Martinus Becanus Q.1 Whether the divine attributes are to be distinguished from the nature of the thing among themselves and from the divine essence? (Part 1)

Summa Theologiae Scolasticae (Leiden, 1683), pg. 24.

Original Latin.

Chapter 1

Concerning the Divine Attributes in Common.

Concerning the divine attributes, especially the absolute and positive ones, which signify a real perfection in God, these questions are accustomed to be discussed before all others: (1) Whether they are able from the nature of the thing to be distinguished among themselves and from the divine essence. (2) Whether they might at least be distinguished by reason, if not from the nature of the thing. (3) Whether they are able to be distinguished by reason without respect to creatures actually distinct among themselves. (4) Whether in this life we distinguish them by reason just like God and the blessed in heaven do. (5) Whether from their mutuality and from their essence they are able to be predicated in the abstract. We shall expound upon these in a few words.

Question 1: Whether the divine attributes are to be distinguished from the nature of the thing among themselves and from the divine essence?

1.      Scotus makes a twofold distinction. First, from the nature of the thing, which is before the operation of the intellect; the other from reason, which is by the operation of the intellect. He again makes a twofold distinction about the former which is from the nature of the thing. The one is real, by which one thing differs from another, just as a thing from a thing; the other is formal, by which one thing differs from another according to a formal reason or definition. Therefore, according to Scotus, there is a threefold distinction: First, a real distinction from the nature of the thing. Second, a formal distinction from the nature of the thing. Third, a distinction of reason, which also is able to be called formal, but not from nature, but by the operation of the intellect.

2.      Therefore, the question is whether the divine attributes are distinguished among themselves and the divine essence from the nature of the thing, either really or formally. With respect to the distinction of reason, we will discuss that in the following question. There is a twofold opinion. One of which is by a certain Walter who alleges that they are to be really distinguished from the nature of the thing. His reason is because those things are really distinguished among themselves which are, or as though they are, in different categories. But the divine essence and attributes are more or less in different categories given that the divine essence is more or less in the category of substance and beauty is more or less in the category of quality. Therefore, they are really to be distinguished among themselves.

3.      The other position is that of the Scotists who think that they are to be distinguished formally from the nature of the thing. This I will thus explain. Although the intellect, will, wisdom, power, and divine essence are simply one and the same thing (which is against Walter) nevertheless the formal reason of one is not the formal reason of the other, but there are distinct formal reasons from the nature of the thing. And this is proved by these arguments. First, because goodness is distinguished in kind from wisdom in kind formally from the nature of the thing; given that there is one formal reason or definition of goodness and another for wisdom. Therefore, even infinite goodness is distinguishable from infinite wisdom from the nature of the thing because infiniteness is added to goodness or to wisdom and does not destroy the nature of it. Second, because this proposition is true: Goodness is not wisdom. It is not therefore said to be true because it is shaped by our intellect, but because it is similar to the thing which it asserts. Therefore, one supposes from the part of the thing that goodness is not wisdom. Third, because the Son from the nature of the thing is revealed through the intellect and not through the will; and, from the contrary, the Holy Spirit is revealed through the will and not through the intellect. Therefore, the intellect and will are to be distinguished in God from the nature of the thing. Fourth, the will supposes the intellect from the nature of the thing, and the production of the Holy Spirit, which is through the will. Fifth, God understands by the intellect, not the will: and similarly, he wills by the will, not the intellect. This is no less the case for the Scotists.

4.      First Conclusion. The divine attributes, as they are in God, are not really distinguished from the divine essence, nor even really distinguished among themselves. Thus, Augustine lib. 15 On the Trinity, ch. 5 and elsewhere. And the first part of this conclusion is inferred from the Council of Rhems, in which it was defined against Gilbert that the divine persons and relations are not really to be distinguished from the divine essence: Therefore, much less are the attributes really distinguished from it. And this is confirmed by two arguments. One is, because if the wisdom of God is really distinct from God’s essence, either it is united with the essence by way of a true composition, or separate from it, existing separately. Neither is able to be said. The first cannot be said because in God real composition is not allowed, as will be shown in the following chapter concerning the simplicity of God. Nor does the other option work because it would mean that God is wise through wisdom which is separate from God: which is as if one were to say that a wall is white through a whiteness separate from the wall. The other reason is because the essence of God is infinitely perfect, as shall be proved in chapter 5. Therefore, he includes all perfections in himself, indeed the created ones eminently or virtually, but the uncreated ones formally. But the divine attributes which we are discussing are uncreated perfections. Therefore, they are included in the divine essence. Therefore, they are not really distinguished from the nature of the thing from God’s essence.

5.      Some are accustomed to prove the latter part—that certainly the divine attributes are not really distinguished amongst themselves—in this way: The divine attributes are really the same with the divine essence. Therefore, they are really the same amongst themselves, because those things which are really the same in one third are really the same amongst themselves. Yet this argument does not convince. For even divine relations as fatherliness, sonness, and procession are really the same with the divine essence, and nevertheless they are not really the same amongst themselves. And that axiom: Those things which are the same in one third, are the same amongst themselves ought to be understood in this way: that those things which are the same in one incommunicable third, are the same amongst themselves. But it stands that the divine essence is not incommunicable, seeing that it is the same number in three persons which are really distinct among themselves.