Category Archives: Divine Attributes

Impassibility: does God have emotions?


-by Trent Horn

“Biblical descriptions of God’s emotions are metaphors that describe how human beings relate to God, not how God relates to us

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and atheist whose writings are very critical of Christianity. In her essay “God’s Emotions” in the anthology The End of Christianity, she argues that emotions are a non-rational “evolved functional feedback response” found in higher-order animals. Therefore, the Bible’s depictions of God having emotions such as anger or regret reveal that ignorant nomads who “only had a superficial idea of what these words mean” wrote the Bible. According to Tarico, “It is a testament to our narcissism as a species that so few humans are embarrassed to assign divinity the attributes of a male alpha primate.”

Some people may say biblical descriptions of God’s emotions are nothing to be ashamed of because they make God more relatable to us. But although God did experience human emotions through the human nature He assumed through His Incarnation as Jesus Christ, God does not experience emotions as part of His divine nature. The Incarnation makes God more relatable precisely because, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

God transcends all creatures. We must therefore continually purify our language of everything in it that is limited, image-bound or imperfect, if we are not to confuse our image of God—”the inexpressible, the incomprehensible, the invisible, the ungraspable”—with our human representations. Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God (CCC 42).

For example, the persons you and I know have intellects and loving qualities, but God is “intellect;” He is “love” (1 John 4:8). God is not a person or being who embodies these attributes; He is the perfect exemplification of them. This is similar to the fact that God doesn’t have “goodness” or “being,” but simply is “Goodness” or “Being” itself.

If this is hard to grasp, remember what God said about Himself through the prophet Isaiah: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:8–9).

Emotions usually comprise our responses to unexpected or uncontrollable events. But nothing can surprise or overwhelm that which is “the infinite act of being,” so that means God lacks emotions. This doesn’t mean, however, that God is an impersonal force of nature. It just means that although God has qualities we see in persons, God himself is not a person, in the same way, humans are persons (similar to how God is not a being but just is being). According to Fr. Thomas Weinandy, a Capuchin priest and author of the book Does God Suffer?:

From the dawn of the patristic period Christian theology has held as axiomatic that God is impassible—that is, he does not undergo emotional changes of state, and so cannot suffer. . . . God is impassible in that he does not undergo successive and fluctuating emotional states, nor can the created order alter him in such a way so as to cause him to suffer any modification or loss.

When the Bible describes God as having emotions such as anger, regret, or pleasure, we understand that these are metaphors that describe how human beings relate to God, not how God relates to us. Saying God is angry at our sin or pleased with our obedience doesn’t mean God is reacting to something we did. It means we did something to alienate ourselves from God or to draw us closer to him. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger put it this way:

The wrath of God is a way of saying that I have been living in a way that is contrary to the love that is God. . . . “The punishment of God” is in fact an expression for having missed the right road and then experiencing the consequences that follow from taking the wrong track and wandering away from the right way of living.

The Bible’s descriptions of God’s emotions also represent how ancient people conceived of God in light of their cultural context. In places such as the ancient Near East, deities were often compared to human kings, and the best kings were those who were strong and swiftly punished anyone, whether foreign invaders or domestic rebels, who threatened the populace.

Just as the Bible contains ancient, popular descriptions of the world that should not be equated with modern scientific descriptions of it (for example, descriptions of the firmament), the Bible also contains ancient, popular descriptions of God that are true if they are not treated as modern theological or philosophical descriptions of God.

Now, Valerie Tarico emphatically objects to the idea that the Bible’s descriptions of God’s emotions are not literal. She says, “A metaphor about something as deep as the human relationship to ultimate reality needs to be deeply accurate . . . but the Biblical descriptions of God have this backwards.” They are backward, according to Tarico, because emotions are merely physiological responses to weakness or stress. Saying God is angry or pleased would indicate that God is imperfect.

But remember that these descriptions of God are not obscure or “mere” metaphors. They are expressions, albeit in an indirect way, of real truths about God that ancient people understood despite their ignorance of the physiological causes of emotions. Though they lacked Tarico’s training in psychology, ancient people still knew that being angry at someone meant you had a negative relationship with that person, and being pleased with someone meant you had a positive relationship. These are not naïve or improper ways of describing how finite, sinful humans might stand in relation to God.

People who say that the God of the Bible has “all-too-human needs or desires,” as does Tarico’s fellow contributor to The End of Christianity, Jaco Gerike, fail to grasp this metaphorical understanding of God’s emotions. Or they outright reject it. Gerike says, “None of these divine psychological characteristics were in their biblical contexts understood as being mere metaphorical descriptions or the result of any supposed divine accommodation.”

But the whole point of divine accommodation is that God lowered himself to a level for the biblical authors to understand him. Just as these authors would not have considered their descriptions of the physical world to be popular descriptions accommodated to ancient sensibilities, but rather how the world appeared, they would have thought the same of the descriptions of God they penned in the Bible. Those descriptions are true, but not if we read them as modern, theological treatises.

Sometimes they even fail to grasp the literal truth behind these nonliteral descriptions. For example, Gerike says that God is “narcissistic and egotistic” because he prescribes in detail how to worship him. Gerike takes aim in particular at the elaborate instructions for constructing the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus 25-40 but fails to see that these instructions were for the Israelite’s benefit, not God’s. Human beings require custom and ritual in order to form their identities, and these rituals foster proper reverence for God. Just because they were tailored for what a resident of the ancient Near East would expect for pious worship does not make them evidence of God’s “narcissism.”

Finally, it is egotistical for creatures to demand to be worshiped, because they are not infinite in value like God. God, however, has a right to our worship, because he is “that which no greater can be thought.” Worship means we give someone his “worth-ship,” and so a being of infinite worth has a right to our unconditional obedience and adoration.”

Love & His love,
Matthew

Immutability – fallacious arguments 2


-by Karlo Broussard

Recently, we looked at an objection that argues God can’t be immutable and at the same time be the universal cause of temporal effects because that would entail God having to change in his acts—acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.

We showed that this objection fails because it wrongly assumes God acts in time and that there’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change.

But some atheists counter along the lines of an objection that St. Thomas Aquinas deals with in Summa Contra Gentiles 3.35: How can there be new effects brought about in time with no new acts in God’s will? Wouldn’t God have to act anew in order to bring about new effects? But if he acted anew for every new effect, then God would undergo change.

It seems that if we affirm God’s immutability we must deny that he’s the creator of temporal effects. If we affirm that God is the creator of temporal effects, which his role as the universal cause of all things entails, it seems we must deny his immutability.

What should we make of this counter?

Notice the assumption: new acts are necessary to bring about new effects. But it’s not necessarily true that something must perform new acts in order to bring about new effects. Perhaps an analogy will be helpful.

Consider a state leader who signs a bill of law and determines that it shall take effect and become binding one month after its signing. A new decree wouldn’t be necessary for the binding power of the law to come into existence when its appointed time arrives. The law would take effect at its allotted time due to the decree made a month before.

The lawmaker could even stipulate that the law be only temporarily binding, specifying not only when the law takes effect (a month subsequent to the signing), but also the time when the law ceases to have binding power (perhaps a year after the law goes into effect). So, by one act, the lawmaker would determine not only the new effect of the beginning of the law but also the new effect of the law no longer having binding power. And when each of those new effects would come to be—when the binding power of the law actually begins and ends—it would be due to the lawmaker’s one act.

Similarly, by a single act of intellect and will God specifies every aspect of a thing’s being, including the moment of time at which a thing will come into existence, the moments at which it will begin to act and cease to act, and the moment at which it will go out of existence—that is, if it’s the type of thing that can naturally go out of existence, unlike a human soul or angels.

As we saw in the article linked above, this is a necessary conclusion based on the fact that God is the first and universal cause. For if he only caused the existence of something and its activity, and not the time at which that thing comes into existence or acts, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal mode of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality.

Since that can’t be, we know God must not only cause the existence and action of a thing but the particular moment in the flow of time at which a thing exists and acts. And he does so by the one eternal act of intellect and will.

So just as a lawmaker can stipulate in one decree when a law begins and ends, and the binding power of that law begins and ends based on that one decree, so too God in one eternal decree determines the moments in time when an effect will come into existence and go out of existence, and when that effect comes into or goes out of existence it will be due to the one act of God’s intellect and will.

But an atheist might counter: It’s one thing to say that multiple effects can be determined by a single act when the “effect” is an abstraction and the determining action is an act of the mind, like when a law is determined to have and not have binding power. It’s another thing to claim, on God’s behalf, that a single act of the will can produce multiple effects in reality at different moments in time.

This counter fails on multiple fronts. First, it doesn’t take into account that God’s knowledge is identical to his will. His intellectual decree that some things come into existence and go out of existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time is identical to the single act of will by which he produces those effects.

Second, it wrongly assumes that when the effects become real they are necessarily temporally separated from when they are conceived in the mind, like when a house is actually built as opposed to the conception of its allotted time to be built in the mind of the contractor.

But with God this is not so. He doesn’t have to wait for the allotted time to arrive in order to produce the effect. All moments of time and the events that make up those moments are present to God simultaneously (see Summa Theologiae I:14:7, 13). As such, God is able to produce the multiple effects at their allotted times by a single act of his eternal will. The cause-effect relationship between those effects at each moment in time and God’s causal activity is like the cause-effect relationship between the knife cutting the orange: it’s simultaneous.

Third, this counter loses sight of God’s omnipotence. A rational creature might not be able to produce new effects at different moments of time without new causal action. But that doesn’t mean no rational being could do so. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “If [a rational being’s] act of will were of itself sufficient to produce the effect, the effect would follow anew from his previous decision, without any new action on his part” (SCG 3.35).

God’s will is sufficient to bring all effects into existence at their allotted moments in the flow of time because his will is infinite in power (omnipotent), able to do anything that doesn’t entail a logical contradiction. Since there’s no logical contradiction in the idea of a single act willing a multiplicity of effects to be and not be at different moments in time, we can say that given God’s omnipotence he’s able to cause temporal effects without new action on his part.

Since no new act of causation on God’s part is needed to bring about a new effect in the flow of time, or to will an effect to cease to exist at a moment in the flow of time, the objection that God must change in causing things to exist at one point in time and not at some other time has no force.

Yet again theism passes the coherence test, at least on this front. There’s one other reason atheists give to show the incompatibility of God’s immutability and his role as the universal cause, but we’ll have to save that one for another time.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

Immutability – fallacious arguments


-by Karlo Broussard

“Atheists often claim that it’s contradictory for believers to assert that God is at the same time both the universal cause of all being and immutable. In other words, God can’t be changeless and at the same time changing, in the sense that he causes things to come into and go out of existence.

Consider, for example, that my act of typing this article right now is a reality ultimately because God causes it to be. His causal activity is not in opposition to my free action, but the presupposition for it. For whatever has being is ultimately caused to be by the source of being, God. Since my act of typing has being (it actually exists), it follows that God ultimately causes my action to be (even if he doesn’t cause every typo or imperfect metaphor that I choose).

By the time you read this article, however, my act of typing it will no longer exist. I’ll be engaged in other acts, such as throwing the football with my sons.

So, what God is causing to exist now (me typing this article in real time), he will no longer cause to exist when I shut down the computer. And what God was not causing to exist (me throwing the football with my sons), God will cause to exist.

But this seems to entail that God changes in his acts, acting to cause one thing at one moment in time, ceasing that act at another moment in time, and engaging in a new act to cause something else at some other moment in time.

If God brings about new effects in time, so it’s argued, he would have to engage in new acts of the will. And if that were true, he would change.

So it seems that if we affirm God as the ultimate cause of all temporal effects, we would have to say God changes. If we say God can’t change, then we couldn’t affirm that he’s the ultimate cause of all temporal effects. Neither of the two options is available for one who believes in the classical understanding of God.

Is a theist trapped?

Notice how the objection assumes that God’s causal action is located in time just like the effect is located in time, as if we can point to some moment in time before which he doesn’t act and after which he does. But there are good reasons to think this assumption is false.

God is eternal, and therefore doesn’t exist or act in the flow of time. He’s entirely outside the succession of moments in time, having all moments of time (our before and after) present to him simultaneously. Consequently, God doesn’t have a “before” and an “after.” And if that’s the case, then it’s not correct to assume that he begins to act after a certain time, before which he didn’t act.

Moreover, as the first and universal cause, God not only ultimately causes my act of typing but also the time at which he wills this act to be (5:00 pm October 14 in Brisbane, Australia). For if he were only the first cause of the action, and not the time at which the action occurred, then there would be some aspect of being (the temporal aspect of being) that would have escaped God’s universal causality. Since that can’t be, we know he must not only cause the action, he must also cause the particular moment in the flow of time at which the act takes place.

And because God can’t be conditioned by that which he causes to be (the particular moments in the flow of time at which all activity takes place), his causal activity can’t possibly be subject to time. In other words, God’s causal activity has no “before” and “after” because God’s causal activity itself determines the “before” and “after” of all activity. We have to be careful not to confuse, “God causes some things to be at some moments of time,” with “God, at some moment in time, causes some things to be.”

Since God’s causal action is not in time, it’s not necessary that he change in his act of causing new temporal effects (i.e., go from not causing to causing). Therefore, the assertion that God is the universal cause of temporal effects doesn’t contradict the claim that God is immutable.

Now, an atheist might respond, “Perhaps God doesn’t undergo change in his causal activity because he acts in time. But he must undergo change inasmuch as he acts as a cause, for change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause. So God, therefore, can’t be immutable and the universal cause of all things at the same time.”

The problem with this counter is that it assumes change necessarily belongs to what it means to be a cause.

Sure, the causes that we experience undergo change when they bring about an effect (e.g., me going from not engaging in the act of typing this article to engaging in the act of typing this article). But just because a cause of our experience changes when it causes an effect, it doesn’t necessarily follow that anything whatsoever that acts as a cause must undergo change.

All that’s necessary for a cause to be a cause of an effect is for the effect in question to be brought about by that cause. In other words, without the activity of the cause the effect would not be. There’s nothing in this understanding of a cause that necessitates the cause undergo change when it acts as a cause.

And that’s all a theist is saying when he says God causes temporal effects. Something comes into existence at a specific moment of time due to God’s causal action, and it goes out of existence ultimately because of God’s causal action.

So, the idea that some things are brought about at different moments of time, and that God is the ultimate cause that brings those things about at their distinct moments of time, in no way shows God must undergo change when he acts as a cause. There’s nothing in the notion of a cause that entails change and God’s causal action is not characterized by time.

At least on this front, theism passes the coherence test.”

Love & truth,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Immutability


-by Dave Armstrong

“Orthodox, historic Catholic theology holds that God is…immutable. Descriptions such as “jealousy” applied to God are usually held by orthodox theologians to be anthropomorphic (intended to make God more comprehensible to limited human beings, rather than being literally true). Here are some typical statements in this regard, by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas:

“God’s anger implies no perturbation of the divine mind. It is simply the divine judgment passing sentence on sin. And when God “thinks and then has second thoughts” this merely means that changeable realities come into relation with his immutable reason. For God cannot “repent” as human beings repent, of what he has done, since in regard to everything His judgment is fixed as His foreknowledge is clear … But it is only by the use of such human expressions that Scripture can make its many kinds of readers whom it wants to help to feel, as it were, at home. Only thus can Scripture frighten the proud and arouse the slothful, provoke inquiries and provide food for the convinced. This is possible only when Scripture gets right down to the level of the lowliest readers.” -(St. Augustine, City of God, 15:25)

“It is written, I AM the Lord, and change not. (Mal. 3,6) I answer that, From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable. First, there is some being, whom we call God, and that this first being must be pure act, without any admixture of potency, for the reason that, absolutely, potency is posterior to act (Q.III, A. 3). Now everything which is in any way changed is in some way in potency. Hence it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable.-(Summa Theologica, First Part, Q.9, art.1)

“God is said in turn to repent; not in the sense that his eternal disposition has changed, but some effect of his is changed. Hence Gregory says: “God does not change his plan, though at times he may change his judgment”, not, I say, the judgment which expresses his eternal disposition, but the judgment which expresses the order of inferior causes, in accord which Ezechias was to have died, or certain people were to have been punished for their sins. Now such a change of judgment is called God’s repentance, using a metaphorical way of speaking, in the sense that God is disposed like one who repents, for whom it is proper to change what he had been doing. In the same way, he is also said, metaphorically, to become angry, in the same sense that, by punishing, He produces the same effect of an angry person.”-(Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. 3, Pt. 2, q.96:15)

Let’s examine now Catholic dogma regarding these matters. First, I consult Dr. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (edited in English by James Canon Bastible; translated by Patrick Lynch, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974, from the fourth edition of May 1960; first published in German in 1952):

God is absolutely immutable. (De fide.)

The 4th Lateran Council and the Vatican Council teach that God is immutable (incommutabilis) D 428, 1782. Holy Scripture excludes all change from God and positively ascribes to Him absolute immutability . . .

The Fathers exclude all change from God . . .

St. Thomas bases the absolute immutability of God on His pure actuality, on His absolute simplicity and on His infinite perfection . . .

(pp. 35-36)”

Now I shall cite Henry Denzinger: The Sources of Catholic Dogma (I have the 13th edition of 1954; translated by Roy J. Deferrari; Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire: Loreto Publications). All bolding is my own.

LATERAN COUNCIL IV 1215

Ecumenical XII (against the Albigensians, Joachim, Waldensians etc.

The Trinity, Sacraments, Canonical Mission, etc.*

Chap. 1. The Catholic Faith

(Definition directed against the Albigensians and other heretics]

428 Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God is one alone, eternal, immense, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and ineffable, Father and Son and Holy Spirit: indeed three Persons but one essence, substance, or nature entirely simple. The Father from no one, the Son from the Father only, and the Holy Spirit equally from both; without beginning, always, and without end; the Father generating, the Son being born, and the Holy Spirit proceeding; consubstantial and coequal and omnipotent and coeternal; one beginning of all, creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual, and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body. For the devil and other demons were created by God good in nature, but they themselves through themselves have become wicked. But man sinned at the suggestion of the devil. This Holy Trinity according to common essence undivided, and according to personal properties distinct, granted the doctrine of salvation to the human race, first through Moses and the holy prophets and his other servants according to the most methodical disposition of the time.

THE VATICAN COUNCIL 1869-1870

Ecumenical XX (on Faith and the Church)

SESSION III (April 24, 1870)

Dogmatic Constitution concerning the Catholic Faith *

[ . . . ]

Chap. 1. God, Creator of All Things

1782 [The one, living, and true God and His distinction from all things.] * The holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church believes and confesses that there is one, true, living God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will, and in every perfection; who, although He is one, singular, altogether simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, must be proclaimed distinct in reality and essence from the world; most blessed in Himself and of Himself, and ineffably most high above all things which are or can be conceived outside Himself [can. 1-4].

That’s only the beginning; there is much more:

ST. MARTIN I 649-653 (655)

THE LATERAN COUNCIL 649

(Against the Monothelites)

The Trinity, the Incarnation, etc.*

254 Can. 1. If anyone does not confess properly and truly in accord with the holy Fathers that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit [are a] Trinity in unity, and a unity in Trinity, that is, one God in three subsistences, consubstantial and of equal glory, one and the same Godhead, nature, substance, virtue, power, kingdom, authority, will, operation of the three, uncreated, without beginning, incomprehensible, immutable, creator and protector of all things, let him be condemned [see n. 78-82, 213].

COUNCIL OF LYONS II 1274

Ecumenical XIV (concerning the union of the Greeks)

Declaration Concerning the Procession of the Holy Spirit *

[The Most Exalted Trinity and the Catholic Faith]

[ . . . ]

Profession of Faith of Michael Palaeologus *

[ . . . ]

463 He will come to judge the living and the dead, and will return to each one according to his works whether they were good or evil. We believe also that the Holy Spirit is complete and perfect and true God, proceeding from the Father and the Son, coequal and consubstantial, co-omnipotent, and coeternal through all things with the Father and the Son. We believe that this holy Trinity is not three Gods but one God, omnipotent, eternal, invisible, and unchangeable.

A Decree in Behalf of the Jacobites *

[From the Bull “Cantata Domino,” February 4, Florentine style,

1441, modern, 1442]

703 The sacrosanct Roman Church, founded by the voice of our Lord and Savior, firmly believes, professes, and preaches one true God omnipotent, unchangeable, and eternal, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; one in essence, three in persons; . . .

* * * * *
(ST. SERGIUS I 687-701)

COUNCIL OF TOLEDO XV 685

Protestation concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation *

[From “Liber responsionis” or the “Apologia” of Julian,

Archbishop of Toledo]

294 . . . We have found that in that book of response to our faith, which we had sent to the Roman Church through Peter the regent, it had seemed to the Pope already mentioned (St Benedict II) that we had carelessly written that first chapter where we said according to divine essence: “Will begot will, as also wisdom, wisdom,” because that man in a hurried reading thought that we had used these very names according to a relative sense, or according to a comparison of the human mind; and so in his reply he commanded us to give warning saying: “In the natural order we recognize that the word takes its origin from the mind, just as reason and will, and they cannot be changed, so that it may be said that, as the word and the will proceed from the mind, so also the mind from the word or the will, and from this comparison it seemed to the Roman Pontiff that the will cannot be said to be from the will.” We, however, not according to this comparison of the human mind, nor according to a relative sense, but according to essence have said: Will from will, as also wisdom from wisdom. For this being is to God as willing: this willing as understanding. But this we cannot say concerning man. For it is one thing for man not to will that which is, and another thing to will even without understanding. In God, however, it is not so, because so perfect is His nature, that this being is to Him as willing, as understanding. . . .

The Catholic Encyclopedia reiterates the above (“The Nature and Attributes of God”):

Immutability

In God “there is no change, nor shadow of alteration” (James 1:17); “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” (Hebrews 1:10-12, Psalm 101:26-28. Cf. Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). 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 Nicaea against the Arians, who attributed mutability to the Logos (Denzinger, 54-old No. 18), and by the Vatican Council in its famous definition.

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. . . .

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.

The article on “Eternity” highlights the same notions of immutability and transcendence of time:

. . . That is how and why we represent the Divine existence as a life. It is a life, moreover, not only without beginning or end but also without succession — tota simul, that is without past or future; a never-changing instant or “now”. It is not so difficult to form some faint notion of a duration which never began and shall never end. We hope that our own life shall be endless; and materialists have accustomed us to the notion of a series stretching backward without limit in time, to the notion of a material universe that never came into being but was always there. The Divine existence is that and much more; excluding all succession, past and future time-indeed all time, which is succession-and to be conceived as an ever-enduring and unchanging “now”. . . .

If, now, we apply to the time-line what we have been attempting in that of space, the infinite, unchangeable point which was immensity becomes eternity; not a real succession of separate acts or changes (which is known as “time”); nor even the continuous duration of a being which is changeless in its substance, however it may vary in its actions (which is what St. Thomas understands by an aevum ); but an endless line of existence and action which not only is not actually interrupted, but is incapable of interruption or of the least change or movement whatsoever. And as, if one instant should pass away and another succeed, the present becoming past and the future present, there is necessarily a change or movement of instants; so, if we are not to be irreverent in our concept of God, but to represent Him as best we can, we must try to conceive Him as excluding all, even the least, change or succession; and his duration, consequently, as being without even a possible past or future, but a never beginning and a never-ending, absolutely unchangeable “now.” This is how eternity is presented in Catholic philosophy and theology. The notion is of special interest in helping us to realize, however, faintly, the relations of God to created things, especially with regard to His foreknowledge. In Him there is no before or after, and therefore no foreknowledge, objectively; the distinction which we are wont to draw between His knowledge of intelligence or science or prescience and His knowledge of vision is merely our way of representing things, natural enough to us, but not by any means objective or real in Him. There is no real objective difference between His intelligence and His vision, not between either of these and the Divine substance in which there is no possibility of difference or change.

. . . it is not true to say that God either saw or foresaw anything, or that He will see it, but only that He sees it. . . . It is only in relation to the finite and mutable that there can be a before and after. And when we say, that, as faith teaches, the world was created in time and was not from eternity, our meaning should not be that the existence of the Creator stretched back infinitely before He brought the world into being; but rather that while His existence remains an unchangeable present, without possibility of before or after, of change or succession, as regards itself, the succession outside the Divine existence, to each instant of which it corresponds as the centre does to any point in the circumference, had a beginning, and might have extended indefinitely further backward, without, however, escaping the omnipresence of the eternal “now” . . .

Sources

The basis of all later treatment of the question of eternity is that of ST. THOMAS, I, Q. x. For a fuller exposition see SUAREZ, De Deo, I, iv; IDEM, Metaphysica, disp. l, ss. 4 sq.; LESSIUS, De perfectionibus divinis, IV.

….The salvation or damnation of every soul is known to God and decreed from eternity. Therefore, there is no change. It always was what it is. For God it simply “is” because He is at all times “now.” An omniscient being cannot change His “mind….”

…Protestant theologian John Frame has written a very informative article that is, I believe (unless I missed something) harmonious with Catholic teaching: “Open Theism and Divine Foreknowledge”. This can clear up many questions about “contingency” and conditional prophecies. See also the Catholic Encyclopedia article, “Prophecy”, though it doesn’t specifically address the issue of how God presents prophecies in relation to His foreknowledge and omniscience, and immutability.

For an extremely interesting (but not exclusively Christian or Catholic Christian) philosophical treatment of these sorts of issues, see “Prophecy” (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy); also, “Immutability” in the same work. And “Divine Simplicity” and “Eternity”. Also, along similar lines: “God and Time” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Also, St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa: First Part, Q. 10: The Eternity of God.

Paul Helm: J. I. Packer Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, has written a book defending the divine timelessness view: Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time (Oxford University Press, 1988). IVP (evangelical publisher) has put out a book: God & Time: Four Views. Protestant (?) writer George Pytlik defends God’s timelessness: “Can God Change His Mind?” (part one / part two). John Frame gives a very brief reply too.

Did the Incarnation affect God’s immutability, though? No:

“It is to be remembered that, when the Word took Flesh, there was no change in the Word; all the change was in the Flesh. At the moment of conception, in the womb of the Blessed Mother, through the forcefulness of God’s activity, not only was the human soul of Christ created but the Word assumed the man that was conceived. When God created the world, the world was changed, that is, it passed from the state of nonentity to the state of existence; and there was no change in the Logos or Creative Word of God the Father. Nor was there change in that Logos when it began to terminate the human nature. A new relation ensued, to be sure; but this new relation implied in the Logos no new reality, no real change; all new reality, all real change, was in the human nature. Anyone who wishes to go into this very intricate question of the manner of the Hypostatic Union of the two natures in the one Divine Personality, may with great profit read St. Thomas (III:4:2); Scotus (in III, Dist. i); (De Incarnatione, Disp. II, sec. 3); Gregory, of Valentia (in III, D. i, q. 4). Any modern text book on theology will give various opinions in regard to the way of the union of the Person assuming with the nature assumed.’ -(Catholic Encyclopedia: “The Incarnation”; cf. St. Thomas Aquinas’ related comments in the Summa)”

Love & mind blown,
Matthew

God is simple

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Lord, Thou Who art infinite simplicity, simplify my mind and my heart, that I may serve Thee in simplicity of spirit.

MEDITATION

God is the unique simple Being because He is one in His essence and in all His perfections. When St. Thomas speaks of God’s simplicity, he presents it as the absence of all that is composite. In God’s simplicity there are not quantitative parts as there are in us who are composed of body and soul. God is simple because in Him there is no matter; He is pure spirit. Angels are also pure spirits; but angels are composite beings because their essence is like ours, distinct from their existence. The angelic essence does not exist by itself but has only the capacity to exist; in fact, no angel, as likewise no man, can exist if God does not call him to life. In God, on the contrary, there is supreme simplicity, infinitely superior to that of the angels: in Him essence and existence are identical. His essence exists of itself; He is the eternally subsistent Being.

Neither do the innumerable perfections of God create in Him any multiplicity: God is not composed of goodness, beauty, wisdom, justice, but He is, at the same time, the infinitely good, beautiful, wise, and just Being. There is no distinction in Him between substance and quality, because all is substance; His infinite perfections are His very substance. God contains in one, unique and most simple perfection, the perfection of His divine Being, all the multiple perfections we find divided among creatures in addition to thousands and thousands of others, somewhat as a million dollars contains the value of many dollars. God’s simplicity is not, then, poverty, but infinite riches, infinite perfections which we ourselves ought to reflect.

Consider how rich God is in innumerable perfections and how He possesses them all in the same degree. Consider, on the other hand, how poor you are in virtues and if you have any at all, how limited they are, how mixed with faults! Moreover, for one virtue which you possess in some slight degree, how many others you lack! God is simple; you, on the contrary, are complicated! Contemplate the divine simplicity and try to imitate it by means of true simplicity of soul.

COLLOQUY

“O most high God, in Your one and simple Being You are all the virtues and grandeurs of Your attributes; for You are omnipotent, wise, good, merciful, just, strong, and loving, and You possess other infinite attributes and virtues of which we have no knowledge. You are all these things in Your simple Being.

O wondrous excellence of God! O abyss of delights, which are the more abundant in proportion as Your riches are all contained in the infinite simplicity and unity of Your sole Being, so that each one is known and experienced in such a way that the perfect knowledge and absorption of the other is not impeded thereby, but rather each grace and virtue that exists in You is light for some other of Your grandeurs, so that through Your purity, O divine Wisdom, many things are seen in You when one thing is seen” (John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love 3, 2.17).

“O divine Essence, bottomless and boundless abyss of wonders! O unfathomable ocean of greatness, O Unity of my God, O Simplicity, O Eternity without beginning and without end, to Whom everything is continually present! O Immensity, which fills all things and contains all things! O Infinity, which embraces all imaginable perfections, O Immutability, O Immortality, O inaccessible Splendor! O incomprehensible Truth, O abyss of Knowledge and Wisdom, O Truth of my God…. O divine Power, creating and sustaining all things! O divine Providence, governing all! O Justice, O Goodness, O Mercy, O Beauty, O Glory, O Fidelity!… O great God, in You I adore all the grandeurs and perfections which I have been contemplating, as well as all the innumerable and inconceivable others which are, and will remain, unknown to me. I adore You, praise You, glorify and love You for all that You are. Oh! how my heart rejoices to see You so great, and so overflowing with every kind of treasure and splendor! Certainly, if I possessed all these grandeurs and You had none of them, I would want to strip myself of them at once and give them to You” (St. John Eudes).

Love,
Matthew

The God Who does not feel


-by Br Isaiah Beiter, OP

“In this season of penance, we ask God to have mercy. Human mercy involves compassion, looking upon someone’s misery and feeling it as your own. But God, in His eternity, can’t feel misery—he can’t feel anything. I don’t mean that the Holy Trinity does not comprehend what misery is, nor that He does not love. He made our heart in His image (Ps 94:7-11):

They say, “The Lord does not see;
the God of Jacob takes no notice.”
Understand, you stupid people!
You fools, when will you be wise?
Does the One Who shaped the ear not hear?
The One Who formed the eye not see?
Does the One Who guides nations not rebuke?
The One Who teaches man not have knowledge?
The Lord knows the plans of man;
they are like a fleeting breath.

, and He knows most intimately all of our experiences, but not by enduring them Himself. This is because God doesn’t change: He perfectly enjoys an unchanging and infinite happiness beyond happiness.  (Impassibility) Feelings imply changeability and dependence on another. God is above this.

But don’t we hear about the depth of God’s feeling heart through His prophets? Don’t we hear God cry out, “I writhe in pain!” (Jer 4:10) or that “the Lord takes pleasure in His people” (Ps 149:4)? Does this contradict the unchangeability of God?

No. God speaks this way not to say that we are pulling on His heart, but that His heart is freely given to us: “I have graven you on the palms of My hands” (Is 49:16). The eternal Godhead doesn’t feel sorrow for our misery in the way that we do, but He establishes a covenant with us: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as My people, and I will be your God” (Ex 6:6–7). His mercy is no weaker for the fact that the Divinity has no heartstrings to pull. In fact, it is all the stronger because it flows from a choice that is infinitely free.

That should have been enough for us, but it wasn’t. God’s people continued to complain that He didn’t care for them, that He had tricked or abandoned them: “Why is the Lord bringing us into this land only to have us fall by the sword?” (Num 14:3). So all the passages from the prophets above, and many others, express God’s repeated pleas to his wayward people, trying to convey to them the depth of His love.

Consider what it means that God didn’t stop there. If it wasn’t enough for us to know His peace, now He takes upon Himself the ability to feel our misery and death. literally. If it wasn’t enough that He had made a covenant with us, He becomes a covenant Himself. For the Son of God became flesh, the Son to Whom it is said, “I have given you as a covenant to the people” (Is 49:8). God is still unchangeable in His divinity, but in the assumed humanity of Jesus Christ, He truly feels our misery and pain—even unto death. And the blood of this covenant stands forever.

What misery, what mystery, what mercy! He took upon Himself the Lent that belonged to us, and now we follow Him through it, yearning to see His Easter—and call it our own.”

Love,
Matthew

The Kingdom of God

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Sometimes Christians hear or say the phrase “…advancing the Kingdom of God!” The below article explains why, theologically, this might not be the best word choice for Christians.

revstephenfreeman
-by Fr. Stephen Freeman

“The Kingdom of God is a Divine reality. It is the marriage of heaven and earth, of the created and the uncreated. It is the resurrection of the dead and the transformation of all things. It is the apokatastasis. It is solely and completely the gift of God and subject to no human effort.

The Kingdom of God and a perfect human world are not the same things. The Kingdom of God is not theological shorthand for human improvement. If all disease disappeared tomorrow and all poverty and inequality went the way of the Dodo Bird, the Kingdom of God would be nowhere nearer or further. There is no social agenda that has any relationship with the Kingdom of God.

Human response to the Kingdom does not make it come nor make it go away. Rejection of the Kingdom can only affect the one who rejects it. Rejection of the Kingdom is hell.

Christ said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He did not say, “Help me build a Kingdom.” He did not say, “Let’s work towards the advancing of the Kingdom.” The Kingdom of God is a reality that was in-breaking in the coming of Jesus Christ. Everywhere He went, the Kingdom was at hand. Everything He did was the advent of the Kingdom of God.

This remains the nature of the Kingdom. It is both “already here” and yet “still coming.” We speak of its coming in the past tense at one point in St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy. We can do so because the Liturgy itself is the Mystical Supper, that meal which we eat with Christ in the Kingdom. It is for this reason that all of the Sacraments of the Church begin with the invocation: “Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The phrase, “advancing the Kingdom,” and similar expressions is a 19th-century invention, something never(!) uttered in Christianity prior to that. None of the Reformers, nor Catholic nor Orthodox teachers prior to that century ever used such a phrase or similar expressions. It is deeply problematic. It easily becomes a slogan that transforms the Kingdom into a secular, historical project towards which human society is supposedly evolving.

The Kingdom of God does not evolve. It undergoes no development. It is utterly Divine in its origin and transformative in its coming. It cannot be brought about through political or economic efforts. Instead, the language of “advancing the Kingdom,” or “building up the Kingdom,” etc., has frequently been the excuse to abandon the teaching of the faith and trust in the secular works of man. (i.e. NOT divine teaching or revelation, but rather heresy!)

The work of the Church is not progressive in nature. Whatever we do, preaching the gospel, serving the poor, reconciling enemies, etc., are not a movement in history working towards or bringing about a desired end or result. We are in no way the cause of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is solely the work of God. We are called to keep the commandments in light of the Kingdom of God and its coming into the world.

The danger involved in our less-than-careful use of terms such as “advancing” and “building,” is the transformation of God’s work into man’s work. In a world dominated by the philosophy of modernity, in which man without God is seen as moving history towards some utopian or “better” state, the “Kingdom” easily becomes only a slogan for a religious project, something we do for God. (Ed. It is the deadly human sin of pride. That is not to say God does not want us to always do our best, but to accept, faithfully, the ultimate human reality in creation that creation cannot be made ‘heaven on earth’, by human effort, but rather, in the end, heaven will consume and renew all earthly things. We must submit to the Divine kingship in Jesus,  “every knee shall bend…” Rom 14:11, in humility and truth to be included.)

From the beginning, the proclamation of the gospel has been: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.”

Love, and joyfully anticipating the Kingdom,
Matthew

The Transcendentals – Unum, Bonum, Verum

transcendence

The transcendentals are properties of being.  “The Transcendentals” would also be another great name for a band, imho.  While we’re on it, “(The) Truth, (The) Beauty, (The) Goodness” would not be bad, either, but I digress.  Truth is being as known, Goodness is being as rightly desired, and Beauty is being as rightly admired.  Truth is being’s imprint on the mind, Goodness is beings imprint on the will, and Beauty is beings imprint on the emotions. So Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are all different modes of Being as apprehended by the Mind, the Will, and the Emotions.

timtroutman

-by Tim A. Troutman, who believes in the Bible. He just couldn’t figure out how we got the one we call “the canon”. Like so many 20-somethings, Tim traveled the road of the spiritual nomad: questions, doubt, fear, and finally hope. Through this journey, he connected with 10 or so other former Reformed Christians who now tell their story and talk about the Catholic faith at the extremely popular blog site www.calledtocommunion.com.

“According to St. Thomas, integrity (or perfection) is one of the three marks of beauty. The other two are harmony (or proportion) and radiance (or brightness). 1 The term ‘integrity’ is closely related to and directly implies unity; for without unity, integrity is impossible. We derive the word ‘integrate’ from the word integrity, and integration is nothing but the acquisition of one thing into unity with another.

Moreover, Aquinas follows Boethius in arguing that “unity belongs to the idea of goodness” because “a thing exists so far as it is one” and as St. Thomas explains, both goodness and unity are convertible with being. 2 Thus, along with goodness and truth, unity is one of the ‘transcendentals’ because it is convertible with being. These transcendentals are simply being apprehended under different modes. This complements St. Augustine’s teaching that evil is not its own being but the corruption of being. All things, in so far as they exist, that is, in so far as they have being, are good and they exist in truth and unity.

Harmony or proportion is also closely related to unity. For harmony is a bringing together of two or more things into a unity while maintaining some aspect of their distinctive identity. Proportion is the perfect representation of another thing or conformity to some good. St. Thomas gives the example of the Son as the perfect image of the Father and thus said to be in perfect proportion. 3 Elsewhere he states that God is beautiful as being “the cause of the harmony and clarity of the universe.” 4 He also states that love, which is the most beautiful virtue, is “a certain harmony of the appetite with that which is apprehended as suitable.” 5

Unity and harmony, as qualities of beauty, can be understood when we consider the attractiveness of a complex piece of music (or any artwork) over something simple. All other things equal, the complexity makes the piece more beautiful. This is because the act of harmoniously incorporating additional forms and components into a greater unity approximates truth, beauty, and goodness. The unity of the Trinity is the perfect archetype of harmony and pure oneness (out of something like a plurality). A family is beautiful because of its unity; and a well ordered society is for the same reason. That is all to say that unity and harmony point to not just any truth, but to truth itself, God, as do all things beautiful.

The dissolution of a thing arises from a defect therein. Disunity is an evil because its end is the dissolution of a being in the same way that the end of sin is the dissolution of some good. The ugliness of disunity is evidenced by the pain that accompanies it. St. Thomas quotes St. Augustine saying, “what else is pain but a feeling of impatience of division or corruption?” 6 and goes on to say, “the good of each thing consists in a certain unity” in defense of his proposition that the desire for unity is a cause of sorrow.7

With all of these ideas considered, we followers of Christ ought to sorrow at the disunity of Christians and earnestly pray for the re-unification, the integration, of all Christians into one body: the Church. Unity is beautiful because it is good and Christ intended unity for His Church8 because it is His own body. Our theological differences notwithstanding, I hope that Christians of all backgrounds will join together during this week of prayer for Christian unity to petition the Holy Spirit to move on the hearts of men that we may be unified not only in spirit, but in body, that is, in Church.”

“Life is not just a succession of events or experiences. It is a search for the true, the good & the beautiful.”-Pope Benedict XVI

Love,
Matthew

  1. Summa Theologica, 1.39.8
  2. Ibid., 1.6.4; 2.36.3
  3. Ibid., 1.39.8
  4. Ibid., 2b.145.2. Aquinas is quoting Pseudo-Dionysius
  5. Ibid., 2.29.1
  6. De Lib. Arb. iii, 23
  7. Summa Theologica 2.36.3
  8. cf. John 17

The Divine Attributes – Immanence

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-by Br Peter Martyr Joseph Yungwirth, OP

“Sometimes it can feel like God is so far away.  Why?  Sure there is the obvious, “Well, I’m a sinner.”  But, sometimes God feels far away even when we’re in a state of grace.  (Editor’s note:  my mother ALWAYS asked her children, “Are you in the state of grace?”  If you don’t know what that means, get thee to a confessional!  The same woman who oft remarked in front of all who cared to listen, “If my children lose their faith, I have failed as a mother.”  No pressure.  Growing up Irish Catholic.  It’s a “little” different.  🙂 Why does He do this to us?

After all, in a solemn moment of self-revelation, God manifested Himself in a burning bush and gave Moses his name, “I AM WHO AM.” Then, while the Israelites were stuck in the desert, God did the unthinkable and came to dwell among them. Not in an Athenian temple or a Roman basilica but in the tabernacle of a movable tent. There, God was close to His people, remaining with them and guiding them by night and by day.

And if this wasn’t enough, God desired an even greater proximity to His people. So “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (Jn 1:14). In the Incarnation, Jesus showed us just how close God was willing to come to be with His people. No longer was His presence in the tabernacle good enough. Now God desired to take on flesh, to be joined to humanity, and to make a virgin His new tabernacle. God became so close to His people that He literally walked among them.

That was all thousands of years ago, but what about now? Just as Moses relied on God’s support, just as the nation of Israel followed the cloud and the pillar of fire through the desert, and just as the apostles walked and talked with the Incarnate God, so too wouldn’t it be helpful if God were present with us to guide us on the way? After all, thanks to Jesus’ ascension to heaven, hasn’t God left us without His presence again?

Not at all. Jesus said to us, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Mt 28:20). This is especially true when we consider the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, God has done something even more marvelous than speak from a burning bush or descend into a tabernacle in the wilderness. Now, God enters into us. For a short time, we become His tabernacle where He transforms us through the power of His grace, communicated to us via His eucharistic Body and Blood. Each and every day, God comes down on our altar where He continues to manifest His great love for His people and to show us just how near He really is.

Sometimes God might feel far away, but God is not a God who is transcendent in such a way that He won’t come near us. Rather, because of His divine immanence, He is simultaneously present to us. He was immanently present in a special way to the Israelites in the wilderness and to His people in the desert tabernacle. Now, on our Catholic altars and on our tongues, He is immanently present to us again. As in the Old Testament period and now in the more profound way of the Eucharist, God comes to be with His people and to guide us on the path to Heaven.”

(Catechetical note:  Roman Catholicism does not restrict Divine Immanence to solely the Eucharist, although this is the most visible & celebrated manifestation.  The Catholic understanding of Divine Immance includes His Presence always available, universally, immediately to us.)

Love,
Matthew

The Divine Attributes – Transcendence

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-by Br Joseph-Mary Hertzog, OP

“Have you ever noticed the way some companies try to sell their products by raising them to the level of a symbol for something beyond their intrinsic value? I recently saw a commercial for an electronic gadget in which the device was never referred to—not even once—during the entire commercial. Instead, through impressive images of nature, human culture and play and the gravitas of the narrator’s voice the viewer was reminded that he or she was a “member of the human race,” that we live for things like art, beauty, passion, and love. And then we hear the nineteenth century American poet Walt Whitman asking about the meaning of life and man’s place in it, concluding that your life—even life itself—is a wonder, a kind of play to which each one may contribute a verse.

At first glance, it seems strange to sell your product by implying a higher meaning to the product (making it a mere means for satisfying some deeper desire). Then again, we human beings do this all the time. The world is built this way; we are built this way. We are always hunting for the touch of a more profound, more beautiful, and deeper meaning.

We are confronted with a world that alludes to something beyond itself, to a truth beyond experience and a meaning not of this world. This allusiveness conveys to us an awareness of a spiritual dimension of reality, our relatedness to transcendent meaning. We hunger for meaning, for truth, for goodness—this is how we know we are alive and we won’t be satisfied with anything less than a meaning, a truth that transcends all classification and division and is as extensive as reality itself.

But how does a man lift up his eyes to see a little higher than himself? The grand premise of religion is that man is able to surpass himself; that man who is part of this world may enter into a relationship with Him who is greater than this world; that man may lift up his mind and be attached to the absolute. How does one find a way in this world that would lead to an awareness of Him who is beyond this world? How does one find the way to an awareness of the transcendent God?

I believe the answer starts with a recovery of a Biblical view of the world and of life: an awareness of the sublime, of wonder, of mystery, awe, and the grandeur of reality. The world itself can give no answer to man’s ultimate wonder at the world. There is no answer in the self to man’s ultimate wonder at the self. Without this awareness, the world becomes flat and the soul a vacuum. The recovery of this awareness will give us eyes to see that everything in the world and in history bears the imprint of He-Who-Is-Beyond-Everything, calling us beyond everything so that He might give us everything.”

Love,
Matthew