When speaking of God, we must organize our thoughts into distinct attributes regarding his nature. But once we begin to distinguish these attributes, we run the risk of introducing a division within our talk of God that does not correspond to God’s singular unity. Nevertheless, we must speak discursively -- prodding along from point to point. In order to ensure that our discursive God-talk does not degenerate into a mere montage of irreconcilable attributes, we must choose our starting point wisely. Aquinas believes that divine simplicity is the best place to start, as it determines our understanding of all the attributes of God.
To see why simplicity is a good place to start, we must understand the meaning of divine simplicity. This attribute does not mean that God is simplistic in contrast to complex. God is certainly complex in the current sense of the word! Rather, simplicity classically conceived is set in contrast to composite. To be composite is to be an assembly of different parts; to be simple is to be wholly and completely what one is. God is simple (aka non-composite) because God is wholly and completely what he is, not admitting of parts or degrees.
The implications of divine simplicity for God's nature are far-reaching. Simplicity implies that the rest of God's attributes do not describe parts of God, but rather indicate God's whole character. So God's love does not describe part of God and his justice another part, nor does God move successively from love to justice, but God is his own love and is his own justice. Love and justice characterize his being. More precisely, one might say that God characterizes his own being in terms of his love and his justice. The same can be said of another other divine attribute.
The question for us today is whether simplicity is a good idea. Is it a genuine attribute of the God revealed in Scripture? Is it a useful conceptual tool for describing the God we worship? These normative questions immediately raise the question of method: How do we determine its appropriateness? Does it need to be explicitly stated in Scripture? Or may it be implied by other Biblical affirmations (monotheism for instance)? Is it simply sufficient that is does not contract Scripture? Because of its significance in the Christian tradition, the burden of proof lies on the one who wishes to reject divine simplicity. Yet, like any human affirmation about God, it is open to criticism -- at least in principle.
Is my defenition of simplicity sufficiently clear?What is your initial reaction to the notion of divine simplicity?
On what basis might we evaluate the claim that God is simple?
If one were to reject divine simplicity, what would the ramifications for the rest of theology be?