What is Divine Simplicity?

We Are Reformed

The doctrine of divine simplicity, as understood in reformed theology, states that God is without any parts or properties, and that his attributes are identical to his essence and distinct in different senses. This means that God is not composed of physical or metaphysical parts, and that all of his attributes are identical to his being.

Reformed theologians such as John Calvin, Francis Turretin, and Charles Hodge affirm this doctrine in their writings. Calvin writes in his Institutes of the Christian Religion: “God is called simple in respect of his nature, because he is entire and complete in every part of himself” 1.

Turretin in his Institutes of Elenctic Theology: “God is simple, that is, not composed of parts but entirely simple and indivisible, having in himself all perfection, and no composition either of matter and form or of genus and species or of potentiality and act” 2.

Hodge in his Systematic Theology: “The perfection of God, as to his essence and attributes, is such that he is not composite, but simple; not divisible into parts, but indivisible; not capable of increase or diminution, but unchangeable” 3.

It is worth noting that the doctrine of divine simplicity is not universally accepted among all Christian theologians and philosophers, some have debated the coherence and consistency of the doctrine and some have rejected it.

Ultimately, Divine Simplicity is an attempt by fallen man to add understanding in very simple terms of who God is. This simplified explanation is not an attempt to downplay His greatness, but rather to highlight how incapable we are to really explain who God is.

  1. Institutes of the Christian Religion I.13.1 []
  2. Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Vol 1, Q7, §1 []
  3. Systematic Theology, Vol 1, §4 []