Augustine and Divine Simplicity

'Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled.
Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together.
Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together.' Deut 22.9-11


Augustine is a seminal and foundational figure in Western theology. His own disgust at the perceived 'barbarism' of the Old Testament drove him into the dualist sect of the Manichees, which rejected the Tenach in favour of an attenuated witness from the New. As part of his exit from this snare, God employed an attachment to the philosophy of Plotinus, thus elevating and ennobling his notion of the Divine, before he found greater light through the Biblical exegesis of the Bishop of Milan, Ambrose. It is to be feared that Plotinus left his mark on Augustine's subsequent thinking about the Divine, and we here present evidence of his affirmation of Divine simplicity as one indication of this. To avoid quoting out of context, we have cited these texts in full for careful reflection, whilst highlighting the key passages. All text in italics is my own, all emphases are added.

The subject of Divine Simplicity comsidered
Scriptural texts against neo-Platonic Divine Simplicity
Black holeTexts from Augustine's De Trinitate (Concerning the Trinity)

Divine Simplicity invoked to demonstrate the equality of the Son with the Father

Chapter 3, Section 5
Therefore any adversary of the truth whatever, provided he feels bound by apostolical authority, must needs confess that the Son is equal with God in each one thing whatsoever. Let him choose that which he will; from it he will be shown, that He is equal in all things which are said of His substance.
(Sn.6) For in like manner the virtues which are in the human mind, although each has its own several and different meaning, yet are in no way mutually separable; so that, for instance, whosoever were equal in courage, are equal also in prudence, and temperance, and justice. For if you say that such and such men are equal in courage, but that one of them is greater in prudence, it follows that the courage of the other is less prudent, and so neither are they equal in courage, since the courage of the former is more prudent.

[As a solid illustration of an argument that will need considerable extrapolation even if true, this singularly fails to impress. Courage and prudence are not opposites, it is perfectly possible to be equal in overall courage but show different levels of prudence, foolhardiness would be a different question. The interdependence of distinct attributes is not absolute and does not justify its use as an illustration of simplicity in the least.]

And so you will find it to be the case with the other virtues, if you consider them one by one. For the question is not of the strength of the body, but of the courage of the mind. How much more therefore is this the case in that unchangeable and eternal substance, which is incomparably more simple than the human mind is? Since, in the human mind, to be is not the same as to be strong, or prudent, or just, or temperate; for a mind can exist, and yet have none of these virtues. But in God to be is the same as to be strong, or to be just, or to be wise, or whatever is said of that simple multiplicity, or multifold simplicity, whereby to signify His substance.

[From where is this axiom derived if not from neo-Platonism - it certainly doesn't come from the scripture? Here for example is Plotinus on omnipresence, 'Inevitably, also, anything other than this All that may be stationed therein must have part in the All, merge into it, and hold by its strength; it is not that the thing detaches a portion of the All but that within itself it finds the All which has entered into it while still unbrokenly self-abiding, since Being cannot lodge in non-Being, but, if anything, non-Being within Being. Being, then, is present to all Being; an identity cannot tear itself asunder; the omnipresence asserted of it must be presence within the realm of Being; that is, it must be a self-presence. And it is in no way strange that the omnipresence should be at once self-abiding and universal; this is merely saying omnipresence within a unity.' 6th Ennead, 4th tractate, section 2. On Omnipresence and the Existent.
The essence of God is viewed as being in identity with His existence - a position Aquinas later refined and championed, that may be derived from an incomplete understanding of the Divine Name.]

Wherefore, whether we say God of God in such way that this name belongs to each, yet not so that both together are two Gods, but one God; for they are in such way united with each other, as according to the apostle’s testimony may take place even in diverse and differing substances; for both the Lord alone is a Spirit, and the spirit of a man alone is assuredly a spirit; yet, if it cleave to the Lord, “it is one spirit:” how much more there, where there is an absolutely inseparable and eternal union, so that He may not seem absurdly to be called as it were the Son of both, when He is called the Son of God, if that which is called God is only said of both together.

Chapter 6.—How God is a Substance Both Simple and Manifold.

8. But if it is asked how that substance is both simple and manifold: consider, first, why the creature is manifold, but in no way really simple. And first, all that is body is composed certainly of parts; so that therein one part is greater, another less, and the whole is greater than any part whatever or how great so ever. For the heaven and the earth are parts of the whole bulk of the world; and the earth alone, and the heaven alone, is composed of innumerable parts; and its third part is less than the remainder, and the half of it is less than the whole; and the whole body of the world,which is usually called by its two parts, viz. the heaven and the earth, is certainly greater than the heaven alone or the earth alone. And in each several body, size is one thing, color another, shape another; for the same color and the same shape may remain with diminished size; and the same shape and the same size may remain with the color changed; and the same shape not remaining, yet the thing may be just as great, and of the same color. And whatever other things are predicated together of body can be changed either all together, or the larger part of them without the rest. And hence the nature of body is conclusively proved to be manifold, and in no respect simple. The spiritual creature also, that is, the soul, is indeed the more simple of the two if compared with the body; but if we omit the comparison with the body, it is manifold, and itself also not simple.

[It is not obvious why the spiritual nature of man is simpler than the physical, other than by drawing inferences from a prior dogma. The more one considers relationships, personality, the workings and the state of the will, emotions and conscience, the more complex our spiritual nature seems to be.]

 The question is explained, which had been deferred in the previous book, viz. that God the Father, who begat the Son, His power and wisdom, is not only the Father of power and wisdom, but also Himself power and wisdom; and similarly the Holy Spirit: yet that there are not three powers or three wisdoms, but one power and one wisdom, as there is one God and one essence. Inquiry is then made, why the Latins say one essence, three persons, in God; but the Greeks, one essence, three substances or hypostases: and both modes of expression are shown to arise from the necessities of speech, that we might have an answer to give when asked, what three, while truly confessing that there are three, viz. the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
[Amen to that, but why import alien simplicity to defend God's truth?]

Chapter 1.—Augustine Returns to the Question, Whether Each Person of the Trinity by Itself is Wisdom. With What Difficulty, or in What Way, the Proposed Question is to Be Solved.
Essential simplicity is invoked unnecessarily to address the Arian objection of attributing wisdom only to the Son, and creates more difficulties.

1. Let us now inquire more carefully, so far as God grants, into that which a little before we deferred; whether each person also in the Trinity can also by Himself and not with the other two be called God, or great, or wise, or true, or omnipotent, or just, or anything else that can be said of God, not relatively, but absolutely; or whether these things cannot be said except when the Trinity is understood. For the question is raised,—because it is written, “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God,” (
1 Cor. i. 24) whether He is so the Father of His own wisdom and His own power, as that He is wise with that wisdom which He begat, and powerful with that power which He begat; and whether, since He is always powerful and wise, He always begat power and wisdom. For if it be so, then, as we have said, why is He not also the Father of His own greatness by which He is great, and of His own goodness by which He is good, and of His own justice by which He is just, and whatever else there is? Or if all these things are understood, although under more names than one, to be in the same wisdom and power, so that that is greatness which is power, that is goodness which is wisdom, and that again is wisdom which is power, as we have already argued; then let us remember, that when I mention any one of these, I am to be taken as if I mentioned all. It is asked, then, whether the Father also by Himself is wise, and is Himself His own wisdom itself; or whether He is wise in the same way as He speaks. For He speaks by the Word which He begat, not by the word which is uttered, and sounds, and passes away, but by the Word which was with God, and the Word was God, and all things were made by Him (John i. 1, 3): by the Word which is equal to Himself, by whom He always and unchangeably utters Himself. For He is not Himself the Word, as He is not the Son nor the image. But in speaking (putting aside those words of God in time which are produced in the creature, for they sound and pass away,—in speaking then) by that co-eternal Word, He is not understood singly, but with that Word itself, without whom certainly He does not speak. Is He then in such way wise as He is one who speaks, so as to be in such way wisdom, as He is the Word, and so that to be the Word is to be wisdom, that is, also to be power, so that power and wisdom and the Word may be the same, and be so called relatively as the Son and the image: and that the Father is not singly powerful or wise, but together with the power and wisdom itself which He begat (genuit); just as He is not singly one who speaks, but by that Word and together with that Word which He begat; and in like way great by that and together with that greatness, which He begat? And if He is not great by one thing, and God by another, but great by that whereby He is God, because it is not one thing to Him to be great and another to be God; it follows that neither is He God singly, but by that and together with that deity (deitas) which He begat; so that the Son is the deity of the Father,
[Even understood as a shortened expression that the Son's being is essential to Deity - this turn of phrase is somewhat shocking] as He is the wisdom and power of the Father, and as He is the Word and image of the Father. And because it is not one thing to Him to be, another to be God, the Son is also the essence of the Father, as He is His Word and image. And hence also—except that He is the Father [the Unbegotten]—the Father is not anything unless because He has the Son; so that not only that which is meant by Father (which it is manifest He is not called relatively to Himself but to the Son, and therefore is the Father because He has the Son), but that which He is in respect to His own substance is so called, because He begat His own essence.
[a most curious and inapt expression as a bald statement, either the begetting or the essence must suffer from explanation]

For as He is great, only with that greatness which He begat, so also He is, only with that essence which He begat; because it is not one thing to Him to be, and another to be great. Is He therefore the Father of His own essence, in the same way as He is the Father of His own greatness, as He is the Father of His own power and wisdom? since His greatness is the same as His power, and His essence the same as His greatness.

2. This discussion has arisen from that which is written, that “Christ is the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” Wherefore our discourse is compressed into these narrow limits, while we desire to speak things unspeakable; that either we must say that Christ is not the power of God and the wisdom of God, and so shamelessly and impiously resist the apostle; or we must acknowledge that Christ is indeed the power of God and the wisdom of God, but that His Father is not the Father of His own power and wisdom, which is not less impious; for so neither will He be the Father of Christ, because Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God; or that the Father is not powerful with His own power, or wise with His own wisdom: and who shall dare to say this?
[His opponents might press such a constrained dichotomy, there is no need at all to yield to them to properly exegete the text]
Or yet, again, that we must understand, that in the Father it is one thing to be, another thing to be wise, so that He is not by that by which He is wise: a thing usually understood of the soul, which is at some times unwise, at others wise; as being by nature changeable, and not absolutely and perfectly simple.
[In passing, how do Biblical assertions of Divine immutability, as opposed to philosophical idealisations of the Divine, in any way necessitate simplicity?]
Or, again, that the Father is not anything in respect to His own substance; and that not only that He is the Father, but that He is, is said relatively to the Son. How then can the Son be of the same essence as the Father, seeing that the Father, in respect to Himself, is neither His own essence, nor is at all in respect to Himself, but even His essence is in relation to the Son? But, on the contrary, much more is He of one and the same essence, since the Father and Son are one and the same essence; seeing that the Father has His being itself not in respect to Himself, but to the Son, which essence He begat, and by which essence He is whatever He is. Therefore neither [person] is in respect to Himself alone; and both exist relatively the one to the other. Or is the Father alone not called Father of himself, but whatever He is called, is called relatively to the Son, but the Son is predicated of in reference to Himself? And if it be so, what is predicated of Him in reference to Himself? Is it His essence itself? But the Son is the essence of the Father, as He is the power and wisdom of the Father, as He is the Word of the Father, and the image of the Father. Or if the Son is called essence in reference to Himself, but the Father is not essence, but the begetter of the essence, and is not in respect to Himself, but is by that very essence which He begat; [Again an apparent oxymoron, note not 'by which', but 'which'] as He is great at all that can be spoken of relatively to something. For it is not as it is with color. The color of a thing is referred to the thing colored, and color is not spoken at all in reference to substance, but is always of something that is colored [monochromatic light?]; but that thing of which it is the color, even if it is referred to color in respect to its being colored, is yet, in respect to its being a body, spoken of in respect to substance. But in no way may we think, in like manner, that the Father cannot be called anything in respect to His own substance, but that whatever He is called, He is called in relation to the Son; while the same Son is spoken of both in respect to His own substance and in relation to the Father, when He is called great greatness, and powerful power, plainly in respect to Himself, and the greatness and power of the great and powerful Father, by which the Father is great and powerful. It is not so; but both are substance, and both are one substance [one ousia, not one hypostasis]. And as it is absurd to say that whiteness is not white, so is it absurd to say that wisdom is not wise; and as whiteness is called white in respect to itself, so also wisdom is called wise in respect to itself. But the whiteness of a body is not an essence, since the body itself is the essence, and that is a quality of it; and hence also a body is said from that quality to be white, to which body to be is not the same thing as to be white. For the form in it is one thing, and the color another; and both are not in themselves, but in a certain bulk, which bulk is neither form nor color, but is formed and colored. True wisdom is both wise, and wise in itself. And since in the case of every soul that becomes wise by partaking of wisdom, if it again becomes foolish, yet wisdom in itself remains; nor when that soul was changed into folly is the wisdom likewise so changed; therefore wisdom is not in him who becomes wise by it, in the same manner as whiteness is in the body which is by it made white. For when the body has been changed into another color, that whiteness will not remain, but will altogether cease to be. But if the Father who begat wisdom is also made wise by it, and to be is not to Him the same as to be wise, then the Son is His quality, not His offspring; and there will no longer be absolute simplicity in the Godhead. But far be it from being so, since in truth in the Godhead is absolutely simple essence, and therefore to be is there the same as to be wise.
[The strength of the control of the paradigm of Divine simplicity over Augustine is manifest here]
But if to be is there the same as to be wise, then the Father is not wise by that wisdom which He begat; otherwise He did not beget it, but it begat Him. For what else do we say when we say, that to Him to be is the same as to be wise, unless that He is by that whereby He is wise? Wherefore, that which is the cause to Him of being wise, is itself also the cause to Him that He is; [A cause of the Father's being is posited] and accordingly, if the wisdom which He begat is the cause to Him of being wise, it is also the cause to Him that He is; and this cannot be the case, except either by begetting or by creating Him. But no one ever said in any sense that wisdom is either the begetter or the creator of the Father; for what could be more senseless? Therefore both the Father Himself is wisdom, and the Son is in such way called the wisdom of the Father, as He is called the light of the Father; that is, that in the same manner as light from light, and yet both one light, so we are to understand wisdom of wisdom, and yet both one wisdom; and therefore also one essence, 
[The 'monoousia' conclusion is orthodox, (though Athanasius eshewed the term) the route taken to reach it precarious beset with tenuous philosophical assumptions and dubious assertions] since, in God, to be, is the same as to be wise. [he concludes with a NeoPlatonic assetion of the identity of attributes and essence]
For what to be wise is to wisdom, and to be able is to power, and to be eternal is to eternity, and to be just to justice, and to be great to greatness, that being itself is to essence. And since in the Divine simplicity, to be wise is nothing else than to be, therefore wisdom there is the same as essence.

Chapter 2.—The Father and the Son are Together One Wisdom, as One Essence, Although Not Together One Word.

3. Therefore the Father and the Son together are one essence, and one greatness, and one truth, and one wisdom. But the Father and Son both together are not one Word, because both together are not one Son. For as the Son is referred to the Father, and is not so called in respect to Himself, so also the Word is referred to him whose Word it is, when it is called the Word. Since He is the Son in that He is the Word, and He is the Word in that He is the Son.
[Had there been no creation would He have been manifest as the Word?To whom - the Speaker? Whereas He would always have been the Son, as His Father has always been.]

Inasmuch, therefore, as the Father and the Son together are certainly not one Son, it follows that the Father and the Son together are not the one Word of both. And therefore He is not the Word in that He is wisdom; since He is not called the Word in respect to Himself, but only relatively to Him whose Word He is, as He is called the Son in relation to the Father; but He is wisdom by that whereby He is essence. And therefore, because one essence, one wisdom. But since the Word is also wisdom, yet is not thereby the Word because He is wisdom for He is understood to be the Word relatively, but wisdom essentially: let us understand, that when He is called the Word, it is meant, wisdom that is born, so as to be both the Son and the Image; and that when these two words are used, namely wisdom (is) born, in one of the two, namely born,* both Word, and Image, and Son, are understood, and in all these names essence is not expressed, since they are spoken relatively; but in the other word, namely
wisdom, since it is spoken also in respect to substance, for wisdom is wise in itself, essence also is expressed, and that being of His which is to be wise.

*[Augustine sometimes denominates the Son “begotten” (genitus), and sometimes “born” (natus). Both terms signify that the Son is of the Father; God of God, Light of Light, Essence of Essence.—W.G.T.S.]

Whence the Father and Son together are one wisdom, because one essence, and singly wisdom of wisdom, as essence of essence. And hence they are not therefore not one essence, because the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father, or because the Father is un-begotten, but the Son is begotten: since by these names only their relative attributes are expressed.
[An indication of the proximity of the precipice of modalism into which simplicity can easily lead]

But both together are one wisdom and one essence; in which to be, is the same as to be wise. And both together are not the Word or the Son, since to be is not the same as to be the Word or the Son, as we have already sufficiently shown that these terms are spoken relatively.

Chapter 3.—Why the Son Chiefly is Intimated in the Scriptures by the Name of Wisdom, While Both the Father and the Holy Spirit are Wisdom. That the Holy Spirit, Together with the Father and the Son, is One Wisdom.
[Simplicity invoked to prove the singularity of the Godhead - again needlessly and with potential hazard]

4. Why, then, is scarcely anything ever said in the Scriptures of wisdom, unless to show that it is begotten or created of God?—begotten in the case of that Wisdom by which all things are made; but created or made, as in men, when they are converted to that Wisdom which is not created and made but begotten, and are so enlightened; for in these men themselves there comes to be something which may be called their wisdom: even as the Scriptures foretell or narrate, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us;”(
John i. 14) for in this way Christ was made wisdom, because He was made man. Is it on this account that wisdom does not speak in these books, nor is anything spoken of it, except to declare that it is born of God, or made by Him (although the Father is Himself wisdom), namely, because wisdom ought to be commended and imitated by us, by the imitation of which we are fashioned [rightly]? For the Father speaks it, that it may be His Word: yet not as a word producing a sound proceeds from the mouth, or is thought before it is pronounced. For this word is completed in certain spaces of time, but that is eternal, and speaks to us by enlightening us, what ought to be spoken to men, both of itself and of the Father. And therefore He says, “No man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him:” (Matt. xi. 27) since the Father reveals by the Son, that is, by His Word. For if that word which we utter, and which is temporal and transitory, declares both itself, and that of which we speak, how much more the Word of God, by which all things are made? For this Word so declares the Father as He is the Father; because both itself so is, and is that which is the Father, in so far as it is wisdom and essence. For in so far as it is the Word, it is not what the Father is; because the Word is not the Father, and Word is spoken relatively, as is also Son, which assuredly is not the Father. And therefore Christ is the power and wisdom of God, because He Himself, being also power and wisdom, is from the Father, who is power and wisdom; as He is light of the Father, who is light, and the fountain of life with God the Father, who is Himself assuredly the fountain of life. For “with Thee,” He says, “is the fountain of life, and in Thy light shall we see light.” (Ps. xxxvi. 9)  Because, “as the Father hath life in Himself, so hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself:” (John v. 2) and, “He was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world:” and this light, “the Word,” was “with God;” but “the Word also was God;” (John i. 9, 1) and “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all:” (1 John i. 5) but a light that is not corporeal, but spiritual; yet not in such way spiritual, that it was wrought by illumination, as it was said to the apostles, “Ye are the light of the world,” (Matt. v. 14) but “the light which lighteth every man,” that very supreme wisdom itself who is God, of whom we now treat. The Son therefore is Wisdom of wisdom, namely the Father, as He is Light of light, and God of God; so that both the Father singly is light, and the Son singly is light; and the Father singly is God, and the Son singly is God: therefore the Father also singly is wisdom, and the Son singly is wisdom. And as both together are one light and one God, so both are one wisdom. But the Son is “by God made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification;” (1 Cor. i. 30) because we turn ourselves to Him in time, that is, from some particular time, that we may remain with Him for ever. And He Himself from a certain time was “the Word made flesh, and dwelt among us.”

5. On this account, then, when anything concerning wisdom is declared or narrated in the Scriptures, whether as itself speaking, or where anything is spoken of it, the Son chiefly is intimated to us. And by the example of Him who is the image, let us also not depart from God, since we also are the Image of God: not indeed that which is equal to Him, since we are made so by the Father through the Son, and not born of the Father, as that is. And we are so, because we are enlightened with light; but that is so, because it is the light that enlightens; and which, therefore, being without pattern, is to us a pattern. For He does not imitate any one going before Him, in respect to the Father, from whom He is never separable at all, since He is the very same substance with Him from whom He is. But we by striving imitate Him who abides, and follow Him who stands still, and walking in Him, reach out towards Him; because He is made for us a way in time by His humiliation, which is to us an eternal abiding-place by His divinity. For since to pure intellectual spirits, who have not fallen through pride, He gives an example in the form of God and as equal with God and as God; so, in order that He might also give Himself as an example of returning to fallen man who on account of the uncleanness of sins and the punishment of mortality cannot see God, “He emptied Himself;” not by changing His own divinity, but by assuming our changeableness: and “taking upon Him the form of a servant” (
Phil. ii. 7) He came to us into this world,” (1 Tim. i. 15) who “was in this world,” because “the world was made by Him;” (John i. 10) that He might be an example upwards to those who see God, an example downwards to those who admire man, an example to the sound to persevere, an example to the sick to be made whole, an example to those who are to die that they may not fear, an example to the dead that they may rise again, “that in all things He might have the pre-eminence.” (Col. i. 18) So that, because man ought not to follow any except God to blessedness, and yet cannot perceive God; by following God made man, he might follow at once Him whom he could perceive, and whom he ought to follow. Let us then love Him and cleave to Him, by charity spread abroad in our hearts, through the Holy Spirit which is given unto us. (Rom. v. 5) It is not therefore to be wondered at, if, on account of the example which the Image, which is equal to the Father, gives to us, in order that we may be refashioned after the image of God, Scripture, when it speaks of wisdom, speaks of the Son, whom we follow by living wisely; although the Father also is wisdom, as He is both light and God.

6. The Holy Spirit also, whether we are to call Him that absolute love which joins together Father and Son, and joins us also from beneath, that so that is not unfitly said which is written, “God is love;” (1 John iv. 8) how is He not also Himself wisdom, since He is light, because “God is light”? or whether after any other way the essence of the Holy Spirit is to be singly and properly named; then, too, since He is God, He is certainly light; and since He is light, He is certainly wisdom. But that the Holy Spirit is God, Scripture proclaims by the apostle, who says, “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” and immediately subjoins, “And the Spirit of God dwelleth in you;” (1 Cor. iii. 16) for God dwelleth in His own temple. For the Spirit of God does not dwell in the temple of God as a servant, since he says more plainly in another place, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a great price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. vi. 19, 20) But what is wisdom, except spiritual and unchangeable light? For yonder sun also is light, but it is corporeal; and the spiritual creature also is light, but it is not unchangeable. Therefore the Father is light, the Son is light, and the Holy Spirit is light; but together not three lights, but one light. And so the Father is wisdom, the Son is wisdom, and the Holy Spirit is wisdom, and together not three wisdoms, but one wisdom: and because in the Trinity to be is the same as to be wise, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one essence. Neither in the Trinity is it one thing to be and another to be God; therefore the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one God.

[If the essence is absolutely simple and all that the Father is is identical with His attributes, and the same is true of both the Son and the Spirit, how can we avoid the apparently necessary corollary that the Father is in identity with the Son and with the Spirit, the Father is the Son is the Spirit, which is modalism? This was an error Augustine did not hold, but seems perilously close to laying the foundations for.]