Sunday, 19 February 2012


PART II. WHAT IS GOD? After demonstrating God's existence we are anxious to know-1. What is the Nature of this Being so evidently real and nevertheless so mysterious? and 2. What are His perfections? God is the Self-existent, living Being, a Spirit endowed with Intellect, Will and Personality. Even if God never spoke to man (as in fact He has spoken), our reason could discover for certain, not His existence alone, but also the main features of His nature. This knowledge of ours is however not intuitive and direct but discursive, abstract and analogous, i.e., all based on what we learn from the world and from ourselves, wherein we can see God as in a mirror. This most important point has been overlooked by the pundits who apply the notions of Being, Substance, Spirit, Life, Activity and so on in the very same sense to the Self-Existent and the contingent being. On the contrary all our ideas about God are based only on the likeness of God impressed upon the universe. 1. The Nature of God is "To EXIST." The essence of a thing is that which makes it what it is; it is the note, or notes without which a thing can neither exist nor be conceived. Man cannot exist without body and soul, they make up his physical essence; man is thought of with the notes of animality and rationality, they form his metaphysical essence. Now, the question: "What is God?" we have already answered as clearly as we can when in our demonstration of God's existence we came to the unavoidable conclusion that God is the Necessary Being, the uncaused Prime Cause, the Supreme Intellect, the Sovereign Lord and Judge. Each of these expressions defines God, each refers to Him and to no one else. The Necessary Being is the Being whose nature it is to exist, or the Being that has the reason for its existence in its own nature. The uncaused Prime Cause and Immovable Mover express the same idea from an external view-point, namely, of God as the efficient cause of all things, Himself being absolute and independent, always agent, never passive. The expression "Pure Act” calls attention to the perfection by which God never acquires or loses anything. In Him essence and existence are identical in reality and in thought. God is "He Who Is," the subsisting act of existence. 2. God is a living Spirit. His existence is a living existence, inasmuch as life is an immanent action. His life is a spiritual life, because it is a perfectly immanent action, whereas in material beings the immanence of the action is never perfect and absolute. (a) God is Life itself or Substantial Life. God not only has intellectual life (proved below) but He is Life by His own substance. His Knowledge and Love, and consequently His Life, are identical with Himself and not, as in creatures, exercised by faculties distinct from the substance. (b) God is the most Perfect Spirit. Spirits are neither matter nor dependent on matter. Now God is most independent of all matter and composition. As St. Augustine rightly asks: "If our soul is no corporeal substance, how can God, its Creator, be a corporal substance?”  3. God's Knowledge is Intellectual. The most characteristic spiritual action is knowledge. In God's knowledge subject and object are one and the same. That knowledge is of inexhaustible depth, width and sublimity, because it is infinite in every aspect, instantaneous and all comprehensive. Since intelligence is a perfection, it must be in the First Cause in an eminent and infinite degree and manner. We see it in the wonderful order of the universe. God is also infinite Truth, because He is the author of the reality of beings, which are therefore thoroughly known to Him. God knows all things possible and actual, whether past, present or future,—even all that any free creature would do in any case. God knows all things in their highest causes; such knowledge is called vision. 4. There is in God a will, namely, one act by which He loves His own essence, the Supreme Good, and freely determines what contingent things shall be and what others shall not be, allowing meanwhile for the free choice of His intelligent creatures. God cannot but love His own perfections; all other things He loves freely, as His images, with a disinterested love of benevolence and friendship. God's knowledge of all the riches of His nature is accompanied with intense and inexpressible joy and complacency in their possession. Hence God is supremely happy. He is His own beatitude or bliss. In Him, Being, Life, Knowledge, Love and Joy are one and the same act, an act that had no beginning and will have no end, since it is self-existent. 5. God is Personal. A person is a being endowed with intellect and free will, complete and independent and able to enter into free relations with others. Such is the First Cause. The First Cause, therefore, is a personal being. Personality is a great perfection. Men are the most perfect beings on earth. But the just cause is all perfection in an infinite degree. Therefore, it is eminently personal. Note (1) Do not mistake "personality" for limitation, nor "infinity of being" for exclusion from all finite being. The First Cause is both personal and infinite, quite distinct from anything else (transcendent) and yet present in everything (immanent). (2) Nor is personality the same as self-consciousness. Consciousness is an act or a habit which already supposes but does not constitute the person. A newly-born infant is a person, even if unconscious. (3) A Person is an individual rational being that belongs to itself. God is all this in a far higher way than man. The principle of analogy helps us to understand that God has all the perfections of personality and that His relations with us may be truly personal although they entail no change or limitation in His Nature. PART III THE WONDERFUL PERFECTIONS OF GOD In the Supreme Being we distinguish perfections necessarily found in God; and others, such as creator, conserver and judge, which follow only on His free actions. Another way is to speak of God's absolute and relative perfections, or of His quiescent and operative attributes. The divine perfections, or attributes, are not so many different realities in God, but only the different viewpoints which our finite mind adopts to mirror the wealth of perfection contained in the Supreme Reality. We group these attributes in two classes-1. the absolute or quiescent—and 2. the relative or operative attributes. 1. The Quiescent Attributes of God. By His Nature God is One and Simple. All-perfect and Immutable, Immense and Eternal. 1. There is and can be only One First Cause. Unicity and simplicity are both expressive of unity: unicity is absolute unity in kind and number; simplicity is absolute unity in nature and constitution. Pure Being, infinite Being, exhausts all being. God is unique. If there were two (or more) First Causes, they should be distinct and therefore differ from one another in some respect. That is, one of them would have something which the other has not. Therefore, that other cause would be limited and could not be the First Cause. The very idea of there being two or more gods destroys the idea of absoluteness; it implies limits and supposes there is no being altogether or infinitely perfect. 2. God is Absolutely Simple. (1) Complexity implies parts, therefore limitations. But "pure being" is incompatible with limitations. (2) Where there are parts, whether physical, like substance and qualities, or metaphysical, like potentiality and actuality, there must be an agent to put the parts together, hold them together, put them in motion and adjust their motion. But there can be no such agent with regard to the First Cause. Or, again, where there is potentiality and actuality, there must be an agent or a cause to change potentiality into actuality. But there is no such agent or cause with regard to the First Cause. Therefore, the First Cause is not made up of parts and does not admit of potentiality and actuality. Therefore, it is absolutely simple. 3. God is All-perfect or Infinite. By infinitude we mean God's limitless perfection. Some perfections, like knowledge, life, goodness, are pure perfections—i.e., they imply no imperfections and they are in God formally as such. Others, like reason, health, are mixed perfections, for they include some imperfections and these are in God eminently, i.e., in a higher manner. (1) If the First Cause were not infinite, but limited, there should be another agent to account for that limitation. But there is no such other agent, since we are speaking of the First Cause. (2) A being existing by itself cannot limit itself. For that being must be "Pure Being." "Pure Being" is a wholly positive concept; "limited being" is a concept partly positive (being), partly negative (limited). Therefore, such a mixed concept cannot belong to “Pure Being" which is the First Cause. (3) Therefore, the First Cause is without limit in every direction, as regards substance, power, perfection, and in what corresponds to our notions of time and space, namely, eternity and omnipresence. (4) God is the cause of the goodness, beauty, truth and perfections in all that is good and perfect. Therefore, He must be so Himself eminently.. Therefore, all the perfections found in created causes must be in the First Cause really and in an eminent degree and manner, that is, without the imperfections which may be found coupled with perfection in contingent beings. 4. It follows that (a) God is Immutable. Change means passing from one state to another; it implies potentiality and actuality. But there cannot be potentiality and actuality in the First Cause. (b) God is a most pure act, absolute actuality and perfection, excluding all potentiality or evolution. (c) In God, all qualities are one with the substance. 5. God is Eternal. Time is no condition of His existence. 6. God is Immense,—i.e., space is no condition of divine existence. Contingent beings exist in time and space because they change; their evolution is gradual and measurable. Bodies are limited by quantity, even created spirits like our soul, are limited by space or are definitely present somewhere; whereas the infinite Being exists without limits of space. Do not, however, imagine God as extended; wherever He is (in space) and whenever He is (in time) He is whole and entire. Even if there were no world, God would have immensity and eternity of Being. Objections Answered.-1. Most men believe in several gods.—Answer: All admit one supreme God, even if by error they believe in so-called gods, subordinate to the supreme Being. They misconceive God's nature but not His existence. 2. God is free and, therefore, can change His mind —Answer Change of mind implies an imperfection. God is free and need not change His mind, because all is foreseen.  3. In prayer we ask God to change His mind on our behalf Answer Not exactly. God knew from eternity all future prayers and He determined in consequence what He would do in consideration of those prayers. II. The Relative Divine Attributes. From our knowledge of God's Existence we have so far formed our judgment on the divine Nature and from our knowledge of God's Nature we drew by logical deduction our conclusion about some divine Attributes, independently of the world's existence. Now we shall see God in relation with the world,—i.e., how far the divine Nature is communicated to the universe and expressed in creation. I.—God is the All-wise and All-powerful Creator of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. 1. Divine Wisdom is manifest throughout the universe. Great scientists, men most competent in this matter, openly profess it.. From among this crowd of witnesses some have given testimony of their belief in words which will keep for ever ringing in the annals of Philosophy. Kepler: "I render thanks to Thee, Creator and Lord of the heavens, for all the gladness I have enjoyed in the soulstirring ecstacies with which the contemplation of Thy works has filled me." Newton: "The regular motions of the planets and their satellites, their direction, their orbits, are a proof of foresight, and testify to the existence of an active cause, which does not work blindly and at random, but is clearly highly skilled in mechanics and geometry." Herschel: "The further the field of science extends its limits the more numerous and convincing the testimonies are in favour of an Eternal Creator." Hirn: "The denial of the harmonious purpose that prevails in the universe is in such evident contradiction with the most elementary dictates of sound reasoning, that it gives a death-blow to the doctrine of materialism from which it originates." 2. God's Infinite Power is revealed in three ways with reference to the existence and activity of other beings Creation, Preservation or Conservation, Concurrence or Co-operation and Providence. (1) Creation out of Nothing. Being all perfect, God can make all that is capable of being made; He can give existence to what is possible and He can destroy what is actual. There is no other way of explaining the existence of contingent beings except by creation, that special act of divine omnipotence by which things are produced from absolutely nothing. To create is to act without any preexisting material or available instruments. It is acting absolutely with no dependence on conditions; but by the mere will to create. Such action is proper to an absolute agent, the First Cause. In other words, either God can create (strictly so called) or there is no God. There is no middle between an Almighty Creator and a merely finite God, which really means no-God, or a mere phantom, subject to negation and dependent on others. The prerogative of infinity implies for God the power of doing all things, unhelped from outside.