Is Augustine’s God from Aristotle?

And what did it profit me that, when scarce twenty years old, a book of Aristotle’s, entitled The Ten Predicaments, fell into my hands—…, imagining that whatsoever existed was comprehended in those ten categories, I tried so to understand, O my God…(that you) should nevertheless be a body. But that which I had conceived of You was falsehood, not truth…

Augustine, The Confessions: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3, trans. J.G. Pilkington (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing) (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers) IV.16.28

As a Manichean, Augustine imagined God as having a body. In his conversion from Manicheaism to Neoplatonism, Augustine would understand God as Spirit not body.  Through the writings of Aristotle, Augustine would learned about corporeal bodies. Augustine mastered this art and by his own account declared himself a genius. As a body, God would need to be subject to the ten categories of Aristotle,

In a reaction against Manicheaism, Augustine would present God as being the antithesis of a corporeal body. Augustine had to reject various of these categories for God to maintain that God was not body. The last nine categories Augustine would call accidents. Augustine would not consider any of these accidents as belonging to God. These accidents applied only to corporeal entities.

The classical attributes of God are the attributes proposed by Aristotelian. Aristotle’s considers substances to have ten categories or predicates that can be used of anything that exists. These ten categories are predicates used in language to classify the structures of the world. Every things has substance and on this substance the other predicates are built. The ten categories are:

1)       Substance ουσια

2)       Quantity  ποσον

3)       Quality      ποιον

4)       Relation    προς τι

5)       Location  που

6)       Time        ποτε

7)       Position  κεισθαι

8)       Habit       εχειν

9)       Action     ποιειν

10)   Passion   πασχειν

Augustine links the last nine categories together and calls them accidents or in the Latin predicates. A substance undergoes accidental change it retains its substance, what it is. The accident can be lost or gained without substantial change. Augustine will say God cannot undergo accidental change.

He is, however, without doubt, a substance, or, if it be better so to call it, an essence, which the Greeks call οὐσία …But other things that are called essences or substances admit of accidents, whereby a change, whether great or small, is produced in them. But there can be no accident of this kind in respect to God; …hence that which not only is not changed, but also cannot at all be changed, alone falls most truly, without difficulty or hesitation, under the category of being…

Augustine, On the Trinity: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 3, trans. Arthur West Haddan (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing) (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers) V.2.3

Thomas Aquinas will echo Augustine in his respect for Aristotle’s categories.

it belongs to God only, in Whom alone essence is existence; in Whom there are no accidents; since whatever belongs to others accidentally belongs to Him essentially;

THOMAS AQUINAS, Summa Theologica (New York, Benziger Bros. edition, 1947) Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 38 ( Q. 6 Art. 3)

Since God cannot have any accidental attributes, the essential attributes are the negative reflections of the accidental attributes.

1)      Quantity   God is unity, One.  God has no multiplicity.

2)       Quality    Omnipotence, God is not limited by quality of attributes.

3)       Relation   Aseity, God is not affected by outside influences

4)       Location  Omnipresent, God is not in one place, he is everywhere

5)       Time        Eternality,  God is not in time

6)       Position

7)       Habit       Simplicity.  God is simple, there is nothing that God has accidentally.

8)       Action     Actuality, God is pure actuality with no potentiality.

9)       Passion   Impassability, God does not suffer change from external factors.

Augustine will combine the eternality of God with his immutability, then insist that God knows everything exhaustively in the past, present and future. (Omniscient)  If God knows the future exhaustively, the future is fated to happen.  There is no freedom.  Augustine would never admit this obvious logical conclusion, but nevertheless, he would base omniscience on immutability.

Now, against the sacrilegious and impious darings of reason, we assert both that God knows all things before they come to pass, and that we do by our free will whatsoever we know and feel to be done by us only because we will it.  But that all things come to pass by fate, we do not say; …But an order of causes in which the highest efficiency is attributed to the will of God, we neither deny nor do we designate it by the name of fate…Now the expression, “Once hath He spoken,” is to be understood as meaning “immovably,” that is, unchangeably hath He spoken, inasmuch as He knows unchangeably all things which shall be, and all things which He will do…

Augustine, City of God; Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 2, trans. Marcus Dods (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing) (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers) V.9

Only Augustine could ignore logical necessity by calling something a different name, (nor do we designate it by the name of fate) then pretending there is no problem.  There are some logicians who imagine the problem is solved by pretending in some  other universe it is possible for God to know all things in the future without these things being fated.  However, the alternative may be logically possible but the only other possibility is a lucky guess.

The problem with imposing attributes on God based on Aristotelian definitions of the predicates of substance, is that God, who is a Spirit, clearly has these accidents from Scripture. The angels who are spirits also have these accidents.

1) Quantity – God is unity, One. God has no multiplicity.

1 Corinthians 8:6 God has multiplicity

1Co 8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

2)       Quality – Omnipotence, God is not limited by quality of attributes.

Ephesians 6:12 God does not have all power

Eph 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

3)       Relation – Aseity, God is not affected by outside influences

Ezekiel 14:8  God is moved by outside influences

Eze 14:8 I will set My face against that man and make him a sign and a proverb, and I will cut him off from the midst of My people. Then you shall know that I am the LORD.

4)       Location – Omnipresent, God is not in one place, he is everywhere

Acts 7:55 God and Jesus are not everywhere, they are in heaven

Act 7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God,

5)       Time – Eternality,  God is not in time

Revelation 1:8  God is everlasting and in time

Rev 1:8 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

6)       Position

7)       Habit – Simplicity.  God is simple, there is nothing that God has accidentally.

Joel 2:13 God is slow to anger but he eventually becomes angry and he changes his mind

Joe 2:13 So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm.

8)       Action – Actuality, God is pure actuality with no potentiality.

Matthew 23:37 God has the potential to act differently according to the actions of free agents

Mat 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

9)       Passion – Impassability, God does not suffer change from external factors.

Deuteronomy 23:5 God is passible. He loves Israel and is moved by their circumstances

Deu 23:5 Nevertheless the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you.

The classical attributes of God are based on a logical system of pagan metaphysics.  There are many examples of God not having these classical attributes.  The classical theologians explain too many of these examples away by an appeal to metaphor, anthropomorphism.  There is no reason not to take these examples as the real nature of God over the Aristotelian based God of Augustine.

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