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Divine simplicity and divine freedom

Over at my own blog, some thoughts inspired by a recent Brian Davies article.

Comments (24)


This is a topic of particular interest to me. I will comment in the next day or two at your blog.


It has never seemed to me that the objection Bill Vallicella raises is really a problem, because it can be answered in the way Ed indicates. In any event, it seems more like an objection to Divine timelessness than to simplicity per se. That is, it could be restated in terms of divine timelessness and answered in a parallel way without invoking simplicity.

My problem with simplicity--that all God's essential attributes are the same attribute--is that it just doesn't seem to me to be _true_ that omnipotence=perfect goodness=being the first cause of everything, etc.

That is a consequence of divine simplicity, not the essence of what it is. Divine simplicity, stated simply, is that God is not composite. He is not composed of parts, metaphysical or otherwise. This is what it means to be simple in this sense.

For anyone who denies this, please provide an account of what God as a composed (i.e. created) being would look like? This would involve explaining the parts which are metaphysically prior to God.

When I start talking about "parts that are metaphysically prior," I get a philosopher's headache. I think perhaps I should just stick with the principle of never talking about anything where I have no idea what I'm talking about, so I can't talk about parts that are metaphysically prior to God.

Of course I don't believe that God is a created being.


The many philosophers and theologians these days who attack ADS do not do so on the ground that they think God is somehow put together out of parts. Assuming he is not, the question is whether it follows from ADS that each of God's properties are identical with God and therefore with each other. If the answer is yes, it follows in turn that God is a property, which is absurd.

The solution, I should think, is to reframe the issue. A better way to frame ADS would be to say that God's not being metaphysically composite entails that the truthmakers for each non-contingent truth about God are severally identical with each other. That is to say, whatever it is that makes it true to say that God is self-existent is what makes it true to say that he is all-powerful, perfectly good, etc.

I'll have more to say about all this at my own blog, but there's so much else to write about these days that I'm not sure when I'll get to it.


Keep in mind that, at least from a Thomistic point of view, when we predicate power, knowledge, etc. of God we are not predicating these things of Him in the same sense in which we predicate them of ourselves, but in analogous senses. So when we say that God has knowledge, power, etc. we are not making the bizarre and incoherent claim that the power, knowledge, etc. that are distinct in us are somehow identical in Him. Rather, we are saying that there is in God something analogous to what we call power in us, something analogous to what we call knowledge in us, etc., and (given divine simplicity) that these "somethings" are all one and the same thing. (I take it that this is more or less what Mike was saying in different terms.)


I take something like the Thomistic analogia entis for granted, and it's crucially important in natural theology. But in the case of ADS, one must at least be able to state how the divine "limit case" of the various "properties" in question is different enough from the intramundane cases to avoid the absurd result that God is a property. With Jeffrey Brower, I'm suggesting that we replace talk of properties with that of truthmakers. I don't see any other way out.


Perhaps, like Barth and many others, we ought to reject the analogia entis altogether.

Those who reject the analogia entis leave themselves with the options of equivocity and univocity in talk about God. The former leads to meaninglessness, the latter to falsity. That's the main problem with Barth's systematic theology.

"Those who reject the analogia entis leave themselves with the options of equivocity and univocity in talk about God. The former leads to meaninglessness, the latter to falsity. That's the main problem with Barth's systematic theology."

Except for the fact that Barth happened to be correct about God. So also, of course, was Jesus, who rejected it as well -- and the prophets -- which is why Barth insisted that, compared to the doctrine of analogia entis, all other objections to Catholicism shrank to near insignificance. It was, he said, the one invention of Anti-Christ. By it, you begin in the wrong place, employ the wrong methods, proceed in the wrong direction, and reach wrong conclusions. Because of it, you cannot get right either nature or grace.

Michael L., the Christian East has some reservations about the analogia entis, but I've never quite been able to pin down exactly where the problem lies. Fr. Reardon, one of the more philosophically astute Orthodox writers that I know of, has advised me in so many words not to worry about it -- that it's a bit of a tempest in a teapot.

One might say the same about ADS, although I think the Orthodox who are uncomfortable with that idea have a bit of a point. But I believe that it's not so much ADS per se that they have an issue with, but the way it's expressed -- as if the "attributes" of God can all be connected, as one writer puts it, by a series of great metaphysical equal signs: God's love = his mercy = his self-giving = his goodness = his justice. Therefore, God's love = his justice. And if St. John says "God is love," this in fact must mean "God is justice."

It is this sort of thing the Orthodox seem to be uncomfortable, and rightly so, IMO.


ADS entails more than that God lacks parts. It entails that God is being as well as a certain kind of denial that God lacks parts. Maximus, Eugenicus and Palamas also affirm that God is simple and deny that he has parts but they deny that God is self subsisting being too as well as affirming that God’s activities are fully divine and not metaphysically the same.

The Orthodox account denies that the only two options are composition and simplicity in the way Augustine or Thomas would take those terms. A Trinity of persons does not entail composition so it isn’t obvious that a plurality in God would entail composition. That is contra Thomas, there are things that are God that are not the divine essence.
Why think that the plural entities would be prior to the persons? If person and essence are not the same things in God why think they would be prior? John of Damascus thinks the divine activities exist in the opposite relation.

And since analogy falls out of simplicity, it can’t be used to defend the doctrine.

Michael L,

Equivocation and univocation only follow on the rejection of the analogia entis if there is nothing that is God that is not the divine essence. If we reject that, then those two aren’t the only options. In fact, if we take the divine activities to be the formal cause of creatures we have an even more robust analogous use of terms than Thomas would allow since he rejects that God is the formal cause of creatures. So the problem for Barth is that he is still well within an Augustinian framework.

So also, of course, was Jesus, who rejected it as well

Ah yes, I recall that long diatribe against the analogia entis in the famous lost Gospel of Bauman, unearthed in a cave somewhere outside Hillsdale some years back. That's my favorite part!

By [I]t, you begin in the wrong place, employ the wrong methods, proceed in the wrong direction, and reach wrong conclusions. Because of it, you cannot get right either nature or grace.

If by It, one refers to anything non A-T, I think Professor Bauman has stated Ed's mantra very nicely!

Or, if "it" means "anything non-Whiteheadian," Burl's mantra.

Honestly, Ed, I haven't done much with process thought for a good while. When I first came to your blog with lots of interest in A N Whitehead (ANW) and Thomism, it was because I was interested in the efforts to marry process with Thomism - ala Fr James Felt - whom I figured to be one of your professors. I also saw that you attended a programs focused on international process dialog led by the great Dr. John Cobb, et al.

I haven't seen much work online to show where Fr. Felt has gone much further than


in his effort to meld process and Aquinas.

It was at a conference where Catholic theologians were discussing Personalist Thomism in terms of trinitarian relatedness that Dr. Cobb said, "Hey, you guys are doing Process Theology." It was about there where Fr. Norris Clark


urged Fr. Felt to pursue his hunch that process and thomism could be complementary.

You never said a word, as if none of this had anything to do with any of your blogs. I thought you might have picked up on something in school other than Scholasticism, and I was wrong,

I apologize. I had no right to assume.


As I've said before, I didn't address process theology in the comboxes in which you kept raising it over at my own blog because it had nothing to do with the posts in question and I generally have a million things going on at once anyway and simply do not have time to address every side issue every reader wants to bring up. You obviously have no idea how many combox comments and emails I get requesting that I address this or that, most of which I have to ignore for lack of time. I have a wife and five children to attend to, classes to prepare for, grading to do, main blog posts to write, and articles, books, and the like that I am working on continuously. Most readers understand that I cannot reply to their requests and take no offense. You, however, got progressively more snotty about it, which is what got you banned at my own blog. (To this day you are one of only two people I have ever banned.) Start up with this crap again here and I'll ban you here too, by IP address this time, and I guarantee you that my co-bloggers will not miss you any more than I will.

BTW, I never studied Scholasticism at Claremont, or much at all until relatively late in grad school and (especially) after grad school. (It was not the subject of my dissertation or of my publications for years afterward.) It happens to be of great interest to me now, which is why I say a lot about it. And here's a little news flash for you, Burl: People who write stuff online for free are very likely to devote whatever limited time they have to do it to things they happen to be interested in at the moment. They are also extremely unlilkely to address topics put to them by snarky readers demanding that they drop everything and address their own pet cocnerns. Shocking, I know, but there it is.


Did you take courses with Dr. Felt and Dr. Cobb? Their work is decidedly related to your posts.

You have comboxed many, many paragraphs identical to those above wherein you explain how busy you are and how rude I am - the same amount of verbiage directed at even a cursory response to the question I raised about James Felt, Norris Clark, and many others' desire to seek common ground between process and A-T would have been preferred by all readers.

I am not a reporter trying to trap you with a gotcha question, but it is natural for someone to press for a comment when their question is so obviously being avoided.

The most to ever said was that you respected ANW and Hartshorne.


The most you ever said was that you respected ANW and Hartshorne.

Use some common sense, Burl. It takes but a few moments to type remarks like the ones in my previous comment, or this one. It is, therefore, easy to do so when one only has a few moments to spare while scrolling through the combox (as I did yesterday and do right now, before class starts). It takes considerably more than a few moments to offer a worthwhile reply to some question about Whitehead, Hartshorne, or Cobb, especially a question as general and open-ended as yours have been.


Equivocation and univocation only follow on the rejection of the analogia entis if there is nothing that is God that is not the divine essence.

I'm surprised by that statement coming from you. As I've often said before, you and I don't mean the same by the phrase 'the divine essence'. None of the other issues between us can be usefully broached until that one is.

As best I can tell, by 'the divine essence' you mean what-God-is irrespective of what-God-does. From that, it follows trivially that there are "things in God" which are not of the divine essence; and assuming that we cannot know God irrespective of what he does, it follows further that the divine essence is unknowable to us. Even so, what I mean by 'the divine essence' is what Aquinas meant: whatever in God is eternal and unalterable. Assuming divine impassibility, which we both accept, it follows that God is identical with the divine essence—whatever the sense in which, and the extent to which, we can know the divine essence. So the question then becomes which use of 'the divine essence' is to be preferred.

The reason I've never accepted your usage is that I believe it is a mere abstraction, in the sense that it never has been and never will be the case that what-God-is would be exactly the same regardless of what-God-does. Just as, in creation, there never has been or will be a "pure nature" apart from from grace, there never has been a divine essence that is not constituted in part by what God eternally and unalterably does. Thus, e.g., if we take John's statement that "God is love" to refer to God as interpersonal communion—in a sense we can only express by analogy, of course—then it is of the essence of God that the divine persons love each other infinitely. But since love is free, it is of the essence of God that the persons intercommune freely and thus contingently. From that, it follows that the divine essence cannot consist simply of what-God-is apart from what God (freely) does.



I don’t think my remarks turn on equivocating on the term. They turn on what would be a problem in a given model due to specific assumptions. If we reject those assumptions and alter the model, the problems vanish.

There is no broaching it. For my part, God is not being, for you, God is being. What logical space is there between those two options do you think? And of course I’ve been saying this for years while others have claimed that all in all, Orthodoxy and Rome mean the same thing. Albert misread Dionysius and so did most scholastics after him. The East didn’t. I would think that since that is a fact, the solution would be simple. Reject the misreading and its consequences.

I’ve already criticized your take on what I think the divine essence functions as in my talk. To say that I think the divine essence is irrespective of what he does is mistaken since the divine essence isn’t the Trinity of persons. Second, the gloss turns on the ambiguity of whether we are talking about metaphysics or in terms of linguistic limitation. I suspect you mean the latter, whereas, at best, I mean the former. But even that is not so, since on my gloss, God ad intra in terms of what the Trinity does is still beyond knowing since it is still beyond being. As the Cappadocians note, what is it to beget? To proceed? We can’t ever know.

We both accept divine impassibility in so far as the term goes, but since you think God is being and I don’t, we obviously do not mean the same thing. Ad intra and ad extra for you are epistemic or linguistic distinctions whereas for my they are distinguishing real differences.

Mike L., (cont.)

Identity is only applicable to being so to say that it follows that if God is whatever in God is eternal and inalterable given impassibility assumes that God is being. And it seems a bit like special pleading to speak of “identity” since whenever I do so, I am chastised by you and other Catholics for doing so.

If you admit that Albert misreads the tradition and so then does Thomas and a mess of other people, I can’t see on what grounds you’d wish to prefer the misreading to the genuine tradition.

My usage could only be an abstraction if the divine essence were being. Secondly, it doesn’t follow that my usage is an abstraction since I deny the identity claim that you affirm. Simply because the two are not identical it doesn’t imply that the term is semantically vacuous. Surely in terms if reference it is, but meaning isn’t necessarily or exclusively about reference either. Thirdly, the construction protects a very important truth, namely that persons aren’t things and aren’t reducible to their behaviors. There are no laws of psychology for this reason. Fourthly, it is no more an abstraction than say by analogy we speak of reality beyond the event horizon of a blackhole. Its real, and we can talk about it a bit, but only in ways that gesture at the hypostatically nascent or tacit.
And if my position did amount to an abstraction, I would only find that problematic if it were outside the tradition. But since Maximus, Erugena, and John of Damascus affirm it, I am not bothered.

Since constitution is relative to being, certainly to say that God is constituted by what he does is off, as I am sure you’ll admit. I do not deny a connection between the divine activities and the divine essence, but the connection is hypostatic or in the divine persons rather than in some object reason can master.

Since the persons are, contra Aquinas, not the same as the essence, it doesn’t follow that the divine essence cannot simply consist of what God is apart from what he freely does. It would be like confusing my power to do something with the person doing it. Second, since contingency and necessity apply only to things that be it is a mistake to speak of God’s inter-Trinitarian love as being contingent. It is eternal. God never ceases from it because he never began it. Here I think you are implicitly confusing the conditions on sourcehood for their hypostatic amorous activity with it being contingent. The two go together for created agents, but they don’t have to. They do for us since our use of our natural powers and the telos of those powers are not united in us until after a measure of use. In God he never begins to use the power of love. The Trinity of Persons are the source of their own loving actions and they are not contingent or necessary. This is why God is morally praiseworthy. The problem again is that you are thinking that an inner Trinitarian doing amounts to being, whereas the Cappadocians and Maximus deny that it is so. Inner and outer activities are not the same.

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