De Moor IV:20: The Independence of God

Among the Incommunicable Attributes in the first place God’s Independence is treated.

He is Independent, because He is of Himself sufficient unto Himself, in such a way that He requires nothing except Himself for His existence. And so, when we speak of God’s Independence, absolute Independence is to be understood, which removed dependence of every sort: but not relative Independence, which some observe in the order of creatures among themselves, and which only denies a certain manner of Dependence, whereby, for example, Substance is independent of its subject, Spirit is independent of integrating parts, etc. But when Independence pertains to the infinitely perfect Essence of God, the same thing obtain here that obtains in the cases of the other Attributes, that we are not able by the finite capacity of our mind positively to set forth to ourselves the same, unless we soon fall upon the idea of causality; hence we think of and express this Attribute negatively also by the notion of Independence, insofar as it presents God’s Essence as in need of nothing to exist: nevertheless, the same Perfection is also expressed by a more positive, but also by a more barbarous, term Aseity, insofar as Independence on the part of the thing is as positive as possible, and not only excludes in God the need of any other, but also posits that a Most Perfect Sufficiency to exist of Himself and through Himself is applicable to God; so that by or of Himself, in the most eminent manner and infinitely diverse from all causality, He possesses Existence, to which all other Beings are obliged for their causes. He is also call the First, because what is Independent supposes nothing else upon which it might depend any way: and, unless it be first and supreme, it would be subordinated to another upon which it would depend.


It is defined by our AUTHOR as a Perfection of God, whereby, being Sufficient unto Himself, He is the supreme Cause of all things outside of Himself; the truth of which Definition is evident:


α. From Scripture, which, 1. for the confirmation of the former member of the Definition attributes to God Sufficiency, Genesis 17:1,[1] needing nothing, Acts 17:25a; Supremacy and Primacy, Isaiah 57:15; 41:4, which would only be applicable to God if He were Independent Being: for, what is not Independent, is not first and supreme; but is subordinated to something else upon which it depends. 2. With respect to the other member, he posits the Dependence of all things on God, not to be replaced by a circle, Nehemiah 9:6; Acts 17:25b; Romans 11:36.


β. Reason joins in support: which, 1. dictates that all Being be either dependent or independent. God is not able to be called dependent, because dependence indicates need, and to such an extent imperfection, all which is to be removed from Infinitely Perfect Being. Therefore, God is Independent and Sufficient unto Himself, which is the highest Perfection. 2. Reason teaches that God is the First in every order of Causes: but, what is First in every order of Causes, that was clearly able to have received nothing from the influx of another; nevertheless, since He exists, it is certainly necessary that He exist by and from Himself. God will ever be in every way Independent of every Cause. 3. Reason dictates that God is not only sufficient unto Himself, but is also the Supreme Cause of all things outside of Himself, upon which, as creating and sustaining, all things depend. For, as it is an imperfection to depend upon another, so, on the other hand, it is a great Perfection to have another thing depending upon the self; since this exists as a proof of a certain super-abundance, whereby a thing is not only sufficient for itself, but also for another diverse from itself: which Perfection then is not to be denied to the consummately Perfect Being: compare GROTIUS’ de Veritate Christianæ Religionis, book I, § 7. The Pythagoreans,[2] therefore, were judging that the name Ζεὺς/Zeus, from living, was placed upon the highest Deity, because he grants a beginning and life to all things: see AB OOSTEN DE BRUYN’S de Philosophia Gentile Doctrinæ moralis, pages 27, 28.


Now, although Independence is an Attribute superlatively Positive, to the extent, as we just now saw, that it denotes that Sufficiency whereby what it is is that which is of itself and through itself: yet God is not with sufficient aptness said to be of Himself Positively. In a divided sense these things are able to be expressed concerning God; for God Is in a superlatively Positive manner, and Is of Himself: but in a composite sense God is rather said to be of Himself Negatively, by excluding all beginning of Him; than to be of Himself Positively, since thus He might appear to be thought the Cause of Himself, and that most absurdly, as our AUTHOR speaks in his Medulla Theologiæ. Nevertheless, Descartes thus everywhere teaches, the Reverend Groenewegen and others explaining his mind; moreoever, he does not dread to say that God is the Cause of Himself, while he does not see why this title ought so very much to be avoided; he thinks that God is able to be called His own Cause without excessive impropriety, because He Himself is the one that actually sustains Himself by His own power: indeed, he believes that to be of oneself is the most perfect manner of Causality, whereby from eternity God is of Himself the cause of His divine virtues and perfections; excelling in a certain way with respect to Himself, because the efficient cause excels with respect to its effect: see PETRUS VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter XIV, § 2.


Our AUTHOR points out that the Cartesians thus imitate JEROME’S less prudent manner of speaking, which occurs in his Commentarium on Ephesians 3:15, opera, tome 9, page 219b, “And how does God claim the common name of Substance as proper to Himself? In that manner, as we said, that all other things have received their being by the blessing of God. But God, who always is, does not have His beginning from another source, and is the origin of Himself and the Cause of His own Substance, and is not able to be understood to have from another source what substitit (perhaps it is to be read, subsistit/subsists).”


But we briefly observe, 1. that a Thing Caused and its Cause are related; that the cause is prior in nature to the thing caused; and that there is an omnimodal Dependence of a thing caused upon its causes. Hence God is not able Positively to be called the Cause of Himself of and through Himself, unless the divine Nature be established as dependent and independent at the same time, prior and posterior to itself, while He gave that to Himself which He was already possessing. 2. If in addition God is said to be the Cause of Himself, because He preserves Himself by the same Power whereby He preserves things placed outside of Himself: the concept of the divine Power is to be sent before, not only the essences of other created things, but also the Existence of God. 3. Since Preservation is a certain sort of continued Creation, on account of the things now alleged it is to be thought that God is to be established as the Creator of Himself, as He is of His creatures; the being of which, as at the first, so also continued, is to be referred to the superabounding causality of the divine Power. All which are superlatively absurd and disparaging to divine Perfection. See many more things in the Most Illustrious VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter XIV, § 2, pages 276-284. GOMARUS, in his Diatriba de Christo αὐτοθεῷ, in VOETIUS’[3] Disputationum theologicarum, part I, page 447, “A thing is said to be of itself in a twofold manner, either that it is positively an effect of itself, or that it is negatively ἀναίτιον, not caused, or is not the effect of another cause. In the former manner, it is not able to agree with deity, or with anything else, for that matter, because it implies a contradiction, that is is both cause and effect of itself. But in the latter manner, it agree perfectly, indeed it necessarily squares with deity, because deity is the first being, without cause, and the cause of all beings, as the name Jehovah[4] and the nature of God evince.” And on page 448, “Bellarmine acts the part of a sophist, when he babbles in this way: If αὐτοθεὸς signifies the one that is God by His own agency, certainly neither the Father nor the son would be able to be called αὐτοθεὸς: for the Son is not God of Himself, but of the Father. Neither is the Father God of Himself, but of none: for to be of oneself is to be produced by oneself: For the Father is simply unbegotten and unproduced. But this is mere vanity: for to be of oneself (as it is evident from what is above) is able to be taken either positively, and thus it is the true opinion of the Jesuits; or negatively, so that it might denote that it was produced by none, metaphorically, by a certain similitude, for what things are of none are even as if they were of themselves, etc.” VOETIUS in his Notes ad Gomari Diatriben, page 461: “God is the first and independent being. Therefore, He does not have His origin from Himself, nor from another, as Chrysostom teaches in his libro de Incorporeitate naturæ Dei, and Basil in book I contra Eunomius, where he says that this was always beyond question among all, that God exists neither of Himself nor of another.” And on page 466, “Possevino in his Apparatu sacro[5] in the entry on Gilbert Genebrard[6] judges that the no less difficult expressions of Augustine, Jerome, and all others of the Fathers, in which they speak of God as the cause of Himself, are thus to be explained with Suarez,[7] that He is of Himself and αὐτοθεὸς, negatively, that is, having His being without emanation from another: in such a way that by that negation is declared the positive and simple perfection of His being, which in itself and its essence requires Him to exist in such a way that He receives it from none: which perfection that being does not have, which does not have being except it receive it from another. These things from him.” Thus it is also rightly asserted in the Apostolic Constitutions, book VI, chapter XI, Ἕνα μόνον Θεὸν καταγγέλλομεν—οὐκ αὐταίτιον καὶ αὐτογένεθλον, ὡς ἐκεῖνοι οἴονται, ἄλλ᾽ ἀΐδον καὶ ἄναρχον, καὶ φῶς οἰκοῦντα ἀπρόσιτον, we declare one only God…not self-caused or self-begotten, as they suppose, but eternal and without original, and inhabiting light inaccessible,[8] on which passage see the notes of COTELIER.

[1] Genesis 17:1: “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God (אֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֔י, El-Shaddai); walk before me, and be thou perfect.”


[2] Pythagoras (582-507 BC) was a Greek philosopher and mathematician.


[3] Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) was a Dutch Reformed minister and theologian. In 1619, he attended the Synod of Dort as its youngest member. Some years later he was appointed as Professor of Theology at Utrecht (1636-1676).


[4] The name יְהוָה/Jehovah is formed from הָיָה, the verb of being.


[5] Antonio Possevino (1533-1611) was a Jesuit, Counter-Reformation controversialist, and vicar general. His Apparatus sacer is an encyclopedic presentation of the principal ecclesiastical authors on Biblical interpretation.


[6] Gilbert Genebrard (1535-1597) was a French Benedictine scholar, specializing in Oriental studies. He served the Roman Church as a professor of Hebrew at the Collège Royal, and later as Archbishop of Aix. He is especially noteworthy for his commentary on the Psalms and his translation of Rabbinic works into Latin.


[7] Francisco Suárez (1548-1617) was a Spanish Jesuit, esteemed by some as the greatest scholastic philosopher-theologian since Thomas Aquinas. Suárez’s interests included international law, metaphysics, and theology. In the field of international law, he was a forerunner of Grotius, who speaks of him with the highest respect.


[8] 1 Timothy 6:16.

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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