Absolute Simplicity: Q & A

This is from an older blog, but I thought it worth reposting here.  I hold to the doctrine of simplicity virtualiter, ala Charles Hodge.   The below is more of an attack on the Thomist doctrine of simplicity.  My original interlocutor was a rabid fan of Ron Paul.  I don’t feel like switching the names for time reasons.

Plato’s works are more popular, if longer, than Aristotle’s because they are written in conversational format. I will give it a try.

Ron Paulite for the Republic (RPR): I don’t get why you always talk about “absolute divine simplicity” when we could be exposing the FED and beating up on Arminians.

Triadic: (Tr): Priorities. If there is a problem in our Triadology and understanding of reality, then it will manifest itself in every area of life.

RPR: You said “Triadology.” What do you mean by that?

Tr: Triadology is a specific way to speak about the Trinity. More importantly, it explores the implications of Trinitarian belief.

RPR: Could you expound on that?

Tr: Sure. St Gregory of Nazianzus, a man whom all Christian traditions hold as either a great saint and/or a great teacher, said that if you make a mistake in one area of Trinitarian belief, it will come out in every area, including those of politics and culture.

RPR: That makes sense, I guess. Since we are having this conversation, you seem to think I have a mistake in my Triadology?

Tr: That’s for you to find out. My point is that trying to have the better government or economics, without fixing the problems within, is pointless.

RPR: Care to elaborate?

Tr: It does no good to “rail against the evils of the Hegelian dialectic” when you have just as robust a dialectic within your own system.

RPR: That’s an argumentum ad elenchio!

TR (to himself): ???? (To RPR): Don’t use Latin words unless you know what they mean. We’ll see if I can demonstrate step by step what I am saying. First of all, do you know what absolute divine simplicity (ADS) is?

RPR: Isn’t it the doctrine that God isn’t made up of parts?

TR: That’s the doctrine of simplicity, which all Christian traditions uphold. The doctrine of ADS says that God is so simple, his essence is simple and one to the degree, that it admits, not only of no parts, but of no distinctions. In other words, God’s essence is his power, his will, his love, his wrath.

RPR: Meaning…

TR: Think of simplicity as a big “=” sign. God’s essence = God’s love = God’s wrath.

RPR: That’s not a big problem. Isn’t God so holy that his wrath is pure, like his love, and so can’t they function similarly?

TR: That’s an interesting suggestion, but we’ll have to discuss it later. My argument is that given ADS, God’s simplicity is so strong that it admits of no distinctions; yet, the Christian faith argues for three persons in the Godhead. My question is whether ADS can sustain this.

RPR: You’ve thrown out a lot of philosophical jargon. I want to see if you can back it up.

TR: Okay. The Western tradition is Augustinian, right?

RPR: Okay.

TR: Augustine drew from Plotinus, right (City of God, Book VIII)?

RPR: Yes, Augustine did say that.

TR: Didn’t Plotinus posit the One as a completely Simple Entity that is all there is (Enneads, 1:3:1; 6:9)

RPR: Yes, it seems Plotinus did say that.

TR: Here we have a problem. On one hand we have “The One” as unity throughout with all philosophical categories not applying to it; yet, on the other hand we find ourselves talking about it. How can we speak of the One–know the one–if it is utter unity?

RPR: You tell me.

TR: Plotinus says we know The One by means of the dialectic, which is clarifying a term by comparing it to its opposite (Enneads 1:10).

RPR: I told you not to read Hegel back into Augustine!

TR: I just quoted from Plotinus. If you are seeing Hegelian connections, well and good. We’re not done with the One, yet. While Plotinus knows the One by dialectic, the One’s simplicity and unity is so strong that it swallows up these distinctions.

RPR: So?

TR: this was the problem Aquinas saw when he dealt with Augustine’s triadology. He saw that Augustine’s view of simplicity was so strong that he couldn’t logically posit three persons of the Godhead (see Augustine’s letter to Nebridius, found in Letham on page 164, I think ). Therefore, Aquinas, in good neo-platonic tradition (see Milbank), identifies and distinguishes the persons as “relations of opposition.”

RPR: Well, who cares what Augustine says? I follow the Bible!

TR: No tradition, eh? So you’re a Baptist?

RPR: That’s uncalled for? There is no point insulting people in a debate? Let’s not say things we can’t take back.

TR: My apologies. The baptist remark was unnecessary. However, you want to define sola scriptura, you do realize that everyone draws upon a tradition, and even if this tradition is not authoritative like the Bible, it cannot merely be dismissed, either.