Though apparent, the framework of the Triune Godhead appears logically incoherent in juxtaposition to the Absolute Divine Simplicity model. Looking through the works of Thomas Aquinas, who is the most crucial figure in the development of this model, has led to me to presuppose this conception. A basic notion of this model is that God is not composite, and God is identical to his divine essence or properties. Thus from this arises another basic notion: There cannot be any real distinction or divisions in God, for the simple reason that the absolute oneness of simplicity would crumble under these distinctions. Now setting the Trinity into this framework, I see no coherence. The hypostasis are necessarily and relationally distinct in respective to their personhood. The Father is relationally distinct from The Son in respective to His Fatherhood. This essential distinction between the hypostasis cannot be compatible with a model that disallows any real distinction in God. Although relations are conceptual and uphold a apprehensive framework, because relations are by essence, abstract. What would this mean for the Triune Godhead, if the relational distinction is purely conceptual? Wouldn't this entail that the hypostasis are not relationally distinct in reality? And if so, then doesn't the Trinitarian conception of God plunders into a crisis, as there is there no "real" framework for this distinction?

Another issue is the divine and personal properties of paternity, filiation and procession. Recall earlier that a basic principle of Absolute Divine Simplicity is God being identical to his divine essence. Though in a Trinitarian context, the divine properties of paternity, filiation and procession seem to hinder this. These properties are unique to each hypostasis and is not shared nor communicated. The Father upholds the property of paternity, the Son, the property of filiation and the Holy Spirit the property of procession.

A quote from Charles Hodge reads, "Paternity, therefore, is the distinguishing property of the Father; filiation of the Son; and procession of the Spirit” (1:461)"

This falls under ignorance in context of Absolute Divine Simplicity. If God is identical to his divine essence, then on what basis can the hypostasis possess unique and separate properties? If the hypostasis have an identical essence, then it logically follows that any personal property that is not shared or communicated within the essence is a disruption of that very identity-relation. Even if we were to remove the ADS model, from a purely Trinitarian perspective this seems conflicting, because the doctrine still holds that the hypostasis share the same and one essence. But with the personal properties each hypostasis uniquely possess, this contradicts the very definition of identical essence which in this case, is the same group of properties. Can anyone help me understand or correct me on this? ( I asked in Philosophy and they recommended me here)

  • Does "Absolute Divine Simplicity" refer to something different than the more common doctrine of Divine Simplicity?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 12:55
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    To some extent yes. I'd say it's a more "extremist" view of Divine Simplicity, meaning that God is not devoid of composition and multiplicity but God or his existence is identical to his divine essence. For Divine Simplicity, it just stops at the lack of composition, but for the Absolute Divine Simplicity model it continues to formulate a God of absolute oneness. You can think of this model as more developed. @curiousdannii Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 12:59
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    Okay interesting. It would help then if you could add some quotes or references to sources about ADS.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 13:02
  • I'm puzzled how you could have read Aquinas and not seen how he addresses most of your questions. If the relations between the persons were conceptual only (a logical relation), then it wouldn't be a Trinity but instead would be modalism
    – eques
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 13:15
  • @eques You're correct it would be modalism, so it seems that a real relational distinction among the hypostasis is the only recourse. Though that's incompatible with Absolute Divine Simplicity. I have read Aquinas to some extent, but I have yet to find any source that answers these questions. Can you maybe suggest me some? I'd appreciate it. Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 14:28

2 Answers 2


You are correct. Absolute Divine Simplicity is incompatible with Christian dogma because it is a pagan doctrine imported from Plato and Aristotle. Thomism is essentially modalism (Sabellianism). It teaches that the divine persons are relations within the divine essence. The Father is the divine essence qua begetting; the Son is the divine essence qua begotten; and the Holy Spirit is the divine essence qua proceeding (Alexander of Hales taught the same thing, and both based themselves on Peter Lombard's Sententiae, which was approved as dogma in Canon 2 of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1213-1215). This doctrine was ultimately borrowed from Boethius' De Trinitate. Saint Augustine explicitly rejects such a doctrine in Book 7, Chapter 6 of the Trinity:

For if to be is said in respect to Himself, but person relatively; in this way we should say three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; just as we speak of three friends, or three relations, or three neighbors, in that they are so mutually, not that each one of them is so in respect to himself. Wherefore any one of these is the friend of the other two, or the relation, or the neighbor, because these names have a relative signification. What then? Are we to call the Father the person of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, or the Son the person of the Father and of the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit the person of the Father and of the Son? But neither is the word person commonly so used in any case; nor in this Trinity, when we speak of the person of the Father, do we mean anything else than the substance of the Father. Wherefore, as the substance of the Father is the Father Himself, not as He is the Father, but as He is, so also the person of the Father is not anything else than the Father Himself; for He is called a person in respect to Himself, not in respect to the Son, or the Holy Spirit: just as He is called in respect to Himself both God and great, and good, and just, and anything else of the kind; and just as to Him to be is the same as to be God, or as to be great, or as to be good, so it is the same thing to Him to be, as to be a person.

Saint Augustine believed that the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are relational, not the actual persons. The only problem with Saint Augustine's scheme is that it was imprecise. Not everything in God can be classified either as "ad se" or as "ad invicem". The essence, persons, and attributes of God are all "ad se", but they are not identical.

Orthodox Christianity (as expressed most clearly in the writings of Saint Gregory Palamas) preserves the distinction between Essence and Persons and between Essence and Attributes. For more information:

P.S. Aquinas also believed that creation is patterned on ideas in the essence of God. If this is true, it means the world is divine and was not created by free will ex nihilo. i.e. Thomism teaches pantheism.


Absolute Divine Simplicity: Distinctions (plurality) is a Given

Aquinas returns to Divine simplicity in his answer: simplicity implies immediately that the essence of God can be identified with each Person. However, this answer is troubling in that we’ve spent many questions demonstrating the distinction between the Persons and now we seem to be saying that really they are the same. Some theologians, recognising this difficulty, proposed that we can find some way to distinguish between Person and essence. Aquinas rejects this saying that the relations in God (which define the Persons) are the Divine essence because of Divine simplicity. We must affirm that essence and Person are the same reality whilst simultaneously holding that there is a real distinction among the Persons. To reconcile this apparent paradox we remember that a Person is a relation subsisting in the Divine nature; the distinction between the Divine essence and the Persons is not a real distinction but a conceptual one (Question 39 - The Persons in Comparison to the Essence, READING THE SUMMA, 2011).

The divine hypostases does not infringe upon Divine simplicity because they themselves were grouped together with their own attributes (their common substance or nature: secondary ousia). Hence, the one God is the single substance and inside this single substance is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and all of what is common to them (omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, holiness, eternality, etc.). The divine attributes are plural and truly distinct but they are in reality forming strictly one reality (i.e. the single divine substance: the one God). To be more clear, i will explain more:

Likewise, the Trinity is the one God due to their relation to the single divine substance because they are in it, together with the attributes. The single divine substance is not only comprised of attributes but also of hypostases. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit, + omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, etc. are all together forming the single divine substance. The three divine hypostases are not only possessing the one substance, but that they also are the one substance themselves (Trinity is the one divine substance = one God).

enter image description here (source: Summa Theologica: First Part By St. Thomas Aquinas, Page 185)

If the divine attributes, plural ( omnipotence, eternality, holiness etc.) and singular (as substance) at the same time (simultaneously) is compatible with absolute divine simplicity, the three divine hypostases themselves, being the plurality inside the one divine substance (i.e. God) is compatible with absolute divine simplicity. In absolute divine simplicity, distinctions (plurality) naturally exists because there is no single substance without a further description of that substance, in the same exact way that no single word is without definition/meaning (comprised of many words/letters).

Secondary Ousia of the Trinity: Species, not Genus

The divine essence is one and indivisible. It is under the category of secondary ousia (specifically in the sub-type: species, not genus). By being of single species, absolute divine simplicity is logically possible. If the three divine hypostases possess the same genus, they themselves would be three species ( = three Gods). This cannot be because their substance is one and cannot be divided, it can only be individuated. For instance, the man, dog and bird are three species under the same genus: animals. Thus, the three hypostases themselves, are of one species: only one God.

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    The use of "attribute" here is confusing -- a relation and an attribute are distinct
    – eques
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 16:04
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    Can you post a link to your information?
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 16:06
  • @KenGraham I will do it later. It was just all on my mind. I am sorry.
    – R. Brown
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 16:16
  • @eques, In divine simplicity, the three divine hypostases are categoried together with the attributes. That's what made them so simple and undivided. That is to say, the three divine hypostases are not onl possessing the one substance, but that they also are the one substance themselves (Trinity = one God).
    – R. Brown
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 16:18
  • the hypostasis isn't an attribute. What does "grouped together" or "categorized with" even mean here?
    – eques
    Commented Oct 13, 2021 at 16:25

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