The Formulation Of Thomistic Simplicity: Mapping Aquinas’s Method For Configuring God’s Essence -- By: Paul Maxwell

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 57:2 (Jun 2014)
Article: The Formulation Of Thomistic Simplicity: Mapping Aquinas’s Method For Configuring God’s Essence
Author: Paul Maxwell


The Formulation Of Thomistic Simplicity:
Mapping Aquinas’s Method For Configuring God’s Essence

Paul Maxwell*

* Paul Maxwell is a Ph.D. student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 2065 Half Day Road, Deerfield, IL 60015.

I. Introduction

The traditional method used to conceive the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity (DDS) is propelled by “the necessity of denying that any of the distinctions that help us discern created realities can possibly help us when our subject is the One who is the cause of all being.”1 The task of this article is to map the method of Thomas Aquinas in formulating the DDS, since it is commonly held that “the doctrine of God’s simplicity reaches the zenith of expression and sophistication in the thought of Thomas Aquinas.”2 Thomas explains, “In every simple thing, its being and that which it is are the same. For if the one were not the other, simplicity would be removed.…However, God is absolutely simple. Hence, in God, being good is not anything distinct from him; he is his goodness.”3

There is no doubt that Thomas places a high philosophical and theological premium on the DDS. Yet scholars remain divided as to whether the DDS is a good and necessary consequence of God’s absoluteness, or a methodological commitment to the disciplinary autonomy of philosophy.

The task of this article, then, more specifically stated, is to trace the philosophical tools and methodological contours of Thomas’s construction of the DDS, including his use of Aristotle, his use of Scripture, and his doctrine of analogy.4 We

will have to stipulate a few categories to help us classify ways that Thomas could have used his sources, and they are as follows: (1) Constructionism: The use of reason alone to formulate one’s doctrine of God and/or one of his attributes; (2) Receptionism: The use of Scripture alone to formulate one’s doctrine of God and/or one of his attributes; (3) Compositional Constructionism: The use of Scripture and reason to formulate one’s doctrine of God and/or one of his attributes, giving a methodological priority to reason; (4) Compositional Receptionism: The use of Scripture and reason to formulate one’s doctrine of God and/or one of his attributes, giving a methodological priority to Scripture.

We will find, despite much debate over how to classify Thomas’s theological method, that (1) with special...

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