The Catholic Church teaches that God is All-Perfect; this infinite Perfection is viewed, successively, under various aspects, each of which is treated as a separate perfection and characteristic inherent to the Divine Substance, or Essence. A certain group of these, of paramount import, is called the Divine Attributes. The position of the Catholic Church declared in the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), is again clearly stated in the following pronouncement of the Vatican Council:
Thomas Aquinas said that starting from movement, becoming, contingency, and the world's order and beauty, one can come to a knowledge of God as the origin and the end of the universe. The Church teaches that God can be known with certainty from the created world with human reason.
Our natural knowledge of God is acquired by discursive reasoning upon the data of sense by introspection, "For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal power also, and Divinity" (St. Paul, Romans 1:20). Created things, by the properties and activities of their natures, manifest, as in a glass, darkly, the powers and perfections of the creator. But these refracted images of Him in finite things cannot furnish grounds for any adequate idea of the Infinite Being.
"Since our knowledge of God is limited, our language about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point,...Our human words always fall short of the mystery of God."
Of his own accord and by his own power he made all things and arranged and perfected them; and his will is the substance of all things. He alone, then, is found to be God; he alone is omnipotent, who made all things; he alone is Father, who founded and formed all things, visible and invisible, sensible and insensate, heavenly and earthly, by the Word of his power. And he has fitted and arranged all things by his wisdom; and while he comprehends all, he can be comprehended by none. He is himself the designer, himself the builder, himself the inventor, himself the maker, himself the Lord of all.(Irenaeus. Against Heresies, 2:30:9)
"By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works. But there is another order of knowledge, which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation. Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man..." By revealing himself God wishes to make man capable of responding to him, and of knowing him and of loving him far beyond their own natural capacity. God communicates himself to man gradually.
According to Dei verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, God reveals himself through his Word;
The concept of a perfection derived from created things and freed of all defects, is, in its application to God, expanded without limit. God not only possesses every excellence discoverable in creation, but He also possesses it infinitely. To emphasize the transcendence of the Divine perfection, in some cases an abstract noun is substituted for the corresponding adjective; as, God is Intelligence; or, again, some word of intensive, or exclusive, force is joined to the attribute; as, God alone is good, God is goodness itself, God is all-powerful, or supremely powerful.
Transcendentally one, absolutely free from composition, the Divine Being is not, and may not be conceived as, a fundamental substrate in which qualities or any other modal indeterminations inhere. The reality to which the various attributes are ascribed is one and indivisible.
In this respect, the relation of the attributes to the Divine nature might be illustrated by the various reflections of one and the same object from a concave, a convex, and a plane mirror. Nevertheless, to systematize the idea of God, and to draw out the rich content of the knowledge resulting from the proofs of God's existence, some primary attribute may he chosen is representing one aspect of the Divine perfection from which the others may be rigorously deduced. Then arises a logical scheme in which the derivative attributes, or perfections stand towards one another in a relation somewhat similar to that of the essence and the various properties and qualities in a material substance. In this arrangement the primary perfection is termed the metaphysical essence, the others are called attributes. The essence, too, may be regarded as that characteristic which, above all others, distinguishes the Deity from everything else. Upon the question, which attribute is to be considered primary, opinions differ. Many eminent theologians favour the conception of pure actuality (Actus Purus), from which simplicity and infinity are directly deduced. Most modern authors fix on aseity (Aseitas; a = "from" se = "himself"), or self-existence; for the reason that, while all other existences are derived from, and depend on, God, He possesses in Himself, absolutely and independently, the entire reason of His uncaused infinite Being. In this, the most profound and comprehensive distinction between the Divinity and everything else, all other distinctions are implicitly expressed. Whether, and in what way, the distinctions between the attributes and the metaphysical essence, and among the attributes themselves have an ontological basis in the Divine nature itself was subject, which divided Nominalists and Realists, Thomists and Scotists, in the age of Scholasticism (cf. Vacant, Dict. de théol. cathol., I, 2230–34).
Throughout the writings of the Fathers the spirituality of the Divine Nature, as well as the inadequacy of human thought to comprehend the greatness, goodness, and infinite perfection of God, is continually emphasized. At the same time, Catholic philosophy and theology set forth the idea of God by means of concepts derived chiefly from the knowledge of our own faculties, and our mental and moral characteristics. We reach our philosophic knowledge of God by inference from the nature of various forms of existence, our own included, that we perceive in the Universe. All created excellence, however, falls infinitely short of the Divine perfections, consequently our idea of God can never truly represent Him as He is, and, because He is infinite while our minds are finite, the resemblance between our thought and its infinite object must always be faint.
Sometimes men are led by a natural tendency to think and speak of God as if He were a magnified creature — more especially a magnified man — and this is known as anthropomorphism. Thus God is said to see or hear, as if He had physical organs, or to be angry or sorry, as if subject to human passions: and this is a perfectly legitimate and more or less unavoidable use of metaphor.
"Presence of God" is a term used in Catholic theology and devotion.
In theology, it refers to the belief that God is present by His Essence everywhere and in all things by reason of His Immensity. Psalm 139:7-8 reads:
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
It also refers to the belief that God is in a special manner really and substantially present in the souls of the just.
In devotion, to put oneself in the presence of God, or to live in the presence of God, as spiritual writers express it, means to become actually conscious of God as present, or at least so to live as though thus actually conscious.
Another way to be mindful of His Presence is by the exercise of reason directed by faith. One sees God in the earth, the sea, the air and in all things; in heaven where He manifests His Glory, in hell where He carries out the law of His Justice.
A writer particularly associated with this devotion is Brother Lawrence, the author of The Practice of the Presence of God.
Taking as the basis of classification the ways by which the attributes are developed, they are divided into positive and negative. Among the negative attributes are simplicity, infinity, immutability. The chief positive attributes are unity, truth, goodness, beauty, omnipotence omnipresence, intellect and will, personality. Some authors divide them into incommunicable and communicable. The former class comprises those that belong to God alone (e.g., all-wise, self-existent, omnipotent) to the latter belong those that are predicable, analogically, of God and creatures as good, just, intelligent. Again, the divine nature considered either as static or as the source activity; hence another division into quiescent and active. Finally, some perfections involve a relation to things distinct from God, while others do not; and from this standpoint theologians divide the attributes into absolute and relative. The various classifications adopted by modern Protestant theologians are due partly to the results of philosophical speculation and partly to new conceptions of the nature of religion. Schleiermacher, e.g. derives the attributes of God from our threefold consciousness of absolute dependence, of sin, and of grace. Others, with Lipsius, distinguish the metaphysical attributes from the psychological and the ethical. A simpler division groups omnipotence, omnipresence, eternity, omniscience, and unity as the metaphysical predicates, justice and goodness as the moral attributes. The fundamental attribute is, according to Ritschl, love; according to Professor Royce, omniscience. The main difficulty with these writers centres about the idea of God as a personal being.
In the fourth century Aetius and Eunomius maintained that, because the Divine nature is simple, excluding all composition or multiplicity, the various terms and names applied to God are to be considered synonymous. Otherwise they would erroneously imply composition in God. This opinion was combated by St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Basil, and St. Gregory of Nyssa (In Eunom., P. G., XLV). The principle of attribution received more precise statement at the hands of St. Augustine, in his investigation of the conditions of intellectual knowledge (De Genesi ad Litteram, IV, 32). In the ninth century, John Scotus Erigena, who was largely influenced by Neo-Platonism, transmitted through the works of the Pseudo-Dionysius, contributed to bring into clearer relief the analogical character of predication (De Divinâ Naturâ, Lib. I). The Nominalists revived the views of Eunomius, and the opposition of the Realists was carried to the other extreme by Gilbert de la Porrée, who maintained a real, ontological distinction between the Divine Essence and the attributes. His opinion was condemned by the Council of Reims (1148). St. Thomas definitively expressed the doctrine that, after some controversies between Scotists and Thomists upon minor points and subtleties, and with some divergence of opinion upon unimportant details, is now the common teaching of Catholic theologians and philosophers. It may be summarized as follows: The idea of God is derived from our knowledge of finite beings. When a term is predicated of the finite and of the Infinite, it is used, not in a univocal, but in analogical sense. The Divine Perfection, one and invisible, is, in its infinity, the transcendental analogue of all actual and possible finite perfections. By means of an accumulation of analogous predicates methodically co-ordinated, we endeavour to form an approximate conception of the Deity who, because He is Infinite, cannot be comprehended by finite intelligence. Modern philosophy presents a remarkable gradation, from Pantheism, which finds God in everything, to Agnosticism, which declares that He is beyond the reach of knowledge. Spinoza conceives God as "a substance consisting of infinite attributes each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence". The two attributes manifested to us are thought and extension. At the other extreme we find Agnostics of the school of Herbert Spencer (see agnosticism) and some followers of Hegel, who hold that the nature of God, or, to use their favourite term, "the Absolute" is utterly unknowable, and its existence not determined to any mode; therefore, to predicate of it various attributes, expressive of determinations, is idle and misleading. Between the finite and the Infinite there is no common ground of predication. Hence, words that signify finite perfections can have no real meaning when predicated of God. They become mere empty symbols. All theological attempts to elaborate an idea of God are vain, and result in complete absurdity when they conceive God after man's image and likeness (see anthropomorphism), and circumscribe the Infinite in terms borrowed from human psychology. Criticism of this kind indicates that its authors have never taken the trouble to understand the nature of analogical predication, or to consider fairly the rigorous logical process of refining to which terms are subjected before being predicated of God. It often happens too, that writers, after indulging liberally in eloquent denunciation of theological anthropomorphism proceed, on the next page, to apply to the Infinite, presumably in a strictly univocal sense, terms such as "energy", "force", and "law", which are no less anthropomorphic, in an ultimate analysis, than "will" and "intelligence".