Category Archives: Simplicity

I AM WHO AM – Ex. 3:14

-by Parker Manning

“Defenders of divine simplicity often say that God is existence itself, and that God’s essence and existence are the same. What does this mean? Let’s break it down.

When we talk about the essence of God, we mean what God is. So God’s essence being equal to existence is just another way of saying that God is existence itself.

This topic has the ability to go down a massive rabbit hole that would be too long for article form, and I am in the process of finishing up a book on it. For now, I wanted to go over three things that defenders of divine simplicity are really saying when we say God’s essence and existence are equal:

God plus creation is not greater than God.
This makes sense when you think about it. If God is infinitely great, then adding to him would not be greater. We probably wouldn’t want to think of God’s act of creating as something he needed to do to make the world greater, either. Humans do not make the world more great; we just participate in the greatness of God.

God necessarily exists.
This one needs some explaining. Because God exists necessarily, sometimes Christians use this language to mean just that. Confusing, I know. Theologians have a habit of making things more complicated than they need to be.

God creates from Himself.
When God creates, He uses His knowledge and power to create. Defenders of divine simplicity will also say that God’s power and knowledge are intrinsic and necessary to God, so we can conclude by saying power and knowledge (God) created the universe.

To make this essence/existence thing make more sense, let’s look at an example of a thing where its essence is different from its existence. If I asked you to describe a woolly mammoth, you would likely talk about how it had tusks and fur and whatnot. That would be the woolly mammoth’s essence. Then say I asked you where they are living today. Of course, this is an illegitimate question. Woolly mammoths no longer exist. Although we can talk about what this thing was, it no longer is. This is a clear example of what a thing is being different from that it is. Because God can never not exist, we say that what God is that He is.

Let’s imagine another example. Say I have the pleasure of meeting the current pope. Say when I come home, people ask what he’s like. In response, I say, “He exists.” They would probably look at me as though I’m crazy. Why? Because what Pope Francis is like (what his essence is) is different from the fact that he exists.

We can also talk about problems that we would run into if essence and existence were different in God. For one, if there is a possibility that God stops existing, we would have a problem. This is a real possibility if essence and existence are not equal in God. We can also speak about the issues relating to creation. If essence and existence are different in God, it’s possible that creation made the world more great. This is an issue because it presupposes that God is not great enough on His own.

These problems are important to consider, but there is one key issue with saying that God’s essence and existence are different. If God’s existence is not the same as His essence, it either comes from His essence or is because of something outside Himself. Obviously, God cannot exist because of something outside Himself. He also cannot come from His own essence because that would mean he causes his own existence. (See John Lamont, “Aquinas on Divine Simplicity” in The Monist, 80.4 [1997]: 530.) God cannot cause Himself to exist. This conclusion must be avoided at all costs.

It’s worth noting, also, that essence and existence can be the same in only one thing. Why? First, let’s remember what essence means. Essentially, God’s essence is what God is. So if we were to talk about Parker Manning’s essence, we would be talking about what Parker Manning is. Another way we can think about this is that my essence is how someone would describe me to someone else.

Now that we understand that, why can’t we have two things where their essence (how you would describe them) is equal to existence? If there were two things where essence and existence were the same, they would still have some sort of properties that would differentiate them. In that case, their essence (what they are) would just be how you would describe them, which would not be equal to existence itself. Going back to the Pope Francis example from earlier—it would not make sense for me to describe Pope Francis by saying, “He exists”.

Aquinas explains it as such: “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. . . . Hence, in God, being good is not anything distinct from Him; He is His goodness” (Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 38).

In summary, if, for instance, we had a situation where two things’ essence were equal to existence itself, we would have composition or accidents to distinguish the two. If something has composition, its essence is that of the composition and not existence itself. For instance, if someone were to describe me, he would likely say things like “Catholic male with dark hair.” In this scenario, my essence (the words you use to describe me) is made up of composition and is not equal to existence itself.

But not so with God—and that makes all the difference.”

He is. Love,

God is simple

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Lord, Thou Who art infinite simplicity, simplify my mind and my heart, that I may serve Thee in simplicity of spirit.


God is the unique simple Being because He is one in His essence and in all His perfections. When St. Thomas speaks of God’s simplicity, he presents it as the absence of all that is composite. In God’s simplicity there are not quantitative parts as there are in us who are composed of body and soul. God is simple because in Him there is no matter; He is pure spirit. Angels are also pure spirits; but angels are composite beings because their essence is like ours, distinct from their existence. The angelic essence does not exist by itself but has only the capacity to exist; in fact, no angel, as likewise no man, can exist if God does not call him to life. In God, on the contrary, there is supreme simplicity, infinitely superior to that of the angels: in Him essence and existence are identical. His essence exists of itself; He is the eternally subsistent Being.

Neither do the innumerable perfections of God create in Him any multiplicity: God is not composed of goodness, beauty, wisdom, justice, but He is, at the same time, the infinitely good, beautiful, wise, and just Being. There is no distinction in Him between substance and quality, because all is substance; His infinite perfections are His very substance. God contains in one, unique and most simple perfection, the perfection of His divine Being, all the multiple perfections we find divided among creatures in addition to thousands and thousands of others, somewhat as a million dollars contains the value of many dollars. God’s simplicity is not, then, poverty, but infinite riches, infinite perfections which we ourselves ought to reflect.

Consider how rich God is in innumerable perfections and how He possesses them all in the same degree. Consider, on the other hand, how poor you are in virtues and if you have any at all, how limited they are, how mixed with faults! Moreover, for one virtue which you possess in some slight degree, how many others you lack! God is simple; you, on the contrary, are complicated! Contemplate the divine simplicity and try to imitate it by means of true simplicity of soul.


“O most high God, in Your one and simple Being You are all the virtues and grandeurs of Your attributes; for You are omnipotent, wise, good, merciful, just, strong, and loving, and You possess other infinite attributes and virtues of which we have no knowledge. You are all these things in Your simple Being.

O wondrous excellence of God! O abyss of delights, which are the more abundant in proportion as Your riches are all contained in the infinite simplicity and unity of Your sole Being, so that each one is known and experienced in such a way that the perfect knowledge and absorption of the other is not impeded thereby, but rather each grace and virtue that exists in You is light for some other of Your grandeurs, so that through Your purity, O divine Wisdom, many things are seen in You when one thing is seen” (John of the Cross, Living Flame of Love 3, 2.17).

“O divine Essence, bottomless and boundless abyss of wonders! O unfathomable ocean of greatness, O Unity of my God, O Simplicity, O Eternity without beginning and without end, to Whom everything is continually present! O Immensity, which fills all things and contains all things! O Infinity, which embraces all imaginable perfections, O Immutability, O Immortality, O inaccessible Splendor! O incomprehensible Truth, O abyss of Knowledge and Wisdom, O Truth of my God…. O divine Power, creating and sustaining all things! O divine Providence, governing all! O Justice, O Goodness, O Mercy, O Beauty, O Glory, O Fidelity!… O great God, in You I adore all the grandeurs and perfections which I have been contemplating, as well as all the innumerable and inconceivable others which are, and will remain, unknown to me. I adore You, praise You, glorify and love You for all that You are. Oh! how my heart rejoices to see You so great, and so overflowing with every kind of treasure and splendor! Certainly, if I possessed all these grandeurs and You had none of them, I would want to strip myself of them at once and give them to You” (St. John Eudes).

God has no parts, as the late-second-century Church Father Irenaeus affirmed: “[God] is simple, not composed of parts, without structure, altogether like and equal to Himself alone. He is all mind, all spirit, all thought, all intelligence, all reason . . . all light, all fountain of every good, and this is the manner in which the religious and the pious are accustomed to speak of God” (Against Heresies 2:13:3 [A.D. 189]).

”The Father is that which the Son is, the Son that which the Father is, the Father and the Son that which the Holy Spirit is, i.e., by nature one God.” (Council of Toledo XI (675): DS 530:26).


The Divine Attributes – Simplicity


With gratitude to the prayer for the feast day of St Lawrence, Aug 10:

“…The court of heaven rejoices
For his warfare-waging,
For he has prevailed this day
Against the lackeys of wickedness.”

An indie rock band named “The Lackeys of Wickedness” always appealed to me. No? 🙂  Great line!  I have also always thought a restaurant named “Nice Thai!” would also be appealing. 🙂 “The Divine Attributes” would also be a good candidate for a band name, no?  🙂  But, seriously folks, the Divine Attributes:  simplicity, impassibility, eternity, transcendence, immanence, are God’s character traits.  They describe what God is like.  Good to know, no? 🙂  Relationships require we know what the Other is about.  No?  🙂


-by Br Philip Neeri Reese, OP

“It’s complicated . . .

The part that comes next doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, it won’t be good. Complicated relationships? Bad. Complicated questions? Bad. Complicated answers? Bad.

To make the point a bit more pointedly, here’s a challenge: can you name even one time you’ve finished a job, turned to a friend, and said, “well, at least that was complicated”?

I didn’t think so.

Few things are as universally negative as complexity. Unfortunately for us, few things are as universally true as life’s complexity. Why is it so hard to pay the bills? To raise the kids? To be a good husband or a good wife? Why are friendships as easy to break as they are tough to build? Why (to use the words of Saint Paul) is it so hard to do what my will intends?

Because we’re complicated creatures, whose emotions, intentions, thoughts, and desires swirl chaotically around that mysterious center-point we call our soul. Arriving at self-knowledge is a little like trying to grab a tornado with one hand. Coming to know ourselves and others is like trying to double-fist them. It’s no wonder we mess things up: wherever we go, we trail behind us the twin tornadoes of “me” and “you,” like riotous toilet paper stuck to the back of both shoes.

And that’s before we add sin to the mix. Sin speeds up the whirlwinds, launching cow-, tractor-, and house & barn-sized problems at our already-rickety lives.  Sin divides.  Ubi divisio, ibi peccatum, as the saying goes.   It separates us from God, separates us from each other, and even separates us from ourselves. To shift metaphors slightly, sin sets us adrift without port or anchor in a storm of our own devising.

Who can save us from our sins? Who can calm the chaos of our lives? Who can simplify our complexities?

Only Someone entirely free from all complexity and chaos. Only Someone who is totally, perfectly, and radically simple. Only God.

Nothing disturbs God. Nothing rattles Him. He is not plagued by self-doubts or second-guesses. Simply put, God is pure simplicity (and that italics is crucial: there’s no division in God at all—not in His Love, not in His Thought, not even in His Being). And when God enters our lives He brings that simplicity with Him.

Jesus Christ took on all the complexities of our humanity so that we can take on the simplicity of His Divinity. Full of love and compassion, Jesus once said to a friend, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only One thing is necessary” (Lk. 10:41). He says the same to us today. And what is that One necessary thing? The God of Divine simplicity Himself.

When we focus on Him, everything else falls into the background. When we make Him our all, nothing else matters. When God becomes our simplicity, our peace, and our joy, He stills the whirling complexities of our lives, and we begin to hear His voice in a calming whisper: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all the rest shall be yours as well” (Mat. 6:33).”

How very true.