Divine Simplicity

A Dogmatic Account

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Steven J. Duby
T & T Clark Studies in Systematic Theology
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , December
     2015.
     272 pages.
     $120.00.
     E-Book.
    ISBN
    9780567665676.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Divine Simplicity is an edited form of Steve Duby’s doctoral dissertation at the University of St. Andrews. Duby provides a “dogmatic” and expositional account of the doctrine of divine simplicity [DDS], employing a Thomistic Reformed Orthodox method to theology proper and the use of metaphysics in unfolding the theological content of the biblical text.

In the first chapter, Duby provides a historical survey of DDS, detailing the Patristic, Medieval and Protestant developments. In summarizing the Protestant development Duby makes a keen observation about Protestant eclecticism on DDS that is often overlooked, “one ought not to suggest that they follow Thomas (or any earlier theologian or philosopher) in a slavish or exclusive way” (20). A further clarification that sheds light on Duby’s approach is his preference for Thomas Aquinas over John Duns Scotus. When considering the distinctions of the attributes, Duby prefers the analysis to be focused on the essence of God, rather than God himself.  In other words, one can identify particular attributes within God’s essence without identifying parts within God. Following this, some notable objections to DDS are introduced, which he then addresses in a later chapter.

In his second chapter, the contours of his dogmatic approach to DDS are unveiled. There are many reasons to be thankful for Duby’s work on DDS, and this section is one of them. Duby masterfully explicates the relations between biblical exegesis, metaphysics, and dogmatics. “Dogmatics is principally that of the rational ordering and elaboration of dogmata, or the articles of faith delivered in the scriptural teaching” (55). He contrasts this with the analytical theology movement, which critiques DDS, and which he believes underplays the creator-creature distinction, therefore misunderstanding the “analogical tenor of theological language” (84). This is a sneak peak into Duby’s wider critique of DDS deniers later in the book.

In the two chapters that follow, Duby gives a more meticulous elaboration on DDS through exploring its relation to other divine attributes such as singularity, aseity, immutability, infinity, and creatio ex nihilio. In this way, Duby paints a compelling and cogent case for DDS as grounded exegetically in scripture and dogmatically coherent. In this section, he also engages a few theologians who contest DDS. Readers perhaps unsatisfied with Aristotelian categories and concepts may find it difficult to be convinced by Duby’s argumentation, however this does not detract from the work, but instead reveals that there remains more opportunities to advance DDS.

In the fifth chapter, Duby directs his attention to a number of critiques of DDS, which generally falls into three categories: (1) the logical coherence of the plurality of attributes and DDS; (2) DDS and the doctrine of divine freedom; and (3) the doctrine of Trinity and DDS are mutually exclusive. To the first critique, Duby posits “these objections are rooted in a faulty conception of the nature of properties and the nature of theological language and do not take into account that the teaching of God’s simplicity still acknowledges a fundamentum in God for the distinct attributes” (192). To the second critique Duby avers that DDS and divine freedom are compatible with one another through his exposition of God’s decretive will and power, and by displaying an account of God’s relative attributes and of the relatio mixta between God and creatures. In his final critique Duby persuasively presents how the Trinity and DDS are compatible, exhibiting how the modal and real relative distinctions in the doctrine of the Trinity allow for a “distinction” that does not mean “composition.”

Ultimately, Duby provides a thoroughly-argued and compelling account of DDS that should be of interest to any student or scholar interested in constructive dogmatics or the DDS. This book is certainly a difficult read for those unacquainted with theology proper, however, I would still commend it those folks as a clear articulation of the DDS, and an example of the growing and vibrant field of constructive dogmatic theology.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Greg Parker Jr. is a graduate student at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

Date of Review: 
June 29, 2017

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