Category Archives: Divine Simplicity

Does God’s Contingent Action Imply He Has Accidents (and Conflict with Simplicity?)

“As in God “what is” and “whereby it is” are the same, so likewise in Him “what acts” and “whereby it acts” are the same, since everything acts, inasmuch as it is a being. Hence the Divine Nature is both that whereby God acts, and the very God Who acts.” Aquinas, ST III q. 3 a. 2

It seems to me the question of God’s knowledge of creation is similar to the question of the second person assuming a human nature. In each case, something is true of God that need not necessarily be true of him – i.e. he has this particular knowledge of creation or he assumes this particular created nature. Presumably God could have different knowledge or could have assumed a different nature.

Open theists say this means God cannot be simple, since such things appear accidental to God. And if a thing is accidental to something else, it can be added to it. But if something can be added to God, he is temporal and composed, and can at one time have “this” property and at another “that.”

But what if we think about it like this. God is the same across all possible worlds because in all possible worlds God knows his one act, which is his existing and his doing. But this means that we can only arrive at a sort of analogical predication of God, insofar as in every possible world we say that God has both a necessary existence (willing his own goodness) and a contingent existence (willing it in this way – say with a creation – rather than that way – say without one.)

Is God the same in a world that is different than this one? Yes, just like we would be the same person even if we did otherwise. For in any possible world God is still knowing his own existence and his own action. That action is different in terms of how it terminates (he actualizes this creature rather than that, or he even fails to actualize any creature at all.) But the action, in terms of the way it is performed, is the same (a necessary end attained through a contingent means.) In other words, God is the same in all possible worlds because God justin st is an instance of free act. In any world that could exist, God would be freely acting to bring it about. That is, he would always know the extent of his own free action. Therefore, God’s action would not be essentially different in any possible world even if the world was different, or if no world existed at all (God would know that he is freely actualizing his own goodness without bringing about a world, for instance.)

Interestingly in the question in the ST that asks whether God’s will is the cause of things Aquinas says “the divine being is undetermined.” And he also says in the previous question that the divine will “determines itself” to things which it has no necessary connection to. These thoughts lead me to believe that we can attribute both necessary and contingent existence, analogously, to God’s single act of being. We can consider these attributes under certain respects: God’s necessity in terms of him wiling his own goodness and his contingency in terms of the way in which he wills that goodness. This saves us from having to say that God’s knowledge (and will) are things “outside” or “extrinsic” to God himself, but still allows us to speak truly about God’s necessary existence.


On Divine Simplicity

“Even then, at the very zenith of complexity, complexity was eaten up and faded, as a thin white cloud fades into the hard blue burning of the sky, and a simplicity beyond all comprehension, ancient and young as spring, illimitable, pellucid, drew him with cords of infinite desire into its own stillness.” CS Lewis, Perelandra

First – “pellucid” means “allowing the maximal passage of light, as glass.” If you knew that already, brovo. I didn’t. I had to look it up. Anyway, on to the post.

Any time we posit God in time or in sequence or undergoing change, we must also imagine a) some common medium in which he moves that can accommodate that change; and b) some reason outside of God that accounts for the change that “happens to him.”

Now a) cannot be true because nothing can so “contain” God. He is what contains all other things, not vice versa. To therefore presuppose some medium that contains God’s changing states one would have to posit something over and outside God which limited him. But then God would not be God, the first cause and creator of all.

If God were simply one more object in a class of other objects he would cease to be God, for there would be explanations prior to him that conditioned him. The cups and cans and cereal boxes are where they are in space because of the cupboard  which holds them. But the cupboard itself is not where it is because of the cups and cans and boxes inside it. Likewise we temporal things pass through space and time and these realities unite all our states of change. In that sense they are “greater” than us and so “contain” us. But nothing can so  encompass or contain God.

And b) cannot be true for the same reason: nothing can act on God. Nothing can “happen” to him for the simple reason that that presupposes some other, equal metaphysical reality over and against God that he is up against. But again God creates everything else that is not himself. Therefore there can be no Absolute Other over and against him. He therefore cannot be passive (for just what thing could act on the source of all other things?) Rather God must be purely active and changeless. He is the one setting the limits to other things and causing them to be what they are.

With these points in mind one can more easily grasp the argument for the doctrine of Divine Simplicity. God can have no “parts” because every part presupposes some whole or overarching medium which itself contains the parts themselves. To split a pizza up into pieces you must first have a pizza. Similarly each individual slice of pizza is the one thing called “pizza” rather than something else, and this is because of the single, encompassing reality of the Pizza as such. But notice, while many pieces of pizza presupposes a single pie from which they were cut, a single pie does not necessarily presuppose many pieces. The singular can exist alone; but the many presupposes the single.

Every division, therefore, presupposes something whole and singular that contains the division, and every set of similar things implies something overarching the set which contains it and gives an explanation or ground for why the set can coexist as a collection of similars. Likewise every contrary implies its opposite: black implies non-black, up implies down, right implies left. And yet again, although parts themselves presuppose something single and whole, something single and whole does not have to presuppose parts. The pizza need not be cut up into pieces. It can remain a single pizza if it wants to. As Aristotle said, that which is Primary has no contrary or opposite. Neither does it have parts, division, undergo change or gain and lose reality. It simply is what is it, and imparts division, change, and becoming on other things.

Therefore God’s being is not divided and is not in any way acted on by some overarching thing above or outside him. For any division would simultaneously imply that there is some larger system – some metaphysical force – which allowed all the diverse parts to work together with each other. Such a “space” or “principle of cohesion” would then by the ultimate explanation and limiting factor for why God was divided the way he is. It would set limits for why one of God’s parts existed in just such and such amount over and against his other parts. But God as the Supreme Being can have no such limitation imparted to Him. Rather, he is the one setting the limits: they all flow from him.