De Moor V:3: The Divine Persons and Substance, Part 1

Personality in abstract, 1. Is not any Real Being, that is, having its own Essence or Substance: by means of which a Fourfold Essence would be imposed upon God, the one common Divine Essence, and the three others of the three Persons.


Christopher Wittich

2. Personality is also not the mere Negation of Actual Communication. Thus, of course, some of the More Recent men: Wittich,[1] in his Theologia Pacifica, § CXLIX, CCXXVII, “Subsistence is thus rather to be defined, as what, precisely and abstractly considered, is nothing other than the mere negation of conjunction with another thing to constitute one subsistence.” Burman,[2] in his Synopsi Theologiæ, book I, chapter XXX, § 10, “Person, therefore…signifies nothing other than a substance, which is not united to another. In such a way that personality only indicates a negation of union:” and in § 8, “It is false that subsistence consists in incommunicability; …but it consists in being incommunicative, or that one thing might not be arranged with another, so that it might constitute one whole with it:” and likewise in book V, chapter VIII, § 13, “Subsistence does not assert anything positive.” To these is to be added Braun,[3] Doctrina Fœderum, locus III, volume I, part II, chapter VII, § 4, “Subsistence in abstract does not consist in incommunicability, by which a thing is not able to be joined with another, to constitute one suppositum with it, but in being incommunicative, or the negation of union with another, to constitute a suppositum or person. …Subsistence is itself the present negation of union with another:” and in locus XIX, volume 2, part IV, chapter XVI, § 1, “We have shown that a Person is a Substance individual, spiritual, not joined to another, so that it might make one suppositum with it, etc. We have also shown that subsistence in the abstract does not consist in anything positive, as if anthing were added to an individual, intelligent substance; but in the mere negation of union with another substance so that it might make a suppositum, or person, with it.” To which he then subjoins one and another Objection, to be resolved hereafter by us.


Johannes a Marck

But our AUTHOR observes that, α. If the Personality of the divine Persons should consist in the mere Negation of Actual Communication, then it is a Mere Nothing: whence the concept of the Trinity would be merely negative, and the three Persons of the Trinity would be constituted to be in themselves and would be distinguished from one another by negation alone; and the Personal Works ad intra would have no principium except a negative one: which things are absurd. And so, although Personality be not incorrectly described by Incommunicability with regard to a negative boundary, yet that negative boundary implies something positive.


For, otherwise, from this, β. it would follow, that every distinction of the divine Persons from the Esence and among themselves would be removed; indeed, the divine Essence alone remains, which is united to no other thing; and in the one Essence there is not able to be a threefold, truly distinct, non-union or mere negation.


γ. Indeed, the Characteristic Properties of the divine Persons would thus be removed; since these neither are the Essence itself, nor a Mere Negation, but a true Communication of the divine Essence, which is done, not from the Essence (since the Essence does not beget an Essence), but from the Person of the Father to the Son, and from the Father and the Son to the Spirit, as they are actions of supposita. Therefore, the beginning and the end of this action, since it is not Essence, ought to be something positive besides Essence, from which it arises, and upon which it is terminated: since true divine action is not able to arise from a mere nothing, nor to be terminated upon a mere nothing.


δ. The opinion, acknowledging nothing Positive in God except Essence, was of old condemned as heresy in Sabellius, Noëtus,[4] Praxeas,[5] and the Patripassians, and is even now condemned. Indeed, those acknowledged the Names of the individual Persons, and professed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in words; but they, intending these as mere Names, with everything Positive excluded except Essence, denied the Persons in fact. In which manner, not even Hobbes[6] himself in his Appendix to Leviathan refuses to profess that the three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one God, and that in three Persons: but he soon overturns that, subjoining that a Person here is taken for that which acts the part of itself or of the other; as CICERO said that he, being one, sustained three persons; his own, that of his adversary, and that of the Judge, book II de Orationibus, chapter XXIV. This he means, that the world was created by God in His own, proper Person, that in redeeming mankind Jesus Christ wore the person of God, as did the Holy Spirit in sanctifying the elect; against whom see COCQUIUS,[7] Anatome Hobbesianismi, locus VI, chapter XIII, pages 131, 132.


ε. If Personality means only the Denial of actual Communication, or of present Union with another, what will become of the Incarnation of the Son of God? 1. The divine Essence was not incarnated, but the Person of the Son of God, by Assumption of a human Nature. But the Assumption of a human Nature does not belong to a mere Negation. 2. Thus by the hypostatic Union the divine Nature appears to have let fall one one Incommunication or Negation of action Communication and Union, and so one Personality; whence the Son of God would no longer be the Son of God, nor would there be a Trinity in God, but a Binity. If, as the Most Illustriou Burman was saying, “Person signifies nothing other than a Substance that is not united to another,” then the Personality of the Λόγου/Logos perished in the Incarnation, by which the Substance of the Λόγου/Logos was most closely united to human Substance.


Johannes Braun

Braun objects, Doctrina Fœderum, locus XIX, volume 2, part IV, chapter XVI, § 13, 1. that no one ever was or will be able to express what that is Positively.


Responses: α. The truth of things revealed by God is to believed, even if we do not know their nature and whole extent. The Generation of the Son by the Father and the ἐκπόρευσις/procession of the Holy Spirit are revealed to us with sufficient clarity, and are revealed in such a way that these characteristic Properties of the Persons are not set forth to us as mere Negation, but as something truly positive: even if that Mystery be not granted to us as finite creatures to be searched in all its facets: hence also Subsistence itself is not able to be considered as mere Negation. β. And, how one may in general conceive of that which constitutes Personality as Positive, our AUTHOR will next show, with a description given, to hiss at which belongs to our quibbler.


He Objects, 2. Doctrina Fœderum, locus XIX, volume 2, part IV, chapter XVI, § 13, that there would thus be in the divine Persons a manifest Composition of that singular Nature or substance itself, and of some other Positive thing, which might be called its subsistence. That Positive thing itself would also have its own nature, and thus in each divine Person there would be two natures and a composite being.


Responses: α. This is the stone, upon which the Sabellians formerly dashed themselves; what the Socianians, being about to construct one divine Person, impute to us is absurd. β. But Our Men answered (stammering in divine things, as must be the case, when it is treated of Wisdom ἐν μυστηρίῳ, in a mystery[8]): Finite modes do indeed introduce some composition, but not modes infinite, or having respect to infinite Essence, as more closely and ineffably joined with that Essence, not making for the constitution of the Essence as such, yet not really differing from the Essence, but variously modifying the Essence. γ. And, if by nature one should understand the Essence of that Positive thing, it is to be understood that this properly agrees only with Being, not with its Mode. But, if only the quiddity of that Positive thing be understood by the nature of the same, that does not imply real composition, since it is only a Mode of the divine Essence.


He Objects, 3. Doctrina Fœderum, locus XIX, volume 2, part IV, chapter XVI, § 9, that the Scotists[9] already formerly denied that Personality adds anything Positive to Nature.


Responses: α. God forbid that the Scotists should establish a rule for us in Theology. β. The Scotists never placed Personality in Incommunication, but in Incommunicability, which opinion Braun and others assail, no less than that it is anything positive. γ. More modest than these were the Scotists, who did indeed philosophize concerning created suppositum in such a way they denied suppositality to add anything Positive to an individual nature, or anything other than the twofold negation of actual and aptitudinal dependence, which latter our Men, with whom we have to do here, deny: but they thought far differently concerning God, with Braun not denying, in whom they confessed Personality to be something Positive. But we do not here trate of Personality in men. SMISING,[10] de Deo Uno et Trino, tome 2, page 72, writes: “Whence in the opinion of Scotus, even if the divine suppositum should add anything positive to the divine nature; yet a created suppositum adds nothing to an individual nature beyond the negation of actual and aptitudinal communicability.” Thus the Scotist MEURISSE,[11] Metaphysica, book III, question IV, asking, “What does person or suppositum add over and above the individual nature?” He answers: “The question does not pertain to a divine and uncreated person, which, with nothing contradicting, adds over and above the divine nature a real and positive relation, and distinct from the nature formally and by the same nature.” And hence also JOHANN LAVATER, Philosopher of Zurich in the preceding Century,[12] although in his Onotsophia, chapter VI, he had constituted Subsistence in Incommunicability, or the mere negation of present or future conjunction, adds that he “philosophizes only concerning the subsistence of creatures, since those three subsistences in the one Essence of God are known, not by the searching of our reason, but by the light of revelation alone, and they are not able to be reduced to the same common genus without danger.”

[1] Christoph Wittich (1625-1687) was a Dutch Theologian and Cartesian. He served as Professor of Theology at Duisburg (1653-1654), Nijmegen (1655-1671), and Leiden (1671-1687).


[2] Frans Burman (1628-1679) was a Dutch Reformed theologian and a Cartesian. He served as Professor of Theology (1662-1671) and Professor of Church History (1671-1679) at Utrecht.


[3] Johannes Braun (1628-1708) was a Reformed theologian. He served as Professor of Theology at Groningen (1680-1708).


[4] Noëtus was an elder of the church in Asia Minor (circa 230 AD). He was excommunicated for modalism/Monarchianism.


[5] Little is known about Praxeas, apart from Tertullian’s Against Praxeas. He live around the turn of the third century in Asia Minor, and was a Monarchian, vigorously denying any distinction of the Persons of the Trinity.


[6] Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher, remembered for his work in political philosophy and social contract theory. He was also interested in theology, but heterodox in his beliefs, denying incorporeal substance (reducing all things to matter and motion), and the divine inspiration of the Biblical prophets.


[7] Gisbertus Cocquius (1630-1708) of Utrecht was a Reformed thinker and Doctor of Philosophy; he was an opponent of Hobbes.


[8] 1 Corinthians 2:7.


[9] John Duns Scotus (1266-1308), known as the Subtle Doctor, was a Scottish Franciscan theologian and philosopher. He lectured and wrote on Lombard’s Sentences, and is remembered for his highly influential form of philosophical Realism.


[10] Theodorus Smising (1580-1626) was a German Franciscan theologian and Scotist.


[11] Martin Meurisse (1584-1644) was a French Franciscan theologian.


[12] Johann Lavater (1624-1695) served as Professor of Rhetoric and of Philosophy at Zurich.

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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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