William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: That God Is Love, And What That Means

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

This is rather longer than normal, but it is also simpler (and even fun). The logical knots tied here are like on a Kindergartner’s shoes. There is also a word about the odd fundamentalism atheists espouse at the end.

Chapter 90 That in God are delight and joy, nor are they incompatible with the divine perfection. (alternate translation)

[1] THERE are, however, certain passions which, though unbecoming to God as passions, nevertheless contain nothing in their specific nature incompatible with the divine perfection.

[2] Among these are joy and delight. For joy has for its object a present good. Wherefore neither by reason of its object which is a good, nor by reason of the way in which it is referred to that object, which is actually possessed, is joy, according to its specific nature, incompatible with the divine perfection…

Chapter 91 That in God are delight and joy, nor are they incompatible with the divine perfection. (alternate translation)

[1] IN like manner it follows that love is in God as an act of His will.

[2] For it belongs properly to the nature of love that the lover wills the good of the beloved. Now God wills His own and others’ good, as stated above. Accordingly then God loves both Himself and other things.

[3] Again. True love requires one to will another’s good as one’s own. For a thing whose good one wills merely as conducive to another’s good, is loved accidentally: thus he who wills wine to be preserved that he may drink it, or who loves a man that he may be useful or pleasing to him, loves the wine or the man accidentally, but himself properly speaking. Now God loves each thing’s good as its own, since He wills each thing to be in as much as it is good in itself: although He directs one to the profit of another. God therefore truly loves both Himself and other things.

Notes Careful readers will be able to take much from this paragraph. Besides the current cultural connotations about self-love masquerading as other-love, we see that love is an act of the will.

[4] Moreover. Since everything naturally wills or desires its own good in its own way, if the nature of love is that the lover will or desire the good of the beloved, it follows that the lover is referred to the beloved as to a thing that is in a way one with him. Wherefore it appears that the proper notion of love consists in the affection of one tending to another as one with himself in some way: for which reason Dionysius describes love as a unitive force.

Hence the greater the thing that makes the lover one with the beloved, the more intense is the love: for we love those more who are united to us by the origin of birth, or by frequent companionship, than those who are merely united to us by the bond of human nature. Again, the more the cause of union is deeply seated in the lover, the stronger the love: wherefore sometimes a love that is caused by a passion becomes more intense than a love arising from natural origin or from some habit, although it is more liable to be transitory. Now the cause of all things being united to God, namely His goodness, which all things reflect, is exceeding great and deeply seated in God, since Himself is His own goodness. Wherefore in God not only is there true love, but also most perfect and most abiding love…

[6] Further. It belongs to love to seek union as Dionysius says. For since, on account of likeness or becomingness between lover and beloved, the affection of the lover is somehow united to the beloved, the appetite tends to the completion of the union, namely that the union which was begun in the affections be completed in actions. Wherefore it belongs to friends to rejoice in mutual companionship, living together, and common pursuits. Now God moves all other things to union: for in as much as He gives them being and other perfections, He unites them to Himself as far as possible. Therefore God loves both Himself and other things…

[8] Again. Love is the source of all the emotions. For joy and desire are only of a good that is loved; fear and sorrow are only of evil that is contrary to the beloved good; and from these all the other emotions arise. Now joy and delight are in God, as we have shown above. Therefore in God there is love…

[11] Accordingly it must be observed that while other operations of the soul are about one object only, love alone appears to be directed to a twofold object. For if we understand or rejoice, it follows that we are referred somehow to some object: whereas love wills something to someone, since we are said to love that to which we will some good, in the way aforesaid. Hence when we want a thing, we are said simply and properly to desire it, and not to love it, but rather to love ourselves for whom we want it: and in consequence we are said to love it accidentally and improperly.

Accordingly other operations are intense or remiss in proportion to the energy alone of the action. But this cannot apply to God: because energy of action is measured by the force from which it proceeds, and every divine action is of one and the same force. On the other hand love may be intense or remiss in two ways. In one way, as regards the good that we will someone; according to which we are said to love that person more for whom we will a greater good. In another way, as regards the energy of the action, according to which we are said to love that person more, for whom, although we will not a greater good, nevertheless we will an equal good with greater fervour and efficacy. In the first way, accordingly, nothing forbids us to say that God loves one thing more than another, according as He wills for it a greater good. But in the second way this cannot be said, for the same reason as we have stated in the case of other operations…

Notes Read the second part of this paragraph twice. God can love differentially by willing a greater good for one man or thing versus another man or thing. But ardency does not come into play.

[15] It must, however, be observed that even other emotions which by their specific nature are inapplicable to God, are applied to God in Holy Writ [such as God’s “anger” and the like], not indeed properly, as we have shown, but metaphorically, on account of a likeness either of effects, or of some preceding emotion.

[16] I say of effects, because sometimes His will, by the ordering of His Wisdom, tends to an effect to which a person is inclined through a defective passion: thus a judge punishes out of justice, as an angry man out of anger. Accordingly sometimes God is said to be angry, in as much as by the ordering of His Wisdom He wills to punish someone, according to the saying of the psalm: When His wrath shall be kindled in a short time. He is said to be merciful, in as much as out of His good-will He removes man’s unhappiness, even as we do the same through the passion of mercy. Hence the psalm says: The Lord is compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy.

Sometimes also He is said to repent, in as much as in accordance with the eternal and unchangeable decree of His providence, He makes what He destroyed before, or destroys what previously He made: even as those who are moved by repentance are wont to do. Hence (Gen. vi. 7): It repenteth Me that I have made man. That this cannot be taken in the proper sense is clear from the words of 1 Kings xv. 29: The Triumpher in Israel will not spare and will not be moved to repentance.

[17] I also say on account of a likeness to a preceding emotion. For love and joy, which are in God properly, are the principles of all the emotions: love by way of moving principle; joy by way of end: wherefore even an angry man rejoices while punishing, as having obtained his end. Hence God is said to grieve, in as much as certain things occur contrary to those He loves and approves: even as we grieve for what has happened against our will. This is instanced (Isa. lix. 15, 16): God saw, and it appeared evil in His eyes, because there is no judgment. And He saw that there is not a man, and He stood astonished, because there is none to oppose Himself.

[18] By what has been said we can refute the error of certain Jews who ascribed to God anger, sorrow, repentance, and all such passions in their proper sense, failing to discriminate between the proper and the metaphorical expressions of Scripture.

Notes I normally don’t include Biblical quotes, which St Thomas usually employs as further arguments for some point, because Gentiles aren’t readily convinced by this type of evidence. But here the quotes are used as conclusions that must be justified under the tacit proposition “God is love”. How is it a loving God is “angry” or can “grieve”? Well, here’s how: metaphorically.

The error “failing to discriminate between the proper and the metaphorical expressions of Scripture” is common among fundamentalists and atheists; in particular, the latter group stubbornly clings to it, failing to imagine that any other interpretation but literal is possible. This leads (some) atheists to reject arguments which Thomas-like theists also reject. But in so rejecting, it also leads these atheists to fail to recognize good arguments, which they, in their rush to judgement, simply do not know exist. Here is the chance for repentance.

9 Comments

  1. God’s love is a conditional love: “Believe in me or else!”

  2. Briggs

    November 1, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Hans,

    Suppose what you say is true. Go on: suppose it. Can you then logically and consistently say, “I don’t believe”? No, sir, you cannot.

  3. Sander van der Wal

    November 1, 2015 at 9:56 am

    What about God saying of Himself that he’s vindicative? If that is true, then St. Thomas’ God is not the Demi-urge of the Old Testament. Why it is then in the Bible, and/or part of the belief system is logically incomprehensible.

    Atheists (New or otherwise) do’t care that much about the Philosophers God, mainly because he’s completely harmless. No fire, no floods, no eternal damnation, no ‘thou shalt not …’, none of the bastardly things all those demi-urges are so fond of.

  4. I am waiting for JohnK to post a comment here stating that “the arguments in this post have NO mathematical foundation.

    I am also waiting for Briggs to say that he dreamt the theists who read this, “the fallacy of the infinite nature of God lurks here; theists are obliged to think the impossible, that their meaning of life is embedded in an infinite being”, converted to logic and abandoned theism forever.

  5. Briggs makes an excellent point about the parallel misreading of the scriptures by fundamentalists and atheists. For example, a favorite argument of atheists is to point out the several incompatible accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the gospels. Both they, and the fundamentalists, fail to appreciate that these apparent inconsistencies matter not a whit, because the entire story – that the “son” of God walked the earth, “died” for our sins, and was “resurrected” – is intended as a metaphor: something that is obvious to all but the most blinkered literalist.

  6. Briggs

    November 2, 2015 at 11:12 am

    All,

    Of course, that one word or passage is metaphorical, or contains a simile, or even a joke, does not mean all are or do. It is just as much, and probably a larger error, to suppose so. For some hard-core literalism, how about this start to Matthew?

    The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king. David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah…

    Notice anything peculiar? I mean, for a religious text. Don’t see it?

    Everything listed there happened—and can be checked to have happened. Now that, friends, is the mark of a good religion.

  7. Jules Marasciullo

    November 4, 2015 at 10:18 am

    To alleviate misunderstandings which lead to conclusions like “God’s love is conditional” or God is vindictive – research the “Idiom of Permission” with which much of what is interpreted as vengeance from God is written, and why it is written that way! One of the great revelations integral to the life and VOLUNTARY death of Christ is that of the DEPTH of evil to which the devil (the author of death) crawls – in order to wreck havoc on even the most innocent. This “idiom of permission” is couched in the importance of FREEDOM – FREEDOM is so important that even the necessity for the POTENTIAL for evil must exist for freedom to exist. Note that evil is not necessary BUT it’s potential must be – for there to be love there must be a potential NOT to love – for it must be freely voluntary – not compulsory! The “permission” allows the consequences of the abuse of this love – the abuse of this freedom -evil – to actuate – hence the consequence – evil – the consequence of not loving -WHICH IS NOT GOD’S WILL but the MISGUIDED “freewill” desire of man (OR MORE PRECISELY THE ABUSE OF AN INALIENABLE GOD GIVEN FREEDOM) – which is a matter of FREEWILL CHOICE – divinely bequeathed toward us by our creator! Why do we abuse it – is it ignorance or just selfishness or both? Let us endeavor to live Luke 10:27 and Mark 12:30 – and our lives and the lives of those who interact with us will be blessed for it! The road to perdition and the road to salvation are the same road – it’s just a matter of the direction – if all you see are shadows – TURN AROUND – and see the light! 😉

  8. “Everything listed there happened—and can be checked to have happened. ”

    1) These events can’t possibly be checked; as far as I know (I haven’t delved extensively into the matter) there is no extant birth registry for 4000 B.C.

    2) Since they can’t be checked, how do you know they happened? A thought occurs to me: do you mean, in typical theist fashion, to check the accuracy of Matthew by cross-referencing against some other book of the Old or New Testament?

    I await correction on either of these points.

  9. Briggs

    November 11, 2015 at 7:21 pm

    “Mark Brooks” you’re calling yourself? Come on. Who is this? Is this Uncle Dave?

    What a sense of humor you have! But, you know, outsiders won’t get it. They’ll think there really isn’t a tradition of hundreds of years of classical scholarship that discuss these matters in detail. Oh, sure, snot-nosed kids these days are abysmally ignorant not only of the results of that scholarship, but that they don’t even know it exists! Can you imagine!

    Too many students are graduating from universities like Mizzou these days. Sad, sad.

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