Works of William Perkins, vol 5

Perkins, William. The Works of William Perkins, Volume 5. Reformation Heritage Books, 2017.

Recent Reformed theology can be sadly described as a generation arising “which knew not the scholastics.” To paraphrase Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring: Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost.

Perkins defines faith as “a supernatural gift of God in the mind, apprehending the saving promise with all of the promises that depend on it” (Perkins 11).

Doctrine of God

God is a spiritual essence. His nature admits of no composition or form (19). Concerning his nature, Perkins notes that “By nature is meant a thing subsisting by itself that is common to many” (24). A person is a thing or essence that subsists but is incommunicable.

Side note: Perkins says “plain reason will show there is a God” (494).

The whole Godhead is “communicated from the Father to the Son, and from both Father and Son to the Holy Ghost” (24). Because of this, we must have doctrines like eternal generation. We distinguish the Father by his personal property of begetting. Moreover, “We distinguish between generation itself and the manifestation of it (Ps. 2) (109).”

The personal relations are notionally distinct from the divine essence, but realistically (in the traditional sense of the term) one with it (27). This does not make a quaternity, as the persons are modes of the Godhead, not distinct entities.

Perkins anticipates and rebuts the wicked heresy of eternal subordination. He notes that the Father is not set before the Son “in regard of time or dignity….but in regard of order only” (28). Commenting on 1 Cor. 11:3, the Father is “head of Christ” only as he is “God incarnate or made manifest in the flesh and in respect of the office to which he willingly abased himself” (11). Concerning 1 Cor. 15:24, this means only that his kingdom shall cease in respect of the outward manner of administration” (111).

Continuing with his treatment of classical theology, Perkins discusses the inseparable operations. The actions of God are twofold, inward and outward. An inward action is one “which one person does exercise toward another, as the Father does beget the Son” (43).

His take on the Filioque is quite interesting. He argues that when a divine person sends another, he communicates his whole essence to him. If both the Father and the Son send the Spirit, then they communicate their one essence to him (308). As it stands it needs more argument, but it is an interesting idea.

God’s Counsel and Man’s Sin

God’s counsel does not hinder the will of man, “but only order and dispose it” (46). God’s counsel is necessary in regard to the highest cause, but contingent regarding secondary causes, which include the wills of man. Regarding Adam’s fall, God did not take away his free will; he only ordered it (86). “God is a moving cause of the wills of evil men” (87). This does not entangle him in the defect of evil.


Perkins has an excellent section on the theologia unionis. Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit and his human nature received certain created gifts. The first is the “sanctification of the mass or lump which was to be the manhood of Christ” (126). The sanctification stopped the propagation of original sin and guilt. The second part infused holiness into the human nature.

Perkins has a good take on the autotheos controversy. In regard of the Son’s person, he is from the Father; in regard to the Godhead he is of himself.

On the Cross

When Jesus cried “why have you forsaken me?” did that entail Nestorianism? Did it imply a severing of the human nature from the divine nature? (This was always a danger latent in saying Jesus experienced hell). Perkins notes it in no way implied a severing. Rather, “the Godhead of the Father did not show forth his power in the manhood but did as it were lie asleep for a time, that the manhood might suffer” (188).

Death of the Body

The body dies when the soul is separated from it (83). When Christ died “his body and [human] soul were really and wholly severed” (197). This is common-sense. Perkins then adds a degree of precision that probably isn’t found elsewhere in the literature: “For as when he was living, His soul was a mean or bond to unite his Godhead and his body together, so when he was dead, his very Godhead was a mean or middle bond to unite the body and soul. To say otherwise is to dissolve the hypostatic union, by virtue whereof Christ’s body and soul, though severed from each other, yet both were still joined to the Godhead of the Son” (228).

The Fathers believed that Christ’s human soul was the middle point, or interface, between the divine nature and the flesh. This makes sense, as it is both created and immaterial. When Christ died, his Godhead held body and soul together.

Perkins realizes that “descended into Hell” wasn’t part of the Creed originally. He wants to avoid the idea that Christ accidentally (or maybe intentionally) got roasted a bit in his humiliation. Both sides kind of miss the point, though. The Creed collapsed several Greek words into the word “Hell.” Jesus probably raided Sheol or Hades. He didn’t go into Dante’s Hell. Even the passage in 1 Peter where the Spirit of Christ preached to the souls in prison isn’t referring to Hell. It would either be Taratarus or Sheol, not the lake of fire.

On Witchcraft

Perkins is unafraid to address hot topic issues. He argues, quite rightly, that Christ’s ascension protects believers from curses. He notes that “no witchcraft nor sorcery (which often are done with cursing) shall be able to hurt us” (259). Those not covered by the ascended Christ have no such protection. It is important to keep in mind that Perkins was once involved in the occult before he received better teaching.

The Church

The efficient cause of the church is God’s predestination. The formal cause is the mystical union (324ff). Of predestination, we note that the will of God appoints the estates of the creatures. (The following section is an exegesis of Romans 9). When God decrees something, there is no succession of moments. Nonetheless, we make logical distinctions. First, God purposes “what he will do and the end of all things.” The second is where he decrees the execution of the former (331).

God’s Will and Subordinate Means

Does God will evil? This seems to be the implication of predestination, yet it isn’t. Perkins notes three actions in God’s willing of a thing. God can absolutely will a thing as something he delights in. God can absolutely nill a thing. “There is also a third action which comes as a mean between the two former, which is remissly or in part to nill and will a thing” (356-357). God does not approve a thing, yet he wills the permission of it.

God’s willing of causes can be set in a hierarchical structure. A highest cause of a thing overrules all. As Perkins’s notes, this is God’s will (358). This is the cause of all things that have being. From this are secondary and tertiary causes. This allows Perkins to rebut something like Molinism. A thing cannot have hypothetical options before it even has being.

Side notes:

Perkins condemns the prayer lives of those involved in usury (436).

Perkins believes reading forms of prayer are lawful (468).

Following his exposition of the Lord’s Prayer is a poem in rhyming couplets. It’s surprisingly good. Not as good as Alexander Pope, to be sure, but still quite good overall.


While the work is structured around the Apostles’ Creed and so lends itself to a natural organization, Perkins’ Ramism, of which I am generally a fan, sometimes gets the better of him. His method is to set forth the doctrine, the uses, the benefits, and probably some other stuff. None of that is wrong, but by the time we get to the fourth or fifth “use,” itself probably a subdivision of a previous use, one sometimes forgets which article of the creed he is on.

While Perkins gives the classic formula of “the practical syllogism,” his take on assurance leaves much to be desired. We are told not to pry into heaven, which is true. Rather, he tells us “by signs and testimonies in ourselves to gather what was the eternal counsel of God concerning our salvation” (337). The syllogism itself isn’t wrong. I know Beza and Perkins take a lot of heat for it, but I like how Perkins frames it: “an application of the promises of the gospel in the form of a practical syllogism.” I’m just concerned that he leaves out one of the very places where Christ has promised to meet us: The Lord’s Supper. In his shorter catechism he rightly notes that the Supper strengthens us in our doubts (506). Very true. He just missed a good opportunity to tie it in here.

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.

Review: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

This is one of the great books of all time.  It is basically a Q&A on various masters’ theses.  It is relentless in its pursuit of logical questions (and of apparently inane tangents).  The great thing about Thomas is that you can’t take anything for granted.  The small proof 400 pages ago will be the key to a subtle argument.

Thomas was a victim of his own success.  Few read him beyond the 5 Proofs, and I suspect those proofs weren’t all that interesting for him and his audience.

On God

Thomas: each thing has its own act of being; real apart from the distinct acts of existence.

God: existence as necessary being; his act of existence needs no cause of existence.  Pure act of being.

As Qui Est God has no genus, otherwise he would have an essence distinct from his act of being.  For God, to be is to be good.  His being and goodness are identical.

God knows himself perfectly and he knows himself immediately.

Does God know possibles?

  1. Concerning what might have been, he knows them by simple intelligence.

  2. God’s intelligence.  Will proceeds from intelligence.

The immediate object of divine intelligence is God.  He wills all other things by willing himself.  God’s willing of possibles doesn’t necessarily create them.

  1. a will is an action completely interior to the one willing.

  2. God doesn’t necessarily create existence by “willing,” but only through one of the divine actions whose terminus is an effect exterior to God

Treatise on Law

Thomas only devotes one question specifically about natural law in the middle of 19 questions.  More importantly, Thomas never abstracts natural law (which is usually exactly what his critics and defenders do).  Natural law is oriented back to the eternal law and the divine providence (ST 1-2. 90).

A short definition: “Law (lex) is something rational (aliquid rationes) directed to the common good by those who are responsible for that community” (Kerr 105).

  1. Eternal

  2. Natural

  3. Human

  4. Divine

(2)-(4) are how the eternal law is worked out in providence. You can’t separate natural law from discussions of God.


(1) For Thomas grace is two things: the work of God upon the soul and the effect of that action.

Two things are considered in the soul: the essence of the soul and the work of its powers.  The form of the soul is intellectual in orientation

The Subsistence of the Soul

Thomas: Nothing acts so far as it is in act, and nothing acts except that whereby it is in act. The soul is the form of the thing.  The soul’s powers are its mind and will.

(2) Form is the act in which a thing has its being and subsistence.

For Aquinas justification, in short, will consist of reorienting the intellect back to God’s proper order.  It is important to keep in mind that the soul is a spiritual substance that is intellectual in character (and this isn’t unique to Aquinas.  This is roughly the historic Christian position).

(3) Grace finds its seat in the essence of the soul, not in the powers.

What metaphor does Aquinas use to explain the nature of this grace infused into the soul?  Light.  Light, however, suggests an intellectual range.  This would place grace somewhere else than the essence of the soul–some place like the intellectual powers of mind and will.

In short, God moves all things (in justification) according to the proper mode of each.  It looks like this:

Infusion of justifying grace → a movement of free choice → forgiveness of sin

Part 2 of Second Part

Scope: This is Thomas’s course on virtue ethics.  Much is good, much bad.

The glory of the soul, which is the enjoyment of God, is the principle object, not the glory of the body (II.2.18.2).  True to an extent, but it’s not clear why Thomas needs the resurrection for this.

On Charity

There is a kind of friendship based on the communication between God and man (II.2.23.1).

Human acts are good as they are regulated by their due rule and measure (23.4).

Charity is infused in us (24.2). Every act of charity merits everlasting life (II.2.24.6). Mortal sin destroys charity entirely (24.10, 12). The spiritual life is an effect of charity.  Mortal sin destroys that.

Charity is capable of reflecting on itself.  The intellect reflects on the universal good, and since to will is a good, man can will himself to will.  Love, therefore, is a spontaneous movement of the lover to the thing loved (25.2).

While we are obligated to love our enemies, we are not obligated to show them all effects of love (25.9).

Key point: One’s obligation to love another is proportionate to the gravity of the sin one commits in acting against that love (2.26.6).

On Giving Alms

* Some are punished eternally for not giving alms (2.32.5).  By contrast, “almsdeeds deserve to be rewarded eternally through the merit of the recipient, who prays for the giver” (2.32.9).

* God gives us ownership of temporal goods but the use of them is directed to helping our neighbor).

Just War

Standard Augustinian stuff. Thomas gives several conditions: a) authority of the sovereign or leader waging it; b) just cause; c) right intentions.  Tyrannical governments are not just because they threaten the common weal (2.42.2).

The Glory of Monastic Life

It’s possible to go to heaven without being a monk, but it’s a lot harder.  Thomas speaks of being perfect.  He doesn’t mean sinless.  A thing’s perfection, rather, relates to charity, the consequences from charity, etc (2.186.3).

Various Nota Bene

* The church can compel secular power with regard to heresy and schism (2.39.4).

* Married sex increases concupiscence and is the contrary of the passage “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit” (2.186.4).  He quotes Augustine to the effect that when married people caress one another they are “cast down from manly mind” (Solil. 1.10).  Sorry, Reformed Thomists, but this is where the Reformation is a clear improvement.  Indeed, Thomas goes on to say that “perpetual continence is required for religious perfection.”

* Contrary to claims by Dutch Calvinists, there is no cultural activity in heaven (2.181.4).

Thomas’s Linguistic Fallacies

This type of thinking was quite common until recently.  It’s still painful to read, though.  For example, wisdom (sapientia) connotes sweetness because it comes from the word “saporem” (2.45.2).

Further, Thomas commits the word = concept fallacy.  For Thomas “religion” means “religious orders.”  Therefore, when James talks about “religion pure and undefiled,” this gives the sanction for man entering into religious orders (2.188.2).

A virtue is an operative habit (I-II, q.55, a2).

The Order of Love

Wherever there is a principle, there is an order.  Charity is of a “last end.”  Therefore, it has reference to a “First Principle” (26.1).

Christology: On Person and Nature

Nature designates the essence of the species. A suppositum is the whole which includes the nature as “its formal part” (III.2.2).

Something’s “assumption” includes the principle and term of the act (3.3.1). The principle of the assumption is the divine nature itself.  The term is the Person in whom it is considered to be. The act of the assumption proceeds from the divine power, which is common to the three persons.  The term of the assumption, being the second person, isn’t common to the three.

Thomas argues that Christ didn’t assume a generic human nature, since human nature cannot be apart from sensible matter (3.4.4).

Now to Christology proper.  The person of the Son of God is the suppositum of human nature.  For the most part, suppositum functions similar to hypostasis, so why doesn’t Thomas call it hypostasis?  I think his using “suppositum” allows him to affirm “one person” of the Son, pace Nestorius, yet acknowledge a human dimension to the Son’s person.  A suppositum is the existing hypostasis.

Why is this important?  If we take phrases like “Christ is God” or “this Man is God,” then strictly speaking it isn’t true.  By “Christ” do we mean the eternal Son, the human nature, both, neither?  Therefore, by understanding the hypostasis as a suppositum of the Second Person, we can say the above propositions.

A hypostasis is that which has being.   A nature is that by which it has being.

Treatise on the Sacraments

A sacrament is ordained to signify our sanctification (III.60.3). The cause of our sanctification is Christ’s passion.  The form is grace and the virtues.  The End is eternal life.

Do the sacraments cause grace?  Thomas says they do by distinguishing a principal cause and an instrumental cause (III.62.1). The principal cause works by the power of the form.  The instrumental is the cause by which it is moved.

The soul’s powers flow from its essence, “so from grace there flow certain perfections into the powers of the soul, which are called virtues and gifts” (III.62.2). Grace, accordingly, is in the sacrament as an instrumental power.

Sacramental grace: the principal efficient cause is God himself. This grace is to take away defects consequent on past sins, which hinder divine worship.

The sacraments, especially Orders, imprint a character on the soul.  (Thomas then has some horrendous exegesis of Hebrews 1, where he reads medieval Latin understandings of “character” into the koine Greeek.) The important part is that Thomas equates character and sealing of the Holy Spirit (cf. Schaff on this point; I think volume on Nicene Christianity).

The inward effect of all sacraments is justification (III.64.1).


The Empyrean heaven is a corporeal place (Supp. III.69.1).  It will have the souls of the righteous.  Venial sin is cleansed in purgatory.  Some souls can come and visit.

Thomas gives the standard medieval arguments for praying for the dead, and in reverse the saints can pray for us.  Here is where it gets tricky.  In response to the question, “Why can’t we just go to God?” Thomas answers, “There is a divine order where ‘the last should be led to God by those that are midway between’” (quoting Ps. Dionysius, Supp. III.72.2).  If pressed strictly, Thomas must admit there is no logical reason for us ever to pray to God.  He doesn’t forbid it, but given the above ontology we shouldn’t.  Indeed, he goes on to say that the “perfection of the universe demands” we go through saints.

Here’s the next problem: by what standard do I know that a deceased is a saint and not in Purgatory?  Presumably he would say the Church has decreed it.  Okay, where did the church gain that access to knowledge?

In terms of the signs preceding the End Times, he follows Augustine.

Notes of Interest

When Mary gave birth, Jesus didn’t break through her birth canal and damage the virginal purity (Supp. III.83.3).

On Hell

The saints see perfectly the sufferings of the damned (Supp. III.94.3). Divine justice and their own deliverance will indeed by a direct cause of the saints Joy at seeing the sufferings of the damned.


This book will change you.  It won’t necessarily change your theology, but you will grow in intellectual virtue by reading through it.  Thomas forces you to always work with the implications and connections.

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: Providence of God

Image result for paul helm providence

Thesis: “In summary, the essential elements of divine providence are these.  God preserves his creation and all that it sustains” (Helm 22).

Providence: Risky or Risk-Free?

Is God’s knowledge limited by man’s free actions?   

Risky: Open theist view.  God can’t be omniscience on this view, per Richard Swinburne.  Or rather, his omniscience is only to actions in time

God’s Knowledge

If the “risky” view obtains, then it appears that God has a number of beliefs which are false (given the free actions of humans).

God’s will.  We have to make a distinction between God’s will of command and will of decree (47).  On the ‘risk’ view God’s decreeing any human action is inconsistent with that actions being indeterminately free (49).

There is even a problem with God’s goodness:  given that God wishes to be good to people, how intense can this goodness be, given the free actions of humans?  I don’t think this objection is particularly strong. Part of the battle in our spiritual life is that we often resist God’s blessings.

Solution of divine accommodation.  Per Calvin, the movement of direction is from God to mankind, and not vice-versa (52ff).  It’s not simply that we are choosing the “sovereignty” passages at the expense of the risky ones.  Rather, it “is a logically necessary condition of dialogue between people that those people should act and react in time” (53).  However, omnipotence and omniscience are essential properties in God; therefore, they have priority.

Middle Knowledge

Necessary truths: logic, mathematics, stuff related to God’s essence.  

Free knowledge: things as a result of God’s freely willing them.

Middle knowledge: among the conditional propositions that God knows “are those which indicate what would happen if an individual performed a free (ie. non-deterministic) action (57).  God only actualizes the outcomes necessary to his plan. The rest are human possibilities (which God knows).

Difficulties:  it looks like on the MK account that the universe has a “shadow picture.”  Another problem is that God seems to only have knowledge of a mirror account of the universe, and never an actualized account (59).

His argument against MK seems to be that on MK’s own admission, people have indeterminist freedom.  Therefore, God can’t know what they would do because what they would do is precisely what isn’t known.  There seems to be something to that charge.

God-World Relationship

When we say God existed “before” the universe, we are using “before” in a hierarchical, not temporal sense.

Pantheism:  if the universe is God, and an individual performed a certain action, then logically God performed that action.

Deism: few today would hold to Deist temptations, and it is a diabolical worldview, but it is a much tougher opponent than pantheism.   If the universe was created good, then why does it need miracles?  Indeed, in a nice phrase, miracles are “a metaphysical first aid kit.”  There are some obvious problems with Deism.  Helm lists a few:

a) it is an obvious dogmatism (76).  Why don’t miracles exist?  Because they don’t.
b) it is not obvious why the Spirit-filled believer must define miracles as “violations” or “interventions” of nature.  Indeed, in an open-universe why wouldn’t we expect miracles?

Prayer and Providence

This is the familiar problem if God knows all things, then why pray? Helm doesn’t really solve it, but he does provide a number of clarifying insights that allow us to better approach the issue. Our praying to God exists within a personal matrix within which are a number of smaller issues.  If I take out one of those issues, then the matrix changes.

Further, there can be legitimate inter-personal interaction yet there be pressures, limitations, and givens, even in human-human relationships.  Why not so in God-man relationships?  Therefore, I can pray, and it be real prayer, and God answereth it, yet it still be ordained.


This is more of a philosophical than a theological text.  As such, there isn’t much exegesis of key passages.  To be fair, though, that would have made the text unwieldy.  Nonetheless, Helm nicely covers the issues and provides a number of clarifications.


Spinoza’s Ethics

What would God and religion look like if geometers ran the place?  It’s about as exciting as you would imagine it to be. Spinoza represents one of the early high points of Continental rationalism.

Thesis:  There is only one substance, God.  We, however, are not God (and hence, not substances).  Rather, we are modes of God. Reality is one substance and an infinity of modes. The reason Spinoza says this is because if there is another substance, however finite, it would limit God as substance.

Substance: what is in itself, and conceived through itself.

Mode: anything conceived of within the substance.  A mode is an affectation of God’s attributes (I.28)

God, or Nature

Spinoza does not equate God with nature.  He makes several dictions. God is nature naturans, nature naturing.  Everything else is nature natured (29).

As a practical pantheist, unsurprisingly, Spinoza rejects any freedom for God or man.  God can’t be free because that would posit the possibility of something being other than it is. A thing is an idea in God’s mind.  That idea is necessary (since God is necessary and that idea is God). Therefore, there can’t be otherwise.

Man’s essence: man’s essence is formed by certain modes of God’s attributes (II.11).  On one hand substance is God and an infinity of modes. On the other hand, it seems we are modes of modes of God.

Spinoza rejects substance-dualism (obviously, since he is a monist), but he isn’t a materialist.  A physicalist reduces everything to the physical. Spinoza reduces everything to the mind of God. I am an idea in God.

If my body is ultimately an idea in God’s mind, and pace Aristotle (and almost all of the philosophical tradition) we don’t distinguish bodies by substance, then how are they distinguished?  They are distinguished by motion and rest (II.13).

The Few Good Parts

Spinoza isn’t a materialist, despite his sloppy reasoning on mind and body.  For Spinoza, and classical theism, though Spinoza rejects the rest, matter reduces to mind.  This is correct.

Spinoza famously says that the only aspects we have access to are “thought” and “extension.” I don’t think that is entirely true, but let’s not reject it outright.  He isn’t saying that all is thought and extension. He says that is all we have access to. In heaven, and this is I speaking, not Spinoza, we will have access to more.


It seems self-evident that I am more than a mode of something.  I have a substance. I have parts. I am not a part. On Spinoza’s view, however, I am a mode of God.  I don’t think he goes so far as to say that I am a part of God, but that’s where his reasoning leads.

Traditional theology made a distinction between God’s natural knowledge and his free knowledge. Natural or necessary knowledge would be concerning God’s essence, mathematical truths, etc. His free knowledge is what he decrees. Spinoza collapses this distinction.  Spinoza can’t imagine God as considering alternatives since those alternative ideas, being ideas in God, would also be necessary. Scripture, on the other hand, and common sense, posit that God did at least ask conditional questions.

Spinoza says that the mind (which he calls an “idea of an idea,” II.29) cannot have an adequate knowledge of itself since its awareness of things is external.  This doesn’t seem right. The classical tradition gives us good reasons for thinking that the mind is self-presenting.

Spinoza’s actual ethics ends with a whimper.  We call something good not because there is a universal of goodness, as the Tradition teaches, but simply because that’s how it is in our mind, and that is arbitrary.  We aren’t yet at egoism, but we aren’t far away.