De Moor IV:19: Classification of God's Attributes: Communicable and Incommunicable

ε. Finally, the Attributes are distinguished into Communicable and Incommunicable. Thus we speak improperly, and this distinction is able easily to be drawn unto harmful sense: but if you understand Communicability very broadly of a certain very obscure similitude, even certain things that are commonly called Incommunicable are able to be called Communicable: thus the Most Illustrious WITTICH in his Theologia Pacifica, § 194. But we ourselves do not think that this distinction, which greatly aids our understanding and memory in easily perceiving and retaining the divine Attributes in due order, is to be rashly rejected: while the fear, that this distinction may be drawn unto a harmful sense, also appears overly affected. For it is sufficiently evident that to none of our Theologians did it ever come into mind to understand this expression of Essential and Formal Communication, through the intrinsic being of the thing, in such a way that any Perfections, either in species, or in the individual, are communicated with any creature: this in the matter of personal Union the Lutherans maintain; but that this is opposed to the Infinite Nature of God and our finite Nature is evident. But our Theologians maintain that here it is understood of Communication similitudinary and analogical. By which, not merely equivocally, in such a way that only with respect to name is the same Attribute attributed to God and to creatures; but analogically the same Attribute may be assigned to God and to creatures, in such a way that in addition to the name some common concept is able to be formed concern these attributes of God and of creatures: with the distinction then remaining sufficiently ample between God and creatures, since, for example, Goodness, Righteousness, Mercy, etc., are predicated of God essentially, and in a completely singular manner, and also in the abstract; but of creatures only accidentally and by participation, and in the concrete: for which reason God is said to be Good alone, Wise alone, Holy alone, Matthew 19:17; 1 Timothy 1:17; Revelation 15:4.


Now, why should we not speak of Attributes Communicable and Incommunicable in this manner, since, α. in a similar manner of speaking the Scripture goes before, which hence they that do not admit the term Communicable Attributes must also accuse of imprudence. Indeed, without analogical Communication of this sort God is not able to be conceived either to have created man in His own Image of old, or to reform him to the same after the fall, Genesis 1:26, 27; Colossians 3:10. Without this the faithful are not able to be said to be transformed into the image of the glory of the Lord from glory to glory, 2 Corinthians 3:18, nor κοινωνοὶ γίνεσθαι θείας φύσεως, to be made partakers of the divine nature, 2 Peter 1:4, upon which text see Commentarium meum; nor to be like the Lord in the future, 1 John 3:2, with which expressions that of Plato very much agrees, concerning whom DIOGENES LAERTIUS relates in book III, segment 78, Περὶ δὲ ἀγαθῶν ἢ κακῶν τοιαῦτα ἔλεγε. τέλος μὲν εἶναι τὴν ἐξομοίωσιν τῷ θεῷ, on good and evil he was speaking in this wise: the end is assimilation to God; and in PLATO’S book X, de republica, page 760, edition Francof., we read: Οὐ γὰρ δὴ ὑπό γε θεῶν ποτὲ ἀμελεῖται, ὃς ἂν προθυμεῖσθαι ἐθέλῃ δίκαιος γίγνεσθαι, καὶ ἐπιτηδεύων ἀρετὴν εἰς ὅσον δύνατον ἀνθρώπῳ ὁμοιοῦσθαι θεῷ, for by the gods he is not overlooked at any time, who is willing to exert himself to become righteous, and, pursuing virtue to the utmost of human ability, to be like god. β. And the Distinction is sufficiently manifest in the thing itself, since an Analogy of the Communicable Attributes is discovered in creatures, especially holy creatures, and the complete Contrary of the Incommunicable always obtains in all those: hence the former are set forth to us for imitation, the latter are not, Matthew 5:48; Ephesians 5:1, 2; 1 Peter 1:15, 16; 1 John 3:3. Finally, Communicable Attributes are referred to individual Faculties of God’s Spiritual Essence, suppose Intellect or Will; the Incommunicable rather to the whole Essence of God (hence in the inverse order in our AUTHOR’S Compendio, in the place of “finally, the former are referred to the Essence of God, the latter rather to God’s individual Faculties,” it is to be read, “finally, the latter are referred to the Essence of God, the latter rather to God’s individual Faculties:” compare his Compendium Belgicum): or the Communicable are referred to the Spirituality of God, the Incommunicable to the concept of the Indepedence of God, insofar as He is best conceived as Independent Spirit. Indeed, a certain analogical expression of His Spirituality and of the Perfections thence resulting shines in rational creatures: but there is no vestige in them of Independence with its adjuncts, insofar as no created nature exists in any manner capable of such a sufficiency to exist of oneself without regard to an influx of any other cause, and of those predicates that flow from that: indeed, the exact opposite obtains in every creature, which in nothing is distinguished more from God, than that nothing is to be attributed to God, except what in every way is Independent, but to the Creature, only what in every way is dependent upon God. γ. Moreover, this distinction is useful; since from this, that the Son and the Holy Spirit are partakers together with God the Father of the Divine Attributes, especially the Incommunicable, we prove that both the Son and the Spirit are ὁμοούσιον, of one substance, with the Father.


They Object that hence is inferred an inequality of divine Properties, so that some appear to be more proper to God than others.


I Respond that it does not follow: all divine Attributes are equally and essentially applicable to God; but this commends the Goodness of God, that in His creatures He has willed to express some similitude and ἀποσκιασμάτιον/shadow of His own Virtues. Compare VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter XVI, § 3-6, pages 306-310; SPANHEIM’S Decadum Theologicarum III, § 8, columns 1206, 1207; likewise COCCEIUS’ Summam Theologiæ, chapter IX, § 34 and following, and chapter X, Opera, tome 7, pages 169b-174, where he himself also makes use of this distinction between Communicable and Incommunicable Attributes, and follows the same. Bolingbroke[1] contends that Omnipotence and infinite Wisdom are indeed applicable to God; but that the moral Attributes of Goodness and Righteousness are not at all to be assigned to Him; and that it savors of Enthusiasm, if a man should think that God is to be imitated in moral Attributes of this sort more than in other things; see LELAND’S Beschouwing van de Schriften der Deisten, part 2, section I, epistle 5, page 176, epistle 6, pages 184-191, who calles these rash and absurd assertions to examination, pages 191-204, and satisfactorily answer the objections of the same, pages 205-218, and introduces the same railing at him, pages 218-224.

[1] Henry St. John, First Viscount of Bolingbroke (1678-1751), was an English government official and political philosopher. In spite of his Deism, he was a proponent of conformity and a supporter of the Church of England.

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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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