Simplicity and Communicatio

The doctrine of divine simplicity is a necessary description of God’s infinity. It states that all attributes of the divine nature are coextensive with that nature and indeed, they are the nature. There is nothing between the attributes and the nature. There is nothing that separates them, for that something would need to be other than divine in order to maintain the distinction. Since this is unthinkable- that is, since all the divine attributes are infinite and omni- well, omni-everything- the confession of simplicity is a proper conclusion of the via negativa.

This doctrine is very useful because it helps keep our dogmatic speech orderly and consistent. It forbids any talk of disharmony among the divine attributes, and it forbids giving primacy to any one of the attributes. It should likewise be applied in other loci of systematics to continue to preserve consistency and harmony.

My roommate recently pointed out that divine simplicity is particularly effective as a critique against the position, often espoused by Lutherans, that in the person of Christ there is a communication of attributes. This position argues that the divine gives some of its qualities to the human, and the human gives some of its qualities to the divine. This has long been criticized by Calvinists as a confusion of the natures, even tending towards Eutychianism, and I think the charge basically sticks. To go further, though, divine simplicity forbids the giving of some attributes, but not others because again, all of the attributes are equal with the essence. Therefore, it is simply not possible to affirm the communication of omnipresence, but not the communication of infinity. Ubiquity cannot be communicated without also communicating eternality, and this would be nothing more than to make the created the Creator.

And so we see how Christology affects Theology and how Theology affects Christology.


Zanchi: For It Was the Blood of God

‘When therefore the fullnesse of time was come’, wherein the promise of redemption made unto the first man was to be accomplished by the second, God, the everlasting Father, sent his onely begotten Sonne and eternal and therefore true God, of the same nature with the Father, made of a woman alone, and without the seede of a man and therefore true man, but without sine and so true Christ, made subject to the lawe and therefore circumcised, that he in most perfect obedience might fulfill that law in the name of us all, made obedient to his Father even unto death, namely for us (for he, being without sinne, deserved not to die) that he might redeeme those which were under the law and all the elect even by his obedience, by his death and bloodshedding, that is, by a sacrifice of exceeding vertue (for it was the blood of God) and a most effectual antilutro, ransome, that he might, I saie, redeeme us from sinne to the old image of God and to perfect righteousness, yeah, from death to eternal life, and from the kingdome of Satan to the kingdome of God; and that we might receive adoption of children and so in the ende bee taken into full and perfect possession of the heavenlie inheritance as sonnes and lawfull heires.  And lastile, that he might gather together all thinges in heaven and in earth under one head and ioyne them to himselfe for the glorie of God the Father.

~ Confessions of the Christian Religion XI.1

Augustine on God’s Righteousness

Now, what the righteousness of God is, which is spoken of here [Rom. x.2,3], he immediately afterwards explains by adding: “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”  This righteousness of God, therefore, lies not in the commandment of the law, which excites fear, but in the aid afforded by the grace of Christ, to which alone the fear of the law, as of a schoolmaster, usefully conducts.  Now, the man who understands this understands why he is a Christian.  For “If righteousness came by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”  If, however, He did not die in vain, in Him only is the ungodly man justified, and to him, on believing in him who justifies the ungodly, faith is reckoned for righteousness.  For all men have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His blood.  But all those who do think themselves to belong to the “all who have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” have of course no need to become Christians, because “they that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick;” whence it is, that He came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

~ On Nature and Grace chap. 1

From John Donne’s La Corona


Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise,
Weaved in my lone devout melancholy,
Thou which of good hast, yea, art treasury,
All changing unchanged Ancient of days.
But do not with a vile crown of frail bays
Reward my Muse’s white sincerity ;
But what Thy thorny crown gain’d, that give me,
A crown of glory, which doth flower always.
The ends crown our works, but Thou crown’st our ends,
For at our ends begins our endless rest.
The first last end, now zealously possess’d,
With a strong sober thirst my soul attends.
‘Tis time that heart and voice be lifted high ;
Salvation to all that will is nigh.


Salvation to all that will is nigh ;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo ! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb ; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He’ll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death’s force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother ;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived ; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker’s maker, and thy Father’s mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt’st in little room
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb.


Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-beloved imprisonment.
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come.
But O !  for thee, for Him, hath th’ inn no room ?
Yet lay Him in this stall, and from th’ orient,
Stars, and wise men will travel to prevent
The effects of Herod’s jealous general doom.
See’st thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eye, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie ?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee ?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.

Polhill on Justification and the Evangelical Condition

Thirdly, Obedience is necessary, though not to the first entrance into justification, yet to the continuance of it; not indeed as a cause, but as a condition. Thus Bishop Davenant, Bona opera sunt necessaria ad justificationis statum retinendum et conservandum; non ut causae, quae per se efficiant aut mereantur hanc conservationem; sed ut media seu conditiones, sine quibus Deus non vult justificationis gratiam in hominibus conservare. If a believer, who is instantly justified upon believing, would continue justified, he must sincerely obey God. Though his obedience in measure and degree reach not fully to the precept of the gospel; yet in truth and substance it comes up to the condition of it; else he cannot continue justified; this to me is very evident; we are at first justified by a living faith, such as virtually is obedience; and cannot continue justified by a dead one such as operates not at all. We are at first justified by a faith which accepts Christ as a Saviour and Lord; and cannot continue justified by such a faith as would divide Christ, taking his salvation from guilt, and by disobedience casting off his lordship; could we suppose that which never comes to pass, that a believer should not sincerely obey: How should he continue justified? if he continue justified, he must, as all justified persons have, needs have a right to life eternal; and if he have such a right, how can he be judged according to his works? no good works being found in him after his believing, how can he be adjudged to life? or how to death, if he continue justified? These things evince, that obedience is a condition necessary as to our continuance in a state of justification: nevertheless it is not necessary, that obedience should be perfect as to the evangelical precept; but that it should be such, that the truth of grace which the evangelical condition calls for, may not fail for want of it: “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city,” (Rev. xxii.14.) The first fundamental right to heaven they have by the faith of Christ only: but sincere obedience is necessary that that right may be continued to them: in this sense we may fairly construe that conclusion of St James, “Ye see, then, how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only,” (Jam. ii.24.) Faith brings a man into a justified estate; but may he rest here? No, his good works must be a proof of his faith, and give a kind of experiment of the life of it. Nay, they are the evangelical condition, upon which his blessed estate of justification is continued to him; in foro legis, Christ and his righteousness is all; neither our faith nor our works can supply the room of his satisfaction to justify against us against the law: but in foro gratiae, our obedience answers to the evangelical condition, and is a means to continue our justified estate: it is true, St. Paul asserts that we are justified by faith, not by works, (Rom iv.); which seems directly contrary to that of St. James, that a man is justified by works, not by faith only. But the difference is reconciled very fairly, if we do but consider what the works are in St. Paul, and what they are in St. James. In St. Paul, the works are pefect works, such as correspond to the law, such as make the reward to be of debt, (ver. 4.) Hence Calvin saith, “Operantem vocat, qui suis meritis aliqui promeretur, non operantem, cui nihil debetar operum merito.” In St. James, the works are sincere only, such as answer not to the law, but to the evangelical condition; such as merit not, but are rewarded out of grace. Works in St. Paul, are such as stand in competition or co-ordination with Christ and his righteousness, which satisfied the law for us. Works in St. James are such as stand in due subordination to Christ and his righteousness, and are required only as fruits of faith, and conditions upon which we are to continue in a justified state.

~A View of Some Divine Truths pg. 92-93

Take Away the Doctrine of Original Sin, and the Baptism of Infants Seems to be a Very Ridiculous Thing

Anyone familiar with Augustine’s writings against Pelagius will recognize when his methodology reappears in later writers. One of his more memorable proofs for original sin was infant baptism. The argument went something like this, “If they don’t have any sin, then why are we baptizing them for the remission of sins?” You can’t wash off something that isn’t there.

This was a simple but effective maneuver. Peter Brown argues in his biography on Augustine that it was the practice of infant baptism that secured popular support for Augustine. Just like with Athanasius, liturgical practice helped secure dogma, at least in the larger public arena.

Again, the argument works because the belief that baptism washes away sins is presumed. Baptismal Regeneration was a doctrine universally agreed on prior to similar agreement on the doctrine of original sin. Therefore it could serve as the ground of the argument for original sin.

I find it informative that Augustine could use the argument in the 4th century, but it is even more interesting to me that folks still used it in the 17th century. Edward Polhill did just that in England in 1678 (*Hint- This is about thirty years after the Westminster Assembly). Here’s his argument:

Our Saviour Christ instituted baptism, and that for infants; but if there be no original pollution in them, what need a washing ordinance for them? The washing of their bodies, whose pure, innocent, undefiled souls are incapable of spiritual washing, is but a shadow without substance, a sacrament without internal grace, a thing too insignificant for Christ the wisdom of God to institute. Hence, when the Pelagians on the one hand granted the baptism of infants, and on the other denied original sin, St. Austin saith, that hey spoke wonderful things. In sacramento salvatoris baptizantur, sed non salvantur, redimuntur sed non liberantur, lavantur sed non abluuntur; In our Saviour’s sacrament infants are baptized, but not saved; redeemed, but not delivered; washed but not cleansed. And a little after he asks, If they are saved, what was their sickness? If delivered, what their servitude? If cleansed, what their pollution? Take away the doctrine of original sin, and the baptism of infants seems to be a very ridiculous thing. To avoid this absurdity, the Pelagians asserted, That the baptism of infants was necessary, not because there was any original sin in them, but that they might be capable of the kingdom of heaven. But I answer, Where there is no defect, there is all due perfection. If infants are pure and free from all sin, then have they all their righteousness and rectitude which ought to be in them; and if they have so, they are, without baptism, capable of heaven; or if they were not, the baptismal washing, which imports pollution, seems to be a ceremony very unfit and incongruous to be applied to them who are without spot, or to render them apt for heaven.

~ A View of Some Divine Truths pg 58-59

So in a dramatic sort of irony, we could say that those who deny baptismal regeneration are the semi-Pelagians.

More Polhill on Union with Christ

Let us distinguish ourselves according to the two Adams. Whatever is vicious or defective in us, relates to the first Adam: whatever is gracious or prefective of our nature, relates to the second. Never can we be too humble under the sense of original corruption which adheres to our nature. Never can we be too thankful for that supernatural grace which gave us a new nature. Because we have a Divine nature in us, we should live suitably to it. Had we but one single creation, we had been eternally bound to serve and glorify God; but when he sets to his hand the second time to create us again in Christ Jesus unto good works, how should our lives answer thereunto! When in the horrible earthquake at Antioch the emperor Trajanus was drawn out of the ruins, it was a very great obligation upon him to serve and honour God who so signally delivered him; how much greater obligation lies upon us, who are drawn by an act of grace out of the ruins of the fall! How should we live in a just decorum to that Divine nature which we are made partakers of! We should still be bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit, and shewing forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. Again; because the relics of corruption are still remaining even in the regenerate, we should ever be upon our spiritual watch; we should set guards within and without, that sin may not creep in by the ports of sense, nor rise up out of the deep of the heart. When a temptation approaches to us, we should say as a holy man did, Auferte ignem, adhuc enim paleas habeo; take away the fire, yet I have chaff within. If a Jonah fall into a pet against God; if a David wallow in adultery and blood; if a Peter deny his Lord with a curse, what may not we do! The remnants of original sin in us should make us keep a watch over our hearts, and ponder the path of our feet. Our flesh is an Eve, a tempter within us; nay, a kind of devil, as an ancient speaks, Nemo sibi de suo palpet, quisque sibi Satan est.

~A View of Some Divine Truths pg. 61

And also:

Secondly, we receive a human nature from Adam, and have we not a divine nature from Christ? are we not called his seed? are we not begotten by his Spirit and word? were we not in a spiritual sense seminally in his blood and merits? how else should any such thing as the new creature be produced in a lapsed nature? These things are as proper to make us parts and members of Christ, as a human nature is to make us parts and members of Adam; therefore, the communication of righteousness from Christ must be as full and great as the communication of sin is from Adam. Bishop Usher tells us, that we have a more strict conjunction in the Spirit with Christ, than ever we had in nature with Adam; one and the same spirit is in Christ and believers, but there is not one soul in Adam and his posterity: the communication from Christ, therefore, if answerable to the union, must be as great, nay, greater than that from Adam.

~pg. 83

I shall seek to explain what Polhill’s language about union with Christ and “communication” of righteousness means at a later time. For now I just wish to show what sort of union he has in mind. We are legally united to Christ, it is true, but this is only the case because we are also seminally united to him through the agency of the Holy Spirit.

Also, in my previous post on Polhill, I cited from Speculum theologiae in Christo which is available online through Google books. I have, however, recently purchased Soli Deo Gloria’s The Works of Edward Polhill which include the Speculum as well as others. Speculum is called A View of Some Divine Truths, and that accounts for the change in title in my new citations. It is all the same book, though.

Edward Polhill on Union With Christ

The other is that special conjunction, which is between Christ and Believers; Christ is the Head, they are the Members: the Ligatures of this Mystical Union are the Holy Spirit and Faith, the quickening Spirit (saith the reverend Usher) descends downwards from the head to be in us a fountain of supernatural life; a lively Faith, wrought by the same Spirit, ascends from us upward to lay fast hold upon him. The Scripture notably sets forth this Union, We dwell in Christ and he in us, John 6.56, We abide in him and he in us, John 15.4. We are Members of his Body, of his Flesh, and of his Bones, Ephes. 5.30, 32. And he is in us the hope of Glory, Col. 1.27. This the Apostle calls a great Mystery, and the Riches of the Glory of the Mystery; we are ingrafted into him as Branches into a Root; cemented to him as the building is to the foundation; incorporated with him as the food is with our Bodies; united to him as Members are to the Head. We ead his Flesh, and drink his Blood, and become one Spirit with him; nothing can be more emphatical, the Holy Spirit which resides in him the Head, falls down upon us Members, and so makes a kind of continuity between him and us, too Spiritual and Divine to be interrupted by any local distance: Hence St. Chrysostom saith, that there is no medium or middle between Christ and us; hence St. Austin saith that, Believers are made one Christ with the Man Christ, the Head and the Body make up one Christ: Hence that of Aquinas, that Christ and his Members are but one mystical person; the consequence of this admirable Union is the communication of Divine Blessings from him to us… said the learned Zanchy, All our good things depends on this most necessary Union.

~ Edward Polhill Speculum theologiae in Christo pg. 334-335 (1678)

We should notice that Polhill favorably quotes Aquinas saying that Christ and the Church are one person, but he has also explains that it is the Person of the Holy Spirit that makes this possible. The individual believers don’t become Jesus of Nazareth, nor does Jesus lose his individuality. Rather, the singular person of the Holy Spirit unites them in the one bond of love. As further quotes will show, this is a real union.