De Moor IV:23: Against Tritheism


Neither is the Trinity any hindrance, β. to this Unity of Persons in One divine Essence. For the Trinity does not assert a divine Nature common to multiple Essences distinct in number; but this Trinity of Persons sweetly agrees and is conjoined with Unity of Essence, 1 John 5:7; see below, Chapter V, § 18: some also refer to this Deuteronomy 6:4; see Chapter V, § 19. Nor does it hinder, that three Persons among men also assert three men and three Essences diverse in number; in that even one subsistence exhausts and terminates the singular, finite Essence of men: but the Essence of the three divine Persons is unique, indivisible, and singular, because this Essence, inasmuch as it is infinite, is also communicable to many.


This doctrine concerning the Unity of God is to be held, not only against the Polytheism of the Gentiles, but also against many within Christianity itself that are undermining this truth. Such are, α. the Papists, in a Practical way, who, while acknowledging with us One God in Trinity, are wont in their practice to bestow the honor owed only to the One God upon creatures: see below, Chapter IX, § 18, Chapter VI, § 6.


β. The Tritheists, in a Theoretical way, which sort, expressly so called, arose before the middle of the Sixth Century, with John as its author, a Philosopher and Grammarian of Alexandria; yet not a Pagan, as by manifest error some learned men did esteem him, but a Christian, surnamed Philoponus from his diligence.[1] While setting himself in appearance against Eutychianism, in the question concerning the one or multiple Natures in Christ, he stated that, if there be two Natures in Christ, there are also two Hypostases, for individual Natures assert as many Hypostases. But, to those objecting that in the Trinity there are Three ὑποστάσεις/Hypostases, but only one φύσιν/Nature or Divinity, he responds that in all the Three Hypostases in God are also Three Natures or Substances, but in all respects the same; whence he was called a Tritheist, although he was ashamed to assert Three Deities, or Three Gods, which he would acknowledge μίαν καὶ ὁμοούσιον καὶ ἀπαράλλακτον Θεότητα, one Divine Nature, of one substance and indistinguishable, in each: see SPANHEIM’S Historiam Ecclesiasticam, Century VI, chapter VIII, § 3, column 1112, and chapter XV, column 1166; BUDDEUS’ Isagogen ad Theologiam universam, book II, chapter VII, § 5, tome 2, pages 1095b-1097. In the eleventh Century the same opinion was condemned in Roscelin’s dialectics;[2] see BUDDEUS’ Isagogen ad Theologiam universam, book II, chapter VII, § 6, tome 2, pages 1122b, 1123.


In the more recent age, among the Tritheists is to be reckoned Johannes Valentinus Gentilis, an Italian from Campania,[3] who in turn had other followers, and who asserted three eternal Spirits, distinct in degree and number; in the end, he was executed at Bern of the Swiss in the year 1566: see SPANHEIM’S Elenchum Controversiarum, opera, tome 3, column 798; and at greater length CALVIN’S Explicationem impietatum et triplicis perfidiæ ac perjurii Valentini Gentilis, de quibus cognovits Senatus Genevensis, opera Calvini, tome 7, pages 659-678. What things CALVIN has in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, book I, chapter XIII, § 23, also have regard to this, “Certain scoundrels, so that they might escape the hatred and disgrace of Servetus’ impiety,[4] have indeed confessed the three Persons; but with a reason added, that the Father, who is truly and properly the only God, by fashioning the Son and the Spirit, poured His Deity into them. But they do not abstain from the horror of this manner of speech, that the Father by this mark is distinguished from the Son and the Spirit, that He alone is the maker.”


Many of the Anabaptists also deny that three Persons of the Deity belong to the One Essence; but they expressly affirm that these three Persons also possess three distinct Essences: see SPANHEIM’S Elenchum Controversiarum, opera, tome 3, column 780, § 6. Their words one may read, among other things, in DORESLAER and AUSTRO-SYLVIUS’ contra Anabaptistas,[5] chapter I, § 1, 2, pages 1-3; and they are more crass than that they might be able rightly to be excused in de Belijdenisse van den Eenigen Godt, etc., overgegeven aan den Hove van Holland, 1626, page 10. They speak more prudently and soberly in Confessione Unitorum Frisiorum et Germanorum, article I, page 45: but also with Menno[6] the more rightly thinking Mennonites; review carefully RYSDYK’S Verdediging van de Rechtzinnigheid der ware Mennoniten, § 29, pages 65-81.


Neither does Simon Episcopius keep the Numeric Unity of the Deity in good repair, but appears to contemplate a certain sort of Tritheism; in such a way that the three Persons of the Deity, in a manner similar to diverse human persons, possess one divine Nature with respect to species, but each with a diverse degree of dignity. Indeed, in his Institutionibus Theologiæ, book IV, section II, chapter XXXII, opera, tome I, pages 333, 334, he asserts, “It is certain from the Scripture, that divinity and divine perfections are attributed to the three Persons, not collaterally and coordinately, but subordinately. That this subordination is to be diligently observed, it wills, because in this manner at last τριθεότης/tritheism is pulled up by the roots, which Collaterality almost necessarily draws with it; but in this manner the Father’s proper glory is best preserved to him in good repair.” And to the Objections that he proposes to himself for resolution, against the manner in which ascribes divinity and generation to the Son, he responds, for example, in chapter XXXV, page 340, “Problem: The ὁμοουσία/homoousia/consubstantiality of the Son with the Father and Holy Spirit is not able to be preserved. Response: So be it: But without that is able to be preserved the Trinity, that is, the Faith that there is actually a Father, a Son, and a Holy Spirit. Problem: But the Trinity in the Numeric Unity of Essence is not preserved, therefore the Trinity is not preserved. Response: The consequence does not follow; the Trinity is not preserved in this manner, and so the Trinity is not preserved. Problem: But, without that manner, the Trinity is not the Trinity. Response: This is the very thing to be proven:” TRIGLAND’S Antapologiam, chapter V, pages 77b, 78a, b, 79a, 80a, number 13, likewise chapter XLV, pages 579b, 580a; SPANHEIM’S Elenchum Controversiarum, opera, tome 3, column 861, § XI.


Thus the Numeric Unity of the divine Essence could not remain intact either, if the opinion of Vorstius should stand, in his Notis on Disputation III de Deo, page 208: The Father is one thing, the Son another, the Holy Spirit another…. There are, therefore, three in any event, if not multiple diverse things in God. For those that say that the divine hypostases are only diverse modes are not to be heard: especially when they contend that those modes are neither substances, nor accidental properties. But you will say, The diverse persons are not diverse Essences. Response: It is sufficient that real Entities be truly diverse. Although it appears to be a sort of contradiction that any thing truly exists that does not have its own proper Essence. Multiple Englishmen, Valentinus Gentilis, and various Remonstrants, yet from whom a withdrawal was made by Adrian van Cattenburgh[7] in his Spicilegio Theologiæ Christianæ, book II, chapter XVII, section III, § 5-11, pages 200-203, raving similar things here, are recorded by LAMPE,[8] chapter V, de Spiritu Sancto, § 9, 10, Dissertationum philologico-theologicarum, Dissertation V, volume 2, pages 182, 183.

[1] Philoponus means lover of toil.


[2] Roscelin of Compiègne (c. 1050-c. 1125) was a French theologian and philosopher, regarded by some as the founder of Nominalism. He believed that it was only a convention of speech that prevented the three Divine Persons from being referred to as three substances or Gods.


[3] On the south-western coast of Italy.


[4] Michael Servetus (c. 1510-1553) was a Spanish physician and theologian. His denial of the doctrine of the Trinity led him into controversy with the entire Christian world. He was tried and executed at Geneva.


[5] Petrus Jakobus Austro-Sylvius (died 1647) was a Reformed Pastor in North Holland. He was commissioned by the synod of North Holland to prepare a refutation of the errors of the Mennonites. Progress on the work was slow until Abraham à Doreslaer (died 1655), a learned Dutch Reformed pastor and theologian, was appointed to help (1627). The result is a massive eight hundred and fifty-sx pages of careful comparison between the doctrines of the Reformed and of the Mennonites.


[6] Menno Simons (1496-1561), a former Roman Catholic priest, was an Anabaptist leader, and founder of the Mennonites. He was orthodox in his views on the doctrine of the Trinity.


[7] Adriaan van Cattenburgh (1664-1743) was a Professor of Theology among the Remonstrants.


[8] Frederic Adolphus Lampe (1683-1729) studied under Campegius Vitringa, and held various ministerial posts. At Utrecht he was appointed Professor of Theology (1720), then of Church History (1726). He departed to teach at Bremen in 1727, and died there in 1729. He was especially learned in ecclesiastical history and antiquities.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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