Results tagged “Divine simplicity” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 2.2

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ii. God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made, not deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them: He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleaseth. In His sight all things are open and manifest; His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain. He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands. To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them.

The doctrine of God's aseity states that God is self-existent. He does not have it in him (whether inclination or power) to stop existing. He exists necessarily. Who made God? a child may ask. The answer is that he had no need of being made; he is always there. Or, for gown ups, God is a se (of or from himself). It is sometimes stated negatively: God is uncaused (the notion of self-causation should be avoided since it requires God to exist to actualize himself); and sometimes positively: he is, in himself, fullness of being. The doctrine is intimately related to divine simplicity (Day 1 above).

Again, the Divines are mimicking Patristic and medieval theology. Thus Aquinas: "But, in no wise does the supreme Nature exist through another, nor is it later or less than itself or anything else. Therefore, the supreme Nature could be created neither by itself, nor by another; nor could itself or any other be the matter whence it should be created; nor did it assist itself in any way; nor did anything assist it to be what it was not before." (Monologium, 6). 

If pressed for Scriptural "proof", the Divines pointed to Jesus' statement: "the Father has life in himself" (John 5:26). As Calvin comments, "God is said to have life in himself, not only because he alone lives by his own inherent power, but because, containing in himself the fullness of life, he communicates life to all things." (Commentary, ad. loc.).

Chapter 2.1, Part One

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i. There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

Without parts... Really? Yes, for in this expression, the Westminster Divines affirmed the classical doctrine of divine simplicity. Subscribers to divine simplicity argue that if God were composed of parts, he would be dependent upon those parts for his being, thus making the parts ontologically prior and the affirmation that he "most absolute" (the main point of 2:1) impossible. Divine simplicity insists that God is identical with his existence and that every attribute is ontologically identical. Put another way, there is nothing in God that is not God. God is wholly and totally involved in everything that he is and does. 

There is nothing particularly Reformed or Calvinistic about this affirmation. Thus Aquinas asserts "every composite is posterior to its components: since the simpler exists in itself before anything is added to it for the composition of a third." (Scriptum super libros Sententiarum, I.8.4.1). As with the chapter on Christology, for example, the Confession is affirming traditional theism. To err here means to deviate from Christianity itself. Richard Muller confirms this: "The doctrine of divine simplicity is among the normative assumptions of theology from the time of the church fathers, to the age of the great medieval scholastic systems, to the era of Reformation and post-Reformation theology, and indeed, on into the succeeding era of late orthodoxy and rationalism." (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, III: 39). 

Detractors (Alvin Plantinga and Ronald Nash come to mind) notwithstanding, the Divines maintained divine simplicity as essential doctrine. For a first-rate analysis, see James E. Dolezal, God Without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God's Absoluteness (Pickwick, 2011).