Why Denial of Divine Simplicity Implies Atheism

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For much of my theological life, I have not understood the notion of divine simplicity nor thought it important to understand. What has divine simplicity to do with the lively God of the Bible‽ Even after I began to read up on the topic about a decade ago, it continued to seem irrelevant—and not only irrelevant but perhaps even dangerous: dangerous because it threatens to replace the biblical understanding of God with a philosophical construction. My suspicions were confirmed by David Bradshaw’s challenging book Aristotle East and West. Bradshaw argues that without a clear distinction between the divine essence and divine energies, the simplicity doctrine reduces God to static existence, enslaves him to necessity, and renders impossible synergistic relations between the Creator and human beings. Bradshaw did not convince me that St Gregory Palamas’s analysis of the divine essence and energies is the most adequate and satisfying construal of biblical deity; but he did persuade me (unintentionally, I’m sure) that metaphysical speculation on the divine nature should be restricted to the backrooms of the university. “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” asked Tertullian.

But then several years later I came across this sentence in The Experience of God: “It seems obvious to me that a denial of divine simplicity is tantamount to atheism.” If anyone else had written this line, I probably would not have paid it much mind, but David Bentley Hart always warrants my attention. Here’s the passage:

There is an ancient metaphysical doctrine that the source of all things—God, that is—must be essentially simple; that is, God cannot possess distinct parts, or even distinct properties, and in himself does not allow even of a distinction between essence and existence. I shall discuss this idea below, very soon. Here I shall only record my conviction that the idea is not open to dispute if one believes that God stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things; it seems obvious to me that a denial of divine simplicity is tantamount to atheism, and the vast preponderance of metaphysical tradition concurs with that judgment. (p. 128)

Why is it obvious to Hart, when it is not obvious to so many modern theologians and philosophers, that a proper understanding of divinity entails divine simplicity? Earlier in his book Hart invites us to consider with wonder the very fact of existence. “How odd it is, and how unfathomable,” he muses, “that anything at all exists; how disconcerting that the world and one’s consciousness of it are simply there, joined in a single ineffable event…. Every encounter with the world has always been an encounter with an enigma that no merely physical explanation can resolve” (pp. 88-89). The universe poses the question “why?” and in so posing this question, it reveals to us its absolute contingency. The universe need not have been. “Nothing within the cosmos contains the ground of its existence” (p. 92):

All things that do not possess the cause of their existence in themselves must be brought into existence by something outside themselves. Or, more tersely, the contingent is always contingent on something else. This is not a difficult or rationally problematic proposition. The complications lie in its application. Before all else, however, one must define what real contin­gency is. It is, first, simply the condition of being conditional: that is, the condition of depending upon anything external or prior or circumambient in order to exist and to persist in being. It is also mutability, the capacity to change over time, to move constantly from potential to actual states, and to abandon one actual state in favor of another. It is also the condition of being extended in both space and time, and thus of being incapable of perfect “self-possession” in some absolute here and now. It is the capacity and the tendency both to come into and pass out of being. It is the condition of being composite, made up of and dependent upon logically prior parts, and therefore capable of division and dissolution. It is also, in consequence, the state of possessing limits and boundaries, external and internal, and so of achieving identity through excluding—and thus inevitably, depending upon—other realities; it is, in short, finitude. (pp. 99-100)

Note Hart’s identification of composition as revelatory of contingency. Composite beings cry out for explanation. If an entity is made up of parts, whether material or metaphysical, then the parts are more fundamental than the whole. Of composite beings we may always ask, How did these parts come together to form this particular entity?

The universe poses to us the fundamental question of contingency. We name the answer, if there is an answer, “God.” God is the unconditioned source of all that exists, the one of whom we cannot ask “why?” A child queries, “Who made God?” We can only smile, for if we can ask that question of God, we aren’t thinking of God. As Hart notes: “God stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things.”

If the Deity is the unconditioned source of creaturely existence, then we must logically conclude that in the plenitude of his infinite Being he enjoys a profound, inconceivable, transcendent unity. He cannot be divided into spatial parts, temporal parts, or metaphysical parts. God is not a being:

The precise sense in which God is not a being, or indeed the sense in which he could even be said not to “exist,” is as some discrete object, essentially distinct from all others, “standing forth” (which is what “exist” means, etymologically speaking) from being as such. A being of that kind—one to which the indefinite article properly attaches—possesses a certain determinate number of attributes, a certain quantity of potentialities, a certain degree of actuality, and so on, and is at once both intrinsically composite and extrinsically enumerable: that is, every particular being is made up of a collection of parts and is also a discrete item within the sum total of existing things. All of this is precisely what classical metaphysical theism says God is not. He is instead the infinite to which nothing can add and from nothing can subtract, and he himself is not some object in addition to other objects. He is the source and fullness of all being, the actuality in which all finite things live, move, and have their being, or in which all things hold together; and so he is also the reality that is present in all things as the very act of their existence. God, in short, is not a being but is at once “beyond being” (in the sense that he transcends the totality of existing things) and also absolute “Being itself” (in the sense that he is the source and ground of all things. As Sufi tradition says, “God is al-Haqq, Reality as such, underlying everything. All finite things are limited expressions, graciously imparted, of that actuality that he possesses in infinite abundance. (pp. 108-109)

Hart’s contentious claim that denial of divine simplicity is denial of God himself thus becomes clear: if God were composite in any way, he would not be God. To sum up: “To be the first cause of the whole universal chain of per se causality, God must be wholly unconditioned in every sense. He cannot be composed of and so dependent upon severable constituents, physical or metaphysical, as then he would himself be conditional” (p. 134).

(10 May 2016)

(Go to “Divine Simplicity as Negative Theology”)

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41 Responses to Why Denial of Divine Simplicity Implies Atheism

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Yesterday I made the mistake of republishing article #2 in this series before #1. Silly me.

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    • areespivey says:

      Hello Father, I’m wondering how you would respond to Orthodox apologists and bloggers who claim that Divine Simplicity is opposed by Orhtodox Theology.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        I would respond (1) they they construe Orthodox theology and the Palamite distinction far too narrowly and (2) they have missed the apophatic intent of divine simplicity assertion.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        From my experience these claims by Orthodox bloggers are usually polemical reactions to Scholasticism (and by extension all that is “not-Eastern”), such responses are typically engaged in tilting against the proverbial windmills. Not a single patristic writer comes to mind who argues against divine simplicity.

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  2. Thanks for this post. Divine Simplicity has been confusing for me. Part of the reason is that it depends on which definition a writer is using and to what end. I completely agree with Hart here and your analysis regarding component parts and contingency relegating God to nonsense in terms of a source of being.

    But when I read Bradshaw, he’s using it in a very different way. That Augustinian Simplicity means super essentialism, that God cannot interact with human beings lest God then be mutable and this cease to be a stable source of being. Bradshaw then discusses the energia (essence energies distinction) to demonstrate philosophical and historically how energeia was the way the eastern church solved this conundrum. the essence can’t interact with humanity but the energies can without violating God’s essence, allowing God to remain immutable. It may seem like minutiae but deification is born out of this framework.

    So I can agree with Hart, as he’s worded in this blog and Bradshaw (as i understand that beast of a book). I still can’t figure out why they disagree with one another so vehemently. They both end at the same place, at least to this novice reader.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Bradshaw is tilting against the west. 😉

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      • I’m inclined to agree, especially given how shares his opinion in the epilogue, however that is no reason to disregard his scholarship. He his a precise scholar with a lot solid argument throughout that book. I am not enough of an expert to refute his sustained treatment of the essence and energies distinction in this book, are you aware of anyone who has done a critical review and refuted his book?

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    • Thomas says:

      > That Augustinian Simplicity means super essentialism, that God cannot interact with human beings lest God then be mutable and this cease to be a stable source of being.

      Where does Augustine say this? I’m not an expert in Augustine, but I believe is his position is fairly clear that God can act in the world without being changed himself.

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  3. Anthony Adamski says:

    Hi Father,

    Wonderful article!

    I have two questions:

    How do you explain the relationship between divine simplicity and the incarnation (and the “body of christ” of which paul refers to it’s many “members” )?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I don’t explain it. I deny the alleged contradiction. It’s not as if we have two discrete entities–the immutable, impassible, simple God at one side of the room and the mutable, passible, complex world on the other side–and then we try to figure out how God can interact with and become incarnate in the world. The fact is, they do not inhabit the same room–hence the absence of contradiction. God’s creation of the world ex nihilo and his relation to the world is far more mysterious. And the same must be said of the relation of creatures to their Creator. As Bishop Robert Barron puts it:

      The Creator, making the universe, ex nihilo, does not stand over and against his creatures in a standard “being-to-being” rapport; rather, his creative act here and now constitutes the to-be of creatures, so that every finite thing is a relation to God.

      The infinite God has created the world to make possible his personal embodiment in the world, under the mode of finitude. We are presented with a paradox and antinomy but not, I suggest, a contradiction; the divine transcendence forbids the contradiction. God can be the man Jesus Christ and suffer on the cross, without in any compromising his infinite plenitude and aseity. The contradiction only appears when we think of God as an entity, a being with determinate boundaries. God is not a being. Eastern theologians think of him as beyond being; Latin theologians as Being; but both traditions insist on his radical transcendence of the world, which simultaneously allows him to be intimately immanent to the world and even a being in the world. David Hart’s book The Experience of God is a good place to begin.

      Anyway, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it. 🙂

      Liked by 6 people

    • Thomas says:

      Isn’t the answer that the Word is simple, immutable, and impassible through his divine nature, and composite, mutable, and passible through his human nature?

      In other words, it seems less a problem for divine simplicity specifically than for the divine attributes generally.

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      • David says:

        Hey Thomas. I would agree that this is basically the answer – but I do tend to think that the issue of simplicity, compared to the other divine attributes, is a little trickier to hold together with the incarnation.

        The incarnation is by addition, not subtraction, right? i.e. God joins or adds a human nature to himself – in a certain sense takes on a new part, or at least unites a part to the hypostasis of the Son – but He does not need to modify his divine nature in order to ‘squeeze in’ to human nature (as some kenoticist Christologies suppose).

        Let’s take another divine attribute – omnipotence. Thanks to the hypostatic union, the hypostasis of the Son is in some sense both omnipotent (in his divine nature) and not omnipotent (in his human nature) at the same time. This is easy enough to understand – the hypostasis of the Son is still ‘omnipotent’ overall but also takes on a new part which is not, in itself, omnipotent. (somewhat similarly, I am knowledgeable, but I can still have a little finger which is not knowledgeable, even though my little finger is truly part of me.

        But it is trickier if we try to apply this formula to simplicity. Normally a hypostasis / supposit is the composition of being + limited essence. But God has no limits, and so under divine simplicity the hypostasis of the son just *is* identical to the divine nature. So if the hypostasis of the Son is identical to the divine nature, it is harder to understand how the divine nature can remain simple, if the hypostasis – to which it is identical – takes on a new part which change over time.

        Or to put it another way, yes a hypostasis can have an omnipotent part and a non-omnipotent part, while still remaining ‘omnipotent’ overall (i.e. the omnipotence is not set aside or given up) – but how can a being have a part that is composite and a part that is non-composite? Isn’t it overall composite by definition? Doesn’t taking on parts involve giving up simplicity?

        That’s not to say the issue isn’t solvable but just that it requires a bit more to be said than with the other divine attributes.

        For example, perhaps we could say that the human nature is in some sense extrinsic to the hypostasis (because the human nature must be extrinsic to the divine nature, to which the hypostasis is identical). This might sound Nestorian, but perhaps we could say the human nature still properly ‘belongs’ to the hypostasis because it is pre-contained in the divine nature in some way (i.e. the unlimited in some sense pre-contains all limited things).

        Alternatively we could say the hypostasis of the Son indeed takes on ‘new being’ in the incarnation (and so that the hypostasis is ‘extended’ in some way) – but that this does not constitute a genuine change to the divine being – despite the fact the hypostasis is identical to the divine being – again on the basis that the divine nature already pre-contains the finite. The incarnation is infinity + 1… and infinity plus 1 is still infinity! From the side of the ‘1’ there’s a change, but not from the side of the infinity. So the hypostasis does not change ‘overall’, but if you consider the hypostasis only from the point of the limited human form, there is change.

        Maybe these are both functionally equivalent to one another – or perhaps both could be imaginatively represented as the single being of God remaining unchanged, even as the human essence ‘inside’ or ‘pre-contained’ within it changes. For example, Norris Clarke imagines the essence of a thing as being the border/boundary of a shape – the container – and the being as the ‘stuff’ inside – that which is contained. So God, in his divine nature, is shapeless, the ocean of unlimited being. But within this simple unlimited ocean of being, he takes on a human essence, takes on a shape. But this shape ‘contains’ part of God’s being (not new being, the same being recycled, as it were). So the being of God limited to this shape could be said to be composite, in as much that it is bounded this way and then another by the human nature….

        E.g. https://www.newrafael.com/moving-circle-gif/ imagine the grey background is unlimited and extends for ever. The grey background represents the divine nature, and the moving perimeter of the circle represents the human nature. Considered from the point of view of being within the unlimited grey background, the being is infinite and simple, but from the perspective of the same being contained by the circle, it is limited and composite.

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        • Thomas says:

          David:

          I’m not sure I see why composition poses a greater problem than, say, omnipotence here. Though this is possibly my own limitation; I find Trinitarian doctrine extremely difficult.

          I take your key point to be:

          > yes a hypostasis can have an omnipotent part and a non-omnipotent part, while still remaining ‘omnipotent’ overall (i.e. the omnipotence is not set aside or given up)

          I’m not sure what “omnipotent overall” means here. He is omnipotent in virtue of his divine nature, and has limited powers in virtue of his human nature. Both may be attributed to him, each in respect to the nature from which it follows.

          Passibility might be a clearer example. As God, Christ is impassible. As human, he is passible. It’s not the case that he is “overall” impassible — he really does suffer. Does this mean he lacks the divine attribute of impassiblity? Is the problem to be resolved by saying his impassibility is somehow “larger than” or more frequent than his passibility?

          I suspect that the work the “overall” is doing here is spatial. A lawn might be green “overall” if the total size of the grassy area dwarfs any dirt patches.

          I think, on this latter point, W.N. Clarke is unhelpful. Natures are not imaginable; they are not proportioned to the senses. Spatial metaphors are just as misleading as temporal metaphors. It is no more accurate to say that God spatially encompasses something, than that God is sempiternal, and all particular moments fall into that larger interval.

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        • David says:

          Thanks Thomas, this is really helpful.

          By ‘overall’ I was not trying to imply ‘in general’ or ‘in the majority’ or some kind of spatial reasoning, but you’re right that it may be sneaking in to my thinking when I’m not looking!

          However I think the heart of what was I was trying to get at is the idea of ‘not giving up’. I tend to think that, despite being opposites, unlimited power and limited power can exist in the same person precisely because persons can be composite – and composition allows us to say ‘yes, in this mode the hypostasis operates like this, and in that mode the hypostasis operates like that – and having a second mode doesn’t involve giving up any properties attached to the first mode, even if they are opposites. I think that even works for impassibility, but I admit that is a harder example.

          But with simplicity this solution is more difficult to apply, precisely because it asserts the hypostasis is simple. Ah, simple in the divine nature only, you might say, but not in the human nature – composition is ‘allowed’ post-incarnation. But doesn’t it still imply that in timeless eternity you have the divine nature, which under no circumstances can enter into composition, and the divine hypostasis, which actually can enter into composition, albeit only in a new non-divine nature. But doesn’t that imply that God is in some sense composite even ‘before’ the decision to incarnate?

          That is what makes simplicity a trickier issue to square with the ‘composition’ that is the hypostatic union. I trust there are answers – which I suspect are likely centred around both the type of composition which the Word can be said to enter into (i.e. that it’s on the human side) combined with the notion that the finite is in some sense ‘contained by’ the infinite (with finitude still remaining a distinct notion from the infinite – not being swallowed up into the infinite – but equally not a new separate ‘being’ either, at least not in the case of the person of Jesus)

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          • Thomas says:

            David:

            > But doesn’t it still imply that in timeless eternity you have the divine nature, which under no circumstances can enter into composition, and the divine hypostasis, which actually can enter into composition, albeit only in a new non-divine nature.

            But natures don’t “do” anything. Certainly in the case where there is no nature distinct from the hypostasis.

            But even in the case of a natural thing, the nature is not a “thing”, it does not change. It is a constituent of a thing, a metaphysical element. A great deal of theological difficulty arises from thinking that a nature is “something which is”, rather than “that by which something is what it is” or “that by which something is able to act in a certain range of activities”.

            Thus, any discussion the divine nature acting or being acted upon in some way is, in my view anyway, a category error.

            > But with simplicity this solution is more difficult to apply, precisely because it asserts the hypostasis is simple. Ah, simple in the divine nature only, you might say, but not in the human nature – composition is ‘allowed’ post-incarnation.

            I don’t think this is the solution. It’s not that the Word’s “human nature” is composite — which leads back to my prior point about reifying natures. The Word is composite. St. Thomas, for instance, is not hesitant to say:

            > The Person or hypostasis of Christ may be viewed in two ways. First as it is in itself, and thus it is altogether simple, even as the Nature of the Word. Secondly, in the aspect of person or hypostasis to which it belongs to subsist in a nature; and thus the Person of Christ subsists in two natures. Hence though there is one subsisting being in Him, yet there are different aspects of subsistence, and hence He is said to be a composite person, insomuch as one being subsists in two.

            I’d certainly say this subject bristles with difficulties. However, I do think the metaphysical distinction between person/supposit/hypostasis and nature, with the related metaphysical notions of essence and existence, simplicity and composition are probably required in order to make sense of Christological dogma.

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          • David says:

            Thomas

            >It’s not that the Word’s “human nature” is composite — which leads back to my prior point about reifying natures.

            I agree – I wasn’t trying to comment on the compositeness or otherwise of natures – certainly the hypostasis is composite in the sense of having two natures. In claiming that the hypostasis is composite ‘in’ the human nature, my meaning is that the hypostasis is composite *because* it has a human nature, i.e. without the human nature, the hypostasis would be straightforwardly identical to the divine nature without qualification in the pure simplicity of the Godhead.

            >natures don’t “do” anything. Certainly in the case where there is no nature distinct from the hypostasis

            I don’t quite see how my position implies that I am thinking of the natures as things which ‘do’ things. On the contrary, I am presupposing that all natures, including the the divine nature, do not do anything. It is the hypostasis that does things.

            The problem I am identifying is that the hypostasis, qua divine, is supposed to be *identical* to the divine nature – otherwise God would be composite in the divine nature, rather than purely as a result of the incarnation, and so not be divine at all. But if the hypostasis is something which could come to have a human nature, while the divine nature is something which could not do that (as you say, natures don’t do things!)… well, doesn’t that imply that even ‘before’ the incarnation, the hypostasis was capable of a taking on a second nature, while the divine nature was not capable of that? And doesn’t that imply that the hypostasis – even ‘pre’ incarnation, considered from the divine perspective only – was distinct from the divine nature? But that would mean God was not simple, and so not God after all.

            But maybe we can say that the divine nature does in some sense ‘take on’ a human nature in the same way that the hypostasis does. Not that the divine nature is transmuted into a human nature, or takes on the human nature as a part. Rather the finite is contained by the infinite – the human nature is always already included within the divine nature.

            >I’d certainly say this subject bristles with difficulties. However, I do think the metaphysical distinction between person/supposit/hypostasis and nature, with the related metaphysical notions of essence and existence, simplicity and composition are probably required in order to make sense of Christological dogma.

            Agree 100%! 🙂

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          • Thomas says:

            You object that you are not reifying the divine nature, but then you say this:

            > But maybe we can say that the divine nature does in some sense ‘take on’ a human nature in the same way that the hypostasis does.

            The point of the doctrine of divine simplicity as applied to the Trinity is that the divine nature is not some fourth thing to which all three persons are identical. The Word is divine not because, in addition to his person, he has a divine nature; simplicity entails the denial that he needs something in addition to his person to be divine. But he does need something in addition to his person to be human.

            This seems like the same point of view that many use to object to the Trinity: all the persons are identical with the divine nature, and therefore they are identical to each other.

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          • David says:

            >The point of the doctrine of divine simplicity as applied to the Trinity is that the divine nature is not some fourth thing to which all three persons are identical.

            Absolutely. When I said that perhaps we can find a way to say the divine nature could ‘take on’ a human nature in the same way that we say the ‘hypostasis’ has a human nature… I wasn’t meaning to imply that the divine nature was a separate thing from the hypostasis – the exact opposite. That is, I wasn’t thinking ‘oh yes, the hypostasis does this, and maybe, possibly, another thing called the divine nature does the same thing’. Rather I was taking it for granted that, if we hold to simplicity, we *must* be able to say that whatever the hypostasis does, the divine nature does – precisely because the divine nature just *is* the hypostasis.

            I was just pointing out the tension between identifying the hypostasis with the divine nature on the one hand, and the claim that the hypostasis is ‘made up’ of the divine nature plus some other thing (the human nature) on the other. Not that it’s an insurmountable problem, but that is an issue that needs to be looked into.

            >But he does need something in addition to his person to be human.

            I’m not sure if it’s quite right to say that natures are ‘in addition to person/hypostasis. A hypostasis just is the conjunction of essence and existence – or better, existence limited in a particular way (or, in God’s case, existence unlimited).

            In my view there is only one esse in Christ, and that esse is the simple divine hypostasis/essence/existence (they are all one and the same thing). In the incarnation, the only thing that is created is the human nature – the limit – but no new being is created. God is already a hypostasis of infinite being, so the incarnation cannot involve that hypostasis acquiring any new being. What the hypostasis acquires is a limit, but a limit is not new being (in fact it’s the opposite). The incarnation is infinity (the divine nature/existence) presenting itself in limited form, taking on a limit but without losings its unlimited being… squeezing, as it were, God’s being into finite form, without ceasing to be infinite.

            Therefore the incarnation, seen purely from the perspective of the human nature, is indeed a matter of composition – a human nature, with a limited amount of being and a zillion accidents, surrounded by and informed by the infinite being of God. But ‘overall’ – i.e. for the totality of the being of the theandric dyophysite person of Christ – there is no need to talk of a limited amount of being, only infinite being. And if there is no limited amount of being, there is a sense in which you don’t need to mention the human nature in order to describe the hypostasis. Again, the hypostasis is identical with the divine nature, that’s just what simplicity is.

            And yet the hypostasis is both divine and human, so don’t we need to mention the human nature to make the definition complete? Maybe to clarify for our understanding yes, but in reality no, because the divine nature already ‘includes’ the human nature – in the abstract sense that infinite being includes ‘finite’ being, and in the more concrete sense that it is the divine nature which elects to become incarnate. This doesn’t mean that the human nature is mixed or confused or identical with the divine nature – just as we can recognise the number 7 is in some sense already included in and pre-contained by the concept of infinity without misidentifying them as the same thing.

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          • Thomas says:

            David:

            > Rather I was taking it for granted that, if we hold to simplicity, we *must* be able to say that whatever the hypostasis does, the divine nature does – precisely because the divine nature just *is* the hypostasis.

            Should we then say that since the Father begat the Word, the divine nature begat the Word? And that, as the Word is identical with the divine nature, the Word begat itself?

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          • David says:

            Nope! But that’s because the unity (and diversity) of the persons in one substance (read: nature) is totally different from the unity of two natures in one person. A unity of nature is not the same as a unity of hypostasis (in fact they’re kind of the opposite…) My only real point is that the human nature does not represent an addition of being to the hypostasis because, as divine, the hypostasis is already unlimited/infinite being. It ain’t getting any bigger!

            I’d also agree with your earlier point that we should be very careful not to reify essences, esse’s, etc. into things – supposits are not ‘made up’ of a literal entity called an essence and another entity called an act of existence (although I confess I have spoken like this as shorthand in my posts!) – rather ‘essence’ just expresses the fact that the supposit’s act of existence is limited in one way or another. A supposit’s ‘nature’ is not a thing – it is not exactly part of the being of the supposit, but rather expresses the metaphysical principle that ‘here is where the being stops – this much being but no more!’.

            In the incarnation, the hypostasis is only limited in human nature with respect to how much being it has – but ‘overall’ he is not limited in being because the hypostasis is infinite and without limits. So yes from the perspective of the human nature, we are dealing with two things: a limited amount of being – the human reality of Jesus – plus this limited being in hypostatic union with the divine nature, i.e. in composition. However from the perspective of the totality of the hypostasis, you just have the unlimited being of God without remainder.

            The human nature is still included in a sense – it’s just that it is not included by way of composition, because overall there is no gap in God’s being as God is infinite. Rather the human nature is included in the divine hypostasis in the sense that the finite is included ‘within’ the infinite. For this reason I think it is more helpful to think of the incarnation as being one unlimited divine esse as appearing in a limited form – rather than some additional quantity of creaturely being that is somehow ‘added’ to what is already infinite being. What is created is the fact that the hypostasis is limited – i.e. the human nature – but no new being is created.

            This is basically just a denial of the ‘esse secondarium’

            p.s. I think one could actually utter a very, very qualified yes to your questions as to the identity of the persons with the essence etc. not that I would, but if one really wanted to… That’s because I hold that it is most helpful to think of the divine essence primarily as being literally identical to Father, Son, and Spirit, i.e. taken together. When we say the divine essence is identical to the Son, I don’t take that as meaning it is identical to the Son ‘alone’ (as though He could ever be alone – what an unhelpful abstraction!) but as a kind of circumlocution for ‘the Son with the Father and Spirit’. And that’s not me sneaking in extra words for the sake of it, but rather reflecting the reality of perichoresis: the Father and Spirt are indeed ‘in’ the Son.

            Of course these trinitarian conundrums are really a whole other issue that I don’t want to bore you with! But I do think this points to the wider difficulty of trying to pin down these kind of theological problems in isolation – in my view theology should almost always be systematic theology. Not that it usually is… in my opintion the number of books devoted to the trinity which barely mention the incarnation, or vice versa, is beyond absurd – but that may just be my pet peeve 🙂

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  4. I can’t help but wonder sometimes about Origen’s point in his commentary of John, where seemingly God becomes all things to all people as they need Him to be. Some will need to dive deep into the depths and realize the notion of simplicity as it is discussed (which is obviously correct in so many ways and has the backing of the fathers). Some will need the notion of a “being” (I use this loosely) who is greater than anything and works tangibly as revealed literally from the word. Different levels of understanding need differing depths, and I’ve always appreciated Origen for saying this….I think to say that if you deny simplicity means you are pandering towards atheis, may be a bit of a stretch.

    (After all, it was the apophatics and people like Cusa and Eckhart who took simplicity to the extreme logical end, and to the point in which God is both all and No-Thing at the same time. God would have to be that “thing” or not, or merely be past even that nothingness(which an entity that is the fullness of being and yet some how also beyond it….isn’t that just a greater claim of being a super- super-being?” One could argue the door was opened to atheism by the advocates of simplicity and its logical end long before the panentheists who just accepted the status of what the text says to be real….even if it needed some amplification and caveats.)

    The real key is that the assertion of any type of panentheistic endeavor is uneducated or simply mistaken almost acts a slur against many Protestant/Evangelical/etc theological types in their understanding of God, and furthermore hedges the bet that somehow you just aren’t “in the proper tradition” if you don’t believe a certain way. It becomes Dogmatic. I, for one, don’t fall along Neo-Platonic lines….because I don’t think it always addresses certain issues that are raised within the context of revelation itself. I, like Shestov, Berdyaev, and others, have my doubts about the notion of simplicity and what it implies at times. And I think that’s ok. But, as I’ve also admitted, I’m maybe just outside the tradition…not one of the cool kids or too uneducated to know better. (Wannabe theology/philosophy may be going on over here (haha))

    Also, when we discuss the notion of “simplicity,” it is the classical side that is left with some of the seemingly most complicated language to explain something that is supposed to be the most simple fact as it is in actu….for example Trinitarian derivations, essence/energy, the language of Chalcedon, etc. And then on the flip side, philosophically, panentheism gets taken to task for being too complicated in the sense of logic/language/what it implies and yet the language to discuss it is often the most simple and seems to make the most sense for a lot of people, even if it isn’t the full story.

    Maybe the point is that you need both languages to address the needs of who can handle it in their own way. As I’ve said before, when you hedge to closely to apophasis or kataphasis, you lose. You lose the.tension of the revealed Word as it made Itself manifest. It’s just the constant age old argument of how to balance transcendence and immanence, universal and particular…and to the point someone raised, God did become a being within being. And as many on this very blog, and to which I fully assent, have stated….God must become “all in all.” So in a way, He must be both and via Kenosis, proved that to be true. Inside and outside….A ground outside but yet also a factor within, and not only that but Scripture tells us even at times bound to what the world itself causes (Case in point not from the OT where everyone seemingly runs, Jesus not being able to do “mighty works” in Nazareth, or not being able to heal the blind man at first as examples….even if we place these back on the individuals as some kind of fault with them and not God, there is a causal problem…there are conditions that limit) So when we read examples like this, the idea of “simple” comes off as a trite way to avoid a reality that is very complicated, which for many, is so apparent in the text, it defies any notion of that label.

    At its core, it’s an argument rooted in just how literally do we want to take scripture and that’s going to fall along tribal lines. For many, when Jesus says “those who have seen me have seen the Father” or “before Abraham was, I AM” they take that literally so you do kind of get this “Super-Super-Being.” It makes sense to them and allows faith to grow. For some, they want to say “Yea, but what’s actually going on here is” and can demonstrate all the ways in which that isn’t actually the case, etc. And that too, brings forth faith and allows people to grow. So here we are, in the circle of which way to read the text. And as Origen told Ambrose…..some people just need what gets them to where they need to go to grow in faith, and as Scripture tells us, “If you have ears to ear, let them hear.” Sometimes people just don’t have the ears to understand.

    Again…mere hobbyist, but I would love to hear how I could improve on my understanding of all of this. I am admittedly ignorant of a lot, so learning from you guys is always appreciated. I’d like to be one of the cool kids, after all.

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  5. dianelos says:

    So David Bentley Hart writes: “Here I shall only record my conviction that the idea [of divine simplicity] is not open to dispute if one believes that God stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things”

    That which stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things is certainly *in* God. Furthermore it is obviously true that that which stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things cannot possess any distinct parts or properties, and thus allows in itself for no distinction between essence and existence, and is immutable, impassible, absolutely simple.

    But why think that that which stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things is God and not just a part of God?

    I can easily answer the question of why think that that which stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things is only a part of God, and that God is much greater than just it: One avoids all the opaque theological language in which God loves us but not in the way a father does his children but only in some undefinable analogous way, in which God is beautiful but again only in some way which is analogous to what we mean by beauty, and so on. One avoids unnecessary metaphysical problems like speculating about how God may interact with human beings while remaining immutable. One avoids the problem of how to then understand the Trinitarian nature of God. One avoids the problem that such is not the God one experiences. And most importantly of all one avoids the bad fruit of describing God in a way that makes it impossible for us to love him with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind. We are simply not made for loving with all our heart that which is absolutely simple and immutable and impassible, and that’s an existential fact.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      But you have shaped God in your image – a graspable object, one among many such, consisting of parts, coming in and out of being, the imperfect which is subject to change, reactive to pathos, and so forth. That’s a high price to pay! Such a god can never be the ground and source of being.

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      • Grant says:

        I agree with Robert, what you describe is something with parts, and something that is God the source of all but just a god, who is dependent one something yet more ultimate and transcendent of himself for his nature and being, and subject to it. A demiurge sure, or a Zeus, but not God.

        And to say that which is immutable, impassible and simple, the infinite and transcendent wellspring of all being, who by that transcendence and infinite difference is utterly immanent and intimate and close to us, more so than our very selves, and beyond all limitations of finite cannot make Himself known nor bring forth and manifest us into a true relationship with Him is again ironically to me at least to take the concept of divine simplicity and mistake or imagine God as still some finite abstract form and force, a depersonal it that seems both alien but actually less than vital, living images of God, something lacking in the life and existence experienced in the universe. This is to mistake this finite lesser thing for God, the source and infinite fullness of all Existence, Life, Consciousness, Personality, Love and all things, in which what we know a just finite reflections of the infinite dynamic Life, Being, Joy, Love and Personhood in it’s fulness beyond all finite limitations (in which what the Trinity attempts to convey must be also true of divine simplicity to be so).

        In this it’s not that the infinite dissimilarity between the finite and the infinite that makes the analogous some vague undefined way like the reality of God and His Love, but the opposite. That rather infinite difference makes also for a true likeness in which the images of the love of a father, the protecting mother hen, love of a mother, a husband, the shepard all reflect and participate in God’s infinite love and Life and truly reflect it and give insight and experience of it even as the reality of that dynamic Love and Life is infinity more and beyond each aspect, yet utterly present in it.

        It’s God’s very infinity and transcendence of all such categories that means such conflicts as you seem to think there are.

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  6. Thomas says:

    > But why think that that which stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things is God and not just a part of God?

    Because the desire to understand is unrestricted. It can’t reach its end until nothing remains unknown. Its object is unrestricted intelligibility. Infinite and simplicity go together.

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  7. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Perhaps of interest: William Lane Craig’s objection to the Thomist construal of divine simplicity: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/divine-simplicity-2021/

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Yes, here we come to a fork in the road: realism vs. anti-realism. So for WLC it makes perfect sense to ask “Why can’t a complex being be infinite?” He imagines to be able to overcome this illogical incoherency by qualifying the infinite as the greatest of that which is conceivable. If it is true that reality depends on the creature’s ability to conceive of infinity as such, then as a Christian Platonist I aver we are stuck in the Hell of our self-referential minds, together with this being WLC refers to as “god”. The Paschal triumph is precisely the harrowing of the Hades of our making. Only the “I AM” who exists beyond our conception of being is able to set us free.

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      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        Might one reply that “greatest conceivable being” need not be self-referential? What if the claim was taken to mean the greatest being conceivable in principle (essentially the greatest being possible), not merely the greatest being a human can conceive of?

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Matthew, then pray tell who does the conceiving if not done by the human person? God’s thought of himself is unknown to us in its infinitude so that won’t help as far as getting us out of our self referential conundrum. By definition the adiastematic cannot be conceived by the diastematic. This is precisely the heart of the matter, the fundamental error committed by analytic approaches to theology.

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          • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

            I took your fourth sentence to indicate that WLC’s ideas implied that reality was in some way reliant on our ability to conceive of it. I don’t see how calling God the greatest conceivable being would imply that. It seems fairly obvious to me that there could be aspects of reality that are inconceivable to us and yet be conceivable to a creature with higher rational capacity or a broader experience base. If the claim was that God is the greatest being conceivable by humans then I would understand the criticism, but I’m having a hard time seeing why claiming that God is the greatest possible being (maybe “the greatest being conceivable by the greatest possible intellect” or something like that) would cause the self referential conundrum that you mentioned.

            On a related note, can you recommend any reading about realism vs anti-realism? That seems to be important and I’m not familiar. It’s been far too long since I’ve done any philosophical/theological reading.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Matthew – a hasty note as I am short on time:
            Only the uncreated can understand itself as it is. Any creature therefore is disqualified, as any creaturely conception falls infinitely short of comprehending the uncreated. We are up against a categorical disjunction, an epistemical aporia which the creature cannot overcome. Hence the self-referential “hell” in which we find ourselves. The highest conceivable being will remain an idol. Such then is a wholly inappropriate starting point – dead on arrival.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Matthew one may be even more blunt by simply stating that God is not the greatest of anything. Full stop.

          God is not the greatest of a series of gods. A series of powers, of beings, of spirits, of creators, and so forth.

          This is the radical point made by the Cappadocians and Dionysius. God is beyond being, hyper essential, and as such is not comparable to anything or anyone. But for WLC the infinite being exists alongside finite beings as a simple being among simple creatures. Which raises the question as to what then may be the ontological difference between WLC’s God and creatures. The difference is one of quality (all powerful instead of powerful, all knowing not merely knowing, etc) rather than ontological, an essential difference in nature.

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          • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

            Hey Robert, thanks for the replies. I wasn’t arguing for or against the coherence of WLC’s ontology as a whole. I was really just trying to understand what you meant by claiming that his definition of God implies that reality depends on creaturely conceptions. I don’t see it as implying that our ability to understand God somehow limits God, even if his conception of God is more limited than yours.

            I’m assuming that it’s the “being” part of “greatest conceivable being” that is where paths most markedly diverge. I don’t see why a classical theist couldn’t call God the “greatest conceivable” with certain qualifications attached, though I’m sure it’s not the preferred verbiage.

            This time it’s me that has to settle for a hasty reply. Busy few weeks ahead.

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