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

Zanchi on the Trinity (6)

Moving on…

Text and Translation

VI. Confirmatio superioris sententiae.
Unde etiam intelligimus, qui fiat, quod, cum Filius non minus sit omnipotens quam Pater et ita etiam Spiritus sanctus non tamen dicamus eos esse tres omnipotentes, sed unum tantum omnipotentem, cum Athanasio totaque ecclesia confiteamur, quia nimirum una tantum est omnium eademque οὐσία. Cum itaque nulla res creata unam et eandem habeat cum Deo essentiam, sed longe aliam atque diversam, si ea etiam fieri possit communicatione divinae omnipotentiae omnipotens, plures uno esse possint omnipotentes necesse est. Quod non sine blasphemia dici posse credimus.

VI. Confirmation of the foregoing view.

Whence also we understand how it comes about that, although the Son is not less omnipotent than the Father, and so also the Holy Spirit, we nevertheless do not say that there are three omnipotents, but we confess, with Athanasius and the whole church, that there is only one omnipotent, because there is indisputably only one and the same ousia [essence] that belongs to all. Since, therefore, no created thing has one and the same essence with God, but one far different and unlike [it], if this [that is, a created thing–ed.] should be able to be made omnipotent by a communication of the divine omnipotence, it is necessary that there be able to be more omnipotents than one–a thing that we do not believe can be said without blasphemy.1

Remarks

  1. In the previous section, Zanchi confessed that the Son and  Spirit can only possess the divine attributes simply, and in an absolute and univocal sense, by being homousioi with the Father–the attributes in question are essential properties, and, in fact, are to be identified with the divine essence or ousia. For any creature to possess them in the same way, then, would be for that creature to join the Godhead, which is blasphemous.
  2. Alternatively, as he notes here, a created essence could receive omnipotence (e.g.) by “communication” (communicatio). But then there would be more than one nature to which the name “God” could be ascribed, which introduces a multiplicity of divinities and therefore undoes monotheism.
  3. So, again, Zanchi’s way of speaking (which is also the ancient way of speaking) is a safeguard against tritheism or polytheism. If we adhere to this way of speaking, what can we say? One can confess that the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, the Spirit is omnipotent, by way of adjectival predication: to speak in such a way is to give a true description of Father, Son, and Spirit. But one may not say that there are three omnipotents (what we might call nominal or substantive predication). Why? Because omnipotence belongs to the divine ousia, and there is only one divine ousia. Reflect for a moment on why this is: if omnipotence were a personal property of only one of the Persons (say, of the Father), the Son and the Spirit would be lesser than the Father, because they would lack the attribute of being almighty in themselves (one could substitute other terms like “authority” here as well). On the other hand, if omnipotence were a personal property (not an essential property) of all three Persons possessed by each separately from the others, how could one avoid confessing three divine beings (and therefore three gods)?
  4. Zanchi says he agrees with Athanasius on this question, presumably referring to the so-called “Athanasian Creed” (not by Athanasius): “For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords.” In other words, Zanchi (and the Reformed, in so far as he is representative of them) simply holds to the ancient orthodox view.
  1. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

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