De Moor IV:16: God as Substance/Essence

1. We saw above in § 13, that it is better to call God a Spirit than a Substance, when it is asked, What is God with respect to Essence or Nature? But when it is now further asked, what is that Spirit? what then do we assign to God when we pronounce Him to be Spirit? Our AUTHOR responds, that He is a Living Substance, furnished with the faculties of Intellect, Will, and Power.


Now, from those things that we observed on § 13, it is proven that God is not to be referred to the order of Categorical Substances; since with respect to Essence He is not fittingly called either primary Substance,[1] or secondary Substance.[2] It ought to be kept at infinite distance from God, that He subsists by Accidents. Yet, in opposition to Accidents, the being of which is to belong, God is with good reason said to be Substance, but transcendent, which is not limited by the categorical rules of Substance; but He is nevertheless called Substance, because He truly subsists of Himself, being independent of the other as subject.


Our AUTHOR teaches that from this it follows, that God ought not to be called mere Thought, as POIRET[3] expressly says of God in Cogitationibus Rationalibus, book III, chapter III, § 3, “I judge that Thought is in God in such a way that His entire Nature consists in that alone, with all other things excluded that besides thought are able to be conceived.” Likewise, § 4, “From these things it is easy to conceive what the Spirituality of God is, namely, that God not only thinks, but that all things that are in His nature are mere thought.”


We observe, 1. that thus Poiret from the hypothesis concerning the human Mind in Thought alone, has proceeded further than DESCARTES himself, who in Meditation III, page 21, describes God as consummately perfect and infinite Being; and says that he understand by the name of God a certain intelligent Substance, consummately powerful, etc. 2. That the Sacred Scripture also speaks otherwise, which formally distinguishes Thoughts from God, Psalm 92:5; 139:17; Isaiah 55:8. 3. That Action also always differs in its conception from its Agent, and so Thought as an action ought to be distinguished from God as the Thinking subject. 4. That all the Attributes are by no means comprehended under Thought; but that there are many in God that besides Thought are able to be conceived, for example, Eternity, Simplicity, etc.; while it is only the most perfect Thought that in a single act is conscious of all things existing in itself, but implies no other Perfections in addition. 5. It is able to be asked, if the whole Nature of God consists in Thought alone, why does God, being about to manifest Himself to Moses, and to others, so frequently make mention of His Righteousness, Longsuffering, etc., but never Thought? And whye would He not rather derive His memorial Name, which He willed to be יְהוָה/Jehovah, from Thought, since that one thing, if we believe the More Recent Men, had comprehended all things that are in the Nature of God?


The Simplicity of God is not to be Objected, as if this implies that the first and essential concept of God is summed up in that notion of Thought, to such an extent that nothing is able to be conceived in it beyond that. For nothing follows from the Simplicity of God other than all the Attributes and internal Operations, which differ from one another formally and by definition, and by no means sum up the whole Essence, are the same in God, and do not really differ from His Essence, but are identified with it. Among which Thought has not special place in preference to the Righteousness, Wisdom, and Mercy of God: for because of the Simplicity of God those Attributes also are identified with His Essence; yet from the Simplicity of God one may not infer that the whole Essence of God is summed up in the concept of Righteousness, Mercy, etc.; that the first Being is nothing besides mere Righteousness, Mercy, etc.


Neither are those that nowadays think God to be mere Act able to appeal to the Scholastics in their unanimity, namely, who have long called God Pure Act. To the Scholastics Act evidently signifies the same thing as Perfection; to which they oppose Potencey, since it denotes aptitude unto Perfection. Pure Act, therefore, to them is mere Perfection, excluding entirely, as they say, all perfectibility; and places in God the perpetual presence of all Perfections without succession or passive Potency: consult VRIESIUS’ Exercitationem de Mente humana sola Cogitatione, § III; VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter VI, pages 225-236, where he contends that the Essence of God does not consist in Thought alone; and chapter VII, pages 236-242, where he teaches against Wittich, 1. that Spirit is not so much the first Attribute in God, as the Subject of all the Attributes; 2. that God is Spirit, not speaking improperly, but properly.

[1] Substantia Prima refers to a concrete, existing individual.


[2] Substantia Secunda refers to an abstract, universal nature, contained in genus and species.


[3] Pierre Poiret (1646-1719) was a French mystic, and disciple of Antoinette Bourignon, publishing her works (as well as those of other mystics, ancient and modern).

ABOUT US

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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