135. By God's operative attributes we mean those which perfect Him in His mode of acting; the chief of them are His knowledge, His power, and His will.
To begin with His knowledge. Since God is infinitely perfect, He must know all things in the most perfect manner, that is, by immediate knowledge, or intuition: "All things are naked and open to His eyes" (Hebr. IV, 13). Since He is unchangeable (n. 134, 7), He knows all things, not by successive acts, but by one all-embracing act of His intellect, which from eternity to eternity is ever the same. The objects of His knowledge are: 1. His own being: The Spirit of God searches all things, yea the deep things of God (1 Cor. II. 10). 2. All things that are possible; for He sees how His perfections can be imitated in creatures, as an architect conceives the plans of His works. This knowledge of possible things is called the knowledge of simple intelligence. 3. God knows all actual things. past, present, and future, seeing them from all eternity in the order in which they will come into existence. This is called His knowledge of vision. Though He sees things as succeeding one another; still the past and the future, as well as the present, are all present to Him in one glance He has them all before Him. If God did not know the future free acts of men, He could not know future human events; for almost all these depend, proximately or remotely, on some one's free acts: "All things are naked and open to His eyes" (Hebr. IV, 13). 4. Besides things possible and things actual, there is a middle class of things which are not, and which never have been nor will be, but which would be if some condition were fulfilled; and so they are more than simply possible. Man never can have more than a conjectural knowledge of these matters when they depend on some one else's free-will. The knowledge which God has of these future conditionals, as they are called, is commonly styled "scientia media"; "middle knowledge" would be the English equivalent, but this term is not in use. An example of it would be the answer to this question: If Christ had worked a miracle before Herod, would this king have believed in Him? The Church has never defined that God possesses this kind of knowledge; yet we cannot doubt it. At the present day there is a general agreement that the scientia media is implied in such texts as this: Wo to thee, Corosain, wo to thee, Bethsaida: for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, they had long ago done penance in sackcloth and ashes" (Luke X, 13). The Fathers frequently appeal to this knowledge; and the faithful imply their belief in it when, under the guidance of the Church, they ask for temporal favors with the condition, expressed or implied, that the attainment of their wish will not be prejudicial to their higher interests.
136. Certainly we find great difficulty in trying to understand how the foreknowledge of God is to be explained so as not to interfere with the liberty of man. How can my act be free if God knows it beforehand? One answer is that with God there is no before and after, since His one act of vision embraces all things at once; and if we do not see how this is, we need not wonder that our finite mind cannot take in this infinite act of God. Besides, knowledge does not alter the object known. Thus God knows what I choose because I choose it, my act being the object of His vision; by His scientia media He knows what I would choose in given circumstances, because it is true that I would choose it, and the infinite mind grasps all truth.
137. The possession of absolute power is necessarily included in the infinite perfection of God. He can, therefore, give existence to whatever is intrinsically possible; that is, to whatever does not contain a contradiction: a round triangle, a created infinite being, an infinite number of things, would contain contradictions, and God cannot make any of them. "I know that Thou canst do all things", says Job, speaking to God (LII, 2); "With God all things are possible", says Christ (Matt. XIX, 26). Many things which to a finite mind appear simply impossible, are feasible to the infinite Intellect, "Who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand" (Eph. III, 20).
138. We have proved (n. 132. 2) that the will of God is most perfect in every way; but how that will works is a question wrapped in deep mystery. This need excite no wonder, since we find much mystery surrounding the workings of our own free-will. The following points are certain: 1. The will, whether of God or man, cannot tend except to what is apprehended as good in some way. 2. The will embraces necessarily what the intellect proposes to it as necessary; and it may embrace freely what it apprehends as not necessary. Therefore God loves Himself necessarily, and when He loves a creature, He loves it freely for creatures are unnecessary in themselves and unnecessary to God. 3. God cannot will any thing which is in opposition to any of His perfections; and therefore He cannot create any being with a purpose to make it unhappy: "Thou lovest all things that are, and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made" (Wisd. XI, 25). 4. Though God has need of nothing, still He cannot act except with an ultimate view to Himself; for every other ultimate end were unworthy of Him: "The Lord hath made all things for Himself (Prov. XVI, 4). The Vatican Council explains this truth as follows: it says that God has created the world of His own goodness, not to increase His happiness, nor to acquire, but to manifest His goodness, by means of the good things which He bestows upon His creatures" (Sess. 3. Ch. 1.). 5. Though God thus wills the good of all, and chiefly the happiness of His intelligent creatures, (since these are the fittest objects of His love), still He usually makes this happiness dependent on their free compliance with His commands. His will that all of them shall be dutiful and happy, is called His antecedent, or conditional, will: but after taking account of their free choice, He determines that they shall be rewarded or punished by His consequent, or absolute, will. His permissive will consists simply in refusing to hinder their free acts; in this sense, He willed, for instance, the persecution of Nero.
139. As the human will can be perfected by moral virtues, so we ascribe analogous moral perfections to God, but such only as do not involve any imperfection. The principal ones are: -- 1. Wisdom, which makes the will employ the meaiis that the intellect proposes as useful to a certain end; throughout a whole Book of Scripture God is pleased to speak of Himself by the name of "Wisdom". 2. Holiness, which makes God love moral good and abhor moral evil. This perfection of God is the pattern of the perfection to which we aspire (Matt. V, 48). 3. Justice; not commntative justice (n. 324) -- for the creature has no rights against the Creator, -- but such justice as is displayed, a) In legislation, providiiig His creatures with just laws, as by the Decalogue and the Sermon on the Mount, and by giving authority to rulers; b) In pronouncing judgment upon good and upon evil deeds; c) In sanctioning the law by rewards and punishments; 4. Veracity, so that God can neither deceive nor he deceived: "God is not a man that He should lie" (Numb. XXIII, 19). When He is said to have given a lying spirit into the mouths of all the prophets who promised success to Achab (3 Kings, XXII, 23), the meaning is that the false prophets were permitted to deceive because Achab preferred their advice. 5. Fidelity to promises, because God is just, holy, truthful, and unchanging; only His conditional promises and threats may be frustrated of fulfilment. 6. Bountifulness, displayed in His provisions for the welfare of His creatures. It is conspicuous every where; but especially in the pity, mercifulness, gentleness, long-suffering, and patience shown in God's dealings with sinners, as in Christ's lament over Jerusalem (Mat. XXIII, 37).
140. If God is good, how can we account for His permission of evil in the world? There are physical evils, such as bodily and mental pain, and moral evils, or sins, to be accounted for. This question is very ancient; it is the main theme of the Book of Job, which is perhaps the oldest of extant writings. To answer it, a system of two infinite beings was early devised, the one all good and the other all evil. But a being all evil is an absurdity; for it would at least have power to act, which is some good. Besides, if the evil being had existence of itself, it would he God; if it were a creature of God, it would be subject to Him, as Satan is. The Dualistic system, under the name of Manicheism made its way among Christians, and gave much trouble to St. Augustine and other Fathers; and as late as A. D. 1252 the dagger of a Manichean gave the crown of martyrdom to St. Peter of Verona.
A sense of difficulty in reconciling the existence of evil with Christian teachings has led some men to reject Christian revelation and embrace Deism, while it has led others into Atheism. But to account for the existence of the world without a God is far more difficult. The Christian admits he can give no full explanation of mysteries, and that the existence of evil is one of these. To lessen the difficulty he remarks that,
1. His system must be taken as a whole, including the fall of man, and the whole life of man here and hereafter, knowing that tribulation "worketh for us above measure exceedingly an eternal weight of glory" (2 Cor. IV, 17).
2. Moral evil flows from man's free-will, so that God is not the author of sin: His will regarding sin is only permissive (n. 138), and consequent upon man's choice.
3. To possess freedom, even with the terrible responsibility of sin attached to it, is a great good; for it makes us more like to God, and able to render Him much higher service than that of which the brutes are capable; it also enables us to merit the reward of endless bliss.
4. The chief difficulty flows from a tacit assumption that God is bound to do to all His creatures all the good He can. But, a) God can always do more than He has done; and b) He is not bound to do us all the good we may desire. When we have received a gratuitous benefit, we should be thankful, and not complain that it is no better.
5. The distribution of grace is at present a mystery to us, which God seems to keep jealously from our knowledge: the thing formed must not say to the potter, why hast thou made me thus? (Rom. IX, 20).
6. If there is an unacountable inequality in God's gifts to men, we must remember that God is at liberty to do as he pleases, as is taught by the parable of the laborers (Matt. XX). God will judge all with full knowledge of each one's circumstances, internal and external, and "will render to every man according to his works" (Matt. XVI, 27).
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