De Moor IV:17: The Distinction of Divine Attributes, not Real but Conceptual

[These Attributes are not Really distinguished, either from the Essense of God, or among themselves, as certain Accidents, or adhering Qualities.] That is, a Real Distinction is said to obtain among things that are diverse of themselves and apart from the consideration of anyone, even one and another thing, for example, between Substance and Substance, between Substance and Accident, likewise between on Accident and another. And the Socinians also wish the divine Attributes, as just so many Accidents or Qualities adhering, to be distinguished from the Essence; see see HOORNBEECK’S Socinianismum confutatum, tome I, book II, chapter IV, section I, pages 368, 369; in such a way that, 1. they overthrow the Simplicity and Immutability of God, of which they think too ἀνθρωποπαθῶς/anthropopathically: and, 2. they more easily evince that the Holy Spirit is not God or a divine Person, although He be called the Power of God.


But, that thus the divine Attributes are not to be considered as Accidents of the divine Essence and Qualities adhering to a subject, and that the same are not distinguished Really either among themselves, or from the divine Essence, our AUTHOR evince from the threefold Perfection of God soon to be demonstrated, namely, Simplicity, concerning which § 23-25; Independence, concerning which § 20, 21; and Immutability, concerning which § 26: all which prevent such a thing from being affirmed concerning the divine Attributes. 1. Indeed, the Simplicity of God rejects all composition, and so even that of Substance and Accidents, and of many things that would actually and apart from the consideration of anyone be diverse in God. 2. Divine Independence implies that the divine Essence is Infinitely Perfect in itself, and is not able to depend upon anything Really distinct from itself, by which its Essence might be perfected; yet thus the matter would stand, if the divine Attributes were Really differing from the divine Essence and among themselves. 3. Immutability also stands in opposition, because, if the divine Essence be composed of multiple things, it would have in itself the root of mutability.


Therefore, those Attributes are only distinguished from the divine Essence and among themselves, α. according to their Objects; thus the objects of divine Wisdom are matters cognizable; of divine Power, matters both possible, and all things that God wills to actualize according to His own Decree: likewise, β. according to their Effects; thus to free and to save a miserable man, to pardon sins, is the effect of Mercy. But to condemn a sinner, to punish sins, is the effect of vindictive Justice. γ. According to our Manner of Conception; but, that our Manner of Conceiving now one thing, and now another thing, is not prejudicial to the Simplicity of the same, Metaphysicians observe; provided it be not founded in a true diversity on the part of the thing of predicates, which are considered now in one way, now in another, by our intellect. Thus by one formal Concept I represent to myself the Simplicity of God, by another His Eternity, by another His Immutability. AUGUSTINE, de Trinitate, book XV, chapter V or VIII, opera, tome 8, column 688: “So then, if we should call Him eternal, immortal, incorruptible, immutable, living, wise, powerful, beautiful, righteous, good, blessed spirit; only the last of all these that I have posited seems, as it were, to signify substance, but the rest to signify qualities of that substance; but it is not so in that ineffable and simple nature. For whatever seems to be said there according to qualities, is to be understood according to substance or essence. For, let it never be that God is called spirit according to substance, and good according to quality; but both according to substance. And so in like manner of all those we have mentioned.”


[Whether one wishes to call that Distinction of Reason Reasoned[1] Formal, Modal, or even Real, we hardly even care, etc.] On the understanding of these terms you would best consult HOORNBEECK, Socinianismo confutato, tome I, book II, chapter IV, section I, pages 372, 373.


[Our AUTHOR says in his Medulla Theologiæ, They commonly call that a Difference of Reason Reasoned; which is said to have some foundation in the thing.] That is, a Distinction of Reason, as opposed to a Real Distinction, is said to be either of Reason Reasoning[2] or of Reason Reasoned. Reason Reasoning is our Reason itself. Reason Reasoned is the material or matter concerning which we reason, or about which our Reason is occupied by reasoning. The Distinction of Reason Reasoning obtains when the mind conceives of one and the same matter in two ways, and that with a similar notion, without the foundation of distinction being in the thing itself, for example, Peter and Peter, man and man, Socrates and Socrates: but this is more truly a repetition of the concept than a distinction. But it is a Distinction of Reason Reasoned, whereby a thing, of itself one and the same, is represented to the mind, not only by multiple concepts, but also by dissimilar concepts, founded in a diverse regard unto the various Effects, Objects, etc., of that same thing. But the latter Distinction, as it is evident from the things previously said, is rightly said to obtain here. At the same time, it is also gathered from what has been said, that our Manner of Conception, whereby we represent to ourselves multiple divine Attributes, distinguished among Themselves and from the divine Essence formally and by definition, ought not to be rejected as false and arising from Error: for we do not assert that those Attributes Really differ among Themselves and from the Essence: we properly acknowledge and further confess that the matter is otherwise in God; and so we do not error in our conception concerning that which really has a place in God. The Manner of Conceiving such a God’s Infinite Perfection as various and multiple Attributes, with distinct notions and definitions, according to their Objects and Effects, only argues our Imbecility, which we study to help in this manner, with the Sacred Scripture going before, which in Divine things is wont to speak obscurely with us. This our manner of knowing is at the same time able to be said to be founded in the Infinite excellency of the divine Nature itself, whereby, although it infinitely exceeds the created intellect, it is nevertheless apt, according to a diverse regard to various things, in the same to terminate various and multiple Modes of Conception. And so the very Incomprehensibility of God is in order to our thoughts, whereby it comes to pass that, what we are not able to cause to appear as present to our mind once and together in a single action, by accommodation to our capacity we represent it to ourselves by repeated acts of the mind and different notions. Therefore, far from all error and falsity, in this our manner of acting we here acknowledge in God a certain supreme eminence, truly worthy of Him, and at the same time the disproportion of our mind to know such a matter; wherefore by degrees we attempt to rise to the knowledge of God by inadequate concepts: just as when a child or rustic conceives of the value of a large gold coin through a number of individual pieces, which is imperfect, but not erroneous: compare SPANHEIM’S Decadum Theologicarum III, § 7, opera, tome 3, column 1206.

[1] Latin: ratio ratiocinata.


[2] Latin: ratio ratiocinans.

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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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