The “Apparent” Tension Between Divine Simplicity & Divine Freedom

The apparent tension between divine simplicity & divine freedom results from the conflation of two distinct categories, the metaphysical & existential with the nonmetaphysical & quidditative.

Especially Cf. The Formulation of Thomistic Simplicity: Mapping Aquinas’s Method for Configuring God’s Essence, JETS 57/2 (June 2014): 371–403.

Other aporia remain but are located elsewhere.

We successfully reference God, metaphysically, only apophatically, e.g. divine simplicity & ousia, abducting THAT God is, existentially.

We successfully reference God, personally, per special revelation, variously employing kataphasis, apophasis, doxology, etc, inductively experiencing WHO God is, quidditatively, e.g. divine aseity & energeiai.

Revelatory references employ common sense rhetoric with ontological implications but not always strict metaphysical categories & predications, which, at any rate, wouldn’t, in principle, lend themselves to anything but apophatic, existential – not quidditative, essential – metaphysics. Logical consistency not subject to parody in modal ontological arguments requires apophatic predication.

That’s why I insist, for example, on labeling the essence-energies distinction as trans-formal.

Analogical predications of God exert much more normative leverage on our embodied dispositions – aesthetically, morally & relationally – as we participate in reality’s excess of meaning, making appropriate (e.g. Eucharistic) responses to ultimate reality via myth & storytelling, which aren’t always completely true, literally, or robustly effective, analogically, i.e. they exert little descriptive leverage on our abstract propositions or deductive argumentations.

I would thus urge any reference to a putative analogical god-talk to be restated as trans-analogical.

We judge that the Reality of God will somehow, ultimately, make existence far less ambiguous for, & ambivalent toward, us in ways we can neither prove nor fully express, because …

proleptically, we have participated through, with & in One, Who has loved us, Whose Spirit has gifted us first fruits, an earnest, a guarantee, a down payment, a seal, a promise, a confident assurance in things hoped for & conviction of glories unseen.

How, precisely, might we avoid a Spinozan modal collapse?

In my own Peirce-like modal ontology, first, we distinguish determinacies & indeterminacies. [1]

For determinacies, we must disambiguate any ambiguities (univocal, equivocal, analogical, apophatic, etc) & define any in/definite actualities, which are determinacies (in/definitive) that can correspond to vaguely referenced or robustly described entities.

In/determinacies (in/determinable & in/determined) refer to generalities(probabilities & necessities) and vagueness (possibilities). We determine in/determinacies by delimiting vague possibilities & specifying generalities, i.e. probabilities & necessities.

Next, we distinguish possibilities, actualities & probabilities in terms of Aristotelian causation.

A distinction may be real vs conceptual (re logical or virtual). Real distinctions can include modal distinctions (re temporality or adequacy).

Modal temporality can include a formal or metaphysically real distinction. This maps, somewhat, to both Scotus’ formal distinction & Peirce’s category of thirdness or 3ns.

Modal temporality as applied to Peircean categories can variously map to causes, where for:

2ns or actualities, where noncontradiction [PNC] & excluded middle [PEM] hold and act maps to efficient & potency to material causes;

3ns or regularities, where PNC holds but PEM folds and act maps to formal & potency to final causes;

1ns or possibilities, where PNC folds & PEM holds and act maps to our embodied connaturalities and potency to their indeterminacies.

Other real distinctions would include:

act – existence
potency – essence

Modal Adequacy
whole/part or mereological

Real vs Conceptual (re logical or virtual).

Real distinctions include modal distinctions re temporality (above) or adequacy (in/finite or whole/part = mereological). Modal temporality includes a formal or metaphysically real distinction (PNC holds, PEM folds).

It could map like this:

Modal temporality can be applied to Peircean categories as mapped to causes, where for:

actualities, act –> efficient & potency –> material;

regularities, act -> formal; potency –> final.

existentially, act -> existence; potency -> essence.

Finally, we distinguish with Peirce, reality from existence. Gary E. Kessler describes Peirce’s distinction:

Reality is a broader term that encompasses what exists but is not synonymous with it. For something to be real it must have properties sufficient to identify it whether anyone attributes those properties to it or not. The existent, strictly speaking, is what interacts with things in a spatio-temporal environment.

Applying this distinction to God, then, in his excursus on Peirce’s Neglected Argument, [2] Kessler continues:

Since God is not another spatio-temporal object, it amounts to fetishism, Peirce remarks, to say that God exists. Hence his argument, strictly speaking, is not an argument for God’s existence, but for God’s reality.

Aaron Bruce Wilso writes, in Peirce’s Empiricism: Its Roots and Its Originality, Lexington Books, Oct 19, 2016

If the above- described distinctions refer to categories for spatio-temporal realities, how must they be modified to successfully reference the Reality of God, even if not successfully describe some putative Being of God?

Regarding the Reality of God:

Modal temporality would not successfully refer, much less describe God, because God’s

a) pure trans-actuality (actus purus or trans-efficient primal cause) lacks material potency as Ipsum Esse Subsistens.

b) God’s pure trans-formal act (primal telos) of Ens Necessarium lacks final potency; and

c) God’s pure trans-possibility lacks indeterminate potency.

Existentially, God’s pure act of existence lacks essential potency.

In terms of Modal Adequacy, the trans-infinite Reality of God lacks finitude.

Prior to theo-ontology, our theophany would define essential donative, communicative, participative & liberative aspects of human-divine relations. It would preclude all fatalism & determinism, include a robust conception of agency & proper conception of freedom.

Our dogmatic, relational essentials provide the theological contours within which we should remain as we aspire to our classical, neo-classical & other approaches.

The question of modal adequacy raises further whole/part or mereological considerations:

Would any of those dogmatic essentials necessarily be threatened in a theo-ontology that, for example:

pan-entheistically employs an ontological distinction between humans & God, where God donates & communicates creatively as we participate & are liberated imitatively?

panen-theistically employs a mereological distinction between humans & God, where God donates & communicates diffusively as we participate & are liberated substratively?

See Addendum below regarding a “dispositional” metaphysic.

I argue that, in both cases, the answer is no.

ALL of the Reality of God metaphysical formulations above set forth apophatic predications, where both PNC & PEM hold. Apophatic predications in modal ontological arguments preserve a logical consistency not subvertible by parody.

HOWEVER, it is one thing to set forth such distinctions syntactically & grammatically following semantic rules (e.g. univocity of being) that foster successful references, allowing us to formulate logically consistent modal ontological arguments that can be rather compelling philosophically & metaphysically, as we abduct the Reality of God or THAT God really effected this or that effect as would be proper to no known causes —

And quite another thing altogether to imagine that this great accomplishment of Natural Theology has also gifted us quidditative knowledge regarding to WHOM that Reality of God-concept refers in any robustly semantical or contextual (pragmatic) sense. It’s at this juncture we can begin telling untellable metaphysical stories, saying way more, metaphysically, than what can reasonably be known, proving too much metaphysically, abandoning all prudent aporetic sensibilities!

It’s at this juncture where, happily, having evaded a fideistic leap, we must next turn to special revelation, not so much propositionally at first but dispositionally, inhabiting & embodying its belongingness, its desirings, its participations — tasting & seeing the beauty & goodness imparted by the Divine Energies, prudently imagining that the Reality of Natural Theology’s God must be true!

Because the Reality of God successfully refers to the Ens Necessarium, not only God’s trans-actuality (essence) but also God’s trans-formal distinctions (energies) require a modal ontological grammar, where both PNC & PEM hold for the Creator.

For the created spatio-temporal order, whether in the formal distinctions of generalities or in the vagueness of possibilities, indeterminacies must be admitted to avoid falling into the hopeless paradoxes of essentialism vs nominalism, idealism vs naïve realism, asymmetric temporality, logical vs efficient causation, and so on.

PNC thus folds for temporal possibilities & PEM folds for temporal probabilities. This sharply distinguishes the modal grammars of metaphysical, apophatic, existential God-talk from those of spatio-temporal metaphysics?

Enough theological aporia present on their own without our generating more by conflating metaphysical grammars.

What sets Spinoza apart is his Principle of Sufficient Reason on steroids combined with an idealist monism, where an Ens Necessarium obviates all indeterminacies, where only one modal grammar operates.

What distinguishes some atheological conceptions is a mereological distinction, where the fallacy of composition is presupposed and the whole does not beg questions for its necessary being, a materialist monist approach to a brute reality. Here the PSR is methodologically provisional & a philosophical naturalism essential, but not necessarily inconsistent with libertarian freedom, consistent with a number of philosophies of mind.

Theological conceptions employ a nuanced PSR, essentially, with a methodological naturalism, provisionally. Conceiving God in classical or neoclassical, pan-entheist or panen-theist, conceptions, the Reality of God begs questions, either ontologically as asking “why not rather nothing?” or mereologically as asking “why not rather something else?”. The response to either question evokes an abduction of the Reality of the Ens Necessarium, which sharply distinguishes the Creator from the created order, metaphysically, but emphatically invokes participatory interactivity, whether creatively & imitatively or diffusively & substratively or perhaps even both. It could well be both, especially if the nihilo of creatio is, metaphysically, trans-existentiale & no-thing, thus avoiding the fetishism of saying that God exists.

In an irreducibly triadic reality, perhaps our entitial states or actualities entail creative & imitative interactions, while our relational states or telic matrices entail diffusive & substrative interactions (think deep & dynamic fields).

The move from the Ens Necessarium to donative participatory interactivity takes us from a natural (onto-theological) to a revealed (theophanic) theological methodology. A philosophical move to a theology of nature (theo-ontological) seeks embodied understandings & theological idioms as that method proposes distinctions like creative & imitative and/or diffusive & substrative.


experiential perception or research

Human Existence – entitial, esse actuale as 2ns


interpretation or intelligent understanding

“God is | not x | is true apophatically & literally” refers to Existence, onto-theologically & metaphysically.

From Natural Theology or Onto-theology:

Divine Being – actus purus (divine esse)


history & judging – deciding

Human BeingImago Dei, created-imitative esse essentiale as 1ns, connaturality

From Theophany & Theopoietics:

The statement “God is | x | is true kataphatically & trans-analogically” refers to Being, quidditatively, theophanically & theopoietically.

From Theology of Nature or Theo-ontology:

“God is neither | x | nor | not x | is true relationally & really” refers to Reality, theo-ontologically & intimately.

Divine Reality – relational, creative-diffusive essentiale (divine esse naturale) & uncreated substrative energeia (divine esse intentionale)


dialectics & responsible acting

Human Reality – uncreated substrative energeia, created, relational, esse intentionale as 3ns

Theological Foundations – philosophical, historical & exegetical – explore a polydoxy of live options for our existential leaps


Theological Doctrines as existential landings


Theological Systematics with further refined theology of nature


Theological Communications

pastoral, homiletics, catechesis, evangelization, missiology, apologetics, Gospel inculturation & moral enculturation

Let’s unpack a Dionysian-like Logic, where:

God is | x | is true kataphatically & trans-analogically;

God is | not x | is true apophatically & literally; and

God is neither | x | nor | not x | is true relationally & really.

Compare that to a Scotist- Peircean abduction of the Reality of God, where:

Being > Reality > Existence

The apophatic & literal statements work by metaphysically identifying God via such effects as would be proper to no known causes.

Because kataphatic & trans-analogical statements refer to God existentially, they must employ theophanic & theopoietic idioms, which don’t reduce to formal philosophical & metaphysical categories, as existence can’t be predicated of God, but which do express reality’s excess meaning in our stories & myths, liturgies & devotions.

While such statements offer no onto-theological, metaphysical leverage for our natural theology, descriptively & propositionally, they can still do theo-ontology, accomplishing a great deal of heavy lifting, normatively & dispositionally, discovering & crafting the idioms for our theologies of nature, whereby we affirm that our stories & myths, liturgies & devotions, “really relate” to God.

Therefore, we best formulate our real relational idioms of God in E-Prime (employing no verb forms of ‘to be’ or their equivalents), because, existentially, relational predicates will not successfully refer. With a Palamitic turn, real statements thus require the active voice as we refer to the manifold & multiform works done by God, energeia.

The statement “God is | x | is true kataphatically & trans-analogically” refers to Being, theophanically & theopoietically.

“God is | not x | is true apophatically & literally” refers to Existence, onto-theologically & metaphysically.

“God is neither | x | nor | not x | is true relationally & really” refers to Reality, theo-ontologically & intimately.

For moderate realists like Aquinas, Scotus & Peirce, the categories of Existence & Reality include, respectively, both entitial & relational created realities, i.e. the efficient acts & material potencies of entities and the formal acts & final potencies of teloi.

The category of Reality would also include the uncreated relational reality of Primal Telos, which, as Pure Act, sources created reality’s polydoxic teloi

energetically diffusing divinizing finalities into divine substrative forms …

thereby synergistically harmonizing the instrumental, efficient acts & material potencies of created, entitial existents that they might imitate the divine esse intentionale, growing dispositionally in an ever-deepening relational intimacy.

Divine Simplicity, metaphysically, refers to the apophatic, metaphysical abduction of the Reality of God as Ens Necessarium, esse naturale.

Divine Freedom, theophanically, refers to the uncreated energies of the Reality of God, which invite transformative effects (dis-positions) as would be proper to no known causes, hence from putative theotic participations, both entitial, creative & imitative, and relational, diffusive & substrative.

Any tension between Divine Simplicity & Divine Freedom does not arise onto-theologically in natural theology, for freedom refers to Divine Esse Intentionale trans-analogically (descriptively weak, propositionally, but normatively strong, dispositionally).

While denying a strictly metaphysical impasse between divine simplicity & freedom and while suggesting we’ve thus avoided any logical inconsistencies (e.g. due to parodies grounded in conceptual incompatabilities), it’s not to suggest we’ve also thereby eliminated the aporetic confrontations that inescapably attend to all theo-kataphasis. At the same time, it’s just no small victory to dismiss the facile caricatures & snarky parodies of “devastating” neo-atheological critiques?

A theology of nature, following these speculative grammars, can affirm divine simplicitly as a natural theological argument, philosophically, going beyond it, theo-ontologically – not only invoking Thomistic distinctions between efficient & instrumental causes, primary & secondary causations, to preserve creaturely agencies & avoid modal collapse, but – to affirm a real & robust divine-nature interactivity, pneumatologically, thereby also going, coherently, beyond a mere deism.

Theophanies & theopoetics aspire to successfully reference entitial realities, existentially, employing the ever-cascading & collapsing metaphors of our stories & myth, signs & symbols, liturgies & devotions, alternately revealing the concealed, then concealing the revealed, Who remains always timid but ever coy.

Theo-ontologies & theologies of nature aspire to successfully reference relational realities, personally, relating the uncreated Primal Telos of divine esse intentionale & the polydoxic teloi of creation (note below), which culminate in human intentionality. The seductions of divine intentionale remain ineluctably unobtrusive but so utterly efficacious in the wooing of Sophia (created).

Cf. regarding methodological distinctions of God-talk, see:

the Spirit woos creation forth•
makes this way south & that way north•
invites each blade of grass to green!

horizons, boundaries, limits, origins•
perimeters, parameters, centers, margins•
we’re given freedom in between!

thus truth & beauty & goodness grow•
thus lizards leap & roosters crow•
and dawns break with each new day!

good news is ours to be believed•
love freely given if received•
the Spirit in our heart will stay!

very old poem of mine

N.B. regarding polydoxic teloi

• Veldo-poietic (field-like) entities present as teleopotent or end-unbounded;

• cosmopoietic – teleomatic or end-stated;

• biopoietic – teleonomic or end-directed or end-coded;

• sentiopoietic – teleoqualic or end-purposed; and

• sapiopoietic – teleologic or end-intended


Over-coming not Over-turning Metaphysics: A Peircean Trinitophany of Divine THATness, WHATness & HOWness

For Peirce,

Being > Reality > Existence

We can successfully reference the

Being of God

Reality of God

Will of God

But the Peircean category of Existence does not refer to God, only to creation.

Peircean categories can help us avoid the category errors that can easily arise in our references to distinctly different types of trinitarian properties, haecceities & relations, e.g. what we attempt to predicate of ousia, hypostases & energeia.

Philosophically …

from the HOWness (primary & secondary relations) of certain effects as would be proper to no known causes …

we reason to the THATness (primary substance) of the Reality of God, as such effects …

evoke the WHATness (secondary substance) of the Being of God – as another “kind” of being, an Ens Necessarium (Peirce), which only special revelation can qualify.

Divine aseity, kataphatically & quidditatively, describes the Being of God as a secondary substance or essence (Aristotelian) or quiddity (Scotistic WHATness), i.e. the Father’s revealed, concrete unoriginateness (e.g. Rahner), all corresponding to Peircean firstness.

Divine simplicity, apophatically & nondescriptively, references the Reality of God as a primary substance (Aristotelian) or haecceity (Scotistic THATness), i.e. God’s philosophically knowable unoriginateness (e.g. Rahner), all corresponding to Peircean secondness.

Ergo, the divine hypostases of revelation refer to the trinitarian relations of three primary substances, while the divine ousia refers to the trinitarian relations in one secondary substance or essence.

Divine energeia, participatably & experientially, diffuse the Will of God as esse intentionale (Thomist) or relationality (Cappadocian HOWness), i.e. the personhood of the Eucharistic divine-human communion (e.g. Zizioulas), all corresponding to Peircean thirdness.

Of course, all of this presents over against Arianism, modalism, tritheism, etc

How do we understand the content of special revelation, as our analogical & doxological predications of God, employing ever-cascading but always-collapsing metaphors, seem to challenge Thomas’ doctrine of analogy?

Aquinas denies univocism & equivocism prior to, apparently, affirming their amalgamated version, some might suggest, in an ad hoc manner, i.e. not defending that leap or deriving its logic?

It seems to me, however, that his trans-analogical, amalgamated analogia, derives in the same way that Christopher McHugh derives his God argument. McHugh improves Anselm, Gödel & Hartshorne’s ontological proofs by employing only apophatic predications, while otherwise still following formal modal logic. Any logical inconsistencies are thereby guaranteed not to derive from conceptual incompatibilities, thereby immunizing the argument from any susceptibility to a subversion by parody.

So, properly predicated, our quidditative probes do employ a complete cycling of triadic inference, abductively hypothesizing, deductively clarifying & inductively testing our knowledge of God.

But they accomplish only so much.

Onto-theologically, regarding God’s primary substance, we abduct the Reality of God’s THATness.

Theo-ontologically, regarding God’s secondary substance, we deduct the Being of God’s WHATness, our kataphasis necessarily translated into apophasis.

Avoiding a sterile, nonvirtuous cycle of dyadic inference, i.e. of rationalistic hypotheses & syllogisms …

In other words, not over-turning but over-coming metaphysics

Theopoetically, beyond our abductive onto-theologizing regarding the Reality of God’s primary substance or THATness, and deductive theo-ontologizing regarding the Being of God’s secondary substance or WHATness …

regarding the Will of God’s HOWness, then, we inductively participate in the theophanic Divine Energies.

We existentially engage their connatural, eudaimonistic invitations ever-aspiring to embody their entelechies.

While often inchoately & confusedly, these participations via engagements & embodiments can serve to implicitly authenticate the ortho-doxic formulations of our onto-theologies & theo-ontologies …

through their ongoing transformative realizations of manifold & multiform ortho-communal, ortho-aesthetic, ortho-pathic, ortho-praxic & ortho-theotic efficacies.

Another parsing:

Presupposing 1) a root metaphor (substantial &/or relational) 2) reasoning formally & 3) predicating apophatically (albeit constrained by indeterminacies of vagueness & generality)

Propositionally, then –

Onto-theologically, we abduct the Ens Necessarium w/a successful reference to the Reality of God’s divine esse via philosophy, i.e. THATness or hypostasis.

Theo-ontologically, we increase the accuracy of our theological references to the Reality of God’s divine essence, apophatically, saying what God is not (univocally &/or literally) &/or not like (equivocally &/or analogically), i.e. WHATness or essence or ousia.

Dispositionally, then –

Theo-poetically, we increase the accuracy of our theological descriptions of the Reality of God’s divine energies, kataphatically & apophatically, via myth, storytelling & liturgy w/ever-cascading, always-collapsing metaphors, norming our responses to divine relationality, i.e. its HOWness or teloi, as they re-positionally transform us (fostering what Peirce might call a quietus vis a vis admirability via the primacy of the aesthetic, what the mystics might call sweet repose).

See also:


What I have set forth above is a meta-heuristic, what I feel is an essential (pun intended) phenomenological grammar that is preambular to any metaphysic, substance or process, any natural theology, or any theology of nature, whether classical or neoclassical, pan-entheistic or panen-theistic, or even pantheistic or atheological. This represents the foundations of most of my musings.

After posting this, I happily discovered the work of Dr. Mariusz Tabaczek O.P., who has articulated a “dispositional” metaphysic. I commend his writings to all.

Please see:

Below is an excerpt from his dissertation. It is the best example of a theology of nature as would be consistent with what I am struggling to articulate.

Click to access 1234.pdf

“A theory of emergence based on dispositional metaphysics would show a new explanatory potential as well. It would not only reconcile Aristotelianism with emergentism, but also have a significant impact on the view of divine action developed in reference to the theory of emergence. God’s action would no longer be conceived panentheistically as an influence on the totality of the world, which metaphysically assumes that the causation of God and creatures is of the same kind (univocal predication) and so runs the risk of collapsing into pantheism. The recovery of the plural notion of causation allows for a recapturing of the classical understanding of divine action as proposed by Aquinas. God is regarded as the ultimate source of forms, and the ultimate aim of all teleology in nature. With regard to efficient causation, God’s transcendence is protected by Aquinas’ distinction between the primary and principal causation of the Creator and the secondary and instrumental character of the causation of creatures. Therefore, God’s immutability, omniscience, omnipotence, infinity, eternity, and impassibility are not challenged, while his immanent and constant presence in all worldly events is by no means undermined.”


1) I say Peirce-like because I am not a thoroughgoing Peircean, metaphysically. I adapt, herein, his implicit modal grammar, importing Aristotelian, Thomistic & Palamitic distinctions.

2) A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God (1908) by Charles Sanders Peirce

Regarding the Neglected Argument, Gary E. Kessler writes:

I begin with some distinctions. First, Peirce distinguishes between an argument and argumentation. An argument is “any process of thought reasonably tending to produce a definite belief” while argumentation refers to an argument that proceeds “upon definitely formulated premisses” (6.456). We must note that Peirce’s Neglected Argument (hereafter referred to as NA) is an argument, but not argumentation.

Second, we must distinguish between reality and existence. Reality is a broader term that encompasses what exists but is not synonymous with it. For something to be real it must have properties sufficient to identify it whether anyone attributes those properties to it or not. The existent, strictly speaking, is what interacts with things in a spatio-temporal environment. Since God is not another spatio-temporal object, it amounts to fetishism, Peirce remarks, to say that God exists. Hence his argument, strictly speaking, is not an argument for God’s existence, but for God’s reality.

Conversations that touch upon my take above:

Mapping Metaphysical Distinctions: Aristotelian, Thomist, Scotist, Peircean & Palamitic

The “Trans-Formal Distinction” between the Divine Essence & Energies

Divine Simplicity and Modal Collapse

The Krueger-McHugh Debate: Theism or Atheism (2003)

The Formulation of Thomistic Simplicity: Mapping Aquinas’s Method for Configuring God’s Essence, JETS 57/2 (June 2014): 371–403.

Divine Simplicity and the Formal Distinction, Part 2

5 thoughts on “The “Apparent” Tension Between Divine Simplicity & Divine Freedom

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