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Divine Simplicity, Divine Freedom, and the Contingency of Creation: Dogmatic Responses to Some Analytic Questions

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Abstract Recent work from analytic philosophers taking an interest in Christian theology has sought to uncover an apparent tension between divine simplicity and divine freedom. In response, this paper contends for the compatibility of the simplicity of God with the freedom of God and contingency of creation. This response is undertaken, not by developing new counterarguments also in the analytic vein, but by recovering older insights of various scholastic and Puritan authors. With the help of these authors’ expositions of divine simplicity and its theological moorings, the paper identifies problems with postulating divine complexity and then maintains the coherence of divine simplicity and divine freedom through discussions of God’s relative attributes, God’s will to create, and God’s omnipotence.

1. FN11 In this paper, divine simplicity indicates, negatively, that God is not composed of potentiality and actuality, genus and difference, essence and attributes, substance and accidents, the persons of the Trinity, and so on. Positively, it indicates or entails that God is wholly in act and identical with his own existence, essence, and attributes and that each person of the Trinity is identical with God as a distinct modus subsistendi personalis. In the sense intended here, God’s freedom indicates that God wills creation with a freedom of spontaneity (a freedom from coaction or external compulsion) and with a freedom of indifference (an immanent liberty to will or not to will creation, neither of which propends to the enhancement, alteration, or diminution of God’s being). The contingency of creation indicates that creation, considered passively and with respect to the term of the action, is unnecessary or need not have come into being.
2. FN22 For examples of the latter phenomenon, see Robert W. Jenson, Systematic Theology, Volume 1: The Triune God (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 42-74; Bruce L. McCormack, “Grace and Being: The Role of God’s Gracious Election in Karl Barth’s Theological Ontology,” in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 92-110.
3. FN33 Jay Wesley Richards, The Untamed God: A Philosophical Exploration of Divine Perfection, Simplicity, and Immutability (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 221-23, 227-28, 232-33n63.
4. FN44 Richards, Untamed God, 200-02, 209-10.
5. FN55 Richards, Untamed God, 234-35. Richards asserts that such potentiality as he proposes does not entail that God is “built up from fundamental parts of potency and act” but only that God is free not to act as he does (Untamed God, 234n65, 239-40).
6. FN66 Richards, Untamed God, 235.
7. FN77 Richards, Untamed God, 234.
8. FN88 Richards, Untamed God, 232.
9. FN99 Richards, Untamed God, 232-33n63.
10. FN1010 Gen. 1:1; Isa. 40; Jer. 10; John 1:3; Acts 17:24-25; Rom. 11:33-36; 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 2:10; Rev. 4:11.
11. FN1111 Richards rightly identifies this conviction as integral to the traditional doctrine of divine simplicity (Untamed God, 232-33n63).
12. FN1212 [P]artes ex quibus compositus esset, priores essent Deo, ordine saltem naturae ut causa, quum omne posterius sit partibus ex quibus componitur aliquo modo posterius. Amandus Polanus, Syntagma Theologiae Christianae (An Arrangement of Christian Theology) (Hanover: Aubry, 1615), II, cap. 8, 142.
13. FN1313 Cf. Antonius Walaeus, Loci Communes S. Theologiae (Commonplaces of S. Theology), in vol. 1 of Opera Omnia (All Works) (Lugduni Bavatorum, 1643), 161; Gisbertus Voetius, Selectarum Disputationum Theologicarum (Of Selected Theological Disputes) (Utrecht: 1648), I, 228; Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 1:186-87, 323, 332-33, 382; Petrus van Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia (Theoretical-Practical Theology) (Utrecht: Appels, 1724), II, cap. 6, 11. Contra Christopher Hughes, On a Complex Theory of a Simple God: An Investigation in Aquinas’ Philosophical Theology, Cornell Studies in Philosophy of Religion (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2005), 33-36. Hughes avers that, if the constituent parts to which God is “mereologically posterior” are not “individual substances,” then these being prior to God is theologically acceptable. In my judgment, Hughes concentrates on God retaining his status as ens primum in too narrow a sense and neglects that, while God may on this account still be the first “individual substance,” God is still reliant on things other than himself and hence not the fully abundant and independent God who is the source of all that is other than himself. If with Richards (Untamed God, 230n30) and others one is skeptical of divine eternity and contends for succession in God’s life, then the problem of the priority of the divine perfections to God is exacerbated.
14. FN1414 [S]i enim compositio est, ex pluribus est; quae autem secundum se sunt plura, in unum non convenirent nisi ab aliquo componente unirentur. Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles, 1.18.5.
15. FN1515 Some (e.g., Robert M. Burns, “The Divine Simplicity in St Thomas,” Religious Studies 25 [1989], 272-73) have distinguished between composition and complexity and have suggested that God may be complex without being composed and that complexity without composition may be suitable to God. However, this ignores that complexity itself implies composition and thus dependence and contingency.
16. FN1616 In Christian theology the filling out of the concept of God’s perfection must avoid both the specter of a priori formulation detached from God’s self-revelation in scripture and also the danger of attenuation by way of collapsing God’s immanent life into the economy and neglecting God’s repletion in se. In other words, God demarcates his own perfection in the biblical text and we, in turn, must allow that demarcation, however surprising its display in scripture, to govern our conception of God’s perfection. At the same time, we must recognize that, in light of God’s aseity in scripture (Ps. 50:11-12; Jer. 10:1-10; John 5:26; Acts 17:24-25), such a particularized account of divine perfection does not endorse an encasement of God in history. Like simplicity, perfection can be taken more narrowly as a divine attribute in its own right or more broadly as a predicate designed to teach us something about all of the divine attributes. We should observe also that there is often content in the characterization of God’s perfection that one is likely to include under other attributes as well (aseity, immutability, and so on). Here divine perfection is taken more narrowly as God’s unrupturable plenitude in which God cannot and need not in any way improve or devolve and more generally as indicative of God’s absolute possession of, and indeed identity with, every attribute ascribed to him in the Bible. This perfection is enjoyed in the limitless fulfillment of the eternal fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It points up the aseity and beatitude of God and, therefore, the radical asymmetry of the God-world relation and yet, in God’s free disposition toward the creature and free economic action, the perfection of God is brought to bear in the lives of his creatures. For insightful description of God’s perfection, see Herman Bavinck, God and Creation, vol. 2 of Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 159-60, 249-51; John Webster, Confessing God: Essays in Christian Dogmatics II (London: T & T Clark, 2005), 1-3, 88-92, 157-58. On scripture dictating the divine attributes that should be located along the via negativa and via eminentiae, see Stephen R. Holmes, “The Attributes of God,” in The Oxford Handbook of Systematic Theology, ed. John Webster et al. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 58.
17. FN1717 See, e.g., Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, in Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises, etc., vol. 5 of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (2), ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. William Moore and Henry Austin Wilson (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), I, 89-91, 99-100.
18. FN1818 John 1:1; 14:16, 25-26; 15:26; 16:7; 17:5; Heb. 9:14.
19. FN1919 John 1:18; 1 Cor. 2:6-16; 1 Tim. 6:16.
20. FN2020 This is not to succumb to a biblicism demanding that theological concepts be explicitly or formally present in the biblical text in order to be serviceable in theology. Rather, it is to suggest only that, if one need not set forth an assertion about God’s immanent life, particularly one that implies self-realization, then one does well not to tread there.
21. FN2121 Jer. 10:10; 1 John 1:5; 4:8, 16.
22. FN2222 Perhaps, then, the more plausible view will be the one that can 1) account for the termi­nological diversity of the attributes of God in Scripture; 2) comport with and amplify the biblical teaching about God as it respects his aseity, perfection, Trinity of persons, and so on; 3) respond adequately to pertinent objections; and 4) prove least complicated or unwieldy. For the sake of orientation and clarity, it may help to deploy these criteria to chart the course of this paper. This section endeavors primarily to demonstrate that divine self-composition has difficulties with the second and fourth of these criteria and contrastively to imply that the more traditional perspective on God’s simplicity proves helpful here in regard to several features of the biblical teaching about God. The end of this section briefly indicates that the more traditional perspective can satisfy the first criterion and also the third in respect of the doctrine of the Trinity. The next section is occupied with whether the more traditional perspective can meet the third criterion in respect of divine freedom and the contingency of creation.
23. FN2323 Of course, the argument in this section is that, given the character of composition, there really could not be biblical signals to this effect, except to the detriment of God’s perfection.
24. FN2424 Incidentally, one finds in the tradition the eternal simultaneity of God the Father and God the Son having a creaturely analogue in the simultaneity of the sun and its rays (e.g., Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, I, 84-85). Though having the felicity of convenient creaturely analogues is not essential to the viability of a given theological claim, perhaps the difficulty of constructing a bearable analogy for divine self-composition is not insignificant. Per the next problem of self-composition mentioned here, such an analogy would require a creaturely scenario in which something makes itself what it is before it is in fact that something which is able to make itself what it is.
25. FN2525 So, e.g., Voetius, Selectarum Disputationum Theologicarum, I, 228; Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God, 282-85. Compare Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, ed. James T. Dennison, trans. George Musgrave Giger (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing Co., 1992), III, qu. 5, 7; Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 6, 21, 24. As with the proposition of the priority of God’s attributes to God himself, divine temporality aggravates the problem as it allows for God to acquire his perfections over intervals of time. For a patristic discussion of this in a somewhat different polemical context, see again Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, I, 89-91.
26. FN2626 Si igitur compositus esset Deus, haberet compontentem: non enim ipse seipsum componere posset, quia nihil est causa sui ipsius; esset enim prius seipso, quod est impossibile. Aquinas, Summa contra Gentiles, 1.18.5. In this connection, it is important to mark that divine aseity signals not that God is his own origin but, negatively, that God is not from another and, positively, that ‘God himself is the sufficient ontological condition and explanation for his existence and essence’ ( James E. Dolezal, God without Parts: Divine Simplicity and the Metaphysics of God’s Absoluteness [Eugene: Pickwick, 2011], 71).
27. FN2727 Cf. Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God, 1:187. That is, in this case, there would be no nature or attributes according to which God would act in assuming his own nature and attributes. On whether the notion of the real identity of the divine essence and the divine will precludes distinguishing between a natural divine act and a purely volitional one, see below.
28. FN2828 Job 38-41; Ps. 90:2; John 1:3; Rom. 4:17; 11:33-36; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16; Heb 2:10; 11:3; Rev. 4:11.
29. FN2929 Si in Deo est aliquid, quod non sit ipse Deus, tum sequitur, illud, quod in Deo erit, aut fore creatum, aut increatum: Si increatum, Deus erit, quia solus Deus increatus, ut pote, ex quo, & per quem, sunt omnia, Rom. 11.35. Si vero creatum erit, aut pertinebit ad naturam Dei, aut non; sive, aut ei naturale hoc erit, aut non: Si non, tum hoc in Deo non est eo modo, de quo quaestio instituitur; si ita, tum Deus erit, aliqua ex parte, creatura, quod est absurdissimum. Johannes Maccovius, Loci Communes Theologici (Theological Commonplaces) (Amsterdam, 1648), XV, 2, 121.
30. FN3030 Because Thomas Morris and Christopher Menzel in their article “Absolute Creation,” American Philosophical Quarterly 23 (1986), 353-61 follow the Bible in saying that God is the Creator of all that is other than himself and yet deny divine simplicity, they put themselves in the predicament of having to posit that God creates his own nature.
31. FN3131 Varia nomina, quibus eadem Dei essentia significatur: synonymica non sunt. Ratio est: quoniam esti re ipsa, una & eadem divine essentia multis nominibus significatur: tamen non sub una, sed sub diversis rationibus, eadem res divina indicatur. . . . Atque ita diversa nomina, unam quidem rem extra nos (ut ita loquar) existentem significant: sed diversas in nostro intellectu habent inter se rationes, quas, de re una significant. Jerome Zanchi, De Natura Dei, seu de Divinis Attributis, libri quinque (On the Nature of God, or On the Divine Attributes, Five Books) (Neostadium, 1598), I, cap. 8, qu. 5, 19.
32. FN3232 See, e.g., Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, 13, 4; Edward Leigh, A Systeme or Body of Divinity (London, 1644), II, 2, 134; Maccovius, Loci Communes Theologici, XV, 1, 121; John Owen, A Dissertation on Divine Justice, in vol. 10 of The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1967), 562-64; Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 5, 9-16; Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 6, 23-24.
33. FN3333 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 7, 8-9.
34. FN3434 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 27, 1-15.
35. FN3535 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 27, 16-19. Real distinctions among the divine perfections would be as to thing and thing and hence would imply parts and composition in God, but the real distinctions among the divine persons are relative and as to mode and mode and hence do not imply parts and composition in God.
36. FN3636 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 25, 26.
37. FN3737 Lombard, Sent., I, 8, 2; Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, 3, 6; Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, IV, qu. 1, 6. Of course, part of Richards’ intention is to reconfigure immutability in order to accommodate the ingression of accidents in God. However, it is doubtful that God’s intrinsic insusceptibility to being in any way determined or altered by creatures is expendable in the doctrines of God’s aseity and immutability.
38. FN3838 E.g., Polanus, Syntagma Theologiae Christianae, II, cap. 32; John Owen, The Mystery of the Gospel Vindicated and Socinianism Examined, in vol. 12 of The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1966), 93.
39. FN3939 Indeed, in this case there are not two different things at all.
40. FN4040 Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, 13, 7.
41. FN4141 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 7, 13; IV, qu. 2, 13.
42. FN4242 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, V, qu. 1, 11.
43. FN4343 [T]amen realiter, id est, vere Deo competunt; nam vere est creator, vere redemptor, &c. Polanus, Syntagma Theologiae Christianae, II, cap. 32. Against categorizing predicates like Creator and Lord as “Cambridge properties,” Richards judges, “There are some properties in God, however, that, because of divine acts such as creation and incarnation, are accidental or contingent but not trivial” (Untamed God, 208-11). However, while these older theologians insist that predicates like Creator and Lord are not accidental properties in God that are really determinative of God, such comments from Turretin and Polanus emphasize that God is indeed the subject of the acts of creation, salvation, and so on and that these acts and the attendant relative attributes are hardly trivial.
44. FN4444 Perhaps these can be ascribed to God eternally in the sense that God has assumed a relation to creation from eternity which grounds and encompasses all of God’s acts toward creation in time and in the sense that God’s immanent life has no succession and is the font or principle of the acts in time whereby God manifests himself as Lord, Redeemer, and so on. Compare Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God, 1:346; 2:386; Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 10, 15; V, qu. 3, 16.
45. FN4545 Lombard, Sent., I, 30, 1.
46. FN4646 Owen, Dissertation on Divine Justice, 498-99, 543, 564.
47. FN4747 So Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 20, 10-11.
48. FN4848 E.g., Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God, 1:337-39, 345-46; Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, V, qu. 1, 11-12. Inasmuch as God created the universe not in time but with time, the eternity of God willing creation does not entail an everlasting creation that has undergone in the past an infinite succession of moments. Indeed, the eternal will of God (along with the nature of creation) stipulates that creation not be eternal and that it should begin with time. See Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, 46, 1, ad 6-10; Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 10, 15; IV, qu. 2, 10; V, qu. 3, 3, 8-20. In view of earlier comments on the gravity of positing an act in God from eternity, it may be worth mentioning here the biblical teaching behind the description of God’s immutable and eternal determination about creation and the events thereof (Ps. 33:11; Acts 2:23; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 6:17-18).
49. FN4949 [S]ed quatenus creatura, quae antea non subibat operationem Dei, per voluntatem ejus, jam subit, nulla hinc eveniente mutatione in operante; sed in opere. Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 20, 10.
50. FN5050 If the act of creation has its term outside of God, then change in the term does not cause change in God.
51. FN5151 Ps. 33:6, 9; 148:5; Rom. 4:17; Heb. 11:3. See Bonaventure, Sent., I, 8, 2, 1; Leigh, Systeme or Body of Divinity, III, 2, 228; James Ussher, A Body of Divinity: Being the Sum and Substance of the Christian Religion (Birmingham: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2007), 4, 81; Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, V, qu. 3, 13; Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, III, cap. 5, 6-9.
52. FN5252 Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, 45, 2-3.
53. FN5353 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 11, 5. The term hyperphysica highlights that this change is one that lies beyond the normal course of change found in the natural and physical world. On hyperphysica, see the brief discussion in Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), 140.
54. FN5454 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, V, qu. 1, 11-12. Compare Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, III, cap. 5, 6.
55. FN5555 Indeed, one could say that God’s relation to creation is ideal only to the extent that it is free.
56. FN5656 Walaeus, Loci Communes S. Theologiae, 162, 176; Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 15, 7.
57. FN5757 See Leigh, Systeme or Body of Divinity, II, 7, 164; Voetius, Selectarum Disputationum Theologicarum, I, 240.
58. FN5858 See Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 15, 1; Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 15, 10.
59. FN5959 E.g., Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 8:6.
60. FN6060 E.g., Ps. 33:11; Isa. 46:8-11; Acts 2:23; Heb. 6:17-18.
61. FN6161 Circa divina igitur volita hoc considerandum est, quod aliquid Deum velle est necessarium absolute, non tamen hoc est verum de omnibus quae vult. Voluntas enim divina necessariam habitudinem habet ad bonitatem suam, quae est proprium ejus objectum. Unde bonitatem suam esse Deus ex necessitate vult. . . . Alia autem a se Deus vult, inquantum ordinantur ad suam bonitatem ut in finem. Ea autem quae sunt ad finem, non ex necessitate volumes volentes finem, nisi sint talia, sine quibus finis esse non potest, sicut volumus cibum, volentes conservationem vitae; et navem, volentes transfretare. Non sic autem ex necessitate volumus ea sine quibus finis esse potest. . . . Unde, cum bonitas Dei sit perfecta, et esse possit sine aliis, cum nihil ei perfectionis ex aliis accrescat; sequitur quod alia a se eum velle, non sit necessarium absolute. Et tamen necessarium est ex suppositione, supposito enim quod velit, non potest non velle, quia non potest voluntas ejus mutari. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, 19, 3.
62. FN6262 Here texts such as Acts 17:24-25 are of vital importance: “The God who made the world and all things in it, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made by human hands nor is he cared for by human hands as though having need of something, because he himself gives life and breath and all things to all.”
63. FN6363 So Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 14, 2-6. ‘Indifference’ here should not be taken to indicate that God does not care for creation. It means only that he does not need to posit creation or to forego creation.
64. FN6464 [V]oluntas Dei libera est, & liberrima. Est enim libertas de essentia voluntatis. Libertas ista, vel est antecedens volitum, velut ejus principium, quo sensu, sola a se diversa, libere Deus vult . . . vel concomitans, quo sensu, seipsum Deus vult & omnia sua. Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 15, 14.
65. FN6565 [A]c proinde licet certum est, haec esse in Deo, & ab aeterno fuisse: tamen quomodo insint, non esse inquirendum, modo non dicantur esse in Deo ut accidentia, sicut antea demonstratum. Walaeus, Loci Communes S. Theologiae, 162.
66. FN6666 E.g., Polanus, Syntagma Theologiae Christianae, IV, cap. 6; Ussher, Body of Divinity, 4, 78; Campegius Vitringa, Doctrina Christianae Religionis, Per Aphorismos Summatim Descripta (The Doctrine of the Christian Religion, Briefly Described through Aphorisms), 4th ed. (Franker: Halma, 1702), cap. 5, 7.
67. FN6767 Walaeus, Loci Communes S. Theologiae, 162-63. Here Walaeus uses the illustration of an eye which, turning toward visible things, does not receive an accident but only a new mode of its own essence in which “hither rather than thither” it turns.
68. FN6868 Walaeus, Loci Communes S. Theologiae, 176.
69. FN6969 Voetius, Selectarum Disputationum Theologicarum, I, 239-42.
70. FN7070 Maccovius, Loci Communes Theologici, XV, 2, 123-27.
71. FN7171 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 7, 10-11.
72. FN7272 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 14, 11.
73. FN7373 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, IV, qu. 1, 7.
74. FN7474 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, IV, qu. 1, 13.
75. FN7575 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, IV, qu. 1, 15.
76. FN7676 Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, IV, qu. 1, 16.
77. FN7777 Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 15, 14.
78. FN7878 Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, III, cap. 1, 14-15, 26.
79. FN7979 Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, III, cap. 1, 20-22.
80. FN8080 Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, III, cap. 1, 28-29.
81. FN8181 As noted above, Mastricht judges that the act of willing or decreeing must have a tendency toward something. The point is not that God must create something or that a given tendency toward this or that object is identical with God’s essence but only that the act of willing necessarily has some tendency toward something. As Mastricht says, the tendency may be one of willing or nilling creation (Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 15, 7).
82. FN8282 The relation of God to creation was said above to be “ideal” or “logical” and here the tendency of the divine decree to some object is described by Reformed scholastics as “logical” and thus neither identical to God himself nor a real entity that generates composition in God. Perhaps, then, it might appear that the line of reasoning running through the description of God’s relative attributes and into this description of the decree is encumbered by a vicious circularity: God having a logical relation to the creature is dependent upon that relation being free, which is in turn dependent upon that relation being logical. However, this is to misunderstand the use of the term “logical” in these two cases. God’s relation to the creature is logical because it does not really determine God’s nature; the tendency of the decree is deemed logical because it is not a real entity but only a respect toward something. Accordingly, God’s relation to the creature is ideal as it is entirely free and it is entirely free, not so much because it is ideal, but because it is respectum merum (and thus not identical to God and not necessary), which respectum is duly called ens rationis or “logical.”
83. FN8383 Walaeus, Loci Communes S. Theologiae, 176; Voetius, Selectarum Disputationum Theologi­carum, I, 241-42; Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 7, 13, 15; IV, qu. 1, 16; Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 6, 23; III, cap. 1, 28.
84. FN8484 Rom. 9:6-29; Eph. 1:5. Of course, this must not be taken to mean that the divine will is not characterized by God’s other attributes.
85. FN8585 Dan. 4:35; Eph. 1:11; Jas. 4:15; Rev. 4:11.
86. FN8686 Gen. 1:1; Ps. 33:6, 9; John 1:3; Acts 17:24-28; Heb. 11:3. In his work on metaphysics (Metaphysica, ad Usum Quaestionum in Philosophia ac Theologia Adornata & Applicata [Metaphysics, Prepared and Applied for the Use of the Questions in Philosophy and Theology], 3rd ed., ed. Adrianus Heereboord [Lugduni Bavatorum, 1658], lib. 1, cap. 13, 136), Maccovius asserts that the ex nihilo in the doctrine of creation precludes mediation and succession in the act of creation and hence precludes use of an instrument. This, of course, is not to deny that God works through creaturely means as secondary causes after the inception of creation.
87. FN8787 Maccovius, Loci Communes Theologici, XV, 2, 123-25.
88. FN8888 Cf. Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, IV, qu. 2, 7; Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, III, cap. 1, 21. Thus the real identity of the divine nature and the act of decreeing does not entail a God behind God choosing who he will become as in certain recent proposals (e.g., McCormack, “Grace and Being,” 92-110; Bruce L. McCormack, “The Actuality of God: Karl Barth in Conversation with Open Theism,” in Engaging the Doctrine of God: Contemporary Protestant Perspectives, ed. Bruce L. McCormack [Grand Rapids: Baker; Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2008], 185-242).
89. FN8989 Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 15, 7, 14.
90. FN9090 Richards, Untamed God, 234.
91. FN9191 E.g., Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 21, 1.
92. FN9292 E.g., Matt. 3:9; 26:53.
93. FN9393 E.g., Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 21, 3-4.
94. FN9494 Lombard, Sent., I, 44, 1; Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, 25, 6. In Lombard, Aquinas, and others, the manner of divine action is perfect and cannot be better than it is, but the thing acted upon or produced might have been better than it is. On this view, God is not compelled to create the ‘best possible world.’
95. FN9595 The Father’s generation of the Son whereby the Son receives the divine nature from the Father does not entail passivity in God. The Son is from the Father and has the divine essence and omnipotence from the Father eternally. Inasmuch as he has (or, indeed, is) the essence eternally, the Son, considered absolutely, is omnipotent ab essentia or even a se and it is only relatively or ad Patrem that the Son is omnipotent a Patre. See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.13.26; Zanchi, De Natura Dei, III, cap. 1, qu. 1, 212; Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, III, qu. 21, 2; qu. 28, 40. Compare also John Owen, A Brief Declaration and Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, in vol. 2 of The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 409-10. Owen writes that the divine perfections respect the divine nature and not the divine modes of subsistence as such, which, strictly speaking, are called infinite, holy, and so on essentialiter and not personaliter. Thus, the question of actuality and passivity concerns each of the persons as God and not as persons.
96. FN9696 Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 20, 14.
97. FN9797 Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God, 2:23.
98. FN9898 Charnock, Existence and Attributes of God, 2:25. It may be inquired why one should insist on the decree being immutable and eternal lest God pass from potentiality to actuality if creaturely objects do not even possess the capacity to actuate God. In response, it may be said that, while creaturely objects themselves do not, upon God exercising his power toward them, actuate or elicit change in God, the act of willing in God is identical to the divine essence and is thus to be characterized as immutable and eternal. Cf. John Owen, A Display of Arminianism, in Works of John Owen, vol. 10, 19-20, 55-56.
99. FN9999 Ps. 33:6, 9; 148:5; Isa. 40:18-26; Rom. 4:17; 2 Thess. 2:8; Heb. 11:3.
100. FN100100 Nec illa ipsi competit quatenus contradistinguitur actui, quasi operando, ex otioso fieret negotiosus; est enim purissimus actus. . . . Quatenus potest omnia quae vult Psal. cxv.3. plura quam vult Matth. iii.9. & xxvi.53 sic ut nemo & nihil ipsi possit obsistere Rom. ix.19. idque absque difficultate aut fatigatione potest Jes. xl.28. Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, cap. 20, 10-11.
101. FN101101 Isa. 8:10; 43:13; John 10:28-29.
102. FN102102 [V]oluntas Dei est infinita, quia est ipse Deus infinitus. Non quidem, quod velit omnia volibilia existere, prout intelligit omnia intelligibilia; sed quod semetipsum velit, infinitum, & propter se omnia: partim ut existant, partim ut non. Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologica, II, cap. 15, 13. Cf. Caspar Olevian, Expositio Symbolici Apostolici (Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed) (Francofurtum, 1580), 48; Voetius, Selectarum Disputationum Theologicarum, I, 240. Richard Muller (Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725, Volume Three: The Divine Essence and Attributes [Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003], 455-56) helpfully distills this theme in Reformed scholasticism.
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2012-01-01
2015-08-31

Affiliations: 1: University of St Andrews, UK sjd72@st-andrews.ac.uk

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