Preface to Martinus Becanus' First Tract on God and the Divine Attributes

Summa Theologiae Scolasticae (Leiden, 1683), pgs. 23-24.

Original Latin.

1.      In this life, we do not know God clearly or intuitively, as he is in himself, but only obscurely and abstractly, according to 1 Cor. 13:12: “we see through a mirror dimly.” But we are able to gain this knowledge in a twofold manner. First, from creatures; in which, as in effects, power, goodness, and the wisdom of the creator shines forth. Second, from revelation, which was made for us through Christ, the Prophets, and the Apostles. The first kind of knowledge is natural and common to all. Job 36:[2]5: “All men see him: each one sees him from afar”—which is to see God from afar; This is nothing other than to see God not in himself, but in his creatures, which are far away from the perfection of God; The latter type of knowledge is supernatural, and granted not to all but only the faithful, Psalm 147: “He has not done thus for all nations, and his own justice he has not manifested to them.”

2.      Again, both from creation and from revelation, we recognize that there are predications about God in three ways, which represents to us, at least obscurely, his nature and essence. (1) Some are relative, as he is the primary cause, creator, governor, predestinator and reprobator. (2) Others are absolute and positive as he is good, just, wise, having an intellect and will. (3) Others are negative, as he is one, infinite, immense, immutable, simple, or free from composition. And indeed, we recognize from creation these threefold predications in a threefold manner or way, as the Scholastics have everywhere have passed down to us by way of [Pseudo-]Dionysius. 1. By way of causality. 2. By way of eminency. 3. By way of negation or removal.

3.      We know relative predications by way of causality insofar as we proceed from the consideration of creation to the knowledge of a creator. For it is innate to us by nature, that, with some effect being seen, we should begin to investigate its cause. In this way, the Gentile Philosophers, because they had seen that this world has been preserved so beautifully and gloriously, and that it has been governed so wisely and consistently, they inferred there to be some first and independent cause which had thus built and daily governed it. Hence, Cicero in On the Nature of the Gods says: “When we look up at the sky and contemplate the heavens, what can be more clear and obvious than that there must be some divinity possessing transcendent intelligence by whom these things are ruled?” And in his book On Divination: “The beauty of the world and order of the heavenly bodies forces us to confess that there is some eternal and excellent nature, to whom humans owe admiration and worship.”

4.      We know absolute and positive predications by way of eminence, insofar as having already been taught by way of causality, we thus infer further. God is the first efficient cause of all creation: Therefore, whatever perfection is in creatures, it ought to be in a more eminent way in God the creator. For just as a univocal cause formally contains in itself the perfection of its own effect, so an equivocal cause eminently contains that perfection.  But there is in creatures, such as in humans and angels, intellect, will, wisdom, goodness, justice, and power. Therefore, these are all, in a more eminent way, in God. So, David argues against sinners who say that their own shameful acts are not seen by God and are thus with impunity able to sin, [Ps. 93:8–9]: “Understand you senseless among the people and you fools, when will you be wise. The one who planted the ear, does he not hear? Or he formed the eye, does he not see?” And God himself says with Isaiah (66:9): “Is it possible that I, the one who makes others to produce, myself do not produce? If I give the power to beget to others, will I be unfruitful?”

5.      We know negative predications by the way of negation, insofar as we remove all the imperfections of creatures from God the creator. For just as those perfections of creatures are attributed to God in a more excellent way, so all the imperfections ought to be utterly removed. This then happens when we restrict perfections which are common to God and creatures to God alone, by the addition of some negation, as if I might say that God is a substance, not finite, not composite, not mutable (as created substance is), but infinite, simple, immutable; having the power of intelligence, not limited, but unlimited: having the power of operation, not dependent upon another, but independent: having duration, not a beginning, but eternal and so on.

6.      Concerning this threefold predication or genus of attributes, some discussion is necessary; not indeed by that precise order which I have already worked with (as if we were to treat in the first place relative attributes, then absolute and positive, and finally negative attributes), but preferably in that way which the interpreters of St Thomas in the Schools often follow, and that manner which has already been somewhat received and approved of.