God is ‘Simple’

Whenever we try to talk about God, we run into the limitations of our language and our imagination.  When we describe God, we often have to resort to analogy with things of the created world.  God gives us many images of Himself in Scripture, and theologians have identified many of His characteristics.  But we must never forget that God is God, He Who Is, above and beyond all of our attempts to describe Him.  We must never think that we have Him all figured out. That is why eternity will be forever interesting:  Even when, God willing, we enjoy the Beatific Vision, we will be forever approaching, but never reaching, infinity.  My brother, Travis, helped me reach this conclusion when I asked him about the relationship of the word “parable” to the word “parabola.”  A parable speaks of something that we know to teach us about something mysterious and difficult to know.  It can approach that mystery without ever fully encompassing it.  Similarly, a parabola reaches closer and closer to an asymptote without ever reaching it.

That absolute unity of God Who simply Is is what theologians call His simplicity.  As Thomas Aquinas writes in answer to the objection that God is “not altogether simple,”

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Trin. iv 6, 7):  God is truly and absolutely simple.

I answer that, The absolute simplicity of God may be shown in various ways…it is clear that God is nowise composite, but is altogether simple…God is the first being…God is uncaused…And so, since God is absolute form, or rather absolute being, He can be in no way composite.  Hilary implies this argument, when he says (De Trin. vii):  God, Who is strength, is not made up of things that are weak; nor is He Who is light, composed of things that are dim…But the perfection of divine goodness is found in one simple thing.  (Summa Theologica, Part 1, Question 3, Article 7; Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province; Westminster, Maryland:  Christian Classics, 1948)

So even if I may speak about God as Father, Creator, Fire, Light, and Love, I must always remember that God is simple.  He is not made up of many parts, as created beings are; rather, He Is He Who Is.  I find it helpful to think of God as an enormous, lustrous, perfect pearl.  I could look at that pearl from an infinite number of angles and see a new gleam of its light, but each gleam would come from the one same pearl, simple and indivisible.  Thanks to my involvement with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I have had the opportunity to meditate on the parable of the Pearl of Great Value:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45-46)

As with all of Our Lord’s parables, I am sure that there are many valid interpretations.  The one that I have in connection with the image of God as a pearl is this:  All our lives, we are searching for fine pearls.  We have to trade some in to get others, and we are always looking for the most valuable pearls.  We must hold all of those good pearls very lightly, however, for when we reach the end of our lives, we must be ready to sell all that we have and trade in all of the other pearls for the One Pearl of Great Value:  God.

(Perhaps that is why the poor and the poor in spirit are blessed, and why it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.)

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