Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1

Thomas Aquinas. Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1. trans. Anton C. Pegis. New York: Hanover House, 1955.

In God there is no passive potency.  With that one sentence one can deduce most of classical theism. Deny that sentence, and one’s theology is fraught with peril, if not outright heretical. Because of that loaded sentence, one should begin the journey here and not with Summa Theologiae.  The latter text is usually too difficult without a prior knowledge of medieval philosophy.

There are places where Thomas is wrong.  This is not one of those places.  If you have a heterodox doctrine of God (EFS, theistic personalism, etc), and when you are corrected on it, it does no good to say, “But Thomas was wrong on x, y, and z.”  Maybe he was, but that is not the issue under discussion.

When Thomas Aquinas uses terms like act, potency, and motion, he does not mean by them what you mean.  For example, when we say God is immobile, we mean that there is no potency in him requiring something other than God to activate God.  Motion is the act the of something that is in potency.  Since there is no potency in God (i.e., no unrealized aspect), then there is no motion in God.

Furthermore, God is eternal.  This appears to be more familiar to today’s readers.  Thomas’s reasoning will not be.  When we say God is eternal, we mean God has no internal motion.[1] If God is not eternal, then he must be brought into being by another.  Again, we are back to the original statement: there is no passive potency in God.  If there were, then God would depend on someone (or thing) beside himself to be God.

This eliminates any form of composition or any denial of divine simplicity. All composites have both act and potency. Moreover, composites are subsequent to components.[2] As James Dolezal has so eloquently stated, “All that is in God is God.”[3]

Even though Thomas has not yet said that all of God’s attributes are identical to his essence, one can see where he is going.  That raises a question, though.  If the divine names signify the essence, then how are the names not synonymous with one another?  Aquinas answers that they do not signify the same notion.[4]

Continuing upon this line of thought, God is his essence. The essence of a thing is either the thing itself, or it is related to it by some cause.  Yet nothing can be the cause of God.  Therefore, God is his essence.[5]

Can there be two perfect Gods?  No.  If two Gods are equally perfect, then there must be some way to distinguish them—something must be added to one or both.  But if something is added to a God, then he (or she) cannot be perfect.[6]

Those of us in the Reformed tradition would do well to pay attention to his remarks on God’s knowledge and will.  God knows all things by his essence. That is fairly standard in Western Christianity. That is God’s natural knowledge.  God also knows all possibles.  That is God’s knowledge of vision.  And since all potencies arise from him, the First Cause, he knows an infinite array of possibilities.

Thomas’s comments on divine willing are very useful for modern discussions of free will and determinism.  Given that God is his willing, and God is a necessary being, does this make everything in the world “necessary”?  No. When God wills something, he wills it to the “ordered end of his goodness.”  I think Thomas is arguing for something like secondary causes.  He uses the example of a doctor and medicine.

On another line of thought, when God wills things, he wills things “insofar as they participate in his goodness.”  Since no created thing’s participation is entire in the essence of God, there is no 1:1 willing.

In conclusion, this text is probably the second place to start one’s journey on Thomas Aquinas.  On Being and Essence is the most accessible, especially the edition by Armand Maurer.  The introduction should give the reader a decent grasp on the issues involved.  With that under the reader’s belt, Summa Contra Gentiles should be no trouble. 

[1] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles Book 1, (New York: Hanover House, 1955), sect. 15.

[2] Ibid, sect. 18.

[3] James Dolezal, All that is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Theism, (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017).

[4] Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, sect 35.

[5] Ibid, sect 21.

[6] Ibid, sect 42.


All that is in God (Dolezal)

Dolezal, James.  All That is in God: Evangelical Theology and the Challenge of Classical Christian Theism. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.

All that is in God is God.  That is the argument of the book.  It is short but rhetorically powerful.  What Dolezal means is that by God’s simplicity, he is not composed of “parts,” whether physical or material.  If what we call God’s attributes were not identical to the divine essence, then those attributes would constitute God.  That means God would be God by virtue of something which itself is not God.  That means God would get actuality from something that is not God.  This is clearly impossible if we view God as the cause of all things.  How could something caused by God constitute part of God?

That is the argument of the book in a nutshell.  From that powerful platform, Dolezal examines what he calls “theistic mutualism,” which can be anything from process theology to open theism to otherwise good Calvinists who deny God’s simplicity. Regardless of which variant is under discussion, Dolezal demonstrates that their lack of a robust grammar of divine simplicity ultimately cannot succeed.

Dolezal explores the standard problems with divine simplicity.  We will look at one.  Simplicity says that God is his attributes.  By contrast, if I say “James is wise and powerful,” I have stated a subject with two predicates.  If I say “God is wise and powerful,” I have not stated two separate things about God.  God’s attributes do not add up to be God. He is not the sum of his parts.  The difficulty is that if God is identical with his attributes, then each attribute is identical to each other.  That seems counter-intuitive.  However, denying this claim ultimately reduces to the unacceptable conclusion that God is composed of parts (e.g., justice, love, etc).  How do we solve this problem?  We have to commit ourselves to some view of analogical language. We are discussing a reality that far transcends human categories, but is nonetheless analogical to them.

This book functions as a theological grammar.  It is definitely recommended reading not only for the doctrine of God, but also for theological method.

Herman Bavinck: God and Creation

As Bavinck in many places is summarizing traditional Reformed teaching, this book is exactly what you would expect on Reformed dogmatics. However, no one ever does theology in a purely Platonic vacuum. Bavinck is within a certain milieu of Western intellectual thought. He knows that and wrestles with it. His result, at least in this volume, is a budding Neo-Calvinist take on the doctrine of God, and more particularly the doctrine of Creation.


Some highlights:

* “All doctrines treated in dogmatics….are but the explication of the one central dogma of the knowledge of God” (Bavinck 29).

* Main point: we have no exhaustive knowledge of God (36). He is apprehended but not comprehended (47).

Bavinck does move the discussion forward on the doctrine of simplicity. He holds to the Augustinian line, yet realizes that we can’t make “simplicity” some sort of metaphysical “ = “ sign.

God’s attributes and being: “one cannot make any real distinction between his being and his attributes” (118). So how does one distinguish the attributes? The names of God differ in thought (125). The attributes of God, though identical, are not interchangeable because his names aren’t interchangeable. This is an important move forward and in it Bavinck avoids the fall into nominalism that would have otherwise happened.

“Simplicity does not describe God as an abstract being….it speaks of him s the absolute fullness of life” (127). This, too, is good. Sometimes doctrines of simplicity, like in some Neo-Thomist accounts, appear to posit a god not unlike a solar disc. He’s there, to be sure, but there isn’t much special about him.

I particularly enjoyed the sections on heaven and creation. Angels: they are animate, personal beings (451). Bavinck breaks with Calvin and sees the Prince of Persia as the guardian spirit of Persia (467), and this makes sense as Michael wouldn’t have been detained with wrestling with a local human ruler in the heavenly places.

Recreation in Christ is founded on the original creation in God’s image (532). Sin does not take away the substance of things nor does grace restore that substance (574).

Bavinck sees Rome as teaching creation of man in a dual sense: pure nature + donum superadditum (541). Bavinck says this is an error of Neo-Platonism which needs an intermediate state between matter and spirit. For the Reformers “original righteousness [was] inseparable from the idea of man as such” (551).

Bavinck affirms but does not explicate the idea of covenant of works (571). That’s for the next volume. Its importance here is that it anchors the idea that Adam had not yet achieved final blessedness.

Conclusion: so the image of God is not a static entity but extends and unfolds itself in the forms of space and time. It is both a gift and a mandate….Only humanity in its entirety–as one complete organism, summed up under a single head, spread out over the whole earth, as prophet proclaiming the truth of God, as priest dedicating itself to God, as ruler controlling the earth and the whole of creation–only it is the fully finished image, the most telling and striking likeness of God” (577).

Definitely a milestone book, but there are a few hang ups. It’s particularly difficult on a first reading because Bavinck is summarizing much of the harder sections of Western idealism. Once you are past that it repays multiple readings.

God the Father Almighty (Erickson)

Erickson, Millard. God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.

Always go to Millard Erickson when it comes to strong doctrines.  With the possible exception of his take on eternal generation, Erickson is a most reliable guide to the doctrine of God. This volume brings all the strengths of analytic theology without burdening the reader with truth tables, Bayes’ Theorem, and the like.

Erickson begins with a thorough analysis of heterodox and heretical positions such as process theology and open theism.  The one good thing we can say about process theology is that it acknowledged that metaphysics is an important and inescapable view.  Instead of substances, process theology sees reality as “actual occasions” and “concretions.”  Reality is di-polar, having a physical and mental pole.  Process thought is better able to accommodate modern science than earlier atomistic views.  The flow is dynamic.  As Cobb says, “Things happen in bursts or jerks rather than an even flow” (quoted in Erickson, 54).

All of that is well and good and probably true on the creation-level.  It completely rejects the normal understanding of God.  God is now seen as a “loving-creative response.”  Further, on process thought it is hard to understand how anything–man or God–could be identical through time, since reality is “bursts and jerks.” Burst 1 follows Burst 2 but what is there in the gaps?  

Erickson then gives the standard evaluations of open theism, which I won’t go into here. In another chapter he explains how God doesn’t change while noting the numerous ambiguities in the word “change.”

His chapter on God and Time is quite good and hints towards several possible solutions.  Is God eternal (the traditional view) or everlasting (infinite duration, but duration nonetheless)?  Before we can even answer this question, we have to ask: “What kind of definition of time are we using: A-tense or B-tense?).  A-tense is the normal understanding of time.  B-tense is a tenseless view, which suggests that the flow of time is an illusion.  Here is where it gets interesting: the Eternal and Everlasting positions can accommodate either.

Here is where it gets even more interesting:  if Einstein is correct, and time should be viewed more as “spacetime,” then the debate changes.  I’m not entirely sure of Erickson’s conclusion, but he suggests that the atemporalist and temporal debates might not be real contraries when applied to God.  


If God is impassible, does that mean he is devoid of all feelings? Augustine said that impassibility is a balanced harmony where the mind is in agreement with reason (Civ. Dei. 8.17).  Further on, Erickson notes that impassibility is connected with discussions on divine foreknowledge and immutability. If this obtains, then can God really be said to answer prayer?  Thomas Morris offers a plausible scenario: “God’s intentions are indexed to…occurences in the created universe” (quoted in Erickson, 150). For example, per Jonah, God didn’t change his will but has eternally willed a change from ‘the Ninevites will be punished’ to ‘the Ninevites will not be punished’ if they repent.  As Erickson comments, “changing one’s will is different from willing a change in things” (151).

Divine Power

This hasn’t been debated as much as foreknowledge or impassibility, but a proper view of God hinges upon it.  Erickson runs through the standard discussions in analytic philosophy of religion. In short, God cannot perform logical contraries or anything contrary to his perfections (e.g., God can’t will himself not to exist).

Divine Simplicity

This is the most important chapter in the book.  Erickson highlights one fascinating implication of divine simplicity: we cannot say we don’t know God’s essence.  Or rather, the claim that we can know God’s attributes but not his essay doesn’t work.  God’s attributes are his essence, and if we can know one we can know the other.  Of course, we must immediately add that we know analogically.

Erickson tackles the number one problem with divine simplicity: if God is identical to his properties, doesn’t that make God a property? A similar property is that if God is good, does that mean he is exemplifying the property of goodness, which means that God participates in something greater than himself?  That clearly will not work, which is why theologians have always said “God is Goodness.”  Yet, if we say that we are back at Plantinga’s critique.

Erickson borrows from William Mann’s essay and reformulates the problem this way:

With regard to God’s properties, we aren’t saying that wisdom (W) = power (P).  We are saying the W of God = the P of God.  This means there is a difference between “Deity-instance identities” and “instance-instance identities” (220).  This might sidestep Plantinga’s critique, but in its present form his technicality limits its use. It’s not immediately clear what an instance-instance identity is.

Mann has another interesting argument, though.  We make a distinction between degreed and non-degreed properties. Many of God’s great-making properties are generally degreed, such as knowledge.  I can always have more knowledge.  But God’s degreed properties have something mine do not: an intrinsic maximum.  God already has the maximum amount of a degreed property. God can never be “more knowledgeable.” 

It’s a bold move.  I think it takes more work, though.  Morris responded to Mann’s essay (eliciting a response from Mann).  

Transcendence and Immanence

Hegel: history is just God daydreaming (264).

This is a top-level book in both the doctrine of God and philosophical theology.

Notes on Aquinas’s de Deo Uno


These are taken from Prima Pars, so for ease of quotation I will just reference the question number, article, etc. This deals with De Deo Uno.

  1. The first being of necessity must be in act and in no way in potency (3.1).  If God had potency in him, then he would need an Act-or behind him.
  2. God is not only his own essence, but his own being (Esse).  Esse is the actuality of form (3.4).
  3. God is simple because every composite is posterior to its component parts (3.7).
  4. God is good through his own essence, not by participation (6.3).
  5. God is in all things as an agent present to that upon which it works (8.1).
  6. God is immutable because he is pure act (9.1).  Further, God is infinite, so he cannot obtain anything by movement.
  7. If proportion is understood as the effect to its cause, potency to act, then “in this way the created intellect can be proportioned to know God” (12.1).
  8. Since God is in the highest degree of immortality, it follows that he occupies the highest place in knowledge (14.1). When we name God, we attribute the perfection but deny the mode of imperfection..
  9. God understands himself through himself (14.2).
  10. The act of God’s intellect is his substance, for if it weren’t, then something other than God would be the perfection of God (14.4).
  11. Thomas distinguishes various necessities in God (19.3). God [absolutely] necessarily wills his own goodness, but he [contingently] wills creation ad extra. A necessary cause sometimes has a non-necessary effect.
  12. There is an order of causation in the divine will (19.7).  The divine will itself is unchangeable; however, there are mediate causes under that will that are not included in the first cause.
  13. Providence doesn’t always impose a necessity on things (22.4). Providence orders things towards an end. Some things happen by contingent and proximate causes.
  14. Thomas places predestination under providence (23.1). Men are predestined as a type in God’s mind that moves them to an end.

Notes on the Divine Essence, from Muller

Notes on Muller, PRRD 3

Simplicity in pre-Reformation

The scholastic understanding of “identity” assumes various levels of identity (essential and formal), so the term “identity” does not indicate radical equation in every sense posssible (40 n. 63).

The goal is “to argue a certain manner of distinction (for the sake of manifesting the three) while at the very same time denying other kinds of distinction (for the sake of confessing the one)” (41).

Normally speaking essence and existence are not identified. The essence “humanity” is not synonymous with any one human (52).

Simplicity and Predication

Many critique absolute divine simplicity as eliminating the possibility of any real predication (on our part) of the divine essence. But when medievals used this term, all they meant was that God is not composite (54-55)

Plurality in God is secundum rationem, not secundum re (55).

Development and Decline of late orthodoxy

Interestingly, the medievals viewed “space” and time,” not as things but as relations (148).

Existence and knowledge of God

The orthodox followed three ways of approach to the problem of the knowledge of God (166):

  1. via causationes (a cause can be known in some manner from its effects)

  2. via emimentiae(we attribute to God all the perfections known to creataures)

  3. via negationis (we remove from God the imperfections known to creatures)

Rules of predication

“Predication is the logical act of attribution by which a subject is united with a predicate” (197).

Disproportionality between finite and infinite.

How does natura apply to God? Some qualities are considered “natural” in him (208).

The attributes of God are his perfections (213).

attribute: a characteristic or quality attributed to or predicated of an object, where as a property is a characteristic that belongs to an object (215). God can only have essential properties.

The Divine Essence

ens a se: self-grounded essence (237)

numerical unity: threeness of person does not contradict numerical unity of essence—there is no class of beings (whether genus or species) identifiable as “god” to which the divine persons belong and the divine unity is not a composite unity such as belongs to the several members of a genus or species (242).

genus: a universal or form, incompletely expressing essence, that can be predicated of specifically distinct subjects in species.

Species: a universal or form completely expressing essence, that can be predicated of a series of subjects distinct in number

Divine Names

The Reformed interest in the divine names is primarily exegetical and not nominalist (246).

see the note on Gillespie in PRRD II, 7.3B

Back to Simplicity

The point is to deny in God only those distinctions that imply composition and to point toward the proper distinctions that do subsist among the attributes and between the attributes and essence (278).

Persons are not distinct in essence, degree, condition, or dignity but they are distinct in order, number, manner of working, etc (281).

“three persons applied to the Godhead indicate the communicability of the sole, infinite, individual and singular divine essence to these three without division (283).”

transcendentals: the properties of being can be identified as “transcendentals.” These are properties which must be predicated of all and, therefore, also of each and every being. Being is transcendent: it is the ultimate principle and/or category of all beings. Being is not a “thing” and so there cannot be a “real” distinction between being and things (284-285).

  • ens

  • res

  • aliud; other

  • aliquid; being something

  • unum; a being is one in itself

  • verum; it is true in that it corresponds with its goal

  • bonum; it is good because it moves toward its goal

This allows the Reformed to work through the problem of realiter predication: all of these “transcendentals” reduce to one another without becoming synonymous with one another. Yet they do allow distinctions—a being is other than not-being; a being is other than not-itself.

realiter distinction is a distinction between two things. Being, though, is not a thing and so is not reduced to realiter distinctions. A virtualiter distinction …

Epistemology, Distinctions, and the Divine Decree

(The Reformed structure this discussion) “Around the epistemological problem of the finitum no capax infiniti and its resolution in the explication of the eternal decree and its execution of the sovereign will of God in and for the temporal economy. Here we see both a statement of the non capax and an approach to the divine relatedness: the mind cannot conceive of the way in which the attributes belong to the utter simplicity of the divine essence; nonetheless, the distinct attributes are coorectly distinguished by reason in the effects and operations of God in the world—and these effects and operations rightly and genuinely reveal the identity of God, indeed, the invisible essence of the utterly simple Godhead. The effect of this distinction, like the effet of the distinction between the decree and the execution, is to direct attention away from the divine essence toward the divine economy” (298).


Does not imply that God is inactive, but that God has not been moved from potency to actuality (309). It is an absence of negative passions.

God and Time

The denial of change and succession is made for affirming a specific relationship between God and the creatures—indeed, of affirming that both God and creatures have duration, the divine duration being non-successive, the creaturely duration, successive (355).

Divine Foreknowledge

Divine willing establishes freedom and contingency (402). Foreknowledge itself is not causal. Knowledge is related to causality by means of the divine will.

Necessary and Free knowledge in God

Necessary: the knowledge that God has of himself and all possibilities ad extra (407).

Free knowledge: knowledge of all those possibilities that God freely wills to actualize.

Problem of Middle Knowledge

definition: a divine knowledge lying between God’s indeterminate knowledge of all possibilities and his determinate foreknowledge of the necessary and certain effects of his decree (417-418). God is reacting to the result of a finite contingency.

Reformed critique: the notion of a certain divine foreknowledge of future conditionals is a rather unstable concept: in order for God to know the conditional conditionally, he would have to be ignorant of its resolution in actuality. In short, there can be no being independent of the divine decree (421). The problem for such a view appears when the question is asked, “How shall such a thing exist?”

Will and Freedom

necessity and freedom are neither contraries nor contradictories: the contrary of necessity is impossibility; the contrary of freedom is coercion (434n. 360).

When God wills, the contrary remains possible—a resident possiblity in the divine scientia necessaria. God cannot equally will and not will a certain object; he can, however, will a certain object and know the possiblity of not-willing it (448).

The divine will is not determined by its objects. It was not necessary that God will object-a since the possibility of object non-a existed in God’s mind (449).

Even God’s necessary willing is free in a sense: it is not subject to external compulsion (455).

John Frame: Doctrine of God

In this volume John Frame applies his “perspectival approach” (Frame, 1987) to issues relating to the doctrine of God. In other volumes, Frame analyzed a topic by placing it within its normative (law), situational (fact), and existential (person) dimensions. The approach is quite clever and does shed light on many issues. In this volume, Frame approaches the doctrine of God in terms of authority (normative), control (situational), and presence (existential).

Aside from the above triad, Frame’s work covers much of the same ground as many other manuals on theology proper. The book’s value, though, is that it is quite recent and responds to issues that 300 year dead Puritans had not dreamed of. In this book Frame confesses God as “covenant lord” (Frame, 11). The covenant Lord interacts with his people according to the above triad: authority, control, and presence. Frame is obviously interacting with Meredith Kline’s work on suzerainty treaties (Kline, 1997). That is: The Name of the Great King; Historical Prologue; Stipulations; Sanctions; Continuity (Frame, 2002: 438).

Despite some of the hysteria that usually accompanies Frame’s works, this book remains solidly within the Reformed tradition, even if Frame questions large sections of that tradition at times. Sometimes, I suspect, Frame himself does not realize he is doing it. Frame deals squarely with issues relating to man’s interaction with God (free will) and with one another (ethics). In other words, as far as books concerning the doctrine of God go, this one is quite relevant.


It’s difficult to review a systematic theology textbook. They all follow the same general order and in reviewing one, you have already reviewed about 35% of the next one. Frame’s book is that, to be sure, but he also deals with specific issues that do require a response.

Libertarian Free Will

Frame ridicules the alternative to what he perceives the Augustinian tradition to be. He defines compatibilism (determinism) as the “view that every event has a sufficient cause other than itself” (136). Libertarian free will (not to be confused with the economic position) argues that humans have the power to choose between different alternatives (138). Frame then gives fourteen or so reasons why libertarianism is false (139-144).

His main interesting objection is that Scripture never grounds human responsibility in libertarian freedom.

The Triune God

Much of this section of the book reads like a proof-text list arguing for the deity of the Son or Spirit. That’s not a fault, but the question often facing people is not whether the texts say this person is divine, but how does his divine status relate to the questions of unity and plurality. Frame gives a helpful list on how the Church confessed the Trinity throughout history. There are very good critiques of Aquinas and Boethius. For example, take Boethius’ definition of a person as “an individual substance of a rational nature” (700). If this is the case, and there are three persons in the Godhead, then how are there not three (four?) natures in the godhead?

Frame draws upon the soon-to-be published work of Federal Visionist Ralph Smith (2003) in critiquing Thomas Aquinas. If the persons are simply alternative names for the divine essence, then how is this not modalism? Frame concludes, following Smith, “ And when we take Father, Son, and Spirit as names of relations…are we not reducing concrete persons to abstract entitites” (702)?

Frame’s take on the Filioque is interesting, largely because he doesn’t really care (718). He affirms the Western view and offers the same standard arguments for it, namely since there is an analogy between temporal sending and ontological procession, therefore they are the same (717).


This book is a welcome addition to the Reformed community. Frame passionately interacts with the texts and there is much material for sermons and lessons. The book has some weaknesses, though. There is little (nothing?) in the way of historical understanding and the student leaves the discussion without a real knowledge of how this worked out in history

Paul Helm: Eternal God

Image result for paul helm eternal god

Helm, Paul.  Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time.  New York: Oxford University Press, Second Edition 2010.

Paul Helm is painstakingly thorough in examining the challenges to God’s being outside of time.  Almost too thorough. In any case, this book will likely be remembered as one of the classics in analytic theology.

Flow of the book: If God is outside of time, then a number of challenges and (perceived) difficulties arise.  The traditional view is the Boethian view: all of past, present, and future is present to God. This view is correct in maintaining that God is outside of time. It is open, however, to a number of devastating defeaters.  Helm’s goal is to reformulate the Boethian view in light of these defeaters.

The most challenging section of the book deals with indexicals: I am here at this place at this hour. The problem is that many of these indexicals can’t apply to God’s being timeless.  God can affirm the following proposition?

(1) I know that it is raining today.

The critic says he can’t because this would place God in a time-bound relation.  It’s not clear, though, why God can’t timelessly affirm this proposition. The only force indexicals would have is that God can’t affirm the following proposition:

(2) I know what it is to be married.

This deals more with omniscience than eternality.  In any case, it doesn’t seem like anything is lost.

Can God know future events?  Presumably, he can. This has been a given in almost every form of theistic belief.  Some philosophers like Swinburne say God can’t know the future if he has also given libertarian freedom to his creatures.  The future actions haven’t yet happened; therefore, God can’t know them. Helm offers something along the lines of a rebuttal:

(3) There is no logical connection between the view that the future does not already exist and the view that the future is indeterminate (121).

I think there is an easier rebuttal, though.  Christianity and Judaism (and I presume Islam) believe that some humans can prophesy (with varying degrees of accuracy) about the future.  If they can know the future actions of free creatures, then it stands to reason that God could, too.

Possibilities of Fatalism

Not all fatalisms are the same.  One can mean:

(4) Everything that happens was bound to happen.

It can mean something weaker:

(5) Everything that happens does so because of a logical necessity.

Timelessness and Human Responsibility

(6) God timelessly decreed that B occur at t₂ and this cannot be isolated from his timeless decree of A at t

(7) God timelessly decrees a complete causal matrix of events and actions (170).

Whenever we speak of God’s being and actions, we must realize that God’s being is logically prior to what he does.

Kripkean Terms

Rigid designator: a proper name which has x property in every possible world.

Accidental designator: property in some world.

Using these terms Helm suggests that “God” expresses the individual essence of God (208). A general essence isn’t a particular essence. God has a set of properties unique to himself. These are “God-making” properties.  This is important because “Being the creator of the world’ is not a part of his nature whereas ‘being infinitely good is’” (209).

Eternal Generation of the Son:  “There is no state of the Father that is not a begetting of the Son, and no state of the Son which is not a being begotten by the Father and necessarily there is no time when the Father had not begotten the Son” (285).

Corollary: If God is in time, then it does make sense to speak of a time when the Son was not.  When did the Father beget the Son? Even asking that question illustrates the problem. You can’t say in eternity past, for that is the thing the temporalist denies.

Blogging through Anselm’s Monologion



Sections 1 & 2:

Differing things can both be said to be “good,” yet it is clear they are not the same thing. They are good though a greater good.

This ultimate good is good through itself. Anselm calls this the supreme good and ascribes the predicate “existence” to it.

Section 3:

Everything that exists exists through something or nothing. Obviously not through nothing.

There is either one or more things through which everything exists. Either one of these options will ultimately reduce to one thing (cf. p. 13 for a fuller discussion). Anything that exists through something other than itself is necessarily less than that thing through which it exists. Anselm calls this the divine essence.

Creation ex nihilo

Things didn’t spring from nothing as from a void.  Rather, they pre-existed in the Divine Mind (sec. 9). The Supreme Essence creates through an “inner verbalization” (12).

Back to the main argument (sec. 15): “Now it is quite out of bounds to imagine that there could be some P true of the substance of the supreme nature such that ~P would be better in some respect.”  

Sect. 16: answering the “what kind” question.

The supreme nature is what it is through itself and not through another.

God and Time

Sect. 21 gives the standard account of God’s timelessness. The Supreme Essence is not spatially in time.  Rather, it is present as a whole simultaneously to all places and times.

Suarez on Various Kinds of Distinctions

Suarez, Francisco. On The Various Kinds of Distinctions. Trans. Cyril Vollert, SJ.  Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2013.

Real distinction: this is the most basic distinction between thing and thing.

Mental distinction: it doesn’t formally intervene between the things designated.  It is a distinction that exists in our minds (Suarez 18). We can divide the distinction in two

A distinction of reasoning reason: it arises in our intellect as we reflect on things

A distinction of reasoned reason: this has a stronger foundation in reality. This distinction pre-exists in reality prior to our reflecting on it. The whole reality of the object is not fully represented in our minds (19).  This is sort of how we would reflect on God’s essence and attributes.

Scotus on formal distinctions: there is an actual distinction in things that is neither a mental nor a real distinction (24).  Scotus is saying something like there are aspects that are distinct from the actual thing by reason of the definition, yet also precede the mental reflection on it (26). Suarez likes what this view is trying to say, but he doesn’t like the name “formal distinction.”  For example, in the Trinity “paternity” and “filiation” are not essentially distinct, yet they are formally distinct “in the objective notions of their relations” (27).

Suarez now introduces his “modal distinction.”  These modes are positive and modify the entitites (28).Suarez defines mode as “something affecting quantity and, as it were, ultimately determining its state and manner of existing, without adding to it a new proper entity, but merely modifying a pre-existing entity” (28). It obtains between quantity and inherence of quantity in a substance.  There is a distinction between six inches and the inherence of six inches in a pen.

When a mode inheres in an entity, it doesn’t add a new entity.  Modes are “thinner” distinctions and they are always conjoined to the entity (32).

This is all very technical, but there is a big theological payoff.  In the Trinity the divine essence is not separable from the property of “paternity,” yet at the same time they aren’t the same thing nor are they two different things.  Further, they aren’t mental distinctions, since they already have a reality prior to my mental reflecting on it.