De Moor IV:11: The Incomprehensibility of God

And that is what in the second place in this § our AUTHOR proves, that the divine Essence is not able to be fully comprehended by us. Which, α. is evident from Experience, with the consent of the ancient Philosophers firmly established; to which pertains that which CICERO narrates concerning the Philosopher Simonides,[1] book I de Natura Deorum, chapter XXII, “When the tyrant Hiero[2] asked, what or of what sort is God, requested one day for himself for the sake of deliberation; when the question was repeated on the morrow, he begged for two: and when he continued to double the number of days, Hiero inquired wonderingly why he did so, he replied, Because the longer I reflect, the more obscure does the matter seem to me.” The same was the opinion of Plato, as LACTANTIUS relates in libro de Ira Dei, chapter XI, “Therefore, God is the the sole first and origin of all things, just as Plato in Timæus both felt and taught; whose majesty is such, he declares, that it is not able to be comprehended by the mind, nor to be expressed with the tongue.”


β. The Infinite Majesty of God is added, especially as compared with out finite Intellect; indeed, the finite does not comprehend the infinite, since there is not proportion between them: on the other hand, the infinite Perfections of God always leave whatever cogitations and concepts of the finite creature behind themselves by the greatest possible interval: compare JOHANNES LULOFS’ Theologiam naturalem, § CXLIV.


γ. The Scripture agrees, Job 11:7, in which it is not helpful to take exception with Crellius, libro de Deo ejusque Attributis, chapter XXVII, opera, tome 4, page 91, that it is not treated of the Incomprehensibility of the divine Essence, but of the divine Wisdom: for, 1. not only is a discovery of חֵקֶר אֱלוֹהַ, a searching of Eloah, mentioned, but also a finding out of שַׁדַּי שַׁדַּי/Shaddai, the Almighty: 2. Wisdom is an Essential attribute of God, which is of the same nature and perfection with His Essence, from which there is no real difference; and so, if the Wisdom of God is Incomprehensible to a finite intellect, so also will be the Essence of God, Psalm 139:6, etc.


δ. The Fathers of the ancient Church agree; see what things are cited out of CHRYSOSTOM and GREGORY NAZIANZEN by LEYDEKKER, Præfatione ante Ludovici de Dieu Aphorismos Theologicos, section II, C 3, 4. Add the Shepherd of HERMAS,[3] book II, mandate I, “First of all, believe that there is one God…who is not able to be defined in words, nor to be conceived in the mind.” Likewise CYRIL OF JERUSALEM, Catechetical Lectures VI, § I, page 78, Λέγομεν γὰρ οὐκ ὅσα δεῖ περὶ Θεοῦ (μόνῳ γὰρ αὐτῷ ταῦτα γνώριμα) ἀλλ᾽ ὅσα κεχώρηκεν ἡ ἀνθρωπίνη φύσις, καὶ ὅσα ἡμετέρα ἀσθένεια βαστάσαι δύναται· οὐ γὰρ τὸ τί ἐστι Θεὸς ἐξηγούμεθα· ἀλλ᾽ ὅτι τὸ ἀκριβὲς περὶ αὐτοῦ οὐκ οἴδαμεν, μετ᾽ εὐγνωμοσύνης ὁμολογοῦμεν· ἐν τοῖς γὰρ περὶ Θεοῦ μεγάλη γνῶσις, τὸ τὴν ἀγνωσίαν ὁμολογεῖν, For, we do not speak of God all that we ought (for that is known to Him only), but so much as the capacity of human nature has received, and so much as our weakness can bear: For we explain not what God is but candidly confess that we have not exact knowledge concerning Him: For in what concerns God to confess our ignorance is the best knowledge: upon which passage compare the notes of Thomas Milles. Similarly GREGORY NYSSEN has, de eo quod non sine tres Dii, opera, tome 3, page 24, Ἡμεῖς μὲν γὰρ ἀόριστον καὶ ἀπερίληπτον τὴν θείαν φύσιν εἶναι πιστεύοντες, οὐδεμίαν αὐτῆς ἐπινοοῦμεν περίληψιν, ἀλλὰ κατὰ πάντα τρόπον ἐν ἀπειρίᾳ νοεῖασθαι τὴν φύσιν διοριζόμεθα· τὸ δὲ καθόλου ἄπειρον, οὐ τινὶ μὲν ὀρίζεται, τινὶ δὲ οὐχί· ἀλλὰ κατὰ πάντα λόγον ἐκφεύγει τὸν λόγον ἡ ἀπειρία. οὐκοῦν τὸ ἐκτὸς ὅρου, οὐδὲ ὀνόματι πάντως ὀρίζεται· ὡς ἂν οὖν διαμένοι, ἐπὶ τῆς θεῖας φύσεως τοῦ ἀορίστου ἡ ἔννοια, ὑπὲρ πᾶν ὄνομα φαμεν εἶναι τὸ θεῖον, For we, believing the Divine nature to be unlimited and incomprehensible, conceive no comprehension of it, but determine that the nature is to be thought of in all respects as infinite: and that which is absolutely infinite is not limited in one respect while it is left unlimited in another, but infinity is free from limitation altogether. That therefore which is without limitation is surely not limited even by name. Therefore, marking the constancy of our conception of infinity in the case of the Divine nature, we say that the Deity is above every name. EUSEBIUS, Demonstratione Euangelica, book IV, chapter I, page 144, Παρ᾽ ὧν δὲ μαθεῖν ἔνεστιν, ὡς ἄρα μία μὲν εἴν τῶν ὅλων ἀρχὴ, —πάσης κρεῖττον προσηγορίας, ἄῤῥητον, ἀνέκφραστον, ἀπερινόητον, ἀγαθὸν, τὸ πάντων αἴτιον, τὸ ποιητικὸν, τὸ εὐεργετικὸν, τὸ προνοητικὸν, τὸ σωτήριον, αὐτὸς ὢν ὁ εἶς καὶ μόνος Θεός, From which it is to be learned, that there is one principle of the universe…greater than every Name, ineffable, inexpressible, incomprehensible, the good, the cause of all, the Creator, the Beneficent, the Prescient, the Savior, alone the one and only God: see also HILARY in book I de Trinitate, chapters V, VI, VIII, columns 768-770. RUFFINUS, in Symbolum, opera Hieronymi, tome 4, page 103, “When you give your attention to God, understand a substance without beginning, without end, simple, without any mixture, invisible, incorporeal, ineffable, incomprehensible, in which there is nothing adjoined, nothing created.”


These things are to be held, as our AUTHOR advises, against certain Scholastics, the Socinians, and Vorstius, for whom the contrary is satisfying, either on account of certain Logical subtleties, or on account of our finite Conceptions of God: concerning this opinion of Vorstius, see King JAMES of England’s Declaration against Vorstius, opera, page 373, number 3, page 374, number 6; TRIGLAND’S Kerckelycke Geschiedenissen, volume 4, pages 608, 609. But, on account of the impossibility of a fully adequate Comprehension of God, nevertheless all conception of God is not to be denied to man, as if finite man is in no way able to form a concept of the Infinite, as Hobbes maintains, against whom COCQUIUS[4] disputes concerning this matter, in his Anatome Hobbesianismi, locus VI, chapter XII, pages 114-118. Much less is it able to be concluded from the Incomprehensibility of God, that the Existence of the Divine is to be denied; see LULOFS, ad Buddeum de Atheismo et Superstitione, chapter VI, § 1 (240), page 325; and BUDDEUS and LULOFS de Atheismo et Superstitione, chapter VI, § 7, pages 363-371. Compare also HEIDANUS,[5] in his Consideratien, etc., pages 134-138, upon occasion of this thesis, proscribed by the Curators of the Academy of Leiden, that “Men have an adequate Idea of God.”

[1] Simonides of Ceos (c.556-c. 468) was a Greek lyric poet.


[2] Hieron I was the tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily from 478 to 467 BC.


[3] The Shepherd of Hermas was written in either the late first century, or mid-second century. The work consists of five visions, twelve mandates, and ten parables, in which the Church is called to repentance; the method of instruction is allegorical. It was considered canonical by some early Christians.


[4] Gisbertus Cocquius (1630-1708) of Utrecht was a Reformed thinker and doctor of philosophy; he opposed Hobbes.


[5] Abraham Heidanus (1597-1678) was a Dutch Reformed minister and Cocceian theologian. He served as professor of theology at Leiden from 1648 to 1676, but he was ultimately dismissed for his Cartesianism.

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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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