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

Zanchi on the Trinity (3a)

We come now to the only other “footnote” in ch. 2 of Zanchi’s De religione Christiana fides.

Text and Translation

Aphoris. III.

De hac reali essentialium Dei proprietatum communicatione peculiarem conscripsimus et nos tractationem in libro, cui titulus erit De incarnatione Filii Dei, in verba ad Phil. 2: ‘Qui cum in forma Dei esset’ etc.; ad quem, qui pleniorem cupit huius doctrinae explicationem, lectorem suo tempore remittimus. Certe Dominus Iesus ab illa essentiali cognitione, qua et Pater novit (hoc est, ut scholastici loquuntur, comprehendit) Filium et Filius Patrem, omnem plane creatam mentem excepit, cum dixit: ‘Nemo novit Filium, nisi Pater, et nemo novit Patrem, nisi Filius, et cui voluerit Filius revelare,  docens quicquid cognitionis de Deo habent in sese creaturae, illud esse aliquo modo revelatum, eoque scientiam esse non illam Dei essentialem et infinitam, sed creatitiam et finitam.

Additional discussion for Section III.

I have also written a separate treatise concerning this real communication of the essential properties of God in a book whose title will be On the Incarnation of the Son of God, on the words in Philippians 2: “Who, although he was in the form of God,” etc.; I direct the reader who desires a fuller explication of this doctrine to it, as time permits him. To be sure, the Lord Jesus clearly removed every created mind from that essential knowledge by which the Father knows (that is, comprehends, as the scholastics say) the Son and the Son the Father, when he said: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son, and [anyone] to whom the Son wishes to reveal him,” teaching that whatever knowledge creatures have in themselves concerning God has been revealed to them in some way, and for that reason their knowledge is not that essential and infinite [knowledge] that belongs to God, but a created and finite [knowledge].1


  1. We are reminded here of the summary character of De religione Christiana fides. Zanchi treated what he confesses in much greater detail elsewhere; in this note, he remarks that he discusses the possibility of the “real communication of the essential properties of God” in his book on the Incarnation, though it was not published until after the present work (see Baschera and Moser, p. 531). John Patrick Donnelly, in his article “Calvinist Thomism” (Viator 7 [1976]: 441-55) calls Zanchi’s De Incarnatione “profound.”
  2. Zanchi makes a reference to the “scholastics” and their technical term (comprehendere) for the way in which the Father “knows” the Son and the Son “knows” the Father. This provides occasion to remark on Zanchi’s own scholastic tendencies–Donnelly again: “[Zanchi] is the best example of Calvinist Thomism.” He goes on to note that Zanchi doubled the length of Thomas’ Pars prima and Prima secundae in the Summa theolgiae in his own treatment of the same material, a treatment which “remains without rival for thoroughness and synthetic power in sixteenth-century Calvinism.”
  3. You can see the Latin text of De Incarnatione here; it’s only 875 pages.
  4. Again, we should note that Zanchi believes that classical Trinitarian theology is the best explanation of the Scriptural witness. In this note he makes use of Matt. 11.27 to show the difference between the Son’s knowledge of the Father as the Second Person of the Trinity and all creaturely knowledge of God: all creaturely knowledge of God comes from God’s own revealing act–it is given–because only God’s voluntary condescension can cross the unbridgeable gap between the infinite and the finite. The Son, on the other hand, knows the Father by nature, intrinsically–this knowledge is not given him as it were by a voice speaking from outside. We do not, and never will, know God as God knows himself. We know him instead in a way accommodated to creaturely form and capacities. To say that we know the uncreated God only in a creaturely way is not to say that we do not know him truly, but we nevertheless must affirm that we do not know him essentially, as the Son knows the Father.



  1. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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