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THEOLOGY > God > God's Essence > Classification of Attributes    


Classification of the attributes has varied, with some authors even rejecting a classification. Aulen, for instance, claims that a listing of the attributes appeals to a rationally constructed system and that it is improper to set the metaphysical and ethical over against each other because this concept is “entirely inappropriate to a Christian concept of God” (Faith, 104). It does seem that most classifications are a bit involved and contrived, using arbitrary divisions with no explicit Scriptural warrant. The diversity is indicative of the fact that throughout the history of theological reflection no unanimity has surfaced; no one method has ever secured widespread acceptance.

Classifications of the attributes have included the following: incommunicable (those not shared with man) and communicable (those shared with man); absolute (God in Himself) and relative (God in relation to man); intransitive (attributes remaining within God, as self-existence) and transitive (attributes that proceed from God and produce results, as love); natural and moral; attributes positive and negative attributes; and active and passive attributes.

Prominent in the Orthodox community is the distinction between God’s essence and God’s energies or acts. His essence is completely incomprehensible and unknown to man, while that which is known of God is known through His energies, His acts, in relation to man. And it is in and through His acts that the attributes reside and are revealed. We know God through the attributes revealed in His acts, but His essence is the unapproachable light (I Tim. 6:16). The essence is the otherness of God, while the energies are the nearness of God.

These multiple approaches and classifications merely serve to illustrate that man is seeking to understand Him who escapes and defies understanding. We know, but we know in part.

Ultimately, God is Mystery!

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