3. THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES
We ascribe to God various attributes, because the unity of the divine perfection is reflected in different ways in creatures.
The sun is sometimes red, sometimes yellow, or a palish white. It is the mists around the earth that cause the variety in it as it is seen by us. The attributes of God are therefore various manifestations of God’s one and indivisible perfection or essence. In God they are all one and the same; His goodness is the same as His justice, His wisdom as His power, and His power as His eternity, etc. The divine attributes are also identical with God Himself; God is wisdom, power, eternity, etc. God is a Being of the most perfect and absolute simplicity; there is no sort of multiplicity or obscurity in Him. There is no sort of division between His attributes; it is from our understanding that the distinction between them arises. In created things it is quite different; they possess attributes which are really distinct from each other.
The attributes of God may be divided into those which be long to God’s essence, those that belong to His understanding, and those that belong to His will.
The attributes of the divine essence are omnipresence, eternity, immutability; those that belong to His understanding are omniscience, perfect wisdom, etc.; those that belong to His will are omnipotence, goodness, holiness, justice, truth, and faithfulness.
1. God is eternal, i.e., always was, is, and ever will be.
God’s words to Moses “I am Who am” (Exod. iii. 14), express His eternity. There never was a time when God did not exist; He never began to exist. He existed before the world, as a builder must exist before the house that he builds, and the watchmaker before the watch that he fashions. God can never cease to live, as men do. Hence He is called the living God (Matt. xvi. 16) and immortal (1 Tim. i. 17). He existed before all time, and He will exist to all eternity. With Him there is no past or future; all is present with Him. The whole history of the world is and has ever been in His sight; there is for Him no succession of events; for Him there is no time. “One day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. iii. 8). Millions of ages are as nothing compared with eternity. If a bird were to carry away from the ocean one drop of water every thousand years, the time would come when the ocean would be dry; but that immense period of time, which seems to us inexhaustible, is less than the shortest moment compared with the eternity of God’s existence. “Dost thou desire eternal joy,” says St. Augustine, “thou must be faithful to Him Who is the Eternal.”
2. God is omnipresent, i.e., He is in every place.
After Jacob had seen, in the open country, the ladder reaching up to heaven, he exclaimed, “God is in this place, and I knew it not” (Gen. xxviii. 16). The same words are true of every place. God is not only present everywhere with His power, but He Himself fills and penetrates all space. “Do not I fill heaven and earth, saith the Lord?” (Jer. xxiii. 24.)
1. God is everywhere present, because all created things exist in God.
All creatures exist in God, as thought exists in our minds. As mind is of more extent than thought, so God is of more extent than the world and all it contains. As mind penetrates thought, so God penetrates the world. “In Him we live, and move, and exist” (Acts xvii. 28). God is at the same time quite distinct from creatures and from the whole world.
2. God is not circumscribed by any place, nor by the whole of creation, because He has no limits, either actual or possible.
In his prayer at the dedication of the Temple Solomon said: “If heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee, how much less this house that I have built” (3 Kings viii. 27). The infinite cannot be contained in measurable space. Only bodies are contained in space. Spirits indeed are not contained in space, but they cannot be in more than one place at the same time. “God is everywhere,” says St. Bernard, “and yet nowhere. He is near us and yet is far away. All creation is in Him, and yet it is as if He were not in it.”
3. Yet God is of more extent than space, and therefore can be in every place at the same time.
Though God is of more extent than all space, and His presence extends from earth to heaven and far beyond, He is not scattered over the universe, partly on earth and partly in heaven, but He is wholly everywhere and wholly in each separate place; wholly in Heaven and wholly on earth. He fills heaven and earth. So the soul of man fills his entire body, but yet it is wholly in every separate portion of His body.
4. God is present in a special manner in heaven, in the Blessed Sacrament, and in the souls of the just.
God is present in heaven to the gaze of the angels and saints. He is present as the God-man in the Blessed Sacrament; He is present in the souls of men through the Holy Ghost Who is given to them. A king is present in his whole palace, but is specially present in the chamber where he sits on his throne, and gives audiences to his subjects.
5. There is no place where God is not.
“The eyes of the Lord in every place behold the good and the evil” (Prov. xv. 3). We sometimes see in churches a large eye painted over the altar, to remind us that God is present every where. “No one can hide himself from God” ( Jer. xxiii. 23, 24). Hence no one can escape from God (Ps. cxxxviii. 7, 8). Jonas made the attempt, but with very poor success. Hence learn to avoid every sin. See with what unspeakable shame a man is filled, if he is detected by one of his fellow-men in a despicable action. Yet we are not ashamed to practice the most disgraceful vices in the presence of God (St. Augustine).
6. We ought therefore continually to bear in mind that God is always present with us.
Think, wherever you are, that God is near you. As there is no moment of time when we are not enjoying some benefit from the hand of God, so there ought to be no moment of time when we have not God in our thoughts. “He who always has God in his thoughts,” says St. Ephrem, “will become like an angel on the earth.”
The continual remembrance of the presence of God is very profitable to us. It has great power to deter us from sin, and to keep us in the grace of God; it incites us to good works and makes us intrepid in His service.
The remembrance of the presence of God gives strength in name of temptation and holds us back from sin. Look at Joseph in Egypt. A soldier fights more bravely in the presence of his king. The remembrance of the presence of God is also the best means of remain ing in the grace of God. It is like Ariadne’s clew, by means of which we, like Theseus, can find the way through the labyrinth of our life on earth, and remain unscathed by the Minotaur of hell. The remembrance of the presence of God increases our zeal in God’s service and leads us on to the practice of all the virtues; it makes us more careful in the performance of all our duties. The nearer the water is to the spring the purer it is; the nearer one is to the fire the greater the warmth; the closer we keep to God, the greater our perfection. When the tree is closely united to the root, it brings forth plenteous fruit. The Christian brings forth good fruit to eternal life if he is closely united to God. The thought of God also renders us fearless. When the Empress Eudoxia threatened St. John Chrysostom with banishment, he answered “You will not frighten me, unless you are able to send me to some place where God is not.” David says to God: “Though I walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me” (Ps. xxii. 4). If a timid man has a companion with him, his fear disappears; so we shall not fear if God, the all-powerful God, is with us.
3. God is immutable, i.e., He ever remains the same.
God never changes; He never becomes better or worse; He never breaks His word (Numb, xxiii. 19). Creation made no change in God; from all eternity He had decreed the creation of the universe. God changes His works, but not His eternal decrees. By the Incarnation humanity was changed, but the Godhead underwent no change, just as the sun is in no way changed when it hides itself behind a cloud. Our thoughts are not changed when they clothe themselves in words; so the divinity was not changed when it clothed itself in the nature of man. God does not change when He punishes the sinner. When the heart of man is in friendship with God, God shows Himself to him as a God of infinite love and mercy; when the heart is estranged from Him, the sinner sees in the unchangeable God an angry and avenging judge. When the eye is sound, the light is pleasant to it; but if it is diseased, light causes it pain: it is not the light that is changed, but the eye that looks upon it. When an angry man looks in the glass he sees a different reflection from that which he saw when he was cheerful and in good-humor; it is not the glass that has changed, but the man. When the sun shines through colored glass, its rays take the color of the glass; the sun does not change, but the light is changed by the medium through which it passes. So when God rewards, it is not God Who changes, but man, who performs different and better actions, thereby meriting the grace of God. When in Scripture we read that God repented of having made man, that God is angry with the wicked, the phrases used are accommodated to our imperfect comprehension.
4. God is omniscient, i.e., He knows all things, the past, the present, and the future, and also our inmost thoughts (Jer. xvii. 10).
God knew that Adam and Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit. Our Lord foreknew St. Peter’s denial, the destruction of Jerusalem, etc. He knew the thoughts of Simon the Pharisee, and that he was angry at Our Lord showing such kindness to Magdalen the sinner. God sees as in a glass all men, and their every action (Ps. xxxii. 13). “He that planted the ear shall He not hear? He that made the eye shall He not see?” (Ps. xciii. 9.) God also foresees evil, but man is not thereby constrained to do evil. It is just as if we see from a distance a man who is committing some crime. God sees the deed because the man does it; the man does not do it because God sees it. When some past action is present to our thoughts, it did not happen because it is in our thoughts; so when God foresees some future action, it does not happen because God has foreseen it, but He has foreseen it because the man is going to commit it the man is not compelled to commit because God has foreseen it. When God foresees that some man will be lost forever, God’s foreknowledge is not the cause of the man’s damnation. The physician foresees the approaching death of his patient, but his knowledge is not the cause of the man’s death. The learned Franciscan Duns Scotus, once heard a farmer uttering terrible curses and begged him not to damn his soul so thoughtlessly. The farmer answered: “God knows everything. He knows whether I shall go to heaven or to hell. If He knows that I shall go to heaven, why to heaven I shall go; if He knows that I shall go to hell, I shall go to Hell. What, then, does it matter what I do or say?” The priest answered, “In that case why plough your fields? God knows whether they will bear a good crop or not. If He knows that they will bear a good harvest, the harvest will be good, whether you plough the land or not. If He knows that they will be unfruitful, why unfruitful they will be. Why then should you waste your time in ploughing?” Then the farmer understood that it is not the omniscience of God, but the free action of man, that deter mines both our temporal and our eternal happiness or misery.
God also knows what would have happened under certain given circumstances; this is the reason why He sends us trials, in order to prevent greater evils that otherwise would have happened to us.
Thus Our Lord knew that the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon would have done penance if such wonders had been worked among them as He worked in Corozain and Bethsaida. God foresees that some of the just will be led astray by the seductions of the world, and sometimes in His mercy takes them at an early age to Him self. He foresees that some will be ruined by riches or by prosperity, and therefore brings them to poverty and to earthly misfortune. This ought to make us bear our troubles with patience. The trials of the just are an opportunity offered them to advance in virtue.
God, Who knows all things, will one day bring all hidden things to light.
Our Lord says, “There is nothing hidden that shall not be made manifest; or secret that shall not be known and come abroad” (Luke viii. 17). God will, in the Last Day, disclose and make known our whole life. As the morning sun shows all things in their true light, so Christ, the Sun of justice, will at the Day of Judgment reveal all our actions in their true light. All prayers, alms, fasts, penances, that are done according to His will, will be made manifest to the whole world. Nothing is so small as to escape notice at the Last Day.
We should think on God’s omniscience, especially when we are tempted, that we may pass through our temptations unscathed.
A little boy who was in a strange house saw there a basket full of beautiful apples. As he could see no one in the room, he was much tempted to help himself to some. But the thought came to him of God’s omniscience. “No,” he said, “I must not take them, for God sees me.” At that moment a man who was hidden from him by a curtain, called out to him, “You may take as many apples as you like.” What a blessing it was for him that he had not taken them without permission. If we know that some one is watching us we are very careful what we do; if we remember that God sees us, we shall be still more careful. Job took refuge in God’s knowledge of his innocence, when he was mocked at by his friends; so did Susanna when falsely accused (Job xvi. 16; Dan. xiii. 42).
5. God is supremely wise, i.e., He knows how to direct every thing for the best in order to carry out His designs.
The design at which God aims is nothing else than His own glory, and the good of His creatures. If the farmer wishes for a good harvest, he ploughs his field, manures it, sows good seed, etc. Such a farmer is a wise man, because he chooses the means best qualified to attain his end. God acts in an exactly similar way. He prepared the world for the coming of the Redeemer by the call of Abraham, the sending of the prophets, etc. The wisdom of God shows Itself in the life of individuals, e.g., of Joseph in Egypt, of Moses, of St. Paul, and also in the history of nations and kingdoms. (Of. Rom. xi. 33).
1. The wisdom of God shows itself especially in the way in which He brings good out of evil.
The life of the patriarch Joseph is an excellent example of this. God’s ways are not as our ways, or His thoughts as our thoughts. Man proposes and God disposes. A man inexperienced in war would be puzzled by the orders issued by the general, and would not be able to understand how they all could tend to insure victory. We shall understand God’s ways in heaven, but we cannot understand them here. A child saw how the thorns tore away little pieces from the fleece of a sheep and wanted to remove the thorns. Presently the child saw how the singing-birds collected the bits of wool to make their nests, and no longer wished to remove the thorns. Many men are like this child.
2. The wisdom of God is also displayed in this, that God makes use of the most unlikely means for His own honor.
St. Paul says: “The weak things of this world God has chosen to confound the strong” (1 Cor. i. 27). God chose the small and despised land of Palestine as the cradle of Christianity; He chose a poor maiden to be the Mother of God, and a poor carpenter to be His foster-father. He chose poor, ignorant fishermen to preach the Gospel and spread it over all the earth. He often uses the most improbable means in helping His friends. St. Felix of Nola, when flying from his persecutors, took refuge in a hole in a rock. A spider came and spun its web at the mouth of the cave, and his pursuers, on seeing this, concluded that he could not be inside. A poor woman was summoned to pay some money which had already been paid by her husband, who was dead. She searched everywhere for the receipt, but in vain. The very morning when she had to appear before the court a cockchafer flew in at the window, and behind a press. One of the children wanted to get it, so the mother moved the press a little to reach it, and from behind the press the long-sought receipt fell to the ground. This was God’s answer to the poor widow’s prayers. It is God’s law that all works done for God should meet with difficulties and hindrances. “A work that begins with brilliant promise,” St. Philip Neri used to say, “has not God for its author and protector.”
3. Lastly the wisdom of God shows itself in directing the course of the world to carry out His purposes.
All things in the world have a mutual relation to one another. If a man removes or displaces a single wheel in a watch, the watch stops; so if anything were altered in the arrangement of the world, all things would be confused; e.g., without the birds the insects would soon destroy all vegetation. So the animals that serve us for food increase rapidly, while the beasts of prey breed but slowly. Nothing in the world is useless; the alternations of sunshine and rain, summer and winter, day and night, all serve some useful end. How useful is the uneven distribution of wealth, of the talents of men, etc.! The smallest insect has its usefulness in the world; the butterfly, going from flower to flower, carries with it the fertilizing pollen. Even the destructive agencies in the world, storms, earthquakes, and floods, serve God’s purposes, and are intended by Him to help men to save their souls. How wonderful, too, is the orderly course of the heavenly bodies! The movement of the earth around the sun, and of the moon around the earth, serve to make this world a pleasant habitation for man. The beautiful arrangement of the universe compels us to recognize the wisdom and prudence of Him Who has created it. “How great are Thy works, O Lord! Thou hast made all things in wisdom; the earth is filled with Thy riches” (Ps. ciii. 24).
6. God is almighty, i.e., God can do all that He wills, and that by a mere act of His will.
God can do things which appear to men impossible, e.g., the preservation of the three young men in the midst of the fiery furnace of Babylon. A thousand similar wonders occurred in the time of the persecutions of the Christians. Our Lord says “With God nothing is impossible” (Matt. xix. 26). Yet God cannot do that which is in contradiction with His own perfections. He cannot lie, and He cannot deceive. God could always have done more wonderful works than He has done. He could have created a more beautiful world than this and more creatures than He has actually made. When any of the creatures that God has made desires to do anything, he can only make use of the things that God has made, and in accordance with the laws that God has established. But God is bound by no laws save those of His own infinite goodness and truth. He has only to will a thing and what He wills happens at once. “He spoke, and the heavens were created; He commanded, and they were created” (Ps. cxlviii. 5).
The omnipotence of God shows itself especially in the creation of the world, in the miracles wrought by Our Lord, and in those miracles which before and after Our Lord’s time God has worked for the confirmation of the true religion.
The earth is 24,899 miles in circumference; the sun is far larger, for its diameter is one hundred times greater than that of the earth. Some of the heavenly bodies are far greater; some of them if they occupied the place of the sun and were to begin to rise at 6 A.M., would not have completely risen above the horizon by 6 P.M. Our earth is over ninety-one million miles distant from the sun. A body traveling from the earth to the sun at the ordinary rate of a cannon-ball, would take twenty-five years to reach the sun. The planet Neptune, according to the latest information, is 2,794,000,000 miles distant from the sun. A cannon-ball would take eight hundred years to travel thence to the sun. There are stars outside our planetary system which are a million times further from us. Light which travels at the rate of 24,000 miles a second would take many millions of years to reach these stars. Around our sun there move eight larger and two hundred and eighty smaller planets. The nearest (Mercury) is thirty-six million miles distant from the sun, and the most distant (Neptune) over two billion miles. There are also in the heavens thirty million fixed stars, all of them real suns and mostly larger than our sun, and around these move many other heavenly bodies. All these God has created out of nothing. How infinite, then, is the power of God! Think also of the miracles wrought by Christ, the raising of Lazarus, the stilling of the tempest, etc., the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, the wonders that are now being worked at Lourdes, etc. “Who shall declare the powers of the Lord, or set forth all His praises?” (Ps. cv. 2.)
Since God is almighty, we can hope for help from Him in our greatest needs.
God has a thousand different ways of helping us. He can send an angel to help us, as He did to St. Peter in prison; or work a miracle, as He did to feed the multitude in the desert; as a rule He makes use of the most unlikely means, and thereby shows the greatness of His power. He freed Bethulia from the Assyrians by means of a woman. He saved the Israelites from their enemies by making a path through the sea. It is easy for the Lord to save by many or by few.
7. God is supremely good, i.e., He loves His creatures far more than a father loves his children.
God loves His creatures and loads them with benefits. He is love itself (1 John iv. 8).
The spring cannot but send forth water and the sun light. The goodness of God differs from that of His creatures as the sun differs from the light shed upon a wall. His creatures are good, because God sheds His goodness upon them. Hence Our Lord says: “None is good but One, that is God” (Mark x. 18).
1. The love of God extends to all the creatures that He has made (Wisd. xi. 25).
As the sun lights up the boundless firmament, so God extends His goodness to all creatures. Not one of them is excluded from it. “Not one of them is forgotten by God” (Luke xii. 6).
2. But God has an especial love for mankind. He imparts countless benefits to them and sent His Son on earth to redeem them.
What wonderful bodies God has given us! He has bestowed upon us our senses, and the gift of speech. How many gifts He has conferred upon our souls! He has given us understanding, free will, and memory. For our bodies He gives us food, drink, clothing, health, etc. How well He has provided for our necessities on this earth: light, warmth, the air, the plants, the trees, and their various fruits. How many powers He has implanted in nature, for us to use for our own benefit: coal, salt, stone, marble, precious stones, etc. He has, in fact, made man the lord of the whole world. He loves us far more than we love ourselves. His love for us is far greater than that of the fondest mother for her child. The love of all creatures for God is not nearly as great as the love of God for each one of us. But above all, God has shown His love for us in this that He gave His only-begotten Son for us (John iii. 16). Abraham could not show his love for God in any more perfect way than this, that he gave to God that which was dearest to him, viz., his only son. God did just the same; He gave us His dearest and best possession, His only-begotten Son. Our Lord says of Himself: “Greater love no man has than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John xv. 13). He underwent His sacred Passion and death in order to prove the excess of His love for us. His attitude on the cross proclaims it. His head bowed, to give us the kiss of peace, His arms extended to embrace us, His Heart opened to admit us therein. In the Blessed Sacrament His love keeps Him in the midst of us, and seeks the closest union with us in holy communion. Finally He promised to grant all the prayers that we offer in His name (John xiv. 14).
3. Among men God shows the greatest love to the just.
“A perfect soul,” says St. Alphonsus, “is dearer to God than a thousand imperfect ones.” “To them that love God all things work together for good” (Rom. viii. 28). “O how great is the multitude of Thy sweetness, O Lord, which Thou hast hidden for them that fear Thee” (Ps. xxx. 20). God rewards the good works of the just far beyond what they deserve. He repays them a hundredfold, even in this present life (Matt. xix. 29). He loves the just in spite of their sins and imperfections, just as a mother loves her child tenderly in spite of its many defects.
4. God manifests His love even to sinners.
God continues to confer graces and benefits upon sinners until the last moment of their life (Matt. v. 44). He sends them troubles to bring them to repentance. He finds some good in all, and He also loves them for what He hopes they may become. The love of God is like the powerful magnet that draws iron to itself. Sometimes there is an obstacle in the way, so that the piece of iron cannot reach the magnet, but the magnet continues to draw it all the same. So God continues to draw sinners, even though they do not come near to Him. God hates only the devil and the lost. Even in hell He shows His goodness by not punishing the lost as much as they deserve. It is because of God’s love for men that hell will be so intolerable. The lost will say, “If God had not loved us so much, we should not be so miserable now.” Since God loves us so dearly we should love Him dearly in return (1 John iv. 10). We should not be afraid of Him, but should draw near to Him with childlike confidence. Since God is so good to us we must also be good to our fellow-men. God has given us a command to love Him, to love our neighbors, to love our enemies, and also to perform works of mercy. God also wishes us to be kind and merciful to the brute creation.
8. God is very patient, i.e., He leaves the sinner time for repentance and a change of life.
Men are wont to punish quickly; not so God. He endures long the rebellion of the wicked. It is not the will of God that a sinner should die, but that he should be converted from his wicked ways, and live (Ezech. xviii. 23). God often gives men long warning of coming judgments. He gave those who lived in the days of Noe a warning of one hundred and twenty years; to the Ninivites of forty days; to the Jews a warning of forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem. A storm does not break at once; we are forewarned by the gathering clouds and the darkness; so God warns us of coming punishment. He does not at once cut down the barren tree (Luke xiii. 8, 9). God’s manner of action is opposite to that of man. Man constructs slowly, and destroys quickly. God constructed the universe in six days, but He took seven days for the destruction of the little town of Jericho. Even man prefers to build up, rather than to destroy; much more so God.
God is so patient with us because He has compassion on our weakness, and because He desires to make conversion easy to the sinner.
God deals with us as a mother deals with a peevish infant; she presses it closer to her breast and coaxes it to be good. “Knowest thou not,” says St. Paul, “that the goodness of God leadeth thee to penance?” (Rom. ii. 4.) God deals with us patiently for our sakes, not being willing that any should perish, but that all should come to penance (2 Pet. iii. 9). With many sinners God’s patience has not been lost, e.g., St. Mary Magdalen, St. Augustine, St. Mary of Egypt, etc., but with others it effects nothing. The same sunlight hardens mud and softens wax. If God were not patient with us, no one could be saved, for we are all sinners who have been unfaithful to Him. But though God is so patient, it is dangerous to put off conversion. For the longer God delays His vengeance, the more terrible it is when it comes upon the sinner. It is just like an arrow from the bow; the more the bow is drawn back, the greater the force with which the arrow flies. Compare the awful end of Antiochus Epiphanes (2 Mach. ix. 5 seq.). We must not think, because God is so patient, that He has forgotten our sins. “Say not, I have sinned, and what harm hath befallen me? The Most High is a patient rewarder” (Ecclus. v. 4).
9. God is full of mercy and compassion, i.e., He very readily forgives our sins when we are sincerely sorry for them.
Our Lord gives a beautiful object-lesson of the mercy of God in the story of the prodigal son. See how quickly God forgave the sin of David (2 Kings xii. 13). It is a property of God to have mercy and to spare. His mercy is infinite; like the sea, it has no bounds. God requires of us that we should forgive seventy times seven; how immeasurably merciful therefore must God be!
The mercy of God especially shows itself in the way in which He seeks out the sinner, seeking to win him both by benefits and by the sufferings He inflicts; and also in the love with which He receives again and again the greatest sinner, after his conversion showing him a greater good will than before.
God is like the good shepherd who goes after the lost sheep until he finds it (Luke xv. 4). God sent the prophet Nathan to David; He Himself sought out the Samaritan woman (John iv.). Often He sends troubles that through them the prodigal son may be brought to his senses. He is like a fisherman who tries every sort of device to entice fishes into his net. God is always ready to pardon even the greatest sinner; for He says, “If your sins be as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and if they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool” (Is. i. 18). In fact, the greater the sinner the more lovingly does God receive him if he is willing to amend. Hence David says to God, “Be merciful to my sin, for it is great” (Ps. xxiv. 11). God is like a fisherman, who is more glad to catch big fish than small ones. No one is lost because he has committed great sins, but many are lost because they have committed one sin of which they will not repent. Even Judas would have received forgiveness if he had asked for it. God sometimes forgives the sinner in the last moment of life. He received the good thief on the cross. Yet this is no reason for putting off repentance till the last. “God justified one man at the last moment that none might despair; but only one, that none might presume,” says St. Augustine. A deathbed repentance is generally a very doubtful business; the dying sinner forsakes his sins rather because he cannot help it, than because from his heart he detests them; he is like the mariner who throws his goods into the sea simply from fear of death, not because he wishes to get rid of them. Witness how rarely a conversion made in peril of death proves lasting if the sick man recovers. “It is absurd,” says St. Bernardin of Sienna, “that a man who would not fight when he was well and strong, should be moved to the combat when he is sick and weak.” God also receives the repentant sinner most lovingly. See how Christ received with tender compassion Magdalen, the woman taken in adultery, and the thief on the cross (Luke vii. 47; John viii. 11; Luke xxiii. 43). How kindly the father of the prodigal son received him! God receives the sinner far more kindly than that. “Before he knocks at the door, it is opened to him; before he falls on his knees before Thee, Thou stretchest out Thy hand to him” (St. Ephrem). Our Lord says that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner doing penance, than over ninety-nine just men, who need not penance (Luke xv. 7). The reason of this is that the sinner who does penance generally serves God more zealously and faithfully. God bestows upon the sinner after his conversion greater benefits than He did before he went astray. The father of the prodigal son killed the fatted calf, and made a great feast, with music and dancing. Some times the benefits God bestows on the converted sinner are external, more often they are inner consolations and graces. Witness St. Paul, raised to the third heaven (2 Cor. xii. 2). The Good Shepherd has more joy over the return of the one wandering sheep, than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
10. God is infinitely holy, i.e., He loves good and hates all evil.
God’s holiness is nothing else than a love of His own infinite perfections. He is free from the faintest stain, and therefore desires that all should be like to Himself. How pure is the blue heaven on which there is no cloud! How pure is the white snow on which no spot is to be found! Yet God is infinitely purer. Even angels are not pure in His sight (Job iv. 18). The purity of the angels as compared with that of God is like the light of a lamp compared with the light of the sun. “All our justice is like a soiled rag before Thee, O God!” (Is. Ixiv. 6.) He says to us: “Be ye holy, because I am holy” (Lev. xi. 44). With this object He implants in our breast the natural law (conscience); with this object He gave the law on Mount Sinai; with this object He attached evil consequences to evil deeds. And to cleanse the just from the impurities that cling to them, He purifies them by suffering (John xv. 2). He also cleanses them by the fire of purgatory, since nothing unclean can enter heaven. Why is it that the saints and angels in heaven are represented as dressed in white garments? Why is it that at Baptism a white robe is given to the newly baptized? Be pure and holy, and then you will be a child of God.
11. God is infinitely just, i.e., He rewards all good and punishes all evil deeds.
God’s justice is identical with His goodness. He punishes men to make them better, and to make them happy.
1. God punishes and rewards men partly on earth, but chiefly after death.
Good actions bring men respect, sometimes riches health, and a peaceful conscience. Bad actions bring just the opposite. Abraham, Noe, the patriarch Joseph, were rewarded in this life. Absalom, the sons of Heli, and Antiochus Epiphanes were punished in this life. But it is in the next life, and especially after the resurrection, that body and soul alike will receive their full reward. If all sins were punished in this life men would not believe in the Judgment Day. If none were punished here they would not believe in God’s retributive justice (St. Augustine).
2. God rewards the least good action, and punishes the smallest sin.
Christ tells us that even a cup of cold water given in His name will have its reward. A mere look or gesture will meet with its due reward. Christ tells us that we shall give account for every idle word (Matt. xii. 36).
3. God punishes men for the most part in kind, i.e., in the same way in which they have sinned.
“By what things a man sinneth,” says the Wise Man, “by the same he also is tormented.” Absalom prided himself on his long hair and it caused his death. The rich glutton sinned with his palate and it was his tongue and palate that were tormented in the fire of hell. Antiochus tormented the seven Machabean brethren by tearing and maiming their flesh, and his own flesh was eaten by worms (2 Mach. ix. 6). Aman wished to hang Mardochai, and prepared a gallows for him, and on the same gallows he was himself hanged. The women of Bethlehem would not shelter the Mother of God and the divine Son, and their children perished at the revengeful and cruel hand of Herod. Napoleon I imprisoned the Holy Father, and in his turn was imprisoned first in Elba, and then in St. Helena. In these and many similar events, the Christian sees the finger of God.
4. In rewarding and punishing, God has regard to the circumstances of the individual, and especially to the intention with which he acts, and to the talents that he possesses.
Men judge from the outward appearance of any action, God judges from the heart (1 Kings xvi. 7). The poor widow who threw in only two mites into the treasury of the Temple, had more merit before God than many of the rich men who gave large gifts (Luke xxi. 4). The servant who knows his lord’s will and does it not, will receive more stripes than the servant who did not know the will of his lord (Luke xii. 47, 48). The more knowledge any one has of God, the more severely will God punish him for his sins.
5. God is no respecter of persons.
Many who are first in this world will be last in the world to come. The story of the rich glutton and poor Lazarus is an instance of this. Many who have their names in the mouths of men, and in the records of their country, will not have their names written in the book of life.
Because God is a God of perfect justice we have good reason to fear Him.
Christ exhorts us to fear God, Who is able to cast both body and soul into hell (Matt. x. 28). On account of one single sin, that of our first parents, millions of men have to suffer pain and death; and countless numbers will be forever miserable. Thence we gather how God hates sin. The same conclusion follows from the fact that Our Lord had to die an agonizing death to atone for sin. Who, then, can fail to fear God? But our fear of God must be a filial, not a servile fear, i.e., we must fear not so much the punishment of sin, as the offense against God. A filial fear is the result of a great love of God. Yet we must try and avoid, from fear of punishment, those sins from which the love of God is not sufficient to deter us.
The fear of God is of great advantage to us; it keeps us back from sin, leads us on to perfection, and insures for us peace and happiness both in time and in eternity.
The fear of God keeps us back from sin. It was the fear of God that held back the aged Eleazar from eating swine’s flesh (2 Mach. vi. 26). He who fears God knows no other fear. As the wind drives away the clouds, so the fear of God drives away fleshly lusts, and enables us to escape the snares of the devil. He who fears God casts aside all attachment to things of earth, as the mariner in danger throws overboard the wares that otherwise would sink his ship. As the needle pierces the stuff and makes way for the thread, so the fear of God prepares the way for the love of God and for every virtue. “The fear of God,” says the Psalmist, “is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. ex. 10). The fear of man is full of bitterness and makes a man a slave; the fear of God is full of sweetness, and makes him a free man. The fear of God brings with it honor and glory; it is crowned with joy and gladness, it gladdens the heart, and gives strength and happiness and long life. “Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord” (Ps. cxi. 1). The more we fear God now, the less we shall fear His judgments at the Last Day.
The fear of God is a special grace given by God to those who love Him.
The fear of God is a special gift of the Holy Ghost. God says of His people, “I will give My fear in their hearts, that they may not revolt from Me.” Hence our prayer should be, “Pierce Thou my flesh with Thy fear” (Ps. cxviii. 120).
12. God is a God of perfect truth, i.e., all that He reveals to man is true. *
God cannot err for He is omniscient; He cannot deceive for He is all-holy. “God is not as a man that He should lie, nor the son of man, that He should be changed” (Numb. xxiii. 19). Hence we must believe all that God has revealed, even though our feeble understanding cannot comprehend it e.g., the mysteries of the Christian religion, the Blessed Trinity, the Incarnation, the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
13. God is faithful, i.e., He keeps His promises and carries out His threats.
See how exactly God carried out His threat of death to our first parents, and His subsequent promise of a Redeemer. See again how exactly Our Lord’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem was fulfilled; and how the prophecy of Daniel, that the Temple would never again be rebuilt (Dan. ix. 27) was accomplished; for when Julian the Apostate made an attempt to rebuild it, an earthquake destroyed the foundations, and flames issuing from the ground compelled the builders to fly. Promises and threats are necessary to move our feeble wills. Our Lord used the fear of punishment as an incentive to virtue. Ordinary men are more influenced by fear than by any higher motive. With them the fear of hell is a stronger motive for virtuous living than the hope of heaven. God threatens us out of mercy. The man who cries “Beware” does not want to strike. So God threatens punishment that He may not have to punish.
Hence all that Our Lord and the prophets have foretold either has already happened, or will happen in the future.
The time will therefore never come when the Catholic Church will be destroyed, or when the Papacy will cease to exist (Matt. xvi. 18). The Jews will all be converted before the end of the world (Osee iii. 5). Awful signs in the heaven and earth will precede the final judgment (Matt. xxiv. .29). If we trust our fellow-men they give us their promise on paper; how much more should we trust Christ, since He has left us whole books, i.e., the Scriptures, filled with His promises!
This article, 3. THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.