Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

CHAPTER III. On the Fundamental Attributes of the Personal God and his Fundamental Relation to Things Distinct from Him.

Introductory Remarks.

56. THERE exists a personal God, that is to say, a self-existing, intelligent Being, upon whom the material world and mankind depend. This statement is the outcome of the proofs given in the preceding chapter. Against it and the evidences for it several difficulties have been advanced, which it is our duty to weigh and to solve. However, to do this with greater clearness, it will be useful first to treat of the most fundamental attributes of the personal God, His unity, simplicity, and infinity; and then to state the fundamental relation, in which all things distinct from God stand to Him; in other words, to show that there is no being besides God, which does not owe its origin to creation out of nothing by God's power.

SECTION 1. -- The Unity of God

Thesis VII. -- There can be but One personal God.

57. When we say that God is One, we mean that the Divine Nature exists undivided, and consequently is not something belonging to several Beings. From what Christian Revelation teaches about the incomprehensible mystery of the Blessed Trinity, the Christian student is acquainted with the dogma that God is One and Three; that there are three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, each of whom is the same One God. Therefore if we say the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Ghost is God, we do not wish to be understood as predicating the Divine Nature of the Divine Persons in exactly the same sense in which we predicate the human nature, when we attribute it to three human persons, Peter and Paul and Andrew. By the affirmation that one human nature is common to three human persons, we do not mean that really one and the same existing human nature belongs equally to the three, for, as St. Thomas expresses it, in three individuals of the human nature there are three humanities{1} that is to say, three human persons are not rightly spoken of as having one human nature, but as being perfectly similar to one another, in regard of those attributes, which, being contained in our general idea of human nature, are predicable of each of them. But quite another meaning is to be given to the statement that One Divine Nature is common to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It means that the three Divine Persons are One real Divine Existence, One undivided Divine Essence. In the language of St. Thomas we may thus express the difference between the meanings of the terms "one" and "common" in the two phrases mentioned: "The unity and community of the human nature is not an objective reality but a subjective conception of objective reality, . . . but the actuality signified by the name 'God,' that is to say, the Divine Essence, is in its objective reality both one and common."{2}

58. The mystery of the Blessed Trinity and its relation to the Unity of God is in our thesis neither affirmed nor denied. Its truth transcends human reason, and is to be believed on the authority of that personal God whose unity and infinity we can prove, and whose infinite perfection guarantees His veracity. The Divine character of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity is to be vindicated by Dogmatic Theology, whose task it is also to show that there is no manifest contradiction between the two statements, God is One in Essence, God is Three in Persons. We have to prove only the former of these statements.

59. We may commence by appealing to the unity of the universe as testifying to the unity of its author. It is true that a two-fold objection may be taken to the validity of such an appeal. It may be urged that in addition to the universe in which we are placed, there may possibly be other universes, one or more, in the remotest regions of space, so far off as to enter into no relations whatever with any even the most distant of the constellations which belong to our cosmos. Whatever unity we discern in our own cosmical environment, however it may point to a single Creator of itself, is quite consistent, it may be urged, with the co-existence of other self-existing creators for other universes of the kind suggested. This is the first objection. Another is that unity of result need not imply more than unity of action in the cause. Thus the unity even of our own universe might be satisfied by the hypothesis of several self-existing Gods acting in friendly combination.

It must be conceded that in view of these objections an appeal to the unity of our universe as evidence of the oneness of God falls short of absolute validity. In other words, it can only establish a presumption, predisposing our minds to the acceptance of the metaphysical arguments presently to be propounded. The presumption, however, is entitled to be regarded as exceedingly strong. The two possibilities mentioned as depriving it of full certainty are not of a very solid character. Only captiousness could accept them as in themselves probable solutions of the problem of cosmical unity. On this point we may hear Mr. John Stuart Mill, a man not too given to assent to the conclusions of Natural Theology. He says:{3}

"The specific effect of science is to show by accumulating evidence, that every event in nature is connected by laws with some fact or facts which preceded it, or in other words, depends for its existence on some antecedent; but yet not so strictly on one as not to be liable to frustration or modification from others: for these distinct chains of causation are so entangled with one another, the action of each cause is so interfered with by other causes, though each acts according to its own fixed law, that every effect is truly the result rather of the aggregate of all causes in existence than of any one only, and nothing takes place in the world of our experience without spreading a perceptible influence of some sort through a greater or less portion of Nature, and making perhaps every portion of it slightly different from what it would have been, if that event had not taken place. Now, when once the double conviction has found entry into the mind -- that every event depends on antecedents; and at the same time that to bring it about many antecedents must concur, perhaps all the antecedents in Nature, insomuch that a slight difference in any one of them might have prevented the phenomenon, or materially altered its character -- the conviction follows that no one event, certainly no one kind of events, can be absolutely pre-ordained or governed by any Being but one who holds in his hand the reins of all Nature and not of some department only. At least if a plurality be supposed, it is necessary to assume so complete a concert of action and unity of will among them that the difference is for most purposes immaterial between such a theory and that of the absolute unity of the Godhead. . . . The reason, then, why monotheism may be accepted as the representative of theism in the abstract, is not so much because it is the theism of all the more improved portions of the human race, as because it is the only theism which can claim for itself any footing on scientific ground." We agree fully with Mill's last statement, and would refer the reader to Ch. Pesch,{4} who argues that the result of the best modern archaeological researches is to show that monotheism and not polytheism was the primitive form of religious belief.

60. Let us now pass on to the metaphysical argument, for which we must claim certainty, although it has to be acknowledged that it is somewhat subtle and requires careful reflection for the perception of its full force. But this, after all, is only what must be expected when we have to deal with so sublime a subject.

With St. Thomas we may introduce the argument thus: If the reality expressed by the concept of Socrates did not comprise more notes than the reality expressed by the concept of man, the extension of both concepts would be the same: in other words, there would be only one man, as there is only one Socrates. Now the reality corresponding to the concept of this God does not contain more notes than the reality corresponding to the concept of God or of Divine Nature: because God has not a nature produced by another being, but is His nature, being a cause without cause.{5}

In other words, when there are diverse beings sharing the same common nature, as there are distinct men sharing the common nature of man, there must be a principle of diversity as well as a principle of unity. The diversity cannot be without its raison d'être any more than the unity. In the case of God there is not this double principle.

It will help to the understanding of this argument, which we acknowledge to be very abstract, if we put it also in another way. If there are several self-existing beings, the reason of the distinction between them must either be self-existence as such, or something necessarily connected with self-existence as such, or something accidentally connected with it. Manifestly, however, self-existence as such cannot be the ground of the distinction in question. Nor can the distinction proceed from anything necessarily connected with self-existence as such; for that must be wherever self-existence is. Nor can anything accidentally connected with self-existence be said to constitute a reason for the said distinction; because a self-existent being is necessarily unchangeable, change implying the possibility of successive states of existence, and such possibility is incompatible with self-existence, which must be as constant as the essence with which it is identical.{6}

{1} St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. i. 39. 3. "In tribus suppositis humanae naturae sunt tres humanitates."

{2} St. Thomas, i. 39. 4. ad 3m. "Unitas autem sive communitas humanae naturae non est secundum rem sed solum secundum considerationem. . . . Sed forma significata per hoc nomen, Deus, scilicet essentia divina est una et communis secundum rem." Neither St. Thomas nor we ourselves must be understood to mean that there is no objective foundation for the oneness of our conception of human nature. There is indeed an objective foundation for it; but it does not consist in the real identity, but in the real similarity of human nature as considered in many human subjects. It is this which St. Thomas teaches (Sum. Theol. i. 13. 9), saying: "Natura humana communis est multis secundum rem et rationem." He implies thereby that the meaning of the abstract term "human nature "is really verified in each of many human individuals. Yet as each individual verification of that term differs from any other individual verification considered as individual, there is no objective identity, but only objective similarity. For further information on this subject, cf. Clarke's Logic, pp. 140-162.

{3} Mill, Three Essays on Religion, pp. 532, seq. We give Mill's words in full, without committing ourselves to every statement he makes on the subject.

{4} Cf. Ch. Pesch, Der Gottesbegriff, i. and ii. Freiburg: Herder, 1885 and 1888.

{5} Cf. St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. i. II. 3. "Si ergo Socrates per id esset homo per quod est hic homo, sicut non possunt esse plures Socrates, ita non possent esse plures homines. Hoc autem convenit Deo: nam ipse Deus est sua natura. . . . Secundum igitur idem est Deus et hic Deus. Impossibile est igitur esse plures Deos."

{6} See another way of proving the Unity of God in Appendix V. pp. 465, seq.

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