10 Church Fathers on Divine Simplicity

The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity (DDS) is the Christian dogma which teaches that God is “simple,” which is to say, that He is not composed of parts, but “is One” (Dt. 6:4) and uncompounded. 

Since the beginning of the revelation of God to man, this doctrine has been held as part of necessary belief, being taught to us by, both, the Prophets and the Apostles. And, just as with all essential parts (no pun intended) of our faith, these same things have been passed down through the apostolic lines, unto the Church Fathers, and until today. So, let’s take a look at what they said, about DDS.

1. God is simple; He is not composed of parts.

“[Men] are compound by nature, and consist of a body and a soul...[but] God is not as men are...He is a simple, uncompounded Being, without diverse members, altogether like and equal to Himself, since He is wholly understanding, wholly spirit, wholly thought, wholly intelligence, wholly reason, wholly hearing, wholly seeing, wholly light, and the whole source of all that is good.”

SAINT IRENAEUS (130 – 202 AD)
Irenaeus on Divine Simplicity - Original Sinner

2. God “is”; He is nothing but His essence.

If God be simple, as He is, it follows that in saying ‘God’ and naming ‘Father,’ we name nothing as if about Him, but signify His essence itself...When then He says, ‘I am that I am,’ and ‘I am the Lord God,’ or when Scripture says, ‘God,’ we understand nothing else by it but the intimation of His incomprehensible essence Itself.”

SAINT ATHANASIUS (296 – 373 AD)

3. God is atemporal; He is outside of time.

“He Who is God cannot but be good, seeing that fullness of goodness is of the nature of God: nor can God, Who made time, be in time; nor, again, can God be imperfect, for a lesser being is plainly imperfect, seeing that it lacks somewhat whereby it could be made equal to a greater. This is the teaching of our faith—that God is not evil, that with God nothing is impossible, that God does not exist in time.”

SAINT AMBROSE (340 – 397 AD)
Ambrose on Divine Simplicity - Original Sinner
Hilary on Divine Simplicity - Original Sinner

4. God is nonspatial; He is outside of space.

“He possesses the actuality of His being. He is infinite because He Himself is not contained in something else, and all else is within Him. He is always beyond location, because He is not contained; always before the ages, because time comes from Him.”

SAINT HILARY (315 – 368 AD)

5. God is immutable; He cannot change.

“The doctrine of the Jews and Christians, which preserves the immutability and unalterableness of the divine nature, is stigmatized as impious, because it does not partake of the profanity of those whose notions of God are marked by impiety, but because it says in the supplication addressed to the Divinity, ‘Thou art the same,’ it being, moreover, an article of faith that God has said, ‘I change not.’”

SAINT ORIGEN (184 – 253 AD)
Origen on Divine Simplicity - Original Sinner
Tatian on Divine Simplicity - Original Sinner

6. God is invisible; He cannot be seen.

“Our God has no introduction in time. He alone is without beginning, and is Himself the beginning of all things. God is a spirit, not attending upon matter, but the Maker of material spirits and of the appearances which are in matter. He is invisible and untouchable, being Himself the Father of both sensible and invisible things. This we know by the evidence of what He has created; and we perceive His invisible power by His works (Romans 1:20).”

TATIAN (120 – 180 AD)

7. God is incorporeal; He has no body or form.

“What is God? ‘God,’ as the Lord says, ‘is a spirit.’ Now spirit is properly substance, incorporeal, and uncircumscribed. And that which is incorporeal does not consist of a body, or whose existence is not according to breadth, length, and depth. And that which is uncircumscribed has no place, which is wholly in all, and in each entire, and the same in itself.”

SAINT CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (150 – 215 AD)
Clement on Divine Simplicity - Original Sinner
Augustine on Divine Simplicity - Original Sinner

8. God is One; His attributes and essence, in Himself, are the same.

“In God, ‘to be,’ is the same as ‘to be wise.’ For what ‘to be wise’ is to wisdom, and ‘to be able’ is to power, and ‘to be eternal’ is to eternity, and ‘to be just’ to justice, and ‘to be great’ to greatness, that ‘being’ itself is to essence. And since in the Divine simplicity, to be wise is nothing else than to be, therefore wisdom there is the same as essence.”

SAINT AUGUSTINE (354 – 430 AD)

9. God is above attributes; our words fall short of His infinite essence.

“[There is] no name that could possibly give a knowledge of His essence, but transcending all the power of names to express. Wherefore also His name is testified by the writing of the Apostle to be ‘above every name,’ not as though it were some one name preferred above all others, though still comparable with them, but rather in the sense that He Who truly is, is above every name.”

SAINT GREGORY OF NYSSA (335 – 395 AD)
Gregory on Divine Simplicity - Original Sinner

10. God is incomprehensible; He cannot be known by the mind of man.

“Knowledge of the divine essence involves perception of His incomprehensibility, and the object of our worship is not that of which we comprehend the essence, but of which we comprehend that the essence exists.”

SAINT BASIL (330 – 379 AD)