De Moor V:3: Calvin and Alting on the Divine Persons and Substance


I cannot help subjoining CALVIN’S elegant description of the Persons in divine things, and an explanation of that description, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book I, chapter XIII, § 6: “I call a Person a subsistence in the essence of God, which in its relation to the others is distinguished by an incommunicable property. By the term subsistence we wish to be understood something other than essence. For, if the Word was simply God, at the same time having nothing proper, John spoke incorrectly, John 1:1, that He was always with God. When immediately afterwards he adds that the Word was also very God, he recalls us to the singular essence. But, because He was not able to be with God without residing in the Father, hence that subsistence emerges, which, although by an indivisible tie it is conjoined with the essence, and is not able to be separated, has a special note whereby it is distinguished from it. Now, each of the three subsistences, I say, relative to the others is distinguished by a property. A Relation here is explicitly expressed: because, where a simple and indefinite mention of God is made, this name pertains no less to the Son and Spirit than to the Father. But, as soon as the Father is compared with the Son, His property distinguishes each from the other. Thirdly, whatever is proper to each, I assert to be incommunicable, because whatever is not able apply or be transferred to the Son is attributed to the Father as a note of distinction. But the definition of Tertullian in his book contra Praxeam is not displeasing to me, provide it be taken in the right manner: that there is a certain disposition or economy in God, which changes nothing of the unity of essence.” To which things may be added those that HEINRICH ALTING[1] relates with perspicuity, Problematica Theologia, part I, problem IX, and Scriptorum Heidelbergensium, tome 2, pages 45-48, where on the question, How is the Divine Essence Communicable, but Person Incommunicable? among other things it is responded: “The Communicability of the Divine Essence denotes two things: First, its Community, because it is common to the three Persons of the Deity, and that equally. Reasons: I. Because those Persons are one in numeric and individual essence, John 10:30; 1 John 5:7. Therefore, They have one common Essence. II. Because the Names of the Essence and of all essential Attribues are attributed equally to each. The Father is God; the Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God. The Father is eternal and omnipotent: the Son and Spirit likewise. Therefore, the Essence is common to them equally. See the Symbolum Athanasii…. Second, its Communication also, whereby the Essence is understood as communicated to one Person from another. The Father is the fount and principium of the whole Deity, and in Him Deity is ἀγενήτως, without origin. He communicated the Essence to the Son: the Father and the Son to the Holy Spirit. It is proven, I. from the words of Scripture, the Father begat the Son, etc. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, etc. II. Because without this Communication the Trinity is not able to be defended, but will be a quaternity: since one Person is not originally from another. But the Scripture teaches this, that the Son is of the Father, John 1:14, etc…. Incommunicability belongs to the divine Persons…. Therefore, Incommunicability is the personal Property, whereby one Person is distinguished from another…. We rightly attribute this to God, I. Because in God there are proper and incommunicable Names, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. II. Because they are personal and incommunicable acts, to beget, to be begotten, and to proceed. III. Because in accordance with the names and acts in Scripture one is called the Father, another the Son, another the Holy Spirit. IV. Because each and every thing necessarily has the terminus and mode of its own existence. Therefore, much more so God. But that terminus is incommunicable subsistence. Moreover, this Incommunicability effects two things: I. that a Person is a particular Person, the Father is the Father, the Son is the Son, the Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit. Reason: because it is a characteristic and individual property, whereby the common Essence is determined in this or that person, as it were: they commonly call it the principium individuating, or of individuation. II. That one Person differs from another, not essentially, but personally: The Father is one, the Son another, the Holy Spirit another. Reason: because it is Incommunicable to another.”


Heinrich Alting

Moreover, those things that our AUTHOR here delivers concering Personality abstractly considered, and what things he explains at length in his Narratione Apologetica contra Johannes Braunium, and in the Appendix of this Narrationis Apologeticæ, VAN MASTRICHT also illustrates and defends admirably, and shows the absolutely intolerable consequences of the opposite opinion of some more Recent Men, Gangræna Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior part, chapter XXXIV, pages 513-533, which whom LEYDEKKER[2] is able to be compared, Face Veritatis, locus IV, controversies I, III, pages 186-201, 204-207, and also MARESIUS, Defension Fidei Catholicæ adversum Curcellæum,[3] Dissertation I, Sections VII-X, pages 104-201.

[1] Heinrich Alting (1583-1644) was a German Reformed divine, specializing in Ecclesiastical History and Historical Theology. He served as Professor of Theology at Heidelberg (1613-1622), and then Professor of Historical Theology at Groningen (1627-1644).


[2] Melchior Leydekker (1642-1721) studied under Voetius at Utrecht, and Hoornbeeck and Cocceius at Leiden. He was appointed Professor of Theology at Utrecht (1676).


[3] Etienne de Courcelles (1586-1659) was an Arminian theologian. He studied in Zurich, and later succeeded Simon Episcopius at the Remonstrant seminary in Amsterdam. He was a personal friend of Descartes, and was influential in introducing Cartesian rationalism into Dutch Arminian circles.

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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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