Principles of Natural Theology / by George Hayward Joyce, S.J.

Chapter X. Attributes relating to the Divine Nature.

  1. Division and Deduction of the Divine Attributes.
  2. Unity and Simplicity.
  3. Truth and Goodness.
  4. Infinity and Immutability.
  5. Eternity.
  6. Immensity.

1. Division and deduction of the Divine attributes. By the Divine attributes are signified those perfections which, to employ Scholastic terminology, exist formally and necessarily in God. We are not here concerned with terms predicated metaphorically in His regard, but with such as can be affirmed of Him in their strict and literal sense. We have already explained at some length that in Him these perfections are realized in a manner infinitely higher than that in which they are found in finite things, and that in consequence our minds can form no adequate representation of the mode of existence which they have in the Godhead. We merely know that in the Infinite Being they are not so many distinct determinations, but that they are one Supreme Substance in Whom are no accidents and no distinctions. The limitations of our faculty of knowledge impose on us this piecemeal knowledge of the absolutely simple. Perfections, which in the Infinite coalesce into unity, in finite things are distinct and demand to be known through different concepts. And such finite realities are all that our experience shews us. Nevertheless, we are justified in affirming of God certain perfections which the created world displays: for the terms by which they are designated signify the perfection without connoting whether it is limited or not.

Terms which are predicated of God consequently on His free actions, e.g., Creator, Conserver, are not reckoned among the Divine attributes. It is in view of this distinction that we say that the attributes denote perfections which exist necessarily in God.

In this section we shall briefly enumerate the principal attributes, distinguishing them into the classes into which they naturally fall, and shall then proceed to shew how they may, one and all, be deduced from the notion of Subsistent Being, which, as we argued in the last chapter, must be regarded as being for our intelligence the essence of God{1} -- the primary constitutive of the Divine nature, from which all God's other necessary attributes may be deduced, just as within the limits of the Aristotelian categories the properties are derivable from the specific essence.

The main division of the attributes will be into those which relate to God's nature and those which relate to His actions. Unity and Simplicity, Goodness, Truth, Life, are properties predicable of the nature of God. And with these we may reckon certain other perfections, the concepts of which we reach by the exclusion of those limits which characterize finite things. Thus we say of God that He is infinite, eternal, immense. The first of these declares that there are no bounds to His essence -- that it embraces the fullness of all being: eternity affirms that lie is not measured by time: immensity, that spatial restrictions have no application, no meaning, in His regard.

The attributes relating to the Divine action are, in the first place, those which concern His immanent operations. We predicate of Him both intellect and will: and each of these activities gives rise to certain further denominations. In virtue of His intelligence we term God omniscient: in virtue of His will we attribute to Him love of the Good, and those moral virtues which are compatible with infinite perfection, e.g., justice and mercy. To this division belongs, secondly, the Divine omnipotence -- God's power of producing as effects external to Himself whatever is not repugnant and self-contradictory.

We shall now establish that the attributes which we have just enumerated are all deducible from the notion of God as Subsistent Being: that when we have demonstrated the existence of the Supreme Substance, and proved that this Substance is Absolute Being, Actus Furus, the Reality in which existence and essence are identified, the mind is not brought to a standstill, but is able to shew how this Being is to be conceived. It is important to call attention to this point for more than one reason. Thereby we make good our contention that Natural Theology is in the strictest sense a science. Moreover, we here refute once and for all the assertion so frequently heard that the traditional Natural Theology is radically anthropomorphic in its conception of God: that it merely attributes to the Divine Being those qualities magnified to infinity which it regards as appropriate to an earthly ruler. It is true that the criticism is generally made by those who have not been at the pains to make themselves acquainted with the Scholastic philosophy, a fact which renders it of little real weight. But no reply can be more final than to establish that the Divine attributes are reached not by any a posteriori proof, but by a priori demonstration from the notion of Subsistent Being itself.

We have already (chap. iii., § 4) pointed out that goodness, unity and truth are attributes predicable of all being, as such. Every existing nature -- every `thing` -- is good, is one, and is true.{2} As existing in act it possesses some measure, however small that may be, of perfection, and is to that extent, at least, good; it is an undivided whole, and therefore one; it is capable of being the object of intellectual knowledge, and thus is true. Now if these attributes denominate all beings, they are applicable in a supreme degree to God. He is Being in a fuller sense than any finite entity: for He is self-existent Being -- Being which cannot not be: they are only contingent beings. Their hold upon reality -- their distance, so to speak, from nonentity -- is infinitely less than His. There is a similar difference in their right to the attributes of which we are now speaking. God is the sum of all perfection -- Supreme Goodness. He is One, with a unity which involves, further, absolute simplicity: for in Him there neither is nor can be any distinction of parts. He is the Truth. All things are intelligible in some measure: and the higher their plane of being -- the further removed from material conditions -- the greater degree of intelligibility. We speak here of intelligibility objectively considered. To certain intelligences an object may be incomprehensible, not through lack of intelligibility on its part, but because it surpasses the range of their capacity. It is thus, as we have already pointed out (chap. vi., § 1), with our minds in regard of God. To us it is easier to understand the concrete things of this world than God: since for all the data of our knowledge we are dependent on sense-perception. Just because God is so far above us, we cannot comprehend Him. Though He is supremely intelligible, we contemplate Him `as in a glass, darkly,' under analogies drawn from created things. Only the Divine intelligence can comprehend God.

Again, the perfection of Subsistent Being is not narrowed to the measure of some particular type. If, as Being, it is the sufficient reason of its own existence, then it must needs contain all the perfection designated by that name: it must be Being in the full and unrestricted sense of the term. In other words, it must be infinite. Infinity is no mere negation, as when, e.g., we say that God is invisible. The grammatical form of the word is negative: for we have no other means of conceiving or expressing infinity, than to negate those limits which are a necessary condition of all such being as falls within our experience. But the thing signified is positive -- perfection without end. Further, the Infinite is, of necessity, immutable. Were He susceptible of change, He would not be infinite. And immutability carries with it eternity. That which is immutable cannot be the subject of the continuous change which is implied in temporal existence. Moreover, since God as Subsistent Being is the source of all that is, the cause which sustains it in existence, it follows that He possesses the attribute of immensity. Nothing can come into being, or remain in being, unless His action, and therefore He Himself, is present to it. Subsistent Being is, in the nature of things, immaterial. Matter, as distinct from form, is mere potency, destitute of actuality of any kind.{3} In that Being which is Actus Purus there is no potentiality. In Him, consequently, matter can have no place. But immateriality, as we shall shew later (chap. xi., § i), involves the presence of intelligence, and, therefore, also of will, together with the other attributes which these activities imply.

Again, the powers of action proper to an agent are proportional to the perfection which it possesses. As it is, so does it act: for actuality is the source of action. We are accustomed to say that none can give what he has not got. But the converse of this is likewise true, viz., that the possession of any perfection involves a corresponding activity. Since then God is infinite being, it follows that His power extends to all possible modes of finite being: that He is omnipotent. The impossible -- that which is self-contradictory -- is not being at all. We do not claim for omnipotence the power to give existence to nonentity.

In the pages which follow we shall treat of these attributes severally: in this chapter of those which relate to God's nature, and subsequently of those which concern His operations. But it seemed desirable by way of preliminary to shew how Natural Theology frames its idea of God. Not merely is that idea not anthropomorphic, but each element which enters into it is reached by a strict deduction from the notion of Subsistent Being, each stage of the reasoning being a proposition in metaphysics based on those self-evident first principles which the mind cannot question without involving itself in universal scepticism.

2. Unity and Simplicity. (i) An entity, as we have seen in the preceding section, is termed one as being undivided: and unity is a transcendental attribute, predicable of whatever has the right to be termed a 'thing,' simply because, where there is division, there we have not a thing, but things. In so far as anything is a thing, it is undivided. Thus, if we are concerned with a composite whole, formed of parts, so long as the parts are separate one from another, it is many things, not a thing. It is only a thing when the parts coalesce into the whole, and it is undivided.

Division, however, is of more than one kind, and corresponding distinctions must be drawn in the use of the word unity.

By logical division a generic nature is distinguished (in the conceptual order) into a number of species by the addition of differentiae: and, similarly, a species is divided by the addition of individualizing notes. On the other hand, real division is the separation of a concrete object into distinct parts. When we affirm that God is one, it is with the first of these that we are concerned. We assert that the Divine nature is such that it is not, and cannot be, multiplied in distinct individuals. It will be noted that we do not merely deny that it is aclually so multiplied, but, further, that any multiplication is possible. A thing might be unique of its kind, and yet be such that a plurality would involve no intrinsic impossibility. The mediaeval philosophers used to instance the sun as a case in point. The sun, they not unnaturally believed, was sole in its own class: there was no other individual substance of a similar kind. Yet no impossibility is involved in the notion of two or even of more suns. In saying that God is one, we signify that where the self-existent nature is in question, the supposition of a plurality is intrinsically repugnant. That nature is of necessity singular. To the unity which results from the denial of real division we shall return later in the section.

One of the many arguments by which God's unity may be shewn has been given by anticipation in the henological proof of God's existence. It will be sufficient here to recall in the briefest manner the lines of that demonstration. We argued that the perfection of 'being,' common to all existing things, postulates a common cause: that in so far as, notwithstanding their diversity, they are at one in the possession of this perfection, they owe it to a single source since unity cannot spring from diversity. That single source, we pointed out, could only be uncaused self-existent Being, in other words, God, Who is thus shewn to be One. Were it supposed that there were two gods, we should be driven to admit that they were not self-existent, but derived the perfection of 'being,' common to both of them, from one higher than they.{4}

The following two arguments are independent of the henological proof. They are both based on the notion of God as Actus Purus, Being not confined by the limits of any potentiality, Subsistent Existence.

God's nature is identical with His existence. And where essence and existence are one and the same, plurality is wholly impossible. For existence is of necessity proper to the individual. Two beings cannot be realized by the same existence. Where existence and essence are distinct factors, the same type can be repeated in a number of separate individuals each possessing its own existence. But if there be a nature where there is no distinction, but where the essence is the existence, that essence must necessarily be sole. To suppose that there could be another individual of the same nature would be to suppose two Beings existing in virtue of the same existence. There can, therefore, be but One God.{5}

The other proof derived from the notion of Actus Purus is based on God's infinity. This undoubtedly is the argument which most people find the easiest to grasp. Inasmuch as the Divine existence is unmixed with any potentiality, it follows, as we saw, that it is the plenitude of all being (chap. ix., § 2). But this is precisely what we signify by the term infinite. Now it is plain that there can be but one infinite. If per impossibile we suppose two such Beings, they must necessarily be distinct the one from the other: the one must possess some reality in which the other is lacking. in other words, one, at least, of the two is not infinite at all: the supposition of two infinites is self-contradictory. God, therefore, being the fullness of being must be One.{6}

Not merely is the doctrine of the divine unity thus manifestly demonstrated, but it satisfies the almost instinctive demand of our rational nature to refer all reality to a single principle. That demand, as we have already noted, is exploited by modern pantheism, when it styles itself monism and, most fallaciously, reproaches creationism with being dualistic. It is indeed strange, therefore, to find even this doctrine, that unity is one of the essential attributes of the Divine nature, called in question by Professor Pringle-Pattison. When engaged in arguing on behalf of a creation ab aeterno, he asserts that: "in the world of reality there is no possibility of a start with a mere One" and gives as his reason that: "if we start reflectively with a One, we find that it inevitably involves a Many, for it is only as the unity of a multiplicity that you know it as one."{7} The mere One, he tells us is an 'abstraction of reflective analysis.' In other words, the one and the many are correlatives: neither can be found apart from the other. God is not One as regarded in Himself, but only as viewed in relation to a multitude in which He ranks as a unit. The difficulty thus raised rests upon a failure to determine accurately the notions of the One and the manifold. Multitude or plurality is constituted by units of which one is not the other: and as such it is defined. In the real order unity is prior to multiplicity: and no shadow of a reason can be given why the One should not exist before the many, why God should not have existed in 'undividedness' before He called created things into being. The two are opposites: they are in no sense correlatives. It is true that in the order of thought multitude is in a sense prior. This is so because our concepts are gathered from the data furnished by the senses: and the senses make us aware of the manifold before we form our clear-cut concept of unity as the undivided. But when we ask whether God is One, our whole concern is with the real order, not with the logical formation of concepts. Furthermore, the conclusion to which the view we are criticizing brings us, viz., that God may be reckoned as a unit together with others, and so may take part in forming a given manifold, is a patent absurdity.

(2) Unity may, as we have said, relate not to logical but to real division. It may bespeak, not the absence of others who share the same nature, but the undividedness of the individual entity. In this reference, a being which has a diversity of parts, and is thus capable of division, is said to be one with the unity of composition. A being wholly incapable of division, because there is in it no distinction of parts, has the unity of simplicity. Man is one. He is an undivided whole, but has many constituent parts. Substantially, he consists of body and soul. And his body has many members distinct from one another. Even in his soul there is accidental composition. His thoughts and volitions are not the soul itself: they come and go, while the soul remains. No creature is wholly immune from composition. In a pure spirit essence and existence are distinct principles. God alone is absolutely simple.

Since the world of our experience consists entirely of corporeal things formed of many parts, we find it especially difficult to realize this one of the divine attributes. Moreover, in our universe that which is most simple is least perfect. An increasing complexity characterizes what is more perfect. The amoeba, for instance, is conspicuously simple, and man more complex in his constitution than any other living creature. It is easy, however, to see that there is a simplicity due to imperfection, and a simplicity which betokens perfection. Material beings are perfected by a complex provision of endowments destined for various ends. Lacking these they are simple with the simplicity of imperfection. But supreme actuality needs no accidents, no variety of powers and faculties. God's being and God's activity are one sole and simple perfection, which is Himself.

Besides the proof drawn from God's nature as Pure Actuality, St. Thomas offers us various demonstrations of His absolute simplicity.{8} One of these may here be given. In a composite entity the component parts are prior to the whole. Even though they should not have existed previously to this conjunction, they possess a natural priority to the whole which arises from their union. The latter results from them, and is thus secondary in this regard. Now God is the first Being, all other things deriving their being from Him: He is not the result of anything else. It follows that it is absurd to suppose that in Him there can be any composition. His simplicity must be absolute.

Not merely is God's simplicity such as to rule out all composition in the real order; but it excludes likewise the possibility of metaphysical composition. Metaphysical composition belongs to the conceptual order, arising from the distinction of genus and differentia in the specific nature. Thus the nature of man, as conceived by us, is formed by the union of the elements 'animal' and 'rationality.' The metaphysical essence of other beings is always conceived under this form. But the Divine nature affords no ground for any such distinction. The reason is manifest. The genus denotes the limits within which the specific perfection is realized: the differentia gives us this perfection. The two stand to each other in the relation of potentiality and act. This relation, it is true, is conceptual. But since the genus, as we have just pointed out, is indicative of real limits, it is not merely a potentiality in the conceptual order but involves potentiality in the real order. It is wholly incompatible with the infinite perfection which is God's. The same conclusion may be reached also by another proof. Whenever different natures can be classed together in a genus, each of them possesses some perfection proper to itself: the differentia of one is not found in another. But God is the sum of all perfections. Hence it is impossible that the distinction between genus and differentia should be found in the Divine nature.

It is a consequence of His absolute simplicity that of God we can predicate all His attributes in their abstract form. We can say not merely, 'God is wise'; but 'God is wisdom.' The point is of sufficient importance to call for notice. An abstract term and the corresponding concrete word differ in logical value, inasmuch as the abstract term regards the attribute signified in isolation. We cannot say of any man that he is wisdom. He may possess wisdom; but wisdom is but a part of him -- one of many attributes that are his. On the other hand, the concrete word signifies the attribute as inherent in a subject. Though it gives explicit expression to only one quality alone, it does not view it in isolation and exclude the rest. It denominates the subject as a whole, and can therefore be predicated of it. We say of a man that he is wise. In God not only are the attributes, one and all, identical with that supremely simple reality which is the Divine Essence; but, even as conceived, each one of them implies the others. There can be no such thing as perfect conceptual distinction between them, as, e.g., there is between two such concepts as animal and rational, of which one can be realized without the other. No one of the divine attributes can exist apart from the rest. Each attribute is the entire Divine Nature viewed under some one special aspect. Thus the mind, considering what is involved in the notion of infinite wisdom, finds that it implicitly involves the presence of all the Divine perfections. Hence, when we employ such expressions as 'God is wisdom,' 'God is justice,' we do not, as might seem, forego accuracy for the sake of emphasis. Such predications are logically correct.

We do not, of course, mean that the use of concrete terms in regard of God is erroneous. Our mental representations, and in consequence our modes of speech, take their form from the world of our experience. Within that world all that possesses subsistence is concrete. Hence only concrete terms convey that the object they denote is a subsistent reality. As, therefore, we are justified in employing abstract terms of God in order to express His simplicity, so we are justified in making use of concrete terms to convey His subsistence.{9} 3. Truth and Goodness. (1) Truth, in the primary sense of the word, is proper to the intellect: it is an attribute not of things but of thoughts. A judgment is true when it affirms of some subject a form which belongs to it in its objective reality, or denies of it some form which, objectively, is not found in it. Truth is, in fact, the relation of conformity which the intellectual act bears to its object. As applied to things, its sense is secondary and derivative. Things are termed true because they are capable of being objects of intellectual knowledge: in other words, because the mind can attain this relation of conformity in this regard. We have already pointed out (§ I) that, as thus understood, truth belongs to objects in very various degrees: that things do not all stand on the same plane of intelligibility. The reason is not far to seek. A thing possesses intelligibility in the same degree in which it possesses being or actuality.{10} Potentiality as such is not knowable; for in so far as it is potential it is not being at all, but a mere capacity for being. We only know potentiality in virtue of the act of which it is capable. It is for this reason that matter lacks all intelligibility.{11} Matter is pure potentiality. Since then the intelligibility of a being is in direct ratio to its actuality, it follows that the Divine Nature is supremely intelligible. God is subsistent actuality, and in Him there is no potentiality of any kind. He is, therefore, infinitely true: He is the Truth.

Things are called true in another sense, which calls for mention, since in this sense also the term has a special applicability to God. A thing which is the work of an intelligent agent is termed true in so far as it corresponds with the idea which he desires to realize. A house which an architect has built, is true, if it agrees with his plan a statue is true if in conformity with the artist's concept. Just as our act of knowledge is styled true if it corresponds with the object which is its standard and measure, so the object itself is spoken of as true if it conforms to the mental concept which is its norm. All created things are the handiwork of the Divine artist: and are called true because they agree with God's idea of the nature to be realized. In this sense Truth in a thing is its conformity with the divine idea. Does truth belong to God Himself in this sense? Yes: in God truth, as thus considered, is found in an infinite degree. For the divine essence is not merely similar to the thought of it in God's mind; but in God, as Pure Actuality, the two are one and the same. In place of conformity we have absolute identity.{12}

(2) Goodness is the relation in which being stands to the will as an object of desire or complacency. Just as truth is the relation which being, as knowable, bears to the intellect, so goodness is the relation which, as desirable or lovable, it bears to the other rational faculty, the will. It is the nature of the will to approve whatever is perfect: and in so far as an object possesses perfection does it command the approval of the will -- in other words, attract its love. Goodness is simply perfection considered in relation to the will. Beings are also termed good in another sense, viz., not in virtue of their intrinsic excellence, but because they answer to the need of some other entity, thus tending to perfect it. They are thus good in relation to it. In the former sense goodness is styled absolute goodness: in the latter respective goodness. God, it may readily be shewn, both possesses supreme absolute goodness, and is the supreme respective good of all creatures which are capable of deriving their happiness from so high a source. All things that exist possess some degree of perfection. Existence itself, apart from anything else, gives to them actuality and thereby perfection in some measure. But things are only termed good in the full sense of the word, when they possess the full measure of actuality appropriate to the species. For a natural substance to merit to be styled good of its kind it must have, besides its substantial perfection, the full equipment of accidental qualities appropriate to it. Anything less than this is only called goodness in a restricted sense. Further, the higher that any nature stands in the scale of being, and the ampler, thus, its measure of perfection, so much the greater is its goodness, and its claim on the rational will for approval and love.

God as Subsistent Being contains within Himself the plenitude of perfection. Whatever perfection is found in finite creatures, whatever perfection could be found in other universes than this, were it to please Him to call them into existence, must be derived from Him, who is the sum of all Reality, Pure Act. There is, and can be, no actuality which is not in the Divine nature. Nor is it possible, as in creatures, that any element proper to the full perfection of that nature should be absent. It follows that God is the supreme absolute Good, and merits to be loved supremely for His own sake.

Moreover, to every rational creature God is the supreme respective good. The beatitude of a being endowed with intelligence can only be found in the attainment of ultimate truth, and in the joy and delight which results from its possession. Till that goal is reached, the craving of man's highest faculty must remain unsatisfied: something is still lacking to it. The intelligence cannot rest till it has found the source of all reality and all truth. Even if direct and immediate knowledge of this object were beyond us by reason of the limitations of our nature, yet such knowledge of this Being as we could possess would be the highest happiness open to man. But this fountain-head of truth is none other than God. God then is the supreme respective good of man, and of every other nature, which like man is capable of knowing Him.

It is otherwise with the lower creatures. These cannot find their good in God. Their condition does not allow them to ascend so high. Even the most perfect among them has no knowledge but what sensation may afford. A being so constituted cannot attain to God, for He is out of the reach of the senses. But they receive their respective goods from His hand. No creature can possess aught save as His gift.

The term Goodness is often used with special reference to moral goodness the goodness of a will which acts in conformity with the law of right. In this sense also God is supreme Goodness. His will is the norm of all sanctity. It seems, however, more convenient to keep the discussion of this point for the chapter in which we treat expressly of the Divine Will.{13}

4. Infinity and Immutability. (1) It will not be necessary for us to offer proofs here of God's infinity. We have had frequent occasion to lay stress on the fact that as Actus Purus, He contains within Himself all perfection -- all reality. This is to be infinite. Something must, however, be said about the notion of infinity with a view to removing possible misconceptions. The term signifies the unlimited. Now it will hardly be denied that our minds tend to connect the notion of limit -- at least of appropriate limit -- with that of perfection. It is claimed as one of the outstanding marks of the aesthetic genius of the Greeks that they had so just a sense of limit and of form. The unlimited may readily appear to us to imply simply the indeterminate and imperfect. Indeed, as what is individual must be strictly determinate, we may find a difficulty in reconciling the notions of infinity and individuality.

St. Thomas treats this subject with his customary insight.{14} In material things, he reminds us, the material and the formal element reciprocally exercise a limiting effect on each other, but in profoundly different ways. Matter limits form as the potentiality into which it is received. Form, on the other hand, limits matter, inasmuch as it confers upon it a determinate actualization, whereas, until so determined, it is capable of being actualized in a great variety of ways. Apart from the limit thus imposed by form, matter has the imperfection of indeterminateness, Hence the notion of infinity -- absence of limit -- envisaged in its relation to matter, implies imperfection, which demands the limiting operation of form to remove it. It is for this reason that the aesthetic faculty, which finds its principal object in the material world, is in so large a measure a sense of the due limit to be assigned.

But in relation to form the effect of a limiting principle is very different. Form is a principle of perfection. And limit attached to it is a restriction on that perfection. The statue, as conceived in the mind of the artist, has, viewed precisely as form, a higher degree of perfection than it possesses as embodied in matter, as we have already had occasion to point out.{15} When embodied in matter it is confined to a given block of stone, and is further limited by the various potentialities of that particular subject-matter. Where form is concerned, the notion of infinity does not imply indeterminateness, but rather free scope for the completest realization of the perfection. When, therefore, we affirm that God is infinite, the attribute in no sense connotes any indefiniteness. It asserts that He possesses in the fullest possible measure whatever falls under the notion of the Real: that there can be no addition to His perfection, for perfection is all summed up in Him.

A source of no little confusion in our idea of the infinite as a divine attribute is found in the fact that we are apt to have before our minds the idea of an infinite number, and to regard this as furnishing a serviceable analogy. This notion shews us infinity as imperfection, not as perfection. An infinite number is indeterminate. It signifies a multitude so vast that it exceeds any number which may be assigned. But it does not, and cannot signify, a multitude such that in it the full perfection of number has attained realization, in such wise that no addition to it is possible. Addition is always possible, where number is concerned. Number is capable of infinite increase precisely as matter is capable of division ad infinitum. Such a notion can only mislead us, if regarded as illustrating the infinity of God.

(2) By change is signified the passage from one state of being to another. In asserting God's immutability we deny that God is capable of any such transition, whether in the order of physical reality or in the order of thought and volition. This truth is sometimes expressed by saying that God is both physically and morally immutable. Here we need only concern ourselves with physical immutability, since God's moral immutability will best be treated later. Our conclusion results immediately both from God's infinite perfection and from His simplicity. Any change in God must suppose either the acquisition of a new perfection or the loss of one previously possessed. But infinite perfection excludes the possibility of either alternative. The infinitely perfect Being cannot acquire a new perfection, for He already possesses all: and He cannot lose a perfection, for in infinite perfection there can he no liability to loss. Again, change is only possible where there is composition of diverse parts. There can be no change unless there are two constituent elements, of which one is permanent, while the other admits of removal. But such composition of parts is wholly incompatible with the Divine simplicity.

5. Eternity. Eternity is the attribute which declares the nature of God's duration. We ourselves have experience of only one form of duration, that which is measured by time. If then we are to attain to such a knowledge of eternity as is open to us, it can only be by considering the notion of time, and removing from it all that involves imperfection and limitation. In this way we may arrive at the idea of a duration compatible with the immutability of the Uncreated.

Time is defined as a numerical reckoning of the succession involved in motion.{16} The material world in which we live presents on all sides the phenomenon of motion -- of successive change. Since change takes place continuously, it is divisible into equal parts, succeeding one another. This succession, as numerically reckoned, is time. Time, therefore, is an external reality, not, as Kant fancied, an a priori form of our sensibility, nor yet as Einstein claims, a measure purely relative to the conditions of the individual observer. Yet the mind plays its part in it. It adopts some one series of motions, and employs these as a standard for the reckoning of the rest. The revolution of the earth on its axis, and its orbit round the sun, provide mankind with such a standard.

All material things, and man amongst them, exist in time. Their corporeal element renders them liable both to accidental and substantial change. Not merely do they come into being and pass out of being in time; but in virtue of their material constitution their substantial existence itself is successive. Temporal duration has change as its necessary condition. And where there is no liability to change, duration demands another standard of measurement.

God is immutable. In Him there neither is nor can be any change. Not merely is there no beginning and no end of His existence; but no new state can arise either in the order of being or in the order of thought and volition. The very possibility of succession is excluded. Such is the duration which is termed eternal. It will be seen that the notion of eternity goes much further than the mere absence of beginning and end. This alone would not confer eternity. We have seen that it cannot be proved impossible that creation should have had no beginning. Yet even if God had created the world ab aeterno, and should conserve it for ever, its existence would be temporal not eternal. Eternity demands absolute changelessness. Nor, again, must we allow ourselves to conceive the divine changelessness merely as an existence which persists unmodified through past, present and future. As soon as we admit the distinction of periods, we have reintroduced the notion of time: for we admit that God's substantial existence is divided into successive parts. In God there is no past, and no future: all is present. This was well expressed by Boethius when he said: 'Our Now, running on, as it were, makes time: the divine Now endures, and makes eternity.'{17} The notion of a stationary Now is, of course, beyond the range of human imagination. We cannot form any mental representation of such a state. But reflection on the necessary conditions of the Divine existence shew us that such must be the 'duration' of God.

The same philosopher whom we have just mentioned gave to eternity a definition accepted by later writers. "It is," he said, "life without end possessed perfectly, and as a simultaneous whole."{18} The terms of the definition are carefully chosen. It is called 'life' rather than mere existence, because in God existence and operation are identical. It is said to be 'possessed perfectly,' because its tenure is absolutely secure: it is independent of all conditions. And, lastly, it is 'possessed as a simultaneous whole,' because it is not realized in successive stages after the manner of temporal things, but exists from the first in its full actualization, in a manner to which our experience affords no parallel.

It follows from what has been said that the now of eternity is exclusive of all temporal differences. In regard of one another temporal things occur in a succession. God beholds them simultaneously. He does not, like ourselves, need to await the occurrence of events, or to register them in memory. The whole course of events, in all its parts, lies open at once to His gaze. Things which in regard of the time series are past, and those which as yet are future, are seen by Him as present occurrences. Just as an instant is indivisible, and has neither past nor future, so too is eternity indivisible. Only, an instant is indivisible by reason of its imperfection: eternity, because in its supreme perfection it is inclusive of all the parts of time. The Eternal is outside the time-series: and the limitations proper to things which possess the defective mode of existence which we style temporal, have no bearing upon Him. We have, as has just been said, no power to imagine such a mode of being. Yet to aid the mind to grasp the conclusion to which reason has brought it, St. Thomas provides us with one or two apt illustrations. In a circle, he reminds us, the points on the circumference are of necessity separate. If the circle is revolving, one such point follows another, but never overtakes it. Yet they are all equidistant from the centre. The relation of the Eternal to the temporal may not inaptly be compared to that of the centre to the several points of the circumference.{19} Or again, somewhat similarly, when men are walking along a road, those who have started first do not see those who are behind. But if someone is watching the scene from a neighbouring height, he looks simultaneously upon those who precede and those who follow. He is outside the series: and his relation to every part of it is one and the same.{20} Doubtless these are but imperfect analogies. Yet they help us to realize a truth which is difficult to grasp, because so remote from anything which can fall within our experience.

If, then, there is no succession -- no before or after -- in God, can it be said that He has duration? Can there be duration without succession? The answer to this question appears, when we consider what duration is. It is simply persistence in being. But if this be so, God's duration is more truly such than any which can belong to the things of time. Their being is ever changing. It is realized successively: and the existence of this moment is not the existence of the last. But God's being knows no change. Its permanence is absolute. Hence He alone has duration in the fullest sense of the word.

But God's duration is not something other than Himself. Time, as predicated of some subject, involves a relation to something external. We estimate a thing's duration by days and years. They constitute a measure by which its span is reckoned. It is not so with God. His duration is His own existence -- that subsistent existence which is God Himself. This attribute, like God's other attributes, is objectively identical with the Divine Essence. As mentally distinguished from it, it gives expression to God's changeless stability, in so far as that changeless stability may be viewed as measuring the duration of God in a manner analogous to that in which the time sequence is the measure of the duration of temporal things.

Besides eternity and time there is another mode of duration termed by the Schoolmen aeviternal. This calls for mention here, as its consideration will assist us to gain more precise notions on a confessedly difficult subject. 'Aeviternal' duration is that which is proper to a created spirit. The substantial being of a spirit does not admit of change. Substantial change is only possible in corporeal substances compounded of matter and form. In these the material principle is essentially mutable: its changes may even be such that a new formal principle replaces the previous one, and a new substantial existence supervenes. In a pure spirit such transformations are impossible. It is true that God might annihilate a spirit by ceasing to exercise His conserving activity in its regard. But in this case its destruction would come from without: it would not arise from internal liability to change. It follows from this that in regard of its substantial being a spirit does not admit of succession. Its duration does not consist in a series of states. Yet a spirit is not immutable. It admits of accidental changes: for it is capable of thoughts and volitions, and passes from one of these to another. These permit us to distinguish 'before' and 'after' in the existence of spirit. But it is manifest that 'aeviternal' duration is essentially different from time. Temporal duration consists in continuous change. Aevum is in itself changeless, though connected with changes in the accidental determinations of the subject: and, further, these changes are not continuous but discrete.

In virtue of these accidental changes the time-measure may be applied to a pure spirit. We may say that so much time has passed between this and that activity on the part of an angel. Yet it should be remembered that in so speaking we are applying to the spirit a measure which belongs to ourselves, not to it. Properly speaking, time does not run for these beings.{21} They exist during time: they do not, like ourselves, exist in time.

Yet though aevum differs fundamentally from time, it differs even more radically from eternity. God, as we saw, in His changeless Now, coexists with all parts of time, however remote the one from the other. All that has ever happened, or ever will happen, lies before Him, not as past and future, but in its reality as present. Duration such as this belongs solely to Subsistent Being, changeless Himself, from Whom the changing time-series receives all the being which it possesses. No finite being has part in it. 'Aeviternal' existence is not inclusive of past and future. For a spirit the past is past, and the future has not come. To coexist with a temporal event, that event must be awaited. Only the Infinite transcends the differences of time.

6. Immensity. Immensity is the attribute signifying that spatial limits and restrictions can have no application in regard of God: and, further, that He is present everywhere, in all things and in all places throughout space, nor can any thing or any place come into being in which He is not present. Some writers draw a somewhat rigid distinction between the two parts of the notion, confining the word immensity to the first alone. The latter they signify by the term omnipresence. There can, however, be no doubt that, as ordinarily understood, immensity is a complex notion and includes both the elements mentioned.

The significance of the denial of all spatial limits will probably be better understood if we here give a brief explanation of what space properly is, and of the different ways in which substances can be in space.

Our notion of space, like our notion of time, is concerned with an objective reality, but with that reality as conceived under a special aspect considered in abstraction from every other. The reality to which it corresponds is the extension of all actually existing bodies. This it views in abstraction from the particular substances in which it inheres, considering it as contained between any surfaces which the mind may assign. It regards it purely in its dimensional aspect. The concept of space is the concept of extension thus abstractly represented, with its relations of length, area and volume: these are consequent upon dimension as such. Thus, though space is not identical with real extension, if there were no extended bodies, there would be no concept of space. That concept only corresponds to a real object, so far as extended bodies actually exist, i.e., to the limits of the created universe.

We are, inevitably, led to imagine the parts of space as so much emptiness -- sheer nonentity -- filled successively with this or that body. Many, probably, look on this as a picture of what space really is. Yet it is evident that here we have a chimera of the imagination. What is absolute nothingness cannot be measured in terms of length and breadth and depth, or we should have to admit that nonentity could have accidents in the category of quantity. Nor can nonentity be filled with actual reality. This representation of space is formed by picturing the abstract notion as something which possesses existence in the real order. This, too, is the basis of that other creation of our imagination which represents space as existing before creation -- a vast vacuity stretching to infinity in all directions, waiting for God to fill it with the works of His hands. The Schoolmen speak of this as spatium imaginarium, 'imaginary space,' distinguishing it not merely from real space, but also from possible space: for it is evident that the Creator might, if He would, add to space by giving yet further extension to the universe.

There are two ways in which things can be in space, proper respectively to corporeal and spiritual substance. A corporeal substance, by reason of its extension, occupies space in such a manner that its different parts correspond to different portions of space. Half the space only contains half the substance. This is said to be in space circumscriptively (circumscriptive). Circumscriptive presence is peculiar to material things: for these alone have extension, and, in consequence, parts which are distinguishable from one another.

Spiritual substance is not extended. A spirit has no spatial distribution. Wherever it is, it is there in its entirety. An example is furnished by the human soul. A soul is in the body; but no one imagines that it is spread out within its tenement of clay so that half the body contains but a moiety of the soul. It is present whole and entire in each portion of the body which it animates. It is said to be in the body definitely (definitive), the term signifying that the body defines the limits within which the soul exists and acts.

Now granted that there exist spiritual beings which are independent of body, such substances do not belong to the spatial order. One place is not nearer to them than is another. For 'near' and 'far' imply relations of distance, and these beings have no dimensional relations at all. Yet since the immaterial is higher than the material, it would seem to follow that they can act on corporeal substance. If, then, one of them should exert such an activity, it must for the time be, in a manner, in space. Where it acts, there it must be. Furthermore, since their power is not infinite, there must be a limit to the extent of their local action. No finite spirit can possess power to act in every part of space which God has created or may yet create. It is, so to speak, localized within limits fixed by the measure of its efficient powers. Hence in this case it also is in space 'definitely.'

It is manifest that in neither of these ways can God's presence be subject to spatial restriction. Since in Him there is no distinction of parts, there can be no question of such limits as circumscriptive presence entails. And since His power is infinite, a presence defined by the measure of His efficiency is equally repugnant.

It remains, however, to establish that He is actually omnipresent: that not merely does space, however extended, offer no bar to His presence, but that He must, of necessity, be present everywhere.

Whatever exists is the immediate subject of divine action. Every finite thing demands the continuous exercise of God's power in its regard. He gives it being, and were He to cease to do so, it would immediately cease to be. No creature can act on God's behalf in the matter. Being is a result beyond the power of any finite agent: God alone can confer this gift. But of God, as of every other agent, it is true that where He acts, there He must be. Indeed, this holds good in an even fuller sense of God than of finite agents; for God's action and His essence are not distinct realities, but identical the one with the other: God's action is Himself.

God, therefore, is present in everything that exists, whether substance or accident. Nor can anything come into being in which He is not. He is omnipresent.

It may, perhaps, be urged that man effects results beyond the place where he is immediately present by the employment of instrumental causes. Yet the difficulty thus raised is but trivial. That we do this is due to the limitations of our nature. Our mode of being, as we have just seen, is such that spatial distance often prevents any immediate contact with the object of action. But instrumental agency is simply a mode in which we give a further extension to the narrow range of our body's activity. We are truly present by means of the instrument which we use. Such artificial extension of his powers is proper to the finite agent: it can have no meaning where the Infinite is concerned. God needs no instrumental aids.

The argument will have rendered it clear that this attribute belongs to God alone, and is shared by no creature. Immensity, like eternity, is the exclusive prerogative of the Self-existent.

{1} We have followed here what seems the most convenient terminology. There is some diversity of usage on the point among Scholastic writers.

{2} The attributes of truth, unity and goodness are predicable of 'things' properly so called -- entities. Only the individual singular substance is in the primary sense of the word an ens: the term is applied to accidents as secondary analogates. It is also to be noted that only the complete nature, e.g., a tree, a bird, is rightly called an ens: a mere fragment, e.g., a table, a chair, a feather, is but a fragment of the true 'thing.' It is by a somewhat extreme extension of the principle of analogy that ens and the other transcendentals are predicated of such objects. Further, by an inevitable misapplication we use the word `thing' of any object of thought, even of such as are not entities at all. Thus we call a disease, e.g., a cancer, a thing, whereas it is merely a disordered condition in part of a 'thing' -- the human body. Cf. St. Thomas in Metaph. IV., lect. i.

{3} Arist. Met. VII., 1029a, 24. hôste to eschaton kath hauto oute ti oute poson oute allo outhen esti.

{4} St. Thomas Aq., Contra Gentiles I., c. xlii., n. 16.

{5} Ibid., n. 14. "Esse proprium cujuslibet rei est tantum unum. Sed Deus est Esse suum. Impossibile est igitur esse nisi unum Deum."

{6} Summa Theol. I., q. xi., art. 3, c.

{7} Idea of God, p. 312.

{8} Cf. Summa Theol. I., q. 3, art. 7; Con. Gent. I., cc. xvi., xviii., xix.

{9} Summa Theol. I., q. 13, art. i, ad 2.

{10} Aristotle, Metaph. II., c. i., 993b, 31. hekaston hôs hechei tou einai houto kai tês alêtheias. Cf. St. Thomas in loc., lectio ii.

{11} Supra, c. ii., § 3.

{12} Summa Theol. I., q. 16, art. 5.

{13} Infra, c. xii, § 5.

{14} Summa Theol. I., q. 7, art. 1. Considerandum est igitur quod infinitum dicitur aliquid ex eo quod non est finitum. Finitur autem quodammodo et materia per formam et forma per materiam. Materia quidem per formam, in quantum materia antequam recipiat formam, est in potentia ad multas formas: sed cum recipit unam, terminatur per illam. Form a vero finitur per materiam, in quantum forma in se considerata communis est ad multa: sed per hoc quod recipitur in materiam, fit forma determinate hujus rei. Materia autem perficitur per formam per quam finitur: et ideo infinitum secundum quod attribuitur materiae habet rationam imperfecti: est enim quasi materia non habens formam. Forma autem non perficitur per materiam, sed magis per eam ejus amplitudo contrahitur: unde infinitum secundum quod se tenet cx parte formae non determinatae per materiam, habet rationem perfecti."

{15} Supra, c ix., §2.

{16} Numerus motus secundum prius et posterius. The definition is Aristotle's, Phys., IV., C. xi., §§ 5, 12. arithmos kinêseôs kata to proteron kai husteron.

{17} Boethius, De Trin., c. iv. (Migne, P.L. 64, 1253). "Nostrum Nunc quasi currens tempus facit . . . : divinum vero Nunc permanens . . . aeternitatem facit."

{18} De Consolatione Phil., V., Prosa 6 (Migne, P.L. 63, 858). 'Interminabilis vitae tota simul, et perfecta possessio.'

{19} Con. Gent., I., c. lxvi., n. 6.

{20} Summa Theol., I., q. 14, art. 13, ad 3.

{21} Summa Theol., I., q. 10, art. 5, ad 3. "Quod dicimus angelum esse vel fuisse, vel futurum esse differt secundum acceptionem intellectus nostri, qui accipit esse angeli per comparationem ad diversas partes temporis."

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