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Divine simplicity

From Academic Kids

In theology, the doctrine of divine simplicity says that God is without parts.

In Christian thought

In Christian thought, the importance of the concept is that God as a simple being is not divisible, and thus, he is present in his entirety everywhere that he is present, if he is present anywhere. In light of this idea, Thomas Aquinas wrote that, because God is infinitely simple, he can only appear to the finite mind as though he were infinitely complex. This doctrine also helps keep trinitarianism from drifting or morphing into polytheism, belief in multiple distinct Gods.

See also: Trinity

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In Jewish thought

In Jewish philosophy and in Jewish mysticism Divine Simplicity is adressed via discussion of the attributes (תוארים) of God, particularly by Jewish philosophers within the Arab sphere of influence such as Saadia Gaon, Bahya ibn Paquda, Yehuda Halevi, and Maimonides, as well by Raabad III in Provence. In all of these writings, the concept of Divine Unity informs the understanding of Divine Simplicity. Bahya ibn Paquda (Duties of the Heart 1:8 (http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/mahshevt/hovot/1a-2.htm)) points out that God's Oneness is "true oneness" (האחד האמת) as opposed to merely "circumstantial oneness" (האחד המקרי). He develops this idea to show that an entity which is truly one must be free of properties and thus indescribable (and unlike anything else). Additionally such an entity would be absolutely unsubject to change, as well as utterly independent and the root of everything [1] (http://www.torah.org/learning/spiritual-excellence/classes/doh-1-8.html). The implication is so strong that the two concepts are often presented as synonymous:

"God is not two or more entities, but a single entity of a oneness even more single and unique than any single thing in creation... He cannot be sub-divided into different parts - therefore, it is impossible for Him to be anything other than one. It is a positive commandment to know this, for it is written (Deuteronomy 6:4) '...the Lord is our God, the Lord is one'." (Maimonides, Mishnah Torah, Mada 1:7 (http://www.panix.com/~jjbaker/MadaYHT.html)).

Despite its apparent simplicity, this concept is recognised as raising many difficulties. Divine simplicity entails a dichotomy, arising out of our inability to comprehend the idea of absolute unity:

  • On the one hand, God is absolutely simple, containing no element of form or structure, as above.
  • On the other hand, it is understood that His essence contains every possible element of perfection: "The First Foundation is to believe in the existence of the Creator, blessed be He. This means that there exists a Being that is perfect (complete) in all ways and He is the cause of all else that exists." (Maimonides 13 principles of faith, First Principle (http://members.aol.com/LazerA/13yesodos.html)). The dichotomy arises here in that God's simplicity does not allow for any structure - even conceptually.

The resultant paradox is famously articulated by Moshe Chaim Luzzatto: “God’s existence is absolutely simple, without combinations or additions of any kind. All perfections are found in Him in a perfectly simple manner. However, God does not entail separate domains – even though in truth there exist in God qualities which, within us, are separate... Indeed the true nature of His essence is that it is a single attribute, (yet) one that intrinsically encompasses everything that could be considered perfection. All perfection therefore exists in God, not as something added on to His existence, but as an integral part of His intrinsic identity... This is a concept that is very far from our ability to grasp and imagine..." (Derekh Hashem I:1:5 (http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/mahshevt/mekorot/1a-2.htm))

The Kabbalists address this paradox by explaining that “God created a spiritual dimension… [through which He] interacts with the Universe... It is this dimension which makes it possible for us to speak of God’s multifaceted relationship to the universe without violating the basic principle of His unity and simplicity” (Aryeh Kaplan, Innerspace). The Kabbalistic approach is explained in various Chassidic writings; see for example, Shaar Hayichud, below, for a detailed discussion.

See also: Tzimtzum; Negative theology; Jewish principles of faith; Free will In Jewish thought; Kuzari

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