reasons to reject the philosophical error of Divine Simplicity
A black hole in revelation and reason
the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this
word, it is because there is no light in them.'
introduction to the doctrine of Simplicity
The essence of God's
eternal Unity is composite not homogeneous.
יִשְׂרָאֵל: יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יהוה אֶחָד
אֵת יהוה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכָל-לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל-נַפְשְׁךָ,
'Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
'And thou shalt love the LORD
thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy
The term Echad (אֶחָד) for
one, is a cognate of the verb to unite or join, Echad (אחד) or a closely related verb (יחד), for
example found here:
'The judgments of the LORD
are true and righteous altogether.' (Ps. 19.9b)
Expressing the perfection of
the composition of the Divine Law.
הוֹרֵנִי יהוה, דַּרְכֶּךָ--
אֲהַלֵּךְ בַּאֲמִתֶּךָ; יַחֵד לְבָבִי, לְיִרְאָה שְׁמֶךָ
me thy way, O LORD; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear
thy name.' (Ps 86.11) Similar examples are found in Isa.14.20 and
It also expresses the
composite oneness of day and night as one unit, not at all a
'And the evening and the
morning were the first day.' (Gen.1.5b)
'And join them for thee one to another into one stick, that they may become one in thy hand' (Ezek.37.17)
וְקָרַב אֹתָם אֶחָד אֶל-אֶחָד, לְךָ לְעֵץ אֶחָד; וְהָיוּ לַאֲחָדִים, בְּיָדֶךָ
word 'one' appears four times, the first three in the singular, the
fourth time in the plural, all indicate one entity.
The use of
both of the plural and the singular for the united single stick is
indicative of the compounding or uniting sense of the word's root.
Echad (אֶחָד) is used in the
plural to express the highly complex, composite unity of human language
וַיְהִי כָל-הָאָרֶץ, שָׂפָה
אֶחָת, וּדְבָרִים, אֲחָדִים.
'And the whole earth was of
one language, and of one speech.' [one speech= one(pl) words]]
would be quite inappropriate to describe the essence of a singular,
simple, uncompounded Being. Yochid (יָּחִיד solitary, unique Ps.22.20, Jer.6.26) would be
The Name of God
indicates essential relationality not merely eternal existence
אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה; וַיֹּאמֶר, כֹּה תֹאמַר לִבְנֵי
יִשְׂרָאֵל, אֶהְיֶה, שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם.
וַיֹּאמֶר עוֹד אֱלֹהִים
אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כֹּה-תֹאמַר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, יהוה אֱלֹהֵי אֲבֹתֵיכֶם
אֱלֹהֵי אַבְרָהָם אֱלֹהֵי יִצְחָק וֵאלֹהֵי יַעֲקֹב, שְׁלָחַנִי אֲלֵיכֶם;
זֶה-שְּׁמִי לְעֹלָם, וְזֶה זִכְרִי לְדֹר דֹּר.
'And God said unto Moses, I
AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of
Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.
And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children
of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of
Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for
ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.' (Ex. 3.15-16)
The passage reveals to Moses
not merely the letters and sound of the Divine Name, for they were known
even to Eve (Gen.4.1), but its glorious meaning, which had not been
known before (Ex. 6.3).
The eternal relationality
indicated here is not with the patriarchs, but that which founds their
relation with God, namely the fellowship within the Godhead. Please see
the Sacred Name. A brief message exploring the meaning
of the Name and its wonders.
declarations display essential distinctions within His Name
'I will worship toward thy
holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy
for thou hast magnified thy
word above all Thy Name.'
Can one aspect of a purely
simple essence be magnified by God Himself above all the others?
Zechariah mysteriously indicates that near the end, both God and His Name will be generally misconceived as divided or disunited
וְהָיָה יהוה לְמֶלֶךְ,
עַל-כָּל-הָאָרֶץ; בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה יהוה אֶחָד--וּשְׁמוֹ אֶחָד.
'And the LORD shall be king
over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and His name
one.' (Zec 14:9)
the day of His coming, the Day of the Lord's coming with all His holy
ones (v.5), both He and His name will be vindicated and shown as truly
One, in perfect Unity.
propositions are established: firstly that God is One and secondly that
His Name is One, if Aquinas is right that God's essence is wholly
equivalent to His existence, this is wholly
However the emphatic statement and repetition of phrase undermines his notion.
Again the cardinal derived from the verb to unite is employed. Yochid (יָּחִיד solitary, unique Ps.22.20, 25.16, Gen.22.2, 12, 16) would
have been better if absolute, simple solitude had been intended.
The prevailing weight of this general misconception of divided Deity in the last days would be easily dispelled,
if the Divine nature were truly singularly simple and absolutely
homogenous as opposed to a compound, complex Unity, in which
distinctions can easily be misconstrued or reified as separating.
God distinguishes His
very self from His uncreated spiritual light, His Wisdom and His
This appears inconsistent
with absolute homogeneity, certainly as Plotinus
expresses it - and if simplicity is not founded in philosophical
speculation, from whence is it specifically derived in Divine
revelation, without reliance on considerable speculation?
'For with thee is the
fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light.' (Ps.36.9)
'The LORD possessed me in the
beginning of his way, before his works of old.
I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth
When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no
fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth'
'He sent his word, and healed
them, and delivered them from their destructions.' (Ps.107.20)
'By the word of the LORD were
the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.'
'In the beginning was the
Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that
was made.' (Jn 1.1-3)
The LORD distinguishes Himself from His Spirit
בְּרוּחוֹ, שָׁמַיִם שִׁפְרָה
'By his spirit he hath garnished the heavens; his hand hath formed the crooked serpent.' (Job 26:13)
וְעַתָּה, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה שְׁלָחַנִי וְרוּחוֹ.
ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the
beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord GOD,
and his Spirit, hath sent me.' (Isa 48.16)
The distinction is declared to be real and instrumental, not an apparition of mere human perception or conception.
The image of God
depends upon a composite union for its expression - our relationality
is an analogy of His perfect being
זֶה סֵפֶר, תּוֹלְדֹת
אָדָם: בְּיוֹם, בְּרֹא אֱלֹהִים אָדָם, בִּדְמוּת אֱלֹהִים, עָשָׂה
זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה, בְּרָאָם; וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמָם
אָדָם, בְּיוֹם, הִבָּרְאָם. וַיְחִי אָדָם, שְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה,
וַיּוֹלֶד בִּדְמוּתוֹ, כְּצַלְמוֹ; וַיִּקְרָא אֶת-שְׁמוֹ, שֵׁת.
'This is the book of the
generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of
God made he him;
Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called
their name Adam, in the day when they were created.
And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own
likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth.' (Gen.5.1-3)
In the same context, we see
the word Echad employed to express a composite uniting, not isolated
יַעֲזָב-אִישׁ, אֶת-אָבִיו, וְאֶת-אִמּוֹ; וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ, וְהָיוּ
'Therefore shall a man leave
his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they
shall be one flesh.'
message to help unfold this subject.
The declarations of
the Messiah and His Apostle speak of the eternal Divine Council,
wholly inconsistent with barren and worldly notions of Divine Simplex
'And now, O Father, glorify
thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before
the world was.'
'And the glory which thou
gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one'
(John 17.5, 22)
An analogy is drawn between
the Divine Godhead and the complex unity of the church, wholly obnoxious
to Divine Simplicity.
'In hope of eternal life,
which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began.' (Titus
The coinherence the
Messiah describes between Father and Son is not based upon a simple
common essence but on intensely close personal communion, in perfect
and indissoluble union.
'That they all may be one; as
thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:
that the world may believe
that thou hast sent me.'
Five times the Great
High Priest draws analogy between the perfect Unity
of the Godhead and the complex, future unity of the Church
'And now I am no more in the
world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep
through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be
one, as we are.'
The eternal union of
the Godhead mysteriously likened to the union engendered by suffering,
by a mutual complex participation.
'And the glory which thou
gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:
I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made prefect in
The eternal, future
complexity of Divine being
all things shall be subdued unto him,
then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him
that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.' (1
Both the Bringer and the One to Whom all glory and honour is brought,
both the perfect Subject and the One to Whom all is subject. Not a
simple entity but Persons in perfect, complex, relational Unity.
'Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of
the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:' (Matt.28.19)
This is commonly and properly used as a proof of the unity of Divine
essence, the three persons of the Godhead are represented in the one
Yet even at the inauguration of a disciple into the church, the Divine
Essence is presented to him here in that one Name as both diverse and
relational, namely in complex Unity and not absolutely homogenous.
Declaration of the Sacred Name and the Divine Essence
At the time of apostacy, Moses plea to see God's glory is answered with
the words, ' I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee;'
(Ex.33.19) The phrase corresponds to the perfect and intimate knowledge
God shows of His servant, doubly emphasised in the preceding verses,
Moses 'I know thee by name' (v.12,17). A view of God's essential
character was vouchsafed to Moses for the trials ahead.
A direct echo of this disclosure is found in the Saviour's words about
His beloved, in the High Priestly prayer, John 17.
'And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it:' (v.26)
It reminds us of His early burden in the prayer, that the Holy Father
should ' keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me', for
'While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name:' (v.12).
Yet in this last verse of the prayer, there is a striking adjunct, 'That
the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.'
It again demonstrates that the knowledge of the Divine Essence is an
entrance into fellowship, it is a relational and communal knowledge,
i.e. complex and not at all an insight into a simple entity or
abstraction. The Divine Name as the Divine Essence is One, yet diverse
and relational in Unity.
The nature of the knowing and not knowing of God's essence
'God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in
him.' 1 Jn.4.16b.
'He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.' 1 Jn.4.8.
God's very own being can only
be known and experienced in the
complex reality of our relation with Him and with each other. How is
this consistent with this essence being absolutely simple?
This nature of knowing of the Divine essence is not confined to
'All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the
but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the
Son will reveal him.' Luke 10.22
The unity of the Father and the Son is not
a simple identity,
it expresses a profound and essential relational distinction.
The being of the Father and of the Son involves a mutual and complex
relation, fundamentally distinguished but not divided by the begetting.
The same mutual intimacy, in complex relational unity, applies
to the Holy Spirit
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit
searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which
is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of
God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit
which is of God...' 1 Cor.2.10-12a
'Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what
we should pray for as we ought:
but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which
cannot be uttered.
And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit,
because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of
The Holy Spirit in procession from the Father and by the Son, continues
in holy, complex communion with Father and Son.
It is noteworthy in these two passages that believers participate in
this communion, in the second acting almost as if interlocutors between
No doubt it will be objected that these objections conflate Divine
Personality with Divine Essence.
It is salient to note that Plotinus the archetypal advocate of
Simplicity had a conception of the Divine mind, wholly foreign to
scripture and much closer to pantheistic faiths.
'The Intellectual-Principle we are discussing is not of such a kind:
It possesses all: It is all: It is
present to all by Its self-presence: It has all by other means than
having, for what It possesses is
still Itself, nor does any particular of all within It stand apart;
for every such particular is the whole
and in all respects all, while yet not confused in the mass but still
distinct, apart to the extent that
any participant in the Intellectual-Principle participates not in the
entire as one thing but in
whatsoever lies within its own reach
.' Enneads 1.8.2 On the nature
and source of evil.
Unwitting theological disciples of the thinker, should take heed lest
they find themselves descending into his paths.
An indirect argument from the angels
is claimed by adherents of Simplicity like Aquinas and Augustine
that the human spirit is 'simpler' than the physical nature, and that
higher spirits, the angels, are simpler still than us, being closer the
Yet a short glimpse at extraordinary aerobatic display in
Ezekiel 1, echoed in subsequent chapters and in Revelation displays a
level of coordinated complexity far beyond the most complex human
technology, a coordination and interaction orchestrated by the Holy
Spirit. Far from being simpler beings, capable of answering to
more basic, reducible principles, like a quark or boson, angels
are highly refined and sophisticated beings capable of relation and
interaction among themselves and with God to a level that as a routine
exceedingly surpass our wildest imagination or most exalted experiences.
How much more this is true of the Divine relations.
Theological consequents of adherence to
It may justly be feared that a rigorous pursuit of Simplicity results in
modalism. Is the true and simple essence of the Father identical with
the true and simple essence of the Son - then how can it not be proper
to utter the heresy that the Father is the Son and the Son is the
Whilst the creation display Divine glory and Divine character in its
diversity and unity, it is likely that creaturely analogues lead to
Plotinus formulation of the Simplex, by observing the unity and
simplicity of the hierarchy causal laws. This certainly operates as
driving principle for the admiration of simplicity in theoretical
physics today, (see The
Quark and the Jaguar
, for example). Abusing a creaturely analogue
like this runs the considerable danger of imbibing elements of his
pantheism, by denying the reality of the agency of the Word and the
activity of the Spirit and this is evidently the case with Islam's rigorous pursuit
The insistence on simplicity may lead to a neglect of the eternal
generation of the Son,
tending to downgrade the unique and eternal begetting into a mere
apparition or figure.
The Apostle warns of the danger of such a denial, the doctrine being
foundational to our salvation from sin 'Who is a liar but he that
denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the
Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the
Father: he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.' 1
No doubt inconsistent advocates of Simplicity will find a hundred
different ways to mold a precious axiom to new data, much as
psychoanalysts and evolutionary biologists do, but its philosophical
originators, Plato, Plotinus and their heirs would scoff at the very
notion of personal or relational Deity as a primitive anthropomorphism.
Simplicity represents a subtle form of idolatry of the Divine essence as
abstracted from His Divine Personhood, as Triune. It is understandable
for Muslim and Jewish defenders of the blasphemy of the Solitariness of God
to invoke Greek notions of simplicity
to bolster the
denial of the Son, but very curious to see it so enthusiastically
advocated by followers of the Messiah.
Comments welcome to c p soper at gmail dot com (no spaces)
Some background in
philosophical and early church writings
greatest triumphs which they set up in their own conceits
any ways they possess themselves of any usual maxim that
amongst men, being applied to finite, limited, created
things, or any
notion in philosophy, and apply it to the infinite,
of God; than which course of proceeding nothing, indeed, can
absurd, foolish, and contrary to sound reason.. '
A somewhat ironic, but most salient comment, applied to the heresy of
by the great John Owen
(Vind Ev p.66).
(Ironic in this instance, because he unwisely defended scholastic views
of simplicity against their assault.
It was the extreme anthropomorphic views of Faustus Socinus,
including the blasphemous denial of God's omniscience, omnipresence and
that resulted from an all encompassing rejection of all forms of
In this respect, they were quite unlike the Arian opponents of the
Cappadocians, the Eunomians,
who strongly advocated simplicity, as well they might, it being readily
consistent with their heretical view of the Godhead).
Obsolete arguments from Aristotle's Physics which would fall
foul of Classical post Newtonian physics, let alone Quantum
Mechanics, and represent a wholly inadequate doctrinal framework the
study of the Divine Being. An excellent example of precisely what
Owen criticises and echoes Scripture's warning in Col.2.6-9.
lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the
tradition of men, after the rudiments [stoiceia – fundamental axioms] of the
world, and not after Christ. For in him dwelleth
all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.'
Dolezal's, 'god without parts: divine simplicity and the metaphysics
of god's absoluteness'
(emphases in the original).
Thomas echoes Aristotle's arguments in Physics book VI when he
insists that anything continuous is infinitely divisible. The
Stagirite insists that "no continuous thing is divisible into things
without parts."1 He reasons to this conclusion by arguing that
indivisibles (which are necessarily partless) cannot be contiguous
with other indivisibles (which are necessarily partless) cannot be
contiguous with other indivisibles so as to be one with them or
together with them. Contiguous parts form wholes by virtue of
contact with other parts. But contiguous contact necessitates an
extremity and indivisibles have no extremities (i.e., parts outside of
parts) since nothing in it lies nearer or further from its exact
center. For example, a line cannot be composed of so many points
because points are by definition indivisible and without extension.
Nothing without extension can be in real continuous contact with any
other extensionless thing. Accordingly, really extended entities
cannot be composed of extensionless parts such as indivisibles.
Aristotle explains why indivisibles cannot be continuous: "[S]ince
indivisibles have no parts, they must be in contact with one another
as whole with whole. And if they are in contact with one another as
whole with whole, they will not be continuous; for that which is
continuous has distinct parts, and these are parts into which it is
divisible are different in this way, i.e., spatially separate."2 Thus
he arrives at the following conclusion: "[I]t is plain that everything
at the continuous is divisible into divisibles that are always
divisible; for if they were divisible into indivisibles [i.e., not
infinitely divisible], we should have [per impossible] an indivisible
in contact with an indivisible, since the extremities of things that
are continuous with one another are one and in contact."3 Aristotle
applies this same reasoning to all varieties of continuous things
including magnitude, time, and motion and concludes that each is
Understanding this bit of Aristotelian physics explains why Thomas
cannot allow that God is a body. If we were he would be in potency to
an infinite number of divisions and subdivisions and thus not purely
actual. Consequently, he could not be regarded as the First Being who
needs no further actuating principle back of him (as argued in the
fourth way of ST 1.2.3).
1 Aristotle, Physics 231b10-11.
2 Ibid., 231b3-6.
3 Ibid., 231b15-18.