Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 2.djvu/86

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


ATTRIBUTES


64


ATTRIBUTES


duced. Most modern authors fix on aseity (Aseitas; a=' from " se=" himself "), or self-existence; for the reason that, while all other existences are derived from, and depend on. Ciod, He possesses in Himself, absolutely and independently, the entire reason of His uncaused, infinite Being. In this, the most pro- found and comprehensive distinction between the Divinity and everj'thing else, all other distinctions are implicitly expressed. Whether, and in what way, the distinctions between the attributes and the metaphysical essence, and among the attributes themselves, have an ontological basis in the Divine nature itself, was a subject which divided Nominal- ists and Realists, Thomists and Scotists, in the age of Scholasticism (cf. Vacant, Diet, de th^ol. cathol., I, 2230-34).

VI. Di^isiOM OF AxTRiBrTEs. — Taking as the basis of classification the ways by which the attributes are developed, they are divided into positive and negative. Among the negative attributes are sim- plicity, infinity, immutability. The chief positive attributes are unity, truth, goodness, beauty, omnipotence, omnipresence, intellect and wiU, per- sonality. Some authors divide them into incom- municable and communicable. The former class comprises those which belong to God alone (e. g., all-wise, self-existent, omnipotent) to the latter belong those which are predicable, analogically, of God and creatures; as good, just, intelligent. Again, the divine nature may be considered either as static, or as the source of activity; hence another division into quiescent and active. Finally, some perfections in- volve a relation to things distinct from God, while others do not; and from this standpoint theologians divide the attributes into absolute and relative. The various classifications adopted by modern Protestant theologians are due partly to the results of philosophical speculation and partly to new con- ceptions of the nature of religion. Schleiermacher, e. g., derives the attributes of God from our three- fold conscioiLsness of absolute dependence, of sin, and of grace. Others, with Lipsius, distinguish the meta- physical attributes from the psychological and the ethical. A simpler division groups omnipotence, omnipresence, eternity, omniscience, and unity as the metaphysical predicates, justice and goodness as the moral attributes. The fundamental attribute is, according to Ritschl, love; according to Pro- fessor Royce, omniscience. The main difficulty with these writers centres about the idea of God as a per- sonal being.

VII. Revelation. — ^The supernatural knowledge of God given in revelation is apprehended through the medium of conceptions that belong to natural knowledge. Therefore, the same principles of at- tribution that govern the one hold good also for the other.

VIII. Historical Developmext. — In the fourth century Aetius and Eunomius maintained that, because the Divine nature is simple, excluding all composition or multiplicity, the various terms and names applied to God are to be considered synony- mous. Otherwise they would erroneously imply composition in God. This opinion was combated by St. CjTil of Alexandria, St. Basil, and St. Gregorj- of Nyssa (In Eunom., P. G., XLV). The princi- ple of attribution received more precise statement at the hands of St. Augustine, in his investigation of the conditions of intellectual knowledge (De Genesi ad Litteram, IV, 32). In the ninth centurj-. John Scotus Erigena, who was largely influenced by Neo-Platonism, transmitted through the works of the Pseudo-Dionysius, contributed to bring into clearer relief the analogical character of predication (De Divina Natura, Lib. I). The Nominalists revived the views of Eunomius, and the opposition of the Realists was carried to the other extreme bv


Gilbert de la Porr6e, who maintained a real, ontologi- cal distinction between the Divine Essence and the attributes. His opinion was condemned by the Council of Reims (1148). St. Thomas definitively e.xpressed the doctrine which, after some contro- versies between Scotists and Thomists upon minor points and subtleties, and with some divergence of opinion upon unimportant details, is now the com- mon teaching of Catholic theologians and philoso- phers. It may be summarized as follows: The idea of God is derived from our knowledge of finite beings. When a term is predicated of the finite and of the Infinite, it is used, not in a univocal, but in an analogical sense. The Divine Perfection, one and invisible, is, in its infinity, the transcendental analogue of all actual and possible finite perfections. By means of an accvunulation of analogous predicates, methodically co-ordinated, we endea\our to form an approximate conception of the Deity who, because He is Infinite, cannot be comprehended by finite intelligence. Modern philosophy presents a re- markable gradation, from Pantheism, which finds God in everj-thing. to Agnosticism, which declares that He is bej'ond the reach of knowledge. Spinoza conceives God as "a substance consisting of infinite attributes each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence ". The two attributes manifested to us are thought and extension. At the other ex- treme we find Agnostics of the school of Herbert Spencer (see Agxosticism) and some foDowers of Hegel, who hold that the nature of God, or, to use their favourite term, "the Absolute", is utterly unknowable, and its existence not determined to any mode; therefore, to predicate of it various attributes, expressive of determinations, is idle and misleading. Between the finite and the Infinite there is no common ground of predication; hence, words which signify finite perfections can have no real meaning when predicated of Ciod; they become mere empty sjnnbols. All theological attempts to elaborate an idea of God are vain, and result in complete absurdity when they conceive God after man's image and likeness (see Axthropomorphism), and circumscribe the Infinite in terms borrowed from human psychology. Criticism of this kind indicates that its authors have never taken the trouble to understand the nature of analogical predication, or to consider fairly the rigorous logical process of refining to which terms are subjected before being predicated of God. It often happens, too. that wTiters. after indulging liberally in eloquent de- nunciation of theological anthropomorphism, proceed, on the next page, to apply to the Infinite, presumablj' in a strictly univocal sense, terms such as " energj' ", '■ force ", and " law ", which are no less anthropo- morphic, in an ultimate analysis, than "will" and '■ intelligence ". The position of the Catholic Church, declared in the Fourth Lateran Council (121.5). is again clearly stated in the following pronouncement of the Vatican Council:

"The Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church believes and professes that there is one living and true God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, inunense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will and in all perfection; Who, being One, singular, absolutely simple and un- changeable spiritual substance, is to be regarded as distinct really and in essence from the world, most blessed in and from Himself, and unspeakably ele- vated above all things that exist, or can be con- ceived, except Himself."

St. Thom.\s, / Sent., dist. ii, Q. I; Summa Theol., !« Q. XIII, a. 12; De PotentiA. Q. VII. a. S: C. Genl. L. I., c. xxxv; WiLHELM AND Sc.vNN'ELL, A Manual of Catholic Theology (New York, 1892); I, v; GR.vrRY. La connaissance de Dieu (Paris. 1856\ Part II; tr. Axger, Guide to the Knouledqe of God (Boston. 1892); Tocssaint in Diet, de thiol. caOi. (Paris, 1903): Flint, Theism (Edinburgh, 1879); Iveracb.