Notes on the Divine Essence, from Muller

Notes on Muller, PRRD 3

Simplicity in pre-Reformation

The scholastic understanding of “identity” assumes various levels of identity (essential and formal), so the term “identity” does not indicate radical equation in every sense posssible (40 n. 63).

The goal is “to argue a certain manner of distinction (for the sake of manifesting the three) while at the very same time denying other kinds of distinction (for the sake of confessing the one)” (41).

Normally speaking essence and existence are not identified. The essence “humanity” is not synonymous with any one human (52).

Simplicity and Predication

Many critique absolute divine simplicity as eliminating the possibility of any real predication (on our part) of the divine essence. But when medievals used this term, all they meant was that God is not composite (54-55)

Plurality in God is secundum rationem, not secundum re (55).

Development and Decline of late orthodoxy

Interestingly, the medievals viewed “space” and time,” not as things but as relations (148).

Existence and knowledge of God

The orthodox followed three ways of approach to the problem of the knowledge of God (166):

  1. via causationes (a cause can be known in some manner from its effects)

  2. via emimentiae(we attribute to God all the perfections known to creataures)

  3. via negationis (we remove from God the imperfections known to creatures)

Rules of predication

“Predication is the logical act of attribution by which a subject is united with a predicate” (197).

Disproportionality between finite and infinite.

How does natura apply to God? Some qualities are considered “natural” in him (208).

The attributes of God are his perfections (213).

attribute: a characteristic or quality attributed to or predicated of an object, where as a property is a characteristic that belongs to an object (215). God can only have essential properties.

The Divine Essence

ens a se: self-grounded essence (237)

numerical unity: threeness of person does not contradict numerical unity of essence—there is no class of beings (whether genus or species) identifiable as “god” to which the divine persons belong and the divine unity is not a composite unity such as belongs to the several members of a genus or species (242).

genus: a universal or form, incompletely expressing essence, that can be predicated of specifically distinct subjects in species.

Species: a universal or form completely expressing essence, that can be predicated of a series of subjects distinct in number

Divine Names

The Reformed interest in the divine names is primarily exegetical and not nominalist (246).

see the note on Gillespie in PRRD II, 7.3B

Back to Simplicity

The point is to deny in God only those distinctions that imply composition and to point toward the proper distinctions that do subsist among the attributes and between the attributes and essence (278).

Persons are not distinct in essence, degree, condition, or dignity but they are distinct in order, number, manner of working, etc (281).

“three persons applied to the Godhead indicate the communicability of the sole, infinite, individual and singular divine essence to these three without division (283).”

transcendentals: the properties of being can be identified as “transcendentals.” These are properties which must be predicated of all and, therefore, also of each and every being. Being is transcendent: it is the ultimate principle and/or category of all beings. Being is not a “thing” and so there cannot be a “real” distinction between being and things (284-285).

  • ens

  • res

  • aliud; other

  • aliquid; being something

  • unum; a being is one in itself

  • verum; it is true in that it corresponds with its goal

  • bonum; it is good because it moves toward its goal

This allows the Reformed to work through the problem of realiter predication: all of these “transcendentals” reduce to one another without becoming synonymous with one another. Yet they do allow distinctions—a being is other than not-being; a being is other than not-itself.

realiter distinction is a distinction between two things. Being, though, is not a thing and so is not reduced to realiter distinctions. A virtualiter distinction …

Epistemology, Distinctions, and the Divine Decree

(The Reformed structure this discussion) “Around the epistemological problem of the finitum no capax infiniti and its resolution in the explication of the eternal decree and its execution of the sovereign will of God in and for the temporal economy. Here we see both a statement of the non capax and an approach to the divine relatedness: the mind cannot conceive of the way in which the attributes belong to the utter simplicity of the divine essence; nonetheless, the distinct attributes are coorectly distinguished by reason in the effects and operations of God in the world—and these effects and operations rightly and genuinely reveal the identity of God, indeed, the invisible essence of the utterly simple Godhead. The effect of this distinction, like the effet of the distinction between the decree and the execution, is to direct attention away from the divine essence toward the divine economy” (298).


Does not imply that God is inactive, but that God has not been moved from potency to actuality (309). It is an absence of negative passions.

God and Time

The denial of change and succession is made for affirming a specific relationship between God and the creatures—indeed, of affirming that both God and creatures have duration, the divine duration being non-successive, the creaturely duration, successive (355).

Divine Foreknowledge

Divine willing establishes freedom and contingency (402). Foreknowledge itself is not causal. Knowledge is related to causality by means of the divine will.

Necessary and Free knowledge in God

Necessary: the knowledge that God has of himself and all possibilities ad extra (407).

Free knowledge: knowledge of all those possibilities that God freely wills to actualize.

Problem of Middle Knowledge

definition: a divine knowledge lying between God’s indeterminate knowledge of all possibilities and his determinate foreknowledge of the necessary and certain effects of his decree (417-418). God is reacting to the result of a finite contingency.

Reformed critique: the notion of a certain divine foreknowledge of future conditionals is a rather unstable concept: in order for God to know the conditional conditionally, he would have to be ignorant of its resolution in actuality. In short, there can be no being independent of the divine decree (421). The problem for such a view appears when the question is asked, “How shall such a thing exist?”

Will and Freedom

necessity and freedom are neither contraries nor contradictories: the contrary of necessity is impossibility; the contrary of freedom is coercion (434n. 360).

When God wills, the contrary remains possible—a resident possiblity in the divine scientia necessaria. God cannot equally will and not will a certain object; he can, however, will a certain object and know the possiblity of not-willing it (448).

The divine will is not determined by its objects. It was not necessary that God will object-a since the possibility of object non-a existed in God’s mind (449).

Even God’s necessary willing is free in a sense: it is not subject to external compulsion (455).

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