In Eastern Orthodox Christianity the doctrine of Divine simplicity is largely rejected. However, the east does provide western theologians with some helpful distinctions that may help defend the doctrine of divine simplicity with a few areas of alleged incoherence. In this blog we will use the essence/energies distinction and the person/nature distinction to defend the doctrine of divine simplicity.
*Person/Nature and Divine Simplicity*
These propositions are found incoherent by a number of objectors to the doctrine of divine simplicity:
P1: In God’s essence there are no distinctions (Divine Simplicity)
P2: In God’s essence there are three distinct persons (Trinity)
C: The conjunction of P1 & P2 is necessarily false
In eastern christian thought (Eastern Orthodoxy) the persons are distinct from the nature; this is called the person nature distinction. The person is not an instantiation of a nature nor is it a nature. On the other hand, a nature has properties such that each property is an instantiation of a universal. Now that we have this distinction in mind let us apply it to the doctrine of divine simplicity. If we say that the persons are distinct but not separate from the essence/nature of God then it seems like the contradiction goes away. This is because the doctrine of divine simplicity is *only* about the essence of God ad intra and not about things distinct from it (like persons and actions).
In addition, this is also helpful to defend other objections against divine simplicity like this: “if one says that there is no distinction in God then God’s libertarian free will (being able to create or not create) is the same as his justice, mercy, and reason. If this is then true then perhaps God could voluntaristically will to be just or unjust. And this is clearly absurd.” (Michael Garten from Well of Questions gave me a response like this once). However, if one holds to this person/nature distinction as I have suggested then one could say that the wills are located in the persons. In which case you could say that God does not have the option to libertarianly will to be immoral or something that is logically contradictory since this will is not in his essence but in the persons.
*Essence/Energies and Divine Simplicity*
These propositions are found incoherent by a number of objectors to the doctrine of a contingent creation and divine simplicity:
S1: In God’s essence there is no distinction (Divine Simplicity)
S2: God creates from his essence by which there is no distinction
S3: God’s essence is necessary
S4: If S1, S2, and S3 are true then Creation is necessary
S5: It is false that creation is necessary
C: Divine Simplicity is false (S1)
The essence/energies distinction teaches that there is a distinction between God’s essence ad intra and his actions (the actions are called energies). Therefore, with this distinction in hand one can easily reject S2 and still hold that God’s essence ad intra is fundamentally simple or without any sort of distinction. This is even more helpful when one thinks that the will is located in the persons then one might argue that the person is the one that makes the decision to create or not create rather than putting this sort of deliberation in the essence that might lead to some sort of emanationism.
We have seen from this post that if one puts certain Eastern Orthodox distinctions at work in the doctrine of divine simplicity then one might be able to defend it with a lot more ease and confidence.
If one wants to find information on the Eastern Orthodox teaching of person/nature and the essence/energies distinction then consult either Well of Questions Or Energetic Processions (Both links to these blogs are found on our " blog list" to the right).