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15 Arguments for Divine Simplicity

Arguments for Divine Simplicity

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Introduction

Recently, there has been quite a stir on the topic of Divine Simplicity. James White has been on a rampage against this historic doctrine of both Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, calling it “unbiblical.” Further, he posits the “Hellenization thesis” against the doctrine, claiming, rather than being a Biblical doctrine, that it arose from later Hellenic influence.

His presentation of the doctrine and his theory of its origin show a severe misunderstanding of even the basics of this Catholic teaching. This is not the aim of this article (I plan to write future articles on this topic where I will correct his misunderstanding and deal with his biblical and historic charges).

This article aims to provide the arguments from reason for this doctrine in a digestible form. Good works covering this topic are St. Thomas’ Summa Theologiae and Summa Contra Gentiles, Petrus Van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology, St. Anselm’s Monologion, and Pohle’s Dogmatic Theology.

Divine Simplicity Established from the fact that God is the First Being.

The first class of arguments establishes the simplicity of God based on the universally agreed-upon premise that God is the first being. There are five arguments in this class.

  1. If God had parts, i.e., one thing and another, then there would be more than one first being. Of these, none would be absolutely first because they would coexist in eternity. Therefore…

  2. Further, by definition, a composite thing is composed of parts. A thing composed of parts is after the parts in which it is composed, but there is nothing prior to God. Therefore…

  3. Further, if God had parts, then he would be composed of parts (for, this is a tautology and thus necessarily true). One that is composed of parts must necessarily be composed by some agent. He could not have composed Himself, for this would posit his existence before his composition, which is absurd. If, therefore, there was one who composed Him which was outside of Him, then he would not be the first being. Therefore…

  4. Further, this truth is elucidated by nature. The elements of things are prior to the things they mix with to be created. For example, fire and wood are prior to a burning log. Whatever is simple is prior to the composite; therefore, the first must be absolutely and supremely simple. Therefore…

  5. Before every multitude, there must be unity, a source from which this diversity arises. In a composition of parts, there is a multitude of parts. There is nothing before God. Therefore…

From the fact that God is the First Mover

The second class of arguments establishes the simplicity of God based on the universally agreed-upon premise that God is the unmoved mover, the first mover. There are two arguments in this class.

  1. If a being is composite, it must contain factors related to each other as potency to act. Whatever is in potency is moveable, but the first mover who moves all others cannot be moveable. Therefore…

  2. Further, whatever is in act proceeds the thing in potentiality in time and nature. For, whatever is in potentiality is brought forth into act by something in act. God, as the first mover, made all things actual; therefore, nothing precedes Him to make him actual. On the principle that “in every composite of whatsoever kind of composition, there must needs be a mixture of act and potentiality, because of the things from which it is composed: either one is in potentiality to the other, as matter to form, subject to accident, genus to difference, or all the parts together are in potentiality to the whole, since parts are reducible to matter, and the whole is reducible to form so that no composite is first act,” God cannot be said to be composed because this would imply that there is an admixture of potency and act. Therefore…

From the Fact that God is Absolutely Independent

The third class of arguments establishes the simplicity of God based on the universally agreed-upon premise that God is absolutely independent. There are two arguments in this class.

  1. A whole is dependent on its parts for its existence, as, for example, a man depends on the existence of his body and soul for his existence. God is not dependent on anything for his existence. Therefore…

  2. Further, God would be dependent on a composer, as was outlined above. Therefore…

From the Fact that God is Incorruptible

The fourth class of arguments establishes the simplicity of God based on the universally agreed-upon premise that God is incorruptible. There is one argument in this class.

  1. Something which is unified by composition can be disunified by corruption. God is incorruptible and, therefore, cannot be disunified. Therefore…

From the Fact that God is Infinite

The fifth class of arguments establishes the simplicity of God based on the universally agreed-upon premise that God is Infinite. There is one argument in this class.

  1. Parts, by definition, are less than the whole of a thing. They are partial and, therefore, by necessity, finite. Finite things cannot come together to form an infinite thing. God is an “infinite thing.” Therefore…

From the Fact that God is Most Perfect

The sixth class of arguments establishes the simplicity of God based on the universally agreed-upon premise that God is Infinite. There are two arguments in this class.

  1. A part does not contain everything which the whole contains. A part thus contains imperfections when they are the parts of a perfect being. For a perfect being to have imperfect parts goes against the definition of perfection (for in perfection, there is no imperfection). Therefore…

  2. To have parts implies passivity, dependency, and mutability, as is outlined elsewhere, which are imperfections. Therefore…

From His Unity

The seventh class of arguments establishes the simplicity of God based on the universally agreed-upon premise that God is One. There is one argument in this class.

  1. He who is absolutely one cannot be divided nor composed. Something with parts can be divided and is composed and is therefore not absolutely one. However, God is absolutely one. Therefore…

Actus Purus

The eighth class of arguments establishes the simplicity of God based on the universally agreed-upon premise that God is Actus Purus (i.e., pure act, with no admixture of potency). There is one argument in this class.

  1. As St. Thomas writes, “in every composite there must be potentiality and actuality…for either one of the parts actuates another, or at least all the parts are potential to the whole,” (ST.I.Q3.A7.C.5), but God is Actus Purus, therefore…

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is abundantly clear that God is simple from the remainder of His attributes. One cannot deny Divine Simplicity without doing significant damage to their system of Theology Proper and contradicting His other attributes.

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