Two Peas in a Pod

“Accordingly, to prove that God is almighty we must assume the existence of the universe. For if anyone would have it that certain ages, or periods of time, or whatever he cares to call them, elapsed during which the present creation did not exist, he would undoubtedly prove that in those ages or periods God was not almighty, but that he afterwards became almighty from the time when he began to have creatures over whom he could exercise power. Thus God will apparently have experienced a kind of progress, for there can be no doubt that it is better for him to be almighty than not to be so. Now how is it anything but absurd that God should at first not possess something that is appropriate to him and then should come to possess it? But if there was not time when he was not almighty, there must always have existed the things in virtue of which he is almighty; and there must always have existed things under his sway, which own him as their ruler.”

Origen, On First Principles, Bk.I C.2,10

“God has created the world for His glory; His glory is not known, unless His mercy and His justice are declared: to this end He has, as an act of sheer grace, destyined some men to eternal life, and some, by just judgment, to eternal damnation. Mercy presupposes misery, justice presupposes guilt.”

Theodore de Beze

17 Responses to Two Peas in a Pod

  1. I find that Beza’s first premise is problematic that God created the world for His glory. Rather He created it to share in His Life and He did so in Love, seeking nothing for Himself, not that He can receive anything from creation. I would argue contrary to Origen that it is because God needs nothing from the universe that it cannot be necessary and eternal but must be created and begin in time. Only in this way can God be said to be truly Almighty and in need of nothing but rather gives existence to everything from non-existence.

    Contrary to Beze, God has no need to demonstrate anything to anyone, so neither does He create for His glory, although it is indeed to His glory, from our perspective, that He did create. So there is no need for demonstration of justice or mercy and any subsequent reason for misery and guilt. If there was such a need then the creation must be eternal and we return to Origen because if God was not in need before creation then He cannot be said to have a need arise after creation else creation would be impossible. If God does not need to demonstrate mercy and justice then there does not need to be misery and guilt; not that these are the only objects upon which mercy and justice can be demonstrated.

    Mercy and justice are manifestations of God’s Goodness, Life and Love (not to limit these attributes). That they become distinguished in relation to how these attributes of God become manifest to us does not add anything to God but only relates to how we see Him in our weakness. Again, Beza’s arguement goes back to God requiring a weaker object and thus to Origen because a weaker object is required for mercy and justice to be demonstrated, if this was necessary for mercy and justice to exist.

    If a distinction between demonstration and possession is made then it must be that God has potential for mercy and justice without needing to express(demonstrate) them eternally to weaker objects, (same as the case for being Almighty). However, if these things can remain in potential without eternal manifestation/demonstration before time then there cannot be said to be a time that they need to be manifested/demonstrated and so there is again no need for misery or guilt at any time and no need to predestine any to eternal damnation. The distinction doesn’t help us here and it doesn’t defend Beza.

    Thus, Beza and Origen are two peas in a pod in effect say the same thing.

  2. Levi says:


    I understand what you are saying about penal substitution, and though it is not the main topic of this post I have a question. Coming from a Western background it is hard for me to see the alternative to penal substitution in some sense. Though I always wondered why the pinnacle of salvation in Western theology has been the sacrificial aspect of Christ’s life when I read things like Psalm 40:5-7:

    Many, O LORD my God, are Your wonderful works
    Which You have done;
    And Your thoughts toward us
    Cannot be recounted to You in order;
    If I would declare and speak of them,
    They are more than can be numbered.

    Sacrifice and offering You did not desire;
    My ears You have opened.
    Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.
    Then I said, “Behold, I come;
    In the scroll of the book it is written of me.

    Or Psalm 51:16:

    “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;You do not delight in burnt offering.”

    And I could go on and on. But the point is, your reasoning makes sense to me; I just haven’t been presented with a clear alternative.

  3. Perry Robinson says:


    Does God’s glory require objects to be glorified in order to be demonstrated and hence known? It doesn’t seem so to me and so I don’t see a reason to “stop” there. And I am not sure I “stopped” at all with regard to your question. And if I failed to do so, that would leave untouched the claim that for Beza such objects are necessary. While it may be true that I think that God does in fact apply divine justice or whatever to external objects, that is far different from thinking that it is a necessary condition (“presupposes” as Beza says) that there be such objects in order for the Trinity to do so.

    And while it may be true that you and/or Beza think that God is demonstrating divine justice to created agents, it is also true that the Trinity is doing so by means of a demonstration on other created objects. The former presupposes the latter, so I can’t see that that distinction is doing any real work to help you.

    My claim isn’t that if God so chooses to demonstrate justice that electing to use objects to do so is problematic such that God is dependent on them. That was part of the reason for using Ex 3:14 and asking about penal justice and free forgiveness. My claim is just what Beza says, that God’s demonstration presupposes them. That is a much stronger claim and it strikes me as Origenism just speaking a different language. If Beza is right, choice, at least divine free choice has nothing to do with the matter per se. So on the contrary, I would argue that Beza’s view excludes the Bible. Consequently I think you have missed Beza’s claim, it isn’t a matter of choice at all, but logical necessity. And you yourself seem to be aware of this in your writing below.

    If God were like any other or any being at all, qua being, I would agree that any exertion or activity of deity would logically require something upon which to be merciful and just. (though Aristotle gives us a few counter-examples for thinking otherwise) I am not sure why you would grant the initial premise though and think of God as being so in the first place. So I deny your premise. With God all things are possible because modality isn’t rooted in being.

    If God is pure being, pure activity, then I can’t see how logically there could be anything left of your distinction, even in the realm of epistemology which would supervene on the metaphysical identity. If God is pure activity, then there is no fundamental distinction in terms of metaphysics between possession and use. And since “elective” from “electio” simply means “choice” I am not sure how illuminating the invocation of that term in fact is.

    So, given Beza’s view of God, is he consistent? Does that distinction in fact do any work for him orno?

  4. Levi says:

    Never mind…I get it now. HA, I feel stupid.

  5. Levi says:

    Forgive me, Perry. But I don’t exactly understanding what you are alluding to when you bring up Ex 3:14 in light of penal substitution.

  6. jugulum says:


    OK, I was wondering if you might still see a “peas in a pod” similarity that’s not covered by the distinction I was making. I’m willing to try to set that aside and look at what you see.

    “For both, possession and demonstration here require external objects upon which God is then dependent. That seems rather counter intuitive to say the least.”

    I see where you’re trying to go, but I don’t see how you can get there. Your point seems to me rather forced and artificial. I don’t see how you can characterize Beza’s view of God as being in any significant sense dependent on external objects.

    If the choice to demonstrate his justice and mercy is elective, then it is not an ontological necessity as in Origen’s view. (Sorry, I guess that gets back to the same distinction.) Why stop where you did? God isn’t just demonstrating his justice on external objects, he’s demonstrating it to external objects. You could as well say that God is “dependent” on them. No; if God elects to do something involving external objects in any way, it seems rather forced to say that he is dependent on them. You could as well say that when God chose to redeem us through the crucifixion and resurrection of the incarnate Son, he was “dependent” on us and on those who crucified Jesus. Or that when God wielded Assyria like an axe against in Isaiah 10, he was “dependent” on them and on Israel. If you want to put Origen and Beza in the same pod on those grounds, you’ll have to cram in the Bible itself.

    A key point is that we’re talking about demonstration as in an expression or display–an exertion of justice and mercy. Trying to talk about a demonstration of mercy without something on which to be merciful is like asking for riding without a vehicle or carrying without something to carry. Can God make a square circle? Can God make dry wetness or arid mud? Can God make a rock so big he cannot lift it? Bah.

    As for actus purus, I already said, “I don’t know, there might not be anything left.” I don’t know enough about that notion to judge how it would impact this topic. Your question about penal substitution is interesting food for thought.

    However, I’ll say that if Beza views God’s choice to demonstrate his justice and mercy as an elective choice, then that is the distinction you asked for.

  7. AH says:


    First of all I think you should read the material for yourself. Beza is certainly a good one for dealing with the sorts of issues that were raised by Perry, though in the reformed tradition that list could be multiplied many times over. So far as your necessary for possession/necessary for demonstration qualification is concerned I can accept and grant part in theory. I have read a great deal of Beza and the Reformed tradition for that matter, and understand that God’s freedom in creation is defended in fairly unanimous fashion. So I will grant you that *for Beza* his concern reflects necessity it economic manifestation. It is at this point though, I believe Origen to be the more consistent of the two. All that is proven by your distinction is the inconsistency of Beza. Consider the primary quote by Perry: “His glory is not known, unless His mercy and His justice are declared”…Beza connects the revelation of Gods Glory to the unveiling of his justice and mercy, which for Beza are *necessary attributes.* These attributes, being something that God possesses of necessity *need* (necessity for demonstration) a platform from which they can be displayed. This begs a question though; if those attributes are necessary to who God is, and these attributes require certain conditions for their portrayance (ie., misery/guilt) does this too correspond with the divine reality. Or to say, does God not *need* also to possess (in the same manner) guilt and misery because they are presupposed in the custody of Justice and mercy? If not, why not? If God possesses justice by nature and not also guilt then I don’t see why guilt is necessary for its demonstration? For Origen attribution of “almightyness” was a direct indication of creations eternality. One was *presupposed* by the other. So what is proven by your distinction? That God only had *necessity* in demonstration? But remember for Beza demonstration is absolutely connected to prior possession and if one presupposes the other, that normally necessitates the other if one is possessed. I think your thesis at this point runs into some insurmountable difficulties, though I am not above being proven wrong. Furthermore the distinction that you make in the rest of your response needs to answer the question concerning ‘actus purus’. How does God’s *lack* of potentiality make his possession of Justice not also presuppose the possession of guilt?

    BTW I didn’t mean to hijack this post…

  8. Jugleman,

    I think if we let the possess/demonstrate distinction fall away and look at something else, which was in my mind, we can see the “two pea” relation. For both, possession and demonstration here require external objects upon which God is then dependent. That seems rather counter intuitive to say the least.

    And in any case, if God is actus purus, what is the differene between possession and demonstration? Think of it this way. Would God be just if he forgave sinners without a penal substitute? If not, why not? And how does that answer fit with Ex 3:14 for example?

  9. jugulum says:

    AH, this affirms for me my desire to see the sources for myself; his quotation does not support a “necessary for God to possess” interpretation as opposed to a “necessary for God to demonstrate” interpretation.

    Go back to the “But if sin” sentence you quoted, and include the sentence before it.

    “Also, this is the great glory of God, that He shows Himself to be a most severe punisher of sin. But if sin had not existed, no opening would be made for this judgement.”

    He is explicitly talking about demonstration of God’s justice. If Beza believed that evil was necessary for God to possess justice, this quotation doesn’t show it.

    In short, it’s plain that Beza believed God decided that the Fall would occur for the purposes of (1) showing his justice on some sinners and (2) redeeming us through Christ (with the attendant greater good we receive). It is not plain that he believed God would not be just if He had not had the opportunity to exercise that justice.

  10. AH says:


    The following excerpt is taken from Beza’s Quaestionum Et Responsionum Christianarum Lebellus (A Book of Christian Questions and Answers) which is exactly what it purports to be. Questions are raised and Beza then answers them. Question 190 states:

    Q190. Can God be thought to will anything which he does not approve, and thus that which is evil?

    BEZA: Truly, it must be confessed, that whatever God decreed, it is ordained altogether willingly, but here also shines forth His infinite wisdom, that with Him even the darkness has a bit of light, yet in such a way that it is and remains darkness, that is, it is good also that there should be evil; for God found the method whereby it might happen, that what is and remains evil by its own nature, might still have a bit of good before Him, and (as Augustine rightly and elegantly said) it may not happen except by His will, that is, apart from His decree, and yet be against his will, that is, what is by its own nature unrighteous, and therefore does not please God. For example, that God saved His own by the gracious redemption of His own Son Christ, is to His own exceedingly great glory, which otherwise [if men had not sinned] would not have shone forth. But man would not have required redemption from sin and death, unless sin and death existed. Therefore, in respect to the ordinance of God, it was good that sin and death enter into the world; and yet this sin is and remains sin so much by its own nature, that it could not be expiated for except by a very terrible penalty. Again, we receive far more in Christ than we lost in Adam. Therefore, it was best and most useful for us that Adam fell, in respect to God, who prepares a kingdom of eternal glory for us by this wonderful means. And nevertheless, this Fall is so evil by its own nature, that even those who are justified and believe, experience many miseries and calamities from it, even to death. Also, this is the great glory of God, that He shows Himself to be a most severe punisher of sin. But if sin had not existed, no opening would be made for this judgement. Therefore, it was good, in respect to the ordinance of God, that sin exist, and afterwards be spread abroad, which is damned in the demons and all those who are outside of Christ, with eternal punishment. Likewise, this also is the will of God (Peter said), that is, His decree, that all who do right, are affected by evils. But he who does well, is not able to be hurt apart from sin. It is good therefore, in respect to Godís will (that is, His ordinance) that there be persecutors of the church, whom, notwithstanding, He most severely punishes, justly, as sinners against His will, that is, against that which He approves of them doing. Therefore, by the express words of the apostles, that which is against Godís will or decree (that is, against that which He approves and commands), does not come to pass; on the other hand, it cannot be said that God is contrary to Himself, or that he wills iniquity, as Augustine rightly concluded from the Word of God against Julian.

    Beza states, “But if sin had not existed, no opening would be made for this judgement…” which correlates the manifestation of justice through judgement with the necessity of sin (guilt in the above quotation). You can find many more such comments from his Tabula Praedestinationis which is specifically dedicated to answering these questions. Aside from the revisionistic work of Muller, Kendall, Bray and others I believe Beza “fits the bill” with much of the tarring he has historically received; ie., overly rationalistic scholastic systematizer, *two peas in a pod* etc., etc.

  11. jugulum says:

    To make them known by verbal revelation, God would not. To make them known by demonstration would seem to imply objects on which to exert them. That means objects that deserve justice and require mercy.

    Hmm, I don’t know, there might not be anything left.

  12. Jugulman,

    Let me try asking the question a different way. Why would God require objects of punishment to make his justice or mercy known?

    And if God is pure act as in both Protestant and Catholic scholasticism, what is left of the distinction you are attempting to draw?

    Now I am off to bed. I’ll provide the source for beza later.

  13. jugulum says:


    Good question. I don’t know.

    The last sentence, without context, would seem to say, “No.” (I.e., God wouldn’t possess justice without a guilty being on which to exercise it.) In a context where he’s saying that God’s glory is not known unless His mercy and His justice are declared, I think reading it that way would be unwarranted. The context is about God showing His attributes, not God possessing attributes.

    We’d have to use the broader context of Beza’s writings to answer the question. I’m not familiar with them; I’m just interpreting the quotations you provided. If AH is right about Beza’s Tractationes theologicae, then the answer is “No.” But the distinction between necessity for demonstration and necessity for possession is fine enough that I’d want to see the source for myself before judging.

    David: A necessity for demonstration which God chose to do–possibly not an ontological necessity.

    Hmm…Could the pain you experienced be the pain of one walking into the brilliant light from the darkness of the Cave? 😉

  14. AH says:

    Beza ellucidates this necessity in his Tractationes theologicae where the ontological necessity of evil is established…part and parcel with his supralapsarianism.

  15. David Richards says:

    Interesting that I have become so entrenched in the Orthodox mindset that the de Beze quote was painful for me to read. He makes evil a necessity.

  16. Would God possess justice for Beza if there weren’t objects for him to demonstrate it?

  17. jugulum says:

    Except that the one tries to argue about what’s necessary for God to possess attributes, and the other tries to argue about what’s necessary for God to demonstrate His attributes.

    Isn’t that a rather fundamental distinction?

%d bloggers like this: