134. We shall briefly explain those of God's quiescent attributes about which it is most important for all Christians to have distinct ideas.
1. God is a spirit, that is, an immaterial substance having intellect and will. "God is a spirit", said Christ to the Samaritan woman (Jo. IV, 26); and the whole seventh chapter of the Book of Wisdom describes God in terms that can belong only to a spirit.
If then He is a spirit, God has no human form: He is not anthropomorphic. But when the Scriptures attribute to Him hands, ears, feet, etc., they do so figuratively. This they declare by the words of Job: "Hast Thou eyes of flesh? or shalt Thou see as man seeth? etc." (X, 4). So too they speak figuratively when they attribute to Him human passions, as of hatred, joy, pity, repentance, etc. When God acts in a way in which a man would act if he repented, He is said to repent; just as He is said to use His hands if He does that which, if done by man, would be the work of his hands. When man is said to have been created in the image and likeness of God, the reference is to his spiritual soul. This matter is not now in controversy; but it was formerly taught by various heretics that God is anthropomorphic.
2. God is infinite, possessing all simple perfections formally, and all mixed perfections eminently, that is, in a higher manner. We call a simple, or pure, perfection, one that implies no imperfection; for instance, wisdom, power, knowledge. We call mixed perfections those which exclude some simple perfection; such would be improvement, repentance, recovery, etc.
That God is infinite follows from His being uncaused; for the limitations of an effect result from a cause which gives just so much and no more. Besides, God is the fount of all being, and therefore all being must be in some way in Him. "Of the greatness of God there is no end" (Ps. 144). The point is not attacked by any who believe in Scripture.
3. God is one. For He is infinite, and the coexistence of two infinite beings is absurd. For there can be no difference between two things except as far as one lacks something which the other has ; now any lack is inconsistent with infinity. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord" (Deut. VI, 4). St. Irenaeus remarks that if there be two Gods, there is an end of their omnipotence; since, both being free, they could wish contradictory things to happen, which could not be realized.
4. It also follows from God's infinity that He is absolutely simple; that is, He does not consist of parts of any kind. This is clear to reason. For suppose God consisted of parts, that is, of things less than the whole and really distinct from each other. These parts could not be severally infinite; else they would not be less than the whole. Nor could they be finite. Certainly a finite multitude of finite parts could not make up an infinite being; and an infinite multitude is absurd. For imagine one part to be taken away; the remainder would be finite, and yet it would differ from the infinite by a finite part, which is absurd. God's
It follows from the simplicity of God: (a) That the three Divine Persons are not parts of God, but each is God whole and entire; (b) That God's existence is His essence, not something added to it; (c) That His wisdom, justice, mercy, and all His attributes are not really distinct from each other nor from His essence. We speak of them as distinct, because we thus express our limited and different views of God, conceiving Him now as knowing, now as rewarding and punishing, now as pitying, etc.; (d) That there is no real distinction between His power to act and His acts; for instance, whatever He wills, He wills from eternity. He is thus all act, which truth theologians express by saying He is a "pure act" (actus purus).
5. Since God is infinite, He exists without limit of space; this is called His immensity. Not only His knowledge and power, but His very essence is unbounded; He is not diffused like the extension of bodies, which have parts outside of parts, but He is whole and entire without any distinction of parts. All spirits are whole and entire wherever they are, but created spirits are limited to a portion of space; God alone is unlimited: "He is higher than heaven, . . . deeper than hell, . . . longer than the earth, etc." (Job XI, 89).
6. The immensity of God has existed from eternity; but He could not be present in any creature before creatures existed; His presence in all creatures is called His omnipresence. "He is a God at hand, and not afar off" (Jer. XXIII, 23); "Present in Heaven, in hell, and in the uttermost parts" (Ps. 138); "In whom we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts XVII, 27). St. Augustine says distinctly, "God is everywhere" (Ep. 20). When we speak of God as specially present in Heaven, in a just soul, in a church even when the Blessed Sacrament is not there, the meaning is that He produces there special effects. But if God is everywhere, what is the use of pilgrimages? God is pleased at times to grant special efficacy to prayer when it is made in certain places; He did so in the Old Law (3 Kings VIII, 29, 30). It may be asked, is it not unworthy of God to be in the devils? St. Augustine answers that in them He manifests His justice.
7. God being infinite can acquire nothing, and being simple He can lose nothing; therefore He is immutable: "With Him there is no change nor shadow of alteration" (James I, 17). How then, having been alone from all eternity, did He become Creator? Was that no change? There was a change, but not in God; His creatures began to exist, and from them He is denominated "Creator".
8. Eternity properly signifies an existence which has neither beginning, nor end, nor change; it is defined by Boethius as a simultaneously full and perfect possession of interminable life. "Before the mountains were made, or the earth and the world were formed, from eternity to eternity, Thou art God" (Ps. 89). St. Gregory Nazianzen expresses the doctrine very neatly: "God ever was and is and will be, or rather He ever is"; for the was and will be of the time familiar to us are scraps belonging to a fleeting nature (Or. 38, 7).
Of course no man should pretend to explain all difficulties that can be suggested regarding matters so exalted as the perfections of God. We do not understand fully even the simplest things in nature; for instance, how we raise our hands. St. Augustine warns us to avoid perilous questions, and not to suppose we can understand everything (De Civ. Dei, 12, 15).
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