Aseity is another attribute which is not widely discussed or understood. Unlike divine simplicity, this attribute is instinctively understood by those who think about God.
A Working Definition
Although there are various understandings of this doctrine, a basic definition goes like this:
God is not dependent on any person or thing who does not bear the divine nature, particularly for existence and identity.
It may be helpful to think of this in terms of non-contingecy and uncreatedness. The Father’s existence is not dependent on any other thing (remember, we’re not doing Doctrine of God, we’re doing Paterology). This term comes from the Latin phrase ens a se, meaning being from one’s self.
The doctrine of aseity is particularly helpful to exclude certain kinds of sub-Christian theologies (some heretical, some heterdox, some cultish). The following list is certainly not exhaustive.
- Open Theism – God’s knowledge is not entirely separate from his nature and identity (via divine simplicity). Thus, if God acquires knowledge externally his nature and identity are determined by something external
- Process Theology – God does not change over time, and even if he did that change cannot be determined by something external to himself
- Mormonism – God is not a creature because creatures must have creators and therefore are contingent
- Panentheism / New Age – The created world is constantly changed and affected and is utterly independent on other things for its existence and identity
- Word of Faith – God’s ability to act in your life is not dependent on (or restricted by) your faith or the words you say
Problems with Divine Aseity
As with divine simplicity, we will have to revisit this doctrine when we come to our Triadology section. Traditionally, divine aseity has held that God’s identity is not dependent on any person other than himself. This has led some traditions (Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism) to posit that the Son and Spirit are not a se, since the Son is generated by the Father (and gets his identity as the Son from the Father) and the Spirit is spirated by the Father (and Son in the West, and thus gets his identity as the Spirit by being breathed out by the Father [and Son]). Both traditions would limit aseity as a personal property to the Father. However, this does not account for the fact that the Father also is only the Father because he has a Son. Without the Son the Father would not be the Father, and thus if the Son cannot be said to be a se the Father also cannot.
For these reasons I prefer to think about aseity in terms of non-contingence (that is, an a se person exists necessarily and has an identity that is necessary), and uncreatedness (that is, an a se person was not created).