Divine Simplicity and the Trinity?

How can God be ultimately simple while involving three distinguishable persons?

Where is it written anywhere that God is “ultimately simple”?


Or, for that matter, what does the word “simple” even mean?

I cannot think of ANYTHING in the physical world that could be called “simple.” Water is “simple” but also profoundly complex, and no modern physicist would claim that we really understand water. The nature of the individual hydrogen and oxygen atoms are mostly unknown, and the interaction of these atoms into the chemical molecule known as “water” are mostly unknown. We have put a man on the moon, and safely returned him to earth (in a water-splashdown), but we cannot say, with any reasonable degree of certainty, what WATER is.

If the best modern science cannot tell us what WATER is (and barely scratch the surface of such knowledge), how can we expect to understand what GOD is? Water OUGHT to be simple (and, for a long time, it was thought to be simple), but we have found that it is complex. God OUGHT to be complex - why would we expect God to be simple? And, even if God was simple, why would we expect to understand God any better than we understand water?

So you disagree with the Fourth Lateran Council, which in its first canon declared God to be “absolutely simple”?


If it has no humanly comprehensible meaning to declare that God is simple or a trinity, then isn’t theology as a subject one big word salad?

Perhaps this will help:
An analogy for the Holy Trinity

Did you even bother to read the document that you linked?

The only sense in which it speaks of the simplicity of God is in the context of all the persons of the Trinity being one in their Divine Nature. One nature, three persons. The rest of your question seems to be nothing more than and effort to try to catch people up in your twisting of out of context terms.

The problem, as I see it, is that the three persons are not equivalent. So, for example, it is correct to say that the Father begets the Son. It is not correct to say that the Son begets the Father. If they were equivalent, those two would be interchangeable.

But in order for divine simplicity to hold, God must be his attributes, and they must be the same. So God’s unity is his power is his knowledge is his eternality, etc. and vice versa. They are absolutely identical in a way that the persons of the trinity are not.

That’s the problem and it’s not a trick and I’m honestly a little surprised at the defensive reaction I’m getting here. I didn’t think claiming divine simplicity would be so controversial on a Catholic website, considering that it was from a Catholic theologian that I Iearned the idea.

You have not named or cited this theologian (perhaps, if you did, we could understand your question better).

You ask a question based on the premise that God is “simple.” You do not define what that means. You later infer that “simple” means that, if God is a Trinity, that all three parts must be identical. That means God would really be a unity, divided into three identical parts (much as we would divide a liter of water into thirds), with no distinction between them.

I agree that this would be a more “simple” understanding of God than the Catholic Trinity. But we don’t understand WHY you suppose that God OUGHT TO BE simple in the first place, and why you suppose the three parts must be indistinguishable from each other.

You are not encountering hostility - you are encountering confusion. Help us help you by asking a better question.

That theologian was Edward Feser, but he was only citing Anselm and Aquinas. And part of what it means for God to be simple is that he doesn’t have parts. The idea was that if God had parts or distinguishable attributes, then God would be dependent on those parts. Then God would no longer be the metaphysically necessary being that the cosmological argument relies on.

That’s why God is his attributes (no division allowed between form and substance), that’s why his attributes are all the same thing, and that’s what the trinity might violate by being non-interchangeable.

Ah, that is a MUCH better question. I am familiar with Feser, but not with his outlook on this particular topic (the one book I have of his does not mention it). But I understand the philosophy.

The philosophical framework is based on the “2X2 existence matrix.” An existence must be:

*]Possible but not Necessary (such as unicorns and us)
*]Impossible and not Necessary (such as square circles)
*]Impossible and necessary (a logical contradiction - no such thing is possible)
*]Possible and necessary (only God can fulfill this role)

If an existence is “necessary,” it must logically be eternal. It must also be unchanging (if something is “necessary” and it changed, we would no longer be that necessary thing, because it changed). It cannot HAVE any property - it must BE whatever property it possesses (thus, we say that God IS love, not that God HAS love. Everyone HAS love, to one degree or another, but only God IS love).

So, I understand the philosophy. But I do not understand why this is contradictory to the idea of the Divine Trinity.

In fact, I propose that, if we accept the premise that “God is love,” we MUST accept the Trinity (or, at least, the duality of the Father/Son). If God is eternal, then God existed for an eternity before Creation (and us). Was God love for that eternity (or did he “become” love once he created Creation"? If God was “love” “before” creation, then WHAT did God love? Himself???

If God loved ONLY himself “before” there was anything else to love, then God is capable ONLY of self-love (in Greek, ego). If we suppose that God ALSO loves us, that’s fine, but it is the same “love” that an artist has for his painting. It is a passing thing, and certainly did not exist before the foundation of Creation.

Love must have something to love, and perfect love is reciprocated (meaning the lover loves the beloved, and vice-versa). If “God is love” then God must HAVE an eternal presence to love, and this presence must love him in equal measure.

God is defined by love. It is not self-love. The love that the Father has for the Son (and all of us) is an entity which we call the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity was stolen from the Indian Vedic Trinity of which Chrishna (Krishna) is the the third person and Christ. He was born of the Virgin Maia, was raced to Egyot to avoid the slaying of infants by the evil king Cansa, returned to India at age 12 and his first miracle was to change water to wine.

Jerome, who compiled the NT at the end of the 4th CAD on instruction from Damasus, the Bishop of Rome (there was no pope until 7th CAD). He wrote in his diaries and letters of how he took the writings from around the empire and decided on what sounded the best and incorporated them in it. One who had access to this material was Fray José who was appointed by Phillip II of Spain to write of the life of Jerome. His work is available in most libraries and it is from there that I recovered these details.

Jerome’s diary is in my local National library and is full of interesting stuff for anyone who cares to read it. The Catholic Church was established by Constantine in 325 AD and he invented Jesus Christ, as told in Revelation 13:13-18. He is the one numbered 666.

God is one and there is no one else, according to Isaiah 45:4-8. The Spirit alone creates the good and the evil, which you can see if you read the reference. The Roman conspiracy is spelled out in Ezekiel 22:25,26 and relates the lies of those who claim to speak for God.


I would have to read up on the topic to give a worthy answer, but I would imagine that Aquinas and Anselm, whom you mention as asserting divine simplicity, did not believe that the Trinity contradicted the notion, so you might start with them.

Likewise, the fathers of the Fourth Lateran Council were undoubtedly aware of the teachings of their predecessors at Nicaea and Constantinople when they promulgated a teaching on divine simplicity, so it is unlikely they meant to contradict the Trinity.

David seems to have been thinking of simple and complex in terms of comprehensibility initially, which is not, I think, what the doctrine of divine simplicity refers to. God is not entirely comprehensible even to the blessed in Heaven, yet He is simple in composition.

As far as the internal relations of the Trinity are concerned, I know that the whole point of the doctrine is that those relations are the only distinguishing thing between the Persons. They are not distinguishable “parts” of God. They don’t split up His attributes or activities between them in some way (even if we sometimes speak as though they do, as with the Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier “job titles”). In terms of “Godness,” the Persons are indeed identical and indistinguishable. The only thing that distinguishes them is their relations with each other. The Father begets the Son and the Spirit proceeds (in the Western formulation) from the other two, or at least (in the Eastern formulation) from the Father. But there is no way for anyone outside of God to know about the internal relationships of God without God revealing their existence specifically. In substance and nature God remains One without parts or mechanisms or anything to render Him other than utterly simple.


The statement that God is simple refers to the nature of his being—that is, that he is not composed of parts. Because he has no parts, he has no extension in space or time. He is a purely spiritual being. His attributes are equivalent to his essence. We say that God is love. We can also say that God is mercy; God is justice; God is omniscience, with respect to every attribute of God.

The human soul is also a spiritual substance, not composed of parts. That is why it survives separation from the body at death. Yet we refer to two distinct faculties of the soul: intellect and will. Using these faculties of our soul, we are able to know and to love, to intellectually apprehend reality, and to make choices.

Let’s make an analogy with God. A human being, using his intellect, can know himself.

He can never know himself perfectly, though. He can’t know the state of every atom, every molecule, in his body, at any instant. He can’t apprehend the complexity of his psychological makeup perfectly. So his knowledge of himself is imperfect.

God’s knowledge, however, is perfect and complete. God knows all things, including himself. God’s knowledge of himself is perfect and complete. You might, with analogy to human knowledge, say that from all eternity, God forms a perfect idea of himself.

God’s idea of himself is so perfect that there is nothing lacking in his idea of himself. Everything in the subject is present in the idea—including the aspect of personhood. From all eternity, God (whom we can now call the Father) generates a perfect idea of himself, perfectly including every aspect, including personhood. We call this the Word, or Son.

Both Father and Son totally possess the one divine nature, which, being simple, can not be divided. But each is a Person.

The human soul can both know and love. So can God. The Father and Son love each other, generating a love so perfect that it also does not lack the aspect of personhood. This is the Holy Spirit.

Through the divine intellect, the Son is eternally generated. Through the divine will or the movement of divine love, the Holy Spirit is eternally generated. And the substance of the divine nature remains one being, expressed as three Persons.

I accuse myself of dark absence of knowledge to be cordial to all of those who have posted. Consider this as just straw, it amounts to that by which is the amount, which is the experience of the reader. If that sounded simple, amounts…the amount, we have a possible proposition to express the simplicity of three persons on the account of experience. It reads like a fools dark mind, but I say it is with authority that reason consists in its expression. For Thomas Aquinas said that reason consists in rule and command. Hence, the necessity of authority. I have no authority over any of you, but do you accept my reason? If I were love itself, I could give grace to love my attributes as I am loved by my own. And if my reasons fell short, at your least in your trials you could love me.

This falls into the science of ontology. Therewith a soul could discover the explanations of an uncaused cause, the context that would inhibit creation out of nothing.

I would ask NowHearThis, does he or she believe that an omnipotent God can create out of nothing and still exist as his own being.

[quote="JimG]The statement that God is simple refers to the nature of his being.

The statement does indeed fall into the realm of ontology. A human soul, is of course, limited and spiritual. God is infinite spirit. God’s intellect is omnipotent, man’s is not. The intellect of a limited human soul is not capable of infinite knowing.

Not only that, but human intellect must begin with input from the senses. God’s knowledge is immediate and innate.

Consider the ultimate simplicity of “God is.”
In any proposal of what or who God is, there will be three distinguishable persons that are exactly the proposal of what or who God is declared to be.
The first person is he that always ‘is.’
The second person is he that although always ‘is,’ is perceived by another as not always ‘is.’
The third person is he that became always ‘is.’

Perhaps a simpler example to follow would be: God is the person who is always loving.
There are three persons that are the person who is always loving:
The first person is the one who is always loving.
The second person is the one who although is always loving, is perceived by another as not always loving.
The third person is the one who becomes always loving.

Thanks for sharing such a great question! I look forward to further discussion!

It should be noted that all three Persons of the Trinity are co-eternal. While our theological descriptions of the Trinity describing a procession of persons makes it sound like something that occurs over time, (first a, then b, then c) it is not. The procession of persons in the Trinity does not occur in time because God does not occupy time. It is eternal. (And eternal does not mean an infinite progression of time!)

Then God is made of different parts (the Father and Son are different enough to avoid self-love), therefore dependent on those parts, therefore contingent and not necessary. Moreover, the Father and Son are not perfect, for each has something the other lacks (or else they’d be completely the same and one thing, not two).

The above is completely contrary to Church teaching and has no logical basis.

The simplicity that St Thomas Aquinas uses to describe God cannot be true simultaneously with God having parts. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not parts, they coeternal persons.

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