De Moor V:5: Three Persons Subsisting in One Essence

3. That these Persons, say we, agree among themselves,

α. In One Essence, which the Nicean Fathers wisely expressed by Ὁμοουσίον/Homoousios/Consubstantial. For, since Arius in various ways was always trying to escape in the case concerning the Deity of Christ, in the end the Orthodox closed off all the ways of escape, urging that Christ is ὁμοουσίον/consubstantialwith the Father, that is, a partaker together with the Father of the same Essence; aptly converting the word unto their own use, of which, nevertheless, others had also made use already: see TURRETIN, Theologiæ Elencticæ,[1] locus III, question XXIII, § 10; and especially SUICER, Thesauro Ecclesiastico, on the word Ὁμοουσίος/Homoousios, tome 2, columns481, 482, § 2; and also BUDDEUS, Theologiæ Dogmaticæ, book II, chapterI, § 51, tome I, pages 384-388, and in his Isagogen ad Theologiam universam, book II, chapter II, § 4, tome 1, pages 450b, 451; PETAVIUS, Dogmatibus theologicis, tome2, book IV, chapter V; BULL,[2] Defensione Fidei Nicænæ, Section II, chapter I, § 8-15, pages28-36. Since the Arians were feeling constrained by this term, they attempted to impose upon the simpler sort by the addition of one little letter, acknowledging the Son to be ὁμοιουσίον, of like substance, with the Father, not ὁμοουσίον/consubstantial, or of the same substance, although the sacred books deliver that He is of the same, not similar, Essence with the Father; and these were indeed called Semi-Arians, who were professing that the Son was similar in Essence to the Father, and were not saying with Arius that there was a time when the Son was not; still, they were not expressly affirming that He was brought forth by Generation from the very Essence of the Father. They, namely, Antonius Augustinus Touttæus in his nova editione Catechesis Cyrilli, and Prudentius Maranus, a Monk of the Maurist Congregation, in his Dissertatione Gallica de Semi-Arianis,[3] attempted to purge these from every blemish of heresy, and to claim for them the approval of orthodoxy, holding the disputes περὶ τοῦ ὁμοουσίου, concerning homoousios, to be merely verbal: nevertheless, there is no doubt that they are to be branded with the mark of heresy, since they acknowledge only the similitude, not the identity, of Essence between the Father and the Son: see WALCH’S Miscellanea Sacra, book III, ExercitationVIII, § 8, pages 740, 741. Others, receding further from the path of truth, declare Christ to be ἑτεροούσιον/heteroousios, of a different substance, and ἀνόμοιον/ anomoios/dissimilarto the Father, whence they were called Anomœans: see SPANHEIM’S Historiam Ecclesiasticam, Century IV, chapter X, § I, columns 883, 888, 889. Now, the Orthodox preferred to use the language of ὁμοουσίου/consubstantial, rather than μονοουσίου/mono-ousios, one substance, or ταὐτοουσίου/tauto-ousios, same substance, which Curcellæus thinks should rather to be employed, Quaternione Dissertationum adversus Maresium, Dissertation I, § 73, opera, page 853, if they had wanted to indicate the numerical Unity of the Essence of the Son with the Father: because they judged that by abuse these terms were able to be drawn unto a Sabellian sense, even if they were otherwise suitable perfectly to indicate the Unity and Numeric Identity of the divine Essence, beyond which one and the same there is no second; which the Fathers also expressed by ἰσοδυναμοῦντα/equivalent terms, asserting that He is μονάδα ἐν τριάδι, one in three, each Person of the Τριάδος/ Triad not being separated or differing τὶ ἐν αὐτῇ τῆς ἰδίας αὐτῆς μονάδος, at all in itself from its monad; indeed, writing that Πατὴρ καὶ Υἱὸς καὶ ἅγιον Πνεῦμα, εἷς Θεὸς, Τριάς ἐν ἀληθείᾳ, καὶ μονὰς ἐν ἑνότητι, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one God, truly a Triad and monad in unity; confessing ταὐτότητα τῆς οὐσίας καὶ τῆς θεότητος, an identity of substance and of divinity, in the three divine Persons; acknowledging that with the Father the Son is ταὐτὸν τῇ θεότητι, ταὐτὸν τῇ ἀϊδιότητι, καὶ τῇ οὐσίᾳ, καὶ τῇ δυνάμει, κατὰ πᾶντα ἶσον τῷ Πατρὶ, καὶ τῷ ἁγίῳ αὐτοῦ Πνεύματι, the same in Deity, the same in eternity, being, and power, equal in all things with the Father, and with His Holy Spirit: but they believed that by the Ὁμοουσίον/ Homoousios was more expressly indicated the communion of the same Essence in the Son with the Father, which each equally possesses, which is not thus included in the term μονοουσίος/mono-ousios, one substance, which could be used of God even if in the Numerically One Essence there were only one Person subsisting: for one is μονοουσίος/mono-ousios, whose nature is singular in such a way that nothing is similar to it, rather than one that is of the same Essence with another; thus the Sun is μονοουσίος/mono-ousios, because it is unique in the nature of things; God is μονοουσίος/mono-ousios, because He is one/unique, and no other God is granted, distinct in Essence from Him, not only with respect to category, but also numerically; but in this sent the Persons of the Trinity are not able to be called μονοούσιοι/mono-ousioi, because they are three, not one: but ταὐτοούσιος/tauto-ousios, same substance, could be drawn to designate on that in Essence is the same with another in such a way that all personal distinction in the mode of subsistence is prevented. But, if the Fathers had said that the Son is even μονοούσιον/mono-ousios or ταὐτοούσιον/tauto-ousios with God the Father, instead of ὁμοουσίου/homoousios, and it had been pleasing to Curcellæus to quibble, it would also have been possible in a daring but vain attempt to explain these terms of the specific, not numeric, identity of the Essence: see MARESIUS’ Defensionem Fidei Catholicæ adversum Curcellæum, Dissertation I, sectionXII, numbers 10-12, pages 249, 250, section XIII, numbers49, 50, page 277; ATHANASIUS’ Expositionem Fidei, opera, tome1, page 241; EPIPHANIUS’ Panarium Hæreseos LXIX, § 18, opera, tome 1, page 742, LXXVI, § 7, page 920, and his Ancoratum, § 6, 7, tome 2, pages 10, 11.

Now, doubtlessly the Nicean Fathers thus understood the term Ὁμοουσίου/Homoousios, and we ourselves urge the Agreement of the Persons in One Essence, in such a way that we say that the Same Essence, not with respect to species, but with respect to Number, agrees with those Three Persons without any Division or Multiplication. 1. For, if you think only of Three Persons, who enjoy an Essence One in species, you teach Tritheism, introducing three Essences, diverse in number, together with the Three distinct Hypostases; just as Three human persons imply three men, who nevertheless participate in the same specific Essence: while nevertheless the ancient Fathers were so greatly detesting Polytheism that they were everywhere urging Monarchy. 2. The sublimity and ἀκατάληπτον/incomprehensibility of the Mystery of the Trinity would perish, for daily we see the same to be among men, among whom, by the communication of the specifically same Essence, thus exist many ὁμοούσιοι/homoousioi. 3. Indeed, human nature, divisible by generation, is able to be propagated in such a way that it is not the same in number, although it remains the same in species, because it separates a certain part of the substance, which it transfers into what is begotten: but the case is not the same in the divine Nature, which is indivisible; for either it is not communicated, or the Same Nature in Number is communicated: see at greater length above, ChapterIV, § 23, 24.

This is to be held against Curcellæus, who in his Præfatione in Opera Episcopii, opera Curcellæi, pages 796, 797, and in his Quaternione Dissertationum adversus Maresium, Dissertation I, pages 811 and following, especially from § 70 and thereafter, contends the greatest exertion, that the Fathers that lived about the times of the Council of Nicea did not reckon the Father and the Son to be ὁμοουσίους/homoousioi in the divine in any other way than as two men are ὁμοούσιοι/homoousioi, who have common between them the same humanity with respect to species: and that, therefore, they only say that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are consubstantial, because they in the same Deity with respect to species, and there is consummate agreement of will among them. But great thanks is due to SAMUEL MARESIUS from the orthodox Church, because he has so solidly refuted this most wicked hypothesis of Curcellæus from the writings of the Fathers, that to attempt anything further in this matter would be to write the Iliad after Homer: read, if you please, MARESIUS’ Defensionem Fidei Catholicæ, oppositam Quaternioni Stephani Curcellæi, DisserationI, sections XI-XV, pages 201-312, who relates in the beginningof the Preface to this book, that the Quaternionem of Curcellæus was proscribed by the Procurator and Assessors of the Curia of Holland and Zeeland in 1661, as exceedingly scandalous, blasphemous, and assailing the very foundations of the Christian Religion. With Maresius is worthy to be compared the most elaborate work of GEORGE BULL, which is entitled, Defensio Fidei Nicænæ, ex Scriptis Catholicorum Doctorum, qui intra tria prima Ecclesiæ Christianæ secula floruerunt. But in this work here and there some overly harsh and imprecise language, as it is able to be seen at first glance, on this matter escaped the lips of the Fathers of the first ages; it is always to be kept in memory, that at that time disputation was to be conducted by them, not so much against the Tritheists, who, as expressly so called, are referred at length to the Sixth Century; but on the one hand against the Sabellians, denying the plurality of the divine Persons, and with the Unity of Essence asserting also a Numeric Unity of Person in the Divine; and on the other against the Arians, who, although acknowledging the plurality of the divine Persons in words, were not even assigning the same specificEssence to them, but were determining that the Son was ἀνόμοιον/ anomoios/dissimilar and ἑτεροούσιον/heteroousios, of a different substance, with the Father, a κτίσμα/creation, a ποίημα/work, of the Father, made ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων, out of nothing: between which two extremes it is not always so easy to preserve the mean, without an imprudent assertion at some point escaping one’s lips or pen, by which one, seeking to avoide one boulder, might perhaps appear to approach more closely to the other: but which, compared with the rest of the doctrine of an author of this sort, certainly requires more more charitable interpretation. Now, that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are not able to be called ὁμοουσίους/homoousioi on account of ὁμόνοιαν/unanimity of Will with the identity of Essence denied, even VAN CATTENBURGH[4]saw, Spicilegio Theologiæ Christianæ, book II, chapterXVII, § 5, page 201, since Will and Essence in God are one, and only differ from each other in our mode of conception.

Because of this Same Essence common to the Three Persons, concerning them that Essence is able to be predicated in answer to the question of Quid, what sort: thus the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; yet, because of the same Essence, not with respect to species but number, this is not in the manner of a Genus or Species, as when I say of an individual person Peter, Peter is a man; just as Vorstiuswas erroneously thinking, tractatu de Deo, page 208, and Exegese Apologetica, chapter IX: see TRIGLAND’S Antapologiam, chapter V, page 76, and Kerckelycke Geschiedenissen, volume 4, pages 576, 586, 605, 669, number11: that Essence and Persons are as Genus and Species: but only Analogicallyis the Essence predicated of the Person in a similar manner, as elsewhere a species is wont to be predicated of individuals. This manner of predication, founded in the communion of Essence Numerically the Same shared by the multiple Persons, is to be believed to be able to obtain in divine things through the Infinity of the divine Essence.

Hence our AUTHOR also judges that not to be disapproved is that expression which in the Divine Nature considered concretely posits Persons, or the Nature in Persons. CALVIN says that a Person is a Subsistence in the Essence of God, Institutes of the Christian Religion, book I, chapter XIII, § 6: various of the Papists carp at this, and prefer to say that the Essence subsists in Persons. Either is able to be said: HEINRICH ALTING, Theologia problematica nova, locus III, question XXXI, pages 224, 225. Rightly, 1. Is a Person said to subsist in the Divine Essence: for, α. those, of which one is in the other with respect to Essence, subsist in the same Essence; but the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are in each other with respect to Essence, John 14:10, 11. Therefore. β. Those that are One with respect to an Essence Numerically One, they coexist, or subsist conjointly, in an Essence Numerically the Same: But the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One with respect to an Essence Numerically One, 1 John 5:7; John 10:30. Therefore. But at the same time, 2. the Essence is able to be said to subsist in the Persons, when, for example, in Colossians 2:9, πᾶν τὸ πλήρωμα τῆς θεότητος, all the fullness of the Godhead, is said to be in Christ. Thus Life, that is, the active divine Essence is said to be in the Father and in the Son, John 1:4; 5:26. That is, the divine Essence, although it be One with respect to Number, nevertheless, as it is common to the three Persons, has here something similar to secondary substances,[5]which subsist in primary substances:[6] therefore, as human Nature subsists in Peter and Paul, so also the Divine Nature is able to be said to subsist in the Father, in the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.

Nevertheless, four Subsistences do not follow from this, as if to Essence was to be attributed its own peculiar Subsistence; since the language of subsistence, when Essence is said to subsist, only signifies what exists singularly, not incommunicably, like a Person. On the other hand, Persons are said to subsist in the Essence, not as in a fourth truly diverse, but as in a common Nature, which the individuals hold. And so the Persons are in the Divine Nature after the manner of those participating and completing: the Divine Nature or Essence is in the Persons after the manner of a thing communicated and completed.

Now, CALVIN well said that a Person subsists in the Essence of God, because this is altogether peculiar to the Divine Essence, that three Persons enjoy the Same Numeric Essence: while, on the other hand, in the case of men and Angels, Essence is in persons, as a secondary substance is in primary substances, and persons are contained under Essence, as individuals under a species. Indeed, CALVIN was obliged thus to speak, so that he might obviate the error of Servetus, concerning whom he said, Institutes, book I, chapter XIII, § 22, “He maintained that Persons are certain external ideas, which do not truly subsist in the Essence of God, but depict God to us in this or that appearance.”

[1]Francis Turretin (1623-1687) was a Genevan Reformed theologian of Italian descent. After studying at Geneva, Leiden, Utrecht, Paris, Saumur, and Montauban, he was appointed as the pastor of the Italian refugee congregation in Geneva (1648), and later Professor of Theology at the academy (1653). His Institutio Theologiæ Elencticæ has been heavily influential in the Reformed tradition, shaping Charles Hodge’s Systematic Theology and Herman Bavinck’s Gereformeerde dogmatiek. [2]George Bull (1634-1710) was an Anglican theologian and Bishop of St. David’s. He was fully orthodox with respect to his Trinitarian theology, but heterodox with respect to his assertion of the necessity of good works for justification, and therefore sometimes accused of Socinianism. [3]Antoine-Augustin Touttée (1677-1718) was a French Benedictine of the Maurist Congregation. He was a priest, and professor of philosophy (Vendome, 1702-1704) and of theology (St. Benoit-sur-Loire, 1704-1708). Touttée prepared a Greek and Latin edition of the works of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, which was published after his death by Prudentius Maranus (1683-1762), another monk of his order. When this edition of St. Cyril’s works was attacked, Maranus defended it in his Disseration sur les Semi-Ariens. Maranus went on to published editions of Cyprian and Justin Martyr. [4]Adriaan van Cattenburgh (1664-1743) was a Professor of Theology among the Remonstrants. [5] Substantia Secunda refers to an abstract, universal nature. [6] Substantia Prima refers to a concrete, existing individual.


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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