Arminius on the Nature of God
provided by SEA member, Roy Ingle
I. The very nature of things and the Scriptures of God, as well as the general consent of all wise men and nations, testify that a nature is correctly ascribed to God. (Gal. iv, 8; 2 Pet. i, 4; Aristot. De Repub. 1. 7, c. 1; Cicero De Nat. Deor.)
II. This nature cannot be known a priori: for it is the first of all things, and was alone, for infinite ages, before all things. It is adequately known only by God, and God by it; because God is the same as it is. It is in some slight measure known by us, but in a degree infinitely below what it is [in] itself; because we are from it by an external emanation. (Isa. xliv, 6; Rev. i, 8; 1 Cor. ii, 11; 1 Tim. vi, 16; 1 Cor. xiii, 9.)
III. But this nature is known by us, either immediately through the unclouded vision of it as it is. This is called “face to face,” (1 Cor. xiii, 12,) and is peculiar to the blessed in heaven: (1 John iii, 2.) Or mediately through analogical images and signs, which are not only the external acts of God and his works through them, (Psalm xix, 1-8; Rom. i, 20,) but likewise his word, (Rom. x, 14-17,) which, in that part in which it proposes Christ, “who is the Image of the Invisible God,” (Col. i, 15,) as “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person,” (Heb. i, 3,) gives such a further increase to our knowledge, that “we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory.” (2 Cor. iii, 18.) This is called “through a glass in an enigma,” or “darkly,” and applies exclusively to travelers and pilgrims who “are absent from the Lord.” (2 Cor. v, 6; Exod. xxxiii, 20.)
IV. But there are two modes of this second perception from the works and the word of God. The First is that of Affirmation, (which is also styled by Thomas Aquinas, “the mode of Causality and by the habitude of the principle,”) according to which the simple perfections which are in the creatures, as being the productions of God, are attributed analogically to God according to some similitude. (Psalm xciv, 9, 10; Matt. vii, 11; Isa. xlix, 15.) The Second is that of Negation or Removal, according to which the relative perfections and all the imperfections which appertain to the creatures, as having been produced out of nothing, are removed from God. (Isa. iv, 8, 9; 1 Cor. i, 25.) To the mode of Affirmation, (because it is through the habitude of the cause and principle, to the excellence of which no effect ever rises,) that of Pre-eminence must be added, according to which the perfections that are predicated of the creatures are understood [to be] infinitely more perfect in God. (Isa. xl, 15, 17, 22, 25.) Though this mode be affirmative and positive in itself, (for as the nature of God necessarily exists, so it is necessarily known,) in positively and not in negation; yet it cannot be enunciated or expressed by us, except through a Negation of those modes according to which the creatures are partakers of their own perfections, or the perfections in creatures are circumscribed. Those modes, being added to the perfections of the creatures, produce this effect, that those which, considered without them, were simple perfections, are relative perfections, and by that very circumstance are to be removed from God. Hence it appears, that the mode of Pre-eminence does not differ in species from the mode of Affirmation and Negation.
V. Besides, in the entire nature of things and in the Scriptures themselves, only two substances are found, in which is contained every perfection of things. They are Essence and Life, the former of them constituting the perfection of all existing creatures; the latter, that of only some them, and those the most perfect. (Gen. 1; Psalm civ, 29, 148; Acts xvii, 28.) Beyond these two the human mind cannot possibly comprehend any substance, indeed, it cannot raise its conceptions to any other: for it is itself circumscribed within the limits of created nature, of which it forms a part; it is therefore incapable of passing beyond the circle which encloses the whole. (Rev. i, 8; iv, 8; Dan. vi, 46.) Wherefore in the nature of God himself, only these two causes of motion, Essence and Life, can become objects of our consideration.