4. Concerning The Being Of God.


1. The Definition or Conception of God. 

A true theological knowledge cannot be obtained except through special revelation. Theology must be studied in the light of Christology. For this reason our Lord says in His high-priestly intercessory prayer: “This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.” In Matth. 11: 27 He says: “No one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him.” God cannot be defined in an adequate manner. We can only obtain an aliqua descriptio, a definitio Dei nominalis. In Isa. 40: 18 we read: “To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?”

GERHARD says: “We are certainly able to know God, but not to comprehend Him, i. e., we cannot know Him completely, for He is infinite.” QUENSTEDT defines God as essentia spiritualis infinita and HOLLAZIUS as spiritus independens. Some of the modern theologians define God as the absolutely harmonious life. GRANFELT says, God is personal, holy love. The more recent orthodox theologians in Germany and BJORLING in Sweden emphasize the conception of absolute personality. There is no doubt that the best definition is to be obtained by considering God as the absolute personality. God is not an absolute undetermined substance, according- to Spinoza, rather He is a personality who in Himself lives the life of everlasting love.


We may say that the being of God consists of two parts: a) the formal, or that God is self-conscious and self-determining; b) the material, or that God is love. The parts are therefore being, self-consciousness or thought, and self-determination or will, united in love, which is the qualitative factor. These parts abide in and through each other and are therefore equally primitive. The being cannot precede the knowing and the willing, for that would result in substance that is without consciousness or will. The knowing could not precede the being and the willing, for then God would become an empty form or idea without any corresponding reality. The willing could not precede the being and the knowing, for this would result in blind power. As an absolute personality God is therefore a unity, a union in love of being, thought and will. God is therefore one, for which reason we can say that true Theism is Monotheism. But Monotheism in no wise conflicts with the doctrine of the Trinity, but is rather explained by it, because as triune God is absolute personality both from the formal and the material point of view.

The unity of God comprises two parts: a) the intensive, by which God in His position of eternal independence is the union of all attributes of His being, which is called the qualitative unity; b) the exclusive, in accordance with which God is all that He is only by and through Himself, which is called the numerical unity. In accordance with the first part God is perfect by reason of the harmony between the being, the knowing and the willing. The will agrees with the being so that God is power; the thought agrees with the being so that God is truth; the will agrees with the absolute good so that God is the Holy One; the thought agrees with the absolute good so that God is wisdom. By reason of the second part God is self-sufficient, which constitutes His autarchy.

The harmony of the divine attributes in the unity of love from the internal point of view constitutes His blessedness and from the external point of view His majesty.

The conception of the absolute personality which expresses His being is set forth bj^ Dogmaticians in the following manner: God is a unity in love of being, knowing and willing, and by reason of this unity He is the perfect, self-sufficient and blessed majesty. 

In the Holy Scriptures the names of God express His being. The word “countenance” is also used to express God’s being, as in the following passage: “I shall behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with beholding thy form.” The attributes of God’s essence are set forth in their relation to the world, but in this connection the following passages may be quoted: “God is one” (Romans 3: 30); “There is no God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4); “One God and Father of all” (Eph. 4:6); “For there is one God” (1 Tim. 2:5); “Your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5: 48); “Neither is he served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything” (Acts 17: 25); “For as the Father hath life in himself, even so gave he to the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5: 26). In 1 Tim. 6: 15 God is called the blessed and only Potentate. In addition many passages could be quoted that describe the being, knowing and willing of God, and also that He is love.

John 4: 24  “πνευμα ο θεος” is a most wonderful and remarkable definition of God. The omission of the article does not make the expression indefinite, but is the most definite and emphatic way of saying that God is the Spirit in the absolute sense. Spirit stands first in the original, and, therefore, occupies the most emphatic place, literally translated: “Spirit is God.” He is not a spirit, but spirit in the fullest and highest sense. The only corresponding dogmatic expression is, God is the Absolute Personality. We human beings, although created in the image of God, cannot comprehend the infinite Spirit, Man knows partly his own spirit through his self-consciousness, but the Spirit of God man knows only by analogy. A divine self-consciousness is necessary to know the essence of God. Compare Matt. 11: 27, where it is stated that only the Father knows the Son and the Son the Father. And when the Son revealeth the Father to the believers, the knowledge imparted is only relative.

When God is defined as absolute spirit and incorporeal, we should not look upon the divine Spirit as unreal. The spiritual essence of God is the most real substance. God as Spirit is more real than any phenomenon. The Spirit of God is more real than the soul or spirit of man, and the soul of man is more real than his body. The soul is not exposed to changes like the body, and at death the soul remains a spiritual entity just as real as before death. It is easier to think of the soul as intact after death than the body, because we know how the body dissolves. The reason, will and feeling occupy no space, but are nevertheless real. The soul, although naturally penetrating every part of the body, as an entity occupies no space. The forces or laws of nature, such as gravity, are invisible. The fact that a thing is invisible does not make it unreal. We do not see the soul, but we feel that the spiritual in us is our real being. God is just as real without a body as if He had one. God has no eyes and ears as we have, but it is self-evident that He sees and hears. Compare Ps. 94: 9. God makes an impression on the human soul as really as matter does upon the human body. Compare Ps. 77: 3: ”I remember God and am disquieted.” Although God has no body nor bodily organs, He still can manifest Himself. And the Son of God as incarnated has a body and will appear as the God-man with a glorified body in all eternity. Philip wanted to see the Father. He said to the Lord Jesus Christ: “Lord, show us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and dost thou not know me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” Philip desired to see a bodily manifestation just as he saw the Lord Jesus. The disciples did not understand that in knowing- the character of Jesus Christ they also knew the character of the Father, They did not then realize that the divine essence is one that exists in three relative persons. Christ did not at that time explain that the hypostasis of the Father, as it is in reality, could not be seen with bodily eyes. We do not even see one another except in the picture form. The outward appearance is not the most important; the soul and character are essential. The Father has revealed Himself by means of many manifestations. Some of the disciples had heard His voice, as on the mount of transfiguration. The Holy Spirit also had revealed Himself.

God as absolute Spirit in the highest sense is also the absolute Personality. Personality implies self-consciousness and self-determination. Self-consciousness is the power which a rational being possesses of making itself the object of its own thought and of knowing that it has done so, and, therefore, it also knows the identity of subject and object. We must clearly discriminate between consciousness and self-consciousness. In consciousness the object is something different from the subject. An animal is conscious of another object, but never duplicates its own unity and contemplates itself. The animal has many experiences, but cannot refer them back to itself as a person can. There is no self-knowledge in an animal. Man is both conscious and self-conscious. But God is not first conscious and then self-conscious. God is eternally self-conscious. In the doctrine of the Trinity it is self-evident that the divine self-consciousness is trinal. But there are not three independent self-conscious persons. God is one, and there can be but one divine essence. Three separate and independent divine essences would be an axiomatic contradiction, because none of them would be absolute, and as a consequence none could be God or Absolute Personality. The doctrine of the divine unity was as important to the Israelites and Jews of old as the doctrines of the resurrection of Christ and justification by faith to the Christians. When the Old Testament people emigrated from Egypt their motto was: “Hear, O Israel: Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” If they did not fully understand the trinal unity, they were ready to die for the doctrine that God is one. God is one God and the only God. The unity of God is unique. God is not a unit, but a unity implying distinctions. God is blessed forever independently of the universe. His majesty is manifested to the rational beings. God was blessed before creation, being eternally blessed. As the material element of the conception of God as the absolute personality is His love within Himself independent of creation, it is plain that His blessedness belongs to His very nature, but on account of His love He created rational angels and man and also created for them a universe suitable to their condition.

But God is not a part of the universe and the universe is not a part of God. The All is not the infinite God. The Infinite and the universe are wholly diverse. God as infinite cannot be finite, and He is not limited by the finite world which He created according to His wisdom. The simplicity, spirituality and immutability of God also preclude the thought that God in His immanence is extended. When we say that God is the Absolute as a real person, we also reject such views as the following: God is an absolute idea, a universal mind, a world-soul, a moral order of the universe, etc.

3. Anti-Theistic Theories.

a. Pantheism. By this is meant the view that God and nature or that God and the entire universe are one and the same substance. All things temporal are considered as modifications or parts of the one substance. Pantheism therefore implies Monism and cannot be separated from Determinism. In considering the question of God’s relation to the world, Pantheism is the opposite of Deism. Pantheism is said to be twofold: 1) Acosmism, or the Oriental Pantheism, according to which the world has been entirely merged in God. In this class are counted the Eleatics, such as Xenophanes, Parmenides and Zeno. PARMENIDES taught that being is not an abstract unity, but the only reality, an absolute unity and the only one. Being is likewise indivisible and unchangeable with neither beginning nor end. He also stated that being is identical with thought, for thought must be being; non-being is nothing. According to Parmenides the world has entirely entered into God or what he calls being. The world of phenomena is non-being and exists only in the thought of man; 2) Atheism, or the Occidental Pantheism, by which God is merged in the world. According to this view becoming is set forth, but not being.

Modern Pantheism began with BRUNO, who was a forerunner of the most noted of all Pantheists, SPINOZA. His system contained the ideas substance, attribute and mode. There exists only one substance. This substance he calls God. All separate existences are merely modifications of the substance. He considers the world as an accident of the divine substance. The substance has attributes, each of which gives expression in its way to the essence of the substance. These are thought and extension. God is thinking substance when considered from that point of view; He is extended substance when so considered. But the extension of the divine substance does not imply length or depth or shape. The attributes do not belong to the substance, for the substance excludes all determination. Res cogitans and res extensa are the same thing. The infinite substance appears in finite forms or modi which are like the waves of the sea. Therefore all that we see, yea, the entire universe, is nothing more than the modes of the attributes or of the substance.

Among idealistic Pantheists may be mentioned Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. FICHTE represents Subjective Idealism, the identity of thought and being, of the subjective and the objective in the ego. Things as to their substance are not found outside the ego. SCHELLING represents the Objective Idealism, the identity of thought and being even independent of the ego. What Fichte calls the highest principle or the ego, Schelling calls the world soul. While Fichte sets forth the subjective ego as the principle of all being and knowing, Schelling endeavors to show that the objective non-ego or nature could just as well be set forth as the principle of being and knowing. Hegel is the representative of the Absolute Idealism; thought is the source of the indwelling concept and is the only reality and truth. The absolute ego realizes itself fn the non-ego. Hegel’s Pantheism is logical. He said that reason is the organ of philosophy. The absolute is the result which the reason reaches through the exercise of dialectical thinking from undetermined being. According to Hegel all that exists is simply the revelation of God in the exercise of thought. God is everything and nothing. He is all because He is the only substance that sustains all consciousness and every existing thing. He is nothing because He is conscious of Himself only through man. Clearly such systems conflict with Christianity.

b. Materialism. Materialism says that matter is the only substance, from which everything is derived. There is therefore no spiritual essence either in the universe or in man. The anti-theistic theory appears in so many variations that it is difficult to give a precise definition. Materialism may be divided into two main divisions: 1) The ancient, which is represented by Democritus and Epicurus; 2) the modern, which is represented by Hobbes, whose materialism, however, was not complete, La Mettrie, von Holbach, Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Huxley and others. The last named do not desire to. be classed as Materialists, but they are clearly materialistic philosophers and their positions are anti-theistic.

c. Positivism. This designation was originated by AUGUSTE COMTE who may be said to be the foremost champion of Positivism. The main principles of Positivism are not new, for they were set forth in ancient times by Protagoras and in modern times by Hume and Kant. Comte has, however, formulated into a system the ideas that are characteristic of Positivism. It is not easy to define Positivism, for skeptical, materialistic and general atheistic tendencies bear the name of Positivism. Positivism forms a link between Skepticism and Materialism. Comte says that we know nothing but physical phenomena and their laws. He rejects both causa efficiens and causa finalis. The world phenomena has not been produced by any supernatural cause. Religion in the ordinary sense was not needed and is considered as a weakness. The religion of Positivism presented as objects of worship the earth, the universe and humanity. This is enough to show the anti-Theism of Positivism.

4. Notes on the History of Dogma.

A. Concerning the Comprehensibility and Nature of God. 

When we consider the development of the dogma during the different periods we find that most thinkers take the position that God cannot be understood or defined in an adequate manner. Among those who took another view were Arius and especially Eunomius. Duns Scotus held the view that man could attain essential knowledge. Dionysius the Areopagite and John Scotus Erigena were both influenced by Pantheism, as were also Bohme, Servetus and others later on. There were some that held anthropomorphic views. The Alexandrian school and Origen fought against them. Tertullian laid emphasis upon the substantiality of God without ascribing to Him a material body.

JUSTIN MARTYR says that there is no name for the Father of all, who is unborn. For by what name He might be called, the person who gave Him the name would be the older. The words Father, God, Creator, Lord and Master are not names but designations derived from His good works. CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA says that we can tell, not what God is, but what He is not, and he removes from God all finite characteristics. God is neither genus nor species, substance nor accident. Even after giving ourselves to Christ our consciousness of Him is more negative than positive. His views were not anthropomorphic. TERTULLIAN ascribed to God a body, not an ordinary human body, but a form of existence. He maintained that nothing could be without bodily form except that which did not exist. However, w’e cannot count him among the anthropomorphists. ORIGIN said that God was incomprehensible and past finding out. As the brilliance of the sun exceeds the light of a lantern, so the glory of God exceeds our conception of Him. 

The Audians, so-called from their founder, Audius of Mesopotamia, held anthropomorphic views of God. ATHANASISUS holds that only a pure and sinless being can see God. God cannot be seen nor comprehended. His essence cannot be discovered by man and He is above all substance. GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS calls God the sea of being. EUNOMIUS declared that God did not know more of His own being than we do, and that we can comprehend Him. AUGUSTINE would not call God a substance, for that would imply the conception of accident. Our language cannot define the essence of God. JOHN OF DAMASCUS said that God is above all knowledge. 

JOHN SCOTUS ERIGENA held the view that God did not know Himself. He is nothing, and therefore knows not what He is. He divides nature, which includes God, as follows: 1) That which creates and is not created (God); 2) that which is created and creates (Logos); 3) that which is created, but does not create (the world); 4) that which is neither created nor creates (God as the goal). ANSELM taught that God indeed knows’ Himself, but we cannot obtain adequate knowledge of Him. THOMAS AQUINAS declared that man cannot have a quidditative (essential) knowledge of God, but may know Him in His relation to the created world. ALBERT THE GREAT distinguishes between Deum intellectu attingere et comprehendere and ascribes the first-named to man. DUNS SCOTUS maintained that man could have a quidditative knowledge of God. The controversy was settled as follows: That man can obtain knowledge of God’s being, cognitio quidditatis Dei, but not a knowledge complete in every detail, cognitio quidditativa. 

The fathers of the Reformation and the old Dogmaticians in general consider that the human conceptions of God are inadequate. THOMASIUS considered that our knowledge of God contains elements that objectively represent the nature of God. PHILLIPPI said that our knowledge of God, while true and well-founded, does not objectively express the essence of God. 

B. Concerning the Unity of God and the Primitive Characteristics of His Being. 

Because Christianity acknowledged Monotheism, as explained in the doctrine of the Trinity, it became necessary to combat Polytheism, Dualism and Gnosticism. A variety of natural and mathematical figures of speech were used to prove the oneness of God. Through the subsequent controversies within the Church itself the doctrine of Christian Monotheism was established. Different opinions concerning that which is primitive in the essence of God have been set forth during the different periods and in our own church there has likewise been a diversity of views.

JUSTIN MARTYR said that the unity of God is an innate idea, and that God is the perfect intellect. MINUCIUS FELIN and CYPRIAN say that as there is one ruler in a kingdom, one queen in a bee-hive, and one leader in a flock, so there can be only one God. JULIUS AFRICANAS said the will was the primitive characteristic of God’s essence. ORIGIN said that God is intelligence and intellect.

GREGORY OF NYSSA sets forth the unity of God from the concept of God’s perfection. If there were many gods, then all must be perfect; still in such case they must either be alike or unlike; in the latter case they would each lack the perfection of the others, in the former case there would be only one God. AUGUSTINE set forth the divine self-consciousness as the primitive characteristic of Gods’ essence. JOHN OF DAMASCUS endeavored to conceive of the unity of God by considering His immensity, for if there were many gods, the one could find no room because the other filled all space. ANSELM says that self-consciousness is the primitive characteristic of God’s essence. THOMAS AQUINAS sets forth being, while DUNS SCOTUS sets forth the will as the primitive characteristic of the essence of God. 

LUTHER lays stress on love as the primitive characteristic, and in his work De Servo Arbitrio he makes mention of the absolute power. GERHARD emphasizes essence, but he also says: in Deo idem est esse et intelligere et velle. CALOVIUS also emphasizes essence, but speaks of God as the absolute Spirit and mentions intellectus and voluntas. THOMASIUS, JUL. MULLER and DELITZSCH set forth the will as the primitive characteristic. PHILLIPPI presents God in the first place as the absolute substance, but then also as the absolute subject and as love. He also mentions, 1) self-consciousness and 2) self-determination. BJORLING and GRANFELT set forth being, intellect and will as equally primitive. The latter says that in every part and at all points they must come in contact with, measure up to and determine one another.