THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO DOGMATIC THEOLOGY - By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.LONDON - S.P.C.K 1965 Holy Trinity Church  Marylbone Road London NW 1 - Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd  Bungay Suffolk - First published in 1943 - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.

PART I

CHAPTER 6

THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD

HOME | contents | introduction | primary attributes | quiescent attributes | active attributes


Windows Media Player (.asx) Listen to the choir of King's college, Cambridge sing Lyte & Goss's Hymn, "Praise my Soul the King of Heaven". Music details HERE.

Knowledge of God Derived Partly from Reason, Partly from Revelation

The arguments for the existence of God, stated briefly in the preceding chapter, are based upon reason, apart from revelation. 
Reason, like revelation, is the gift of God. 
No one can know anything about God without His help. 
But our knowledge of God is derived not only from reason, but also from revelation,
which confirms what we learn from reason,
and adds to it what we could not have discovered by the aid of reason alone. 
We must know not only that there is a God, but also what sort of God He is.

All our knowledge of God is partial and finite. 
The language that we use cannot express fully Divine truth and is therefore symbolic. 
Nevertheless, it expresses Divine truth as clearly and fully as human language can express it. 
But because it is symbolic, we must be very cautious before using it as the premise of an argument.

The attributes of God have been divided into three classes:
primary, quiescent, and active. 
We may well follow this classification.
top

I. The Primary Attributes

1. Personality

The first of the primary attributes of God is PERSONALITY,
by which we mean that He is a self-conscious, intelligent Being with the power of choice;
for it is by these adjectives that we distinguish ourselves as persons from all that is impersonal.
 
The Cosmological Argument shows us that God is personal, for otherwise He could not be the Cause of personality. 
The Teleological Argument shows it because if He were not personal, He could not have designed the universe. 
The Moral Argument shows it because if He were not personal, He could not be moral. 
It is unnecessary to prove that the Bible, from beginning to end, refers to God as personal. 
Indeed, the Old Testament often refers to Him as if He was a man and had a body.

Unbelievers in ancient and modern times have often attacked ANTHROPOMORPHISM
(from ἄνθρωπος (anthropos), human being, and μορφή (morphe, form)
the habit of thinking of God in human form.  
(One ancient skeptic, Xenophanes, said that if the oxen had a god, they would think of him in the form of an ox;
and Rupert Brooke, in his scoffing poem "Heaven", applies the same idea to fish:

And there, they trust, there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind.
)

No intelligent believer in God now thinks that God is really in the form of man (whatever the early Hebrews may have thought). 
We only think and speak of Him in human terms because we have no higher terms that we can use.  
Anthropomorphism cannot altogether be avoided,
but we know that God is infinitely greater than we are;
 and when we say that He is personal, we do not mean that He is subject to the limitations of human nature.

2. Infinity, Freedom from Limitation

The second primary attribute of God is that He is INFINITE
(in Latin immensus, without measure). 
His limitations are entirely within Himself. 
He is not unlimited in the sense that there is nothing He is not;
it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1.2; Heb.6.18). 

He cannot do what is contrary to reason or what is contrary to love. 
His own nature forbids it.

Such a God as this is required by belief in a universal cause,
in the Designer of the universe,
and in the Source of all goodness. 
And He is the God who is revealed in Jesus Christ, the eternal Word,
and the Love who gave himself to die for us.

The word infinite (immensus) is represented in the Athanasian Creed by INCOMPREHENSIBLE,
which does not mean "unable to be understood",
but WITHOUT LIMITATION.

3. Self-dependence

The third primary attribute of God is that He is not dependent on anyone else. 
We need Him, but He does not need us. 
See Isa.40.13 and many other passages in the Old Testament.

When Heaven and Earth were yet unmade
When time was yet unknown,
Thou, in Thy bliss and majesty,
Didst live, and love, alone.

F. W. Faber
English Hymnal, 161; Hymns Ancient and Modern, 162

It would be very difficult to believe that God is both self-dependent and personal if the existence of the Holy Trinity were not revealed,
but this doctrine tells us that God possesses within His own being those relations (in the philosophic sense of the word) which are necessary for love.

4. Unity

The fourth primary attribute of God is that He is ONE,
and that in three ways:

(a)   Numerical Unity

There is in fact only one God. 
This was believed by most pagan philosophers who believed in God at all,
and was the first doctrine of the religion proclaimed by the prophets of Israel:
Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one
(Deut. 6:4).

(b)   Uniqueness

There can be only one God. 
No second God is possible.
 
For this reason the adoption of men into the Godhead, a common belief among the pagan Greeks,
is utterly detestable to Jews and Christians. 
The belief that there can be only one God excludes national religions,
such as was widespread before the coming of Jesus Christ,
and is now again being preached in some countries. 
No religion can be true unless it is universal and claims the allegiance of all human beings.

(c)   Indivisibility

God is indivisible:
He has no parts.
 
The "Persons" of the Holy Trinity are not parts of God.
Each is the whole of God. 
The first Article of the Church of England follows the traditional language when it says that God "has no body, parts, or passions".
top

II. The Quiescent Attributes

1. Causelessness

The first of the "quiescent" attributes of God is SELF-EXISTENCE
God has no cause;
He is the Source of all being.
 
This is required by the Cosmological Argument and is implied by the words

In the beginning
(Gen.1.1; St. John 1.1).

2. Eternity

The second "quiescent" attribute is ETERNITY
God is outside time, for He is the Creator of time, which is a relation between finite beings and events, but does not limit Him who is infinite.  The eternity of God is proclaimed by many of the writers of Holy Scripture. 
See, for instance, Exod.3.14; Deut.33.27; Psalm 90.24; Isa.57.13; Rom.1.20; Eph.3.11; I Tim.1.17; Rev.1.8, 22.13.

3. Freedom from Change

The third quiescent attribute is IMMUTABILITY or freedom from change. 
Because He is self-existent and outside of time, He cannot change;
and also because, as Aristotle taught, the very existence of change implies that there is something that does not change. 
The changelessness of God is clearly taught in Holy Scripture. 
See Mal.3.6; Psalm 102.26, quoted Heb.1.12; Eccles.3.14; Rom.11.29; Heb.13.8; St. James 1.17.

4. Pure Spirit

The fourth quiescent attribute of God is that He is pure Spirit. 
Since He is infinite, He is not subject to the limitations of a body. 
Our Lord teaches this:

God is a Spirit,
and they that worship Him
must worship Him in spirit
and in truth

(St. John 4:24);

see also Deut.4.15 (and other Old Testament passages), Acts 17.29. 
Because God has no body or material form, He cannot be seen or perceived by any of the senses;
and for this reason we are forbidden to represent God by any picture or image. 
The Hebrews were forbidden by the Second commandment to worship even the true God under any visible form. 
The breach of this commandment was the sin ascribed by the prophetic writers to Jeroboam the son of Nebat (I Kings 12:30, etc.). 
This prohibition applies also to Christians,
but is qualified by the Incarnation to the extent that we may make pictures and images of our Lord Jesus Christ as Man,
and pay to them, not the worship which is due to God alone (λατρεία), but the proper respect (δουλεία). 
Pictures representing God the Father are forbidden by the custom of the Church of England.  
The Roman Communion sanctions them on the ground that God the Father is sometimes described in the Old Testament as appearing in human form (e.g., Dan.7.9), but we cannot accept either primitive anthropomorphism or apocalyptic vision as justifying a practice which has been expressly forbidden both by Scripture and by the earlier tradition of the Church.  (See pp. 88-91.)

5. Source of All Life

The fifth quiescent attribute of God is that He is the SOURCE OF ALL LIFE, both material and spiritual. 
This is required by the Cosmological Argument,
and is taught by Holy Scripture in such passages as Gen.1, 2.17; Ezek.37; St. John 1.3-4, 14.6; etc. 
Hitherto no one has been able to make a living being,
nor is any living being known which did not come from some previous living being. 
The origin of life on this planet is still unknown. 
But it is a mistake to suppose that any possible discovery of a method of making a living being artificially in a laboratory
would affect our belief that God is the Source of all life. 
For every discovery that is made by man is made by means of reason which is a gift of God. 
Whatever God gives man the power to do,
God may be said to do Himself indirectly (unless it is something which God has forbidden).
top

III. Active Attributes

The ACTIVE attributes of God are His OMNIPOTENCE, OMNISCIENCE, and OMNIPRESENCE.

1. Omnipotence

God is ALMIGHTY (omnipotens, παντοκράτωρ): which means,
not that He can do anything,
but that He is Lord over everything. 
This follows from His infinity and is taught constantly in the Bible.  
See Gen.17.1, 18.14; Job 42.2; Isa.40.12 ff.; Ps.66.7; St. Matt.19.26; St. Luke 1.37; Eph.3.20; Rev.4.8.

His Omnipotence Limited in Three Ways

God is not limited by anything outside His own nature;
for if He were, He would not be infinite.  
But He is limited by His own nature, especially in three ways.

(a) He Cannot Act against Reason

He cannot act against reason, for He is Himself Eternal Reason.  
He cannot act capriciously.  
He cannot, as far as we can see, make anything be and not be the same thing at the same time in the same way.  
His will cannot make nonsense.

(b)  He Cannot Act against Love.

He cannot act against love.  
He cannot be false, or cruel, or impure

It is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1.2).
He is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (I St. John 1.5).

He is love and cannot show hatred or cruelty;
and those who say He can (as even some of the writers of the Old Testament do) have not understood His revelation.  
He does indeed hate sin, but sin is not a person nor, in all probability, a substance.

(c)  He has Limited Himself by Creating Free Will

He has limited His own power of choice by creating beings with free will.  
He did not make sin or intend that there should be sin;
but He has made men able to sin
because He could not have made them able to serve Him freely without also making them able to disobey Him.  
Hence, when we are asked, "Why does not God stop war?", we reply, "He could only do so by destroying human free will;
and that would be contrary to His purpose, and would be a greater evil than letting war continue.  
It is man who is to blame for war, not God. "

2. Omniscience

The second active attribute of God is OMNISCIENCE, the power of KNOWING ALL THINGS
His knowledge is not limited by time for He is outside of time, and all times are alike to Him.

It is because He is omniscient that we can accept His judgment as final. 
He knows not only what has been and what is, but also what will be;
which does not mean that He completely controls what will be, for He has given us freedom of will. 
He knew that Judas Iscariot would betray our Lord (St. Mark 14.21; etc.), but He did not make him do so. 
Judas was free to resist the temptation. 
He knew that the Blessed Virgin Mary would accept her vocation (St. Luke 1.38), but He did not make her do so. 
She was free to refuse, and that is why we honour her.

Since God's nature is changeless, He cannot cease to be omniscient. 
For this reason I cannot accept the theory of the Kenosis as a satisfactory explanation of the limitation of our Lord's knowledge as Man. 
(See p. 94.)

3. Omnipresence

The third active attribute of God is His OMNIPRESENCE
As He is OUTSIDE OF TIME, He is also OUTSIDE OF SPACE.
Presence, however, does not mean simply being in a particular place. 
It implies a relation to someone who is there.
 
Therefore, though God is everywhere,
yet because we are finite and different from one another,
His presence with us is of various kinds according to our need. 
Thus we distinguish His presence in glory to the angels in heaven;
His presence of efficiency in nature;
of providence in general human affairs;
of attentiveness to those who pray to Him; of judgment in our consciences. 
He is present BODILY in the Incarnate Son (St. John 1.14);
MYSTICALLY in the Church (Eph. 2:12-22; St. Matt.28.19-20);
and SACRAMENTALLY in the Holy Eucharist (St. John 6.56).
[F. J. Hall, Dogmatic Theology, v. 3, p. 288.]
top