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Wendelin's "Christian Theology": Secondary Attributes of God, Part 4



THESIS XXVII: Hitherto the commanding principium: the executing principium follows, which is the power of God, whereby God is able to do whatsoever things are not foreign to His nature and truth.

EXPLANATION: I. The power of God is sometimes called His omnipotence: because God is able to do all things. Luke 1:37, With God not any word shall be impossible. Revelation 1:8, the Omnipotent: Revelation 15:3, great and marvelous are thy works, Lord God Omnipotent. Matthew 19:26, with God all things are possible. Power is attributed to God in a simple way. 1 Chronicles 29:12, in thine hand is power and might. Psalm 106:2, who can utter the consummate power of Jehovah? But it is to be observed here, that all things that God is said to be able to do are those things that are not alien to His nature and truth. In this sense we sometimes say, that God is able to do all things that do not imply a contradiction: in which respect, and not in another, certain of our Theologians say, that God’s power is restricted and restrained, namely, to those things that do not imply a contradiction; that is, it is not extended to those things that do imply a contradiction.

Thus God, as God, is not able to bring death upon Himself: because death is not able to be reconciled in any way with the divine nature; and so, that God is, and, as far as He is God, dies, or is able to die, is a simple contradiction. For, GOD is eternal and immutable: But if He is able to die, He is not at the same time immutable, and is not able to be eternal.

Thus God is not able to bring it to pass, that one and the same creature, with respect to its essence, might be finite, and, with respect to its essence, might be everywhere, that is, not finite: For these are manifestly contradictory, whatever considerations might at length be feigned.

Therefore, the omnipotence of God is not denied by those denying that by omnipotence the human and finite nature of Christ, with respect to essence, is able to be everywhere: for ubiquity and finitude, with respect to the same nature, contradict. But if our adversaries should show that by the ubiquity of the human nature the finitude of the same is not overthrown, there will certainly not be one of ours that would number the ubiquity of a finite nature among things impossible. For, with one mouth we all affirm: God is able to do all things that do not belong to impotence and infirmity, or that are not truly contradictory. The respect of nature and majesty, κατ᾽ ἄλλο καὶ ἄλλο, according to one thing and another, καθ᾽ ὑπόστασιν καὶ κατὰ φύσιν, according to hypostasis and according to nature, is no more able to reconcile these two repugnant things, namely, finitude and ubiquity, with the human nature, than finite duration and eternity, dependence and independence, absolute simplicity and composition, spiritual and bodily essence, creator and creature.

II. The distinction of divine power into absolute and actual is also to be observed.

That is absolute, whereby God is able to do whatever is not foreign to the divine nature and truth, or what are not contradictory: even if He never does them. Thus it is said that He is able to raise up children to Abraham from stones, Matthew 3:9.

Concerning this power, let a rule be observed: From the absolute power of God no logical consequence is able to be drawn to a work or effect: so that, if you should argue, that God is able to do this or that; therefore, He does or will do this or that: It does not follow. Hence Tertullian elegantly states against Praxeas, Obviously nothing is difficult for God: but, if in our presumptions we should make use of this sentence too rashly, we will be able to devise most anything concerning God, as if He did a thing, because He was able to do it. But, not because He is able to do all things, does it there have to be believed that He also did that which He did not do; but it is to be asked whether He did it.

That power is actual, whereby God in act does whatever He wills to do: yet in that time and manner, in which it seemed best to Him to do it. Concerning this power David speaks, Psalm 115:3, our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased. Concerning which a rule is to be observed: From the actual power of God a logical consequence is able to be drawn to the work, or effect: so that it does indeed follow that, as God wills do to this; therefore, He does or will do it.

Theologians teach that the power of GOD is infinite in a threefold respect: 1. in and of itself; 2. with respect to objects; 3. with respect to action, whereby He works and is able to work.

It is said to be infinite in and of itself: because it is the same as the divine essence.

With respect to objects it is infinite: because what things are able to be produced by it are innumerable.

With respect to action it is infinite: because it never works so intensely and efficaciously, that it is not able to work more intensely and efficaciously; it never produces an effect so excellent, that it is not able to produce one more excellent.

III. So that some difficulties concerning the power or omnipotence of GOD might be more clearly explained, several objections are to be briefly resolved.

(1.) In whom there is power, he is mutable.

But God is not mutable.

Therefore, in God there is no power.

The Major is proven: Because power has respect to an act or possible being.

Response: The Major is distinguished: In whom is passive power, he is mutable. But in God there is no passive power, whereby He could receive in Himself a mutation: but rather active power, whereby He is able to induce a change in another. The Proof is ambiguous: power has respect to an act, either to be received, which is passive; or to be imparted to another, which is active.

An Exception is taken: God became what He was not: Therefore, in His is passive power: The Antecedent is proven, because in time He became creator: who from eternity was not creator: the rationale of the consequent: because to become what you were not is to change, and so to have passive power.

Response: The consequence is denied: the proof is not true in a simple way: it is thus to be limited: to become what you were not through a transmutation of nature, or any real and passive mutation, consisting in an accession and reception of a new accidental property, is to change, and to have passive power. But thus God did not become what He was not: By creation the nature of GOD is not transmutated, neither does the accession of a new and real accidental property, which His nature might receive into itself, happen to Him: But only a relation between God and the creature, which formerly was not, arises, which on the part of the creature is real, but on the part of GOD only of relation. The Creation is not passive, from a new and temporal act of GOD, but from the eternal voliation and command of GOD, that the creature should exist in time. Neither does the divine nature undergo anything, when it assumed a human nature: for what is assumed undergoes change, not what assumes.

(2.) In him who is pure act there is no potential.

But God is pure act.

Therefore, in Him there is no potential.

The Major is proven: Because act and potency are opposites.

Response: The Major is not conceded, except concerning passive potential, which is opposite to act: the active in GOD is itself the act of God, or the powerful essence of God.

(3.) To whom active potency is applicable, from a non-agent he is able to become an agent in act.

But God is not able from a non-agent to become an agent in act.

Therefore, active potency is not applicable to God.

The Minor is proven: Because in this manner He would be changed.

Response: The Minor is denied: The proof is false: God does not change, when from a non-agent He becomes an agent: because His action is not motion properly so called, whereby God might be able to be said to be moved, even though the creature is moved by it: indeed, if we believe Thomas, the act of God is not granted as a certain means intervening between divine power and the creature: but by divine power there is an effect without an act: which by created power is not able to be except with an act: Summa, Part I, question 25, article 1, response on 3.

Others respond: By a transient action of God nothing happens in God, other than that He acquires a new relation to the creature: but that relation (which we also touched upon previously) is not real on the part of God. To these, therefore, from a non-agent to become an agent, is nothing other than the present existence of an effect by the power of God, which had not previously existed: whence the mutation happens to the effect, not to the divine power. Hitherto the minor has been denied.

There are also those that deny that the major is universally true: Because in God active power, actual or ordinary, is always conjoined with action, and so of a non-agent He never becomes an agent. For, the act of God, whereby whatever in time exists, is not temporal, but the eternal and almighty will of God, that that thing should exist in its proper time: as we also said previously. Zanchi touches upon this response, de operibus Dei, book I, chapter 3, question 2, thesis, member 4:2.

(4.) Where is act and potency, there is composition of act and potency.

But in God there is no composition of act and potency.

Therefore, in GOD there is not at the same time act and potency: but, since beyond all controversy in God there is act, certainly there will be no potency.

Response: The Major is distinguished: where act is really distinct from active potency, or potency is really distinct from act: of which sort is wont to be the potency to non-being. But such act or potence is not in God. For the act of God is the very power of God or powerful God, who is not able not to be.

(5.) What is exceeded by something else, that is not infinite.

But the power of God is exceeded by something else, namely, by the knowledge of God.

Therefore, the power of God is not infinite.

The Minor is proven: Because the power of God is extended only to possible things; but the knowledge of God is extended, not only to possible things, but also to impossible things; whence God knows more things than He is able to do.

Response: The Major is distinguished: What by something else is exceeded, 1. intrinsically, according to essence, 2. extrinsically, with respect to the proportion of the objects relative to their acts; that is not infinite: But thus the minor is denied. The proof is inconsequential. Power and knowledge with respect to essence, which they call existence/entity, are really the same: as we have shown above concerning the divine attributes in general: and so there is neither excess nor defect here. The Proportion of the objects relative to their acts is also the same: For, as the knowledge of God extends itself to all knowable things, which are infinite: so the power also extends itself to all possible things, which also themselves are infinite: insofar as so many things are not able to become without more things bein able to become through the power of God. But, that extrinsically, relatively, with respect to objects, power is exceeded by knowledge, of itself detracts nothing from the infinity of power.

(6.) To whom omnipotence is applicable, he is able to do all things.

But God is not able to do all things.

Therefore, omnipotence is not applicable to Him.

The Major is proven from the rationale and force of the term: for omnipotence is power extending itself to all things.

The Minor is proven: Because He is not able to die, nor to bring it to pass that what things have been done are not done.

Response: The Major is distinguished: He that is omnipotent is able to do all things, 1. to do, not to undergo: for to God is not applicable passive potency, but active: 2. all things that do not imply a contradiction, either of themselves or in themselves, or with respect to active potency, which is free from all imperfection. Therefore, thus the example of impossible things objected are not opposed to divine omnipotence. For to be able to die belongs not to active potency, but to passive potency. To bring it to pass that what things are done are not done is absolutely impossible; because absolutely and in itself it implies a contradiction, and so is an object, not of potency, but of impotency. Whence Jerome, ad Eustochium, Although God is able to do all things, He is not able to raise up a virgin after ruin. To be able to lie implies a contradiction, not absolutely and in itself, but with respect to altogether perfect power: only one whose power is imperfect is able to lie, which sort belong to man, in which the power of lying argues great impotence. God is not able to deny Himself, 2 Timothy 2:13.

(7.) He that is not able to do what things are possible for man, he is not omnipotent.

But God is not able to do what things are possible for man.

Therefore, He is not omnipotent.

The Minor is proven: Because He is not able to advance from place to place, to sleep, to eat, etc.

Response: The Major is distinguished: He that is not able to do what things are possible (and free from imperfection) for man is not omnipotent: But, thus the Minor is denied, together with its proof: For, all things that are possible to man and are not able to be done by God in Himself, such as to advance from one place to another, to eat, etc., argue imperfection, and are foreign to the spiritual, immense, and altogether prefect nature of GOD, and so imply a contradiction with respect to Him. At the same time, by His omnipotent virtue He effects in others whatever has regard to their being: whence we are said in Him to live and to move:[1] which is a great argument for omnipotence. Now, in Himself God is said not to be able to do those things, not because of a defect of power, but because of the abundance of infinite power: in which sense God is said most powerfully not to be able to do certain things.

IV. From GOD’S potentia/potency is distinguished His potestas/power, which is defined as GOD’S right and dominion over creatures, to do with them whatever He pleases: to which has regard that saying in Matthew 20:15, Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? This right is elsewhere called absolute, concerning which the Scholastics have much to say: Let Exercitations 17, 18, be considered. Some discourse too loosely concerning this absolute power and right. It is safest to speak of GOD’S power and right from the Scriptures, and not to indulge excessively in human speculations.

The Scholastics, and with them some more recent men, from whom Luther does not appear to depart very far, state: God, by His absolute right and power, is able to subject the innocent, without any deserving on his part, to eternal torments. Concerning which Calvin thus concludes, in his Opusculis, page 735: Concerning which absolute power the Scholastics speak nonsensically; I not only reject it, but detest it: because they separate His righteousness from His rule.


THESIS XXVIII: Hitherto the principium of action in GOD, considered in itself: Its Subject, according to our manner of conception, is Life, which is the very BEING OF GOD, whereby He is known as active in understanding, willing, and powerfully bringing to pass what He wills.

EXPLANATION: Life is everywhere attributed to GOD in Scripture. There is a distinguished passage in John 5:26, as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself. This never-ending Life is called immortality, which is attributed to GOD in 1 Timothy 1:17, unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise GOD, be honor and glory for ever and ever.

[1] Acts 17:28.

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