Friday, April 25, 2008

Dialogue on God's Infinity

The following dialogue took place between a member of my formerly active Greektheology yahoogroup and me. I have edited some parts of the dialogue to render it more coherent. Our debate centered around a passage that I quoted from Louis Berkhof's systematic theology. I have replaced my interlocutor's name with a pseudonym.

I thought you had a copy of Berkhof. I was therefore
surprised when you described God's infinity as being
"quantitative," when Berkhof clearly shows that it
is not. Rather, God's unlimitedness is qualitative in
nature. Aquinas, Scotus and Berkhof all agree that
God's boundlessness is not quantitative.

Did you read the following sections on eternity and
immensity? It is clear their that with respect to God's being,
Berkhof sees God's infinity as quantitative,
and with respect to his attributes, from the section you partially
cited, as qualitative. I am simply saying that the
two (God's attributes and being) cannot be separated
except for the purposes of discussion.

Yes, I've read what Berkhof has to say about God's
eternity, immensity and putative omnipresence. I can
therefore point out that he clearly does not view
God's infinity as "quantitative," nor does he even
conscript the term in his section on God's immensity
or eternity, as far as I can tell. As I demonstrated
earlier, if God's infinitude were quantitative in
nature, it could be counted or measured. But it cannot be
quantified; ergo, it is not quantitative. Berkhof most
definitely does not support you here. I don't know how
you're using or construing the adnominal "quantitative," but it
manifestly is not applicable to God's
infinity (whether He is incorporeal or not).

I don't agree because you are drawing an invalid
inference from what Berkhof actually writes.

Can you demonstrate how I am drawing an "invalid
inference" from what Berkhof writes in Systematic
? Where does he state that the infinity of
God is quantifiable? How much clearer could Berkhof be when
he writes that God's infinity "should not be
understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative
sense; it qualifies all the communicable attributes of

[Edgar continued]
There appears to be no doubt that you and Berkhof
concur in the respect you have outlined. You are
apparently referring to the SIMPLICITAS DEI here,
when you speak of God's attributes being coextensive
with His being, a belief that I have not seen good
reason to affirm for biblical, logical and theological
reasons. Don't get me wrong. I do not believe that
God's attributes are parts or accidental modes of
the divine being. However, it appears to me that there
is both a conceptual and probably even a formal
distinction (at the very least)--that is to say, a
Scotistic-like DISTINCTIO FORMALIS--between, for
instance, divine omnipotence and divine

And that distinction would be?

It is easy to see how these two divine incommunicable
attributes are conceptually distinct. Analytically
(i.e. by definition), omnipotence cannot be the same
attribute as omniscience without a severe
contradiction obtaining. I don't think you dispute
this point. The more controversial proposal might be
the notion that there is a "formal distinction"
(DISTINCTIO FORMALIS) that obtains between divine
omnipotence and divine omniscience. By this, I mean
that these two essential properties of God *may* be
two different aspects of one divine perfection. I'm
not sure about this idea though. In any event, if
there is a formal distinction between omniscience and
omnipotence, it would mean that the distinction is not
merely conceptual but much the same as the DISTINCTIO
between head/tails or space/time or matter/energy. If
we are careful with our speech and concepts, we do not
wholly conflate the foregoing things, one with
another, because they are not reducible, one to

As long as you realize that these distinctions are
theoretical. We may speak of God's essence and existence,
but the former essentially (!) implies the latter.

How does the former entail the latter? I define the
essence of an entity as its "quiddity" (QUIDDITAS),
nature or whatness. Existence, on the other hand,
refers to the lived actuality of an essence (Thomas
Aquinas uses the expression ACTUS ESSENDI). Scotus
makes a helpful distinction between the essence,
existence and HAECCEITAS of a RES. In other words, it
is possible to posit an essence for an entity (RES)
that does not actually exist. For example,
unicornality in no way implies that unicorns exist.
Essence does not imply existence. This is even the
case when God is the "essence" that we have in mind.


Saturday, April 05, 2008

YHWH (Jehovah) and Theological Metaphors

Gerald O'Collins and Daniel Kendall argue that theological metaphors "refer to and describe reality." Concurring with Soskice, they reason that metasememes speak about one thing in terms that appear suggestive of another thing. For example, God does not instantiate the literal mind-independent properties of a crag, but the ancient Hebrew prophets articulate speech regarding YHWH in ways that appear suggestive of a rock. Likewise, YHWH is called "a sun and shield" in Psalm 84:11(12). Yet, he apparently does not exemplify the matter-of-fact predicates that structurally constitute the Sun or a shield. In these instances, the Bible writers presumably are employing tropes to speak about one entity (God) in terms suggestive of other entities (rock, Sun or shield). Metaphor seemingly permits the writers of Scripture to describe the supreme reality adequately, though indirectly. Far from being linguistically insufficient or vulnerable, theological metaphors seem to accomplish what "proper terminology" (De oratore 3.152-155) cannot achieve; they convey truths that non-tropic expressions attributing matter-of-fact properties to a particular subject are incapable of communicating.