Showing posts with label divine attributes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label divine attributes. Show all posts

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Part 6: What Is God? The Divine Attributes

Continuing this series on the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas given in fourteen lectures by Professor Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and King's College.  A short note before I dig into this lecture.  I've noticed that these entries are getting way too long.  I think I need to pare down some of the lecture notes and only give a bullet point style outline of the lectures (of course when I came to the end I noticed I really hadn't shortened it much).

First about Thomas' philosophy in general, three things: disciplined, only going as far as logic takes it, his abstract deduction is fruitful from small premises a great edifice is built, although theoretical in nature Thomas' philosophy is full of powerful practicality.

To answer this question, "What is God?"  Thomas starts off, we can't know exactly what God is only what He is not.  All of the divine attributes are negations.  Infinite: not finite, Eternal: no termination, immutable: not changing, even oneness has a meaning that includes not divisible.  He starts off with and finishes with, God's unity.

Here are some of the compositional possibilities that Thomas proves cannot be within God:
He is not composed of material parts, of matter and form, of subject and nature, or substance and attributes, of essence and existence, of genus and difference, of substance and accident, of any other composition at all, or of composition with other beings.
God doesn't lack any perfection which exists within any genus.  The "argument" for God's perfection doesn't seem like an argument so much as an assertion.  God is such and such.  E.g. beauty, whatever beauty we recognize in the things we see, is in God fully actualized and whole, without limits.  A detachment from worldly beauty is a deeper appreciation of beauty because true beauty is in God.

The goodness of existence has two proofs for Thomas, one that all desire goodness, and perfection is only as far as a thing is actual, existence is what makes all things actual, existence is goodness.  That's not to say there isn't evil, that's from moral choices.  Just that existence itself is good.  Also, everything that exists is either the Creator or the creation.  The Creator is perfect goodness and anything the perfectly good Creator makes must also be good.  Thomas agrees with Aristotle that there are "three kinds of goodness: the pleasant, the useful, and the virtuous."  All things are created with these three things, it's only moral choices that can be virtuous or vicious.

The next feature is infinity.  An interesting comparison with Greek and Roman philosophy here, because in Greek and Roman thought infinitude is a negative thing.  Prof Kreeft's reasoning is that they were thinking too concretely/literally when it came to God.  They envisioned things in the physical sense.  God being infinitely tall or big would be a negative concept.  That's evident in their theology, even the greatest of their gods had physical bodies, physical attributes.  The God of Judaism and Christianity is infinite in His spiritual characteristics wisdom, goodness etc.

Next on omnipresent:
“God is in all things not as part of their essence nor as an accident but as an agent is present to that upon which it works . . . And since God is being itself by His own essence, created being must be His proper effect, as to ignite is the proper effect of fire. Now God causes this effect in things not only when they first begin to be, but as long as they are preserved in being (that distinguishes him from Deism), as light is caused in the air by the sun as long as the air remains illuminated. Therefore as long as a thing has being, God must be present to it. (Now watch what second premise he adds to this first premise to prove his stunning conclusion.) But being is innermost in each thing and most fundamentally inherent in all things. Hence God is in all things, and innermostly.” (Quote from lecture notes.  Prof Kreeft's interjections in parentheses.)
I could be mistaken here, and I don't want to try to claim that science has proven God or even described God per se, but I see an interesting parallel between Thomas' arguments and the idea of strong and weak nuclear forces (or all four of the "fundamental forces").  Prof Kreeft goes on to say that God is more present to everything than that thing is to itself.  God is more present to you than you are to yourself.  This does not contradict God's transcendence, see above God is not "of composition with other beings," because God is not in a way physically present in everything (that's why I'm not so sure about the fundamental forces parallel), rather God is present in everything as a mind or will.  God's transcendence is such that He's not limited by space (or time).

Next is immutability: "God is pure actuality, without potentiality. All mutability, all change, begins with something potential and actualizes it. If there’s nothing potential in God, there’s no change in God. If there were, then some new perfection would be gained or some old perfection would be lost, and then God would not be perfect at every moment."  (Quote from lecture notes, not Thomas' writings.)  Part of immutability is wrapped up in eternality, that is to an eternal being there is no future, no change, no movement through time.  As humans we move through time one moment at a time, to God all moments are simultaneously now.  As a side note not really mentioned in the lecture.  Coming from this argument it's a simple step to say God is omniscient.  If God is everywhere, at all times obviously He knows all things.

Lastly, unity (against polytheism):
“The unity of God is proved from the infinity of His perfection. For it was shown above that God comprehends in Himself the whole perfection of being. If then many gods existed, they would necessarily differ from each other. Something therefore would belong to the one which did not belong to the other. And if this were a privation, one of them would not be absolutely perfect; but if it were a perfection, one of them would be without it. So it is impossible for many gods to exist.”
How does this work with the Trinity?  The concept of the Triune God doesn't conflict with this concept of oneness as much as people think.  Thomas' theological points on this matter echo or quote Bernard of Clairvaux, that God, is love and the unity of love is stronger and more perfect than the unity in the mathematical unit, one.  Real love binds people together in such a way that one would die rather than let his or her beloved be harmed.  This is why the unity of the Trinity is greater than any other unity.

Sorry that this entry has been so long in coming.  I've been taking a break while I completed this semester of classes and I've been busy with other things.  Also, in all honesty, this one was quite difficult for me.  Some of the arguments seem circular though I think part of it is Prof Kreeft's style.  He doesn't seem to follow a clear, concise, flowing outline with bullet-points, introductions and conclusions.  He seems to have written these lectures in stream-of-consciousness style and they are often difficult to follow.

HDR from the Cub Scouts campout on Saturday