A Manual Of Catholic Theology, Based On Scheeben's Dogmatik
Joseph Wilhelm, D.D., PHD. And Thomas B. Scannell, D.D.
With A Preface By Cardinal Manning
Vol. 1. The Sources Of Theological Knowledge, God, Creation And The Supernatural Order
Third Edition, Revised, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Lt.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Benziger Bros.
THE NEGATIVE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD.
SECT. 63.The Simplicity of God.
I. THE physical Simplicity, or, in other words, the immateriality and incorporeity, of God is included in His absolute Simplicity, and may be proved by the same arguments. It may be also demonstrated by special proofs; and there are certain special difficulties to which it gives rise, and which demand solution.
I. The Divine immateriality, or spirituality, is practically set forth in the Old Testament by the prohibition of material representations of God (Deut. iv. 16). Our Lord Himself says: God is a Spirit, and they that adore Him must adore Him in spirit and in truth (John iv. 24). Wherever Scripture speaks of God as invisible, infinite, immutable, omnipresent, and the rest, His immateriality is evidently implied. And from the earliest days of the Church this attribute was laid down as a fundamental dogma against the pagans, as may be seen in the writing of the Apologists. Tertullian and Lactantius indeed ascribed to God a body, or spoke of His form and figure; but they did so in opposition to the Gnostics, or to the pantheism of the Stoics, who maintained that the Divine Substance was indefinite, vague, empty, and formless, like the air, and thus perverted the true notion of spirituality.
2. The proofs from reason for the Divine Simplicity are most conclusive, but they need not be dwelt on here. The first active principle of all things cannot be itself capable of resolution into simpler elements, because the latter ought to be anterior to it in time or at least in nature, and moreover would require an external cause to bring them together. Again, the attributes of pure actuality, infinity, omnipresence, and the rest, which flow from the nature of the first principle, are all incompatible with physical composition.
II. The attribute of metaphysical Simplicity excludes from God every kind of composition, and consequently every difference between potentiality and actuality, or between realities completing each other. Hence this attribute requires that God should not only possess all that is perfect, but that He should also be His perfection, and that all that is real in Him should be one indivisible reality: One Supreme Thing (Fourth Lateran Council, Cap. Damnamus). Conversely, if God is one indivisible reality, it follows that no composition exists in Him. Even before the Fourth Lateran Council, this doctrine was defined more in detail by Eugenius III in the Council of Rheims against Gilbert.
1. Holy Scripture teaches the absolute simplicity of God when it says that God is the Life, Truth, Wisdom, Light, Love, not that He has these qualities. There is no reason for not taking these expressions in their literal sense; on the contrary, the literal sense is required by the peculiar nature of God. Besides, Scripture uses them to point out that God is the sole original possessor of these perfections. It could not say with truth that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness, if He were not Light in its greatest purity and perfection that is, if the perfections connoted by the term Light were not all one and the same identical perfection, as indeed is expressed by the very name Jehovah.
2. Internal reasons for the Divine Simplicity were also given by the Fathers. Without absolute Simplicity, they say, God could neither be absolutely infinite nor absolutely immutable. And again, Simplicity is in itself a great perfection, because it connotes the excellence of the perfection of which it is predicated, and the completeness and thoroughness of the manner in which it is possessed. Aseity and absolute necessity can only belong to a Being absolutely simple, because the several parts of a composite being would be dependent on each other. God being absolutely independent and self-sufficient, we cannot conceive Him as a subject perfected and completed by anything whatsoever. See these arguments developed by St. Anselm, Monolog., cc. xvi.; xvii.; St. Thomas, I, q. 3, a. 7; Scotus in I. Sent. d. 8; St. Bernard, De. consid., 1. v., c. 7.
III. We subjoin a list of the kinds of composition excluded by the metaphysical Simplicity of God, but which are found even in spiritual creatures.
1. Composition of essence and existence, is excluded because the Essence of God is to exist. In created things this kind of composition is the source of all other kinds of composition. Its exclusion from God is in like manner the source of the exclusion of all composition from Him.
2. The composition of essence and hypostatic characters is also excluded; that is to say, the Divine Essence is not determined by any individual character, as, for instance, the human essence is determined by special marks or characters in each human individual.
3. There is likewise excluded the composition of substance and its various accidents.
4. Lastly, the Divine Simplicity excludes any composition that might result from the real difference between several activities, such as between knowing, willing, and acting, between immanent and transient operation, and between necessary and contingent acts. All activity in God is one simple act.
IV. Physical simplicity is not exclusively proper to God; it also belongs to all created spirits, and constitutes their likeness to the Creator. Metaphysical simplicity, on the contrary, belongs to God alone. Created spirits, elevated by grace, may be made, to some extent, partakers of the simplicity of the Divine Life, but their elevation itself implies a composition of a peculiar kind, viz. that of spiritual substance with an external accidental perfection. The simplicity of the life by which the created spirit shares supernaturally in the Simplicity of the Divine Life, consists in its being freed from the influence of creatures; and being enabled to know God immediately in Himself, and to know and love everything else in Him and for Him.
V. The attribute of Simplicity excludes from the Divine Substance everything that implies composition. If there were no other distinctions but such as entail composition, distinction could no more be attributed to God than composition. There are, however, distinctions which do not imply composition, but are based upon and are necessitated by the very simplicity and perfection of their object. Thus in God distinctions may be established which do not conflict with His Simplicity, because they are made, not between separate elements, but between different ways of looking at one and the same perfection. Such differences are even necessary in God, for without them the real distinction between the three Persons, and the essential difference of attitude in God's activity within and without could not exist. An exaggerated notion of the Divine Simplicity was condemned by Pope John XXII. See Denzinger, lxvi. 23, 24.
Distinctions of the kind last mentioned are called in theological language Mental distinctions (distinctiones rationis) because the thing distinguished, although objectively one and the same, is represented in our mind by different conceptions. Such distinctions, therefore, really exist only in our mind; but they are not mere subjective fictions, because the perfection of the object furnishes an objective foundation for them. Hence they are called distinctiones rationis ratiocinatae, or cum fundamento in re. They thus occupy a position between Real distinctions implying objective composition, and Merely-mental distinctions having no objective value (distinctiones rationis ratiocinantis).
SECT. 64.The Infinity of God
I. The Infinite that is, the endless or limitless may be conceived under three different aspects, which are thus expressed in the language of the Schoolmen: (1) that than which nothing greater can be conceived (quo nihil majus cogitari potest); (2) that which contains all conceivable greatness or magnitude (quod continet omnem magnitudinem quae cogitari potest); (3) that which is incomparably and immeasurably greater than anything conceivable (quod est incomparabiliter incommensurabiliter majus omnibus aliis quae cogitari possont).
II. God was defined by the Vatican Council to be Infinite in understanding and will and all perfection (sess. iii., chap. I). This is to say, (1) God cannot be thought of as greater, better, or more perfect than He is, nor can any other being be conceived greater, better, or more perfect than God; (2) there is no limit to the Divine perfection, because God contains all conceivable perfections, and the fulness of His Being attains the utmost limits of possible being both intensively and extensively, that is, God has every conceivable perfection and every conceivable form and degree of each perfection; and (3) the plenitude of the Divine Being is such that no sum of finite perfections, however great, can either equal or measure it on the contrary, finite being and its indefinite increase and multiplication are possible only on account of God's inexhaustible plenitude of Being. The absolute substantial infinity of God evidently implies that He is infinite (1) not only as compared with a certain kind of created beings, but as infinitely transcending all conceivable degrees and kinds of perfection; (2) not only in some one attribute but in all; (3) not only as to the magnitude or multitude of the objects of His activity, but also as to the perfection of His Essence and activity, Intellect, and Will in themselves.
The Divine Infinity in Substance and perfection may be shown both a posteriori and a priori. Assuming a certain the infinity of certain particular attributes (e.g. omnipotence and omniscience) and their identity with God's Essence, and with all the other attributes, the infinity in Substance and perfection plainly follows. And a priori, this infinity is contained in the Divine Aseity; no limitation can be in God because no external principle can determine it, nor can it be due to internal incapacity for greater perfection. The infinity of particular attributes is based upon the infinity of the Substance because they are identical with it, and because their infinity is essentially contained in the plenitude of being required by the essence of the substance. Cf. Toletus, in I., q. 7.
Hence we infer: 1. The notion of Divine Infinity excludes the possibility of things existing independently outside God, but not of things existing dependently on Him.
2. Things outside the Divine Substance cannot be added to the Divinity so as to produce, either a greater being, or at least a greater aggregate of beings. Hence God plus the universe, is not more than God alone. For the same reason it cannot be said that the Incarnation added being to the Divinity; for the human nature of Christ is only united to the Divine Person inasmuch as God produces it and a Divine Person possesses it.
3. The Divine Infinity does not prevent God's knowledge, volition, and activity from being extended to objects outside Him (ad extra). Such extension does not imply any real expansion or motion ad extra, but only an ideal intention or direction; much less does it imply an increase from without, as it only bears upon things entirely dependent on God.
III. Absolute Infinity of Substance and perfection is an attribute proper to God alone; no substance, no perfection outside God can be infinite in the strict sense of the term, because infinity is incompatible with dependence. The infinite dignity of God can, it is true, be communicated by hypostatic union to a created nature; but Infinity does not therefore cease to belong to God alone. This communication is effected, not by the production of a new and independent dignity, but by the assumption of a human nature by a Divine Person, Who makes it His own and is adored in it. Spiritual creatures resemble God in the simplicity of their substance; they are also like Him in comparative infinity, inasmuch as they are not limited to the same extent as material creatures, and inasmuch as their intellectual faculties can know all things, even the Divine Infinity, and can embrace in their general conceptions an immense multitude of possible beings. They participate still more in the Divine Infinity by means of grace and glory, whereby they are elevated above all sensible nature, nay, above their own nature, and are enabled to apprehend, if not to comprehend, the Infinite Being of God Himself.
SECT. 65.The Immutability of God.
I. God is absolutely immutable: no change whatever can affect the Divine Substance; He is always absolutely the same in Substance, Attributes, and Life.
1. I am the Lord, and I change not (Mal. iii. 6); the Father of lights, with Whom there is no change nor shadow of alteration [Greek words omitted] (James i. 17 cf. Ps. ci. 27, 28, and Heb. i. 11, 12; Rom. i. 23; I Tim. i. 17, vi. 16; Wisd. vii. 27, etc.).
2. Tradition, too, abounds with similar testimonies. The Councils and Fathers take for granted the Divine Immutability as an article of Faith in their disputes with the Arians, who opposed the Son of God to the Father as the changeable to the unchangeable; they demonstrate it against the Gnostics and Manichaeans, who taught the emanation of creatures from God; against the Stoics, who maintained the passivity of God; against the Eutychians and Patripassiani, who affirmed a conversion of the Divine Nature into the human nature, or conversely. After the Creed, the Council of Nicaea added the words, The Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes those who say that the Son of God is variable ([Greek word omitted]) or changeable ([Greek word omitted]). Moreover, this doctrine is a prominent feature of all apologetics against the heathen. It is a favourite theme of St. Augustine (cf. De Civ. Dei, 1. xi., cc. 10, 11, and 1. xii., c. 17).
3. The rational proofs of the Divine Immutability are derived from the very Essence of God, which is Being pure and simple, excluding all beginning and end; from the independence and self-sufficiency of the Divine Essence, which exclude all external influence and all internal reasons requiring or producing change; from the Divine Simplicity, which excludes all composition or decomposition consequent upon mutability; from the Divine Infinity, which is incompatible with increase and decrease, or substitution of one state of being for another in the Divine Substance; and, lastly, from the necessity by which God actually is all that He can be, which excludes the possibility of acquisition or loss. These arguments, especially the last named, would seem at first sight not to apply to God's contingent acts of thought and will. But it is absolutely necessary that His cognition and volition of things outside Him should be themselves determined, because indetermination would involve imperfection; and if this determination in God (ad intra) is absolutely necessary, its direction on this or that particular object cannot be something with a beginning or end. Moreover, although these intentions or directions of the Divine Intellect and Will upon contingent objects do not constitute the essential Being and Life of God, and although the Divine Essence and Life are entirely independent of them, still, as a matter of fact, they are contained in the Divine Essence and Life, and consequently they must participate in the immutability of these.
By basing the immutability of God's free decrees upon the necessity of His whole Being, we have also given the principle for explaining the apparent contradiction between the Divine Immutability and the freedom of God's Will. It is evident that the power of changing a decision once freely taken is not essential to freedom; on the contrary, consistency belongs to the ideal of freedom. Now, in order to produce a change in God, a free determination should cause a new act or new existence in such a way as to be opposed to the Divine Simplicity and infinity. But, as we have already seen (§ 64, II.), this is not the case. Indeed, the difficulty of accounting for free will in God arises less from His Immutability than from His Simplicity, Infinity, and Necessity, although, when rightly understood, these very attributes are the foundation of His freedom. The following thesis supplies the key to the solution of the other difficulties.
II. God, although immutable in Himself is the principle of all mutable beings and of all the changes which take place in them; wherefore God's essential Immutability does not exclude the variability of His external activity and of His relations to creatures. Everything, however, which would involve any change in the Divine Substance must be excluded, notably all newness of volition or motion in execution, and every affection and determination received from without. This doctrine is of Faith, and is also theologically and philosophically evident; but theologians differ in their way of expressing and applying it.
1. The works of the Divine Omnipotence are not eternal. Creation and all the acts of Providence are measured by time, and therefore, when the effect commences, the Divine action (ad extra) that causes it commences likewise. But the realization, in time, of the eternal decree is not a formal change in the producer, nor does it presuppose such a change. God does not produce effects by means of forces or instruments, but by simply enacting His Omnipotent Will. Much less do the attributes of Creator, Lord, and the rest, based upon God's external activity, involve a change in Him (cf. St. Augustine, De Civ. Dei, I. xii., c. 17; Abelard, Introd.) 1. iii., c. 6).
2. Again, God enters into various relations with His creatures, notably in the Incarnation and by means of the operation of His grace. These relations constitute a variation which proceeds from God, and in a certain manner also terminates in Him. But here, also, the creature alone is substantially and inwardly affected by the change: grace brings the creature nearer to God, and in the case of the Incarnation the creature is elevated to unity in Person and dignity with God, Who Himself is neither elevated nor lowered in the process (cf. St. Augustine, Lib. 83 Quaest., q., 73, De Incarn.).
3. Thirdly, God takes notice of the changes which occur in creatures, and disposes His operations accordingly. It would seem, therefore, that such changes in creatures react on the Creator, and affect even His inmost life. But the real motive determining the Divine operations is in God Himself; that He is disposed differently, according to the good or evil conduct of creatures, does not entail a variety of acts or dispositions in Him. His infinite love for the Supreme Good is at the same time love for the good among His creatures, and hatred and anger against the wicked. Moreover, His pleasure or displeasure bestowed at various times has really existed from all eternity in Him, but is manifested in time. Repentance, indeed, seems to be most incompatible with the Divine Immutability. Holy Scripture sometimes denies its existence in God, but at other times attributes it to Him. We must therefore understand that the Divine operations or affections manifest themselves externally, in various times and circumstances, in such a manner as to resemble human repentance. Cf. St. Augustine, Ad Simplicium, q. ii., n. 2.
III. Absolute immutability belongs to God alone. It cannot be communicated to creatures, because they are by their very essence subject to change. However, by means of grace all defective mutations natural to creatures can be prevented, and even made impossible; and when this takes place the immutability which belongs to God is, to some extent, communicated to His creatures. But this communicated immutability is never absolute, because it does not exclude multiplicity and progress in the creature's inner life. We should note that a sort of immutability belongs by nature to all spiritual creatures, viz, the incorruptibility of their substance and the immortality of their life.
SECT. 66.The Inconfusibility of God.
I. The attribute which we have now to consider is a complement of the Divine Simplicity. It excludes from God the possibility of entering into composition with any other substance, form, or matter, and of His being numbered or classed with other things. Hence, too, the exclusion of the Pantheistic system, which would degrade the perfection of the Divinity below that of created spirits. The Vatican Council asserts this attribute by stating that God is ineffably exalted above all things that exist or can be conceived (sess. iii., chap. I).
II. God can no more enter into necessary or substantial composition with any other substance than He can admit of composition within Himself; for the component substance would have to become part of the Divine Substance, and would thus destroy its Simplicity. God cannot become identical with other substances, because either these substances would cease to be distinct from each other, or there would be an end of the Divine Simplicity.
1. God cannot be the matter or substratum of all things, because His Substance is eminently one, simple, and indivisible. He cannot, again, be the root of all things in the sense that things partake of His Substance and live by His own proper energy.
2. Nor can He be the soul or substantial form of the universe, even in such a way that His Substance only partially acts as soul of the world, and has an independent existence besides. All these hypotheses directly contradict the attributes of Simplicity, Immutability, and Infinity, not to mention various absurdities which they involve.
3. God cannot, even in a supernatural manner, form part of a composition resulting in the production of a nature. Hence in the Incarnation there is neither unity of nature nor loss of independence or self-sufficiency on the part of the Divine Person Who makes the human nature His own, and submits it to Himself. A union of this kind, viz, by active assumption and dominion, and without any fusion of the united natures, is not excluded by any Divine attribute; on the contrary, it is possible only on the ground of the Absolute Being, Power, and Dominion.
4. God cannot be reckoned or classed with other beings, because He has nothing in common with them. No general notion can embrace God and His creatures. Even the notions of substance and being have different meanings when applied to God, and when applied to creatures.
III. Although the absolute simplicity of the Divine Substance exalts it above all created substances, nevertheless this same attribute renders it possible for God to permeate creatures with His Substance in a manner far more intimate than one creature could penetrate and permeate another. That innermost presence of which the Apostle speaks Who is above all, and through all, and in us all, [Greek words omitted] (Eph. iv. 6), is an immediate consequence of the creation and preservation of all things. In a certain degree it extends to all things, but it increases according to the increase of God's influence on creatures. An intimate union with Him requires the elevation of the creature to a supernatural state, and is therefore limited to certain classes of creatures. We shall treat further on of the Hypostatic Union by which God the Son unites to Himself a human nature, and also of the intellectual union of the Divine Substance with the blessed in the Beatific Vision.
SECT. 67. The Immensity of God.
I. The dogma of the Divine Immensity and Incircumscriptibility ([Greek word omitted]) is based upon the fact that God is entirely independent of space and place. He has no formal extension, nor is He contained in any definite room or place; He is exalted above space and place; His virtual extension is such that no formal extension whatsoever can exceed, equal, or measure it; no space, real or possible, can include His Immensity; all space, real and possible, is included in Him. Consequently, God is everywhere in an eminent manner; we cannot conceive him absent from any existing place, and if any new space came into existence, God would be there also.
1. In Holy Scripture the attribute of Immensity appears more in its concrete form of Omnipresence as opposed to the circumscribed presence of creatures. The Lord He is God in Heaven above and in the earth beneath (Deut. iv. 39). Whither shall I go from Thy Spirit? or whither shall I flee from Thy face? If I go up into heaven, Thou art there; if I go down into hell, Thou art present. If I take my wings early in the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there also shall Thy hand lead me, and Thy right hand shall hold me. And I said, Perhaps darkness shall cover me, and night shall be my light in my pleasures. But darkness shall not be dark to Thee, and night shall be as light as the day: the darkness thereof and the light thereof are alike to Thee (Ps. cxxxviii. 712). Am I, think ye, a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Shall a man be hid in secret places, and I not see him, saith the Lord? Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord? (Jer. xxiii. 23, 24). Peradventure thou wilt comprehend the steps of God, and wilt find out the Almighty perfectly? He is higher than heaven, and what wilt thou do? He is deeper than hell, and how wilt thou know? The measure of Him is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea (Job xi. 79). See also I Kings viii. 29; Isai. xl. 12, etc.
2. The Fathers very often insist upon this attribute.
We must here confine ourselves to referring to the most important passages: St. Gregory the Great, Moral. in Job, 1. ii., c. 8, on the words, Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord; St. Hilary, De Trinitate, 1. i., near the beginning. Abelard has put into verse the text of St. Gregory. We give it as containing an abridgment of the doctrine of the Fathers.
Super cuncta, subtus cuncta, extra cuncta, intra cuncta:
Intra cuncta nec inclusus, extra cuncta nec exclusus,
Subter cuncta nec subtractus, super cuncta nec elatus;
Super totus possidendo, subter totus sustinendo,
Extra totus complectendo, intra totus es implendo;
Intra nusquam coarctaris, extra numquam dilataris,
Subtus nullo fatigaris, super nullo sustentaris.
(Rythm. De Trin., v. 3 sqq.)
3. The Divine Exaltedness above, and Independence of space and place result from the spirituality of the Divine Substance. Immensity, in its full import, is a necessary condition of the absolute Immutability of God. For either God is essentially excluded from space, or He is in some definite space, or He fills and exceeds all space. The first alternative is absurd. As to the second, if God were in a definite place and not outside it, He would have to move in order to pass from place to place, which would be inconsistent with God's sovereign self-sufficiency and immobility. Moreover, the Divine Immensity is a consequence of the Divine Omnipotence. For even granting the possibility of action from a distance, this action cannot be conceived in God in Whom action and substance are identical. But as God has the power of producing every possible creature, no place can be thought of for a creature where God is not already present in Substance and in Essence. The immensity of the virtual extension is based on the infinite plenitude of the Divine Being which implies the capability of being present to all things.
II. The attributes of Immensity and Ubiquity belong to God alone; they cannot be communicated to creatures any more than the Divine Substance itself. We can, however, conceive a creature endowed with a sort of ubiquity in the sense of filling all the space really existing. Moreover, a created spirit, and even a material body, can be supernaturally endowed with the power of Replication that is, the capability of being in several places at the same time. Concerning the Replication of the Body of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, more will be said in the treatises on the Incarnation and Holy Eucharist.
SECT. 68. The Eternity of God.
I. The Divine Eternity signifies (1) that the duration of God is above and independent of time, inasmuch as He has neither beginning nor end and is in no wise limited by time, but coexists with and exceeds all time; (2) that the Divine duration is absolutely without change or succession, and is in no way affected by the flow of time; (3) that the duration of God is absolutely and essentially indivisible: it admits of no past or future, but is an everstanding present. The simplicity and virtual extension of God's duration are a superabundant equivalent for all real and possible time. All this is admirably summed up in the well-known definition given by Boëthius (De Consol. Phil., 1. v., prop. 6): Aeternitas est interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio Eternity is the possession, perfect and all at once, of life without beginning or end. That is to say, God's activity is absolutely changeless, but yet is life indestructible; all limit is excluded from this life, but yet endlessness is a consequence of Eternity rather than its essence; and this life is possessed all at once, to show that there is no succession in it, but that God in His everpresent now enjoys everything that He could have possessed or can ever possess.
1. Holy Scripture, as might be expected, refers frequently to God's Eternity. The very name He Who is implies the necessity of endless and ever-present existence. I the Lord, I am the first and the last (Isai. xli. 4). Grace be unto you and peace from Him that is, and that was, and that is to come (Apoc. i. 4). Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world was formed; from eternity and unto eternity Thou art God
(Ps. lxxxix. 2, cf. Ecclus. xlii. 21). Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham was made, I am (John viii. 58). In the beginning, O Lord, thou didst found the earth, and the heavens are the work of Thy hands. They shall perish but Thou remainest; and all of them shall grow old like a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou change them and they shall he changed. But Thou art always the self-same, and Thy years shall not fail (Ps. ci. 26-28). A thousand years in Thy sight are as yesterday which is past (Ps. lxxxix. 4). One day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Pet. iii. 8).
2. Among the Fathers St. Augustine should be especially consulted. Eternal life, he says, surpasses temporal life by its very vivacity; nor can I perceive what eternity is except by the eye of my mind. For by that I exclude from eternity all change, and in eternity I perceive no portions of time, because these are made up of past and future movement. But in eternity nothing is past or future, because what is past has ceased to be, and what is future has not yet begun; whereas eternity only is,not was, as though it were not still, not will be, as though it were not yet ('Aeternitas tantummodo est, nec fuit, quasi jam non sit, nec erit, quasi adhuc non sit'). Wherefore it alone can most truly say of itself: 'I am who am;' and of it alone can be said, 'He Who is sent me to you' (De Vera Relig., c. 49 ; see also In Psalm. cxxi., n. 6; Tract. in Joannem, xcix.).
II. God, in virtue of His Eternity, bears certain relations to time and to temporal events. His duration has no beginning, succession, or end, but it necessarily coexists with, precedes, and exceeds all real time. The Divine Eternity, having the simplicity of the Divine Essence and being only virtually extended, coexists in its entirety with every single moment of time, just as the central point of a circle coexists with all the points of the circumference. Hence temporal things have no successive duration in the eye of God; that is, in comparison with the Divine Eternity, they do not come and go, and pass by or along parts of it. In God's sight they have neither past nor future, but are eternally present. Thus the points of a circumference in motion change their positions relatively to other points but always remain at the same distance from the centre. This, however, does not involve the eternal existence of events and things. Their eternal presence in God's sight is owing, not to a duration coextensive with eternity on the part of creatures, but to the fact that the Divine Eternity encompasses and embraces all created duration, in the same way as the virtual extension of the Divine Substance encompasses and embraces all space. God sees and knows as actually standing before Him in His presence all things of all times, so that the Divine knowledge cannot rightly be called either memory or foreknowledge.
III. Eternity in the strict sense of the word belongs to God alone, and is the result of His independent and necessary mode of existence. Both reason and Scripture manifestly teach this. But it is not certain whether duration without beginning or end is incommunicable to creatures. Weighty theologians admit the possibility of a being created from all eternity; but it is of faith that no such being exists. Duration without end can of course be communicated to creatures, and will be the lot of all rational beings made according to God's image and likeness. Nay, in a supernatural manner, God can elevate them even to a participation in the simplicity of His eternal Life, inasmuch as He grants them a life the object of which is His own eternal Substance, and which therefore participates in the simple immobility and uniformity of the Divine Life. Cf. St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, 1. iii.,c. 61.
SECT. 69.The Invisibility of God.
I. Vision is properly the act of the noblest of our senses; but, analogically, the term is also applied to the knowledge acquired by the mind's eye, particularly to the knowledge acquired by direct, immediate intuition of an object. All created things are visible, if not to all, at least to some created beings. But God is invisible to the bodily eye of creatures, even independently of His Simplicity, because He is a pure Spirit. This invisibility is a matter of faith; so much, at the least, is implied by the texts which will be quoted.
II. God is also invisible to the mental eye of angels and of men, and indeed of every conceivable created spirit; but it is possible for him to make Himself visible to the supernaturally illuminated eye of created spirits. Who alone hath immortality and dwelleth in light inaccessible ([Greek words omitted]), Whom no man hath seen nor can see (I Tim. vi. 16). Here the eminent perfection of God, His inaccessible light, is given as the cause of His Invisibility. No man hath seen God at any time (John i. 18). We see now through a glass in a dark manner: but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known (I Cor. xiii. 12). The invisible ([Greek words omitted]) things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made (Rom. i. 20); that is to say, God is invisible, unknowable in Himself, but is seen mediately and indirectly through the medium of creatures. See also above, sect. 56.
The reason why God is invisible to the bodily eye is because He is physically simple; His absolute metaphysical simplicity and immateriality make Him invisible to the mental eye also. These attributes establish such a disproportion between the Divine Essence and the intellectual faculties of creatures, that God cannot be the object of such faculties. It is impossible, says St. Thomas, for any created intellect by its own natural powers to see the Divine Essence. For cognition takes place so far as the object known is in the subject knowing. But the former is in the latter according to the manner of existence of the latter; wherefore all knowledge is in accordance with the nature of the subject knowing. If, therefore, the mode of existence of the object to be known is of a higher order than that of the subject knowing, the knowledge of this object is above the nature of the subject. . . . The knowledge of Self-existing Being is natural to the Divine Intellect alone; for no creature is its own existence, but all creatures have a participated, dependent existence. The created intellect therefore cannot see God by means of His Essence, except in so far as God by His grace unites Himself to the created intellect as knowable by it (I., q. 12, a. 4).
III. At first sight the arguments given would seem to prove that God is altogether unknowable to any creature. If the bodily eye cannot behold a created spirit because the latter is simple, much less can a spirit gaze upon God whose simplicity is infinitely more above the simplicity of a created spirit than this is above matter. This difficulty is answered by St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, 1. iii., c. 54: The Divine Substance is not beyond the reach of the created intellect as being entirely extraneous thereto (as for instance sound is to the eye, or as an immaterial substance is to the senses), for the Divine Substance is the first thing intelligible (primum intelligibile), and is the principle of all intellectual cognition. It is outside the created intellect only as exceeding the powers of the latter, in the same way as in the domain of the senses excessive light is blinding and excessive sound is deafening (excellentia sensibilium sunt extra facultatem sensuum). Whence the Philosopher (Aristotle) says in the second book of the Metaphysics, that our intellect is to the most manifest things what the eye of the owl is to the sunlight. The created intellect, therefore, requires to be strengthened by some Divine light in order to be able to gaze on the Divine Essence. See also I., q. 12, a. 4 ad 3.
God enables the created intellect to behold His Substance by elevating and refining its cognitive powers and by impressing Himself upon them as intelligible form. This elevation and information of the intellect is possible by reason of His infinite Simplicity. The elevation, indeed, is but an assimilation to His infinitely simple Intellect, and can therefore only be communicated by God in virtue of His Simplicity; whereas the information is possible because God's Substance is infinitely more simple than that of created spirits, so that He can infuse Himself into them and unite Himself so intimately with them as to become their vivifying form. See, on this point, St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, I. iii., c. 51.
IV. To gaze on God is so much above the nature of the human mind in its present state of union with the body, that, according to the common teaching, such a vision could not take place without producing either an ecstasy or the suspension, if not the complete extinction, of the natural life. Hence the vision of God cannot be granted to man during this mortal life unless as an exception or special privilege. This privilege, however, as far as we know with certainty, exists only for the human soul of Christ, which, in virtue of the Hypostatic Union, is from the beginning in the bosom of God with the Divine Person.
What we have said easily explains the meaning of Exod. xxxiii. 20: Thou canst not see My Face; for man shall not see Me and live. In the Old Testament the expression, to see God face to face, is often used in connection with any clear manifestation internal or external, of God or of His Angels; e.g. Gen. xxxii. 30; Exod. xxxiii. 11.
SECT. 70.The Incomprehensibility of God.
I. In the Church's language the term comprehend (comprehendere, [Greek words omitted]) sometimes designates intuitive knowledge, as opposed to mediate, indirect, or abstract knowledge; sometimes adequate knowledge that is, knowledge exhaustive of its object, embracing whatever is knowable in and of the object. As the simplicity of God makes Him invisible to all beings except Himself, so does His infinity make Him incomprehensible to all but Himself. The adequate comprehension of the Divinity cannot be communicated, even in the Beatific Vision, to any creature. This is of faith as defined in the Fourth Lateran Council (cap. Firmiter), and again in the Vatican Council (sess. iii., chap. I), where God is described as incomprehensible as well as immense and omnipotent. Besides, the term Incomprehensible, as applied to God in Holy Scripture and Tradition, has always been taken to imply the absolute impossibility of being adequately known by any creature.
II. The Divine Incomprehensibility is often spoken of in Holy Scripture in connection, not, indeed, with the Beatific Vision, but with man's limited knowledge. Nevertheless, the reasons which show the impossibility for man adequately to know God, apply also to the case of the blessed in Heaven. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments and unsearchable are His ways! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor? Or who hath first given to Him and recompense shall be made him? Rom. xi. 3335; see also Job xi. 19; Ecclus. xliii. 30 sqq.; Ps. cxliv. 3. The doctrine of the Fathers may be found in Petavius (De Deo, vii. 3, 4) and Ruiz (De Scientia Dei, disp. vi,).
III. The inner and formal reason of God's Incomprehensibility lies in His infinity. An infinite object surpasses the powers of a finite mind; and as the light of glory granted to the blessed in Heaven still leaves them finite, it does not enable them to fully grasp the Infinite. In the language of the Schoolmen, a blessed spirit sees the Infinite but not infinitely (infinitum non infinite); and sees the whole of it, but not wholly (totum non totaliter).
SECT. 71. The Ineffability of God.
I. An object may be ineffable in two ways. First, the knowledge we have of it may be defective, and consequently the expression of it must be defective; or, secondly, language may be inadequate to express the knowledge really possessed.
1. God is ineffable or inexpressible inasmuch as no created mind has an adequate knowledge of Him. In this sense the Divine Ineffability is a corollary of the Divine Incomprehensibility, and is likewise a matter of faith. We have already explained in § 56 how, notwithstanding the attribute of Ineffability, man is able to speak about God and to give Him various names.
2. God is also ineffable in the sense that no created mind can give to the highest knowledge of God an expression adequate to convey it to other minds. In this sense the Divine Ineffability is a corollary of the Divine Invisibility. Moreover, a created medium cannot be adequate to convey a knowledge of the Infinite as it is in itself. The kind of ineffability in question belongs also, to a certain extent, to the supernatural knowledge of God sometimes communicated to saints even in this life a knowledge which they cannot express in words; like St. Paul, who heard secret words which it is not granted to man to utter (2 Cor. xii. 4).
II. It is highly probable, though by no means certain, that in the Beatific Vision the knowledge of the blessed is not a mental representation (species expressa), as in all other acts of intellectual cognition. If this is the case, God is ineffable to such a degree that not only is an adequate expression of Him impossible, but even any sort of expression of Him as He is in Himself.
III. To Himself, however, God is not ineffable. He produces in Himself an adequate expression of His Being which is His consubstantial Word ([Greek word omitted]). By means of this Word, Who is, as it were, the Face of God, the blessed see the Divine Essence as it is in itself.