Attributes of God - A Philosophical Discussion

Someone asked on a blog discussion forum: "What are the attributes of God?" Needless to say, I joined the discussion, and the following is a partial attempt at an answer to the question.

To make sure that no-one misunderstands, I should just say that I'm not here arguing in favour of any religion over any other, and I'm not trying to evangelise or convert anyone. I'm treating the question NOT as a religious one, but as a philosophical one.

As usual, it starts with semantics.

The word "attribute" refers to a property or characteristic of an object. Many people would argue that the question is meaningless, since God is necessarily beyond all attributes. They would then refer to God by saying all the things that God is not. For example, God is not green, blue, red etc etc, and also God is not colourless and so on. The problem with this approach is that it's a bit negative, as it doesn't say what God actually is.

It seems logical to assume we can say (if God exists at all) that God is alive. Some would also say that God is love, although there is a problem with this, due to the slight double meaning of the verb "to be" which can be used to refer to an attribute, or to an identity. If it's the latter meaning, then you can also say "Love is God" which has far-reaching effects in terms of one's religious belief. Best I think to use the phrase with care.

The reason why it's necessary to try to avoid attributing any properties to God, is that these will impose a limitation on God, reducing God to the level of a created being. (Of course, it wouldn't actually reduce God, but would reduce our conception of God, or in other words, it would lead to the creation of an idol.) The important point is that God is free from all "earthly" limitations.

The interesting part of all this for me, is that the God who is followed by Christians, a very large proportion of the population (and many of them do not seem to be aware of this), chooses voluntarily to accept limitation, in order to share in the sufferings of humanity, by being born on earth in the form of a man, Jesus, an act which is being celebrated all over the world on this very day!


Mulled Vine said...

God became man so we could attribute him.

Hermster said...

Good observation Filosofia.
The old Hermetic saying "As Above, so below" could shed light on this as well. The Jewish Star of David for example is a pyramid pointing UP and a pyramid pointing DOWN which the elites chose as the sects symbol. Many questions in nature or the Heavenly realm can be answered with this small phrase. Example: Is there a hierarchy under the Supreme God? Yes, just as in nature etc..

harvey said...


This brings to mind an Aristotle quote:

As pure Act, the First being as First being can be only a spiritual being, not a material being (a being composed of matter and form), for matter is eminently the seat of potency (Aristotle, Metaphysics, Lambda book, chap. 7.)

Sofia said...

As to what Aristotle can have meant by the phrase "seat of potency" is something that certainly needs to be explained further before any agreement can be admitted...

harvey said...

I believe that means matter is always in becoming/change, whereas the First Being is fully in Act (as opposed to a being in potency). I can't say I have my head fully wrapped around this though. :)