A Manual Of Catholic Theology, Based On Scheeben's “Dogmatik”
Joseph Wilhelm, D.D., PHD. And Thomas B. Scannell, D.D.
With A Preface By Cardinal Manning

Vol. 1. The Sources Of Theological Knowledge, God, Creation And The Supernatural Order
Third Edition, Revised, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Lt.
New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Benziger Bros.

[Pp. 175-181]



SECT. 60.—Fundamental conception of God's Essence and Nature.

WE have now to inquire whether, among our conceptions of God, there is some one which may be considered as the foundation of all the others.

I. A direct and intuitive representation of the Divine Substance as It is in Itself, is manifestly impossible. Our knowledge of God is restricted to His attributes which we see reflected in creatures, and which we refer to the Divine Substance; but the Substance itself we have no power to apprehend. Whatever God is or has in Himself He is or has of Himself without external cause, and it is all one and the same with His Substance. There are, however, certain elements in our conception of God which, when compared with the others, may be considered as fundamental and as the root from which the latter spring. The fundamental conception of a substance may be formed either from the consideration of its being, or from the consideration of its activity, notably its vital activity. In the former case, the substance is termed “essence,” to signify what it really is; in the latter case, it is called “nature “— that is, the source or principle of activity. The nature of a thing is sometimes styled its “physical essence,” an expression also used to signify all that belongs essentially to a substance. The essence itself, considered as the root of the essential properties, is called the “metaphysical essence.” Among modern theologians the question of the fundamental conception of God is spoken of as the question concerning the metaphysical essence of God, or the essence which distinguishes Him from all other beings, and accounts for all His essential properties.

II. When we wish to distinguish God from all other beings we think of Him as a substance existing of itself — a substance which owes its existence to no external principle, but possesses existence essentially and absolutely. In other words: Aseity (aseitas, [Greek word omitted]) is the first distinguishing attribute which we conceive of the Divine Substance, and from which we infer the other Divine attributes. “I am Who am:” that is to say, “I am of Myself and absolutely, in contradistinction to all other beings which have a derivative and precarious existence.” Aseity excludes not only all external principles, but also the notion that God is constantly giving Himself existence (“das absolute Verden” or the “Selbstverwirklichung,” Self-realization, of Gunther). God cannot produce Himself any more than any other being can. When He is said to be His own cause, or Self-caused, this only means that He does not require or admit of any cause.

III. There is a still deeper and more exhaustive conception of the Divine Substance contained in the expressions, “God is His own existence;” “God's essence is existence;” “God is Being;” [Greek words omitted], He Who is, Jehovah. The Schoolmen express this by saying, “God is a pure act (actus purus);“ that is, pure actuality without any admixture of potentiality. Every perfection possible in any being is actually possessed by God, and is only possible in others because it actually exists in Him. The name Jehovah, understood in this sense, is really the essential name of God. This Divine Actuality is the foundation of God's Simplicity and Infinity. His Simplicity consists in the identity of possibility and reality, and His Infinity means that every possible perfection is actually possessed by Him.

We must bear in mind throughout that the conceptions of essence and substance as applied to God are only analogous, because the essences which we know are not identical with existence. Hence the expressions : “God is [Greek words omitted],” that is, God is His own Essence, is above all essences, and is without essence.

IV. Just as the Divine Substance exists of Itself, so does It act of Itself. It is the sole, adequate principle of Its whole Life; It cannot be conceived as animated or vivified, but must be considered as Absolute Life. The Divine Substance is Its own Life, Life pure and simple, Life in its absolute fulness and perfection. Moreover, the Divine Nature must be conceived as absolutely and in the highest degree Spiritual. When we speak of created nature, we distinguish the life-giving principle from the lifeless matter. We term the former “Spirit” when we consider it, not so much as animating matter, but as active and self-subsistent. Hence immaterial and intellectual substances are said to have a spiritual nature and to be spirits. Much more, then, is the Divine Life, which is absolutely independent and immanent, a spiritual Life.

The above description contains the generic difference between the Divine Nature and created nature — viz, the manner in which God possesses His Life; and also contains the fundamental characters which make the Divine Life most eminent and sublime — viz, the absolute immateriality and consequent intellectuality of the Divine Substance. When we designate the Divine Nature as a spirit (John iv. 24, we express Its immateriality and intellectuality, the former being the source of the latter. The word “Spirit,” in its eminent signification, is applicable to God's exalted nature purely and simply, because God is not only the uncreated and highest possessor of a spiritual nature, but also the noblest form of spiritual nature.

SECT. 61,—The Perfection of the Divine Being.

I. A being is perfect when it possesses all the qualities of which it is capable, or which are suitable and due to it. Created beings do not receive their perfection with their substance; they acquire it by exerting their own internal energy, or by means of external agents. They thus attain their end, [Greek word omitted], which is the completeness of their being, or perfection, [Greek word omitted]. The perfection of created beings is always relative; that is to say, it can never embrace more than the good qualities due to a particular class of things, nor can it reach such a high degree that there is not some higher degree possible.

II. Just as God is an absolute Being — that is, without any origin or beginning, independent, necessary, essentially existing — so is He also absolutely all that He can or ought to be by His Nature. He is essentially perfect ([Greek word omitted]); He is self-sufficient for His perfection ([Greek word omitted]); He possesses in His Substance, without any internal evolution or external influence, entire perfection.

III. God's perfection is absolute, not only in the sense that whatever constitutes Divine perfection belongs essentially to Him, but also because His perfection embraces every existing or conceivable perfection ([Greek word omitted]). He is the perfect principle of all things, and must therefore be, not only self-sufficient, but also capable of bestowing their perfections on all things, and must possess in Himself every kind of perfection. This existence of all perfections in God, this fulness of being, implies more than the possession of creative power and ideal knowledge. It implies that He possesses in His own perfection, which is the source and exemplar of all created perfection, a real and complete equivalent of this perfection. This equivalent is the fund from which He draws His universal power and universal knowledge. Cf. Exod. xxxiii. 14; [Greek words omitted], Ecclus. xliii. 29; Acts xvii. 25; Rom. xi. 36, etc.

The manner in which the particular perfections of created things exist in the universal perfection of God is expressed in the language of the Schoolmen by the terms “Virtually” and “Eminently.” Created things are not contained in God materially, and do not flow from Him as water from a spring, but are produced by His power (virtus); and, besides, He possesses in Himself a perfect equivalent of their perfections, which is their type or model. Again, God does not contain the perfections of His creatures exactly as they exist outside Him. He contains them in their purity, free from all admixture of imperfection; He contains them in a perfection of a higher character — as, for instance, the sense of vision is included in the higher power of understanding. The manifold perfections of creatures are consequently concentrated in one Divine Perfection, which is not, indeed, a combination of them all, but contains and surpasses them all by reason of its richness and value.

IV. The Divine perfection alone is essential and universal, and is the acme of all perfection ([Greek words omitted]). There does not exist, nor can we conceive, anything above God by means of which God's perfection can be measured or defined. His perfection is the principle, and hence the measure and object, of all other perfections, which are indeed perfections only in as far as they resemble and participate in the Divine perfection. Moreover, it can never be exhausted or equalled by created perfections; hence it is incomparable and all-surpassing. Cf. Ps. Xxxiv, 10; Isai. xliv. 7, and xl, 15—17.

SECT. 62.— Our Conception of the Divine Attributes— Classification.

I. All the Divine attributes which designate something necessarily contained in God, designate the Divine Substance Itself, and not something distinct from It, inhering in it after the manner of an accident. This principle applies to the attributes of Unity, Truth, Beauty; and also to the Divine essential Activity — such as Self-consciousness and Self-love; because all of these necessarily belong to the integrity of the Divine Essence and Nature. It is also true of the Divine intellectual and volitional acts concerning contingent things; for although these acts are not essential to God, still they are not accidents of His Substance, but are the Divine Substance Itself as related to contingent objects. But the principle is true only to a certain extent in the case of attributes which express Divine external action — that is, active influence on creatures; because the power and will to act are in God, whereas the action itself (actio transiens), and still more its effect, are external to Him. Lastly, this principle cannot be applied to attributes expressing a relation between creatures and God — such as Creator, Redeemer, Rewarder; because these relations are not in God but outside Him. They need not belong to Him from all eternity, as may also be said of attributes designating Divine external actions, because their basis is not eternal. Essential attributes, on the contrary, and also attributes expressing something in God, even if not essential, belong to Him from all eternity. All this is the common teaching of the Fathers and theologians and is based upon the dogmas of the Simplicity and Unchangeableness of God (cf. infra, §§ 6, 65).

II. It is evident that attributes expressing external relations of God to His creatures, such as Creator, Redeemer, Rewarder, are not identical with each other, but are separate rays emanating from a common centre. Again, the attributes designating the Divine Substance are not necessarily identical with each other. Although all of them express the same Divine Object, nevertheless each of them corresponds with a particular conception of our mind, arrived at in different ways and from different starting-points. They are not, therefore, identical subjectively. They also differ objectively — that is, as regards what they represent. None of the attributes represent the Divine Substance as such and in its totality, but only under some particular aspect, and such aspects are manifold, even in finite things.

III. There are various ways of classifying the Divine attributes. The arrangement which we propose to follow is based upon the fact that God is a being, and a living, spiritual being. A created being has composition of some sort; it has limits, and it is subject to change. It forms part of the universe; it exists in space and in time. It can be seen by bodily or mental eye; it can be grasped by a finite mind, and can be expressed in language. All of these qualities imply some sort of imperfection; hence, none of them can belong to God. Their contradictories must be predicated of Him and these are styled His Negative attributes. Again, every created being is in itself one, true, good, and beautiful, and externally it has power and is present to other beings. These attributes, although imperfect in creatures, do not themselves imply imperfection. Hence they may be predicated of God as Positive attributes. Lastly, God, being a spirit, must have the two faculties of a spirit — intelligence and will.

The following table will make this arrangement clear:—
A. Attributes belonging to God as a Being:
(a) Negative attributes:



(b) Positive attributes:

(i) Internal:
(1) Unity;
(2) Truth;
(3) Goodness;
(4) Beauty.

(ii) External:
(1) Omnipotence;
(2) Omnipresence.

B. Attributes belonging to God as a living, spiritual Being:
(a) Intelligence;
(b) Will.