Here we shall take up the consideration of those
attributes [N1] which are commonly attributed to God, but
which, nevertheless, do not pertain to him; as also of those
through which it is sought to prove the existence of God,
though in vain; and also of the rules of accurate definition.
[Note N1]: As regards the attributes of which God consists, they are
only infinite substances, each of which must of itself be
infinitely perfect. That this must necessarily be so, we are
convinced by clear and distinct reasons. It is true, however, that
up to the present only two of all these infinites are known to us
through their own essence; and these are thought and extension.
All else that is commonly ascribed to God is not any attribute of
his, but only certain modes which may be attributed to him
either in consideration of all, that is, all his attributes, or in
consideration of one attribute. In consideration of all
[it is said], for instance, that he is eternal, self-subsisting, infinite,
cause of all things, immutable. In consideration of one [it is said],
for instance, that he is omniscient, wise, &c., which pertains to
thought, and, again, that he is omnipresent, fills all, &c., which
pertains to extension.
For this purpose, we shall not trouble ourselves very much
about the ideas that people commonly have of God, but we shall
only inquire briefly into what the Philosophers can tell us about
it. Now these have defined God as a being through or of
himself, cause of all things, Omniscient,
Almighty, eternal, simple, infinite, the
highest good, of infinite compassion, &c. But
before we approach this inquiry, let us just see what admissions
they make to us.
In the first place, they say that it is impossible to give a true
or right definition of God, because, according to their opinion,
there can be no definition except per genus et
differentiam, and as God is not a species of any genus, he
cannot be defined rightly, or according to the rules.
In the second place, they say that God cannot be defined,
because the definition must describe the thing itself and also
positively; while, according to their standpoint, our knowledge of
God cannot be of a positive, but only of a negative kind;
therefore no proper definition can be given of God.
They also say, besides, that God can never be proved
a priori, because he has no cause, but only by way
of probability, or from his effects.
Since by these assertions of theirs they admit
sufficiently that their knowledge of God is very
little and slight, let us now proceed to examine
In the first place, we do not see that they give
us in it any attribute or attributes through which
it can be known what the thing (God) is, [N1] but only
some propria or properties which do, indeed, belong
to a thing, but never explain what the thing is.
For although self-subsisting, being the cause of
all things, highest good, eternal and immutable,
&c., are peculiar to God alone, nevertheless, from
those properties we cannot know what that being, to
whom these properties pertain is, and what
attributes he has.
[Note N1]: That is to say, when he is considered as all that he is, or with
regard to all his attributes; see on this point see note to nnn
It is now also time for us to consider the things
which they ascribe to God, and which do not,
however, pertain to him, [N1] such as omniscient,
merciful, wise, and so forth, which things, since
they are only certain modes of the thinking thing,
and can by no means be, or be understood without
the substances [N2] whose modes [N3] they are, can,
consequently, also not be attributed to him, who is
a Being subsisting without the aid of anything, and
solely through himself.
[Note N1]: B: through which the thing (namely God) can be known.
[Note N2]: B: substance.
[Note N3]: A: essences (wezens); B: modes (wijzen).
Lastly, they call him the highest good; but if
they understand by it something different from what
they have already said, namely, that God is
immutable, and a cause of all things, then they
have become entangled in their own thought, or are
unable to understand themselves. This is the
outcome of their misconception of good and evil,
for they believe that man himself, and not God, is
the cause of his sins and wickedness -- which,
according to what we have already proved, cannot be
the case, else we should be compelled to assert that man is
also the cause of himself. However, this will appear yet
more evident when we come to consider the will of man.
It is necessary that we should now unravel their
specious arguments wherewith they seek to excuse their
ignorance in Theology.
First of all, then, they say that a correct
definition must consist of a "genus" and
"differentia." Now, although all the Logicians
admit this, I do not know where they get it from. And, to be
sure, if this must be true, then we can know nothing
whatever. For if it is through a definition consisting of
genus and differentia that we can first get to
know a thing perfectly, then we can never know perfectly
the highest genus, which has no genus above it. Now
then: If the highest genus, which is the cause of our
knowledge of all other things, is not known, much less,
then, can the other things be understood or known which
are explained by that genus. However, since we are free,
and do not consider ourselves in any way tied to their
assertions, we shall, in accordance with true logic, propose
other rules of definition, namely, on the lines of our division
Now we have already seen that the attributes (or, as
others call them, substances) are things, or, to express
ourselves better and more aptly, [constitute] a being which
subsists through itself, and therefore makes itself known
and reveals itself through itself.
As to the other things, we see that they are but modes of
the attributes, without which also they can neither be, nor
be understood. Consequently definitions must be of two
kinds (or sorts):
1. The first, namely, are those of attributes, which
pertain to a self-subsisting being, these need no genus, or
anything, through which they might be better understood or
explained: for, since they exist as attributes of a
self-subsisting being, they also become known through
2. The second [kind of definitions] are those [of things]
which do not exist through themselves, but only through
the attributes whose modes they are, and through which,
as their genus, they must be understood.
And this is [all that need be said] concerning their
statement about definitions. As regards the other
[assertion], namely, that God can [not] be known by us
adequately, this has been sufficiently answered by D. des
Cartes in his answers to the objections relating to these
things, page 18.
And the third [assertion], namely, that God cannot be
proved a priori, has also already been answered by
us. Since God is the cause of himself, it is enough that we
prove him through himself, and such a proof is also much
more conclusive than the a posteriori proof, which
generally rests only on external causes.