Divine simplicity is the doctrine that God has no parts/composition. It implies that God is equivalent to his attributes and his attributes are equivalent to each other. So God is love and God is Justice and God's love is the same thing as God's Justice.

How does the doctrine of the Trinity mesh with this? There seems to be some distinction within God: three unique hypostases.

Perhaps the relations between the hypostases of the Trinity do not constitute "parts" or "composition" but are instead just "distinctions". If so that's a really "semantic" technical answer and I don't get it, some elaboration would be appreciated.

Perhaps it has something to do with the doctrine of interpenetration, aka circumincession aka perichoresis aka co-inherence. This being the doctrine that "the father fully contains the son and the spirit, the son fully contains the father and the spirit, and the spirit fully contains the father and the son." In this way, if you take any single member of the trinity, you get the entire trinity; it is impossible to separate one hypostasis from the others because whenever you take one hypostasis it always comes with the other two as well. In this way the trinity is inseparable and indivisible, just as the divine simplicity doctrine implies. Nevertheless it still looks sketchy because as mentioned, there is distinction between the hypostases.

How is divine simplicity reconciled with the doctrine of the Trinity?

  • I do not know much about this subject, but I've heard it has something to do with 1 John's statement that God is love. I'm not sure if this helps others researching the topic. Sep 17, 2018 at 22:38

4 Answers 4


The following is a paraphrase of Jeffrey Stivason's "The Trinity: Divine Simplicity & the Trinity."

The Trinity is not three separate people. The Trinity (tri-unity) of God is an attribute of His essence. Therefore, it is in direct alignment with Divine (God) Simplicity (His essence).

When we read in the Bible of the persons of the God-Head (that is Father, Son and Holy Spirit), we learn they each have certain characteristics, but those characteristics do not add to the essence of who God is.

  • 2
    That's backwards; Divine simplicity means that the characteristics which are attributed to God are (however imperfect) reflections of His essence. This is, of course, an entirely separate concern from Trinity, which does not touch upon the matter of substance and accidents.
    – Wtrmute
    May 2, 2017 at 12:50
  • @Wtrmute Quoting directly from the article I cited: "we need to remember that God's divine being is not composed of three persons." So, are you disagreeing with the article or my paraphrasing? Did you even read it? Dec 9, 2018 at 5:14

It is not easy to differentiate between essense, attributes and hypostasis. With regards to simplicity in its most modest form, we can say the Triune God is a constitution of all His attributes. The totality of all the divine attributes is God's inward essence.

With regards to hypostasis, Knudson (Doctrine of God) mentions:

By an "hypostasis" the Cappadocian Fathers understood a mode of being midway between a substance (essence) and an attribute. . Like an attribute it presupposed a substance and like a substance it had attributes. But what it was beyond that it was difficult to say. (pg. 403)

In this, the term has no intelligible counterpart in human nature.

We can say that this is the "architecture" of God's self revelation in His actions to save man according to and by the application of His Triune Being.

Yet, this inward essence (as above - God is - in what He is in simplicity) needs an expression. The expression of the inward essence of God is His image, and this image is embodied in Christ. All the fullness of the Godhead is embodied in Christ (Col. 2:9). Christ as the image of God is the expression of the essence of God’s attributes, which are His very being. According to this image and in this image, man was made in Christ by the Triune God.

We can push further to say with the Spirit: the Father is ever dispensing the divine essence into the Son and thereby begetting Him eternally; the Son is ever receiving and expressing that dispensing and is thus eternally begotten of the Father; the Spirit is ever dispensed as the divine essence by the Father and eternally proceeds from Him.

Torrance's quote is good here:

With God it is not so, for his eternal uncreated Being is not characterised by the kind of distinctions found in finite creaturely beings. He meets us, speaks to us, acts toward us as One whose Word and Act and Person are inseparable from one another in the intrinsic simplicity and homogeneity of his divine Being. .... His Being is his Being in his Act and his Act is his Act in his Being; his Word is his Word in his Being and his Being is his Being in his Word


Divine simplicity simply means that what God is, is God. The Divine nature refers to what God is. Within the divine nature, there are different attributes and these are parts forming the "one whole fullness of deity" (Col. 2:9). But the Trinity per se is not parts of the one God but rather, the Trinity IS the one God. This is because the divine attributes are identical to the divine persons who possess them. Let me explain further,

When John said that "God is Love" (1 John 4:8), it didn't mean here in the verse that God possesses the attribute (although he does possess it, actually) but that the focus here is that the attribute per se is identical to or equivalent to God. God is Love. It is as if Love became The name for the supreme being, instead of "God" (or more accurately, that "Love" acquired the definition of "God", so to speak).

When talking about the Trinity, the one divine essence common to all the divine persons is also identified with them so that "the Father, Son and Holy Spirit" both "possess the divine attributes (i.e. the divine nature) and "they themselves are The Divine Nature" (the totality of what God is). The one divine nature itself is the one God. And the one God neither possess divine attributes nor possess the Trinity but IS the Trinity. So that the Trinity, being the one God, does not possess divine attributes, because the Trinity itself IS the divine nature (The Father, Son and Holy Spirit do not have the attribute ''love'' etc. ''it is what they are'', the Trinity is love etc. ).The one God is not a fourth person. In this case, the one God IS the divine nature, which is the Trinity and the Trinity's attributes. Acts 17:29 does use the word "God" as equivalent/identical to "divine nature" (Greek: τον θειον, "THE Divine Nature, as a name for the supreme being, God).


How is the Trinity compatible with divine simplicity?

Even though there are three persons in the Sacred Trinity, there is complete unity within God because of His simplicity of His essence, substance or nature.

The Fourth Lateran council began its confession of faith by saying:

We firmly believe and simply confess that there is only one true God, eternal and immeasurable, almighty, unchangeable, incomprehensible and ineffable, Father, Son and holy Spirit, three persons but one absolutely simple essence, substance or nature.

The contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart says of divine simplicity:

There is an ancient metaphysical doctrine that the source of all things—God, that is—must be essentially simple; that is, God cannot possess distinct parts, or even distinct properties, and in himself does not allow even of a distinction between essence and existence . . . if one believes that God stands at the end of reason’s journey toward the truth of all things; it seems obvious to me that a denial of divine simplicity is tantamount to atheism. (The Experience of God, 128)

What Is Divine Simplicity?

St. Athanasius’s Creed

The content of the Athanasian Creed stresses the affirmation of the Trinity in which all members of the Godhead are considered uncreated and co-eternal and of the same substance. In the affirmation of the Trinity the dual nature of Christ is given central importance. As the Athanasian Creed in one sense reaffirms the doctrines of the Trinity set forth in the fourth century at Nicea, in like manner the strong affirmations of the fifth-century council at Chalcedon in 451 are also recapitulated therein.

St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae (The simplicity of God) explain the simplicity of God thus:

Whether God is the same as His essence or nature?

God is the same as His essence or nature. To understand this, it must be noted that in things composed of matter and form, the nature or essence must differ from the "suppositum," because the essence or nature connotes only what is included in the definition of the species; as, humanity connotes all that is included in the definition of man, for it is by this that man is man, and it is this that humanity signifies, that, namely, whereby man is man. Now individual matter, with all the individualizing accidents, is not included in the definition of the species. For this particular flesh, these bones, this blackness or whiteness, etc., are not included in the definition of a man. Therefore this flesh, these bones, and the accidental qualities distinguishing this particular matter, are not included in humanity; and yet they are included in the thing which is man. Hence the thing which is a man has something more in it than has humanity. Consequently humanity and a man are not wholly identical; but humanity is taken to mean the formal part of a man, because the principles whereby a thing is defined are regarded as the formal constituent in regard to the individualizing matter. On the other hand, in things not composed of matter and form, in which individualization is not due to individual matter—that is to say, to "this" matter—the very forms being individualized of themselves—it is necessary the forms themselves should be subsisting "supposita." Therefore "suppositum" and nature in them are identified. Since God then is not composed of matter and form, He must be His own Godhead, His own Life, and whatever else is thus predicated of Him.

Whether essence and existence are the same in God?

A thing can be in a genus in two ways; either absolutely and properly, as a species contained under a genus; or as being reducible to it, as principles and privations. For example, a point and unity are reduced to the genus of quantity, as its principles; while blindness and all other privations are reduced to the genus of habit. But in neither way is God in a genus. That He cannot be a species of any genus may be shown in three ways.

First, because a species is constituted of genus and difference. Now that from which the difference constituting the species is derived, is always related to that from which the genus is derived, as actuality is related to potentiality. For animal is derived from sensitive nature, by concretion as it were, for that is animal, which has a sensitive nature. Rational being, on the other hand, is derived from intellectual nature, because that is rational, which has an intellectual nature, and intelligence is compared to sense, as actuality is to potentiality. The same argument holds good in other things. Hence since in God actuality is not added to potentiality, it is impossible that He should be in any genus as a species.

Secondly, since the existence of God is His essence, if God were in any genus, He would be the genus "being", because, since genus is predicated as an essential it refers to the essence of a thing. But the Philosopher has shown (Metaph. iii) that being cannot be a genus, for every genus has differences distinct from its generic essence. Now no difference can exist distinct from being; for non-being cannot be a difference. It follows then that God is not in a genus.

Thirdly, because all in one genus agree in the quiddity or essence of the genus which is predicated of them as an essential, but they differ in their existence. For the existence of man and of horse is not the same; as also of this man and that man: thus in every member of a genus, existence and quiddity—i.e. essence—must differ. But in God they do not differ, as shown in the preceding article. Therefore it is plain that God is not in a genus as if He were a species. From this it is also plain that He has no genus nor difference, nor can there be any definition of Him; nor, save through His effects, a demonstration of Him: for a definition is from genus and difference; and the mean of a demonstration is a definition. That God is not in a genus, as reducible to it as its principle, is clear from this, that a principle reducible to any genus does not extend beyond that genus; as, a point is the principle of continuous quantity alone; and unity, of discontinuous quantity. But God is the principle of all being. Therefore He is not contained in any genus as its principle.

Whether God is altogether simple?

The absolute simplicity of God may be shown in many ways.

First, from the previous articles of this question. For there is neither composition of quantitative parts in God, since He is not a body; nor composition of matter and form; nor does His nature differ from His "suppositum"; nor His essence from His existence; neither is there in Him composition of genus and difference, nor of subject and accident. Therefore, it is clear that God is nowise composite, but is altogether simple.

Secondly, because every composite is posterior to its component parts, and is dependent on them; but God is the first being, as shown above (I:2:3).

Thirdly, because every composite has a cause, for things in themselves different cannot unite unless something causes them to unite. But God is uncaused, as shown above (I:2:3), since He is the first efficient cause.

Fourthly, because in every composite there must be potentiality and actuality; but this does not apply to God; for either one of the parts actuates another, or at least all the parts are potential to the whole.

Fifthly, because nothing composite can be predicated of any single one of its parts. And this is evident in a whole made up of dissimilar parts; for no part of a man is a man, nor any of the parts of the foot, a foot. But in wholes made up of similar parts, although something which is predicated of the whole may be predicated of a part (as a part of the air is air, and a part of water, water), nevertheless certain things are predicable of the whole which cannot be predicated of any of the parts; for instance, if the whole volume of water is two cubits, no part of it can be two cubits. Thus in every composite there is something which is not it itself. But, even if this could be said of whatever has a form, viz. that it has something which is not it itself, as in a white object there is something which does not belong to the essence of white; nevertheless in the form itself, there is nothing besides itself. And so, since God is absolute form, or rather absolute being, He can be in no way composite. Hilary implies this argument, when he says (De Trin. vii): "God, Who is strength, is not made up of things that are weak; nor is He Who is light, composed of things that are dim."

The Sacred Trinity is simply part of the Divine Essence of God.

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