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

Chapter IV.
The Operative Attributes of God.

249. The operative attributes of God are those which imply action; they are His knowledge, His will, and His power.


250. Since God is absolutely simple, His knowledge, subjectively considered, cannot be made up of different ideas, but must be identical with the one substantial act, which constitutes His essence. Objectively considered, His knowledge may be distinguished according to three classes of objects, into which all things that are knowable may be divided: 1. His knowledge of pure intelligence embraces His own essence, as imitable in possible creatures. 2. His knowledge of vision comprises His own essence in itself and all that is ever actualized in creatures, whether past, present, or future. 3. His conditional knowledge regards all that any creature would do under any circumstances; it is styled scientia media, because it holds a middle position between the knowledge of actual and that of possible beings. For instance, the assertion "If Caesar had not been slain, he would have assumed the royal purple" is either true or false; we do not know whether it is the one or the other; but we say about all such propositions, "God alone knows." This is what we mean by His conditional knowledge.

251. Thesis VIII. God knows all things possible and all things actual; whether past present or future; and even all that any free creature would do, in any given case.

Proof 1. Direct. Since God is infinitely perfect, He must know all truth; but there is truth in any judgment that may be formed on any of these matters or in the contradictory of that judgment; therefore God must know it. For instance, the assertion "If Caesar had not been slain, he would have assumed the royal purple" is true, or its contradictory is true; now, all truth must be known by an infinitely perfect being.

Proof 2. Indirect. If God did not know all these things, He could not govern His creatures with infallible wisdom; He might be disappointed, taken unawares by an unexpected free act of man or angel; He would thus not be infinite in wisdom.

252. Objections: 1. If God knows what any person's will would choose to do in a given case, it must be because He knows the nature of that will so intimately as to see what that will must choose in a given case; therefore that will must make that choice, owing to its very nature; therefore it is not free. Answer. We grant that a will which must act in a certain fixed way is not really free; but that is not the way with our will, nor with God's conditional knowledge of our choice in a given case. He knows what we would choose, not because we must so choose, but only because we would so choose; for that we would, is an objective truth and a knowable truth.

2. That which has no being cannot be an object of knowledge, but conditional acts never happening have no being. Answer. They have no physical, but they have logical being; for judgments can be formed about them, and those judgments have truth or falsity.

3. What God knows will happen must necessarily happen, and therefore it cannot be a free act. Answer. The word 'necessarily' has two meanings: it will necessarily, i.e., infallibly, happen, for what is future is infallibly future, just as what is past is infallibly past; but it will not happen necessarily, i.e., without freedom; just as our past acts were free when we did them: knowledge does not destroy liberty.

4. The explanation given makes God's knowledge of what we would do dependent on our choice; but God cannot in any way depend on any creature. Answer. God's knowledge, subjectively considered, is independent of all creatures, for He does not receive His power of knowing from creatures; but, objectively considered, knowledge necessarily supposes the object known, and it argues no imperfection in God that His knowledge of our free acts supposes our free acts and is consequent on our acts.

253. The attribute of wisdom may, in one sense of the word, be ranked with that of Divine knowledge; for wisdom often means the knowledge of things in their highest causes. Thus considered, all the knowledge of God is properly denominated wisdom; for He knows all things as they stand related to their highest causes. In another and more usual sense, as St. Thomas fully explains (Contra Gentes, c. i.), wisdom compries both knowledge and action, and means the proper direction of things to their highest ends. As such, God's wisdom is manifested by the effects of His providence, of which we shall treat in connection with His power. (No. 266.)


254. The will of God is not, like ours, a power passing occasionally into acts, but it is one act loving and willing all that is necessary, viz., His own essence, and determining freely what contingent things shall be, and what others shall not be, allowing meanwhile for the free choice of His intelligent creatures.

God's love of creatures is nothing else than His will to bestow happiness. This will is often conditional, His actual conferring of benefits being made dependent on the free acceptance of intelligent creatures, whom He earnestly desires to make happy. His will viewed as antecedent to free acceptance is called His antecedent will; viewed as taking into account the acceptance or refusal of free creatures, it is styled His consequent will. The latter is always efficacious; but the antecedent will may remain inefficacious, because the creature refuses to comply with the required conditions. We shall consider the will of God under three aspects: as free, as holy, and as good.

255. I. Freedom, or liberty, is the power of choosing between two or more things: (a) The power of choosing whether a thing shall be or not be is called liberty of contradiction. (b) The power of choice between two contraries, such as good and evil, is liberty of contrariety; a defect is implied in the power of choosing evil, and, of course, it is not in God. (c) The power of choice between one thing and another not contradictory is the liberty of specification; we attribute to God liberty in all its perfection.

256. Thesis IX. God is free in all His external acts.

Explanation. By external acts we mean all His acts in regard to creatures; and we maintain that God from eternity, by a single act of His will, determines affirmatively or negatively all possible questions concerning all possible creatures, so, however, as not to interfere with the free acts of His free creatures. His act of determining is not free as to its entity, but as to its term; i.e., He must determine every question, but He can determine it as He pleases, compatibly with His infinite perfections.

Proof 1. A well-ordered will is in conformity with a perfect intellect; now, a perfect intellect directs that what is necessary shall be willed absolutely; what is unnecessary, freely. But all created things are unnecessary, therefore God wills them freely.

Proof 2. If God were necessitated to will anything outside of Himself, this necessity would arise from Himself or from another being; but it could arise from neither. 1. Not from another; for all other beings are contingent, and therefore cannot necessitate their own existence. 2. Not from Himself; for this would suppose that there is something wanting to Him, some want to be supplied by creating, which could not be supplied by not creating; but this cannot be, else He would not be infinitely perfect, and His perfection would require a finite complement in order to become infinite.

257. Objections: 1. God cannot do wrong; therefore He is not free. Answer. The power of doing wrong implies a defect of the intellect or the will; it is not a perfection of liberty.

2. Liberty supposes potentiality, i.e., something that may be or not be; but there is no potentiality in God. Answer. It supposes potentiality on the part of the term or object willed, on the part of the creature, not on the part of the Creator.

3. A free act is contingent, for it is not necessary; but God's acts are necessary. Answer. God's act is necessary; the contingency is in the object or term.

4. If God were free, He could change His decrees; but He cannot. Answer. God can do nothing inconsistent with any of His perfections; now, a change of design would suppose that He has learned new motives for deciding, or that He changed His mind without reason. Besides, though the matter is far above our grasp to explain fully, there is but one act in God; hence no change is possible, and still that act is free with regard to creatures.

258. Holiness, or sanctity, means the love of what is right or morally good, and the hatred of what is wrong or morally evil; viewed as an attribute of God, it may be defined, the immutable will of God to act in conformity with His perfection, in a manner worthy of Himself. Perfect sanctity is evidently essential to the infinitely perfect Being.

259. Thesis X. God is infinitely good.

Proof. Goodness has various meanings, in each of which it is infinite in God. 1. Goodness, as a transcendental, is being, viewed as desirable; in this sense it is clear that God is infinitely good, inasmuch as He is infinite being, and therefore an infinite object of desire. 2. Goodness may be taken in the moral sense of conformity to the law of reason; it is then synonymous with sanctity, it must be perfect in the infinitely perfect Being. 3. Goodness is often taken in a relative sense, and signifies an earnest will to make others happy; it is then often called bounty or beneficence. In this sense it is infinite as an attribute of God; for it has been proven a priori that the self-existent Being is infinitely perfect. His bounty, however, is not infinite in its manifestations or effects, for all the works of God must be finite in finite creatures. Therefore we cannot prove a posteriori that God is infinitely bountiful.

260. Objections: 1. If God possessed infinite moral goodness, He would manifest His hatred of sin by not allowing sin to exist. Answer. God, indeed, detests sin infinitely and forbids it absolutely; but there are two ways in which hatred of sin can manifest itself, viz., by preventing its existence, and, without preventing it, by repairing the evil with full compensation. God often chooses the latter way; He punishes some of the guilty with endless punishment, and He has Himself made an atonement of infinite merit for the sins of men. (Nos. 115, 118.) (See on this matter "A Sceptical Difficulty against Creation," by Rev. R. F. Clarke, S.J., American Catholic Quarterly Review, April, 1887.)

2. If God were infinitely bountiful, He would make all His creatures happy. Answer. He. would seriously wish all to be happy, we grant; He would make them happy against their will, we deny. The manifestation of His goodness must have a limit, which it is for Him to determine, or to place, if he so chooses, in the determination of man's free will.


261. Thesis XI, God is omnipotent.

Proof. Omnipotence is infinite power; now, power is a perfection, something which it is better to have than not to have, and the self-existent Being has all perfections; therefore He is omnipotent.

262. Objections: 1. God cannot create all possible things together, because they would constitute an infinite number; therefore He cannot do all things. Answer. He can do all things; but anything self-contradictory is not truly a thing. The fact that all possible things cannot be actualized together is not owing to any limit in God's power, but to a necessary limit in all finite things; for these cannot co-exist without making a number, and an infinite number of things actually existing is absurd.

2. God cannot create a square circle, nor an infinitely perfect being. Answer. Both these involve contradictions; for square denies the roundness essential to a circle, and a creature, by the very fact that it is a creature, cannot be infinitely perfect.

263. Thesis XII. The preservation of created beings requires at every moment the active inftuence of God's power and will.

Explanation. We do not mean that God need protect every creature against other creatures or against the action of the natural laws; but that all and any created being would cease to exist, if God ceased for a moment actually to will its existence, just as the figure of a body of water would at once cease to exist if the vessel holding it were destroyed.

Proof. The present existence of a contingent being cannot, by itself, be the cause of its future existence; for the cause must contain the effect, and the present existence does not contain the future existence. Therefore another cause must exist for the permanence of that being. If this other cause be itself unnecessary or contingent, it, too, will be unable to exist and act just then, except in virtue of another cause giving it then and there existence and power of action. And thus no contingent being could continue to exist from one moment to another, except in virtue of an influence not itself contingent nor dependent, which is nothing else than the power and will of God. This may be illustrated by reflecting that the strength of a manufactured article depends on the strength, or power of permanence, of the material of which it is made. If no material were used, there could be no power of permanence, except as far as the maker continued to give it existence; now, all creation is not made out of a pre-existing material; therefore its preservation depends at any moment on the active influence of the Creator.

264. By a similar reasoning it may be proved that God not only keeps all things in existence, but that He actually concurs with every act of every creature. For creatures depend on God totally -- that is, according to all their entity; but there is in every act an entity which is beyond the mere power of acting; therefore the act also, and not merely the power, must depend on God.

265. God's concurrence with a free act of a creature does not in the least interfere with its liberty; for by the very fact that He makes the being free He concurs with it in acting one way or another, as the free will chooses. The free act is man' s and it is God's, but with a difference: as a boat is supported by the water, propelled and directed truly by the efforts of man, but by means of the water; so human actions proceed truly from man, but with the concurrence of God.

266. The Providence of God is the wisdom whereby He directs things to their proper ends.

Thesis XIII. Every event in the world is directed by Divine Providence.

Proof 1. This is a dictate of common sense; for all men look up to God as the supreme Controller of every one's destiny, and all nations, even while believing to some extent in fate, as some did, still prayed to God as the Dispenser of good and evil.

Proof 2. It is the part of wisdom to direct all things to their proper ends by proper means; but God is infinitely wise, since He is infinitely perfect; therefore He directs all things to proper ends by proper means. Now, He could not do so unless He directed every event in the world; therefore He directs every event in the world.

267. Objections: 1. All men agree that some things happen by accident, but accident means the absence of design. Answer. All agree that things happen which are not the result of design on the part of men; but they do not deny that everything which happens is willed or permitted by Almighty God. If God specially and directly intends anything with regard to any creature, it is said to proceed from a special providence of God; else it is attributed to the general providence of God, who sees and wills distinctly all the consequences of the natural laws.

2. At least the events proceeding from human design are not directed by the providence of God, e.g., the wicked plots of murderers. Answer. The physical actions of even the worst men and the effects of such actions cannot exist except with the permissive will and the actual concurrence of God; He can and does direct even these to proper ends not intended by the evil-doers, e.g., that He may increase the merit of His martyrs and of the good in general. Therefore Holy Writ says: "We know that to them that love God all things work together unto good" (Rom. viii. 28).

3. It were unworthy of God to mind little things. Answer. No more than it is unworthy of a good painter to mind every detail of his painting. Besides, the most perfect creature is as nothing compared to God, and nothing is little when viewed as directed by Him to a high purpose.

4. If God rules all events, men need and can do nothing. Answer. This were true if God ruled all events without regard to the actions of men; but not if, as is the case, He allows free causes to act freely, knowing, meanwhile, how to draw ultimate good from present evil.

5. A wise Providence would punish crime and reward virtue; but this is not always done in this world. Answer. It only follows that it will be done in the next world, where God has an eternity to manifest His goodness and His justice.

6. If there were a Providence, there would not be so much misery and so much inequality among men. Answer. Much of the evils of life comes from the vices of men, which God need not hinder for the present, but which will be atoned for in due time. Often sufferings and inequalities are part of His grand design of sanctifying souls. Besides, there is no reason why God should treat all His creatures alike; on the contrary, the poet has truly said:

"Order is heaven's first law, and, this confessed,
One is and must be greater than the rest,
More rich, more wise;
This who denies,
Denies all common sense."


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