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Given the triune God, one nature and three persons, do they experience their will in their singular nature or in their separate persons? That is, do they share one will, or does each have a separate will which is in perfect harmony with the others?

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Interesting question, I've never thought about that. Clearly if it was by person there would have to be a requirement that they were never in conflict and always in unity which would basically be the same thing as having one will by nature, but the number of references to one or the other things will is also intriguing. I'm staying tuned! –  Caleb Sep 3 '11 at 12:23
    
@Caleb: I've added an answer which is a distillation of my conclusions on the matter. You may be interested it it. –  Lawrence Dol yesterday
    
As far as I know, the Catholic doctrine on this question is that there is one divine will, common to all three divine Persons. Jesus has, by virtue of the incarnation, not only this divine will but also a human will. The general principle is that the will is in one's nature, so what I wrote about the will(s) follows from the facts that the three Persons of the Trinity have one divine nature, while Jesus has, in addition to the divine nature, a human nature. (This is a comment rather than an answer because I don't at the moment have a citable source for this information.) –  Andreas Blass yesterday

3 Answers 3

While I'm not 100% certain I understand your question. If you're asking what I think; Jesus implied that the will of the Father, Son, and Spirit are separate, as He spoke a lot about the Father's will.

John 6:40, NIV

For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day."

Luke 22:42, NIV

"Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

John 6:39

And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.

So I think Jesus clearly implied that He had the ability to disagree, but He chose to do the will of the Father. I think the clearest statement of this is in John 8:27-29, NIV

27They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. 28So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [the one I claim to be] and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. 29The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”

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So i guess it's not just a case of Jesus being a subclass of Human with the Spirit and Mind variables pointing to the Holy Spirit and Father respectively ;) –  RCIX Sep 3 '11 at 18:34
    
@RCIX can you clarify your statement, are you stating that a view of the Trinity as God manifest in body, soul, and spirit is being invalidated by my claim? Let me know if I understood your comment and then I can comment on that :) –  2tim424 Sep 3 '11 at 19:53
    
I mean, generally as humans we refer to having a spirit and mind, but we don't say those have separate intentions/wills/etc. like the bible does of God the Father/Son/Holy Spirit is all. I know it's not quite that simple, but close enough :P –  RCIX Sep 3 '11 at 20:01
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@RCIX Ok that's what I thought. I agree it's not generaly thought of that way, but if you look at Romans 7:25 "I thank God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord; so then, I myself indeed with the mind do serve the law of God, and with the flesh, the law of sin." you see that indeed the Body(flesh) does have separate intentions than our own mind. But in God, will is in perfect agreement. –  2tim424 Sep 3 '11 at 20:14
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You confused the two wills of Christ (human and divine) with the idea of separate wills in Trinity (which is not supported by christian theology). –  zefciu Apr 22 '13 at 7:22

While the answer from WhatAboutJohn3_17 is fantastic, I thought I would at least add some more resources, to help give more depth.

I think the difficulty is trying to think of the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit as existing separately from God.

This would be related to the question about the person of God, in relation to the Trinity, as explained by St. Thomas Aquinas:

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1029.htm#article3

God is a self-subsistant person that embodies all that is perfect, so though we label them separately, they are one.

To see if they have equality and what their likeness is like you can look at

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1042.htm,

but, basically, they are co-equal in all respects, so the Father is not over the Son.

Then you may want to look at the essence of the three persons:

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1039.htm

Though it isn't spelled out in Scripture that God and the Son have the same essence Jesus did state "The Father and I and the Father are one (John 10:30)", for example.

So, the God is a person and has the same essence, and the person and property of God is the same (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1040.htm), then, though this is a bit long-winded, but since God is a single person then we can see that though the Trinity may be separate, we can't differentiate between the will of each and the Will of God, as our sense of three does not force God to be that way (as explained more below). To see more about the Will of God you can read http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1019.htm.

You may want to read about the plurality of God (http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1030.htm) especially Article 3, where this comment is made:

http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1030.htm

Multitude, which denotes something real in creatures, is a species of quantity, and cannot be used when speaking of God: unlike transcendental multitude, which adds only indivision to those of which it is predicated. Such a kind of multitude is applicable to God.

So, the idea is that when we talk about three persons, that does not signify anything about God in reality. We have one God, and though, for our sake we express God as three persons, that is still for our simplicity, it does not mean that we have three gods that are one God, so, God will have one will from God, as, just because we think of God as three person doesn't mean that that changes what God is.

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Nature and Person

For many, the doctrine of the Trinity is confusing and seems contradictory because in commonplace expression it has been misstated. It therefore seems to be a contradiction in mathematics, the objection being that "three cannot be one" because it violates sound logical reasoning. The problem, it seems to many, is that the claim that "one equals three" is simply absurd.

This difficulty occurs because of a failure to stipulate that the way in which God is one is not the same as the way in which he is three; the misstatement is something along the lines of, "God is three persons, but at the same time God is one person". However, the proper statement of the doctrine is that God is three distinct persons who share a single nature. Moreover, it is vital that we attach the proper meaning to the word "person" and the word "nature".

The short statement of the doctrine is, as we have heard it all our lives, that there are three persons in one nature. But if we attach no meaning to the word person, and no meaning to the word nature, then both the nouns have dropped out of our definition, and we are left of with the numbers three and one, and get by as best we can with these.

...

The doctrine may be set out in four statements:

  • In the one divine nature, there are three persons - the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  • The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is not the Father: no one of the persons is the either of the others.
  • The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God.
  • There are not three Gods, but one God.

...

We are not saying three persons in one person, or three natures in one nature; we are saying three persons in one nature. There is not even the appearance of an arithmetical problem. It is for us to see what person is and what nature is, and the to consider what meaning there can be in a nature totally possessed by three distinct persons.

Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press, Second Ed., 1978), p. 90 ff

In theology the terms "nature", "essence", and "substance" are synonymous and refer to that which underlies all outward manifestation; the reality itself, whether material or immaterial. Unfortunately, in popular use the words have been diluted to something less than the total reality of a living thing; for example we say, "well, that's essentially correct" and we often mean it's partially or mostly correct; but the phrase properly means that it's correct in every way that matters.

Nature answers the question of what we are, whereas person answers the question of who we are. Every being has a nature, though not every being is a person; only rational beings are persons. Nature speaks to capabilities, limitations and will, where person speaks to self, emotions, intellect and passions.

This is a subject of much pondering and reflection; only God knows himself perfectly and we cannot be certain where, and even if, the division between what we are and who we are is made. But we can intuit a conceptual difference. We look inward and we identify a thing which we call "I" and see that it is distinct from that part of us we call "what". Even so, we are an integral creation; an amalgam of body and soul (or body, soul and spirit, depending on your interpretation of scripture) which, properly, wholly constitutes a human being.

Infinity and Eternity

In suitably contemplating ourselves, in seeing our "who" and our "what", and in seeing that in some measure our "what" is common to all humanity, we may begin to get a glimpse of what it might mean for a single nature to be shared by three distinct persons. In similar manner, we may begin to dimly comprehend what it might mean for one of those three persons to have two natures with respect to the incarnation. But in truth, it baffles the intellect, and in this life we shall only grasp it tenuously, incompletely. It will remain a mystery.

But of an infinite nature, we have no experience at all. If God tells us that His own infinite nature is totally possessed by three persons, we can have no grounds for doubting the statement, although we may find it almost immeasurably difficult to make any meaning of it. There is no difficulty in accepting it as true, given our own inexperience of what it is to have an infinite nature and God's statement on the subject; there is no difficulty, I say, in accepting it as true; the difficulty lies in seeing what it means.

Frank Sheed Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press, Second Ed., 1978), p.95 (emphasis mine)

The doctrine of the Trinity solves a problem that purely unitarian conceptions of God cannot -- how can an infinite and eternal being experience love and personal relationship from eternity?

The only adequate object of infinite love is an infinite being, God himself. Certainly there is a real truth in the concept of God's loving himself infinitely, but it is not a truth we can make much of [...] we know that it is not an infinite egoism, but we cannot be rid of that feeling about it. But with the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, that feeling vanishes: there is an otherness within the Godhead. Infinite love among three who are infinite with one same infinity means infinite love infinitely received, infinitely returned.

Frank Sheed, Theology and Sanity (Ignatius Press, Second Ed., 1978), p. 122

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BTW, I am not a Catholic, but Sheed has one of the most lucid and comprehensible treatments on the Trinity that I've ever read. –  Lawrence Dol yesterday

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