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Divine Simplicity

Christ the Crisis of Metaphysics

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Paul Hinlicky, a leading systematic theologian widely respected for his contributions in contemporary dogmatics, critiques various ways the concept of divine simplicity has shaped Christian theology and offers a fresh articulation of the unity of God. Divine simplicity--which posits that the being of God is identical to the attributes of God--was carried over from the Greek metaphysical tradition, and Hinlicky suggests that the concept was heedlessly incorporated into the language of Christian trinitarian theology during the patristic period. Through a probing analysis, he identifies numerous problems that have resulted from its retention in Christian dogmatics during the medieval, Reformation, and modern periods. In short, Hinlicky argues that uncritical use of the concept in Christian theology renders the biblical God inexpressible and unknowable.

Following Hinlicky's critically acclaimed volume Divine Complexity, this major contribution on the doctrine of God brings Christian dogmatics into contact with ancient philosophy, medieval Aristotelianism, Islam, nominalism, and many modern theologians. It also contains a unique approach to the problem of Christian-Muslim relations. Professors, students, and scholars of systematic theology will value this work.

1. The Simplicity of Consistent Perichoresis
Are Divine Attributes Projections?
Not a Possible Perfection of the God of the Gospel
The Régnon Thesis
2. The Unstable Synthesis of St. Thomas Aquinas
Ground Clearing
Thomas's Theology of Divine Nature
The Patrological Alternative
The Trajectory of Protological Simplicity
Excursus: True Gnosis in Clement of Alexandria
Sitz im Leben
The True Gnostic
The Defense of Philosophy as Handmaiden in Theology
Christian Platonism
The Difficulty of Evaluating Clement
Evangelization of Hellenism
3. Muddle, Not Mystery
Clarity on a Collapsing Synthesis
How Augustine Stumbled (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23) over the Folly of God
The Diversity of Simplicities
In Defense of Augustine
The Radicality of Protological Simplicity
The Personal Union
Christological Apophaticism: The Coincidence of Opposites in Christ Crucified
4. Analogy and the Communicatio Idiomatum
Analogia Entis?
Vindicating Univocity
Sorting out Paradox and Similitude
Jesus as Vestige of the Trinity
The Analogy of Faith as Union with Christ
At the Mercy of the Spirit
Conclusion: And Christ Must Reign until . . . (1 Cor. 15:25)
The Counterthesis of Analytic Theology
The Rule Theory of Doctrine
The Decalogue's First Table as the Rule of Weak Simplicity
Glossary of Foreign Words and Phrases


"This is an impressive book--as biblical as it is philosophical, as creative as it is scholarly, as innovative as it is judicious. Hinlicky has produced a work of rare quality in systematic theology, and any reader of theology interested in the doctrine of God would be wise to read Divine Simplicity with the careful engagement it both demands and deserves."

Tom Greggs, professor of divinity, University of Aberdeen

"The thesis of this penetrating study is twofold. Negatively, the classical understanding of 'simplicity' arrived at through an 'ascending' use of natural reason consists in a timeless self-identity that results in agnosticism. In doing so, it drives a wedge between what God is as wholly ineffable 'substance' and who God reveals God's Self to be as triune, such that the attachment of the latter to the former is a strategy preordained to failure. Positively, the unity of God that 'simplicity' would like to secure consists in the perichoretic communion of trinitarian persons (socially elaborated and eschatologically realized). The Christology commensurate with this understanding of 'simplicity' prizes the unity of the christological person over any and every alleged dialectic of 'natures' and achieves this unity through emphasis on a two-way communication between the divine Person and the human 'nature.' I agree almost entirely with Hinlicky's diagnosis of the problems attending the concept of 'simplicity.' On the other hand, I have reservations with regard to the proposed solution--which will not surprise the author. Still, this is a book to be warmly welcomed! A clear and decisive response to the growing hegemony of defenders of the utterly simple God has been much needed. One can only hope that it will get a wide reading."

Bruce McCormack, Charles Hodge Professor of Systematic Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"With this probing study, constructive theologian Paul R. Hinlicky proposes to bring the reality of God back into the center of contemporary theology. Hinlicky asks important and necessary questions concerning divine simplicity as he works toward his account of the trinitarian God of love. The book is a model for working at the intersection of biblical studies, philosophy, and the Christian theological tradition."

Christine Helmer, Arthur E. Andersen Teaching and Research Professor, Professor of Religious Studies and German, Northwestern University

"With his usual clarity, Hinlicky shows that it is possible to defend both a strong trinitarian theology and a consistent monotheism. He leads the reader pedagogically through the depths of manifold Western traditions. Simplicity appears to be an issue that is both holy and profound."

Risto Saarinen, University of Helsinki

"Like Paul Hinlicky's earlier book on divine complexity, this one too lets the reader overhear a wonderful set of critical and constructive conversations between its author and a wide range of key thinkers--an intricate dialogue that leads finally to a deeper understanding of the Triune God. At stake in the conversations is the truth of the gospel and its promise, both of which are given conceptual clarity through a modified social model of the Trinity. The author's own interventions along that dialogical path make clear his own robust affirmation of the Three in the gospel narrative as the one living and true God (but not simply so). Particularly convincing are Hinlicky's insightful, creative analysis and trenchant critique of the ways in which Western philosophical-metaphysical assumptions, when infused into Christian dogma, undermine that gospel promise. This book will benefit both the seasoned scholar and the theology student who wants to 'think with' one of the living masters in the discipline. This is a book that I highly recommend."

Matthew L. Becker, professor of theology, Valparaiso University

"In this exhilarating study, Paul Hinlicky makes a bold case for a 'weak' or 'eschatological' doctrine of divine simplicity, grounding his argument in the biblical narrative of the unity of the one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hinlicky engages thoughtfully the classical 'protological' doctrine of simplicity, tracing its origins in the pre-Socratics and examining critically the appropriations of simplicity found in the works of Augustine and Aquinas. His plea is for a revised doctrine of simplicity that coheres better with the biblical narrative of a God who enters into relation with creatures and moves history forward toward the realization of the 'Beloved Community.' This passionately argued study reflects not only Hinlicky's wide reading in historical and contemporary sources but also, and just as important, his living commitment to the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Mickey L. Mattox, professor of theology, Marquette University

The Author

  1. Paul R. Hinlicky

    Paul R. Hinlicky

    Paul R. Hinlicky (PhD, Union Theological Seminary, New York; DHabil, Comenius University, Bratislava) is Tise Professor (emeritus) at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, and doctoral faculty at the Institute of Lutheran Theology. He is a board member...

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