Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Early Church Fathers Sacred Doctrine

Isidore, Sententiae 1.2.1a (Updated)

We now move on to the second chapter in the first book of Isidore’s Sententiae, which is titled Quod inmensus et omnipotens Deus (“That God is immense and omnipotent”). Cazier breaks the first sententia into two; I follow him here.1

Non ideo caelum et terram implet Deus ut contineant eum, sed ut ipsa potius contineantur ab eo. Nec particulatim Deus implet omnia, sed cum sit idem unus, ubique tamen est totus.

Not for that reason does God fill the heaven and the earth, with the result that they contain him, but with the result that they themselves are rather contained by him. Nor does God fill all things bit by bit [i.e., as though one part of him is in one place, another in another], but, although he is one and the same, nevertheless he is everywhere wholly.

Because Isidore has already asserted the simplicity of God, he must have a doctrine of divine omnipresence consistent with simplicity. God does not have parts, and so God cannot be omnipresent “part by part” (particulatim). There is only one God, but all of him is everywhere–a mystery for human beings for whom it is so hard to think without reference to corporeality.

God’s total omnipresence is not like pouring water into a vessel: the world does not contain him. It rather works the other way: because God exists independent of the creation, the contingent creation can exist in him, by whom it is contained–that is, held together. That is to say, the etymology of continere is important here, in a way not clear superficially in the English word “contain.” The word does not hold God together, or give and preserve his integrity. God’s existence is prior, and the dependent creation is held together–“contained,” given its shape, given its integrity–by him.

Cazier refers to an eloquent passage of Augustine’s Confessions (1.3.3) for confirmation of the point:

Since, then, You fill heaven and earth, do they contain You? Or, as they contain You not, do You fill them, and yet there remains something over? And where do You pour forth that which remains of You when the heaven and earth are filled? Or, indeed, is there no need that You who contains all things should be contained of any, since those things which You fill You fill by containing them? For the vessels which You fill do not sustain You, since should they even be broken You will not be poured forth. And when You are poured forth on us, You are not cast down, but we are uplifted; nor are You dissipated, but we are drawn together. But, as You fill all things, fill them with Your whole self, or, as even all things cannot altogether contain You, do they contain a part, and do all at once contain the same part? Or has each its own proper part— the greater more, the smaller less? Is, then, one part of You greater, another less? Or is it that You are wholly everywhere while nothing altogether contains You?

A note on the Latin: Isidore combines (rather awkwardly) two different constructions in the opening sentence, cause and result. Ideo, “for that reason,” usually looks forward to a causal conjunction (e.g., quod or quia), while a consecutive ut often looks backward to ita or sic (“thus,” “in such a way”). But what we seem to have here is a normal indicator for cause (ideo) followed instead by a clause of result (ut). It also sometimes happens that ideo is correlative with a purpose clause introduced by ut. I had at first rejected the possibility of purpose here, but I wonder whether that is what is intended: “Not for that reason does God fill the heaven and the earth, in order that they may contain him, but in order that they themselves may rather be contained by him.”

  1. The translation is my own. 

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.