THE SECRET DYNAMISM OF DIVINE
While it was a centerpiece of medieval theology, the thesis of God’s simplicity is often perceived by con-
temporary thinkers as enigmatic or even incoherent. After having presented the recent debate on divine
simplicity from a historical perspective, this paper questions the attribute of simplicity from the perspec-
tive of the fourteenth-century German preacher Meister Eckhart and shows that the so-called speculative
mystical thought of the Middle Ages is able to suggest new perspectives regarding God’s simplicity, and
to enrich discussions on this difficult aspect of the divine nature.
In the seventeenth century, in a time of quarrels and censures on mystical language,
to the question “What is simplicity?,” Madame Guyon replied without hesitation: “It
lies in unity.”
Yet today, when one takes on the topic of divine simplicity, the
answer does not seem so obvious.
How is one to conceive the articulation between unity and multiplicity in a divine
nature that is not composed? As a divine, dynamic attribute that unites identity and
difference in a dialectical manner, as well as union and distinction, divine simplicity
seems to paralyze reason in a paradoxical logic defying the law of non-contradiction.
“It is the hardest of all the attributes to understand, and it is called simplicity,”
observed the American philosopher Norman Kretzmann in 1983.
Besides, simplicity exceeds language. The predicative and composite nature of
human discourse compels us, as soon as we speak of it, to break down what is sim-
ple, thus rendering us unable to name it as such. Therefore, any systematic analysis
of simplicity is only a speculative effort to circumvent the limits of language, aiming
to express as much as possible the simple by means of the composite. The paradoxi-
cal complexity of simplicity (including divine simplicity) is curiously and
e de Gene
eologie, IRSE, 5, rue De-Candolle, 1211 Geneva 4, SWITZERLAND
Madame Guyon, Discours chr
etiens et spirituels sur divers sujets qui regardent la vie int
erieure, vol. 1, ed.
Dutoit-Membrini (Paris: Libraires associ
es, 1790), 295.
Norman Kretzmann, “Abraham, Isaac, and Euthyphro: God and the Basis of Morality,” in Hamartia:
The Concept of Error in the Western Tradition. Essays in Honor of John M. Crossett, ed. Donald V. Stump,
James A. Arieti, Lloyd Gerson and Eleonore Stump (New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1983), 42–3.
2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
Modern Theology 34:3 July 2018
ISSN 0266-7177 (Print)
ISSN 1468-0025 (Online)