God (A.S. God; Germ. Gott; akin to Persian khoda; Hindu khooda), (1) the proper name of the one Supreme and Infinite Personal Being, the Creator and Ruler of the universe, to whom man owes obedience and worship; (2) the common or generic name of the several supposed beings to whom, in polytheistic religions, Divine attributes are ascribed and Divine worship rendered; (3) the name sometimes applied to an idol as the image or dwelling-place of a god. The root-meaning of the name (from Gothic root gheu; Skt. hu or hu, “to invoke or to sacrifice to”) is either “the one invoked” or “the one sacrificed to” (see Murray, “New Dict. of the Engl.’ Language”, s.v.). From different Indo-Germanic roots (div, “to shine”, “give light”; thes in thessasthai, “to implore”) come the Indo-Iranian deva, Skt. dyaus (gen. divas), Lat. dews, Gr. Theos, Irish and Gaelic, dia, all of which are generic names; also Gr. Zeds (gen. Dios), Lat. Jupiter (jovpater), Old Teut. Tiu or Tiw (surviving in Tuesday), Lat. Janus, Diana, and other proper names of pagan deities. The common name most widely used in Semitic occurs as ‘el in Hebr., ‘ilu in Babylonian, ‘ilah in Arabic, etc.; and though scholars are not agreed on the point, the root-meaning most probably is “the strong or mighty one”.
SCOPE AND PLAN OF TREATMENT.,—For ethnic conceptions of Deity the reader is referred to the article under that title. The present article is concerned exclusively with the God (I) of monotheistic philosophy and (II) of Old and New Testament theology, i.e. with the one true God as He can be known by the light of unaided reason and as He is actually known, much more perfectly than reason could know Him, by His free revelation of Himself in the Jewish and Christian religions. It is necessary up to a certain point to observe the distinction here implied between philosophical and theological Theism—between the God of reason and of Revelation. For it is clear that, if the acceptance of Christianity is to be justified as a reasonable act of faith, the human mind must be capable of knowing naturally that a God exists who is free to reveal Himself supernaturally, in such wise that men may be rationaly certain that He has done so through the ministry of Jesus Christ. In other words philosophical Theism as such ought to furnish the rational data which are implied in the possibility of revelation and the credibility of the Christian system; but more than this it need not undertake to do. Now all these data—in so far as they relate strictly to Theism—are contained in the comprehensive truth of the self-existence of a free and intelligent First Clause and Moral Ruler, a personal God, distinct from but immanent in the universe, which is subject to His infinite power and wisdom; and we shall, therefore, confine our strictly philosophical treatment of the subject to the discussion of this fundamental truth. A good deal more than this is usually included in the systematic philosophy of Theism as developed by Christian, and more especially by Catholic, writers, but in accordance with our present scope, which is theological as well as philosophical, it will be more convenient to adopt the combined viewpoint of philosopher and theologian in treating many questions which might be treated separately from either point of view. In doing so, moreover, we are but following the line along which theistic doctrine has been developed. It is a fact that no adequate system of rational Theism and of natural religion has ever been developed and maintained independently of Revelation, and it would be a mistake to infer from the admitted capacity of the human mind to arrive at a true knowledge of God as the Creator and Ruler of the universe that the systematic Theism of Christian philosophers is de facto the product of unaided reason. It is legitimate for the philosopher, while retaining the strictly rational view-point, to improve and perfect his philosophy in the reflected light of Revelation, and Christian philosophers have used this advantage freely.
I. THE GOD OF PHILOSOPHY
A. Existence of God
(1) The Problem stated
Had the Theist merely to face a blank Atheistic denial of God’s existence his task would be comparatively a light one. Formal dogmatic Atheism is self-refuting, and has never de facto won the reasoned assent of any considerable number of men (see Atheism). Nor can Polytheism (q.v.), however easily it may take hold of the popular imagination, ever satisfy the mind of a philosopher. But there are several varieties of what may be described as virtual Atheism which cannot be dismissed so summarily. There is the agnosticism, for instance, of Herbert Spencer, which, while admitting the rational necessity of postulating the Absolute or Unconditioned behind the relative and conditioned objects of our knowledge, declares that Absolute to be altogether unknowable, to be in fact the Unknowable, about which without being guilty of contradiction we can predicate nothing at all, except perhaps that It exists; and there are other types of Agnosticism (q.v.). Then again there is Pantheism (q.v.) in an almost endless variety of forms, all of which, however, may be logically reduced to the three following types: (a) the purely materialistic, which, making matter the only reality, would explain life by mechanics and chemistry, reduce abstract thought to the level of an organic process, deny any higher ultimate moral value to the Ten Commandments than to Newton’s law of gravitation, and, finally, identify God Himself with the universe thus interpreted (see Materialism; Monism); (b) the purely idealistic, which, choosing the contrary alternative, would make mind the only reality, convert the material universe into an idea, and identify God with this all-embracing mind or idea, conceived as eternally evolving itself into passing phases or expressions of being and attaining self-consciousness in the souls of men; and (c) the combined materialistic-idealistic, which tries to steer a middle course and, without sacrificing mind to matter or matter to mind, would conceive the existing universe, with which God is identified, as some sort of “double-faced” single entity. Thus to accomplish even the beginning of his task the Theist has to show against the Agnostics, that the knowledge of God attainable by rational inference, however inadequate and imperfect it may be, is as true and valid, as far as it goes, as any other piece of knowledge we possess; and against Pantheists that the God of reason is a supra-mundane personal God distinct both from matter and from the finite human mind—that neither we ourselves nor the earth we tread upon enter into the constitution of His being.
But passing from views that are formally anti-Theistic, it is found that among Theists themselves certain differences exist which tend to complicate the problem, and increase the difficulty of stating it briefly and clearly. Some of these differences are merely formal and accidental and do not affect the substance of the theistic thesis, but others are of substantial importance, as, for instance, whether we can validly establish the truth of God’s existence by the same kind of rational inference (e.g. from effect to cause) as we employ in other departments of knowledge, or whether, in order to justify our belief in this truth, we must not rather rely on some transcendental principle or axiom, superior and antecedent to dialectical reasoning; or on immediate intuition; or on some moral, sentimental, emotional, or aesthetic instinct or perception, which is voluntary rather than intellectual. Kant denied in the name of “pure reason” the inferential validity of the classical theistic proofs, while in the name of “practical reason” he postulated God’s existence as an implicate of the moral law; and Kant’s method has been followed or imitated by many Theists—by some who fully agree with him in rejecting the classical arguments; by others, who, without going so far, believe in the apologetical expediency of trying to persuade rather than convince men to be Theists. A moderate reaction against the too rigidly mathematical intellectualism of Descartes was to be welcomed, but the Kantian reaction by its excesses has injured the cause of Theism and helped forward the cause of anti-theistic philosophy. Herbert Spencer, as is well known, borrowed most of his arguments for Agnosticism from Hamilton and Mansel, who had popularized Kantian criticism in England; while in trying to improve on Kant’s reconstructive transcendentalism his German disciples (Fichte, Schelling, Hegel) drifted into Pan-theism. Kant also helped to prepare the way for the total disparagement of human reason in relation to religious truth, which constitutes the negative side of Traditionalism (q.v.), while the appeal of that system on the positive side to the common consent and tradition of mankind as the chief or sole criterion of truth and more especially of religious truth—its authority as a criterion being traced ultimately to a positive Divine revelation—is, like Kant’s refuge in practical reason, merely an illogical attempt to escape from Agnosticism. Again, though Ontologism (q.v.), e.g. that of Malebranche (d. 1715), is older than Kant, its revival in the nineteenth century (by Gioberti, Rosmini, and others) has been inspired to some extent by Kantian influences. This system maintains that we have naturally some immediate consciousness, however dim at first, or some intuitive knowledge of God—not indeed that we see Him in His essence face to face, but that we know Him in His relation to creatures by the same act of cognition, according to Rosmini, as we become conscious of being in general, and therefore that the truth of His existence is as much a datum of philosophy as is the abstract idea of being. Finally, the philosophy of Modernism (q.v.), about which there has recently been such a stir, is a somewhat complex medley of these various systems and tendencies; its main features as a system are, negatively, a thoroughgoing intellectual Agnosticism, and, positively, the assertion of an immediate sense or experience of God as immanent in the life of the soul—an experience which is at first only subconscious, but which, when the requisite moral dispositions are present, becomes an object of conscious certainty.
Now all these varying types of Theism, in so far as they are opposed to the classical and traditional type, may be reduced to one or other of the two following propositions: (a) that we have naturally an immediate consciousness or intuition of Gods existence and may therefore dispense with any attempt to prove this truth inferentially; (b) that, through we do not know this truth intuitively and cannot prove it inferentially in such a way as to satisfy the speculative reason, we can, nevertheless, and must conscientiously believe it on other than strictly intellectual grounds. But an appeal to experience, not to mention other objections, is sufficient to negative the first proposition; and the second, which, as history has already made clear, is an illogical compromise with Agnosticism, is best refuted by a simple statement of the theistic proofs. It is not the proofs that are found to be fallacious but the criticism which rejects them. It is true of course—and no Theist denies it—that for the proper intellectual appreciation of theistic proofs moral dispositions are required, and that moral consciousness, the aesthetic faculty, and whatever other powers or capacities belong to man’s spiritual nature, constitute or supply so many data on which to base inferential proofs. But this is very different from holding that we possess any faculty or power which assures us of God’s existence and which is independent of, and superior to, the intellectual laws that regulate our assent to truth in general; that in the religious sphere we can transcend those laws without confessing our belief in God to be irrational. It is also true that a mere barren intellectual assent to the truth of God’s existence—and such an assent is conceivable—falls very far short of what religious assent ought to be; that what is taught in revealed religion about the worthlessness of faith uninformed by charity has its counterpart in natural religion; and that practical Theism, if it pretends to be adequate, must appeal not merely to the intellect but to the heart and conscience of mankind and be capable of winning the total allegiance of rational creatures. But here again we meet with exaggeration and confusion on the part of those Theists who would substitute for intellectual assent something that does not exclude but presupposes it, and is only required to complement it. The truth and pertinency of these observations will be made clear by the following summary of the classical arguments for God’s existence.
(2) Theistic Proofs
The arguments for God’s existence are variously classified and entitled by different writers, but all agree in recognizing the distinction between a priori, or deductive, and a posteriori, or inductive, reasoning in this connection. And while all admit the validity and sufficiency of the latter method, opinion is divided in regard to the former. Some maintain that a valid a priori proof (usually called the ontological) is available; others deny this in toto; while some others maintain an attitude of compromise or neutrality. This difference, it should be observed, applies only to the question of proving God’s actual existence, for, His self-existence being admitted, it is necessary to employ a priori or deductive inference in order to arrive at a knowledge of His nature and attributes; and as it is impossible to develop the arguments for His existence without some working notion of His nature, it is necessary to some extent to anticipate the deductive stage and combine the a priori with the a posteriori method. But no strictly a priori conclusion need be more than hypothetically assumed at this stage.
(a) A Posteriori Proofs.—St. Thomas (I, Q. ii, a. 3; Cont. Gent., I, xiii) and after him many scholastic writers advance the five following arguments to prove the existence of God. (i) Motion, i.e. the passing from power to act, as it takes place in the universe, implies a first unmoved Mover (primum movens immobile), who is God; else we should postulate an infinite series of movers, which is inconceivable. (ii) For the same reason efficient causes, as we see them operating in this world, imply the existence of a First Cause that is uncaused, i.e. that possesses in itself the sufficient reason for its existence; and this is God. (iv) The graduated perfections of being actually existing in the universe can be undertood only by comparison with an absolute standard that is also actual, i.e. an infinitely perfect Being such as God. (v) The wonderful order or evidence of intelligent design which the universe exhibits implies the existence of a supra-mundane Designer, who is no other than God Himself. To these many Theists add other arguments, drawn, e.g. (vi) from the common consent of mankind (usually described by Catholic writers as the moral argument), (vii) from the internal witness of conscience to the supremacy of the moral law, and, therefore, to the existence of a supreme Lawgiver (this may be called the ethical argument, or (viii) from the existence and perception of beauty in the universe (the aesthetical argument). One might go on, indeed, almost indefinitely multiplying and distinguishing arguments; but to do so would only lead to confusion. The various arguments mentioned—and the same is true of others that might be added—are not in reality distinct and independent arguments, but only so many partial statements of one and the same general argument, which is perhaps best described as the cosmological. This argument assumes the validity of the principle of causality or sufficient reason and, stated in its most comprehensive form, amounts to this: that it is impossible according to the laws of human thought to give any ultimate rational explanation of the phenomena of external experience and of internal consciousness—in other words to synthesize the data which the actual universe as a whole supplies (and this is the recognized aim of philosophy)—unless by admitting the existence of a self-sufficient and self-explanatory cause or ground of being and activity, to which all these phenomena may be ultimately referred. It is, therefore, mainly a question of method and expediency what particular points one may select from the multitude available to illustrate and enforce the general a posteriori argument. For our purpose it will suffice to state as briefly as possible (i) the general argument proving the self-existence of a First Cause, (ii) the special arguments proving the existence of an intelligent Designer and (iii) of a Supreme Moral Ruler, and (iv) the confirmatory argument from the general consent of mankind.
(i) We must start by assuming the objective certainty and validity of the principle of causality or sufficient reason—an assumption upon which the value of the physical sciences and of human knowledge generally is based. To question its objective certainty, as did Kant, and represent it as a mere mental a priori, or possessing only subjective validity, would open the door to subjectivism and universal scepticism. It is impossible to prove the principle of causality, just as it is impossible to prove the principle of contradiction; but it is not difficult to see that if the former is denied the latter may also be denied and the whole process of human reasoning declared fallacious. The principle states that whatever exists or happens must have a sufficient reason for its existence or occurrence either in itself or in something else; in other words that whatever does not exist of absolute necessity—whatever is not self-existent—cannot exist without a proportionate cause external to itself; and if this principle is valid when employed by the scientist to explain the phenomena of physics it must be equally valid when employed by the philosopher for the ultimate explanation of the universe as a whole. In the universe we observe that certain things are effects, i.e. they depend for their existence on other things, and these again on others; but, however far back we may extend this series of effects and dependent causes, we must, if human reason is to be satisfied, come ultimately to a cause that is not itself an effect, in other words to an uncaused cause or self-existent being which is the ground and cause of all being. And this conclusion, as thus stated, is virtually admitted by Agnostics and Pantheists, all of whom are obliged to speak of an eternal something underlying the phenomenal universe, whether this something be the “Unknown”, or the “Absolute“, or the “Unconscious”, or “Matter” itself, or the “Ego”, or the “Idea” of being, or the “Will“; these are so many substitutes for the uncaused cause or self-existent being of Theism. What anti-Theists refuse to admit is not the existence of a First Cause in an indeterminate sense, but the existence of an intelligent and free First Cause, a personal God, distinct from the material universe and the human mind. But the very same reason that compels us to postulate a First Cause at all requires that this cause should be a free and intelligent being. The spiritual world of intellect and free will must be recognized by the sane philosopher to be as real as the world of matter; man knows that he has a spiritual nature and performs spiritual acts as clearly and as certainly as he knows that he has eyes to see with and ears to hear with; and the phenomena of man’s spiritual nature can only be explained in one way—by attributing spirituality, i.e. intelligence and free will, to the First Cause, in other words by recognizing a personal God. For the cause in all cases must be proportionate to the effect, i.e. must contain somehow in itself every perfection of being that is realized in the effect.
The cogency of this argument becomes more apparent if account be taken of the fact, recognized by modern scientists, that the human species had its origin at a comparatively late period in the history of the actual universe. There was a time when neither man nor any other living thing inhabited this globe of ours; and without pressing the point regarding the origin of life itself from inanimate matter or the evolution of man’s body from lower organic types, it may be maintained with absolute confidence that no explanation of the origin of man’s soul can be made out on evolutionary lines, and that recourse must be had to the creative power of a spiritual or personal First Cause. It might also be urged, as an inference from the physical theories commonly accepted by present-day scientists, that the actual organization of the material universe had a definite beginning in time. If it be true that the goal towards which physical evolution is tending is the uniform distribution of heat and other forms of energy, it would follow clearly that the existing process has not been going on from eternity; else the goal would have been reached long ago. And if the process had a beginning how did it originate? If the primal mass was inert and uniform, it is impossible to conceive how motion and differentiation were introduced except from without, while if these are held to be coeval with matter, the cosmic process, which ex hypothesi is temporal, would be eternal, unless it be granted that matter itself had a definite beginning in time.
But the argument, strictly speaking, is conclusive even if it be granted that the world may have existed from eternity, in the sense, that is, that, no matter how far back one may go, no point of time can be reached at which created being was not already in existence. In this sense Aristotle held matter to be eternal and St. Thomas, while denying the fact, admitted the possibility of its being so. But such relative eternity is nothing more in reality than infinite or indefinite temporal duration and is altogether different from the eternity we attribute to God. Hence to admit that the world might possibly be eternal in this sense implies no denial of the essentially finite and contingent character of its existence. On the contrary it helps to emphasize this truth, for the same relation of dependence upon a self-existing cause which is implied in the contingency of any single being is implied a fortiori in the existence of an infinite series of such beings, supposing such a series to be possible.
Nor can it be maintained with Pantheists that the world, whether of matter or of mind or of both, contains within itself the sufficient reason of its own existence. A self-existing world would exist of absolute necessity and would be infinite in every kind of perfection; but of nothing are we more certain than that the world as we know it, in its totality as well as in its parts, realizes only finite degrees of perfection. It is a mere contradiction in terms, however much one may try to cover up and conceal the contradiction by an ambiguous and confusing use of language, to predicate infinity of matter or of the human mind, and one or the other or both must be held by the Pantheist to be infinite. In other words the distinction between the finite and the infinite must be abolished and the principle of contradiction denied. This criticism applies to every variety of Pantheism strictly so called, while crude, materialistic Pantheism involves so many additional and more obvious absurdities that hardly any philosopher deserving of the name will be found to maintain it in our day. On the other hand, as regards idealistic Pantheism, which enjoys a considerable vogue in our day, it is to be observed in the first place that in many cases this is a tendency rather than a formal doctrine, that it is in fact nothing more than a confused and perverted form of Theism, based especially upon an exaggerated and one-sided view of Divine immanence (see below, iii). And this confusion works to the advantage of Pantheism by enabling it to make a specious appeal to the very arguments which justify Theism. Indeed the whole strength of the pantheistic position as against Atheism lies in what it holds in common with Theism; while, on the other hand, its weakness as a world theory becomes evident as soon as it diverges from or contradicts Theism. Whereas Theism, for example, safeguards such primary truths as the reality of human personality, freedom, and moral responsibility, Pantheism is obliged to sacrifice all these, to deny the existence of evil, whether physical or moral, to destroy the rational basis of religion, and, under pretense of making man his own God, to rob him of nearly all his plain, common-sense convictions and of all his highest incentives to good conduct. The philosophy which leads to such results cannot but be radically unsound.
(ii) The special argument based on the existence of order or design in the universe (also called the teleological argument) proves immediately the existence of a supramundane mind of vast intelligence, and ultimately the existence of God. This argument is capable of being developed at great length, but it must be stated here very briefly. It has always been a favorite argument both with philosophers and with popular apologists of Theism; and though, during the earlier excesses of enthusiasm for or against Darwinianism, it was often asserted or admitted that the evolutionary hypothesis had overthrown the teleological argument, it is now recognized that the very opposite is true, and that the evidences of design which the universe exhibits are not less but more impressive when viewed from the evolutionary standpoint. To begin with particular examples of adaptation which may be appealed to in countless number—the eye, for instance, as an organ of sight is a conspicuous embodiment of intelligent purpose—and not less but more so when viewed as the product of an evolutionary process rather than the immediate handiwork of the Creator. There is no option in such cases between the hypothesis of a directing intelligence and that of blind chance, and the absurdity of supposing that the eye originated suddenly by a single blind chance is augmented a thousand-fold by suggesting that it may be the product of a progressive series of such chances. “Natural selection”, “survival of the fittest”, and similar terms merely describe certain phases in the supposed process of evolution without helping in the least to explain it; and as opposed to teleology they mean nothing more than blind chance. The eye is only one of the countless examples of adaptation to particular ends discernible in every part of the universe, inorganic as well as organic; for the atom as well as the cell contributes to the evidence available. Nor is the argument weakened by our inability in many cases to explain the particular purpose of certain structures or organisms. Our knowledge of nature is too limited to be made the measure of nature’s entire design, while as against our ignorance of some particular purposes we are entitled to maintain the presumption that if intelligence is anywhere apparent it is dominant everywhere. Moreover, in our search for particular instances of design we must not overlook the evidence supplied by the harmonious unity of nature as a whole. The universe as we know it is a cosmos, a vastly complex system of correlated and interdependent parts, each subject to particular laws, and all together subject to a common law or a combination of laws, as the result of which the pursuit of particular ends is made to contribute in a marvelous way to the attainment of a common purpose; and it is simply inconceivable that this cosmic unity should be the product of chance or accident. If it be objected that there is another side to the picture, that the universe abounds in imperfections—maladjustments, failures, seemingly purposeless waste—the reply is not far to seek. For it is not maintained that the existing world is the best possible, and it is only on the supposition of its being so that the imperfections referred to would be excluded. Admitting without exaggerating their reality—admitting, that is, the existence of physical evil—there still remains a large balance on the side of order and harmony, and to account for this there is required not only an intelligent mind but one that is good and benevolent, though so far as this special argument goes this mind might conceivably be finite. To prove the infinity of the world’s Designer it is necessary to fall back on the general argument already explained and on the deductive argument to be explained below by which infinity is inferred from self-existence. Finally, by way of direct reply to the problem suggested by the objection, it is to be observed that, to appreciate fully the evidence for design, we must, in addition to particular instances of adaptation and to the cosmic unity observable in the world of today, consider the historical continuity of nature throughout indefinite ages in the past and indefinite ages to come. We do not and cannot comprehend the full scope of nature’s design, for it is not a static universe we have to study but a universe that is progressively unfolding itself and moving towards the fulfillment of an ultimate purpose under the guidance of a master mind. And towards that purpose the imperfect as well as the perfect—apparent evil and discord as well as obvious good order—may contribute in ways which we can but dimly discern. The well-balanced philosopher, who realizes his own limitations in the presence of nature’s Designer, so far from claiming that every detail of that Designer’s purpose should at present be plain to his inferior intelligence, will be content to await the final solution of enigmas which the hereafter promises to furnish.
(iii) To Newman and others the argument from conscience, or the sense of moral responsibility, has seemed the most intimately persuasive of all the arguments for Gods existence, while to it alone Kant allowed an absolute value. But this is not an independent argument, although, properly understood, it serves to emphasize a point in the general a posteriori proof which is calculated to appeal with particular force to many minds. It is not that conscience, as such, contains a direct revelation or intuition of God as the author of the moral law, but that, taking man’s sense of moral responsibility as a phenomenon to be explained, no ultimate explanation can be given except by supposing the existence of a Superior and Law-giver whom man is bound to obey. And just as the argument from design brings out prominently the attribute of intelligence, so the argument from conscience brings out the attribute of holiness in the First Cause and self-existent Personal Being with whom we must ultimately identify the Designer and the Lawgiver.
(iv) The confirmatory argument based on the consent of mankind may be stated briefly as follows: mankind, as a whole, has at all times and everywhere believed, and continues to believe, in the existence of some superior being or beings on whom the material world and man himself are dependent, and this fact cannot be accounted for except by admitting that this belief is true, or at least contains a germ of truth. It is admitted of course that Polytheism, Dualism, Pantheism, and other forms of error and superstition have mingled with and disfigured this universal belief of mankind, but this does not destroy the force of the argument we are considering. For at least the germinal truth, which consists in the recognition of some kind of deity, is common to every form of religion, and can, therefore, claim in its support the universal consent of mankind. And how can this consent be explained except as a result of the perception by the minds of men of the evidence for the existence of deity? It is too large a subject to be entered upon here—the discussion of the various theories that have been advanced to account in some other way for the origin and universality of religion; but it may safely be said that, abstracting from revelation, which need not be discussed at this stage, no other theory will stand the test of criticism. And, assuming that this is the best explanation philosophy has to offer, it may further be maintained that this consent of mankind tells ultimately in favor of Theism. For it is clear from history that religion is liable to degenerate, and has in many instances degenerated instead of progressing; and, even if it be impossible to prove conclusively that Monotheism was the primitive historical religion, there is, nevertheless, a good deal of positive evidence adducible in support of this contention. And, if this be the true reading of history, it is permissible to interpret the universality of religion as witnessing implicitly to the original truth, which, however much obscured it may have become in many cases, could never be entirely obliterated. But, even if the history of religion is to read as a record of progressive development, one ought in all fairness, in accordance with a well-recognized principle, to seek its true meaning and significance not at the lowest but at the highest point of development; and it cannot be denied that Theism, in the strict sense, is the ultimate form which religion naturally tends to assume.
If there have been, and are today, atheistic philosophers who oppose the common belief of mankind, these are comparatively few and their dissent only serves to emphasize more strongly the consent of normal humanity. Their existence is an abnormality to be accounted for as such things usually are. Could it be claimed on their behalf, individually or collectively, that in ability, education, character, or life they excel the infinitely larger number of cultured men who adhere on conviction to what the race at large has believed, then indeed it might be admitted that their opposition would be somewhat formidable. But no such claim can be made; on the contrary, if a comparison were called for, it would be easy to make out an overwhelming case for the other side. Or again, if it were true that the progress of knowledge had brought to light any new and serious difficulties against religion, there would, especially in view of the modern vogue of Agnosticism, be some reason for alarm as to the soundness of the traditional belief. But so far is this from being the case that in the words of Professor Huxley—an unsuspected witness—”not a solitary problem presents itself to the philosophical Theist at the present day which has not existed from the time that philosophers began to think out the logical grounds and the logical consequences of Theism” (“Life and Letters of Ch. Darwin”, by F. Darwin, II, p. 203). Substantially the same arguments as are used today were employed by old-time skeptical Atheists in the effort to overthrow man’s belief in the existence of the Divine, and the fact that this belief has withstood repeated assaults during so many ages in the past is the best guarantee of its permanency in the future. It is too firmly implanted in the depths of man’s soul for little surface storms to uproot it.
(b) A Priori or Ontological Argument.—This argument undertakes to deduce the existence of God from the idea of Him as the Infinite which is present to the human mind; but, as already stated, theistic philosophers are not agreed as to the logical validity of this deduction. As stated by St. Anselm the argument runs thus: The idea of God as the Infinite means the greatest Being that can be thought of; but unless actual existence outside the mind is included in this idea God would not be the greatest conceivable Being, since a Being that exists both in the mind as an object of thought and outside the mind or objectively would be greater than a Being that exists in the mind only; therefore God exists not only in the mind but outside of it. Descartes states the argument in a slightly different way as follows: Whatever is contained in a clear and distinct idea of a thing must be predicated of that thing; but a clear and distinct idea of an absolutely perfect Being contains the notion of actual existence; therefore, since we have the idea of an absolutely perfect Being, such a Being must really exist. To mention a third form of statement, Leibniz would put the argument thus: God is at least possible since the concept of Him as the Infinite implies no contra-diction; but if He is possible He must exist, because the concept of Him involves existence. In St. Anselm’s own day this argument was objected to by Gaunilo, who maintained, as a reductio ad absurdum, that were it valid one could prove by means of it the actual existence somewhere of an ideal island far surpassing in riches and delights the fabled Isles of the Blessed. But this criticism, however smart it may seem, is clearly unsound, for it overlooks the fact that the argument is not intended to apply to finite ideals, but only to the strictly infinite; and if it is admitted that we possess a true idea of the infinite, and that this idea is not self-contradictory, it does not seem possible to find any flaw in the argument. Actual existence is certainly included in any true concept of the Infinite, and the person who admits that he has a concept of an Infinite Being cannot deny that he conceives it as actually existing. But the difficulty is with regard to this preliminary admission, which if challenged, as it is in fact challenged by Agnostics, requires to be justified by recurring to the a posteriori argument, i.e. to the inference by way of causality from contingency to self-existence, and thence by way of deduction to infinity. Hence the great majority of scholastic philosophers have rejected the ontological argument as propounded by St. Anselm and Descartes, nor as put forward by Leibniz does it escape the difficulty that has been stated.
B. Nature and Fundamental Attributes of God
Having established by inductive inference the self-existence of a personal First Cause, distinct from matter and from the human mind, we now proceed by deductive analysis to examine the nature and attributes of this Being to the extent required by our limited philosophical scope. We will treat accordingly of (I) the infinity, (2) unity or unicity, and (3) simplicity of God, adding (4) some remarks on Divine personality.
(1) Infinity of God
(a) When we say that God is infinite we mean that He is unlimited in every kind of perfection, or that every conceivable perfection belongs to Him in the highest conceivable way. In a different sense we sometimes speak, for instance, of infinite time or space, meaning thereby time of such indefinite duration or space of such indefinite extension that we cannot assign any fixed limit to one or the other; and care should be taken not to confound these two essentially different meanings of the term. Time and space being made up of parts in duration or extension are essentially finite by comparison with God’s infinity. Now we assert that God is infinitely perfect in the sense explained, and that His infinity is deducible from His self-existence. For a self-existent being, if limited at all, could be limited only by itself; to be limited by another would imply causal dependence on that other, which the very notion of self-existence excludes. But the self-existing cannot be conceived as limiting itself, in the sense of curtailing its perfection of being, without ceasing to be self-existing. Whatever it is, it is necessarily; its own essence is the sole reason or explanation of its existence, so that its manner of existence must be as unchangeable as its essence, and to suggest the possibility of an increase or diminution of perfection would be to suggest the absurdity of a changeable essence. It only remains, then, to say that whatever perfection is compatible with its essence is actually realized in a self-existing being; but as there is no conceivable perfection as such, i.e. no expression of positive being as such, that is not compatible with the essence of the self-existent, it follows that the self-existent must be infinite in all perfection. For self-existence itself is absolute positive being, and positive being cannot contradict, and cannot therefore limit, positive being.
(b) This general, and admittedly very abstract, conclusion, as well as the reasoning which supports it, will be rendered more intelligible by a brief specific illustration of what it involves.
(i) When in speaking of the Infinite we attribute all conceivable perfections to Him we must not forget that the predicates we employ to describe perfections derive their meaning and connotation in the first instance from their application to finite beings; and on reflection it is seen that we must distinguish between different kinds of perfections, and that we cannot without palpable contradiction attribute all the perfections of creatures in the same way to God. Some perfections are such that, even in the abstract, they necessarily imply or connote finiteness of being or imperfection; while some others do not of themselves necessarily connote imperfection. To the first class belong all material perfections—extension, sensibility, and the like—and certain spiritual perfections such as rationality (as distinct from simple intelligence); to the second class belong such perfections as being, truth, goodness, intelligence, wisdom, justice, holiness, etc. Now while it cannot be said that God is infinitely extended, or that He feels or reasons in an infinite way, it can be said that He is infinitely good, intelligent, wise, just, holy, etc.; in other words, while perfections s of the second class are attributed to God formally, i.e. without any change in the proper meaning of the predicates which express them, those of the first class can only be attributed to Him eminently and equivalently, i.e. whatever positive being they express belongs to God as their cause in a much higher and more excellent way than to the creatures in which Anyone who understands those rules, and has learned they formally exist. By means of this important distinction, which Agnostics reject or neglect, we are able to think and to speak of the Infinite without being guilty or contradiction, and the fact that men generally—even Agnostics themselves when off their guard—recognize and utilize the distinction is the best proof that it is pertinent and well-founded. Ultimately it is only another way of saying that, given an infinite cause and finite effects, whatever pure perfection is discovered in the effects must first exist in the cause (via affirmationis), and at the same time that whatever imperfection is discovered in the effects must be excluded from the cause (via negationis vel exclusionis). These two principles do not contradict, but only balance and correct one another.
(ii) Yet sometimes men are led by a natural tendency to think and speak of God as if He were a magnified creature, more especially a magnified man; and this is known as anthropomorphism. Thus God is said to see or hear, as if He had physical organs, or to. be angry or sorry, as if subject to human passions; and this perfectly legitimate and more or less unavoidable use of metaphor is often quite unfairly alleged to prove that the strictly Infinite is unthinkable and unknowable, and that it is really a finite, anthropomorphic God that men worship. But whatever truth there may be in this charge as applied to Polytheistic religions, or even to the Theistic beliefs of rude and uncultured minds, it is untrue and unjust when directed against philosophical Theism. The same reasons that justify and recommend the use of metaphorical language in other connections justify and recommend it here, but no Theist of average intelligence ever thinks of understanding literally the metaphors he applies, or hears applied by others, to God, any more than he means to speak literally when he calls a brave man a lion, or a cunning one a fox.
Finally it should be observed that, while predicating pure perfections literally both of God and of creatures, it is always understood that these predicates are true in an infinitely higher sense of God than of creatures, and that there is no thought of coordinating or classifying God with creatures. This is technically expressed by saying that all our knowledge of God is analogical, and that all predicates applied to God and to creatures are used analogically, not univocally (see Analogy). I may look at a portrait or at its living original, and say of either with literal truth: that is a beautiful face. And this is an example of analogical predication. Beauty is literally and truly realized both in the portrait and its living original, and retains its proper meaning as applied to either; there is sufficient likeness or analogy to justify literal predication, but there is not that perfect likeness or identity between painted and living beauty which univocal predication would imply. And similarly in the case of God and creatures. What we contemplate directly is the portrait of Him painted, so to speak, by Himself on the canvas of the universe and exhibiting in a finite degree various perfections, which, without losing their proper meaning for us, are seen to be capable of being realized in an infinite degree; and our reason compels us to infer that they must be and are so realized in Him who is their ultimate cause.
Hence we admit, in conclusion, that our knowledge of the Infinite is inadequate, and necessarily so since our minds are only finite. But this is very different from the Agnostic contention that the Infinite is altogether unknowable, and that the statements of Theists regarding the nature and attributes of God are so many plain contradictions. It is only by ignoring the well-recognized rules of predication that have just been explained, and consequently by misunderstanding and misrepresenting the Theistic position, that Agnostics succeed in giving an air of superficial plausibility to their own philosophy of blank negation. Anyone who understands those rules, and has learned to think clearly, and trusts his own reason and common sense, will find it easy to meet and refute Agnostic arguments, most of which, in principle, have been anticipated in what precedes. Only one general observation need be made here, viz: that the principles to which the Agnostic philosopher must appeal in his attempt to invalidate religious knowledge would, if consistently applied, invalidate all human knowledge and lead to universal skepticism; and it is safe to say that, unless absolute skepticism becomes the philosophy of mankind, Agnosticism will never supplant religion.
(2) Unity or Unicity of God
Obviously there can be only one infinite being, only one God. Did several exist; none of them would really be infinite, for, to have plurality of natures at all, each should have some perfection not possessed by the others. This will be readily granted by every one who admits the infinity of God, and there is no need to delay in developing what is perfectly clear. It should be noted, however, that some Theistic philosphers prefer to deduce unicity from self-existence and infinity from both combined, and in a matter so very abstract it is not surprising that slight differences of opinion should arise. But we have followed what seems to us to be the simpler and clearer line of argument: The metaphysical argument by which unicity, as distinct from infinity, is deduced from self-existence seems to be very obscure, while on the other hand infinity, as distinct from unicity, seems to be clearly implied in self-existence as such. If the question, for example, be asked: Why may there not be several self-existing beings? The only satisfactory answer, as it seems to us, is this: Because a self-existent being as such is necessarily infinite, and there cannot be several infinities. The unity of God as the First Cause might also be inductively inferred from the unity of the universe as we know it; but as the suggestion might be made, and could not be disproved, that there may be another or even several universes, of which we have no knowledge, this argument would not be absolutely conclusive.
(3) Simplicity of God
God is a simple being or substance excluding every kind of composition, physical or metaphysical. Physical or real composition is either substantial or accidental—substantial, if the being in question consists of two or more substantial principles, forming parts of a composite whole, as man for example, consists of body and soul; accidental, if the being in question, although simple in its substance (as is the human soul), is capable of possessing accidental perfections (like the actual thoughts and volition of man’s soul) not necessarily identical with its substance. Now it is clear that an infinite being cannot be substantially composite, for this would mean that infinity is made up of the union or addition of finite parts—a plain contradiction in terms. Nor can accidental composition be attributed to the infinite, since even this would imply a capacity for increased perfection, which the very notion of the infinite excludes. There is not, therefore, and cannot be any physical or real composition in God.
Neither can there be that kind of composition which is known as metaphysical, and which results from “the union of diverse concepts referring to the same real thing in such a way that none of them by itself signifies either explicitly or even implicitly the whole reality signified by their combination”. Thus every actual contingent being is a metaphysical compound of essence and existence, and man in particular, according to the definition, is a compound of animal and rational. Essence as such in relation to a contingent being merely implies its conceivableness or possibility, and abstracts from actual existence; existence as such must be added before we can speak of the being as actual. But this distinction, with the composition it implies, cannot be applied to the self-existent in infinite being in whom essence and existence are completely identified. We say of a contingent being that it has a certain nature or essence, but of the self-existent we say that it is its own nature or essence. There is no composition therefore of essence and existence—or of potentiality and actuality—in God; nor can the composition of genus and specific difference, implied for example in the definition of man as a rational animal, be attributed to Him. God cannot be classified and defined, as contingent beings are classified and defined; for there is no aspect of being in which He is perfectly similar to the finite, and consequently no genus in which He can be included. From which it follows indeed that we cannot know God adequately in the way in which He knows Himself, but not, as the Agnostic contends, that our inadequate knowledge is not true as far as it goes. In speaking of a being who transcends the limitations of formal logical definition, our propositions are an expression of real truth, provided that what we state is in itself intelligible and not self-contradictory; and there is nothing unintelligible or contradictory in what Theists predicate of God. It is true that no single predicate is adequate or exhaustive as a description of His infinite perfection, and that we need to employ a multitude of predicates, as if at first sight infinity could be reached by multiplication. But at the same time we recognize that this is not so—being repugnant to the Divine simplicity—and that while truth, goodness, wisdom, holiness and other attributes, as we conceive and define them, express perfections that are formally distinct, yet as applied to God they are all ultimately identical in meaning and describe the same ultimate reality—the one infinitely perfect and simple being.
(4) Divine Personality
When we say that God is a personal being we mean that He is intelligent and free and distinct from the created universe. Personality as such expresses perfection, and if human personality as such connotes imperfection, it must be remembered that, as in the case of similar predicates, this connotation is excluded when we attribute personality to God. It is principally by way of opposition to Pantheism that Divine personality is emphasized by the Theistic philosopher. Human personality, as we know it, is one of the primary data of consciousness, and it is one of those created perfections which must be realized formally (although only analogically) in the First Cause. But Pantheism would require us to deny the reality of any such perfection, whether in creatures or in the Creator, and this is one of the fundamental objections to any form of Pantheistic teaching. Regarding the mystery of the Trinity or three Divine Persons in God, which can be known only by revelation, it is enough to say here that properly understood the mystery contains no contradiction, but on the contrary adds much that is helpful to our inadequate knowledge of the infinite.
C. Relation of God to the Universe
(1) Essential Dependence of the Universe on God; Creation and Conservation
In developing the argument of the First Cause we have seen that the world is essentially dependent on God, and this dependence implies in the first place that God is the Creator of the world—the producer of its whole being or substance—and in the next place, supposing its production, that its continuance m being at every moment is due to His sustaining power. Creation (q.v.) means the total production of a being out of nothing, i.e. the bringing of a being into existence to replace absolute non-existence, and the relation of Creator is the only conceivable relation in which the Infinite can stand to the finite. Pantheistic theories, which would represent the varieties of being in the universe as so many determinations or emanations of phases of one and the selfsame eternal reality—Substance according to Spinoza, Pure Ego according to Fichte, the Absolute according to Schelling, the Pure Idea or Logical Concept according to Hegel—simply bristle with contradictions, and involve, as has been stated already, a denial or the distinction between the finite and the infinite. And the relation of Creator to created remains the same even though the possibility of eternal creation, in the sense already explained [see above A, (I), (a)], be admitted; the Infinite must be the producer of the finite even though it be impossible to fix a time at which production may not already have taken place. For certain knowledge of the fact that created being, and time itself, had a definite beginning in the past we can afford to rely on revelation, although, as already stated, science suggests the same fact.
It is also clear that if the universe depends on God for its production it must also depend on Him for its conservation or continuance in being; and this truth will perhaps be best presented by explaining the much talked-of principle of Divine immanence as corrected and counterbalanced by the equally important principle of Divine transcendence.
(2) Divine Immanence and Transcendence
To Deists (see Deism) is attributed the view—or at least a tendency towards the view—that God, having created the universe, leaves it to pursue its own course according to fixed laws, and ceases, so to speak, to take any further interest in, or responsibility for, what may happen; and Divine immanence is urged, sometimes too strongly, in opposition to this view. God is immanent, or intimately present, in the universe because His power is required at every moment to sustain creatures in being and to concur with them in their activities. Conservation and concursus are, so to speak, continuations of creative activity, and imply an equally intimate relation of God towards creatures, or rather an equally intimate and unceasing dependence of creatures on God. Whatever creatures are, they are by virtue of God’s conserving power; whatever they do, they do by virtue of God’s concursus. It is not of course denied that creatures are true causes and produce real effects; but they are only secondary causes; their efficiency is always dependent and derived; God as the First Cause is an ever active cooperator in their actions. This is true even of the free acts of an intelligent creature like man; only it should be added in this case that Divine responsibility ceases at the point where sin or moral evil enters in. Since sin as such, however, is an imperfection, no limitation is thus imposed on God’s supremacy.
But lest insistence on Divine immanence should degenerate into Pantheism—and there is a tendency in this direction on the part of many modern writers—it is important at the same time to emphasize the truth of God’s transcendence, to recall, in other words, what has been stated several times already, that God is one simple and infinitely perfect personal Being whose nature and action in their proper character as Divine infinitely transcend all possible modes of the finite, and cannot, without contradiction, be formally identified with these.
(3) Possibility of the Supernatural
From a study of nature we have inferred the existence of God and deduced certain fundamental truths regarding His nature and attributes, and His relation to the created universe. And from these it is easy to deduce a further important truth, with a brief mention of which we may fittingly conclude this section. However wonderful we may consider the universe to be, we recognize that neither in its substance nor in the laws by which its order is maintained, in so far as unaided reason can come to know them, does it exhaust God’s infinite power or perfectly reveal His nature. If then it be suggested that, to supplement what philosophy teaches of Himself and His purposes, God may be willing to favor rational creatures with an immediate personal revelation, in which he aids the natural powers of reason by confirming what they already know, and by imparting to them much that they could not otherwise know, it will be seen at once that this suggestion contains no impossibility. All that is required to realize it is that God should be able to communicate directly with the created mind, and that men should be able to recognize with sufficient certainty that the communication is realy Divine; and that both of these conditions are capable of being fulfilled no Theist can logically deny (se Revelation; Gift of Miracles). This being so, it will follow further that knowledge so obtained, being guaranteed by the authority of Him who if infinite Truth, is the most certain and reliable knowledge we can possess; and this is the knowledge we shall freely utilize in the following section of this article.
II. THE GOD OF REVELATION
We assume here—what is elsewhere proved by Catholic apologists—that a supernatural revelation of Himself has de facto been given by God in the Jewish and Christian religions, and guaranteed by such evidence that men are reasonably bound to accept it; and we assume, further, that our authoritative sources for obtaining a knowledge of the contents of this revelation are the inspired Scriptures and the uninspired but infallible teaching of the Catholic Church. This does not of course mean that reason abdicates its office when authority takes control, for, besides the fact that submission to such authority is eminently rational, there is always an appeal back to reason itself against anything that would be self-contradictory or absurd. As a matter of fact, however, although there is mystery, there is no contradiction in what God has revealed about Himself. On the contrary reason is helped very much, instead of being hindered, in its effort to acquire a worthy knowledge of Him Who is infinite and therefore necessarily mysterious both in His own being and in His relations to creatures; but apart from the mysteries of the Trinity and Incarnation, and the supernatural economy of salvation of which the Incarnation is the center, there is scarcely an important truth about God and His relation to creatures that could not, absolutely speaking, be known by the light of reason alone.
In naming the Scriptures and Catholic teaching as sources, it is not intended to treat them separately and independently but in combination. Developed Catholic teaching has collected and systematized all important truths concerning God which may be gathered from the Scriptures, and we shall accordingly make this teaching our guide, referring back as occasion may require to Biblical sources. For the discussion of questions that are merely exegetical and critical the reader is referred to the article on God in standard dictionaries or encyclopedias of the Bible.
A. Existence and Knowableness of God
(1) Neither in the Old or New Testament do we find any elaborate argumentation devoted to proving that God exists. This truth is rather taken for granted, as being something, for example, that only the fool will deny in his heart [Ps. xiii (xiv), 1; lii (liii), 1]; and argumentation, when resorted to, is directed chiefly against polytheism and idolatry. But in several passages we have a cursory appeal to some phase of the general cosmological argument: v. g. Ps. xviii (six), 1; xciii (xciv), 5 sqq.; Is., xli, 26 sqq.; II Mach., vii, 28, etc.; and in some few others—Wis., xiii, 1-9; Rom., i, 18-20—the argument is presented in a philosophical way, and men who reason rightly are held to be inexcusable for failing to recognize and worship the one true God, the Author and Ruler of the universe.
These two latter texts merit more than passing attention. Wis., xiii, 1-9 reads: “But all men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen, could not understand him that is, neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman: but have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon, to be the gods that rule the world. With whose beauty, if they, being delighted, took them to be gods: let them know how much the Lord of them is more beautiful than they: for the first author of beauty made all those things. Or if they admired their power and effects, let them understand by them, that he that made them, is mightier than they: for by the greatness of the beauty, and of the creature, the creator of them may be seen, so as to be known thereby. But as yet as to these they are less to be blamed. For they perhaps, err, seeking God, and desirous to find him. For being conversant among his works, they search: and they are persuaded that the things are good which are seen. But then again they are not to be pardoned. For if they were able to know so much as to make a judgment of the world: how did they not more easily find out the Lord thereof?” Here it is clearly taught (a) that the phenomenal or contingent world—the things that are seen—requires a cause distinct from and greater than itself or any of its elements; (b) that this cause who is God is not unknowable, but is known with certainty not only to exist but to possess in Himself, in a higher degree, whatever beauty, strength, or other perfections are realized in His works; (c) that this conclusion is attainable by the right exercise of human reason, without reference to supernatural revelation, and that philosophers, therefore, who are able to interpret the world philosophically, are inexcusable for their ignorance of the true God, their failure, it is implied, being due rather to lack of good will than to the incapacity of the human mind.
Substantially the same doctrine is laid down more briefly by St. Paul in Rom., i, 18-20: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.” It is to be observed that the pagans of whom St. Paul is speaking are not blamed for their ignorance of super-natural revelation and the Mosaic law, but for failing to preserve or for corrupting that knowledge of God and of man’s duty towards Him which nature itself ought to have taught them. Indeed it is not pure ignorance as such they are blamed for, but that willful shirking of truth which renders ignorance culpable. Even under the corruptions of paganism St. Paul recognized the indestructible permanency of germinal religious truth (cf. Rom., ii, 14, 15).
It is clear from these passages that Agnosticism and Pantheism are condemned by revelation, while the validity of the general proof of God’s existence given above (I, Section A) is confirmed. It is also clear that the extreme form of Traditionalism (q.v.), which would hold that no certain knowledge of God’s existence or nature is attainable by human reason without the aid of supernatural revelation, is condemned.
(2) And what the author of Wisdom and St. Paul, and after them the Fathers and theologians had constantly taught, has been solemnly defined by the Vatican Council. In the first place, as against Agnosticism and Traditionalism, the council teaches (cap. ii, De revelat.) “That God, the first cause (principium) and last end of all things, can, from created things, be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason” (Denz., 1785—old no. 1634); and in the corresponding canon (can. i, De revelat.) it anathematizes anyone who would say “that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, cannot, through the things that are made, be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason” (Denz., 1806—old no. 1653). As against Agnosticism this definition needs no explanation. As against Traditionalism, it is to be observed that the definition is directed only against the extreme form of that theory, as held by Lamennais and others, according to which, taking human nature as it is, there would not, and could not, have been any true or certain knowledge of God, among men, had there not been at least a primitive supernatural revelation—in other words natural religion as such is an impossibility. There is no reference to milder forms of Traditionalism which hold social tradition and education to be necessary for the development of man’s rational powers, and consequently deny, for example, that an individual cut off from human society from his infancy, and left entirely to himself, could ever attain a certain knowledge of God, or any strictly rational knowledge at all. That is a psychological problem on which the council has nothing to say. Neither does it deny that even in case of the homo socialis a certain degree of education and culture may be required in order that he may, by independent reasoning, arrive at a knowledge of God; but it merely affirms the broad principle that by the proper use of their natural reasoning power, applied to the phenomena of the universe, men are able to know God with certainty.
In the next place, as against Pantheism, the council (cap. i, De Deo) teaches that God, “since He is one singular, altogether simple and incommutable spiritual substance, must be proclaimed to be really and essentially [re et essentia] distinct from the world, most happy in and by Himself, and ineffably above and beyond all things, actual or possible, besides Himself” (Denzinger, 1782—old no. 1631); and in the corresponding canons (ii-iv, De Deo) anathema is pronounced against anyone who would say “that nothing exists but matter”; or “that the substance or essence of God and of all things is one and the same”; or “that finite things both corporeal and spiritual, or at least spiritual, have emanated from the Divine substance; or that the Divine essence by a manifestation or evolution of itself becomes all things; or that God is universal or indefinite being, which by determining itself constitutes the universe of things distinguished into genera, species and individuals” (Denzinger, 1802-4—old no. 1648). These definitions are framed so as to cover and exclude every type of the pantheistic theory, and nobody will deny that they are in harmony with Scriptural teaching. The doctrine of creation, for example (see Creation), than which none is more clearly taught or more frequently emphasized in Sacred Scripture, is radically opposed to Pantheism—creation as the sacred writers understand it being the voluntary act of a free agent bringing creatures into being out of nothingness.
(3) It will be observed that neither the Scriptural texts we have quoted nor the Vatican decrees say that God’s existence can be proved or demonstrated; they merely affirm that it can be known with certainty. Now one may, if one wishes, insist on the distinction between what is knowable and what is demonstrable, but in the present connection this distinction has little real import. It has never been claimed that God’s existence can be proved mathematically, as a proposition in geometry is proved, and most Theists reject every form of the ontological or deductive proof. But if the term proof or demonstration may be, as it often is, applied to a posteriori or inductive inference, by means of which knowledge that is not innate or intuitive is acquired by the exercise of reason, then it cannot fairly be denied that Catholic teaching virtually asserts that God’s existence can be proved. Certain knowledge of God is declared to be attainable “by the light of reason”, i.e. of the reasoning faculty as such, from or through “the things that are made”; and this clearly implies an inferential process such as in other connections men not hesitate to call proof.
Hence it is fair to conclude that the Vatican Council, following Sacred Scripture, has virtually condemned the Scepticism which rejects the a posteriori proof [see above, A, (I)]. But it did not deal directly with Ontologism, although certain propositions of the Ontologists had already been condemned as unsafe (tuto tradi non posse) by a decree of the Holy Office, September 18, 1861 (Denzinger, 1659 sqq.—old no. 1516), and among the propositions of Rosmini subsequently condemned (December 14, 1887) several reassert the ontolo-gist principle (Denzinger, 1891 sq.—old no. 1736). This condemnation by the Holy Office is quite sufficient to discredit Ontologism, regarding which it is enough to say here (a) that, as already observed (I,A,), experience contradicts the assumption that the human mind has naturally or necessarily an immediate consciousness or intuition of the Divine, (b) that such a theory obscures, and tends to do away with, the difference, on which St. Paul insists (I Cor., xiii, 12), between our earthly knowledge of God (“through a glass in a dark manner”) and the vision of Him which the blessed in heaven enjoy (“face to face”), and seems irreconcilable with the Catholic doctrine, defined by the Council of Vienne, that, to be capable of the face to face or intuitive vision of God, the human intellect needs to be endowed with a special supernatural light, the lumen glorice, and (c) finally that, in so far as it is clearly intelligible, the theory goes dangerously near to Pantheism.
In the decree “Lamentabili” (July 3, 1907) and the Encyclical “Pascendi” (September 7, 1907), issued by Pope Pius X, the Catholic position is once more reaffirmed and theological Agnosticism condemned. In its bearing on our subject this latest act of Church authority is merely a restatement of the teaching of St. Paul and of the Vatican Council and a reassertion of the principle which has been always maintained, that God must be naturally knowable if faith in Him and His revelation is to be reasonable; and if a concrete example be needed to show how, of logical necessity, the substance of Christianity vanishes into thin air once the agnostic principle is adopted, one has only to point the finger at Modernism. Rational theism is a necessary logical basis for revealed religion; and that the natural knowledge of God and natural religion, which Catholic teaching holds to be possible, are not necessarily the result of grace, i.e. of a supernatural aid given directly by God Himself, follows from the condemnation by Clement XI of one of the propositions of Quesnel (prop. 41) in which the contrary is asserted (Denzinger, 1391—old no. 1256).
B. The Divine Nature and Attributes
(1) As we have already seen, reason teaches that God is one simple and infinitely perfect spiritual substance or nature, and Sacred Scripture and the Church teach the same. The creeds, for example, usually begin with a profession of faith in the one true God, Who is the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, and is also, in the words of the Vatican Council, “omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will and in every pperfection” (Sess. III, cap. i, De Deo, in Denzinger, “Enchiridion”, 1782—old no. 1631). The best way in which we can describe the Divine nature is to say that it is infinitely perfect, or that God is the infinitely perfect Being; but we must always remember that even being itself, the most abstract and universal term we possess, is predicated of God and of creatures not univocally or identically, but only analogically. But other predicates, which, as applied to creatures, express certain specific determinations of being, are also used of God—analogically, if in themselves they express pure or unmixed perfection, but only metaphorically if they necessarily connote imperfection. Now of such predicates as applied to creatures we distinguish between those that are used in the concrete to denote being as such, more or less determinate substance, spirit, etc.) and those that are used in the abstract or adjectively to denote determinations, or qualities, or attributes of being (v.g., good, goodness; intelligent, intelligence; etc.); and we find it useful to transfer this distinction to God, and to speak of the Divine nature or essence and Divine attributes, being careful at the same time, by insisting on Divine simplicity (see above I.), to avoid error or contradiction in its application. For, as applied to God, the distinction between nature and attributes, and between the attributes themselves, is merely logical and not real. The finite mind is not capable of comprehending the Infinite so as adequately to describe its essence by any single concept or term; but while using a multitude of terms, all of which are analogically true, we do not mean to imply that there is any kind of composition in God. Thus, as applied to creatures, goodness and justice, for example, are distinct from each other and from the nature or substance of the beings in whom they are found, and if finite limitations compel us to speak of such perfections in God as if they were similarly distinct, we know, nevertheless, and are ready, when needful, to explain, that this is not really so, but that all Divine attributes are really identical with one another and with the Divine essence.
(2) The Divine attributes or perfections which may thus logically be distinguished are very numerous, and it would be a needless task to attempt to enumerate them fully. But among them some are recognized as being of fundamental importance, and to these in particular is the term attributes applied and special notice devoted by theologians—though there is no rigid agreement as to the number or classification of such attributes. As good a classification as any other is that based on the analogy of entitative and operative perfections in creatures—the former qualifying nature or essence as such and abstracting from activity, the latter referring especially to the activity of the nature in question. Another distinction is often made between physical, and moral or ethical, attributes—the former of themselves abstracting from, while the latter directly express, moral perfection. But without laboring with the question of classification, it will suffice to notice separately those attributes of leading importance that have not been already explained. Nothing need be added to what has been said above concerning self-existence, infinity, unity, and simplicity (which belong to the entitative class); but eternity, immensity, and immutability (also of the entitative class), together with the active attributes, whether physical or moral, connected with the Divine intellect and will, call for some explanation here.
(a) Eternity.—By saying that God is eternal we mean that in essence, life, and action He is altogether beyond temporal limits and relations. He has neither beginning, nor end, nor duration by way of sequence or succession of moments. There is no past or future for God—but only an eternal present. If we say that He was or that He acted, or that He will be or will act, we mean in strictness that He is or that He acts; and this truth is well expressed by Christ when He says (John, viii, 58—A.V.): “Before Abraham was, I am.” Eternity, therefore, as predicated of God, does not mean indefinite duration in time—a meaning in which the term is sometimes used in other connections—but it means the total exclusion of the finiteness which time implies. We are obliged to use negative language in describing it, but in itself eternity is a positive perfection, and as such may be best defined in the words of Boethius as being “interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio”, i.e. possession in full entirety and perfection of life without beginning, end, or succession.
The eternity of God is a corollary from His self-existence and infinity. Time being a measure of finite existence, the infinite must transcend it. God, it is true, coexists with time, as He coexists with creatures, but He does not exist in time, so as to be subject to temporal relations: His self-existence is timeless. Yet the positive perfection expressed by duration as such, i.e. persistency and permanency of being, belongs to God and is truly predicated of Him, as when He is spoken of, for example, as “Him that is, and that was, and that is to come” (Apoc., i, 4); but the strictly temporal connotation of such predicates must always be corrected by recalling the true notion of eternity.
(b) Immensity and Ubiquity, or Omnipresence.—Space, like time, is one of the measures of the finite, and as by the attribute of eternity we describe God’s transcendence of all temporal limitations, so by the attribute of immensity we express His transcendent relation to space. There is this difference, however, to be noted between eternity and immensity, that the positive aspect of the latter is more easily realized by us, and is sometimes spoken of, under the name of omnipresence, or ubiquity, as if it were a distinct attribute. Divine immensity means on the one hand that God is necessarily present everywhere in space as the immanent cause and sustainer of creatures, and on the other hand that He transcends the limitations of actual and possible space, and cannot be circumscribed or measured or divided by any spatial relations. To say that God is immense is only another way of saying that He is both immanent and transcendent in the sense already explained. As some one has metaphorically and paradoxically expressed it, “God’s center is everywhere, His circumference nowhere”.
That God is not subject to spatial limitations follows from His infinite simplicity; and that He is truly present in every place or thing—that He is omnipresent or ubiquitous—follows from the fact that He is the cause and ground of all reality. According to our finite manner of thinking we conceive this presence of God in things spatial as being primarily a presence of power and operation—immediate Divine efficiency being required to sustain created beings in existence and to enable them to act; but, as every kind of Divine action ad extra is really identical with the Divine nature or essence, it follows that God is really present everywhere in creation not merely per virtutem et operationem, but per essentiam. In other words God Himself, or the Divine nature, is in immediate contact with, or immanent in, every creature—conserving it in being and enabling it to act. But while insisting on this truth we must, if we would avoid contradiction, reject every form of the pantheistic hypothesis. While emphasizing Divine immanence we must not overlook Divine transcendence.
There is no lack of Scriptural or ecclesiastical testimonies asserting God’s immensity and ubiquity. It is enough to refer for example to Heb., i, 3; iv, 12, 13; Acts, xvii, 24, 27, 28; Eph., i, 23; Col., i, 16, 17; Ps. exxxviii, 7-12; Job, xii, 10, etc.
(c) Immutability.—In God “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James, i, 17); “They [i.e. “the works of thy hands”] shall perish, but thou shalt continue: and they shall all grow old as a garment. And as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the selfsame, and thy years shall not fail” (Heb., i, 10-12; Ps. ci, 26-28. Cf. Mal., iii, 6; Heb., xiii, 8). These are some of the Scriptural texts which clearly teach Divine immutability or unchangeableness, and this attribute is likewise emphasized in church teaching, as by the Council of Niewa against the Arians, who attributed mutability to the Logos (Denzinger, 54—old No. 18), and by the Vatican Council in the definition quoted above.
That the Divine nature is essentially immutable, or incapable of any internal change, is an obvious corollary from Divine infinity. Changeableness implies the capacity for increase or diminution of perfection, that is, it implies finiteness and imperfection. But God is infinitely perfect and is necessarily what He is. It is true that some attributes by which certain aspects of Divine perfection are described are hypothetical or relative, in the sense that they presuppose the contingent fact of creation: omnipresence, for example, presupposes the actual existence of spatial beings. But it is obvious that the mutability implied in this belongs to creatures, and not to the Creator; and it is a strange confusion of thought that has led some modern Theists—even professing Christians—to maintain that such attributes can be laid aside by God, and that the Logos in becoming incarnate actually did lay them aside, or at least ceased from their active exercise. But as creation itself did not affect the immutability of God, so neither did the incarnation of a Divine Person; whatever change was involved in either case took place solely in the created nature.
The so-called active Divine attributes are best treated in connection with the Divine Intellect and Will—the principles of Divine operation ad extra—to which they are all ultimately reducible.
(i) Divine Knowledge.—(?) That God is omniscient, or possesses the most perfect knowledge of all things, follows from His infinite perfection. In the first place He knows and comprehends Himself fully and adequately, and in the next place He knows all created objects and comprehends their finite and contingent mode of being. Hence He knows them individually or singularly in their finite multiplicity; knows everything possible as well as actual; knows what is bad as well as what is good. Everything, in a word, which to our finite minds signifies perfection and completeness of knowledge may be predicated of Divine omniscience, and it is further to be observed that it is on Himself alone that God depends for His knowledge. To make Him in any way dependent on creatures for knowledge of created objects would destroy His infinite perfection and supremacy. Hence it is in His eternal, unchangeable, comprehensive knowledge of Himself or of His own infinite being that God knows creatures and their acts, whether there is question of what is actual or merely possible. Indeed Divine knowledge itself is really identical with Divine essence, as are all the attributes and acts of God; but according to our finite modes of thought we feel the need of conceiving them distinctly and of representing the Divine essence as the medium or mirror in which the Divine intellect sees all truth. Moreover, although the act of Divine knowledge is infinitely simple in itself, we feel the need of further distinctions—not as regards the knowledge in itself, but as regards the multiplicity of finite objects which it embraces. Hence the universally recognized distinction between the knowledge of vision (scientia visions) and that of simple intelligence (simplicis intelligentiae), and the famous controversy regarding the scientia media. We shall briefly explain this distinction and the chief difficulties involved in this controversy.
(?) Distinctions in the Divine Knowledge.—In classifying the objects of Divine omniscience the most obvious and fundamental distinction is between things that actually exist at any time, and those that are merely possible. And it is in reference to these two classes of objects that the distinction is made between knowledge of vision and “of simple intelligence “—the former referring to things actual, and the latter to the merely possible. This distinction might appear at first sight to be absolutely comprehensive and adequate to the purpose for which we introduce distinctions at all; but some difficulty is felt once the question is raised of God’s knowledge of the acts of creatures endowed with free will. That God knows infallibly and from eternity what, for example, a certain man, in the exercise of freewill, will do or actually does in any given circumstances, and what he might or would actually have done in different circumstances, is beyond doubt—being a corollary from the eternal actuality of Divine knowledge. So to speak, God has not to wait on the contingent and temporal event of the man’s free choice to know what the latter’s action will be; He knows it from eternity. But the difficulty is: how, from our finite point of view, to interpret and explain the mysterious manner of God’s knowledge of such events without at the same time sacrificing the free will of the creature.
The Dominican school has defended the view that the distinction between knowledge of “vision” and of “simple intelligence” is the only one we need or ought to employ in our effort to conceive and describe Divine omniscience, even in relation to the free acts of intelligent creatures. These acts, if they ever take place, are known or foreknown by God as if they were eternally actual—and this is admitted by all; otherwise they remain in the category of the merely possible—and this is what the Jesuit school denies, pointing for example to statements such as that of Christ regarding the people of Tyre and Sidon, who would have done penance had they received the same graces as the Jews (Matt., xi, 21). This school therefore maintains that to the actual as such and the purely possible we must add another category of objects, viz., hypothetical facts that may never become actual, but would become actual were certain conditions realized. The hypothetical truth of such facts, it is rightly contended, is more than mere possibility, yet less than actuality; and since God knows such facts in their hypothetical character there is good reason for introducing a distinction to cover them—and this is the scientia media. And it is clear that even acts that take place and as such fall finally under the knowledge of vision may be conceived as falling first under the knowledge of simple intelligence and then under the scientia media; the progressive formula would be: first, it is possible Peter would do so and so; second, Peter would do so and so, given certain conditions; third, Peter will do or does so and so.
Now, were it not for the differences that lie behind, there would probably be no objection raised to scientia media; but the distinction itself is only the prelude to the real problem. Admitting that God knows from eternity the future free acts of creatures, the question is how or in what way He knows them, or rather how we are to conceive and explain by analogy the manner of the divine foreknowledge, which in itself is beyond our powers of comprehension? It is admitted that God knows them first as objects of the knowledge of simple intelligence; but does he know them also as objects of the scientia media, i.e. hypothetically and independently of any decree of His will, determining their actuality, or does He know them only in and through such decrees? The Dominican contention is that God’s knowledge of future free acts depends on the decrees of His free will which predetermine their actuality by means of the praemotio physica. God knows, for example, that Peter will do so and so, because He has decreed from eternity so to move Peter’s free will that the latter will infallibly, although freely, cooperate with, or consent to, the Divine premotion. In the case of good acts there is a physical and intrinsic connection between the motion given by God and the consent of Peter’s will, while as regards morally bad acts, the immorality as such, which is a privation and not a positive entity, comes entirely from the created will.
The principal difficulties against this view are that in the first place it seems to do away with human free will, and in the next place to make God responsible for sin. Both consequences of course are denied by those who uphold it, but, making all due allowance for the mystery which shrouds the subject, it is difficult to see how the denial of free will is not logically involved in the theory of the praemotio physica, how the will can be said to consent freely to a motion which is conceived as predetermining consent; such explanations as are offered merely amount to the assertion that after all the human will is free. The other difficulty consists in the twofold fact that God is represented as giving the praemotio physica in the natural order for the act of will by which the sinner embraces evil, and that He withholds the supernatural praemotio or efficacious grace which is essentially required for the performance of a salutary act. The Jesuit school on the other hand—with whom probably a majority of independent theologians agree—utilizing the scientia media maintains that we ought to conceive God’s knowledge of future free acts not as being dependent and consequent upon decrees of His will, but in its character as hypothetical knowledge or being antecedent to them. God knows in the scientia media what Peter would do if in given circumstances he were to receive a certain aid, and this before any absolute decree to give that aid is supposed. Thus there is no predetermination by the Divine of what the human will freely chooses; it is not because God foreknows (having foredecreed) a certain free act that that act takes place, but God foreknows it in the first instance because as a matter of fact it is going to take place; He knows it as a hypothetical objective fact before it becomes an object of the scientia visions—or rather this is how, in order to safeguard human liberty, we must conceive Him as knowing it. It was thus, for example, that Christ knew what would have been the results of His ministry among the people of Tyre and Sidon. But one must be careful to avoid implying that God’s knowledge is in any way dependent on creatures, as if He had, so to speak, to await the actual event in time before knowing infallibly what a free creature may choose to do. From eternity He knows, but does not predetermine the creature’s choice. And if it be asked how we can conceive this knowledge to exist antecedently to and independently of some act of the Divine will, on which all things contingent depend, we can only say that the objective truth expressed by the hypothetical facts in question is somehow reflected in the Divine Essence, which is the mirror of all truth, and that in knowing Himself God knows these things also. Whichever way we turn we are bound ultimately to encounter a mystery, and, when there is a question of choosing between a theory which refers the mystery to God Himself and one which only saves the truth of human freedom by making free-will itself a mystery, most theologians not unnaturally prefer the former alternative.
(ii) The Divine Will.—(?) The highest perfections of creatures are reducible to functions of intellect and will, and, as these perfections are realized analogically in God, we naturally pass from considering Divine knowledge or intelligence to the study of Divine volition. The object of intellect as such is the true; the object of will as such, the good. In the case of God it is evident that His own infinite goodness is the primary and necessary object of His will, created goodness being but a secondary and contingent object. This is what the inspired writer means when he says: “The Lord hath made all things for himself” (Prov., xvi, 4). The Divine will of course, like the Divine intellect, is really identical with the Divine Essence, but according to our finite modes of thought we are obliged to speak of them as if they were distinct; and, just as the Divine intellect cannot be dependent on created objects for its knowledge of them, neither can the Divine will be so dependent for its volition. Had no creature ever been created God would have been the same self-sufficient being that He is, the Divine will as an appetitive faculty being satisfied with the infinite goodness of the Divine Essence itself. This is what the Vatican Council means by speaking of God as “most happy in and by Himself”—not that He does not truly wish and love the goodness of creatures, which is a participation of His own, but that He has no need of creatures and is in no way dependent on them for His bliss.
(?) Hence it follows that God possesses the perfection of free will in an infinitely eminent degree. That is to say, without any change in Himself or in His eternal act of volition, He freely chooses whether or not creatures shall exist and what manner existence shall be theirs, and this choice or determination is an exercise of that dominion which free will (liberty of indifference) essentially expresses. In itself free will is an absolute and positive perfection, and as such is most fully realized in God. Yet we are obliged to describe Divine liberty as we have done relatively to its effects in creation, and, by way of negation, we must exclude the imperfections associated with free will in creatures. These imperfections may be reduced to two, viz., potentiality and mutability as opposed to immutable pure act, and the power of choosing what is evil. Only the second need be noticed here.
(?) When a free creature chooses what is evil, he does not choose it formally as such, but only sub specie boni, i.e., what his will really embraces is some aspect of goodness which he truly or falsely believes to be discoverable in the evil act. Moral evil ultimately consists in choosing some such fancied good which is known more or less clearly to be opposed to the Supreme Good, and it is obvious that only a finite being can be capable of such a choice. God necessarily loves Himself, who is the Supreme Good, and cannot wish anything that would be opposed to Himself. Yet He permits the sins of creatures, and it has always been considered one of the gravest problems of theism to explain why this is so. We cannot enter on the problem here, but must content ourselves with a few brief observations. First, however difficult, or even mysterious, may be the problem of moral evil for the theist, it is many times more difficult for every kind of anti-theist. Secondly, so far as we can judge, the possibility of moral defection seems to be a natural limitation of created free will, and can only be excluded supernaturally; and, even viewing the question from a purely rational standpoint, we are conscious on the whole that, whatever the final solution may be, it is better that God should have created free beings capable of sinning than that He should not have created free beings at all. Few men would resign the faculty of free will just to escape the danger of abusing it. Thirdly, some final solution, not at present apparent to our limited intelligence, may be expected on merely rational grounds from the infinite wisdom and justice of God, and supernatural revelation, which gives us glimpses of the Divine plan, goes a long way towards supplying a complete answer to the questions that most intimately concern us. The clearly perceived truth to be emphasized here is that sin is hateful to God and essentially opposed to His infinite holiness, and that the willful discord which sin introduces into the harmony of the universe will somehow be set right in the end.
There is no need to delay in discussing mere physical as distinct from moral evil, and it is enough to remark that such evil is not merely permitted, but willed by God, not indeed in its character as evil, but as being, in such a universe as the present, a means towards good and in itself relatively good.
(?) As distinctions are made in the Divine knowledge, so also in the Divine will, and one of these latter is of sufficient importance to deserve a passing notice here. This is the distinction between the antecedent and consequent will, and its principal application is to the question of man’s salvation. God, according to St. Paul (I Tim., ii, 4),”will have all men to be saved”, and this is explained to be an antecedent will; that is to say, abstracting from circumstances and conditions which may interfere with the fulfillment of God’s will (e.g., sin on man’s part, natural order in the universe, etc.), He has a sincere wish that all men should attain supernatural salvation, and this will is so far efficacious that He provides and intends the necessary means of salvation for all—sufficient actual graces—for those who are able of cooperating with them and the Sacrament of Baptism for infants. On the other hand the consequent takes account of those circumstances and conditions and has reference to what God wills and executes in consequence of them. It is thus for example that He condemns the wicked to punishment after death and excludes unbaptized infants from the beatific vision.
(iii) Providence. Predestination. Reprobation.—Several attributes and several aspects of Divine activity partake both of an intellectual and a volitional character and must be treated from the combined point of view. Such are omnipotence, holiness, justice, blessedness, and so forth, but it is unnecessary to delay on such attributes which are self-explanatory. Some notice, on the other hand, must be devoted to providence and to the particular aspects of providence which we call predestination and reprobation, and with a brief treatment of these which are else where fully treated this article will be concluded.
(?) Providence may be defined as the scheme in the Divine mind by which all things treated are ordered and guided efficiently to a common end or purpose (ratio perductionis rerum in finem in mente diving existens). It includes an act of intellect and an act of will, in other words knowledge and power. And that there is such a thing as Divine Providence by which the entire universe is ruled clearly follows from the fact that God is the author of all things and that order and purpose must characterize the action of an intelligent creator. Nor is any truth more insistently proclaimed in revelation. What the author of Wisdom (xiv, 3) says of a particular thing is applicable to the universe as a whole: “But thy providence, O Father, governeth it”; and no more beautiful illustration of the same truth has ever been given than that given by Christ Himself when He instances God’s care for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field (Matt., vi, 25 sq.). But to rational creatures God’s providential care is extended in a very special way, yet not so as to do away with the utility and efficacy of prayer, whether for temporal or spiritual favors (Matt., vii, 8), nor to disturb or override the efficiency of secondary causes. It is in and through secondary causes that providence ordinarily works, and no miracle as a rule is to be expected in answer to prayer.
(?) Predestination and reprobation are those special parts of Divine Providence which deal specially with man’s salvation or damnation in the present supernatural order. Predestination is the foreknowledge on the part of God of those who will de facto be saved and the preparation and bestowal of the means by which salvation is obtained; while reprobation is the foreknowledge of those who will de facto be damned and the permission of this eventuality by God. In both cases an act of the intellect, infallible foreknowledge, and an act of the will are supposed; but whereas in predestination the antecedent and consequent will is the same, in reprobation God wills consequently what He does not antecedently will at all but only permits, viz., the eternal punishment of the sinner.
Many controversies have arisen on the subject of predestination and reprobation, into which we cannot enter here. But we shall briefly summarize the leading points on which Catholic theologians have agreed and the points on which they differ.
First, that predestination exists, i.e. that God knows from eternity with infallible certainty who will be saved and that He wills from eternity to give them the graces by which salvation will be secured, is obvious from reason and is taught by Christ Himself (John, x, 27), and by St. Paul (Rom., viii, 29, 30).
Second, while God has this infallible foreknowledge, we on our part cannot have an absolutely certain assurance that we are among the number of the predestined—unless indeed by means of a special Divine revelation such as we know from experience is rarely, if ever, given. This follows from the Tridentine condemnation of the teaching of the Reformers that we could and ought to believe with the certainty of faith in our own justification and election (Sess. VI, cap. ix, can. xiii-xv).
Third, the principal controverted point regarding predestination between Catholic theologians is concerned with its gratuity, and in order to understand the controversy it is necessary to distinguish between predestination in intention, i. e. as it is a mere act of knowledge and of purpose in the Divine mind, and in execution, i. e. as it means the actual bestowal of grace and of glory; and also between predestination in the adequate sense, as referring both to grace and to glory, and in the inadequate sense, as referring particularly to one’s destination to glory, and abstracting from the grace by which glory is obtained. Now, (I) speaking of predestination in execution, all Catholic theologians maintain in opposition to Calvinists that it is not entirely gratuitous, but in the case of adults depends partly on the free mercy of God and partly on human cooperation; the actual bestowal of glory is at least partly a reward of true merit. (2) Speaking of predestination in intention and in the adequate sense, Catholic theologians agree that it is gratuitous; so understood it includes the first grace which cannot be merited by man. (3) But if we speak of predestination in intention and in the inadequate sense, i.e. to glory in abstraction from grace, there is no longer unanimity of opinion. Most Thomists and several other theologians maintain that predestination in this sense is gratuitous, i.e. God first destines a man to glory antecedently to any foreseen merits, and consequently upon this decrees to give the efficacious grace by which it is obtained. Predestination to grace is the result of an entirely gratuitous predestination to glory, and with this is combined for those not included in the decree of election what is known as a negative reprobation. Other theologians maintain on the contrary that there is no such thing as negative reprobation, and that predestination to glory is not gratuitous but dependent on foreseen merits. The order of dependence, according to these theologians, is the same in predestination in intention as it is in predestination in execution, and as already stated the bestowal of glory only follows upon actual merit in the case of adults. These have been the two prevailing opinions followed for the most part in the schools, but a third opinion, which is a somewhat subtle via media, has been put forward by certain other theologians and defended with great skill by so recent an authority as Billot. The gist of this view is that while negative reprobation must be rejected, gratuitous election to glory ante praevisa merita must be retained, and an effort is made to prove that these two may be logically separated, a possibility overlooked by the advocates of the first two opinions. Without entering into details here, it is enough to observe that the success of this subtle expedient is very questionable.
Fourth, as regards reprobation, (1) all Catholic theologians are agreed that God foresees from eternity and permits the final defection of some, but that the decree of His will destining them to eternal damnation is not antecedent to but consequent upon foreknowledge of their sin and their death in the state of sin. The first part of this proposition is a simple corollary from Divine omniscience and supremacy, and the second part is directed against Calvinistic and Jansenistic teaching, according to which God expressly created some for the purpose of punishing them, or at least that subsequently to the fall of Adam, He leaves them in the state of damnation for the sake of exhibiting His wrath. Catholic teaching on this point reechoes II Peter, iii, 9, according to which God does not wish that any should perish but that all should return to penance, and it is the teaching implied in Christs own description of the sentence that is to be pronounced on the damned, condemnation being grounded not on the antecedent will of God, but on the actual demerits of men themselves (e.g. Matt., xxv, 41). (2) So-called negative reprobation, which is commonly defended by those who maintain election to glory antecedently to foreseen merits, means that simultaneously with the predestination of the elect God either positively excludes the damned from the decree of election to glory or at least fails to include them in it, without, however, destining them to positive punishment except consequently on their foreseen demerits. It is this last qualification that distinguishes the doctrine of negative reprobation from Calvinistic and Jansenistic teaching, leaving room, for instance, for a condition of perfect natural happiness for those dying with only original sin on their souls. But, notwithstanding this difference, the doctrine ought to be rejected; for it is opposed very plainly to the teaching of St. Paul regarding the universality of God’s will to save all (I Tim., ii, 4), and from a rational point of view it is difficult to reconcile with a worthy concept of Divine justice.
P. J. TONER