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?

What have published commentaries said on this subject?

  • 2
    I had thought Trinitarianism was pretty much united in its belief in will by nature, but I've become aware of a substantial modern movement of monothelitists who say wills are by persons. So I'm not sure where that leaves us with this question. The way it is phrased is rather truth-questiony...
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 8:48
  • 2
    We have upvoted answers saying both will by nature and by persons, none of which would really cut it as overview answers, nor do they adequately explain what "published commentaries have said on the subject" as the question asks. So I'm inclined to close vote it. We should have separate Biblical basis questions for both positions.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Feb 9, 2017 at 8:51
  • @curiousdannii isn't this on topic?
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 22:17
  • @PeterTurner We decided it was a truth question because Trinitarians weren't united in the answer.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 23:51

4 Answers 4


The short answer to the O.P.’s question is that their will proceeds from the Divine Nature. There is only one Divine Will, and each Person wills with the very same Will.

It is misleading to say that the Persons “share” the Divine Will, because that would seem to imply that its use is “distributed” among the Persons—like when people share a sandwich. In fact, the Persons are perfectly identical in every respect except relation of origin—hence, despite being a Trinity of Persons, they make only a single use of the Divine Will.

In simpler terms, we can affirm that each Person loves with the very same Divine Will, which is perfectly identical with the Divine Nature.

God’s Will is identical to His Nature

In God, there is no distinction whatsoever between His Nature and what (for us) would be faculties or active powers, such as the intellect and the will. Hence, God, by nature, is perfectly identical to His Will. Probably the clearest statement of this principal can be found in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa theologiae.

Because God is Being Itself, prior to all creatures, He Himself must be perfectly “active” and cannot possibly have any composition. It follows that He does not have any “accidents”:

Whence as God is absolute primal being, there can be in Him nothing accidental. Neither can He have any essential accidents (as the capability of laughing is an essential accident of man), because such accidents are caused by the constituent principles of the subject. Now there can be nothing caused in God, since He is the first cause. Hence it follows that there is no accident in God (I, q. 3, a. 6, responsum).

In a creature, the will is a “power”—a capacity to do something, in this case to love—hence, an accident. It follows that in God, the will is not an accident, but His very Substance (or Essence, or Nature):

Wherefore the Divine power [e.g, intellect, will] which is the principle of His operation is the Divine Essence itself. This cannot be true either of the [human] soul, or of any creature; as we have said above when speaking of the angels (I, q. 77, a. 1, responsum).


Now whatever has an accidental existence in creatures, when considered as transferred to God, has a substantial existence; for there is no accident in God; since all in Him is His essence (I, q. 28, a. 2, responsum).

What the Persons are: relations of origin

Now, to understand the relationship of the Divine Will to the Persons, it is important to understand precisely what the Persons are. St. Gregory Nazianzen notes that the only real “difference” or distinction that can exist in God is that of relation (σχέσις):

“What, therefore, is it,” they say, “that is lacking in the Spirit, that prevents him from being the Son? For if he did not lack whatever it is, he would be the Son.” “He is not lacking,” we say: “For in no way can God be lacking. For the difference of the manifestation—or if I may say so—of their relation (σχέσεως) toward each other (πρὸς ἄλληλα), also produces the difference in how they are called” (Orat. 31 de Spiritu Sancto, IX, PG 36, 141 C, my translation).

In short, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit lack absolutely nothing with respect to the Nature and to one another, and hence they differ only in how they relate to one another. As Aquinas puts it:

Now distinction in God is only by relation of origin, as stated above [in q. 28 aa. 2-3], while relation in God is not as an accident in a subject, but is the divine essence itself; and so it is subsistent, for the divine essence subsists. Therefore, as the Godhead is God so the divine paternity is God the Father, Who is a divine person (I., q. 29, a.4, responsum).

In other words, whereas in a creature a relation such as paternity or sonship is simply an accident of a substance (in these cases, the “substance” happens to be a human person), in God, the relations—although they are real—must actually be subsistent.

Said in simpler terms, the Father is His Paternity; the Son is His Sonship; the Holy Spirit is His Procession. (In contrast, for man, a father has the relation of fatherhood, but is not identical with that fatherhood; and a son has the relation of sonship, but is not identical with that sonship. There is no relation in man that quite corresponds to procession.)

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfectly identical in every respect except relation

Therefore, except with respect to relation, in every other respect the Persons of the Holy Trinity are perfectly identical:

The Father and the Son are in everything one, wherever there is no distinction between them of opposite relation (I. q. 36, a. 3, responsum).

It follows that they have the very same powers—in other words, the Divine Intellect and the Divine Will are perfectly identical for all three Persons (indeed, identical with the Divine Essence, as noted above).

Perhaps the easiest way to think of it is that each Person knows with the very same Intellect; and each Person loves with the very same Will (and in both cases, the Power in question is actually identical with the Divine Nature).

  • It seems to me as if this answer contradicts itself when it says that "the Persons of the Holy Trinity are perfectly identical" but then quotes Aquinas saying "The Father and the Son are in everything one." The first statement seems to say they are distinct but identical (qualitative sameness). The second statement say they are one (numerically the same). Both these statements exclude the situation where there are differences with respect to relation.
    – Andries
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 11:37
  • @Andries, I said that the Persons are perfectly identical in everything except relation of origin. We usually formulate that by saying that they are one in substance or essence, but really distinct as relations. And this does not contradict what Aquinas says: if you keep on reading, he says precisely that they are one except as regards opposition of relation. Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 15:46
  • Thanks for the response. Please consider the following: We people are of the same substance, but each of us has his or her own substance. In the Trinity theory, the three Persons are of the same substance (homoousios) but that is explained as one single substance. That can be expressed as "one substance" as opposed to "same substance" in humans. I know this difference sounds like splitting hairs but I think it is really critical.
    – Andries
    Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 6:25
  • @Andries, however, we are individuals in a species. God, no. Each Person is the whole “species”, which coincides with the whole Essence. Commented Oct 22, 2021 at 15:24
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    I am reading this answer now three years later and realize that the word 'identical' has two possible meanings. See Merriam-Webster. 1 : being the same : SELFSAME the identical place we stopped before and 2 : having such close resemblance as to be essentially the same - identical hats. In the first meaning, there is just one. In the second, there are two. While you seem to use the term with the first meaning, I understood it in the second meaning.
    – Andries
    Commented Apr 27 at 8:58

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.”

  • 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
    Commented Sep 3, 2011 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
    Commented Sep 3, 2011 at 19:53
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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
    Commented Sep 3, 2011 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
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 7:22
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    I had to remove my accept after long reflection on this question because in the end I agree with @zefciu's comment that this answer conflates the two wills of Christ (human and divine) with separate wills in the Trinity (which is unorthodox). Will is seated in the nature -- God the Father, Son and Spirit have one divine will. But Christ has two natures, divine and human and therefore two wills, divine and human. Indeed the obedience of the second Adam was realized in the submission of that human will to the divine will.
    – user32
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 15:07

I (the OP) add here, as an answer, the conclusions I've arrived at after studying the subject deeply.

In Brief

Personal beings will according to their nature. This implies that all human beings have a unique personal nature and a shared sin nature. This idea seems to help us understand how Christ could have both divine and human natures.

It also suggests a solution to the dilemma of us living eternally in the next kingdom, yet not sinning; as well as our becoming "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4) -- the sin nature that was bound to Adam's progeny is removed and some part of the divine nature replaces it, but the personal human nature is not; in this manner we become deeply "Christ-like" with two natures, human and divine.

Further, it sheds light on Paul's "war of the wills" in Romans 6, which is a war between what we, as redeemed individuals, will (to be like Christ) and what our "old man", i.e. our sin nature, wills (to be independent of God).

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

  • 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.
    – user32
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 15:24
  • Your answer seems to be that it's by nature, and not by persons: "Nature speaks to capabilities, limitations and will". Is that correct? Commented Jan 23, 2016 at 6:06
  • @Mr.Bultitude: Yes, that's my current best understanding. Answer updated accordingly to clarify.
    – user32
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 3:20
  • Does this present your understanding after research, or is this what the sources you researched said? If the latter, please include more citations.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jan 26, 2016 at 5:25
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    @Andrew: Like any responsible scholar, I cited the sources I quoted, clearly and fully. The rest of the text is mine and clearly so; my internalization of a large number of authors and sources. If you feel my answer is insufficiently grounded or unorthodox feel free to nominate it for deletion. I don't appreciate being accused of plagiarism. (And frankly I am getting a little tired of this site's inherent assumption that a thinking individual can't have valid and worthwhile thoughts on their own.)
    – user32
    Commented Jan 27, 2016 at 0:58

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: Article 3. Whether the word "person" should be said of God?

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: Article 1. Whether there is equality in God?

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: Question 39. The persons in relation to the essence.

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 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: Question 19. The will of God. You may want to read about the plurality of God in Question 30. The plurality of persons in God, especially Article 3, where this comment is made:

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.