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From Wikipedia

In theology, the doctrine of divine simplicity says that God is without parts

Personally, I have a hard time grasping this concept. Moreover, I couldn't find any scriptural support for this doctrine.


A better definition

When we speak of God’s simplicity then, in the most elementary sense, we are speaking of his not having parts, of his non-compositeness. “We use the term,” Berkhof explains, “to describe the state or quality of being simple, the condition of being free from division into parts, and therefore from compositeness” 1

Secularist would use the Ultimate Boeing 747 gambit to point out how a "simple" God was able to create a very complex universe.

I had a feeling that the doctrine of divine simplicity was born from logical necessity, just as the Euclideian geometry needs aussme that two parallel lines will not intersect.

Oh well, I'm like an ant who couldn't understand what Internet is.

Update 2

I'm currently reading Euthyphro, God's Nature, and the Question of Divine Attributes, which discuss Divine Simplicity, and the philosophies used to describe how God is "simple".

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Summa theologica has something to say about God's absolute simplicity. And other Catholic theology is pretty well littered with the concept as well. –  svidgen Feb 9 '13 at 21:15

4 Answers 4

The only scriptural notion for divine simplicity I found is a statement by Jesus:

Mark 10:18

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone."

If only God is good, then 'good' and 'God' are synonyms. Simply put, this is a definition: God = Good.

The doctrine of divine simplicity postulates that an attribute is identical to God. Mere logic implicates then that this doctrine is equivalent to the latter definition.

In answer to your questions: Divine Simplicity is coherent for 'God' and 'good'.

Divine Simplicity can result in paradox implications when postulated for multiple attributes: God=Good, God=Just ⇒ Good=Just. However, I do not see straight-forward biblical basis for other attributes in divine simplicity other than good.

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That doesn't look like a definition to me, it looks like a description. –  Mason Wheeler Jan 9 '12 at 20:08
Yes, yet the description is very definite. It allows only one state (none except is exclusive). Thus it becomes a definition. This is often done in mathematics and allows abstract concepts to become tangible. I know this seems confusing. But first I'll say this: I find the doctrine misleading because it talks about attributes being identical to God. But what can describe God if not God himself? He is who He is. –  user1121 Jan 9 '12 at 20:21
God has attributes other than goodness. God is holy, omnipotent, everlasting, unchanging, personal etc. Many of these are not implied by 'good'. –  DJClayworth Jan 10 '12 at 18:36
Yes, but you need to find scriptural basis for these not to be just attributes, but to be attributes that are identical to God. That's what Divine Simplicity is about. –  user1121 Jan 10 '12 at 21:24

The Catholic Encyclopedia provides a great formal definition of the doctrine:

Simplicity of God

God is a simple being or substance excluding every kind of composition, physical or metaphysical. Physical or real composition is either substantial or accidental — substantial, if the being in question consists of two or more substantial principles, forming parts of a composite whole, as man for example, consists of body and soul; accidental, if the being in question, although simple in its substance (as is the human soul), is capable of possessing accidental perfections (like the actual thoughts and volition of man's soul) not necessarily identical with its substance. Now it is clear that an infinite being cannot be substantially composite, for this would mean that infinity is made up of the union or addition of finite parts — a plain contradiction in terms. Nor can accidental composition be attributed to the infinite since even this would imply a capacity for increased perfection, which the very notion of the infinite excludes. There is not, therefore, and cannot be any physical or real composition in God.

This doctrine follows from the understanding that God is infinite; an infinite being is, by definition without "parts", since you cannot subdivide an infinity into two lessor infinities - unless you are dealing with abstractions and God is not an abstraction, he is a real entity.

To clarify, in response to comments, only an abstract infinity can be logically subdivided; a real entity which is infinite cannot be composed of finite sub-parts. Since this means that there can be only one such infinity, that singular infinity is the being we refer to as God - the eternal uncaused cause.

The best scriptural support for the doctrine seems to be:

4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Deut 6:4

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A mathematician would disagree. For example, there are an infinite number of points in the plane, and yet it can be divided into lines, which are also infinite sets. –  hammar Jan 10 '12 at 6:04
@OnesimusUnbound asked specifically for scriptural support of the doctrine. –  user1121 Jan 10 '12 at 6:50
@hammar: True, but that's only when dealing with abstract concepts, not concrete entities. –  Lawrence Dol Jan 12 '12 at 0:05

First of all, I should make it clear that I am not Catholic, it's just that Thomas Aquinas' Summa Contra Gentiles is the most cogent explanation for the doctrine of divine simplicity I've seen. Yes, it is panentheism, but if you run a search for "biblical panentheism" you will find no less than 17 verses in the Bible that can be interpreted as being wholly consistent with panentheism. In my view, if we accept that God is truly infinite, panentheism and God's volitional self-limitation is unavoidable.

The doctrine of divine simplicity is, to me, the most coherent theological position I've come across. I've seen the arguments against it, but if the Father is infinite and eternal, to deny the possibility of his volitional self-limitation amounts to a denial of the concept of his volitional absoluteness. There are many conceptual difficulties with this, but I am not willing to surrender my belief in the logical necessity of the eternity, immutability and infinity of God or his volitional absoluteness for the sake of simplicity. For example, if true, Creatorship is hardly an attribute of God; it is rather the aggregate of his acting nature. This might seem to distance God from man. But although it is not easy to grasp, Aquinas explains it in a way that makes God feel closer than my own breath.

You can get Summa Contra Gentiles in PDF format here: http://catholicprimer.org/aquinas/aquinas_summa_contra_gentiles.pdf

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Welcome to Christianity.SE! Thanks for your well thought out first post. You still may want to take a look at this post on how we are different than other sites. Thanks again. –  crownjewel82 Oct 24 '13 at 22:10
Thank you. This is different than other sites and from what I've seen, the difference is appreciated. –  Merlin Bird Oct 25 '13 at 2:09

I am surprised that no one has brought this up yet.

Genesis 1:26-27 26) And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness..., 27) So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.

Genesis 2:2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made.

Genesis 3:22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil:...

Exodus 33:11 And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend...

Acts 7:55 But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God.

I can list dozens more scriptures that say that God looks like a man and has form. So I would say that there is really no scriptural basis for the fact that 'God is formless,' and there is tons of scriptural basis for the fact that God looks like man or to be more correct as Genesis says, Man was made in the image of God. I fail to see how we could be made in His image if He in fact did not have an image.

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From a very limited subset of scripture, this makes sense. But, it's not reflective of predominating Christian theology, nor does it take the bulk of scripture into account. –  svidgen Feb 9 '13 at 21:13
Nor does it take into account that scripture may be using figurative anthropomorphisms to communicate things about God, his character and his nature. –  Lawrence Dol Feb 9 '13 at 21:15

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