Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Reformed Irenicism Sacred Doctrine

Zanchi on the Trinity (3)

Today we move on to section three of Zanchi’s chapter “On God, and on the Divine Persons and Properties.”1 This chapter treats the difference between the “personal” and “essential” properties of the Trinity.

Text and Translation

III. Proprietatibus personalibus personam a persona distingui: Essentialibus autem ab omni creatura differre.

Quoniam vero Sacrae literae ita loquuntur de Deo, ut multas illi attribuant proprietates, tum essentiales, tum personales: et essentialibus quidem eum differre docent a rebus omnibus creatis, personalibus autem unamquamque personam ab altera distingui: Idcirco nos quoque credimus sicut generare Filium, ita proprium est Patris, ut neque Filio, neque Spiritui sancto conveniat, et contra generari, non nisi Filio, atque ita de reliquis: Sic etiam, simplicissimum esse, aeternum, immensum, ubique presentem, simpliciter omniscium, simpliciter omnipotentem, simpliciter bonum, et huius generis alia, ita propria esse Dei, ut nulli queant reapse communicari creaturae: ita ut eadem (exempli causa) immensa bonitate, bona sit, aut omnipotentia omnipotens, qua et Deus est.

III. That Person is distinguished from Person by the personal properties; but that by the essential [properties] [the Persons] differ from every creature.

But because the sacred writings speak about God in such a way that they attribute many properties to him, both essential and personal; and teach that, on the one hand, he differs from all created things by the essential [properties], but, on the other, that each Person is distinguished each other by the personal [properties]–we too therefore believe that, just as it is proper to the Father to generate the Son in such a way that it is appropriate neither to the Son nor to the Holy Spirit, and, contrariwise, that being generated [is] not [appropriate to any] except to the Son, and so on concerning the rest [of the relevant distinctions], so also, [we believe that] being most simple, eternal, infinite, everywhere present, simply omniscient, simply omnipotent, simply good, and other things of this kind are proper to God in such a way that they are not able in reality to be communicated to any creature, such that (for example) [the creature] be good by the same infinite goodness, or omnipotent by [the same infinite] omnipotence, by which God also is.2


  1. Zanchi is trying to make sense of the Scriptural witness, which both attributes properties to God (in the singular)–which he calls “essential” or natural–and distinguishes between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit by means of properties he calls “personal.” The former differentiate the Godhead from every created thing, while the latter distinguish the uncreated Father from the uncreated Son and the uncreated Holy Spirit.
  2. The section is a chiasmus (ABBA): essential (et essentialibus…)-personal (personalibus autem…)-personal (sicut generare Filium…)-essential (sic etiam, simplicissimum esse…).
  3. The personal properties have to do with the immanent or ad intra life of God: begetting, begottenness, procession. The essential properties have to do with the divine attributes: omnipresence, omnipotence, etc. These latter are attributed to the divine nature, and as such are common to the three Persons: they belong to the One God.
  4. By saying “belong,” I speak colloquially, because according to the classical understanding of divine simplicity God is rather than has his attributes–attributes which are not really plural, because God has no parts.
  5. It makes sense to speak of simplicity here, because Zanchi is doing everything in his power to draw his reader’s attention to the doctrine: simplicissimum, simpliciter, simpliciter, simpliciter. It is surely no coincidence that the adverb denoting the simplicity of the divine essence (simpliciter) is given a threefold repetition to remind the reader that the divine nature subsists (simply) in the Three Persons. Here, word-choice–form–reinforces semantic content (simplicissimum –> One; simpliciter/simpliciter/simpliciter –> Three).
  6. These essential attributes are incommunicable. Though we use the same words to describe created realities and the uncreated God (e.g., “good”), they can in reality be predicated only analogically. This is a function of the distinction between the Creator and the creature: there is God, and there is not-God, with an infinite gulf between. The difference between God and us is not simply a matter of scale.


  1. Also, I would be remiss if I did not alert readers to the recent appearance of around 170pp. of Zanchi on the Trinity, from De tribus Elohim, for the first time in English, available for free here.
  2. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.