De Moor IV:22: Limitations on God's Absolute Power?

With this Independence of the divine Power not withstanding, nevertheless it is to be said that God is not able to do; not from any defect of Power, but rather from abundance of Perfection:


1. What things are opposed to His eternal Counsel: since that is Immutable, Isaiah 46:10; Psalm 33:11. Thus by the divine Decree many things are made Impossible to God, which, if you have regard to His absolute Power, are to be designated as altogether Possible; but, if these things should occur contrary to the determination of the Decree, it would posit the manifest Imperfection of Mutability and Inconstancy in God.


2. What things are repugnant to His Perfections, since God is not able to deny Himself, 2 Timothy 2:13. What things of this sort are repugnant to the divine Perfections are to be called Morally Impossible, or what things are not able to be done in keeping with the laws of Holiness, of which sort many indeed are perpetrated by creatures; but to the perfectly pure and holy God whatever is morally impossible is truly impossible. So that the Scholastics are injurious to the Holiness of God, when with Bartholomew de Medina in his prima secundæ,[1] question LXXIX, article 1, they contend: God is able to sin if He wishes; therefore, He is able absolutely to sin. And also Arminius, when he absurdly asserts that God is able to do by His Omnipotence what He is not able to do by His Righteousness; as he holds this thesis in his Examine libri Perkinsi de Prædestinationis modo et ordine, book I, part II, section IV, in TWISSE’S[2] Vindiciis Gratiæ, etc., page 176, whose Digressionem quartam consult, pages 179, 180, in which he goes against this Arminian error. The absurdity of this thesis readily appears to those paying attention, in that at this point the extrinsic Impossibility concurs with the intrinsic; since a thesis of this sort, that God is able to sin, is not able to be conceived, and involves a contradiction with respect to the matter: indeed, in God Most Simple is introduced a conflict between Essential Attributes, Righteousness and Omnipotence; but God is not able to deny His Righteousness and Holiness: accordingly, when I say that the Holy God is able to sin, I speak a manifest contradiction; and so Sin and whatever is repugnant to the divine Perfections is not able to be said to be an object of divine Omnipotence.


Now, since Truth is among the divine Perfections, as we shall see in § 45, our AUTHOR rightly gathers that, if God in general is not able to do what things are repugnant to His Perfections, in particular He is not able to lie or to deceive: so that the assertion of Ludwig Wolzogen[3] is imprudent indeed, de Interprete Scripurarum, book I, page 24, “Creatures are able to be induced unto error by the infinite Creator, for in His infinite wisdom and power He infinitely excels the finite Creatures: nevertheless, God does not will this.” I say, he adds, that God is unwilling to deceive, in such a way that ye might not believe that He is not able, if He wills. This saying is excused, but not rightly, in Ludwig Wolzogen’s Censura Censuræ adversus de Labadie, pages 35-41. Descartes, proceeding further, also teaches that God in a certain manner is able to will to lie; who, when he had well denied that God lies or is a deceiver, adds in his Responsione ad Secundam Objectionem, page 76, that he had not spoken there of a Falsehood that is expressed in words, so that he is unwilling criticize those that concede that God was able through the Prophets to set forth some verbal Falsehood (of which sort are those of Physicians, with which they deceive the diseased so that they might cure them, that is, in which all malice of deception is wanting): consult VRIESIUS’ Exercitationem Rationalem XX, § 5; WITSIUS’ Twist des Heeren met zynen Wyngaard, chapter XXI, pages 267-271; VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter III, § 11, page 176.


But, α. Sacred Scripture stands in direct contradiction, which teaches that God does not lie nor deceive, neither is He able to do that, 1 Samuel 15:29; Hebrews 6:18; Titus 1:2. β. The consummate Veracity of God forcefully opposes, which requires that nothing is able ever to be disclosed by God to man that does not conform both to His mind and to the matters themselves. For the first and simplest Truth is not able in His words to be contrary to Himself or to His internal knowledge, with any appearance of falsehood. Therefore, God is not able to deceive, nor to will to do that, because this would also imply a contradiction: for the ability of God to deceive is the same thing as the ability of God to be Untrue, that is, not God, which God is certainly not able to will. γ. There is manifest Imperfection, not only in actual deceit, but also in the ability to deceive: for thus we conceive a Power in God, that is to be restrained by the bridle of His Will, lest it break forth in shameful acts of Falsehood. If, the more perfect one is, the further he is from imperfection: God is certainly to be said to be far more perfect, when with the act we at the same time remove from Him the power of sinning; which, if there be in Him a beginning prone to sin, we posit as a natural aptitude to sin, even if it does not break forth into act: this is not at all able to be reconciled with the consummate Perfection of God. δ. Neither ought a Verbal Lie to be distinguished here from whatever other mode of deception: for he that is able to set forth a falsehood in words, is also able to do that in whatever other method. Nor does a reason appear why Descartes would wish thus to distinguish here a verbal Lie, set forth by the Prophets, from other methods of deception, except perhaps (God forbid!) he was wishing to signify that God is indeed able to lie in Sacred Scripture, in which He makes use of verbal signs, but not in natural Reason, in which He manifests to us the very matter, that is, through innate Ideas, without verbal speech. In which manner Descartes does the worst service to the Revelation in Sacred Scripture, in that he completely undermines the infallible Veracity of it. ε. But whether God would intend injury though a verbal Lie of this sort, or not, it pertains not to the Lie as such; since one is also able sometimes to intend the injury of another through the Truth, and the intention of harming only makes the Lie worse, which nevertheless would be bad in itself without that intention: against this error thoroughly compare LEYDEKKER’S Facem Veritatis, locus III, controversy XIV, pages 163-175; VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter XII, pages 270-274.

And so with good reason are the Curators of the Academy of Leiden unwilling that it be taught in their Academy that God is able to deceive, if He wills: compare HEIDANUS’ Consideratien, etc., page 112. CLEMENT of ROME wrote best, First Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter XXVII, Ταύτῃ οὖν τῇ ἐλπίδι προσδεδέσθωσαν αἱ ψυχαὶ ἡμῶν τῷ πιστῷ ἐν ταῖς ἐπαγγελίαις, καὶ τῷ δικαίῳ ἐν τοῖς κρίμασιν. Ὁ παραγγείλας μὴ ψεύδεσθαι πολλῷ μᾶλλον αὐτὸς οὐ ψεύσεται. Οὐδὲν γὰρ ἀδύνατον παρὰ τῷ Θεῷ, εἰ μὴ τὸ ψεύσασθαι, Having then this hope, let our souls be bound to the one faithful in His promises, and just in His judgments: He who has commanded us not to lie, shall much more Himself not lie; for nothing is impossible with God, except to lie.


3. What things remove in their very conception the Finite limitation of the Creature; like the Infinity, Independence, and Eternity of the World. All which also involve a manifest Contradiction. For no Infinite thing is able to consist in finite parts; and so the World, in which extension obtains, parts existing alongside each other, etc., is finite and is never able to be made infinite. The Independence of the World would also remove altogether the distinction between the Creator and the Creature, and completely overthrow the nature of all created things. The Eternity of the World no less manifestly entangles; in that to be produced from nothing and to be from eternity are directly opposed to each other. But also in this way the Unity of God would be removed, since the World would also be God; if the Unity of God falls, His consummate Perfection also falls with it: but, if God is not consummately Perfect, neither is He God. At greater length, in Chapter VII, the possible Eternity of the World will be painstakingly refuted, § 19, and the Infinity of the same, § 34. Compare here VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter XIII, pages 274, 275, in which you may see that this third caution is rightly proposed by our AUTHOR against the Cartesian hypotheses, in which it is denied to be absurd, that a thing is actually Infinite in extension or number; it is asserted on the other hand that God by His absolute Power is able to what what things are incompatible with the nature of creatures.


4. What things imply a true Contradiction; as that which, α. Is between Being and Non-Being, when I affirm that a thing is and is not at the same time: but non-Entities are not the object of actual divine Power, because divine Omnipotence in its actuosity will absurdly be said to be terminated upon Nothing and Non-Being. And, if this common notion, One and the same thing is not able at the same time to be and not to be, be called into doubt, all κοιναὶ ἐννοίαι, common notions, are likewise able to be expunged from the mind. Hence as an axiom, which is not able to be gainsaid, it everywhere occurs in Writers both without and within the Church, that a thing done is not able to become undone, not even by divine Omnipotence: see the several passages from the most excellent Greek and Latin Writers, produced upon this sentence by GATAKER, Adversariis miscellaneis, chapter XXX, columns 756, 757, Operum Criticorum. AUGUSTINE, in book XXVI contra Faustum Manichæum, chapter V, opera, tome 8, column 309: “Whoever says, If God is omnipotent, let Him act so that what things have been done might not be done; does not see that he says this, that, if God is omnipotent, let Him act so that what things are true, in the very thing in which they are true, might be false.” β. It is not asked concerning that which one might rashly imagine to himself to be Contradictory; but what is Contradictory with respect to the very matter, or where a mutual repugnance of essential predicates is granted: but such a Contradiction in substance also implies a Contradiction in God, who knows matters as they are, and from whose Idea as a directing principium, with a Decree intervening, all things are formed: but now the predicates of things truly Contradictory are so incompatible that they cannot even to be represented to the intellect. Hence we separate Contradictories from the divine Power on account of the very perfection of the divine Power; since that perfection does not allow us to reflect on the divine Power after the likeness of brute force, in which manner, nevertheless, it would have to be conceived, if God is able to produce what He does not understand. And indeed, no other Virtue/Power is able to be attributed to first reason than what according to a previous act of the Intellect fulfills that which it conceives in the mind. γ. We saw on § 21 that all Possibility does not depend upon the determining Decree or Will of God, but upon the divine Power or Sufficiency, compared with the Idea of the things in the divine Intellect. Therefore, what God understands Himself to be able to do through His Sufficiency is Possible: on the other hand, that is impossible, the concept of which is not able to be formed by the Intellect, which sort are all Contradictories. And so, when we say that God is not able to do Contradictory things, we do not thus posit Limitations of the divine Power, because Possible things are the object of the divine Power, not Impossible things: the inablility to do such things is no more prejudicial to divine Power, than it is able to be said to be prejudicial to the Intellect that it only becomes acquainted with and understand intelligible things. Thus it is no imperfection of sight, that it does not see sounds; nor of hearing, that it does not hear colors: because such are not the proper object of these senses. VRIESIUS, in his Disquisitione de Contradictoriis Deo Possibilibus, which is found in his Exercitationibus Rationalibus, defends the negative position: 1. From this, that the possibility of Contradictories by no means consists with the Wisdom of the first Cause, § 3, 4. 2. From this, that divine Omnipotence is terminated upon a true thing, not upon nothing, and so not upon Contradictories, § 5. 3. From this, that if Contradictories are possible to God, nothing so absurd is able to be feigned that God cannot bring it to pass, § 6. 4. From this, that, if God is able to make it happen that Contradictories might exist at the same time, He is also able to set forth Contradictory matters to be believed, § 7. 5. From this, that, with the possibility of Contradictories admitted, whatever arguments sought from the absurdity of consequences are of no moment, § 8. 6. From this, that in this manner all things pertaining to all disciplines are subverted, and the foundations of all the certainty that a man is ever able to have, § 9.


And this is again to be observed against DESCARTES, who thinks it to be proven that God was not able to be limited to bring it to pass, so that it might be true, that Contradictories be not able to be at the same time; and hence was able to establish the contrary: see VRIESIUS, in his Disquisitione de Contradictoriis Deo Possibilibus, § 1, 2, who judges that it is to be said to be the πρῶτον ψεῦδος, fundamental error, of this Cartesian hypothesis, that they do not rightly distinguish the Power of God from His Will, but hold the divine volition as the sole root of Possibility, § 10, 15.


The Most Illustrious WITTICH followed Descartes to such an extent that he responds to the Question, whether God is even able to do those things that imply Contradiction?, We are not able to determine this, since the Power of God is infinite, but we are finite: but, if we should wish to determine this, then we would certainly set upon divine Power limits not known to us: see his Theologiam Pacificam, § 201-203. But from what things have already been said these things readily fall. And at greater length VRIESIUS removes this and other difficulties objected by Descartes and his followers, in his Disquisitione de Contradictoriis Deo Possibilibus, § 16-21: add LEYDEKKER’S Facem Veritatis, locus III, controversy XV, pages 176-185; VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter XI, pages 257-269. According to this matter it belonged to this Philosopher, devoted to Roman rites, to support the Possibility of Contradictories, without which the dogma of Transubstantiation is not able to stand: but it is not seemly that our Theologians follow so readily an opinion of this sort, which Descartes rather had in common fanatical Weigel:[4] for, among the Weigelian Paradoxes confuted by Hoornbeeck, is this also, that by the light of grace the mind learns that all Contradictories really unite in one, and to acknowledge them as true, in such a way that both poles of a Contradiction are true at the same time and together: see HOORNBEECK, HOORNBEECK’S de Paradoxis Weigelianis, pages 27-34; 52-54. Compare on this § those things that SUICERUS produces out of the Fathers, Observationum Sacrarum, chapter XI, pages 276-280.


On the Question, in which it is asked, Whether a Final Possible Thing by the very fact is able to be produced by God? the Most Illustrious VRIESIUS judges to be answered in the negative. Because, however many and however great the created things God ever produced, all those things are always finite by their nature. On the other hand, as great as God’s Perfection is, so great is His Power, that is, Infinite. And, since there is no proportion between the finite and the Infinite, it teaches that it is to be concluded that such a fullness of created perfections is never able to exist, which would actually be adequate to the immense divine Power, and thus exhaust its plenitude: see VRIESIUS’ Exercitationem Rationalem XXI, § 8.

[1] Bartholomew de Medina (1527-1581) was a Spanish Dominican theologian. He wrote commentaries on portions of Thomas’ Summa, and he is remembered as the father of Probabilism.


[2] William Twisse (1578-1646) was an English Puritan. He served as the prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly until his death in 1646. He is remembered for his exposition and defense of Supralapsarian Calvinism.


[3] Ludwig Wolzogen (1633-1690) was a Dutch Reformed pastor and theologian. He served as Professor of Practical Philosophy at Groningen (1660-1663), and as Professor of Church History at Utrecht (1664-1670), and at Amsterdam.


[4] Valentin Weigel (1533-1588) was a German theologian and mystic. He served as a Lutheran pastor at Zschopau, and wrote voluminously. He kept his more radical ideas to himself, and lived peacefully. Contrary to the dogmatic tendency of the age, Weigel believed that internal illumination is superior to all external means of spiritual knowledge.

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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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