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John Howe (1630–1705) on Divine Simplicity: A Debate over Spinozism

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Chapter Summary

Seventeenth-century Reformed theology faced a radical challenge from Cartesian notions of substance and simplicity. This chapter demonstrates that John Howe's attack on Spinoza's teaching of divine simplicity is indicative of Reformed efforts to restate the compatibility of divine simplicity with divine attributes, and, contrary to some modern readings, establishes the point that 'simplicity' as understood in the era of Protestant orthodoxy did not entail an absence of distinctions in the Godhead. It first identifies an emergence of Spinozism and its implication for the notion of simplicity in the late seventeenth century. The chapter then shows how Howe responded to Spinoza's monistic argument in order to vindicate the distinctions of divine attributes. These examinations clarify that a different appropriation of the notion of simplicity came into being in the late seventeenth century and Howe responded to the new interpretation by restating a traditional Reformed understanding of divine simplicity.

Keywords: divine simplicity; John Howe; protestant orthodoxy; seventeenth-century reformed theology; Spinoza's teaching

10.1163/9789004258297_045
/content/books/b9789004258297s045
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