Wendelin's "Christian Theology": Primary Attributes of God, Part 1



THESIS VI: The Properties of the divine nature, or essence, are GOD’S essential attributes, whereby the truth and majesty of the divine essence comes to be known, and is distinguished from other things.

EXPLANATION: I. We attribute Properties to GOD, following Scripture, in which God by the mouth of His Prophets and Apostles everywhere claims for Himself and proclaims concerning Himself the characteristics of His divine nature, goodness, veracity, righteousness, mercy, wisdom, holiness, power, eternity, etc.

II. But far different is the account of the properties, and attributes, that are attributed to God, and those that are attributed to men or angels. For the properties of angels and men, like goodness, holiness, wisdom, power, etc., are accidental, which really differ, not only from their subjects, that is, angels and men, but also from one another, and make a composition with their subjects: but God’s properties are not accidental, but the very essence of God, indicated to us and conceived by us through the mode of this or that property. Thus the righteousness of God is the righteous God Himself; the mercy of God is the merciful God Himself; the wisdom, the wise God Himself; etc. In God righteousness is not one thing, and mercy another, and wisdom yet another: but they are one perfectly simple act, which receives diverse names, both on account of the diversity of effects and objects, and on account of the imbecility of our judgment. And so, those individual properties do not adequately represent the most fecund and altogether simple perfection of God, but only parts, as it were, and diverse appearances. If one concept were adequate for us, which could represent to us the entire divine perfection, many inadequate conceptions would not be needful.

III. But now it is additionally to be proved by us, (1.) that the divine Properties are not really distinct from the divine essence: (2.) that the same are not really distinct from one another.

That the properties are not really distinct from the essence of GOD, is proven by these arguments:

(1.) If the wisdom of GOD were really distinct from the essence of GOD, either it would be united with the essence through real composition, or it would be separated from it:

But it is not united with it through real composition; because in GOD no real composition is granted, as we will presently prove: neither is it separated from it; because by that GOD could no more be called wise, than a man might be called learned through learning separated and inhering in another subject.

(2.) The Essence of GOD of itself and by itself is infinitely perfect: Therefore, it does not have its perfection from another really distinct.

(3.) If divine properties were really distinct from the essence, certainly the individual properties will be either finite or infinite. If finite, the very infinity of GOD , which is among His properties, will also be finite: which is a contradiction: If infinite, something really distinct from GOD shall be infinite, and thus either GOD shall not be infinite of Himself, or there shall be multiple infinites really distinct: both of which are false and absurd. Hence Dudley Fenner[1] in his Theologia, book I, chapter 3, in the descriptions of the individual divine properties, in the place of the genus posits the Essence of GOD: for example, the omniscience of GOD is the essence of GOD, sufficient to know with consummate perfection all things in one act: the power of GOD is the essence of GOD, etc.: the mercy of GOD is the essence of GOD, etc.

That the divine properties are not really distinct from one another, is proven by these arguments:

(1.) And absolutely simple essence is not able to include multiple essential predicates really distinct from one other. But the essence of GOD is absolutely simple: Therefore, it is not able to include multiple essential predicates really distinct from one another.

The rationale of the Major: a plurality of essential predicates, really distinct on from another, implies composition, and so is repugnant to absolute simplicity.

(2.) Every attribute of GOD is infinite, not only in the perfection of some genus, but simply in the genus of being: For it is being necessary of itself, and very being by essence. Whence it is necessary, that in its essential principle it include essence, and all other attributes. For, if it should exclude essence, and other essential attributes, it would not be simply perfect in the genus of being, nor infinitely perfect in itself and its essence: which ought to be conceded concerning all other attributes and the every essence of GOD: Whence it would necessarily be inferred that the perfection of GOD is forged from many finite perfections.

The opinion of Augustine is the same, book 6 Of the Trinity, chapter 7, His magnitude is the same as His wisdom; and His goodness is the same as His wisdom and magnitude; and His truth is the same as all those. Anselm[2] expressed the same in his Monologio, chapter 16, What then? says he, If that supreme nature is all good, will it be composed of so many goods? Is it not rather that there are not many goods, but one good signified by so many names? And again: Therefore, since that nature is in no way compounded, and yet is omnimodally those goods, it is necessary that all those be not many, but one. Therefore, any one of those is the same as all at the same time.

Meanwhile, a rule is to be observed here: The divine attributes are able to be predicated mutually of each other in the abstract, as far as they are in GOD, but not as far as they are in our conceptions. For thus they are distinguished by reason:

Others thus express the same rule: The divine attributes are able truly to be predicated mutually of each other in an identical sense: that is, as far as they signify one altogether simple thing in GOD, which one thing is able to effect all things: but not in a formal sense: that is, as they are conceived by us, who are able to represent to ourselves the immense and altogether simple perfection of GOD only through conceptions formally distinct.

IV. One objection is to be briefly resolved here.

Whoever conceives of what is one and simple in GOD as many and distinct attributes, conceives falsehood concerning GOD:

But our intellect conceives of what is one and simple in GOD as many and distinct attributes.

Therefore, our intellect conceives falsehood concerning GOD.

Response: I introduce a distinction into the Major: Whoever conceives of what is one and simple in God (in act and really) as many (in act and really), conceives falsehood concerning God.

We deny the Minor limited in this way: For, what in God is one in act, our intellect does not conceive of in God as many in act and diverse in reality; but as many virtually by eminence, which the altogether simple act of GOD embraces with perfect simplicity in the most eminent way; but they are not able to be expressed by us in one formal conception, representing His immense and altogether simple perfection.

Now, the virtual distinguishing of the attributes of God, with Suarez[3] as our interpreter, is nothing other than either virtually to contain distinct effects: or unitedly and simply to have in Himself what things are distinct in others: or to be eminent virtue or reason, which is able to be the principium which or whereby of diverse actions or processions. Therefore, although this virtual distinction is not a distinction in the thing, but an eminence: nevertheless, it is the foundation, even with respect to us, distinctly conceiving of that virtue its own habitudes of itself to distinct effects or ends.

To the one asking: whether these statements are true or false? Righteousness as righteousness is mercy; understanding as understanding is will.

The same Suarez responds, disputationibus metaphysicis 30, section 6, § 13, If the speech be concerning the very matters conceived, those expressions are true: for the sense is that the matter that is conceived under the quality of righteousness or of understanding formally and essentially includes the quality of mercy, will, etc. But, if the speech be concerning the matters as they are distinctly and expressly conceived by us, those expressions are false. For our mind through inadequate conceptions distributes the matter, altogether indivisible in itself: and now, although the same matter be altogether indivisible in itself, it does not come into our mind under individual conceptions, according to its entire, adequate account: and so, if there be a reduplication in order to our conceptions, what is attributed to one is not able to be attributed to the other: because one and the same thing is not conceived under the same express habitude by one and by another.

If you should additionally ask: How can one altogether simple perfection of GOD produces such diverse effects, of which sort are mercy, righteousness, intellect, and will?

The same responds: Although the perfection of God is in itself altogether one, yet it does not work according to its own adequate reason: Whence no effect is adequate for the divine power. Therefore, the altogether simple and one perfection of God produces the effect of justice, that is, punishment, according to an inadequate habitude toward this effect, not toward the effect of mercy, or forgiveness: thus, although the essence of God is in itself the one and altogether simple idea of all things created or creatable, we say truly, that man is created according to the idea of man, not according to the idea of a horse: because the one, most eminent divine exemplar, thus representing the individual things, as if it were characteristic of the individual things, of itself does not produce each one, except to the extent that it represents it.

Finally, if you should ask: Whether, for example, the righteousness of God is able truly to be conceived by us, with it cut off from every other perfection?

The same responds: It is possible, if a simple severing be understood, with respect to the distinct knowledge, or consideration, of the one conceptualizing: because he verily thinks expressly of nothing else, except the relation of righteousness. Contrariwise, it is not possible, if an exclusive severing be understood: because he that thus thinks supposes that righteousness to be righteousness only, and in its essential relation to include no perfection. Indeed, not according to an abstraction cleanly severed are the other attributes thus abstracted from righteousness, without their inclusion in the concept of it, at least implicitly: for, if the righteousness of God is conceived, the common concept of righteousness is not sufficient, but it is necessary to add something, whereby the concept might be made more appropriate for divine righteousness: which sort of addition is, if righteousness be conceived by essence, or as simply infinite, which is essentially every other perfection. It was agreeable to adduce these things at greater length in this difficult matter: because from these things most of the difficulties in this question are able to be resolved. Those that do not understand, let them pass on, and advance to other accommodated things; since it is our intention by the same work to serve the interests of the many students of Theology, even those of unequal progress.


THESIS VII: The Properties of God are of the primary or secondary sort.


THESIS VIII: The properties of the first sort are those things that are applicable to God in such a way that the contraries of those things are present in every creature: of which sort are independence, immutability, immensity, eternity.

EXPLANATION: The divine properties of the first sort are called incommunicable by some: because no endowment of God analogous to these is able to be in the creatures: indeed, it is a contradiction, to be a Creature, and to be an independent, absolutely simple, immutable, immense, and eternal nature.



THESIS IX: Independence is a property of God, whereby, with respect to essence, subsistence, and actions, He depends upon no other cause, since He is, subsists, and acts, of Himself.

EXPLANATION: I. Whatever is outside of God, depends upon God, with respect to essence, subsistence, faculties, and actions. Whence by the λόγον/Logos/Word all things are said to have been made, and without Him was not any thing made that was made, John 1:3. Neither is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed any thing, since He gives to all life, and breath, and all things, Acts 17:25. He preserves all things, Nehemiah 9:6. Therefore, God alone depends upon no other.

II. The sufficiency of God does not differ from His independence, because He has in Himself and of Himself a sufficiency for Himself and for us, and lacks nothing; while all other things, as they depend upon God, are not at all sufficient unto themselves. God’s name שַׁדַּי/Shaddai points to this property, Genesis 17:1;[4] 35:11.[5]

* III. One objection is here to be resolved. Something is added to God in time: Therefore, He has not always been perfect. For, He, who was not creator from eternity, begins to be so in time.

Response: The antecedent, concerning that which is added by way of perfection, is denied. The proof is inconsequent. To be Creator denotes a relation of a creature, actually existing, to God, from whom it has its being, not by some new act, but by an eternal act, which the effect follows in time. And external and temporal relations are not in God, but between God and the creature: and they are real on the creatures’ side, but not so on God’s side. Creatures are perfected by God; they do not perfect God: who is in Himself as perfect with the creatures as with them.


THESIS X: Simplicity is a property of God, whereby the entire divine essence is free from real composition.

EXPLANATION: I. Among the Philosophers various modes of real composition are related, whereby one thing is made from many things diverse in reality: namely, 1. from matter and form: as in man, consisting of soul and body: 2. from subject and accidental property: as in a white wall, in a learned man, etc.: 3. from act and potential: as in every create that is able to become what it is not, and is able to cease to be what it is: 4. from genus and difference properly so called: as when a difference, added to a generic nature, restrict it to a certain species: 5. from being and essence: as when a thing is said to be by its essence: which is the most subtle distinction of all.

After GOD, nothing is simpler than intelligent spirits: to which, nevertheless, all these species of compositions, with the first excepted, are applicable: God alone admits of none: Whence that well-worn Theological dictum: In GOD there is nothing that is not GOD.

The argument whereby this absolute simplicity of GOD is proven follow:

(1.) He that is truly and properly יְהוָה/Jehovah[6] is an altogether simple essence.

But GOD is truly and properly Jehovah.

Therefore, He is an altogether simple essence.

The Minor is beyond controversy: Genesis 15:7, I am Jehovah;[7] Amos 9:6, Jehovah is His name.[8]

The Major is proven: Because Jehovah signifies essence κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, par excellence, so called for the most eminent reason, because He is essence of Himself, and does not have His essence from anything external, nor from anything internal by way of composition. Whence in the Scriptures this name is attributed to GOD alone; because absolute simplicity is applicable to Him alone.

(2.) What is composite, is perfected by another.

GOD is not perfected by another:

Therefore, GOD is not composite.

The Major is manifestly obvious: Because every composite thing has its perfection from its rudimentary components.

The Minor is proven: Because GOD is altogether perfect in and of Himself; He has no passive potential for receiving perfection from another: for passive potency is connected with imperfection. To this pertains the name of GOD, שַׁדַּי/Shaddai, Genesis 17:1, which signifies GOD’S absolute perfection, independence, and power, and is attributed to GOD alone in the Scriptures.

(3.) Every composite by nature is mutable and resolvable: But GOD in no way is mutable or resolvable. Therefore, He is in no way composite.

(4.) That which is the first one, is free of all composition. But GOD is the first one:

Therefore, He is free of all composition.

The Major is proven: because what is composite is not able to be called the first one: since that, wherewith it is compounded, is prior and more nearly one.

(5.) Every composite has a cause.

GOD does not have a cause:

Therefore, He is in no manner composite.

The Major is proven: Because the rudimentary components are the causes of a composite.

The Minor is proven: Because GOD is the first cause simply.

II. Many things are able to be alleged against the absolute simplicity of GOD.

(1.) Where there is essence, and a mode of essence or real relation, there is composition;

But in GOD there is essence, and a real relation, or mode of essence, which constitutes a person with the essence:

Therefore, there is composition in GOD.

Response: I deny the Major: For, since essence and mode of essence do not really differ, as a thing from a thing: certainly they do not make a real composition. The mode or relation distinguishes the persons, in such a way that it compounds neither essence, nor person.

The Scholastics teach, that a relation added to a subject does not make a real composition: because it is not a real being of itself, but by its foundation, namely, its subject or efficient cause. And so, for example, paternity adds nothing real to the essence of the father: because the relation is real in no other way than because of the father, who is a real essence.

If you should take exception:

That divine relations are real, and real entities:

Therefore, they add something real to the outside:

The consequences answer by way of negation: for they are real entities, not of themselves, but from their foundation or outside. This is so, because a father is a thing, and the real foundation of paternity; consequently, paternity is also a real relation, which by and of itself is not anything real. See Zanchi’s “de simplicitate DEI”.[9]

They insist: An incommunicable thing and a communicable thing really differ:

But essence is communicable, and the mode of essence, or τρόπος ὑπάρξεως, is incommunicable.

Therefore, they really differ.

Response: The Major is not universally true: the reason is, that the underlying species is communicable, and the individual is incommunicable, for example, the man and Peter, yet the man and Peter do not really differ from each other.

Suarez sets about to prove by the best rationale, that in God there is no composition of personality and nature or essence.

Where suppositality, or personality, makes a real composition with nature, not only according to our mode of conception, but also in the thing itself, there personality is without essential relation to such a nature, and the nature is without essential relation to personality or suppositality.

But the divine essence is not without essential relation to personality, and personality is not without relation to the divine nature.

Therefore, in God personality and nature do not make a real composition.

The Major is proven: Because in all real composition it is necessary that the extremes be distinguished in some real way; but what things are distinguished in a thing, each of those is without relation to the other.

The Minor is proven: Because otherwise to be by essence would not in the thing itself be of the essence of the divine suppositum: and, consequently, the divine suppositum would not be a being essentially necessary, but a participant, and made by some cause: which is absurd.

(2.) Where there is a subject and a property, there is real composition.

But in God there is a subject, namely, His nature, and a property of nature: as we have hitherto seen: Therefore, etc.

Response: I make a distinction in the Major: where there is a subject and a property, as an accident really distinct from the subject, there a composition is granted: But in God there is not a subject and a property of this sort: as we have shown above in Thesis VI. Let the argument of Suarez be observed, whereby he proves that in particular no composition of subject and accident is granted in God.

If in God there were any accident properly so called, that might make a composition, that would be either really, or at least modally on the part of the thing, distinct from the divine essence.

But the consequent is false and impossible: Therefore, the antecedent is also.

The Major is proven: Because the divine essence is consummately perfect substance: therefore, it is necessary that an accident properly so called is either really or modally on the part of the thing distinct from it: for no accident, properly so called, is able to have substantial being; which the divine essence does have.

The Minor is proven: If in God an accident be found, actually distinct from His substance, that would be either from an external cause, or from His own essence, by natural emanation from it: But neither of these is able to be affirmed without absurdity. It is not able to be from an external cause: because it is contrary to the nature of the first cause to receive anything from another cause: for thus that other cause, in a certain regard, would be superior, and with respect to such a perfection God would depend upon an external cause: which things are ἀδύνατα/impossible.

Neither is it able to be from His own essence by natural emanation: because that internal emanation would be some efficient power, though which that accident would receive being, which accident would not of itself have being: Whence the being of such an accident would be imparted, and not by essence: and so in God there would be from eternity a certain mutation or reception of another entity imparted and effected: which implies manifest imperfection.

The Socinians take exception, that some attributes of God are essential, others non-essential; as when God is called the Judge and avenger of sins, etc. They deny the attributes of the latter sort to be identical with the essence of God: because God is able to be without them: For, if there were not sins, which are able not to be, He would not be the judge and avenger of sins. So also to be creator is an attribute that is not identical with God: for God would have been, even if He were not the creator: for He was able not to create the world.

Response: In the divine attributes that are called non-essential, three things are to be distinguished: 1. the formal principle of acting itself, whereby God judges, avenges, creates, etc.; 2. the Termination of that principle, or its application to an object, which is judged, created, etc.; 3. the Relation, which arises from the application, between the cause and the effect.

The first properly has the relation of a divine attribute, and is the same with the divine essence, and an essential attribute, for example, righteousness, wisdom, power, etc. The second and third are not properly attributes: But they are applicable to God only through an extrinsic denomination from created things, and are not in God, but in the creatures: and so in no manner do they impede divine simplicity, nor undermine the rule, there is nothing in GOD that is not GOD Himself, which rule displeases the Socinians.

(3.) Where three things are really distinct, there is real composition.

In GOD are three things really distinct, namely, three Persons: Therefore, in GOD there is a real composition.

Response: I make a distinction in the Major: where there are three things really distinct, that as rudimentary component concur unto the composition of a thing, there a real composition is granted.

But, even if the three persons are really distinguished, they concur unto the composition of no thing. Indeed, if of the three persons is composed neither one person, nor one essence, but they remain distinct among themselves, without composition of some fourth thing; it is true in such a way that they are not really distinguished from the essence: For God is a most holy Trinity of persons: and the most holy Trinity of persons is God.

(4.) The will of God is not the very essence of God: but it is really distinct from it:

Therefore, there is in God a subject and an attribute, really distinct from the subject; and by consequence a real composition.

The Antecedent is proven: Because the will of God is free: the essence of God is not free, but necessary.

Response: I deny the Antecedent. In proof, I answer: Concerning the will of GOD (the same is the reason for the divine decrees), three things are to be regarded and distinguished: 1. The Essence of GOD, considered in terms of power and vital action, and insofar as it is necessarily directed toward, and terminated upon, the love of the divine goodness itself. 2. The Termination of that essence upon the production, government, and love of creatures. 3. The Relation of reason, which results from that termination.

Whence it is evident in what respect both God’s will and essence are free and necessary. Namely, whether His essence or His will be considered in the first way, it is necessary. In the second way, both are free: for no creature is absolutely necessary: Whence neither God’s will nor essence, considered in terms of vital principle, is necessarily terminated upon the creature. In the third way, both are partly necessary and partly free: for a relation necessarily results, with a termination posited upon a created thing: but it is not able to result, if the termination does not precede. But, you say, the decrees of God are many, according to the multitude of objects concerning which they are made: the divine essence is one: Therefore, they are not able to be the same as the divine essence: for one thing and many things are not one thing.

Response to the Major: The decrees of GOD are said to be many, not with respect to the acts of God, internal, eternal, various in number and distinct; for God decreed all things by one, internal and eternal act: But with respect to objects, with which the act of the divine decree is conversant, from which, by external denomination, a multitude is attributed to it, without that internal multiplication of it: just as a center is not multiplied, although many line extend from it to the circumference; neither are the line confounded, although all concur in it.

[1] Dudley Fenner (c. 1558-1597) was an English Puritan, embracing Thomas Cartwright’s Presbyterianism. His The artes of logike and rethorike helped to popularize Ramist logic in England, and he is among the first to use the term “covenant of works”. [2] Anselm (c. 1034-1108) was Bishop of Canterbury, most remembered for his articulation of the satisfaction theory of atonement and his ontological argument for the existence of God. [3] 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. [4] 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.” [5] Genesis 35:11: “And God said unto him, I am God Almighty (אֵ֤ל שַׁדַּי֙, El Shaddai): be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins…” [6]יְהוָה/Jehovah is most probably related to the verbal root הָיָה, to be. [7] Genesis 15:7: “And he said unto him, I am Jehovah (יְהוָה) that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.” [8] Amos 9:6: “It is he that buildeth his stories in the heaven, and hath founded his troop in the earth; he that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth: Jehovah (יְהוָה) is his name.” [9]De Natura Dei, book II, chapter 2.

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