Monday, May 17, 2010

Davies on divine simplicity and freedom

Brian Davies’ article “Simplicity” (as in divine simplicity, the subject of an earlier post) appears in the new Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology, edited by Charles Taliaferro and Chad Meister. Davies is one of the most important contemporary philosophers of religion writing from a Thomistic point of view, or any point of view for that matter. For my money, the current (third) edition of his book An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion is the best introduction to the field on the market. His most recent book, The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil is probably the best book on the problem of evil now in print. His 1992 book The Thought of Thomas Aquinas is probably the best single volume in print for anyone looking for an overview of the whole range of Aquinas’s philosophical and theological thinking that is accessible but still sophisticated and informed by contemporary philosophy. (Not to knock my own book, of course! But its approach is to pursue a few topics in some depth, and strictly philosophical ones at that; whereas the strength of Davies’ book is its breadth, and it treats matters of sacred theology that I say nothing about in my book.)

More than most other contemporary philosophers of religion, Davies is sensitive to the radical differences between classical theism and the modern approach to philosophical theology he calls “theistic personalism” and others have called “neo-theism.” ( I have addressed this theme several times on this blog, e.g. here.) This theme has increasingly informed his work, and the centrality to classical theism of the doctrine of divine simplicity is something he has written about on several occasions (including the works cited above – the Introduction provides a particularly useful overview of the dispute between classical theism and theistic personalism and the disagreement over simplicity that it hinges on).

One of the objections often raised against the doctrine of divine simplicity (and hence against classical theism) is that it seems incompatible with the notion that God acted freely in creating the world. In a recent post on divine simplicity, Bill Vallicella summarizes the objection this way:

On classical theism, God is libertarianly free: although he exists in every metaphysically possible world, he does not create in every such world, and he creates different things in the different worlds in which he does create. Thus the following are accidental properties of God: the property of creating something-or-other, and the property of creating human beings. But surely God cannot be identical to these properties as the simplicity doctrine seems to require. It cannot be inscribed into the very nature of God that he create Socrates given that he freely creates Socrates. Some writers have attempted to solve this problem, but I don't know of a good solution.

Davies’ response to this sort of objection in the Cambridge Companion article is to suggest that it rests on a misunderstanding of the claim that God is free, at least as that claim is understood by a thinker like Aquinas. When we say of a human being that he is, for example, free to read or to refrain from reading the rest of this blog post, we are making a claim that entails that his history as a spatio-temporal individual could take one of at least two alternative courses. But that cannot be what it means to say that God is free, because (for Aquinas and the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition in general, anyway) God is changeless and eternal, existing entirely outside the spatio-temporal order. Nor does it mean that God may or may not acquire some contingent property. For Davies, the claim that God creates freely ought instead to be understood as a statement of negative theology, a claim about what God is not rather than a claim about what He is. In particular, to say that God is free either to create or not create Socrates is to say, first, that God is not compelled either by His own nature or by anything external to Him either to create or not create Socrates, and second, that neither the notion of Socrates’ existing nor that of Socrates’ not existing entails any sort of contradiction or inherent impossibility. And that’s it. The suggestion that divine simplicity is incompatible with divine freedom thus rests on a tendency to attribute to God anthropomorphic qualities that are precisely what the doctrine of divine simplicity denies of Him.

It seems to me that Davies’ point about negative theology here is correct as far as it goes, though incomplete. (In general, it seems to me that Davies’ work perhaps overemphasizes negative theology a bit – as I argue in Aquinas, I think this is true, for example, of his reading of Aquinas’s doctrine that God’s essence and existence are identical.) More could be said in response to the claim that divine simplicity and freedom and incompatible. For example, as I explained in the earlier post on divine simplicity, God’s creating the universe (or just Socrates for that matter) is what Barry Miller (following the lead of Peter Geach) calls a “Cambridge property” of God, and the doctrine of divine simplicity does not rule out God’s having accidental Cambridge properties. (In fairness to Davies, though, he does make similar points in his other writings on this subject.)

There is also to be considered the Scholastic distinction between that which is necessary absolutely and that which is necessary only by supposition. For example, it is not absolutely necessary that I write this blog post – I could have decided to do something else instead – but on the supposition that I am in fact writing it, it is necessary that I am. Similarly, it is not absolutely necessary that God wills to create just the world He has in fact created, but on the supposition that He has willed to create it, it is necessary that He does. There is this crucial difference between my will and God’s, though: Whereas I, being changeable, might in the course of writing this post change my mind and will to do something else instead, God is immutable, and thus cannot change what He has willed from all eternity to create. In short, since by supposition He has willed to create this world, being immutable He cannot do otherwise; but since absolutely He could have willed to create another world or no world at all, He is nevertheless free.

We might also emphasize a point that, while somewhat tangential to the aspect of divine freedom Bill Vallicella is concerned with, is still crucial to understanding that freedom and very much in the spirit of Davies’ approach. Modern writers, largely under the massive but largely unrecognized influence of Ockham’s voluntarism and nominalism (about which I plan to devote a post in the near future) tend to think of a free will as one that is inherently indifferent to the ends it might choose. But for Thomists, the will of its nature is oriented to the good; even when we do evil, it is always because we mistakenly regard it as at least in some sense good. (I say more about this in chapter 5 of Aquinas.) It is true that in human beings, freely choosing a life of virtue typically involves change, but that is because we have weaknesses to overcome and ignorance about what is truly good that needs to be remedied. And these are not marks of freedom, but rather of its relative absence. God, in whom there is no weakness or ignorance, cannot possibly do evil; and this makes Him, not less free than we are, but more free. Again, this does not speak directly to the issue Bill raises, but it does illustrate how, as Davies emphasizes, properly to understand divine freedom we have to avoid anthropomorphism.


  1. On will as oriented toward good:

    When I teach this I always find it a bit hard to convey Thomas's idea of malice of will. Some of my students press me on why evil doesn't break down into simple ignorance. I've never been happy with my answer to them on this point. Got a silver bullet for me?

    1. @Anonymous See Question 78 of the Summa. Aquinas' reply is that not all sin is from ignorance.

  2. I'm going off the top of my head on this, but I just had an urge to put it this way:

    Absolute-divine-simple (ADS) freedom means that there is no property in any other entity, propositionally or actually, which singularly determines which properties God has in relation to them.

    In creating this world (W1), nothing about it determines that God creates it specifically (as opposed to some other world), nor anything that He creates at all (since it is precisely W1's createdness which signals the alternative of non creation whatsoever).

    An objection might be that at least "some kind of world" (W*) determines the property of God's "being a creator" (G:), but I don't think W* is properly an entity, since its alleged property "making God a creator" (G:W*) is not singular to it apart from the actual existence of the world God actually creates. W* is utterly vacuous without an actual world, since "what a world is" (f(w)) cannot be a property of W* if it has no actual world-features that accord with what is in fact a real-and-genuine world. Far from putting obligations on God, W*'s absolute sheer some-kind-of-ness makes it an unreality, devoid of properties until it can participate in actual world-making properties. We only get W* as a fallout concept from W1, for had God not actually created W1, there would be no W* which entailed G:W*, for His non-creation of W1 would not make any logical room for there being a thing called W*.

    I'm tracking James Ross here insofar as he says actuality grounds modality, not vice versa, despite the wave of popularity modal metaphysics has had for a generation or two. I'm in a thicket and haven't the time to elaborate fully on this, but my hunch is to say that ADS freedom means that, since there is no-thing apart from God's creative power, then there is no property of anything which determines that property. Even saying that the existence of W1 determines in God the property of "having created W1" (G:W1), there is in fact nothing 'to' W1 (aside from its necessitas de suppositione), conceptually or actually, apart from its radical and total inception in the unqualified generative wisdom of God. Were it already "what it is" prior to being created it would not be W1, which is ex suppositione a created entity. Any limits it could place on God's creative powers are only manfestations of the actual properties given it in its act and mode of being-created.

    My main intuition is to say that a fruitful line of quaerens in the ADS debate may be to do analytic work on property-making, rather than necessity per se. I appreciate the feedback of my betters here.


  3. Dr. Feser:

    I have a question regarding your discussion of whether something is necessary absolutely or necessary by supposition. I find myself sympathetic to both A-T and analytic philosophy. So I’m always trying to see how the presuppositions of both compare.

    Are these two kinds of necessity synonymous with ‘necessity de re’ and ‘necessity de dicto,’ respectively? So, for example:

    (1) necessary absolutely = necessity de re

    (2) necessary by supposition = necessity de dicto

  4. How do you square up the philosophical idea that "God is immutable, and thus cannot change what He has willed from all eternity..." with the many Scriptures that seem to claim the opposite?

    There are many Scriptures that tell us that God "changed his mind" about this or that plan, based upon the actions or decisions of people.

    The Calvinists that I know say that these Scriptures are anthropomorphisms, communicating aspects of God in ways that are easier for us humans to understand.

    If these Scriptures ~are~ anthropomorphisms (and isn't all human language about God anthropomorphic to an extent?) then what are they trying to communicate?

    When we are told, for example, that God "relented" from doing something that He had previously said He would do, what are we to make of that in terms of Divine Simplicity and Immutability?

  5. Eusebius: [quoting Plato, The Laws]

    PLATO ‘BUT even if the case were not such as our argument has now proved it to be, if a lawgiver, who is to be of ever so little use, could have ventured to tell any fiction at all to the young for their good, is there any fiction that he could have told more beneficial than this, and better able to make them all do everything that is just, not by compulsion but willingly?

    ‘Truth, O Stranger, is a noble and an enduring thing; it seems, however, not easy to persuade men of it.’

    Now you may find in the Hebrew Scriptures [writes Eusebius] also thousands of such passages concerning God as though He were jealous, or sleeping, or angry, or subject to any other human passions, which passages are adopted for the benefit of those who need this mode of instruction.
    + + +

    IOW, using human analogies.

  6. Surely you're obligated to explain how all of this relates to Whitehead. If you don't offer such an explanation, I shall assume you are terrified of his genius.

  7. *Surely you're obligated to explain how all of this relates to Whitehead. If you don't offer such an explanation, I shall assume you are terrified of his genius.*

    More likely just ignorant of process theology.

  8. From what I see, the main objection to divine simplicity is its apparent incompatibility with divine free will or free choice (liberum arbitrium).

    Five years ago there was an interesting exchange on this, with an Eastern Orthodoxy apologist (Perry Robinson) arguing, as the main supporting point of Palamism against Thomism, that "If God is absolutely simple, the act of will to create is identical to his essence. Since his essence is had by him necessarily, it follows by transitivity that the act of will to create is necessary as well."

    As I see it, what is clear is that God is his own essence and that his essence is his own act of being. But his act of will to create is not the same as his act of being.

    It would be good if you could expand on this point. I've been browsing the online preview of Eleonore Stump's "Aquinas" and she seems to have a really hard time harmonizing divine simplicity and free will (pp 100-101).

    1. When I first started getting into AT, objections like this one were troubling to me. It's worth looking at what Aquinas has to say on the subject. This is my personal summary, but translations of the Summa Theologiae and the Summa Contra Gentiles are freely available online if you want Aquinas' own words or more details.

      According to Aquinas, God is His Essence, which is His Act of Being, which is His Act of Knowledge, which is His Act of Will.

      Now, since God's Act of Knowing/Willing is identical to His Essence, and thus to Him, He has perfect Self-Knowledge and Self-Love. And since He is His Act of Being - since He is Being Itself Existing-in-Itself - He also has a perfect knowledge of being.

      Since the only thing other than "being" is "non-being," it follows that God knows all possible beings - He knows everything that could possibly participate in Being.

      At this stage in the Logic of God's Act, creatures are mere possibilia contemplated by the Divine Intellect. However, insofar as they (would upon creation) participate in being, they also participate in goodness - and thus have an intrinsic tendency towards being objects of God's single Act of Will - ie, since they are good to some extent, God's Act of Will can extend to them. But as finite participations in being/goodness, they do not necessitate the extension of God's Act of Will to themselves.

      The upshot of this is that, insofar as they are/would be good, God's Act of Will can extend to them as objects of will; and insofar as they are limited goods, God's Act of Will doesn't have to extend to them.

      Which entails that, while God's Act of Will is necessary, and while the termination of that Act in God is also necessary (God being Infinitely Good), Its termination in any finite objects cannot be necessary. While God couldn't have failed to have the Act of Will He does have, that Act of Will could have extended to a different set of finite objects, or even to none of them. He really could have done otherwise, and thus He has libertarian freedom.

      Now it is true that God's Act of Will is identical to His Act of Knowledge. But this is where the doctrine of Analogy comes in. When we say that God has an Act of Will and an Act of Knowledge, we don't entirely know how to cash that out. All we can really mean is that the Pure Act that He is is in some way akin to an Act of Knowledge, and in some way akin to an Act of Will.

      Now, since in created things, knowledge and will are distinct, God cannot be analogous to an act of knowledge in precisely the same way that He is analogous to an act of will. In particular, an act of knowledge pertains to its objects as they exist in the knower, while an act of will pertains to its objects as they exist in themselves.

      So when we talk about God's Act of Knowledge, we're talking about God's Pure Act insofar as Its objects are in Him - ie, necessarily, as virtually contained within the Fullness of Being Itself - whereas when we talk His Act of Will, we're talking about His Act insofar as Its objects are in themselves - ie, contingently, as limited goods that add nothing to God's intrinsic perfection.

      In summary, objections to Divine Simplicity based on free will are confused, for they fail to make a distinction between an act and the objects of that act, or else fail to recognize the difference between intellect and will in their respective orders towards their object.

  9. "As I see it, what is clear is that God is his own essence and that his essence is his own act of being. But his act of will to create is not the same as his act of being."

    Fr. Phelan, an existential thomist says much the same thing.

  10. Charles Cherry:

    In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas addresses the topic of God's immutability vis-à-vis creation in many places and basically argues that God's dispositions alter in the mode of revelation as other agents respond favorably or disfavorably to His grace. In other words, He is described as changing since His constant nature manifested in anger when action contrary to it "felt" that resistance, and described as relenting when actions "felt" more in accord with grace. Insofar as Scripture conveys the divine-human interface in revelation, it will describe how God is revealed in various settings based on the agents in those conditions. What it cannot do, paradoxically, is "show" God's immutability, since the very act of articulating it is subject to multiplicity and temporality. Only God (and higher angels) can "see" His immutability, and any creature that could see it would not need the "process" of revelation.

    Imagine I stole my mom's necklace to give to my girlfriend when I was in middle school. Soon thereafter I enter the kitchen to find my dad reading the newspaper and suddenly he looks extremely menacing, even though nothing about Him has changed. It is my relation to his unchanging just character of authority that has changed, and with it, his "revealed" visage. You might think of the way a mountain "moves" on the horizon when we wobble our heads or tear up in a cold wind.

    This is not to say Scripture just records passing personal reflections on God's might-be-suchness, for the claim of divine inspiration is that God Himself "ratifies" and preserves certain insights humans can have into His nature in various circumstances. "THIS is how to see God clearly when you blaspheme His name, or steal, or honor your parents, etc." In any case, it's generally a very bad exegetical rule of thumb to read plainly narrative locutions as being in direct, unblinking contradiction to declarative statements. In the Bible God repeatedly speaks of Himself as being unchanging and constant, theological declarations (axioms, indeed), which must and do trump narrative devices to the contrary.

    A parallel case is God's self-revelation as holy, which He reveals Himself to be over and over again (declaratively). Meanwhile, though, He does "mingle" among the non-holy (humans and their sins), which would suggest (narratively) that He is not holy (qadash, "set apart") after all.

    Even if you deny divine inspiration, it strains the imagination that an ancient author would so blindly contradict himself, a scenario made even more dubious on the assumption of a later redactor (whose role, presumably, was to smooth out and tighten up the loose canonical writings). Assuming divine inspiration a fortiori undermines facile contradictions between God's declared constancy and His diegetic fits of fancy.


  11. Davies is wonderful, Ed. I read his book on the Problem of Evil, and need to get the others you listed. He has also done a marvelous job assembling all the papers of the late Herbert McCabe for publication in several excellent volumes. A new one is due soon.

  12. Dr. Fesser,

    Davies’ argument, like many others, rests on the analogia entis which presupposes or is a consequence of the doctrine of simplicity. To employ how Thomas understands apophatic theology is to beg the question.

    To say that God is free will require more than what you gloss since on the conditions for Libertarian free will, non-free agents can act without any compulsion and there is no contradiction necessarily that follows from one action as opposed to the other.

    I am not sure how Cambridge properties help since the act of will to create is not a Cambridge property.

    The distinction between the two kinds of necessity are irrelevant, since those are distinctions that govern how we must think of the matter in light of simplicity and do not speak to what God is, which is what the objection to simplicity is concerned with. It also begs the question, since the question is, is it necessary for God to create given that his act of will and his act of existence are metaphysically the same thing? To just stipulate the distinction seems to leave the objection untouched since that is an objection grounded in metaphysics.

    Immutability isn’t per se relevant either since the question is not if God could change what he willed, but if what he wills he wills freely or not?

    Indifference is not necessary to a Libertarian conception of freedom as advocates like Maximus the Confessor in his refutation of Monothelitism affirms all the conditions that most Libertarians would write up, but without indifference. His refutation of Monothelitism turns on that conception of LFW. The question then is whether God on Davies’ conception can fulfill the conditions on Libertarian freedom. Is he the source of his action and does he have alternative possibilities open to him?

    If we think of Goodness as simple and one thing, then the AP condition must be abandoned and this is what Thomas does in affirming that alternative possibilities are not necessary to free will, particularly relative to the saints in heaven. So to say that the will is oriented to the Good misses the point, since Thomas’ view, or something like it, will only follow if we accept his view of simplicity. But if the Good is not simple, then the AP condition can be fulfilled and it also be true that the will is naturally oriented to the Good. Nomrinalism has nothing to do with it.

  13. Codgitator,

    Assuming for the sake of argument that some W doesn’t make God a creator since it is vacuous without an actual world, it will not be so relative to the actual world. This it seems is all the objector needs, that such a property is relative to God with this world. After all, the objection is that God is not free relative to the actual world, not every possible world. If God’s act of will to create is the same thing as his act of existence, then why would or could there be a modal difference if there is no metaphysical difference whatsoever?

    To say that there is no property of anything which determines that property would be true on the thesis of Creation ex nihilo, but isn’t that part of what is under question, namely that God creates freely and the world is not necessary? To argue from that to the objection seems to beg the question of whether that concept and the concept of God’s act of existence and will to create are compatible. If the objection is right, then they aren’t since creation is necessary in a panentheistic sense. If not, then it might be possible or it might not.

  14. Acolyte4235 (Perry),

    Is it a property of W1 that it is "necessarily created by God" (P(G:W1))? Is THAT a property God willed in actualiyzing W1? It seems not, since the entire nature of W1 is to have been CREATED by God, not to have been intrinsic to God. Only by asserting that it is a property of W1 that P(G:W1) can you assert that God necessarily created W1, but to assert P(G:W1) is just to beg the question the other way.


  15. Perry: "If God’s act of will to create is the same thing as his act of existence, then why would or could there be a modal difference if there is no metaphysical difference whatsoever?"

    Part of the answer is that God's act of creation only manifests itself in worlds that exist contingently, which means He cannot create worlds which emanate from Him necessarily. Uncreated worlds have no 'contact' with or dependency on the act of God's being. Consequently, it is in no way of the divine essence to create worlds that emanate necessarily from it, and therefore not of God's essence to create. His will to create is eternally compossible with His act of being, but the former act conforms to demands of His singular act of being in a way that nothing created emanates from Him necessarily, for if it did, it would compromise the absolute singularity of His act of being (viz., by introducing composition in Him).

    Now, to be prudent, I want to ask a few orientating questions. It's been a while since I engaged Palamism online so I want to get my bearings without shooting my mouth off.

    1) Does God have an essence (and only one essence)?

    2) Do the divine energies possess this same (divine) essence? Are they, IOW, essentially or only accidentally God's energies?

    2a) If the former, is it not, then, the essence of God to exist in His energies?

    3) Does speaking of the "energies" (plural) introduce real plurality in God? Should we just say the "divine energy" to be safe?

    4) Is there a real distinction in God between the essence and the energy?

    4a) If yes, does this introduce composition in God? If not, why not?

    5) Is creation an act of the divine essence or merely of the energy?


  16. Codgitator,

    Relative to your first post, if there are properties relative to God over which God has no choice, that is something that isn’t of itself problematic on an Augustinian account, or on a great many others. So if it is a consequence that there is some property relative to God’s willing something necessarily that it is not willed necessarily, I can’t see how that is a problem if it is not willed at all. On the other hand, if we move up levels and affirm that it is necessarily willed by God I can’t see why that would be problematic on this view.

    Furthermore, if we assert that it is problematic since the entire nature of W1 is to have been created by God, this seems to be assuming what is on the table, namely that God creates ex nihilo and freely. Is it the nature of W1 that it is created ex nihilo and freely? A Panentheist could easily affirm that such an emanated world was contingent on God and such it might be in the nature of such a world to be dependent and yet eternal.

    You are right that to just assert it is to beg the question the other way, which is why I didn’t take that route but rather drew it as a consequence of the modality of God’s act of will, which is nothing other than God’s act of existence.

  17. Codgitator,

    As to your second post, I agree that if creation ex nihilo is true then God’s act of will is to create is manifested in worlds that exist contingently. But if God’s act of will to create is just his act of existence and the latter exists in all possible worlds, then the act of will to create is manifested in all possible worlds. Is God one act or two? Is God composed with respect to actuality?

    I agree that God cannot create ex nihilo worlds that would emanate form him, but the question is whether there are worlds that emanate from him or not? Emantated worlds do in fact have a dependency relation to the divine essence. Plenty of thinkers have thought so, such as oh…Origen. Emanated worlds are just extensions of the divine essence and so just are the divine act of existence.

    Such emanated worlds would compromise divine simplicity if “created” objects were separate substances. But plenty of Idealists like Berkeley and pantheists like Spinoza or Plotinus didn’t think so. So it doesn’t follow from the thesis of emanated worlds that God could not be simple anymore than it follows from the thesis that God knows a plurality of things that simplicity is false.

    1. Strictly speaking, God does not have an essence nor is an essence, per Maximus, but transcends essence and existence itself. (Hence you could call this Maximianism rather than Palamism.) Essence with respect to God functions as a kind of linguistic place holder a la Dionysius.

    2. The energies are energies of the essence, like heat is of fire. They are second actualities. They are neither essential or accidental since energy occupies a place between essence and accident. This is way of framing things can be found in late Platonism as well as a number of the Fathers.

    2a. Not applicable.

    3. Yes and no. Real in so far as the energies are not reducible to each other without remainder. No in so far as the scholastic usage of “real” would imply separability. All of the many logoi are in and of the one Logos.

    4. Yes and no, yes in the previous articulated sense and no in the previous articulated sense.

    4a. Not all plurality entails composition. Plurality in the Trinity does not entail composition. Plural acts of mine do not make me a plural person either. Plural acts of God do not make many Gods. “My Father is working and I am working also…” implies that they are the same God since they are doing the same activity or have the same energy.

    5. There are no acts of essences since essence do no acts. Persons act. Energies are actions of the persons.

    Here’s are some questions of mine own. What is an operation? Are operations *metaphysically* the same as the essence from which they are or no? Are all operations metaphysically the same in God or no? Are the divine operations God or something created?

  18. Dr. Feser (or anyone else),

    Can you recommend a book that sums up the various Christian philosophies (Palamism, Thomism, Scotism, Calvinism, etc.) in an unbiased way?

    For us beginners, such a tool would be extremely useful.

    Thank you.

  19. Perry,

    Thanks for the reply.

    Here are some things I don't get.

    You say, [A] "Strictly speaking, God does not have an essence nor is an essence ... but transcends essence and existence itself.... Essence with respect to God functions as a kind of linguistic place holder a la Dionysius."

    And then: [B] "The energies are energies of the essence.... They are second actualities. They are neither essential or accidental since energy occupies a place between essence and accident."

    Then: [C] "There are no acts of essences since essence do no acts. Persons act. Energies are actions of the persons."

    I'm not being sophistical here, but I see serious equivocations running all over these replies. In [A] you deny essence has any 'place' in God but then assert, in [B], that his being in the energies are actualities of the essence. Whose essence? What essence? In the same way, you first assert, in [B], that the energies are actualities of the essence, but then, in [C], deny there are any acts of essence at all. I've already admitted I'm too stupid to follow all the depths of mystical theology, but I'm addressing what strikes me as simple verbal incoherence here. Do you see my confusion as legitimate?

    In any case, you make the good point that "Plurality in the Trinity does not entail composition. Plural acts of mine do not make me a plural person either. Plural acts of God do not make many Gods."

    I read this to say that plural acts of God are unified in the simplicity of God as Trinity. His plural acts neither decompose (fracture) Him nor multiply Him as God. That last (bolded) clause I cited ties in very well with what Thomistic non-composition (of God) is trying to express. God's essence is his own act of existing and this is identical with his act of creating, but in a legitimately plural way which does not collapse the latter into the former at the expense of the equally absolute act of God's freedom qua aseity (i.e., non-dependence on anything else). It seems you keep forgetting that the doctrine of divine simplicity is based on the unity of plural actualities in God and presupposes such plurality in the very act of unifying them. It seems to me that you often read the doctrine as saying that there is just one act of God to which Western theology tacks on other 'acts', as a confused nod to Scripture and Tradition. But in fact the entire point is that in the very process of delineating the plural actualities of God, divine simplicity presents them as the unique actuality of the one necessarily singular God. To recognize what God is and to recognize His actualities is eo ipso to recognize them all as the acts of God, who is one. Divine simplicity does not paper over the plurality of act in God, but states it in a way that befits the singularity of God.


  20. Perry:

    To continue along the line of unified plurality in God's simplicity, I would like to remind everyone (?) here that the dogma of Creation belongs in the larger doctrine of God's essential self-willing.

    The only thing God wills essentially is His own Being and-- or which to say--His own Goodness, a 'desire' I shall call D(G). This is what 'drives' the perichoresis: God loving Himelf in the plurality of His own Persons and the Persons loving each other as a single God (as a single pure act of existing). God has a plenitude of 'options' for fulfilling D(G), ranging from eternal triune plenitude without creation (D(G:G)) to eternal triune plenitude "shared with" any of the many possible creations (D(G:W*)). Neither creating nor creating increases nor diminishes D(G), which is just God's perfectly efficacious pure act of aseity, and therefore neither creating nor creating is essential to God. Yet neither is removable from God in the actuality of whichever one He does will in willing D(G).

    This not only satisfies the conception of God's willing among a pluralized Good--and therefore shows Him to be free in a genuine but non-deliberative way--, but also reconciles how God's actual act of creating (D(G:W1)) does not compromise His aseity (D(G:G)). After all, D(G:W1) no more--or, if you like, no less--composes God's one pure act of existing than does D(G:G). For in creating, God still fulfills (D(G)), but happens to do so in one among many good ways (D(G:*)). We can't say that D(G:G) is "better than" D(G:W*), unless we are prepared to grant the argument from evil in whole. The totality of existence is ultimately and fundamentally good, even with the evil we know and do in W1, since the actuality of all being finds its rest in the one act of God's simple D(G). I take the core of D(G) to be that all that is participates in God's being as fully as possible in its proper mode of existence. It just happens to be the case that God willed this participatory goodness to take the form of G:W1. Hence it strikes me as artificial a reading of divine simplicity to say that, "since God did create W1"--which is indeed wholly one with His pure act of existence insofar as His pure act of existence satisfies D(G)--, "therefore He had no choice but to create W1," as it would be to say that, "had God not created, He would have had no choice but not to create."



    "...therefore neither creating nor not creating is essential to God."

  22. Codgitator,

    I am not equivocating or at least I don’t take myself to be doing so. When I say I use “essence” with respect to God as a place holder, in principle I am not doing anything different than Latin writers when they speak of the divine essence as distinguished from the Triad of persons or from the act of existence that is said essence. It’s a way of speaking. When Latin writers for example speak of God as having an essence, that is strictly speaking false and so they aren’t involved in linguistic legerdemain anymore than I am. So much the more is true when Dionysius or Maximus or John of Damascus speak of the divine essence and then say that it is beyond being or essence in any sense whatsoever.

    The energies are of the essence in so far as they are not “cut off” or separate substances. The notion of how energies relate to an essence has a long history in Platonism long before Christian writers utilized the distinction. The energies are of the essence in so far as the persons bring their essential power to act. Here at work is the distinction between first actuality and second actuality. In the Trinity there are no anhypostatic energies or activities. This is what it means to say that there are no acts of the divine essence.

    If I speak of energies of the essence and say that the energies are of the essence, this does not imply any inconsistency, except if you take all meaningful talk to be referential. If God ad intra is beyond being, then as I said, essence is a place holder for talking about God. Certainly Latin writers do something similar since when they speak of the divine essence they are using that term in a highly refined sense, unless of course you wish to claim that saying that God has an essence or is an essence, implies that the essence is logically antecedent to the divine persons or that essence means only and always what it means when one speaks of the essence of created things. Both of these are obviously false.

    I deny that they are acts of an essence since essence aren’t persons. If they were, either Trinitarianism would imply Modalism or Tri-theism.

    We do not disagree that the plural acts of God are unified in simplicity. We disagree over what simplicity amounts to and what the plural acts amount to. Following Maximus, simplicity itself is an energy. I don’t think you mean that. And I don’t think you mean to suggest that in simplicity there is a metaphysical difference between activities that are deity, at least Thomas doesn’t.

    I grant that for Thomas, God’s one act has many created effects, but I am not speaking of the divine energies as created effects, but uncreated activities that are metaphysically plural.

    I understand what Thomas means by saying that God’s act of existence is his essence, but since I think God is not being the notion of actus purus is not what I have in mind. This is why for the Orthodox there is no beatific vision as taught by Maximus, John of Damascus or even Latins like John Scottus Erugena. If we meant the same thing, then the notion of the beatific vision wouldn’t be verboten in Orthodox theology.

    When you say that the doctrine of simplicity in a Thomistic context is based on the unity of plural actualities, I must take you to mean that said actualisties are created effects. But as I said, the doctrine of the energies denies that the energies are created effects. So I am not forgetting the idea that one works back from created and compositionally plural entities to a simple creator. I think rather you haven’t grasped what I am talking about with respect to the energies.

  23. (cont.)

    If you think that Thomas takes God to be actus purus and that there are many metaphysically different acts in God that are God, please explain the kind of metaphysical distinction you think Thomas admits is operative in this case. For my reading, Thomas says there is no metaphysical difference whatsoever.

    I don’t think I’ve glossed the Latin tradition as tacking on other acts, but rather have said that the one divine act has many created effects. God’s speaking to Moses, just is God speaking to Abraham qua act. One eternal act has many different created effects. I’ve represented Thomas and other Scholastics in just this way for years.

    You write that the point is that in the very process of delineating the plural actualities of God, simplicity presents them as the unique actuality of the one necessarily singular God. Well, are these actualities deity? If so, are they epistemically distinct or metaphysically distinct? If the former, then the point has been made, namely that they are all one and the same actuality that is God and not many different actualities.

    I don’t think you go far enough in saying that to recognize what God is and to recognize his actualities is eo iposo to recognize them all as the acts of God who is one. If one were to recognize God, one would see that they aren’t different actualities at all, but only appear to be so due to our cognitive limitations since we garner our concepts from composed objects and hence lack a single concept that maps deity. If on the other hand you think that these acts are deity and are metaphysically plural, again, what kind of metaphysical distinction do you take to be operative here? If God were many different acts on Thomas’ view, then there would need to be a cause antecedent to them to unify them which would deny that God is the first cause.

    I agree that Thomas asserts that God wills his own being essentially, but what Thomas asserts is not at issue and never has been. What is at issue is whether there is a distinction between God’s act of existence and his act of willing other things. If God is one act, what kind of metaphysical distinction is working here? If none, then there is no distinction to be had.

    God could only will among a pluralized good if the good were already logically speaking pluralized, but the Good is not logically prior to creation. Second, on the Orthodox take, the Good is not so much pluralized as there are in fact plural goods that are the one God. If willing to create is not intrinsic to God’s act to create, then it is extrinsic to it. But this only works in terms of creatures related to God via efficient causation and not God’s relation to himself qua being. If God’s act of existence just is his willing and the former is necessary then so is the latter since they are not different acts.

  24. Perry,

    As always, you've given me much to ponder and I appreciate your generous, even explications of the relevant dispute(s). Not only because the school year is wrapping up here, but also because I've got much else on the range top, I'll need to bow out of this thread. Keep on glorifying Christ in word and in deed.