Principles of Natural Theology / by George Hayward Joyce, S.J.

Part II. Nature and Attributes of God

Chapter VIII. Agnostic Difficulties and the Principle of their Solution.

  1. Agnostic Difficulties.
  2. The Analogical Knowledge of God.
  3. Solution of the Difficulties.
  4. Modernism and Agnosticism.

1. Agnostic difficulties. Before commencing our discussion of the attributes of God it is necessary first to consider whether anything save the mere fact of His existence is not by the very nature of the case beyond the reach of our faculties. Kant is not by any means alone in maintaining this. Other thinkers also confidently assert that the attempt to attain to any positive knowledge regarding the Divine Being can bear no fruit except to entangle the mind in a series of contradictions, inasmuch as the conditions under which we exercise the faculty of reason put such knowledge altogether out of our reach. They assure us that the traditional theistic teaching according to which man, unaided by revelation and relying on reason alone, can establish that God is infinite, immutable, omnipresent, all-wise, and all-good, is grounded on palpable fallacies: that although in order to account for the world of experience we are compelled to postulate an unknown ground of being, reason will carry us no further than this. No attribute can be affirmed of this ultimate ground except that it is unknown and unknowable.

The chief exponent of this view is H. Spencer. In his First Principles he undertakes to determine the boundaries between religion and science. To science he assigns the sphere of the knowable, to religion that of the unknowable -- an impenetrable background, which science must suppose to exist, but concerning which it can predicate nothing. With this division he claims that the two contending parties -- for he holds the normal relation of religion and science to be one of antagonism -- should be content. Such a partition, it is needless to say, is radically opposed to theism. To the theist God is no unknown ground of being. He is not merely the First Efficient Cause of the world, but its ultimate Final Cause. Beatitude, the end towards which all human activity should be directed, and to the attainment of which all knowledge is but a means, lies in the possession of God. If, then, we are essentially incapable of knowing anything whatever about the Source of all being, and must resign ourselves to remain ignorant, whether it be spirit or matter, personal or impersonal, we are left without an end in life. Whither the theory leads is plain to see in Spencer's own pages. Notwithstanding his protestation that his doctrine contains the essential element of every religious creed, viz., the belief in an inscrutable something behind phenomena, and that he is by no means to be accounted a materialist, he does, in fact, explain all things in terms of matter and motion, and treats this explanation as ultimate. His system of philosophy is a materialist system.

The arguments by which he supports his agnostic conclusions are taken from the works of Sir W. Hamilton and Mansel, two writers who certainly had no intention of furthering the cause of religious agnosticism. They had both drawn a very different inference, viz., that the incapacity of human reason to frame a valid natural theology renders revelation all the more necessary to man. Spencer accepted their arguments, but employed them against natural and revealed religion alike. This train of thought, it should be noted, originated with Kant, some of whose views Hamilton had adopted, though differing widely from him in his general philosophical position.

In this chapter we are not concerned with the whole series of Spencer's arguments on behalf of agnosticism. Some of them will find their natural place in one or other of the chapters which follow. There is, however, a fundamental difficulty which calls for consideration at once. It is asserted that the so-called attributes of God are all of them perfections known to us from the world of experience and involving limitations proper to finite beings alone. If the theist will but scrutinize them, he will soon recognize that they are incompatible with the infinity which he is constrained to affirm of God: and that reason thus compels him to the admission that he knows nothing regarding God's nature. He attributes to Him intelligence, will, causality. Do not all of these of their very nature imply the determination of a substance by accidents? Is it, then, seriously contended that the Divine nature is a composite structure composed of diverse elements!

Kant raises this difficulty in his Prolegomena to Every Future System of Metaphysics, §§ 57, 58. Reason, he says, leads us to hold the existence of a Supreme Being, the ground of all reality: and this may be done, provided we confine ourselves to the "deistic conception, . . . which, however, only represents a thing containing all reality, without our being able to determine a single one of its qualities, because for this an instance would have to be borrowed from the sense-world, in which case I should always have to do with an object of sense, and not with something completely heterogeneous, which cannot be an object of sense." We are compelled, he admits, to judge that the world is related to the Supreme Being as a watch is to its maker or a ship to its builder, thus viewing it "as though it were the work of a supreme understanding and will." But we must not imagine that we thus arrive at any knowledge of the nature of the Supreme Being. We certainly cannot attribute reason and will to Him: for "I have no conception whatever of any understanding but of one like my own, namely of one to which intuitions must be given through the senses": and the same difficulty holds good as regards a will. All that our judgment implies is that the Supreme Being is in some way the source of the reason inherent in the world of experience. Here," he says, "only the form of reason everywhere met with in the world is considered, and to the Supreme Being so far as it is the ground of this form of reason in the world, Reason is attributed." In other words, we may judge that there is in the Supreme Being something in virtue of which He adapts means to ends, very much as our intelligence enables us to employ for various purposes the materials which nature provides. But what that something is we cannot tell. We have no ground for holding it to be intelligence: for intelligence, in the only form in which it is known to us, supposes conditions which belong essentially to the sense-world.

Mansel raises difficulties of a similar character. There is, he points out, no attribute which seems more certainly to belong to God than that He is the First Cause of finite being. Yet even the notion of causality involves limitations which we cannot possibly admit to be found in Him. For reason compels us to hold that God is the Absolute Being, viz., that He is no way conditioned by or related to anything outside Himself. Now a cause, Mansel contends, is essentially related to its effect.{1}

"These three conceptions," he writes, "the Cause, the Absolute, the Infinite, all equally indispensable, do they not imply contradiction to each other, when viewed in conjunction, as attributes of one and the same Being? A cause cannot, as such, be absolute: the Absolute cannot, as such, be a cause. The cause, as such, exists only in relation to its effect: the cause is a cause of the effect; the effect is an effect of the cause.{2} On the other hand, the conception of the Absolute implies a possible existence out of all relation. We attempt to escape from this apparent contradiction by introducing the idea of succession in time. The Absolute exists first by itself and afterwards becomes a cause. But here we are checked by the third conception, that of the Infinite. How can the Infinite become that which it was not from the first? If causation is a possible mode of existence, that which exists without causing is not infinite: that which becomes a cause has passed beyond its former limits."

He proceeds to point out that reason declares the divine nature, in virtue of its supreme perfection, to be simple to the entire exclusion of composition in any form. But if this be admitted, we are prohibited from supposing a plurality of attributes in God, or even the distinction between the thinking mind and its thought, which intelligence supposes.

"Not only is the Absolute, as conceived, incapable of a necessary relation to anything else; but it is also incapable of containing, by the constitution of its own nature, an essential relation within itself; as a whole, for instance, composed of parts, or as a substance consisting of attributes, or as a conscious subject in antithesis to an object. For if there is in the Absolute any principle of unity, distinct from the accumulation of parts or attributes, this principle alone is the true absolute. If, on the other hand, there is no such principle, then there is no absolute at all, but only a bundle of relatives. The almost unanimous voice of philosophy, in pronouncing that the absolute is both one and simple, must be accepted as the voice of reason also, so far as reason has any voice in the matter."{3}

It must not be supposed that these objections are altogether new and that the philosophers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries discovered difficulties for which theism was wholly unprepared. The agnostic controversy had in fact been fought out long before and by champions of the first rank. The famous Jewish doctor, Moses Maimonides, raised precisely the same issue in the twelfth century in his treatise, Moreh Nebukim (Ductor Dubitantium).{4} This work was written in Arabic, but even before the author's death was translated into Hebrew for the benefit of his coreligionists, and soon became known in Latin versions to Catholic theologians. Its primary and professed object was to reconcile the conclusions of Aristotelian philosophy with the teaching of the Law; but it had also a controversial purpose. In contending that a knowledge of the Divine nature is wholly beyond the scope of human reason, Maimonides sought to undermine the basis of Christian theology. His objections are substantially the same as those which we have been considering. He, too, appeals to God's essential simplicity and to the impossibility of the Divine substance being conditioned by relations. His conclusion is that the attributes which we affirm of God are most frequently to be understood metaphorically. When we say 'God is intelligent,' we signify no more than that God acts as though He were intelligent: just as when we speak of God as being angry, we understand the word metaphorically and not literally. In other cases the terms applied to Him are to be taken as signifying a causal relation. God may be called intelligent or good as signifying that He is the cause of goodness and intelligence in creatures. Lastly, they can be understood negatively. We say God is intelligent to indicate that He is not inanimate matter or possessed of merely sensitive life like the animals. It is manifest that these conclusions hardly differ from those of Kant. It is to be regretted that neither Kant himself nor his English successors were acquainted with St. Thomas Aquinas's reply to the Jewish doctor. The greatest of the Scholastic thinkers was perfectly alive to the importance of the issue, and deals with it in more than one of his works.{5} He gives, it may safely be said, a full and final solution of the arguments advanced in the Ductor Dubitantium.

2. The analogical knowledge of God. St. Thomas bases his refutation on the certain principle that no cause can confer any perfection which it does not in some manner possess. The perfection is the result of the cause's action. And an agent must possess a perfection before its action can be of such a kind as to confer it. As a thing is, so does it act. If, then, it be admitted that God is the cause of created perfections, we must of necessity admit that in some way these perfections must be found in Him. It does not follow that the mode in which God possesses them is identical with that in which a creature enjoys them: it may be very different.{6} The artist could not carve the statue unless the form which he is giving to fhe marble were to be found in him. But its mode of existence in his mind differs from that which it has when realized in stone. In him it has a nobler and more spiritual manner of being: for it is not limited by material conditions. So, too, in regard to the creature and the Creator. The perfections of the creature are not merely referable to God in the sense that He has power to produce them, but the same perfections are actually in some way intrinsic to Him. Here, however, a distinction must be drawn. Among created perfections some there are, which involve in their concept no imperfection at all, as, e.g., life, intelligence, existence. These are termed 'pure' perfections. The mode in which they are found in creatures may be an imperfect mode. Indeed, it must be so, for it is necessarily finite and limited. But the perfection expressed by the definition in each case, as distinguished from the particular manner of its realization, connotes no imperfection. These perfections may be affirmed of God in strict and literal truth. The perfection is really found in Him, though in a far higher manner than in creatures. To use Scholastic terms which we have already explained, it is in Him both formally and eminently.{7} There are other endowments of the creature which in their very notion involve imperfection. Such are all those which imply material conditions. The faculties of sense, and all forms of physical beauty, will serve as illustrations. These are termed 'mixed' perfections, and these, it is manifest, are not found in their proper nature (formaliter) in God, though whatever there is in them of goodness belongs to Him in some sublimer way. Terms denoting such perfections as these can only be predicated of God metaphorically. Thus when He is declared to be 'merciful' and 'just,' the attributes signified are understood to be predicated of Him in their literal sense. But when God is spoken of as 'angry' with sinners, the term is employed metaphorically, and simply denotes that His action is comparable to that to which a just judge may be moved by a righteous indignation with crime.{8}

The agnostic objections, which we considered in the previous section, were one and all based on the supposition that inasmuch as our knowledge is derived from our experience of creatures, our concept of any perfection found in them necessarily includes the imperfect mode in which the creature possesses it: and that, consequently, if we predicate it of God we are implicitly attributing this mode to Him also. Thus Kant, as we have seen, urges that we cannot say that God is intelligent without thereby implying that He gathers information from the perceptions of sense. Mansel takes it for granted that the divine attributes must denote accidental determinations distinct one from another: and that since in efficient causality as we know it, not merely is the effect related to the cause, but the cause to the effect, we must necessarily imply the same when we say that God is the First Cause. Yet this is not the case. When we attribute to God a perfection which is found in the created world, we understand that in Him it has none of the limitations which adhere to it as it belongs to the creature. In other words, we employ the word not univocally, but analogously. Already in a previous chapter (chap. iii., § 4) we have explained these expressions. A term is univocal if its signification is precisely the same in regard of all the subjects of which it is predicated. The senses of an analogous term, on the other hand, are not absolutely identical. They are similar: there is a proportional resemblance between them. If the attribute 'intelligent' were, indeed, univocal, it could not be predicated of God in any literal sense. For in the form in which we are familiar with intelligence, its activity is accidental: whereas in the Infinite a distinction between substance and accident is inconceivable. Every term which is predicated both of the finite and the Infinite, of creatures and of God, is analogous. And this being so, there is absolutely no ground for assuming that the limitations which condition the perfection as it is found in the creature, adhere to it in the Divine Being: or that the multiplicity and variety of the attributes predicated are incompatible with the simplicity of the Godhead. It will indeed appear that the Divine attributes, many though they be, all signify one and the same Supreme Perfection, in whom there is no distinction; but that by reason of the infinitude of that Perfection the human mind can only represent it under a diversity of aspects and by means of concepts differing one from another.

That the terms signifying those 'pure' perfections, which seen first in the creature are then attributed to God, are all analogous, is easily shewn. We have pointed out (chap. iii., § 4) that the transcendentals themselves -- Truth, Goodness and Unity -- are analogous and not univocal: that since they are not restricted to any one of those divisions of being which we term the Categories, and in consequence do not connote the limitations which such a division involves, there is no reason why they should not be found in Infinite Being itself, existing in a different mode, but the same as regards their essential character. God is said to be One and True and Good, without it being in any way implied that His Being is limited, or qualified by accidents. This is equally the case as regards His intelligence, His will, His life, His causality, etc., etc. Intelligence is not, like sense-perception, a knowledge restricted in its scope to certain particular aspects of reality, and essentially proportioned to these limited aspects. It embraces all being in its range. It is the power to know being as such. It is related to being in so far as it is true. In man it may be hedged in by limitations. But intelligence as such connotes no limitation: it is a knowledge no less appropriate to an Infinite than a finite nature. The same is true of will. Will is related to being in so far as good. It is the propension of a rational agent towards being apprehended by the intellect as good. Life is implied in intelligence and in volition. There are modes of life which are finite: but life as such, i.e., being in so far as endowed with the power of immanent action, does not involve finiteness. Efficient causality is the origination of being: final causality the purpose and end of being. All these terms, then, are, in the nature of things, analogous. And the same will be seen to be true as regards all other such attributes. We say that God is all-beautiful. Beauty is goodness, the contemplation of which brings delight to the mind. The moral virtues which we predicate of God (justice, mercy, etc., etc.) are the goodness of the Divine will in its various aspects.

Infinity, immutability, immensity, eternity, are attributes of an altogether different class. Here we are not concerned with something which is found, though in but a limited degree, in creatures also. These are perfections proper to God alone: and there is no call that the terms should be analogous. In the sections in which they are severally discussed it will appear clearly that they none of them involve any distinction in God. Here it is sufficient to note that infinity is simply the mode of being proper to God, just as finiteness is proper to creatures. It is not something additional to and distinct from that being. The other three are direct deductions from infinity, and are, in fact, but aspects under which infinite Being is apprehended in relation to creatures.

To understand the sense in which the same term may be employed of God and of the creature, it will be necessary to examine with some care the notion of analogy.

There are, as St. Thomas points out, two kinds of analogy, distinguished the one from the other by important differences. They are designated analogy of attribution and analogy of proportion{9} respectively.

We have analogy of attribution when a term is employed in a secondary sense (or senses) to denote things because of some relation which they bear to the reality which it signifies in its primary sense. Thus the term 'healthy' primarily signifies a quality proper only to a living body. But it is likewise used of food, of medicines, of the complexion, etc., etc., by reason of their respective relations to the health of the body. For food may be such as to promote health, medicine such as to restore it, a complexion such as to manifest it. These are, therefore, denominated healthy by attribution. The healthy body is known as the 'prime analogate': the things which receive the name in virtue of their relation to this are the 'secondary analogates.' It is characteristic of this species of analogy that the quality or 'form' properly signified by the term is found in the primary analogate alone. Secondary analogates receive the name by extrinsic denomination. Otherwise it would not be predicated of them by 'attribution.' Analogy of proportion arises when two different things display distinct but similar relations. Thus we speak of a man as being 'a pillar of the state' by analogy of this kind, because the relation which the man bears to his country is similar to the relation of a pillar to the building which it supports. So, too, we speak of a landscape as 'smiling,' when the beauty and fertility of a district makes Nature seem kindly and attractive in the same way that a smiling face will do, where persons are concerned. These are mere metaphors. But analogy of proportion may be real as well as metaphorical. It is real when the quality designated by the term is intrinsic to both analogates. Thus, we speak of 'sex' in regard both of animals and plants. The thing signified in the two cases is very different. But proportionally they are the same. There is a true analogy between sex in a vertebrate and sex in a dicotyledonous plant. So, too, we speak of the soul of a man, and the soul of a dog. It is only by analogy of proportion that the same term is employed of the indestructible spirit of man and the perishable vital principle of the brute. But, again, the analogy is real, not metaphorical.

When we affirm of God some perfection which is found in creatures, we do so by this second kind of analogy -- analogy of proportion. If the perfection is a 'mixed' perfection, including in its concept some imperfection, then we can only employ the analogy of metaphor. In this way we say that God is 'angry' with the wicked, that he 'lends an attentive ear' to the prayers of the just. The term employed denotes something which is intrinsic only to men. It is applied to God metaphorically because of a certain similarity of relations. But it is otherwise as regards 'pure' perfections. In this case the analogous term is predicated in a real not a metaphorical sense. When we say that God lives, that He created the world by intelligence and will, that He is just and merciful, we are well aware that in Him life, intelligence, will, etc., are something different to what they are in ourselves. Nevertheless, in each such case we hold that He veritably possesses the perfection signified. Although God's intelligence differs from our own, we are not wholly ignorant of its character: we know it as having the same relation to the Divine nature which our intelligence has to our nature. Kant saw correctly that our concepts of God must be analogical, and his explanation of the analogy here employed is in its general lines accurate.{10} But since he erroneously held that we neither have nor can have any knowledge whatever of God, he concludes that the fourth term of our proportion must likewise remain wholly unknown to us. In this he was mistaken. The mind has the power to form concepts which are truly, though of course inadequately representative of God. This is best seen in the most fundamental of such concepts, that of self-existent Being. We derive the concept of 'being' or 'thing,' in the first place, from created objects. We apprehend the objects of sense in a confused way as 'things.' But we recognize that this concept is absolutely universal: that there can be nothing to which it does not apply. The perfection expressed is one which is present everywhere -- in qualities, relations, etc., as well as in substances. Yet a substance is a 'thing' in a very different sense from that in which an accident is so termed: and a quality again in a different sense from a relation. Thus we realize that the term is analogous, not univocal. It expresses a perfection which is found in different degrees, between which there is only a proportional resemblance. It has not always, like the univocal term, exactly the same meaning. Its precise signification only appears when it is actually predicated of a particular subject.

But if the term 'being' is analogous, it is applicable, not merely to contingent created being, but to self-existent being: and, as thus understood, is truly representative of its object, God. God, then, is not a mere name, for which the mind has no corresponding idea, and to which in consequence it attaches, as Mansel contends, a number of notions which are mutually repugnant. Our power of forming analogous concepts gives us ideas which are truly applicable to Him. Reason compels us to admit the existence of a First Cause, the originating principle of the contingent beings which experience manifests: and the mind conceives that supreme source as self-existent being. The whole series of our deductions regarding the perfections of God is ultimately based on concepts of this character.

Kant was wholly mistaken when he declared that we have no means of forming any idea whatever of the unknown x which is to the Supreme Being what our intellect is to us. Analogy enables us to conceive a perfection related to the Divine nature as reason is related to human nature. There is, of course, between the two an immeasurable difference. The one is finite: the other infinite. The one, a mere faculty sometimes producing an act, sometimes not so: the other is identical, not merely with the Divine Being Itself, but with its own activity and its own act. We cannot express the two by a concept which, like our specific and generic notions, is identical in its reference to all its subjects. But the concept of intelligence is analogous, and as such is referable, in different but proportionate applications, to both.

In the same manner the terms, beauty, goodness, justice, unity, causality, etc., are none of them, any more than intelligence or will, univocal. Not one of these expresses a generic or specific nature, as do, e.g., such terms as colour, extension, corporeity. We cannot by means of abstraction form concepts of them such that whenever and wherever they are predicated, they always mean the same. It is only when they are actually predicated of a particular subject that we know the particular kind of goodness or beauty, etc., that is signified. Hence all these terms can be applied in their proper sense not merely to creatures, but to God as well.

It may, perhaps, be said that if there he a similarity of relations between human nature and its attributes on the one hand and the divine nature and its attributes on the other, a way is open to us to attain a full and perfect knowledge of God and to solve the riddles not merely of human, but of the divine being. So, indeed, it is contended by some. Thus, Principal Caird, when engaged in denying the possibility of mysteries, in the sense of truths revealed by God but impenetrable to human reason, enquires whether such truths may not be made known by analogies, and replies: "If a representation is a true representation, it must belong to the same order as the thing represented. The relation between them is a thinkable relation, and one which, though immature individual intelligence may not apprehend it, thought or intelligence in general is capable of apprehending."{11} Such reasoning would appear to view analogy after the fashion of a sum in proportion, in which, if the data are sufficient, we can readily arrive at an absolutely accurate knowledge of the unknown term. The resemblance of relations in an analogy is not of this kind. There is, for instance, a true proportional analogy between the perceptions of sense and the conceptions of reason in regard of their respective objects. But a knowledge of only one of these relations would not enable its possessor to attain a full and adequate idea of the other. How much more is this the case where one of the two relations involves an infinite nature. Do those who thus argue really believe that the human intellect is capable of forming an adequate mental representation of infinite being? The fallacy is patent.{12}

From a very different point of view it has been objected that in contending for a real, though analogical, knowledge of God, Scholasticism is inconsistent with itself. St. Thomas is express in asserting that while we can know God's existence, we cannot know what He is. We can know quia est (hoti esti) but not quid sit (ti esti). And the same teaching is common to the Schoolmen generally. How, then, can it be maintained consistently that we are able by analogy to acquire a very considerable measure of knowledge regarding God's nature? This difficulty has been recently urged by some modernist writers in defence of their own position. Yet the inconsistency is only apparent. In the terminology of St. Thomas, on the one hand, knowledge of the essence of a thing (quid res sit) requires far more than the analogical knowledge which we have described, and, on the other, knowledge quia est may include a good deal besides the bare fact of existence. We know quid res sit when our mind can form a concept accurately representing its constitutive principle, the form which makes the thing what it is. Such is the knowledge we have, e.g., of a mathematical figure, when we are able to give its definition. This, manifestly, is impossible in regard of God. We cannot form a concept expressing His essential nature as it is in itself. We represent Him by a series of concepts, which either remove from Him some limitation proper to creatures, e.g., infinite, immutable, or else signify some perfection, which we know as found in finite creatures, and which, inasmuch as it is analogous and not confined to its finite mode of realization, is attributable to God. These, however, give us only an imperfect and confused knowledge of Him.{13} But when our knowledge of anything, though real as far as it goes, is thus obscure, and falls short of an apprehension of that essential nature which makes it what it is, it is still classed by the Schoolmen, following the Aristotelian terminology, as knowledge quia est.

In this connection St. Thomas cites with approval the teaching of the pseudo-Dionysius to the effect that those perfections which are common to God and creatures are predicable of Him in three ways, termed respectively the way of affirmation, the way of negation, and the way of eminence.{14} The way of affirmation is exemplified when, e.g., we say that God is just and wise and merciful. In such predications we have regard to the perfections signified by the terms wisdom, justice and mercy. But as we have explained at length, these attributes are not in God after the manner in which our minds are constrained to conceive them: for we can only conceive them as they are found in creatures, viz., as accidental forms distinct one from another. In God there can be nothing of this kind. His plenitude of being can receive no accidental determination: nor can there be in Him any composition of diverse elements, but only the one simple and supreme perfection which is Himself. From this point of view it may be said that God does not possess wisdom or mercy or justice. This is the way of negation. But these negations do not arise from any deficiency in God. They do not imply that He is devoid of these perfections, but on the contrary, that He possesses them in a mode which exceeds our power of comprehension. This brings us to the way of eminence: and we say that God is superlatively wise, superlatively just, etc., etc. He is, in the words of the Areopagite, 'the affirmation of all things, the negation of all things, that which is above all affirmation and all negation.'{15}

3. Solution of the difficulties. In the analogical character of our knowledge of God lies the solution of the agnostic arguments enumerated at the beginning of this chapter. This is manifest as regards Kant's contention that we cannot attribute reason or will to God, inasmuch as both intelligence and appetition, as we know them, are dependent for their exercise on sensible data. We shall shew that it is no less true of the other objections there mentioned. It will be convenient to treat first the difficulty urged by Mansel that a plurality of attributes is altogether inconsistent with the simplicity which the consentient voice of theistic philosophers declares to be a characteristic of the Divine nature.

In accordance with the doctrine of analogy we reply that the perfections which in creatures are found as distinct determinations, as, e.g., justice and mercy, or even as separate faculties, as, e.g., intellect and will, exist in God as one simple Reality, infinite perfection, containing within itself, but in a higher manner which our minds cannot conceive, all those aspects of goodness which in creatures are found distinct from one another. That supreme and simple Reality is the Divine essence. The limited powers of the human intellect on the one hand, and on the other the infinitude of the object under consideration, compel us to represent it by a number of different concepts drawn from those created perfections of which it is the source. These we call divine attributes. They are justly affirmed of God, and, notwithstanding their plurality, do not in any way, if rightly understood, imply any distinction in the Godhead.

Yet here a new problem awaits us. If the divine attributes are but one and the same reality, have they not one and all the same signification. When we speak of justice and mercy in a man, we speak of different things. But in God the thing is ever the same. How, then, can we avoid the conclusion that the divine attributes are synonymous one with another: that we may say with equal truth, God pardons by His justice and punishes by His mercy, as that He pardons through mercy, and punishes through His justice? Yet to admit this would be to own that those terms which designate the divine attributes are not analogous in their reference to God and creatures, but equivocal.

The objection overlooks the fact that speech is immediately significative, not of things as they are in themselves, but as mentally conceived. The word denotes the thing, not the concept; but it denotes the thing as known by the mind. Now, since we do not know God directly, but only through the effects which He produces in the created world, we form concepts of Him viewed as the source of this or that created perfection. We conceive Him as merciful, as just, as wise, etc., thereby signifying that the plenitude of the Divine substance contains, in the mode proper to it, the perfections expressed by these terms. In Him, it is true, these perfections coalesce: they are one with the Divine substance and one with each other: but the terms are not interchangeable. Our minds can form no single concept to express that all-embracing unity of being: our only resource is to form partial concepts, each of which exhibits some aspect of the Divine fullness.

On this point the Scholastic logic provided, as usual, a clear and precise terminology. Between the divine attributes there is, it was said, 'a conceptual distinction grounded on the reality (distinctio rationis cum fundamento in re).'{16} The attributes, that is, are not distinct determinations in God, as are justice and mercy in man: the distinction is the work of the mind. But it is grounded on the reality, because the fullness of the Divine being contains all that is involved in these terms.{17}

We may now direct our attention to the difficulties connected with causation. It was asserted that the notion of causality is wholly incompatible with the concepts of the Infinite and the Absolute. We touched upon the question of the causality of the Infinite, when, in our discussion of the proof of God's existence from movement, we were dealing with the notion of the motor immobilis. Little will be needed now beyond a recapitulation of what was there said. We pointed out that the causes with which our experience makes us familiar are such as can only exercise causality in virtue of a change in themselves. Until this change takes place they remain causes in potency only. To pass from potency to act they must receive a new accidental determination which we term 'action,' and which constitutes them as 'agents.' Moreover, so far as the physical order is concerned, all causation involves corporeal action. But the term cause is analogous, as the term being is analogous. As being is predicated alike of those finite essences which are called out of nothingness, and of the self-existent essence which is in act from all eternity, so, too, the term cause is applicable, not merely to causes which are to begin with causes in potency and only subsequently causes in act, but to that Cause which needs no ulterior determination, but is a cause in the full sense of the term, a cause in act, from all eternity. God is the motor immobilis; in Him causation involves no change. He does not cause by external corporeal activity: nor does He need any internal change in order to produce His effects.

It may, indeed, be urged that if the cause be such ab eterno, the effect likewise must take place through all time, and be without beginning and without end. The conclusion, however, is fallacious, and is due to the error of conceiving eternity as an endless succession of time. Eternity, as we shall shew, is outside time and above time. But the discussion of this difficulty is reserved for the chapter on Creation (chap. xiv., § 3), as it can hardly be treated satisfactorily until the notion of eternity has been fully considered. For similar reasons we defer two other difficulties closely connected with our subject. It is urged that the idea of finite being, external to and distinct from infinite being, is self-contradictory: that to admit the existence of anything else is ipso facto to own that the Infinite is not infinite. And, further, it is contended that if God be a cause in act by virtue of His essence, there is no room in Him for the exercise of free-will: for wherever free-will makes a choice there must arise an internal act, which might have been other than it is. These two points will be dealt with in the chapters on the Divine essence (chap. ix., § 3) and the Divine will (chap. xii., § 3) respectively.

But is the idea of God as the First Cause compatible with the notion of Him as the Absolute? Is it the case that if we regard Him as the Creator, we necessarily admit that He is related to, and consequently determined by, the created universe, and for that reason cannot be the Absolute?

To deal with this question we must distinguish between two kinds of relation -- 'real relations' (relationes reales), in which the connection between one thing and another belongs to them as existing realities: and 'conceptual relations' (relationes rationis), in which we mentally regard things as connected, though there is no corresponding objective relation. Thus there is a real relation between the moon and the tides, between a number of men who are marching in step with each other, between the sculptor and the statue. But there is only a conceptual relation between the subject and predicate of a proposition: for in the real world subject and predicate are one and the same thing, conceived by us under diverse aspects. Similarly there is but a conceptual relation between a word and the thing which it signifies. The mind establishes a connection between the thing and a particular sound which is to serve as its sign; but the two are not objectively connected. A real relation confers on the substance which acquires it a new and real determination in the world of things. Order or harmony is a principal perfection of the beings which form this created universe. And in so far as anything is 'ordered to' another, it is thereby perfected. The connection with another entity is an increment of its being- -- an accidental perfection added to its substantial reality. Hence it is altogether impossible that God should be related to the creatures which He has made, by a real relation. He is not, so to speak, a part of a wider whole, which embraces both Himself and finite things, and whose constituents are perfected by their reciprocal relations. Creatures, it is true, are related to Him -- they are 'ordered to' Him as effects to their Cause -- but He is in no sense 'ordered to' them. We must, however, shew that such a condition is possible. In the immense majority of instances, relations, whether real or conceptual, are what is termed 'mutual': that is, the relation is either real in both of the related objects or conceptual in both of them. But cases occur in which a relation is real on one side and conceptual on the other. These are termed 'non-mutual.' An example is furnished by the relation between a material object and the mental concept representing it. The object is the exemplar cause of the concept, the 'measure' in conformity with which it is formed. The intellect confronted with the data which sense-perception offers, forms within itself, by its own immanent activity, the concept of which the object is the exemplar.{18} This being so, it is manifest that the concept is related to the object by a real relation. It really depends on it. But the object is not in any sense 'referred to' the concept. It belongs to an entirely distinct order of being -- to the world of real things and not to the world of ideas. The existence of an idea representing it does not affect it in any way: it confers on it no new determination. Mentally, it is true, we view the object in relation to the concept just as we view the concept in relation to the thing which it represents: for in the mind every relation involves a pair of correlatives. But objectively the relation is non-mutual. It is no less evident how the case stands as regards God and the created universe, An effect is necessarily related to its cause, the world to the Creator. But when the cause lies wholly outside the system of things to which the effect belongs, and therefore gains no perfection from its production, then the cause is not objectively related to the effect. The relation on the side of the Creator is conceptual, not real.{19}

It should, however, be noted that where efficient causality is in question, it is only in regard of the First Cause, the motor immobilis, that a non-mutual relation can arise. Every other efficient cause acquires a new perfection by acting. The new activity is an increment of its being -- a realization of what has been a mere potency. But in God, as will be explained later, there are no unrealized potencies. He works His effects without internal change.

We have finally to notice the difficulty that, if we attribute intelligence to God, we are driven to admit that there is in Him the internal relation between the thinking subject and the object thought. This distinction, it is urged, is inseparable from the action of intelligence. Yet to admit it is in consistent alike with the Divine simplicity and with our notion of God as the Absolute.

The solution to this difficulty is similar to that of those which we have been considering. The term intelligence, as indeed we have already pointed out, is analogous. If we treat it as univocal, and argue as though the divine intellect must resemble our own, we shall inevitably involve ourselves in fallacious conclusions. When, in the chapter dealing with the Divine intellect, we come to consider what is really involved in the notion of the intelligence proper to an infinitely perfect Being, we shall see that in God the distinction between subject and object vanishes. In Him the intellect, its act, and its object coalesce in one single perfection embracing elements which in us are necessarily distinct: and this perfection is identical with the divine Essence.

Personality affords another instance of a perfection predicated analogously of God and of man. The traditional definition of 'person' first given by Boethius declares the term to signify 'a concrete individual whose essential nature is rational' (substantia individua rationalis naturae){20} Two notes are thus assigned as primary, viz., the incommunicability of the individual, and rationality. Two derivative characteristics, however, seem also to enter into our conception of personality. A being possessed of reason is an end in a way which irrational things are not: and, further, on this account it is rightly said to exist for itself. It is manifest that the notion of personality as thus explained is verified in God, though in a manner altogether transcending what is found in creatures. He is infinite intelligence: He is an end and exists for Himself in a supreme degree: and in Him there must be found the incommunicability of the individual, even though our human reason does not permit us to determine whether the oneness of the divine nature involves that there should be only one individual in the Godhead.

In this age the personality of God has not been allowed to go unquestioned. A personal God is incompatible with pantheism. Hence, thinkers of the Hegelian school urge various difficulties against the doctrine of divine personality. These, for the most part, owe such speciousness as they possess to the mistaken supposition that the limitations proper to human personality must be present in all personality as such. Thus it is argued that the consciousness of self which characterizes personality necessarily involves the consciousness of an other than self, and that hence personality and infinity are mutually exclusive.{21} It is doubtless true that we ourselves only come to realize our personality in so far as we become conscious of something extraneous to ourselves. This is due to the nature of the human intelligence, which at first is blank like a tabula rasa, and derives its knowledge from without. The Divine Mind contemplating its own infinite perfections can need no non-ego to reveal to it its own personality. It may further be noted that consciousness of a non-ego does not constitute personality. A newly-born infant, even though it should have no such consciousness, is a person. Again, it is said of those who argue for personality in God: "The Deity, which they want, is of course finite, a person much like themselves, with thoughts and feelings limited and mutable in the process of time."{22} Such a travesty is only rendered possible by the failure to recognize that the principle of analogy renders it conceivable that the Divine Nature should have all the perfections which belong to personality, so that the relations between God and His creatures may be in the fullest sense what are termed personal relations, and that He should nevertheless be immutable and infinite.

4. Modernism and agnosticism. The system of thought called modernism was an attempt to accept the postulates of Kantian philosophy without going the full length of religious agnosticism. The modernist writers, while admitting the agnostic premisses, claimed to have transcended the conclusion to which they lead, and to have found a basis for professing many of the truths concerning God which had hitherto been regarded as the results of rational demonstration. The scope of the system was by no means purely philosophical. It was, in fact, a complete reconstruction of religion, as regards thought and practice alike. Here, however, we are only concerned with it in its relation to Natural Theology. We have no occasion to touch on it in its other aspects except quite incidentally.

It was fundamental with the modernists that our cognitive faculties cannot reach extra-mental reality, but that their sole object is phenomena: and, further, that metaphysical principles like the principle of causality are not, as they seem, the expression of objective and necessary truth, but are due to "certain inborn categories of the human mind." It follows immediately from this that Natural Theology in the traditional sense is out of the question: that the proofs of the existence of God and the arguments which establish His attributes are entirely futile. "We recognize," say the authors of the Programme of Modernism, "that the arguments for the existence of God, drawn by scholastic metaphysic from change and movement, from the finite and contingent nature of things, from the degrees of perfection, and from the design and purpose of the world, have lost all value nowadays. The conceptions on which these arguments rest have now, owing to the post-Kantian criticism both of abstract and empirical sciences and of philosophical language, lost that character of absoluteness which they possessed for the medieval Aristotelians. Since the mere conventionality of every abstract representation of reality has been demonstrated, it is clear, not only that such arguments fall to pieces, but that it is idle to construct others of the same class."{23}

On what grounds, then, did the modernists believe in God, and affirm of Him those attributes without which we should not be conceiving a personal Divine Being, but simply the Unknowable of Spencer. They could not, having rejected philosophical proofs, appeal to the testimony of positive revelation: for they accepted the opinion, regarded by certain recent thinkers as an axiomatic truth, that every principle, speculative or practical, to which the mind yields an absolute assent, must be in its origin autonomous and autochthonous. "We find ourselves," the work just cited informs us, "in harmony with one of the fundamental tendencies of contemporary philosophy, and which is even considered the very condition of the possibility of a philosophy -- the immanental tendency. According to this principle, nothing can enter into and get hold of man's spirit that does not spring from it and in some way correspond to its need of self-expansion. For it there is no fixed truth, no unalterable precept, that is not in some way self-imposed and innate" (p. 109). They believed, however, that in this very doctrine of Immanence they had found a solution to the problem. Man feels within himself, it was asserted, a need for the divine. There arises within him a feeling -- a stirring of the heart -- impelling him to grope blindly after its connatural object, and he finds that object in God. "Not only our animal and race appetites and instincts, but also our spiritual craving for the divine precede any explicit knowledge on our part of the objects to which they are directed, It is solely by groping and trying that we discover what satisfies and explains them."{24} Religion is a vital activity of human nature, and is thus its own adequate justification: it needs no proof to establish the validity of its conclusions. "It may here be assumed," writes the author from whom we have just quoted, "that the divine which is immanent in man's spirit does naturally and inevitably at a certain stage of his mental and moral progress reveal itself to him, however dimly, as a vita nuova, a new sort of life, the life of religion, with its needs and its cravings for self-adjustment to realities lying beyond the bourne of time and place: that reflecting on this need man seeks to explain it to himself by various conceptions and beliefs."{25} In virtue of this internal experience men recognize the existence of God, and further are led to form a certain mental representation of His nature. These conceptions they embody in dogmatic formulas. And in so far as such formulas correspond, not merely to the experience of the individual, but to that of society as a whole, they have a valid claim on our acceptance.{26} It is thus, and not by reasoned demonstration nor by revelation communicated ab extra that man comes to a knowledge of God.

The attitude of modernism to Natural Theology is now clear. Its adherents followed Schleiermacher in denying all distinction between natural and supernatural religion. They admitted but one way of attaining knowledge of God -- the way of experience. This from different points of view might be regarded either as natural or as supernatural. Ordinarily, indeed, they spoke of it as 'revelation.' Yet, since they held it to be the result of the normal operation of our faculties, they might with better reason have styled it Natural Theology. But they desired to give this meaning to the word 'revelation,' that they might thus lend colour to their view that the revelations made by the prophets and by the Founder of Christianity Himself were, in fact, knowledge obtained in this fashion, differing only in degree, not in kind, from the knowledge of God common to every member of the race.{27}

But in what sense, it may be asked, can we reckon these conclusions as knowledge? Are our conceptions of God true in the sense that they correspond with objective reality? If this is not what is meant, then to call them true is a mere juggling with words. But this the modernist does not claim. Our conceptions of God, Sabatier maintains, are purely symbolical. They cannot be otherwise: for the categories of the understanding are only applicable in the phenomenal world of space and time. They express, not objective reality, but the relation in which the thinking subject feels himself to stand towards God. The ideas which we form of God, the attributes which we predicate of Him, are all metaphorical.{28} On this point Tyrrell is equally clear. Speaking of 'revelation' he says: "In what sense are religious revelations divinely authorized? What sort of truth is guaranteed to them by 'the seal of the spirit'? In accordance with what has been already said, we must answer -- a truth which is directly practical, preferential, approximative, and only indirectly speculative. What is immediately approved, as it were, experimentally, is a way of living, feeling and acting, with reference to the other world."{29} Our 'knowledge' of God, in other words, has a pragmatist value; but it has no claim to be regarded as true in the sense that it is really representative of Him.

Modernism, it is manifest, fails altogether to make good its claim to transcend the agnostic conclusions of Spencer. The 'symbols' which it offers us, avail us nothing, for we have no means of discovering what they symbolize, or, indeed, whether, far from being true symbols, they are not mere fancies, only of value because, as things stand, they are found to assist us in some measure towards the harmonious ordering of life. Of God, as He is, they can tell us absolutely nothing. If the modernist teaching be true, then we cannot even tell whether the supreme object, of which, they tell us, the soul is dimly conscious and towards which it blindly struggles, be personal or impersonal. Indeed, so far as we know, the word 'personal' may have no meaning as applied to the sphere to which that ultimate being belongs. That term is a coin from out our own mint, and may not be current in other regions. The utmost we can say is that it is well for us to act as though there were a personal God. The same holds good as regards other attributes such as intelligence, will, omnipotence, justice, mercy. They serve to direct our action; but we should be deceiving ourselves if we supposed that we have any grounds for holding that our conceptions are representative of reality and help us to know God as He is. We are, after all, left with Spencer's conclusion and no other: that besides the world of phenomena there exists an inscrutable Beyond.

{1} Limits of Religious Thought (4th edit.), p. 31; cited by Spencer, First Principles, § 13.

{2} Cf. E. Caird, Philosophy of Kant, p. 648. "To argue positively from the contingency of this world to the existence of a necessary being, which is external to it, and related to it only as cause to effect, is to reduce the necessary being to another contingent. For if this world is determined only as an effect, and is conditioned by its cause, the necessary being is at the same time determined only as a cause, and is conditioned by its effect."

{3} Op. cit., p. 33.

{4} Moses ben Maimon, born at Cordova, 1135, died at Cairo, 1204. He was the greatest of the medieval Jewish thinkers. He also attained eminence in the science of medicine, and was physician to the Sultan of Egypt. It is said that Richard Coeur-de-lion, when in Palestine, offered him a similar position at his court. His treatment of the Divine attributes is contained in Pt. I., cc. lv. - lviii. of his work. A full discussion of the agnosticism of Maimonides may be found in P. Chossat's article Agnosticisme in d' Alès' Dictionnaire apologétique de la foi Catholique.

{5} Summa Theol., I., q. 13; Contra Gent., I., cc. xxxi. - xxxiv.; De Pot., q. 7, art. 4 -- 7, etc.

{6} Cf. De Pot., q. 7, art. 5. "Cum omne agens agat in quantum actu est, et per consequens agat aliqualiter simile, oportet formam facti aliquo modo esse in agente: diversimode tamen. . . . Quando vero effectus non adaequat virtutem agentis, forma non est secundum eandem rationem in agente et facto, sed in agente eminentius."

{7} Supra.

{8} De Pot., q. 7, art. 5, ad 2.

{9} St. Thomas terms them analogia proportionis and analogia proportionalitatis respectively. The employment of names so similar could only be productive of confusion. Hence the term analogia attributionis has been commonly used in place of analogia proportionis. The expression analogia attributionis does not actually occur in St. Thomas, but is founded on the terminology which he employs in Opusc. 27 De Principiis Naturae. 'Proportionalitas' is the word by which he designates the parity of two numerical proportions, e.g., 5 : 7 :: 15 : 21. We have no English word for this except proportion.' In De Veritate, q. 2, art. ii, he somewhat unduly restricts the sense of analogia attributionis, and is in consequence led to deny that it is ever applicable to the case of God and creatures. This opinion he elsewhere abandons (In Boeth. de Trin., q. 1, a. 2, ad 3).

{10} After stating that we are 'obliged to regard the world as though it were the work of a supreme understanding and will,' he says in the next section: "Such a cognition as this is one according to analogy, which does not signify an imperfect resemblance of two things, as the word is commonly taken to mean, but a perfect resemblance of two relations between totally dissimilar things." Kant here makes the conditions of an analogy somewhat too strict. It is not necessary that the resemblance between the relations should be perfect. It is sufficient that there should be a real, even though in some respects, an imperfect resemblance. In the same way the things in question need not be 'totally' dissimilar.

{11} Caird, Philosophy of Religion, p. 73.

{12} The real ground why Principal Caird holds it impossible that there can be any truth inscrutable to the human intelligence lies, of course, far deeper than this. According to his philosophy there is no essential difference between the divine and the human intelligence. There is one universal reason which emerges in different personalities, but ultimately is the same. "The real presupposition of all knowledge, or the thought which is the prius of all things, is not the individual's consciousness of himself as an individual, but a thought or self-consciousness which is beyond all individual selves, which is the unity of all individual selves and their objects, of all thinkers and all objects of thought. . . We might even say that, strictly speaking, it is not we that think but the universal reason that thinks in us " (p. 149). The doctrine is a form of Hegelian pantheism, though Dr. Caird, at the cost of inconsistency, rejects the pantheistic conclusion.

{13} "Haec omnia, ens, bonum, perfectum, substantia, sapiens, justus et similia, quae proprie de Deo dicuntur, communia sunt creaturis: quod si velimus ea concipere, ut propria sunt Deo, id facere non possumus nisi sub confusione quadam, ut cum dicimus Deum esse summe sapientem, aut ens complectens omnem perfectionem, vel quid simile. Plerumque autem id facimus adjuncta negatione illius imperfectionis quam tale praedicatum solet in creaturis habere, ut aliquo modo explicemus id quod confuse apprehendimus de tali perfectione prout in Deo est." Suarez, Metaph., Disp. 30, sect. 12.

{14} De Pot., q. 7, art. 5, ad 2; cf. Dionysius Areop. De Div. Nom., c. ii., § 3; c. vii., § 3, etc.

{15} De Div. Nom., c. ii., § 4. hê pantôn thesis, hê pantôn aphairesis, to huper pasan kai thesin kai aphairesin.

{16} It is sometimes termed distinctio rationis cum fundamento imperfecto. A conceptual distinction is said to have fundamentum perfectum when one of the forms thus distinguished can be realized apart from the other. Thus the distinction between genus and differentia is a conceptual distinction. Yet the generic nature is found without this or that particular differentia. Animality is found without the rationality which is its differentiating note in man. Between these two therc is a distinctio rationis cum fundamento perfecto.

{17} Scotus refused to admit the distinction of the attributes to be due to the operation of our own minds, which can only express the Divine plenitude after this fashion. He held that there must be an objective distinction between them viewed as forms; though they were certainly not to be regarded as distinct realities to the prejudice of the Divine simplicity. Unless such a distinction were admitted he did not see how the reality of our predications could be defended. It was replied that if the distinction was antecedent to the operation of the intellect, it must inevitably be between different realities, and thus be inconsistent with the simplicity of God's essence.

{18} Note that the intellect, not the material object, is the efficient cause of the concept. The intellect, employing the data of sense, produces the concept in itself. See Maher, Psychology, c. xiv.

{19} "Quandoque vero relatio in uno extremorum est res naturae, et in altero est res rationis tantum: et hoc contingit quandocunque duo extrema non sunt unius ordinis: sicut sensus et scientia referuntur ad sensibile et scibile: quae quidem in quantum sunt res quaedam in esse naturali existentes, sunt extra ordinem esse sensibilis et intelligibilis. Et ideo in scientia quidem et sensu est relatio realis secundum quod ordinantur ad sciendum vel sentiendum res. Sed res ipsae in se consideratae sunt extra ordinem hujusmodi. Unde in eis non est aliqua relatio realiter ad scientiam et sensum, sed secundum rationem tantum. . . . Cum igitur Deus sit extra ordinem totum creaturae, et omnes creaturae ordinentur ad ipsum et non e converso: manifestum est quod creaturae realiter referuntur ad ipsum Deum: sed in Deo non est aliqua realis relatio ejus ad creaturas, sed secundum rationem tantum." Summa Theol., I., q. 12, art. 7.

{20} In this definition the term substantia represents the Greek hupostasis not ousia. Hence substantia individua seems to be correctly rendered 'a concrete individual.' Rufinus had previously, and more correctly translated hupostasis by subsistentia -- a word, which he seems to have coined for the purpose from subsistere. (Cf. e.g. Hist. Eccl., I. 29, P.L. 21, col. 499.)

{21} McTaggart, Some Dogmas, etc., § 167.

{22} Bradley, Appearance and Reality, p. 532.

{23} Programme of Modernism (Engl. trans., 1908), p. 118.

{24} G. Tyrrell, rhrough Scyila and Charybdis, p. 172.

{25} Op. cit., p. 205.

{26} A. Sabatier, Esquisse d'une philosophie de la religion, pp. 55, 56. M. Sabatier was a liberal Protestant. But his work was a potent factor in the formation of modernism, and is recognized as affording a convenient summary of the system.

{27} Tyrrell, op. cit., p. 208.

{28} Esquisse, etc., pp. 390-400.

{29} Scylla and Charybdis, p. 210; cf. Mansel, op. cit., p. 84.

<< Principles of Natural Theology >>