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Biblical Arguments for Divine Simplicity

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Introduction

Note: This is part 2 of “15 Arguments for Divine Simplicity,” which provides arguments from reason for the doctrine of Divine Simplicity.

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 that it arose from later Hellenic influence rather than being a Biblical doctrine.

His presentation of the doctrine and his theory of its origin show a severe misunderstanding of even the basics of this Catholic teaching. This article provides the biblical arguments for this doctrine (a future article will deal with his misunderstandings).

Petrus Van Mastricht’s Theoretical-Practical Theology and Pohle’s Dogmatic Theology are good works covering this topic.

On Method

Before we go into the specific passages that teach simplicity, we must understand how theological propositions are formulated from scripture. For, there is no passage per se that teaches “God is simple” (the Divine name comes the closest and may be argued that it is an explicit teaching). Still, it is known from consequence and implicit statements.

For, certain passages contain a proposition in itself implicitly. A proposition is made, explicitly teaching a certain truth, and in this truth is contained multiple other truths, one of which is simplicity. For example, the statement that “I am a man.” Contained in this proposition is that “I am a rational animal” because to be a “man” is to be a “rational animal.”

Second, certain passages contain a truth that implies another truth by its existence. For, from the fact that “I am a man,” it may be reasoned that “I am mortal.” While mortality is not contained in the definition of “man,” it may be deduced from the fact.

The Divine Name

First, the Divine name, “I am.” (Exod. 3:14) Here, our Lord is making a real identification between his existence and essence; that all that He is, He is. This is really the fundamental proposition of Divine simplicity, that “all that is in God, is God.” This is the same claim made by the Divine name “I AM WHO I AM.”

His Spirituality

Second, that “God is Spirit.” God’s simplicity is contained implicitly under the claim that “God is Spirit.” For, under the definition of a “Spirit,” is that it is simple. As Petrus Van Mastricht comments, “Scripture teaches that God is Spirit (John 4:24), and to all people, ‘spirit’ speaks of a being that is immaterial, and accordingly, simple. If they insist that both angels and our souls are called spirits in the Scriptures, but they are not therefore omnimodally simple, an easy response comes to mind: The angels and our souls are spirits only by analogy, in a diminished sense, because they, of all creatures, most closely approximate the spirituality of God, since God is properly and most perfectly Spirit.”

Substantial Identification

Further, this is proved more generally by those passages where attributes are spoken of with an identification of substance and not merely an accidental quality. For, when we say that “X is Y,” the subject and the predicate have a substantial identification according to the mode in which it is spoken. If, for example, I said, “Socrates is a man,” I am identifying, properly, the substance of Socrates, i.e., that he is a man.

It is different than when I say that “ X has Y,” in this case, I am making an accidental identification. If I say that “Socrates has hair,” I am identifying not the substance of Socrates but a certain accidental quality.

Now, there is linguistic overlap with the first example. For example, accidental identification is possible with an “X is Y,” as if I said, “Socrates is white.” How, then, are we to distinguish between the two?

Typically, we can distinguish based on the predicate. Certain predicates (tall, white, fat, etc.) lend themselves to a construction that looks like a substantial identification. Others lend themselves to the other form of identification (especially operations, examples: life and love). When these linguistic rules are broken, and the later attributes are put into a substantial construction, we ought to regard them as substantial and not merely accidental. In this way, language is used in Sacred Scripture to describe some of the attributes of God.

  1. First, “God is love.” Love is an abstract concept predicated, typically, to objects accidentally as a certain operation present in a subject, i.e., “the husband loves his wife.” The abstract concept itself, and not the operation, is predicated to God after a substantial manner. Therefore, we can rightly conclude that God is substantially love, not merely one who loves, but love. This implicitly contains the idea of simplicity, for only a simple being could be identified with his attributes.

  2. Second, “God is life.” Life is, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, “ nothing else than to exist in this or that nature.” When things are said to be “living” or “have life,” it is a contingent operation added onto it that may be gained or lost. God, on the other hand, has “life in himself.” Life is essential and necessary to Him, wherein he is identified with life itself.

  3. Third, “God is truth.” “Truth resides in the intellect,” according to St. Thomas, wherein things are said to be true insofar as they conform to the form of the thing found in the mind. God is the source of this truth, being prima veritas, i.e., first truth. He is the fullness and measure of truth; things are only true insofar as they pattern after Him and participate in the forms within the Divine mind. Truth is rightly said, therefore, not a certain accident or part of God, but is Him.

The examples given in scripture of substantial identification are diverse, transcending the categories wherein God is simple. His essence is defined by both accidents and operations in created things.

By Implication

Lest I repeat myself, I will refer back to my article on the natural arguments for the simplicity of God. For, many of these attributes are derived from biblical data and qualify as implying by consequence the simplicity of God.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while scripture nowhere explicitly teaches the simplicity of God, it is contained in the biblical text implicitly and is derived by consequence. Dr. White and other simplicity-deniers are false in their assertion that scripture “nowhere teaches” such a denial. Instead, with Orthodox hermeneutical methods, one can clearly drive the doctrine from the biblical text.

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