De Moor IV:11: A Definition of God? (revisited)

It is also able to be noted, what we said concerning the impossibility of a perfect Definition of God, against those that go overboard in commending the Definition of God by which He is called the most perfect Being, which our AUTHOR says is actually a most imperfect Definition; since, 1. only the more remote Genus is here given, and it is not clearly determined whether by this Being is understood Substance or Accident; and, if Substance, whether Spirit or Body? 2. When It is called Most Perfect, it appears to be compared with others as Beings of the same genus, and also only to exceed them by degree, even if by the most distant degree of Perfection, since in the whole genus it differs from them, and through Infinity transcends them by an immeasurable interval. So also the conception of the individual Perfections of the divine Essence remains indeterminate, in the forming of which the more recent Philosophy in diverse ways recedes from the common path: but, if it wishes to admit nothing particularly concerning God that it does not perceive clearly and distinctly, it will detract much from the Perfection of the Infinite God, especially as He has revealed Himself in Sacred Scripture. Compare PETRUS VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter V, pages 217-225, where among other things you may read § 4, “The second argument of that Most Illustrious Man (Wittich[1]) establishes that very definition of God, that God is the consummately perfect Being, whence it clearly results that God is able to be defined. But I respond with one word, that this is no more a legitimate definition of God, than if I should say that man is among subluminaries the consummately perfect Being, that this is the genuine definition of him: Will that Most Illustrious Man admit these this as a genuine definition? as a description of human essence? But it is not a genuine definition of God, which that Most Illustrious Man has set forth; for neither the genus assigned to Him, being, nor the difference, consummately perfect, describe the essence of God: not being, because it sets forth the essence of God rather than explains it; it rather relates that essence applies to God, than what sort of essence; since the appellation of Being also applies to all other things that are: not consummately perfect, because it appears to express a relation or comparison, by which the essence of God excels the essence of all other things. And indeed, whatever particular thing, since it is, is something perfect; hence by perfection simply the essence of God is not distinguished with sufficient accuracy from the essences of all other things; neither does the adverb consummately add anything to perfection except a comparative relation.” And § 7, “From this hypothesis (that God is able to be properly defined), God will be a finite thing. For what is properly defined, that is also certainly finite, with not only the etymon of the word strengthening the consequence, but also the signification of the etymon; for what is it to define, but to assign boundaries and limits to the thing defined? And what does the signification of the etymon, or the nature of definition, express except to conceive the fines/boundaries and limites of a thing, by which it is differentiated from every other thing, and to express the things conceived?”

[1] Christoph Wittich (1625-1687) was a Dutch Theologian and Cartesian. He served as Professor of Theology at Duisburg (1653-1654), Nijmegen (1655-1671), and Leiden (1671-1687).

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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