De Moor V:5: The Three Modes of Subsistence in the One Divine Essence

2. That there are Three Modes of subsistence belonging to this One Essence; or that there are, moreover, Three true Persons, which are abstractly Incommunicable Modes of Subsistence belonging to the Divine Essence, relativelyand terminatively distinct from the Essence, and relating to it as more Absolute and Broader in a certain measure: since the Essence is regarded as Absolute, to which a certain Relationis added by the Mode of Subsistence proper to each Person, under which Relation this Person, and not another, possesses the Essence, and by which these Persons are related to one another, yet in such a way that the personal character of each Person is terminated in that, and is not able to be predicated of another. But, if you should say that a predicative Relation is an Accidental Property, which is not consistent with God; and that Personality is not an Accidental Property but a Mode: nevertheless, it is not able to be denied that the term Father asserts a true Relation to the Son, and vice versa: hence, in order to cut off all imperfect concepts, we are able to call this Relation Transcendental and Hyperphysical. Here, Essence is as what is Broader in a certain measure, Personality as what is narrower: since Essence is communicable and actually common to the Three Persons; Personality is proper to each Person and Incommunicable to the others.

Our Author allows this Distinction between the Persons and the Essence to be expressed in various ways, provided that the terms that are here employed be not pressed in rigor, nor the Imperfections of finite things be applied to this. It is able to be called, of course, a Distinction, 1. Rationis Ratiocinatæ, of Reason of having Reasoned/Analyzed, that is, which is not only conceived a Ratione Ratiocinante, by Reason Reasoning, but at the same time has a foundation in the thing concerning which we reason. 2. Formal, because by that Mode of Subsistence, superadded to the Divine Essence, the Essence is Formally constituted in the Being of a Person. 3. Modal, whereby the Mode is said to be distinguished from the thing; just as we called the personal Properties, by which the divine Persons are distinguished, Modes of Subsistence belonging to the Divine Essence: so that the Persons are distinguished from the Essence and each other, not really or essentially, like a thing and a thing; but Modally, like a mode from a thing, and one mode of thing from another. Hence, 4. our AUTHOR hardly allows this Distinction to be called Real, unless bare truth be noted in opposition to fiction, and it is signified that divine Persons do not differ in reason alone, yet not therefore essentially. And that is what those among Us that here call the Distinction Realmean. They are unwilling that we might say Scholastically, a greater Real Distinction, which sort is between a thing and a thing, as if in the Trinity there were one thing and another, or one and another Essence, whereby the Perfectly Simple Unity of the divine Essence would fall. But they understand a lesser Real Distinction, which is between a thing and the mode of a thing, or between the modes themselves, and which exactly coincides with a Modal distinction: compare Eckhardus’[1] Fasciculum Controversiarum cum Calvino, chapter II, question VI, pages 44-50; NICOLAUS ARNOLDI’S[2] Scopas dissolutas Eckhardi, chapter II, question VI, pages11-13; VAN MASTRICHT’S Gangrænam Novitatum Cartesianarum, posterior Section, chapter XVIII, § 6-11, pages 328-335, where with MARESIUS, Systemate Theologico, locus III, § 20, note a, he disputes against Wittich, that a Distinction real, modal, or of Reason of having Reasoned/Analyzed is not to be admitted here, but only personal, or by the personal properties; just as the Persons are nevertheless distinguished from each other, rather than from the Essence: since in the disputation with the Socinians, if you would stand in the truth, you will always be obliged to explain a Personal Distinction of this sort with reference to Mode. By this discourse of Mastricht and Maresius is also sufficiently supplied, what is able to be replied to LAMPE,[3]likewise rejecting a Modal Distinction among the Divine Persons, as distinct Modes of Subsistence, as if this were the ancient heresy of the Sabellians; and substituting a Personal Distinction, as something greater, and implying the proper Intellect and Will of the individual Divine Persons, although he testifies elsewhere that he acknowledges the Essence of the Three Persons to be One with respect to Numbers. From what has been previously said it is evident that Person regarded in the concrete does not bespeak a bear Mode of Subsistence, but the Essence together with a peculiar Mode of Subsistence, through which the Essence is terminated in this or that Person: but Personality regarded in the abstract is an Incommunicable Mode of subsisting in the same Essence. Hence it follows of itself that the Divine Persons are distinguished from one another by the τρόπον ὑπάρξεως, mode of existence, and that no other distinction obtains between Essence and Persons, and between one Person and another except a Modaldistinction. If you call this distinction Personal, you speak less determinatively. A Personal Distinction also obtains between the various Angels and Men, as many individuals sharing in the same (with respect to species) Angelic and Human nature. But if the Socinians should ask you, whether you conceive of the Personal distinction between the Three Divine Persons in the same mode/manner, and you give your assent, he will with good reason call you a Tritheist, and the Mystery of the Trinity will be ruined: but, if you rightly answer in the negative, how will you explain what you understand by a Personal distinction in the divine, and how might a Personal distinction in the divine and in creatures differ? except by returning to a Modal Distinction, and by showing that a Multiplication of numeric Essence does indeed obtain in the multiple Persons of angels and men, since the same (with respect to species) angelic or human nature is commincated to three substances diverse in number: but that in the divine Persons, sharers of the Same (with respect to Number) divine Essence there is only a distinction in the diverse Mode of Subsisting in the same Nature, or of possessing the same (with respect to Number) Nature, and that hence no progress is able to be made here beyond the Modal Distinction. Moreover, just as the Divine Essence bespeaks an infinite Spiritual Substance, furnished with the Faculties of Intellect, Will, and Power, and infinite Perfection; so this Essence, One with respect to Number, with Intellect, Will, Power, and infinite Perfection numerically the same, which the individual Divine Persons enjoy, agrees with and is common to them: hence, does he not speak ἀσύστατα/incoherenciesand contradictions, who acknowledges One Substance or Divine Essence with respect to Number, and at the same time affirms that among the Three Divine Persons a Distinction obtains, more than Modal, called Personal, by which Intellect and Will as proper are applicable to the individual Divine Persons, let others judge: compare the end of § 8 of this Chapter, and ChapterXVIII, § 18, where you will find the various passages of LAMPE to which I have regard here also cited. Now, LAMPE would be greatly deceived, if he should confound the orthodox opinion concerning Three distinct Modes of Subsistence in the numerically One Divine Essence with the position of the Modalists, as they are called, who explain the Three Divine Persons by three diverse Modes thinking; which sort are taken for the more recent Sabellians and are referred to the Unitarian, since one and the same Person is able to have the thoughts of a Judge, a Mediator, and a Comforter: see BUDDEUS’ Institutiones Theologiæ dogmaticæ, book II, chapter I, § 54, tome 1, pages 417, 418, and his Isagogen ad Theologiam universam, bookII, chapter VII, § 10, tome 2, page 1354b. Compare also what SPANHEIM, in Historia ecclesiastica, Century III, chapter VII, § 3, column749, notes on Christophorus Sandius,[4]concerning the catholic doctrine of the ὁμοουσίου/consubstantialTrinity turned into Sabellianism, to which similarly tend Curcellæus, Quaternione Dissertationum adversus Maresium, Dissertation I, § 119, opera, page 877, and Vorstius,[5] Exegese Apologetica, chapter IX, pages 37, 38: and attend to the caution of AMBROSIUS, whereby, if one wishes to preserve ὁμοουσίον/consubstantialityof the numerically One divine Essence, he teaches that a recognition of several that as individual have their own Wills is to be far removed, de Filii Divinitate et Consubstantialite contra Arianos, chapter II, opera, tome 4, column 277, Or, if He is true God and not of the Father, then there are two having their own wills individually, etc.

Simon Magus

This thesis concerning Three true Persons in the One divine Essence is to be against the Error that has especially been known by the name of Sabellianism; the name was taken from Sabellius, a Pentapolitan African,[6]who spread in the Third Century, after the same had already been disseminated by Simon Magus[7]in the First Century, and by Noëtus and Praxeas in the Second Century; that the Father, Son, and Spirit are merely three Names, τρεῖς ὀνομασίας, relations, offices, but not Three ὑποστάσεις/hypostases; and that there is only One Person or Hypostasis in God, the υἱοπάτορος of God. They were wishing God to be called Fatherin heaven, the Son on earth, the Holy Spirit in creatures, to the extent that He exerts His power in them. But, because they were acknowledging only one Person in God, hence they were supposing that what happened to the Son also happened to the Father; that is, they were saying that the Father, under the notion of a Son, was also born of the Virigin, and afterwards suffered, from which absurd thesis they were also known as Patripassians: see EPIPHANIUS, Hæresi XLII or LXII, opera, tome I, pages513-520, Hæresi XXI, page 55, Hæresi XXXVII orLVII, pages 479-488; AUGUSTINE, de Hæresibus, chaptersXLI, I, XXVI, and DANÆUS’[8] Notes on him; SPANHEIM, Historia Ecclesiastica, CenturyIII, chapter VII, § 3, columns 748, 749, Century I, chapterXIV, § 2, column 574, Century II, chapter VI, column647. Against whom, among other arguments, he alleges that one Person of the Deity very frequently is found speaking to or concerning another Person, with relation to His personal Property, Psalm 2:7; Matthew 3:17; John 15:26, etc.

PIERRE POIRET[9]attempts to excuse Sabellius, and to enervate his doctrines, as if the contention between the Sabellians and the Orthodox were merely a verbal dispute, with Sabellius merely refusing to acknowledge Three Persons, that is, Three individual Substances, because thus he would have professed Tritheism. But by others it is believed that Poiret himself is not far removed from the error of the Sabellians: while he does indeed admit the language of Person, and profess that there are Three ὑποστάσεις/hypostasesor Persons in the divine Essence; he does so only in this sense, that this is the same as if one should establish three mere relations, habits, respects, or qualities in the divinity: see WALCH’S[10] Miscellanea Sacra, book III, Exercitation VIII, § 5, pages736, 737.

Just how far the blasphemous doctrine of Servetus[11]agrees with this ancient heresy, see in CALVIN’S Institutes of the Christian Religion, book I, chapter XIII, § 22, opera, tome6, and likewise in his operibus, tome 7, folio 592, etc.: add PICTET’S[12] Syllabum Controversiarum, book I, chapter XI, pages 79-81. That Servetus and his followers are to be held as neoteric Samosatenians,[13]WALCH contents, Miscellaneis Sacris, book I, ExercitationV, pages 122 and following. The wicked blasphemies, with which Servetus hostilely pursued the doctrine of the Trinity, see in HOORNBEECK’S Appartu ad Controversiam Socinianam, page 18. The doctrine of Hobbes concerning the Trinity is also to be referred to Sabellianism, which COCQUIUS confutes in his Anatome Hobbesianismi, locusVI, chapter XIII, pages 127-133. Moreover, it appears that to this same class of errors concerning the Holy Trinity is to be referred a conception of this Mystery, which was forged both by Pierre Poiret, just now mentioned, and Wilhelmus Deurhof, concerning God knowing and loving Himself, in which the Trinity would consist, while the latter says that he that speaks of Three distinct Persons in One Essence explains the Trinity in a monstrous manner; see TACO HAJO VAN DEN HONERT’S[14] Veras Dei Vias, part II, book V, chapter I, § 21, pages774-792; Derhof’s Leer en Eer verdeedigt, pages 72-92, 136, 137.

[1]Heinrich Eckhard (1580-1624) was a German Lutheran Pastor and Theologian. [2]Nicolaus Arnoldi (1618-1680) was Professor of Theology at Franeker (1651-1680). [3]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. [4]Christoph Sand (1644-1680) was a Prussian intellectual. He was a proponent of Arianism, although not of the Socinian party. [5]Conradus Vorstius (1569-1622) was a Dutch Arminian, condemned by the Synod of Dort and banished. It is reported that he openly embraced Socinianism at the end of his life. [6]Of the eastern, coastal region of Libya. [7]According to Acts 8, Simon was a Samaritan magician of considerable influence. Although he professed faith and was baptized into the Church, his conversion proved spurious, showing himself more interested in the miraculous gifts of the Spirit than in saving grace. He is remembered by the early Church Fathers as the father of all heresies. [8]Lambert Danæus (c. 1530-1596) was a French minister and theologian. He labored as a pastor and Professor of Divinity at Geneva, and then at Leiden. [9]Pierre Poiret (1646-1719) was a French mystic, and disciple of Antoinette Bourignon, publishing her works (as well as those of other mystics, ancient and modern). [10]Johann Georg Walch (1693-1775) was a German Lutheran theologian, serving as Professor of Rhetoric and Poetry (1719-1724), and then as Professor of Theology (1724-1775), at Jena. [11]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. [12]Benedict Pictet (1655-1724) was a Swiss Reformed theologian, and cousin of the great Francis Turretin. He served as a pastor in Geneva, and was appointed Professor of Theology in 1686. He is a transitional figure, having been influenced both by Genevan theological orthodoxy and by some measure of Enlightenment philosophy. Among other works, he wrote Theologiam Christianam and Morale chrétienne. [13]Paul of Samosata served as Bishop of Antioch from 260 to 268. Paul was a Monarchian, teaching that Jesus was born a mere man, but infused with the Divine Logos. He was also accused of corruption in the discharge of his ecclesiastical office. [14]Taco Hajo van den Honert (1666-1740) was a German Reformed Theologian. He served as Professor of Theology at Leiden (1714-1740).


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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