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



141. THE origin of the universe, though neither an object of immediate intuition nor of pure a priori demonstration, is nevertheless knowable; and that, not on authority only, but also by reason.

From the causality of things surrounding us, from the thoughts and volitions of our own mind, from the orderly arrangements visible everywhere in Nature, from the universal belief of mankind in some sort of Deity, and finally from the logical consequences of atheism and agnosticism, we arrive by lawful reasoning at the conclusion that the universe is not an effect of the forces of matter, nor of the evolution of some Unknowable being, but has started into existence at the will of a self-existing Mind, through the power of a personal God, whose Essence is one, simple, infinite, and who is the cause of all finite things, not by self-evolution, as pantheists would have it, but by creation out of nothing. His decree to create was a free act, and had no beginning; but there is nothing to prove that the effect of that decree must have been without beginning. On the contrary, creation from eternity is hardly admissible, even if its absolute impossibility is not demonstrable. Moreover, as regards the existence of the universe known to us, we have in its changes and generations an evident proof of its limited duration, and in this its limited duration an additional argument for its dependence upon the good pleasure of the one, infinite, personal God.

These are, in short, the conclusions proved and defended in the previous book. We now pass on to the further and fuller investigation of the nature of the attributes of God. The basis on which throughout we shall have to build is the doctrine of the Divine Infinity, which itself rests on the doctrine of the Divine Unity and Simplicity. In carrying it out we shall be guided by the three canons of Divine attributes laid down already. (§§ 70-72 inclus.)

According to these canons those names of created perfections must be predicated of God, the meaning of which by abstraction and total denial of limits can be conceived without their implying any imperfection. They cannot indeed be predicated of God and of creatures univocally, but they can analogically, as we have explained in the place just referred to. We have also seen that names of created perfections which necessarily connote imperfection, cannot be predicated of God save in a metaphorical sense.

142. It may be interesting to note how these canons were expressed by the ancient writer who goes under the name of St. Dionysius the Areopagite. Among his works there is one, De Divinis Nominibus, held in high esteem during the middle ages, and explained by St. Thomas.

In this book the attributes of God are said to be established in three ways, which are named, the way of removal, the way of affirmation, the way of eminence.

(1) The way of removal we may call also the way of negation. -- By this way what are termed the negative Divine attributes are found. We "remove" from God in thought any name of created perfection, the meaning of which cannot be conceived in the abstract without connoting a defect. Thus we say, by the way of removal, that God is incorporeal, i.e., cannot be formally extended according to three dimensions; that He is simple, i.e., not composed of parts; that He is immutable, i.e., cannot pass from one state of existence to another. These negative attributes, whilst explicitly denying certain imperfections of created beings to exist in God, affirm thereby implicitly the opposite perfections to be in Him.

(2) The way of affirmation. -- By this is predicated of God whatever created perfection can be conceived in the abstract without connotation of imperfection. Thus we state that God is powerful, wise, truthful, benevolent, &c. Power, wisdom, veracity, benevolence, are perfections conceivable without necessarily connoting a defect. In affirming them of God we must however be on our guard not to apply to Him the limitations encompassing their abstract meaning, in so far as the latter is verified in creatures. The expedient open to us in order to guard ourselves against this error is called,

(3) The way of eminence. -- We have recourse to this way when we affirm positive attributes of God in such sort as to deny at the same time that the perfection affirmed is limited in Him. Thus we say by way of eminence that God's wisdom, power, goodness, benevolence, are boundless or infinite.

143. We have also to hear in mind the mutual relations of the attributes among themselves before we can thoroughly grasp the explanation to be given of them. In treating of the Divine simplicity (§§ 61-64 inclus.) we have seen that God is not only physically simple but also metaphysically, which means that no two concepts can be formed of His Essence without the one overlapping the other. Consequently, as the physical simplicity of God forbids us to admit accidental perfections in Him (§ 61), the significations of any two Divine attributes must implicitly cover one another. From this it does not, however, follow that the names of different attributes of God convey the same knowledge to our mind. The term, "Divine Mercy," differs explicitly in its meaning from that of "Divine Justice." We say, therefore, that both attributes (and the same holds good of any two Divine attributes taken together), are distinct from one another metaphysically, though they do not combine in metaphysical composition. They express the idea of One Incomprehensible God inadequately under different aspects. For this reason St. Thomas well says that the names of God are not "synonymous." "Though the names given to God signify the same thing, yet they signify it under many different mental aspects, and consequently are not synonymous," for "those words are said to he synonymous which signify one and the same thing from the same point of view."{1}

144. We now proceed to treat of the Divine attributes in particular, developing more fully what has been established in the first book.

In the second chapter of that hook we proved that there exists a self-existent, intelligent Being, rightly called a personal God; and in the third chapter we demonstrated that unity, simplicity, and infinity are proper to Him. These fundamental truths are the basis upon which our further speculations on the Divine attributes must rest. Having established that God is infinitely perfect, we see at once that we are to deny of Him whatever attribute necessarily involves an imperfection, and to affirm whatever attribute can be conceived without connotation of a defect. Consequently, the Divine attributes are partly negative, partly positive. We shall treat in the three first chapters respectively of God's immutability, eternity, immensity; in the next three, of His infinite knowledge, His infinitely perfect will, and His infinite power. After this we shall add a special chapter on the metaphysical essence of God. Since the chapters on the knowledge and will of God are of higher importance than the rest, we shall treat of them at greater length.

CHAPTER I. The Immutability of God.

Thesis XXII. -- The Divine Being is absolutely immutable.

145. Change is a passing from one state of being to another. If a thing passes from one species to another, it is said to be substantially changed. Thus, according to the scholastic view, oxygen and hydrogen change substantially when transformed into water. Food is changed substantially by assimilation into a living body. If the specific being of the thing is not affected, the change is called accidental. Instances of accidental change are mechanical motion in a body; in a living being, growth and sensation; in a human mind, a new set of thoughts and volitions.

God is not liable to any of these changes. This truth some scholastic authors express by saying that God is physically immutable. They distinguish between physical and moral mutability, understanding by the former a liability to change of physical being, by the latter a liability to change of will. Thus men are morally mutable, because they can form new resolutions, and abandon those previously adopted. In human beings such a moral change cannot go on without a physical change accompanying it; but it is not immediately evident that every moral change of God would also be a physical change. The infinite Being is adequately sufficient to choose and not to choose from eternity, as we have explained in the chapter on creation. Why, then, should He not be able to choose at one time one thing, at another another, without change in His Being? Why must He be not only physically, but also morally unchangeable? This question we shall treat of in the chapter on the perfection of God's will. For the present we are only concerned about proving that the Being of God cannot be changed in any way.

146. In proof of this we appeal first to God's simplicity.

By every change a thing must either lose or acquire some quality or affection of its being. On the former supposition, it must consist of at least two really distinct realities before it changes; otherwise it would lose nothing. On the latter, it is composed of at least two distinct realities after the change. In neither case can it be a necessarily simple Being. But, as we have shown (Th. VIII. §§ 61, seq.), God is necessarily simple to the exclusion of all real and even of all virtual composition. Consequently He must be absolutely unchangeable.

The same conclusion may be drawn from the infinite perfection of God. As has been proved above (Th. IX. §§ 65, seq.), God is infinitely perfect. But evidently He could not be so if He were liable to any change; for by this He must either become more or less good. If we take the first alternative, and suppose Him to be bettered by the change, He could not have been infinite before it. The other alternative is still more obviously untenable. If He became less good by the change, His infinity would evidently cease to be.

147. It is, indeed, very difficult to see how the immutability of God thus proved can be consistent with His supreme freedom of choice, but we shall treat of this subject in the chapter on the Divine will. Here we shall merely call attention to the difficulties which arise from the fact of creation and the revealed mystery of the Incarnation.

(1) Difficulty. -- God of His own free choice created the world out of nothing. He was not necessitated to create it, and if He had not done so, He would not be the Creator. Consequently the attribute Creator has been added to His Being. But it could not be added without causing a change. Therefore God has undergone a change.

Answer. To solve this difficulty, we are to explain what is meant by the statement, God created the world. It means that God by an eternal free decree resolved to produce the world out of nothing, and fixed the moments of its commencement and the term of its duration. He then in harmony with that decree originated it by His infinite power. Both the decree of creation and the power by which it was executed are truly in God, but not as entities really distinct from His Essence. His Essence is infinite, and in virtue of its infinity is sufficient for forming and executing any decree without internal change. From this it follows that the attribute Creator is not an intrinsic denomination signifying some intrinsic affection or state accruing to the Essence of God, but an extrinsic denomination, signifying the dependence of the world on God as regards its origin.

The same must be said of the attributes, Preserver of all things, Ruler of the universe, and the like. They are extrinsic denominations signifying different respects under which creatures depend upon God's will and power.

The difficulty, then, is solved by denying the statement that the attribute of Creator has been added to the Being of God. The truth is, that by creation God has produced things outside Himself, and from this production, by which in Himself He is in nothing changed, God is extrinsically denominated the Creator.

(2) Difficulty. -- Any difficulty drawn from the mystery of the Incarnation, strictly speaking, has no place in a philosophical treatise. Still it is convenient to give it a place, as it is one likely to occur to the minds of readers. The Son of God, who is really one Being with the Divine Essence, became Man an at a definite moment of time. Since that moment He has had not only a Divine Nature, but also a Human one. But it would seem that the union of a Human Nature with a Divine Person could not be accomplished without a change in the latter.

The answer to the difficulty is that the infinite God does not need any self-adaptation for any work which He pleases to perform. Consequently the Son of God needed not to adapt Himself for the assumption of a human nature. Without change of Himself, He was able to assume humanity at any moment, on the supposition that a human nature existed in such a state as to be fit for assumption by the Divine Person. Consequently the mystery of the Incarnation neither denotes nor connotes any change in the Son of God; but it denotes the creation of a particular human nature supernaturally raised to union with the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and it connotes the absence of human personality in that nature, on account of its being taken up into the personality of the Son. It was not, so to speak, the Divinity moving towards the Humanity, but the Humanity moving towards the Divinity.

{1} St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. i. 13, 4. "Nomina Deo attributa, licet significent unam rem, tamen quia significant eam sub rationibus multis et diversis non sunt synonyma." . . . "Nomina synonyma dicuntur quae significant unum secundum unam rationum."

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