms partial concepts of His perfections and strives to put order in its knowledge, we designate self-existence as its essence, but only a quasi-essence -- i.e., as the note from which all the other perfections discerned in God flow, after the manner that attributes do from the essence of a created being. These perfections or attributes of God may, for convenience' sake, be classified under two heads -- namely, His quiescent attributes, those that do not formally regard action, and His operative attributes, which formally regard action.

We are now to treat of the former class, and we shall consider in particular the unity, the immutability, the eternity, and the immensity of God.

240. Thesis IV. There can be only one God.

Proof 1. If there were more gods than one, they either could or could not will opposite effects; if they could not, they would not be free and independent, not infinite; if they could will such effects, they could not give efficacy to their contradictory wills, they could not be all-powerful. But a being that is not every way infinite is not God.

Proof 2. If there were more gods than one, there would be various infinite beings; but this cannot be. For, being infinite, such gods would have all perfections, and therefore everything that the one had the other would also have; they would then not differ except numerically. But they could not differ numerically; for this would suppose that their individuality would be really distinct from their essence, since the essence is really separated in the second god from the individuality of the first. But we have seen that there is no real distinction between the essence of God and His individuality. Therefore there is only one God.

241. Objections: 1. The arguments just laid down would prove as well that there can be but one Person in God. Answer. They prove only this, that everything in God is one individual Being, and such are really the three divine Persons.

2. The consent of nations was at one time in favor of polytheism. Answer. Most nations considered the so-called gods as subjects of one supreme Being, the one only God.

3. One infinitely perfect God will not account for the evil that is in the world. Answer. The creature is the cause of the moral evil; and, as to physical evil, God can cause it; for He does not owe His creatures anything, and it is not unworthy of Himself to give them a finite happiness of mixed enjoyment and suffering, especially since men can turn their sufferings into merit. As for the sufferings of the brute animal, they are far less than we often imagine. (See Dublin Review, Jan., 1888, "The Ethics of Animal Suffering," Vaughan.)

4. But an infinitely perfect God could not create a being capable of doing moral evil. Answer. This we absolutely deny: in giving us a free will God gives us a very good thing, and He does so for a very good purpose, that we may honor Him with it and benefit ourselves; if we abuse His gift, He knows how to draw good out of evil, exercising His mercy in pardoning and His justice in punishing.

242. Among the civilized nations the unity of God is now universally recognized. In ancient times, though the worship of many gods was a wide-spread error among the masses, it found little favor with the philosophers, except in the form of dualism, which supposed two necessary beings, the one all good and the other all evil, In the beginning of the Christian era the Gnostics borrowed that error from the Persians, and made it popular in several parts of Europe. Afterwards the Manichaeans, and later on the Albigenses, adopted the same absurd theory. It was revived in the sixteenth century hy the erratic Pierre Bayle, the author of the Historical and Critical Dictionary, but it is now universally abandoned. The only ground for the theory was the difficulty of reconciling the existence of one infinitely good God with the presence of evil in this world. They imagined, therefore, that evil proceeded from an evil being, which they supposed could not have been produced by a good cause, and therefore they considered it as self-existent. Bayle conjectured that the good and the bad principles had made a compact to blend their works with each other. It would be difficult to imagine a more unphilosophic error. For a being all evil would have no perfection, and therefore no entity at all; and a being that would be driven to make a compact with the evil principle would be either wicked or weak, certainly not the infinitely good God. This is one of the many examples which the history of philosophy affords, showing us how self-conceited theorizers will often refuse to accept some well-established truths owing to some apparent difficulties, and, rather than modestly acknowledge the limitation of their intellects, build up systems full of wild conjectures and flat self-contradictions.

243 Thesis V. God is absolutely immutable.

Explanation. We maintain that there cannot be changes intrinsic to God; there may be extrinsic changes, changes in the relations between God and creatures, as when the world began to exist and thus God became its Creator, or when Lucifer fell and was thenceforth hated, while before he was loved by his Maker: in such cases all the intrinsic change is on the part of the creature.

Proof. An intrinsic change supposes the removal of a perfection or entity, or the addition of a perfection, or the exchange of one perfection for another. But nothing of the kind can occur in God; for, since all His perfections are necessary, He cannot lose them, and, having all, He can acquire no more, nor exchange one for another.

244. Objections: 1. God is free; therefore He can change His mind. Answer. He has all the perfection, but not the imperfections of free will; now, the power of changing one's mind implies an imperfection.

2. God is influenced to change His will by the prayers of His creatures. Answer. He knew from eternity all future prayers, and therefore He determined from eternity what He would do in consideration of those prayers. When we delay to determine a conclusion, it is either because we are without proper information, or because we do not know what is best, or because we are sluggish or timid; God has no reason to delay His choice.

3. If God cannot change, He cannot threaten and yet pardon. Answer. He determined from eternity to threaten conditionally, and execute His threat or pardon according to the circumstances which He foreknew.

Further difficulties on this point will be answered further on, in connection with the liberty of God (No. 256); others were considered when treating of human liberty (No. 199).

245. Thesis VI. God is eternal.

Proof. Eternity, as beautifully defined by the Christian philosopher Boethius, is "the simultaneously full and perfect possession of a life that has neither beginning nor end" -- Interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio; now, such possession belongs to God. For,

(a) Since God is a self-existent, and therefore a necessary being, His life is without beginning and without end; because He is immutable, He must possess His life simultaneously in all its fulness; and because He is infinitely perfect, He must possess it perfectly.

(b) Since God is absolutely simple, there is in Him no real distinction between power and act, nor between one act and another; He is, therefore, one pure and substantial act; therefore He possesses the fulness of His life, not as broken up into moments, but simultaneously; and because His existence is His very essence, His full enjoyment of life is without beginning and without end.

246. Objections: 1. All reality must be in God; but time is a reality; therefore it is in God. Answer. Every pure perfection or reality is in God formally; but time is not a pure, but a mixed reality, for time is the measure of successions in finite beings; as such it implies an imperfection or limit of existence which, of course, cannot be in God. Time is, however, eminently in God; for eternity contains all the perfection of time.

2. Eternity, as explained in the proof of this thesis, would seem to be full at each moment; but we co-exist with some of those moments: therefore we co-exist with eternity. Answer. We co-exist with God, who is eternal, but not with the eternity of God. For we cannot say that eternity is full at each moment, but that it is not divisible into moments. Eternity may be said to co-exist with each moment, and yet each moment does not co-exist with all eternity.

247. Thesis VII. God is omnipresent and without limit.

Explanation. 1. The omnipresence or ubiquity of God means His presence in all existing things, and therefore in all real space; His immensity means His essential existence without limit of space, so that there is no real or possible space outside of Him. 2. Besides, the omnipresence of God, as implying a relation to creatures, cannot be predicated of Him unless creatures exist -- it is a relative perfection; but His immensity is an absolute perfection of His being, and as such it had no beginning. 3. God's immensity should not be imagined as something extended; for whatever is extended has quantity and therefore cannot be infinite. But it is with the immensity of God in respect to space as it is with His eternity in respect to time: He is whole and entire wherever He is and whenever He is.

1st Part. God is omnipresent.

Proof. All creatures exist for no other reason than that God gives them existence and keeps them in existence. But He cannot act where He is not present for nothing can be a cause where it is not, since there it is nothing, and nothing cannot produce any effect. Therefore God is present in everything.

2d Part. God is unbounded.

Proof 1. Else He would have limits of some kind, and therefore would not be truly infinite.

Proof 2. He would not be all-powerful to create if He were confined to any space; but He is all powerful, therefore He is not confined to any space. The major proposition is evident; for if He were confined to any space, He could not create beyond that space, since a being cannot act where it is not; therefore He would not be all-powerful.

248. There are three ways in which God is in a creature: 1. By His essence, i.e., by existing in that creature. 2. By His power, i.e., by working in that creature, giving it existence and everything it has. 3. By His presence, knowing the creature and in some cases making Himself known to it. It is very different with creatures; thus, a king may be said to be throughout his kingdom by his power, to be present to his troops when he reviews them, but he is essentially or substantially confined to the narrow compass of his body.

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